Saturday, April 25, 2009

What I Learned From Bill Williamson

The Williamsons make and share some very fine wine in lovely Healdsburg, California.

Plus, Bill Williamson knows more about the inside of my mouth than my dentist or I do. This is both disturbing and a real shame. However, as a result of a ridiculously informative, hilarious, and occasionally out-of-control tutorial on the landscape of my taste buddies, I am rapidly catching up.

What I learned from Bill:

1. Wine changes stuff.

Of course, I already knew this, but in a more limited sense. For example, I already knew that wine can change a Canaan wedding from another unmemorable event to "Honey, bring that empty wine skin! Vinny just uncorked the GOOD stuff!" It can change how good I sound when I sing, or my ability (and desire) to count calories. It can transform a train ride from just a way to get from east to west, to a life-long memory of drinking champagne out of paper cups.

Bill enlightened.

Wine changes the flavors you can find in food. Honestly, there is bliss for your taste buds in Irish cheddar you never even knew existed. I'm not going to explain it all here, mostly because Bill is downright effusive in his generosity.

He says at the outset of the pairing experience, "If you want more of anything, just ask." And darn it, as the time ticks by, you realize he means exactly what he says. Having a great time? Really enjoying that particular wine and want just one more chance to try it with the truffle oil salt against the Parmesan cheese? If you have that look on your face and your glass is empty... Poof! A lovely winery elf, Mrs. Williamson, appears with extra splashes for all. They made me feel like I was a dear old friend over for dinner after a few years absence. They also made me feel like I should just surrender to the moment and not worry about taking notes.

And this is why I won't try to explain how Bill made Williamson chocolate give up a more serious hit of cocoa than you would believe possible: the Lovely Winery Elf visited our table frequently, and I can't remember much that Bill said, except for Number 2 below.

2. There is no such thing as the right wine for the right food. Every wine is distinct. Therefore, each wine will bring a slightly different something to any food you put in your mouth at the same time. The only thing required of you is to close your eyes and chew. Do this with Bill's magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon, and you end up awash in a delicious existential understanding that there's not one thing more important you need to be doing right now. Of course, as I have learned in cooking, this "pairing freedom" still leaves a wide open window to the possibility of putting two very good ideas in isolation into a very bad relationship, like the honey-and-mustard sandwiches my sister made as a kid, for instance.

So there are a couple of rules, after all.

Bill made it easy. He explained in simple terms how to think about wine varietals with families of food flavors, and then gave ample samples of both so you get the point. I won't illuminate further. See #1 above.

Maybe the final thing Bill taught me was the most important, and better caught than taught. You’ll just have to go see for yourself.

3. It's possible to do what you love.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How I Almost Chipped A Tooth On An Inflatable Bed

I should have read the fine print more carefully.

The copy said, "The incredibly comfortable Inflatable Memory Foam Raised Queen Airbed Mattress by Intex quickly and easily inflates with a convenient wired remote control. Remote can also gradually release air if the mattress is too firm. Inflates in about three minutes. Deflates for travel and storage."

There isn't an untrue word in that entire piece.

It did inflate quickly. It was as comfortable (amazingly so, actually) as promised. And the remote did function to gradually release enough air to adjust the firmness. With time, you could go from the uber-firmness setting of "Why am I not just sleeping on the floor?" to the squishy bounce of "If he abruptly rolls over once more and slingshots me from a dead sleep to within inches of the ceiling again, I'm going to change my name to Giselle and join Cirque de Soleil." The tricky bit came when Rick and our delightful company left for the airport. I thought, "I'll just tidy up quickly and put the bed away."

The remote did as advertised. It gradually released enough air to adjust the firmness of the mattress. And no more. In my opinion, we had barely begun to creep into the "Trampoline Giselle" Zone of Support when the gentle breath of air that was shushing out of the bed stopped.

Problem #1: I could hear the motor humming along, but breeze had died down and could not be resurrected, no matter how many times I revved the engine. And I still had a queen-sized bed that needed to fit into a storage bag the size of a single-occupant kitty carrier. I couldn't find the instructions and figured they had been thrown out with the box. Oh well. I'm smarter than an air mattress.

Near the remote control connection in the side edge, I noticed two big black valve covers, one for each chamber. With resignation and a silent promise to God that I would read the ad copy more carefully for future online purchases, I flipped open the opened the top covers so I could start the process of manual air release.

Problem #2: There didn't appear to be any internal hole plugger-upper doomahickey. All there was, in both deep narrow valve orifices, was a thick filament of plastic, as though the manufacturers had left a rubber thread hanging. I poked my finger around in one and was startled to be rewarded with a loud blap of air. Unfortunately, as soon as I moved my finger a micron,
it stopped. After a minute (really) of gentle probing and intense concentration, I figured out how a light pressure applied directly to the top of the wisp of rubbery plastic would open the flood gates of air.

Thus, the plan: if I sprawled on top of the mattress and held my two hands above my head and reached around down to the valves--and if I could maintain the finicky angle of attack that was necessary to keep the valves open--I would eventually best the beast. And I remembered no one said it would be easy. Or quick. Or painless.

Problem #3: Hours passed. (Okay, the whole experience was 47 minutes from beginning to end, but trust me. It felt like hours.) As the mattress s-l-o-w-l-y deflated, my fingers kept shifting and the air would stop flowing. Eventually though, with my fingers frozen in place and the feeling leaving my arms, I did feel my belly gently touch down on the floor. However, I was just one woman in the middle of an only partially deflated 20-inch high queen-sized bed. While my body was now resting solidly on terra ferma, there was still a solid wall of inflated blue vinyl towering above me on either side of my prone self. (Think of a hot dog nestled in the bottom of an over-sized bun.) The only way I was going to force out more air was to roll around. But you see the issue here, don't you?

Problem #4: I couldn't roll around and keep my fingers in place. That's when it occurred to me: if I doubled the mattress on top of itself, I could make a run for it, flop on top like an Olympian high-jumper, and reach WAY around to the bottom layer where the valves lived. A concerted application of gravity-induced pressure, some fine finger dexterity, time, a little luck, and, voila! I'd be off to other campaigns. Fortune favors the bold, so I implemented.

All I can say is that for once I was glad I have long arms and determined toes: I was now perched without a net on top of three feet of bouncing, slippery vinyl, like a circus bear on a balance ball. Except bears apparently have a better sense of balance than I do. Despite my best efforts to keep my fingers in place, my toes dug into the carpet behind me for balance, and my focus riveted on staying still, I started to roll forward.

It must have been a combination of the plastic fumes I was inhaling with my head upside down over top of the releasing air, and my determination not to lose purchase on a proven finger angle. No matter the reason, by this time I was in a zen-like stupor. I'm just glad I only bashed my head into the wall. If I'd been let loose on a longer trajectory before making contact, I have no doubt I would have hit the floor with such enthusiasm I could have chipped a tooth. Thank God for small mercies.

A quick shower rinsed away the sweat of battle and the bump is already receding, so it's all good. The mattress is still taking up one third the bedroom, but it will just have to wait now until the cavalry comes home. (I've got the video camera batteries charging as we speak.)

P. S. Ironically, Rick created the 4-panel cartoon a week before our company arrived. I thought you might enjoy both stories.

P. P. S. The cavalry just came home, listened to my story, walked up to the valves, and unscrewed the covers, leaving a huge hole behind. The mattress deflated the rest of the way while we stood there and watched. He then walked over to the storage bag, reached in to the bag, and removed the instructions for use. The valve I was messing with is for inflating the bed with a conventional foot or manually operated air pump.

I don't know whether to kiss the cavalry or pinch him for being so smart and/or hiding the instructions in the bag. And if you see me running with scissors, stop me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Return On Investment

We listened to a motivational speaker/ stock market maven for eight hours this past Saturday. I learned enough about “trailing stop losses” and “covered calls” through the day to keep my butt squished into a sardine-stacker chair in an overheated, windowless ballroom with 400 of my new best friends as we dutifully answered questions like, “How many of you wish you hadn’t lost most of your 401(k) last year?” Man, in hindsight—meaning looking backwards through the lens of my sore tush—I really must have needed those scraps of investing information that squeaked through the motivational fog.

The speaker was your classic energy-in-a-bun. He was mildly entertaining and possibly even well-versed in his subject matter. This last quality remains a mystery, since his prime directive was, apparently, to positively shift our collective certainty that we did not think we could do what he was not quite getting around to teaching us. His relentless pursuit of this goal was impressive. What was not impressive was the depth of content covered and his lack of originality in attempting humor.

How many of you  have heard the following “lines” from the stage? (Hands up, everybody!! I need you to stay interactive here! You only get out of this what you put in to it!)
  • I was in the half of the class that made the top half possible.
  • Is having more money better than having less? Yes or yes?
  • [regarding a bathroom break]… at least this time I remembered to turn off my microphone.
  • [someone in the audience sneezed] Bless you. Did I tell you about my uncle who died from a sneeze? He was in the closet of another man’s apartment.

I was just grateful we were spared the “… like herding cats” and “Cross your arms. Now cross them the other way. How does that feel? Yes, change is uncomfortable.”

Okay, so this sounds a little cranky perhaps, but please, cut me some slack. While the portfolio is now lightly polished (decent ROI on the day), my rump is still in recovery.