Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wine Tasting Weekend The End

After our first morning's huge breakfast (this would be Saturday), we headed out for an afternoon of wine tasting. Armed with several pamphlets and maps, we figured hitting four would be about right. Seriously, if you do much more than this, every wine starts tasting the same plus your resilience/resistance goes down and you might end up taking home cases of crappy wine that tasted a lot better when you were two sheets to the wind!
Our first stop was Shelton Vineyards (where we'd had lunch the previous day). This, along with Childress, is buy far the largest, most commercial winery in the area. We were on a mission to pick up a particular bottle of wine for someone else; this is the primary reason we went. However, since we were there, we tasted! In addition to getting a bottle of the Malbec (that Mr. B had with his lunch the day before), we ended up with six bottles of their Cabernet Franc, which, as it happened, was also on sale. Yey for good wine sales!
After Shelton, we went to the Swan Creek wineries (a sub set of wineries in and around the Yadkin Valley). We had to visit Buck Shoals as we'd both really liked their meads (both tasted and bought at the NC Wine Festival in 2008). We were hoping to see Dana the wine maker (the guy that looked like Grandpa Jones in the show Petticoat Junction (if you don't know what I am referring too, you're too young)). Alas, he wasn't around but some of his newest concoctions were!
One great thing about Buck Shoals is they have over 10 things to taste; so, you're going to find something you like. We actually liked it all, but certainly some more than others. We ended up buying a dry red blend (probably Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chambourcin) as well as several bottles of their newest varietal, Chambourcin. We also bought another bottle of the Blueberry Mead (thoroughly enjoyed it before) plus a new blackberry wine with honey, aptly named Blackberry Cobbler. Finally, they have a port-style wine called Midnight Royal which was quite yummy. BTW, the Apple Mead we bought in '08 (and still have two bottles of) is worth over $75 now because they ran out of it and a lot of people want it! We paid, I think, $12!
After Buck Shoals, we headed over to Raffaldini, whose tasting room, as we were told by Hannah, did look quite a bit like an Italian villa.
We really enjoyed our tasting there; probably because the lady who took care of us, Kim, was extremely personable. Incidentally, they had a different way of doing tastings. Rather than everyone crowding around a long bar or counter (which is how every winery I've ever been to has done it), they had you wait for an opening at one of several mini stations (this sort of reminded me of waiting for a table at a restaurant). Each mini station could hold up to six people so the tastings were quite intimate. Anyway, the wines at Raffaldini were of the Italian style (yum). We decided to join their wine club (free to join; six bottles of wine shipped twice yearly). Since we joined the club and will get a shipment in February, we only bought two bottles of wine while there (and a glass of wine each to sip while looking at the various arts and crafts upstairs as they were having a festival there that day).
By this time, even though we'd only been to three wineries, we were starting to feel a bit as if we'd better take care not to start buying crap. So, we decided to head to the last winery of the trip, Flint Hill. This was quite a distance from where we were at and we barely made it in time for a tasting before they closed down the tasting bar (5:00 seems to be the usual time). All the wines were decent but we really wanted to taste their Chambourcin. We'd fallen in love with it at the festival in 2008. However, the one they were pouring, although nice, was definitely not the same one we'd tasted (and bought) a few years ago. We inquired about it; their 2005? Luckily, they still had a few cases of it stashed away and were willing to part with one. Yey!
After tasting, we had dinner their restaurant, Century Kitchen. Well, we had to sit in the bar since the tables were full all night (even the bar tables were full after 7:00). We each had MEAT. I had a fillet; Mark had a strip steak. Each were HUGE pieces and came with green vegetables and starch. We shared a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon. We'd been told their desserts were quite good, but, we were quite stuffed so passed. Although the food was tasty, I didn't think it was as well done as Harvest Grill over at Shelton (plus it was a lot more expensive).
Fully sated, we went back to the B&B. Hannah had left a plate of homemade brownies (so we got dessert, after all!)
Suffice it to say, we crashed early. No matter how you try to pace yourself, a day of wine tasting, drinking and eating does catch up with one!
We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend get-away and will likely return sometime this year. Maybe we can talk a friend or two into going along; my guess is the Spring/early summer would be a perfect time to wine taste and enjoy a picnic!
Who is in?
Mrs. B

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow Day

We got about 4" last night and it's still snowing now. Here is a video of Lucy who was not interested in playing with me; rather, she just wanted to eat the snow!
Mrs. B

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy 70th Birthday Father!

I know you won't mind me advertising your age since you're damn happy today! Lots of love from all of us here in North Carolina!
Mrs. B

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wine Tasting Weekend Part Two: The Rockford Inn

As previously mentioned, I booked our suite for the weekend at The Rockford Inn back in November. We were originally considering staying at a cabin near Flint Hill Vineyards/Century Kitchen (recommended by the Chef at Century Kitchen; vineyard and restaurant to be discussed later). However, although it was lovely, it was a) way too large for just the two of us and b) was more like a timeshare, meaning, no food was provided but a full kitchen was. As we really wanted to try at least two restaurants while there, this just didn't make sense. So, I started checking out B&Bs and decide this one looked to be about the nicest (plus fairly reasonable, although it seems to me that B&Bs have some agreement amongst themselves about what rates to charge for what sort of room, fulls vs. continental breakfast, etc.)
First off, I really liked the fact that I could look at each of the three available rooms on-line (pictures), check availability, and make a reservation. Within minutes of so doing, I had a confirmation email. A few days before we were set to check in, I sent an email inquiring as to whether the rooms had mini-refrigerators. I thus entered into a several email conversation with Hannah, one of the owners, who told me there were not fridges in the rooms BUT we were more than welcome to use the fridge in the kitchen; plus, she would have complimentary sodas, water and "snacks" available as well. I asked her about the two restaurants we were considering; she told us we couldn't go wrong with either and also suggested a few others in the area (along with detailed directions from the inn to each). Finally, she sent instructions on how to get to the inn from various starting points.
We arrived at the inn around 4:45. It was just starting to get dark; many of the lights were turned on inside so it was very inviting. When we walked in the door, there was a note from Hannah to call her cell and she'd come right over (she and her husband Doug live next door). While waiting for Hannah, we found our room, The Vineyard Suite, which was located upstairs (running the entire length of the 2nd floor). We discovered a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and two glasses waiting for us in our room (from Stony Knoll, where we had just been tasting a half hour previously!)
Hannah arrived and gave us the run-down, which was quite simple. No one else had booked that weekend so we had the house to ourselves. True to her word, there were sodas and water in the fridge in the kitchen; plus, a huge bowl of nuts, another of dark chocolate kisses and a covered tray of yummy looking cookies on the side board in the kitchen. She asked us what time we wanted to eat (we agreed on 9:00 am Saturday and 8:30 am Sunday), told us a bit more about a few more restaurants, and left us to our own devices.
As it turned out, we were so stuffed from our late lunch that we elected to just hang out in the house/our room that evening. We went outside to smoke a cigar on the back porch (no smoking, of course, inside). It was delightful; cool but clear and almost completely quiet save a lone dog barking off in the far distance. We enjoyed our wine and each other's company.
The next morning we headed downstairs (a very steep set of stairs, I might add)
for breakfast. We were a bit early so it wasn't quite ready. No matter; we had a cup of coffee in the kitchen (complete with a roaring fire) and talked to Doug and Hannah. Doug provided quite a bit of background/history of the inn; built in 1848, always been in his family, his aunt had owned it, they bought it when she died and turned it into a B&B. They bought land next door and built a house there. While we were talking, their dog Floppy (a terrier mutt) came to the door; stone deaf, as it turned out, but very cute. They rescued Floppy 12 years earlier when his former owners left town in the middle of the night and left poor Floppy behind. My heart broke a bit when Hannah talked about Floppy waiting outside on his porch for two weeks, waiting for them to come back for him. Of course, they never did and Floppy went on to have a much better life with Hannah and Doug. As an aside, I'd place Hannah and Doug somewhere in their fifties; they have two children, 27 and 24.
Breakfast our first morning included fruit with yogurt, an egg and bacon casserole, bacon and sausage, cheese grits and biscuits. There was enough food there for a full house so, suffice it to say, we did not leave the table hungry and, in fact, did not eat again that day until roughly 6:00 pm. While we were eating, Hannah brought us a few brochures about some of the (very many) wineries in the area and also information regarding other activities going on that day. Of course, we already knew we were going to go to a few wineries, so, we appreciated her recommendation on which ones we may like.

We had a great day tasting (more on that in the next entry) and returned to the inn around 7:30 or so that evening. Fairly well exhausted, we did not do too much that evening.
The next morning, Sunday, we woke to rain splattering on the tin roof and the aroma of fresh coffee and bacon wafting up from the kitchen. I was sort of sorry we couldn't simply go get coffee and laze around in bed awhile listening to that rain, but, we'd said we'd be down at 8:30 so they could get done in time enough to go to church (BTW, there are an inordinate number of churches in the area; we couldn't figure out where that many people came from to fill up the congregations!)
Breakfast Sunday was truly delightful. In addition to fruit and yogurt, there was a Praline French toast casserole with raspberry sauce (she'd strained the seeds out) plus sides of bacon and sausage. We both ate more of this than we probably should have (but, again, we didn't end up eating again until dinner that evening).
We'd had our fill of wine tasting the previous day so elected to get cleaned up, load up the car, and head out. Although check out time was 11, we were assured we could take as long as we wanted. As it was, though, we were driving away by 10:15.
We really liked this inn and will more than likely return at some point, perhaps even with a few friends in tow to fill up the other two rooms.
Mrs. B

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wine Tasting Weekend Part One

I made an RSVP over two months ago for the B&B we went to this past weekend. I probably didn't need to since we were the only guests, but, hey, you never know and I wanted the larger room.
Yes, we returned yesterday from our (seems to be) annual "Getaway and Play Before The Hell That Must Be Paid" (Busy Season) weekend. Last year, we went to Edenton, NC; this year, we headed to Dobson, NC. Ever heard of the TV show "Dobson's Creek"? Yeah, THAT place. Pure coincidence, though as the reason we went is this general area houses well over 50 NC wineries, many of which we've already been acquainted with via the NC Wine Festival.
One of the guidelines for this annual get-away is it must be somewhere that won't take forever to get to as we can usually only stay two nights. It took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to the exit for the B&B (although it was another 20 or so miles away). No matter; as we traversed the back roads towards the B&B, we drove past a winery called RagApple Lassie. Since yours truly had to use the facilities, we stopped.
For whatever reason, I'd always thought RagApple Lassie only had the sweetie wines (must be the "Apple" in the name) so we'd never tried them at the festival. I'm sure glad nature called as we truly enjoyed our wine tasting experience there (and ended up both joining their wine club (free) and buying 13 bottles of wine). We purchased mostly dry wines (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and a high-end red blend) however, we did decide to buy a white blend called Kaleidescope Gold which can only be described as soft and floral; as well as a semi-sweet white that, when paired with a piece of white chocolate with coconut, tasted exactly like a pina colada (think warm summer days). In addition, we had to buy one bottle of a semi-sweet red that was excellent with bleu cheese (I'm already planning a wine tasting party; nutty bleu cheese rolls plus this wine; yum! Or, even a buffalo chicken wrap with bleu cheese dressing would work since the slight sweetness of the wine would off-set the spiciness quite nicely). Finally, we purchased their dessert wine which tasted like a honeyed orange blossom. Of course, dessert wines are meant to be sipped in SMALL cordial glasses, so, ones exposure to the sweetness is limited and is quite enjoyable in the correct circumstances.

Me outside of RagApple Lassie. Yes, I did buy the cap (below)

After leaving RagApple, we continued on towards the B&B. We found it, and, kept on going as we really wanted to eat a late lunch/early dinner at Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards (this restaurant had come highly recommended by my brother and his wife).
We barely made it in time as they stopped serving lunch at 3:00 and we wandered in about 2:40. They seated us in a very pleasant sun room with a fantastic view of (likely just one part of) the vineyard and a comfy fire roaring in a huge fire place near our table (the weather was chilly and overcast; only in the 40s). We were the only people in the entire place, which was fine by us! Mr. B had the Bison meatloaf with a glass of Malbec (the waitress ended up pouring him about a glass and a half because the bottle was almost empty and she didn't want to take an almost empty bottle back to the kitchen). I had cornmeal crusted crab cakes and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Both entrees came loaded with sides; the meatloaf with a healthy portion of egg noodles and spinach and the crab cakes with green beans and corn pudding. Oh, and the dipping sauce for the crab cakes was an interesting combination of tartar sauce and Texas Pete (a spicy sauce usually used on wings). We found the prices very reasonable and would definitely return to this restaurant.
After our lunch, we decided to hold on the tasting at Shelton and go on back to the B&B. However, along the way, we saw a sign for another winery called Stony Knoll Vineyards so decided what the heck and stopped there for a tasting. We were the only people there at first, which makes it nice as it's a lot easier to ask questions and get information when no one is in any sort of hurry. I believe the owner was the pourer, too! We liked his Viognier and a few of the dry reds the best. He then brought out a late harvest dessert wine that literally made my eyes pop when I tasted it; just like chocolate covered cherries. Needless to say, you only need a teeny bit of this (and, yes, I did have to get a bottle!)
As we left to travel on to the B&B, I told Mr. B it hadn't taken us very long at all to break the rule I'd attempted to establish en route from Durham; not to buy any wine until we'd finished tasting everywhere we cared to go to and THEN go back and buy some here, some there, etc. Yeah, right; it just doesn't work that way, folks!
Next up: The Rockford Inn B&B
Mrs. B

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kitty Love and Doggy Love (Well, Sort Of...)

Ares, Pete and Lily
Apollo and Lucy "Getting Along"

Everyone but Athena having a swell time in the sun room a few days ago (she is either anti social or independent, I haven't figured out which yet).
We're off for a mini-vacation tomorrow; a few days in the NC wine country. Brother Jon'll be watching the cats; Lucy will be at her favorite place (next to being home); Uncle Chuck's (the vet).
Mrs. B

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The First Car I Bought

The first car I bought was a huge mistake but it certainly figured prominently in many aspects of my life from the moment I bought it to its bitter end, roughly 5 years later.

It was a 1968 Karmann Ghia coupe with a white hard top and black “leather” seats and not much on it that worked. In fact, when my dad first saw it, he encouraged me to take it back right away because it was in such awful shape that the electrical system didn’t even work (and that was likely the lesser of all of the evils). But, I didn’t listen to him; it was my first purchase, after all, and I didn’t feel like going back to where I’d bought it and attempt to return it. Also, since I signed a piece of paper that said, “This car is sold AS IS”, I didn’t think they’d give me the time of day, either. Oh, I STILL had so much to learn then about standing up for myself!

How did I end up with such a stellar piece of crap? I could blame it on my sister and my best friend’s sister since they went along with me to the used car place and did their part in talking me into buying it. But, in the end, it was entirely my fault for not doing my due diligence and researching what $2,000 (the amount my Father gave me) would get me by the way of a DECENT and RELIABLE used vehicle.

No, true to my fashion back then, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t look in the paper (really) or talk to people whom I knew “knew” cars (including both my Father and my dad). My boyfriend at the time was relatively helpless when it came to cars. He had his “baby”, a Camero, but, if memory serves, he was always having issues with it, too. No, he was not going to be any help at all.

For whatever reason, the three of us; me, Kathy and Lynda, ended up in National City (a relatively icky suburb of San Diego somewhat near the Mexican border town of Tijuana; in fact, my guess is my car CAME from Tijuana) at a creepy used car place. Maybe we happened to be driving by and one of us spotted the “sweet” little car and we just HAD to stop and look at it? Frankly, I don’t recall, but, I certainly wished later we’d not stopped.

But, stop we did. I told the gentleman (word used loosely) who came out to assist us that I was looking for a car and I had $2,000 to spend. Dumb, dumb, dumb, because, of course, all of a sudden, even the crappiest car on the lot cost $2,000, and, in fact, I ended up paying $500 MORE than that for the Ghia.

We did look at a few other cars (boring, staid and, likely, no better mechanically than the one I ended up with). But, my eye kept getting drawn back to the Karmann Ghia in all its spiffy little splendor. We took it out for a test drive, and, I really cringe when I write this, I couldn’t see over the steering wheel because the seat was extremely low. Why? Because the floorboards were rotting and the seat was sinking through them. Seriously, I was in danger of my feet going through the floor ALA Fred Flintstone (although, I guess, I might have been able to propel the damn thing much better on my own foot power than with what the car itself offered).

And yet, I STILL bought it! I drove it home from National City that day. A few days later, I drove it up to Palos Verdes to show it to my dad (this is when he told me to take it back). Realizing that I wasn’t going to, he did his dandiest to do whatever he could to hold it together. I think he may have had to duct tape one of the headlights on and he spent quite a bit of time on that electrical system so that I could safely (and legally) drive the car at night.

I believe in all honesty that the car didn’t run more often than it did. I vividly recall having to take the bus to SDSU many, many times. Oh, why did I not just hold onto the 1972 Ford Pinto that my sister inherited after I bought my nightmare? Come to think of it; no wonder she was encouraging me to buy the Ghia!

Likely because it was such a piece of shit and also because I was awful those days about taking care of my property, I neglected to check the oil/have oil put into the engine. I’m not saying I didn’t do if frequently enough; I’m admitting that I didn’t do it, period. Ever. Something which I paid for dearly maybe a year after I bought it when the engine seized up on me driving south on the 405 Freeway after a weekend visit at mom and dad’s. There I was, speeding on down the road with my cat Frankie on my lap (yes, on my lap, I didn’t own a cat carrier; he usually hung out either on my lap or in the ever-present laundry basket) when the car made a dreadful burping sound and heavy, black smoke started pouring out the rear end (where the engine was located; Volkswagen, you know).

Luckily, I was able to pull over to the left and park. Yes, the left. So, there was a lot of traffic zipping past me on both sides. Needless to say, I was FREAKED because I thought the car was going to explode. I grabbed my purse and Frankie and went running down the freeway as fast as I could in order to get away from the impending disaster.

Nothing happened, so, after a few minutes, I walked cautiously back to the car and got back in. I attempted (fruitlessly) to start the car. After sitting there for a few minutes trying to decide what to do, I got back out of the car and stood looking at it. I must have looked quite pathetic and forlorn standing there with my cat under one arm and a woebegone look on my face as a man pulled up behind me (with several children in his car) and offered to take me to the next exit so I could “call someone for help”.

Yes, this was back in the days when, if one needed to make an emergency call, oneeither had to use one of those phones allocated along the freeway in stations or get to a gas station or convenience store. This is where the nice man took me and where I called my dad (who, luckily, was at home).

I waited at that convenience store for about an hour before my dad showed up (none too happy, as you might imagine, knowing as he did what was likely ahead of him that evening). Sure enough, after getting the car towed to a gas station/mechanic (closed because it was Sunday), he had to drive me and Frankie on down to San Diego, then, turn around and drive the 2 ½ hours back home. Dads being dads, he did so, grumbling about it, but, he also bought me dinner on the drive down so I knew he still loved me.

And, with a friend of his from work, he put a new engine into the car. It took several weekends, but the car was in fine shape when they were done. I did have to pay him and mom back for the parts, but, the car was finally worth driving.

Over the next few years, it continued to have various problems (because, remember, it was at heart a piece of crap). I continued driving it, though; couldn’t really afford another one and my sister had long since destroyed the Pinto-Bean (by not putting oil in it!)

When I moved up to the South Bay area to take a job at TRW in Redondo Beach, that car took me there. I was still driving it a year or so later when I met my first husband, John. He certainly came to despise that car as, dreadfully similar to what had occurred a few years prior, the car seized up on me AGAIN (this time going the opposite direction on the 405 on my way to John’s house). John, like my dad before him, ended up putting a new engine in the car (although I have to say, he was nowhere near as gracious about it as my dad was and our relationship almost came to an end over the whole fiasco).

The car finally met its bitter end in a completely unexpected way perhaps a year after it received its 2nd new engine. John and I were driving it to the local car parts store (for once, not for a part for it). We’d decided to stop at a favorite fast food restaurant, El Pollo Loco, for lunch. It had been raining earlier in the day and there were many puddles of standing water in the streets and on the sidewalks. As we pulled out of the parking lot after lunch, John decided to go down a smaller, less trafficked residential street rather than the main road in front of the restaurant. Not too far down the street, which was lined with parked cars, John drove through the middle of a large puddle, which caused the water to spray up like a tidal wave over the little car. For a moment, we were both blinded (and both giggling about it, for some reason), and, as we were, there was thud on my side of the car. By the time John got the wipers on (which, miraculously, worked), we were able to see that the car had been scooted across the street by the impact of its being hit by another car. Turns out the driver of that car had been parked along the street and pulled out without looking and so rammed right into us.

John got the Ghia over to the curb (it was still drivable, but in a pitiful state to see). As we opened our car doors, the man driving the car that had hit us came running up the street towards us waving his arms and yelling, “It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault! I didn’t look! Are you both ok?” Obviously, his insurance company had never had the “don’t admit fault” conversation with him, but, no matter, as, directly behind him as a uniformed police officer who had seen the entire thing.

As it turned out, the driver had State Farm Insurance; we had State Farm Insurance, so we figured we’d not have too much trouble getting the claim taken care of. Wrong. Despite the fact the car was obviously totaled (amazing that neither of us were injured), the insurance company balked at totaling the car. One thing I must say about my ex husband; he was never one to back down if he thought he was in the right, especially if it had something to do with money. Of course, their client had admitted fault and a police officer had been present (and offered to do “whatever” to assist us). So, ultimately, John prevailed and the car was officially totaled and we received a check.

For $2,500. How ironic is THAT?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mrs. B's 2009 Book Reviews -- 3 Stars (Part Three)

Second Glance by Jodi Picoult (CD).
This was an enjoyable enough book to listen to while driving around. Yeah, it got a bit convoluted and things wrapped up just a little bit too nicely at the end, still, it drew me in and I found myself looking forwarding to driving so I could tune in. I really liked the flip flop between decades (a man from "current times" ends up meeting a ghostly woman from "the past"), and, although I was able to figure out what was going to happen next/predict certain situations, I didn't mind since I never intended this to be a deep read. I found the stuff about eugenics in the 1930s and gene history in the 2000s quite intriguing. This was my first Picoult; turns out she seems to write about genetics/genetic diseases quite frequently (My Sister's Keeper is one that's quite popular now; we've selected it to read in my book club in 2010). Maybe Picoult writes a lot and maybe it's all "formula", but, I took it for what it was worth, entertainment with a bit of education thrown in for good measure.
The Killing Dance by Laurell K. Hamilton.
Think of this series as Twilight for adults. I believe this was number five of the series, and things finally picked up between Anita Blake (Vampire Hunter) and her two would be lovers; one a vampire and the other a werewolf (like I said, if you like Twilight...) BTW, this series was begun LONG before Twilight, which got me to wondering if someone didn't perhaps plagerize a bit with the whole (human/vamp/werewolf) menage a trois concept? These books are not meant to be deep and they certainly are not. They are, however, fun to read and good for when your brain needs a break. I did find the author's afterward a bit weird; she was talking about the breakup of her marriage and how it related to the characters in her book. Ok, ODD!
The Secret of the Old Clock and The Hidden Staircase (Nancy Drew #1 and #2) by Carolyn Keene.
Enjoyable re-reads of a few childhood favorites. Yeah, they are a bit dated but I got a kick out of revisiting them. Plus, each one only took an hour or two to get through. I will say, Nancy seemed incredibly mature to me for an 18 year old!
The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.
Wally Lamb is fantastic at character development. You will either love or hate his characters, but, you will feel something about them. The Columbine (Colorado 1999) story, which I initially thought the book was completely about, turned out to be a back-drop to the story; fine with me because I really didn't want to go there. The best aspect about the book, IMHO, was how the main character discovered things about his ancestors (thanks to a women's studies student who is renting a room from him and finds the papers of his great-great grandmother (who, incidentally, founded the women's prison that his wife is currently serving time in)). There is a theme of "from chaos comes order" running throughout the book; I'm assuming that is where the Columbine story line comes from. Frankly, the overall message of the book (whatever it was; not 100% sure) was not as meaningful to me as getting to know the 10 or so primary characters that figure prominently in the story. A word of warning: It is a HUGE book; 800 or so pages, which would make it a great selection for a long, boring airplane trip.
The Pillars of Creation by Terry Goodkind.
Book seven of Goodkind's Sword of Truth series and the only one of the series that I managed to read this year. Not the most enjoyable of the series, either, as the two main characters only make an appearance at the tail end of the book. My brother, who is also reading the series (close on my heels), mentioned that he felt Goodkind tended to introduce way too many characters and thus loose focus of the overall story. He's probably not going to like this one!
Whew! That is it for the 3 stars. Next up, the best of the bunch; the 4 stars!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Long Five Minutes

Last Tuesday, I went for my routine annual screening mammogram. Even people (women under 40 and men) who have never had a mammogram understand that this process ranks up there in the category of highly undesirable but necessary medical procedures. For me, it is in third place; closely behind dental procedures requiring Novocaine and well behind number one, ye olde "slide down and put your feet in the stirrups, please".
As a general rule, I've never had too much discomfort during the mammogram procedure, especially the routine screening. Perhaps being small-breasted is a blessing here, or, it could be my relatively high pain tolerance level in action. In any case, other than not particularly enjoying the process as who really wants to stand in an air conditioned room with your top off while a (usually brisk and efficient) woman turns you this way and that, shoves you up against a cold and heavy machine while manipulating your breasts for a righteous squishing?
I had my first mammogram at age 39 1/2, right before I headed off to Italy for six weeks. I discovered right off the bat that one is not supposed to wear any sort of talc or deodorant on the day of the appointment as it can cause a false positive (tiny particles of deodorant can masquerade as the potential of nasty tumors). Unfortunately, this was back when it took several weeks to get results so by the time they had mine, I was wandering around Verona, Italy, searching for my lost suitcase. I made the mistake one afternoon shortly after arriving to check my home voice mail where there was a message from the radiology nurse telling me they'd found something on one of my films and I needed to come back RIGHT AWAY for another screening. As I was in Italy and had no intention of leaving before I was scheduled to, it was in the back of my mind the entire time that this might be my final hooray; playing Camille a bit, as it were (if only with myself as I never told anyone). Upon my return to California, I dutifully went immediately back for the screening and, of course, it was deodorant, not cancer.
Fast forward. Over the past years since then, the vast majority of my screenings have been normal although I was called back in 2007 because the radiologist thought they saw "something" in my right breast. Within the Duke Medical System here in Durham, if you are called back for another mammogram, you have to go to the HOSPITAL, not one of the clinics. I remember that this was the day before Thanksgiving and I made the awful mistake of scheduling an afternoon appointment. One of the readers had called in sick (home with her butterball, perhaps) so they were REALLY backed up. I can tell you, there were a lot of grumbling, grouchy ladies sitting in that waiting room that day (all of us decked out in those oh so fashionable robes that are standard size 3 XXX). I was there over 3 hours that afternoon but the good news was all was fine; turns out the screening picked up a small mole on the outside of the breast. They put a pretty pink sticker on it, screened again; yep, no bad boy cancer. BUT, although the routine screenings don't normally bother me, this one HURT because they were really squishing the breast. Thankfully, it was just two pictures.
So, last Tuesday was the routine screening, as I said. I was very pleased with the procedure; I got there a few minutes before my appointment, they took me back right away, and we were done within 15 minutes.
The following Monday, as in, this past Monday (as I mentioned, results come in a lot faster these days), I got a call from Duke telling me they needed to take more pictures of BOTH breasts. The nurse on the phone was cheerfully non-committal; "Oh, microcalcs in your left which is really common but they want to take a closer look and your right breast, let me see, why do thy want to see you for this breast? Oh, because it's asymmetrical". Me: What does that mean? Her: It's a weird shape (yes, after I hung up I did go into the bathroom and pull up my shirt to see if it looked oddly shaped but it looked the same as it always has). I made an appointment for the following Wednesday; then, got to thinking I didn't want to wallow in fear any longer than I had to so called back and was able to get in yesterday at 8:20 am. I'm sure Mr. B was thankful I rescheduled it for an early day as I was likely awful enough to deal with from Monday through yesterday (that Camille thing again).
So, back to the hospital, back to that same waiting room and those awful robes. At least this time there were hardly any other women there. I ended up initially with a very cheerful technician who talked a mile a minute but thoroughly explained WHY they wanted to see me again. Apparently, the vast majority of women have/will have microcalcs (micro calcium deposits) in their breasts at some point in their lives. 90% of them are nothing to worry about; 10% MAY be precursors to the nasty C. So, they pay attention to them when they first appear. She said I might have to have mammograms every six months for two years to keep a check on them. My right breast, well, I have extremely dense tissue and some of it seemed to be wadded up and so they needed to un-wad it and get a better picture. "So, she said, if you deck me while I'm doing your right breast, I'll completely understand". Uh-oh.
The tech was almost giddy about the new digital machine she had (which take far superior images than the other machines) plus, they are much faster to process (minutes) so I'd have my results that day. She then proceeded to tell me, "No matter what happens, don't freak out, ok? Even if they want to do an ultrasound, just stay CALM!" My mind was racing a bit, but, frankly, I was thinking more how my insurance company was going to FREAK OUT (that is, assuming they will pay for all of this).
So, she did the left one first, congratulating me all along on what a great, compliant patient I was (she was probably happy I hadn't "decked" her). After six or eight images, she started on the right. Ok, this one DID hurt but it wasn't as bad as I was led to believe.
I went back out to the waiting room and then was called back again by another tech for more pictures of the right. I didn't like her quite so much, probably because she wasn't as friendly and was quite a bit rougher (I did grimace a few times under her care; she's lucky I didn't deck HER).
Back out to the waiting room for just a few minutes before the not-so-friendly tech came back to tell me I was done, I could get dressed BUT the doctor did want to talk to me.
Crap. This had never happened before. Usually, they give you a letter of a clean bill of health and send you on your merry way.
So, I got dressed; she took me to some small waiting room AWAY from the main area of action. She told me the doctor would be there shortly and closed the door.
The first thing I noticed was a box of Kleenex on the table next to the chair I was sitting in. Not a good sign; they expect crying, then (as a former HR person, I understand the box of Kleenex thing). I had the newspaper and a book with me, but, I didn't take them out. I sat there staring at the wall trying not to think too much but still managing to think about more than I wanted to. It's amazing how, when faced with something potentially dire, our minds (at least mine) flip into action planning and contingency mode; or, maybe that is a defense against the dark side of slipping into despair.
It was a long five minutes.
I was in the middle of pondering if I'd have to reschedule my Florida trip and who would get my hope chest if I died when the doctor came in, along with a medical student.
She (the doctor) looked about as old as my stepdaughter but the fact that she had a medical student in tow, although annoying, was surprisingly comforting because, I quickly reasoned, she wouldn't be giving me BAD news with this big bumbling looking oaf of a student along side her, would she?
No, she wouldn't. She immediately told me everything was fine (thank you thank you thank you) and the reason she wanted to talk to me was to explain WHY they'd called me back, what they saw and show me, if I wanted to see (yes I did).
Upshot. The microcalcs ARE microcalcs. They are, apparently, fluid and moving around (hence all the pictures; would different angles and positioning cause them to move....yes, they did). As for the right, the Nazi tech managed to get the tissue unwadded (dewadded?) so that they were able to see it was just tissue there, no lumps or bumps (thank you, Nurse Ratchet).
I left the hospital feeling considerably lighter in mood. An added bonus; the parking lot cashier, as I pulled up, said to me, "Good morning, young lady". He then looked at me again and added, "PRETTY young lady".
Today, I've got a pair of sore ta-tas, to be sure and my chest and arm muscles are also none too comfy. BUT, hell, who wouldn't take this over the alternative? Had it been cancer, I would have had a 95% chance of still being alive 5 years later because it would have been detected early. And, yet, this government panel a few weeks ago is suggesting women a) don't need screening mammograms until 50 (and not after 70) and b) that there is no point to doing BSEs (breast self-exams). Why? Because the statistics show (simply stated) that there are more false positives, leading to expensive testing (such as what I endured yesterday) than are warranted for the small number of women in this category who actually end up having breast cancer.
One woman is too much. We all, likely, have known and loved one such woman or women.
And, excuse me, but, I don't want to be included in this "small number" this idiotic panel talks about; not having it detected, and thus drastically reducing my survival rate. I don't want anyone I know; not my sisters, not my sisters in law, not my cousins, not my friends; not my stepdaughter and nieces (when their time comes) to be part of this sad statistic.
Do you?
Mrs. B

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mrs. B's 2009 Book Reviews -- 3 Stars (Part Two)

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir (CD). Weir, like Erikson (whom I mentioned in my two star rating series) typically writes non-fiction about historical figures. Like Gregory (also mentioned in my two star series), her figures of choice seem to (usually) be one of the Tudors. In this book, she tries her hand at historical fiction with her subject being Elizabeth I. Although there were some liberties taken in the tale, I truly enjoyed this one (which ended right as Elizabeth takes the throne) and hope she continues the story in another novel. I suggest this book as a starter novel for anyone curious about Elizabeth I.
Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell. I'm not going to say too much about this book because it is the 4th in a (new) series by Cornwell (The Saxon Series) that I discovered early in '09 by checking out the first book on CD at the local library; I can't write about the fourth before I even mention the first (which is leading me to think that perhaps I've gone about these review in the wrong way). Anyway, I got so into the series that I listened to or read all four of them within the 1st six months of the year! Briefly, it takes place during the age of King Alfred during the time of the Saxons and the Danes back before England was one solid country. I absolutely love the main character, Lord Uhtred (Saxon by birth, Dane by nature; he's just so utterly COOL). So, I obviously like the tale (it is a continuing one); I just didn't like the this one as much as the 1st three but I am still eagerly awaiting number five! BTW, even Mr. B got into this series! As an aside, Cornwell is probably best known for his "Sharpe" series (made into a long-running TV show on PPS).
The Host by Stephenie Meyer (CD). I picked this up on a whim to listen to as I generally enjoyed Meyer's Twilight series. The Host was her first novel "for adults" and, I must admit, I thought it was better suited for yours truly's tastes (I guess I am an adult, not a teen-aged girl!) The story takes place some time in the not too distant future; aliens have infiltrated humans, literally. Through a medical procedure, these aliens, which resemble silvery centipedes, are placed within a human host. Once this occurs, the human's essence generally fades away but sometimes the human fights back. Such is the case for Wanderer, who gets placed inside a very strong woman named Melanie. Not only does Melanie refuse to leave, she starts socking Wanderer with her memories of her loved ones; her younger brother, Jamie, and her lover, Jared. It sounds kind of silly, but, it is quite interesting how the relationship between Wanderer/Melanie develops, as well as Wanderer's relationships with Melanie's family and friends (who know what has happened to Melanie). My only beef with the book was it was too long but, Meyer probably got into that habit while writing the over 500 pages each books of the Twilight series!
Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin.
I initially found this very interesting, informative and helpful. Until I got to the chapters where the author starts delving into bee eating birds and Mormons in some attempt to explain why women who are not mothers don't have the same feelings for a child as the child's mother does. Which, I think, most of us have already figured out! I ended up skipping two chapters (as I don't really care about birds or Mormons or how stepmothers in Burma cope; not relevant). The last two chapters were pretty good; especially the one about stepmothers with adult stepchildren (I think MY stepmother and my mom might find this chapter interesting). Anyway, as a stepmother who is sometimes pretty irritated with my stepdaughter and occasionally with her father (and almost constantly with her mother), this book was a bright spot. I'm not evil. I am normal. I also thank God my stepdaughter is no where near as awful as some of the rotten kids discussed in this book! I think this is a "must read" for any stepmother. You just may have to skip around it a bit.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lily In The Sink

Now if only I could train her to do the dishes while she's there!
Mrs. B

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mrs. B's 2009 Book Reviews -- 3 Stars (Part One)

Holy Toledo, Batman! I still have the three and four star books that I read from last year to review and I've already picked 11 for next year to read (via book club). I'd best get cracking and will try to keep each review brief. You can, of course, always check out more details on each book by going to or or wherever you prefer to get information/reviews on books! Is anyone reading these, I wonder? Oh well, onwards and upwards!

The Zoo Keeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman (Book Club Selection). A true story of a Polish man and his wife (non-Jewish) who operated a zoo in Warsaw prior to WWII. The zoo gets bombed by the Nazis so the couple decide to start hiding Jews in the animal cages/enclosures as well as in their house. In general, this was readable and interesting although, from time to time, the author seemed to be confused about whose perspective she was writing from (hers or the Zoo Keeper's Wife). At times, too, it was difficult to read (scary scenes with nasty Nazis harassing women and children; sad depictions of lost zoo animals, etc.) Still, this is definitely worth reading as it is about an everyday sort of couple who risked their lives to save others (which led to some fascinating disclosures within our club of family members who had been involved in the resistance in Poland). Reading this book also had me pondering if people in our time would do likewise.

Purple Cane Road by James Lee Burke (CD). Burke has written several novels featuring an on-going character by the name of Dave Robicheaux, an alcoholic cop in the (sort of) backwoods of Louisiana. Like many books of this ilk, each one contains a cast of return characters such as the wife, the daughter, the side-kick, the best friend, etc. and they don't necessarily have to be read in the order in which they were written (although sometimes bits and pieces can get confusing if one of the characters refers to something that happened in a book that you haven't yet read). This particular story centers around Dave delving into the specifics of his estranged mother's murder 35 years prior and his obsession with bringing the killer to justice. I don't usually go in for these types of tales, but, there is something about Burke's style that sits well with me and I truly enjoy listening to them as I drive about town. And, honestly, I also get a kick out of learning more about the Cajun South.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Book Club Selection).
This was one of two of the club's children/young adult selections for '09, the other being one also written by Konigsburg (albeit 30 years later). Konigsburg won a Newbery Medal for this story of a young girl and her little brother who decide to run away from home. Their destination of choice is the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art where they quickly figure out how to remain in the museum day and night without discovery. Since this was written for children, the author can get away with the fact that there really wasn't a terribly good reason for the children to run away in the first place and therefore focus on the neat aspect of living in a museum. The children get involved in a mystery of a beautiful statue, and, of course, they do find out a lot of themselves, each other, and that what they ran away from really wasn't all that bad.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Book Club Selection).
I didn't think I was going to care for this at all; Bryson's recounting of his attempt to hike The Appalachian Trail, but, it was genuinely interesting and very amusing. Bryson definitely has a knack for story telling, especially when he pokes fun at himself. His grumbling and grouchy friend Katz, along for "the ride", is hysterical. The books also contains quite a bit of information about our nation's park system and historical anecdotes of others who have or have attempted to walk the trail. Not that many people have made it from beginning to end (it stretches from Georgia to Maine, after all). This introduction to Bryson's style has definitely perked my interest in perhaps picking up more of his books.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hannibal Lecter Lucy

We got this muzzle after Lucy attacked one of our smaller cats last week. We are hoping we don't have to use it often (she was resigned enough about it). Certainly, she can't get at anything more than water and a few small pieces of food (no kitty parts). It's a safeguard, is all.
The good news is, she's been an angel since the incident. Really, quite good. I've been reading a lot about canine aggression (an extensive article courtesy of our vet) and I really do not think she has a serious problem. Hopefully, this means that we might be able to keep her after all.
Don't worry all you Lucy fans; the muzzle was on her for about 10 minutes and that is it. Long enough for me to ascertain that a) she'd allow us to put it on her b) she wouldn't completely freak and c) she can drink/breath easily.
Oh, and of course I had to take some pictures. She really did look quite pathetic!
Mrs. B

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mrs. B's 2009 Book Reviews -- 2 Stars (Part Three)

Note: I apologize for the strange format. Blogger has apparently gone ape-shit this afternoon!

Apparently, I read a lot more 2 star books than I realized. Or else I'm a REALLY harsh critic. I'll keep these brief so I can wrap the 2 star series up and move on to books I think are worth reading!
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs (Book Club Selection)
This was complete and total fluff with a completely rushed and trite ending. I can't believe she's written three, if not four, more in this series (this was the first). Everyone in our club thought it was fairly well silly. The plot? Who cares. The only reason I didn't give it 1 star is that it WAS easy to read and I read it quickly.
The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
This is the 3rd dud of hers I've read in as many years. Hoffman really likes to write about sisters/mothers/daughters and did it excellently with "Practical Magic". I think that may have been her last really decent book (maybe her first, too). Anyway; this is about three sisters with the last name of Story. One wild and carefree, one smart and studious and one, well, what do you think? Somewhere in the middle. I think I'm giving up on Hoffman unless the next one I read has nothing to do with women.
The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erikson
It seems lately that respected historians, previously noted for their excellent non-fictional accounts of various important figures, have taken to writing historical fiction about these same subjects. I've read many books by Erickson about The Tudors. She also wrote an excellent accounting of the life of Marie Antoinette; "To The Scaffold". Now, she's turned to historical fiction and, although the work was relatively engaging and I made my way through it quickly, it simply was not as enjoyable to me as her other books. But, I got a bit tired of the bodice-busting writing style; I almost felt like I was reading Barbara Cartland. I know a lot about Catherine Parr (the last wife of Henry VIII) and her story is somewhat sad and tragic, even the non-fictionalized version. But, this telling was a bit over the top and the ending, well, all I can say is PULEEZE! I'm fairly sure these fine historians turned historical fiction writers are so doing to both jump onto the Tudor fever bandwagon the show "The Tudors" has brought into town. I've noticed re publishings of books about The Tudors written decades ago. They are also, likely trying to compete with those writers who have become known for their historical fiction accounts of these subjects (Phillippa Gregory comes to mind). Anyway, this book is sort of Tudor mind candy. I'm glad I only paid $6 for it (hardcover) in the bargain bin at B&N!
Something for the Pain by Paul Austin (Book Club Selection)
I thought this was just ok. I wanted to like it more since it is a) for book club and b) Durham Reads selection for 2009.
But, I had a real hard time "liking" the main character.
Austin writes about his experiences as an ER doc in a local Durham hospital (never named, but I know which one it is). It is supposed to be a self-examination, I think, of how one maintains one's compassion in an ER where there are routine visits from crack-heads, criminals, illiterates, hypochondriacs and other irritants on top of dealing with a wife with small children (one of them with Down Syndrome). Although I found some parts interesting (especially as Mr. B had spent a night in the ER this past June), in the end, I just didn't connect with Austin. I know, I know, if he were my doctor in the ER, I wouldn't care if I liked him, I would just want him to take excellent care of me. But, since I was taking the time to read this book, MY time; I was annoyed that I didn't find him that engaging.

Whew! That's it for the 2 stars!

Mrs. B