On My Mind

Happy New Year 2015!



Coinciding with launching my fledgling enterprise USA Ambassadors, I’ve moved from the bustling San Francisco Bay Area to a small town in beautiful Eastern North Carolina.  I lived in San Francisco after college then moved slightly north to Marin County at age 29.  The following 20 years, I enthusiastically enjoyed the food, wine and culture of Napa snd Sonoma. I discovered a special fondness for the Dry Creek Valley in upper Sonoma County and Yountville in Napa.

Presently, I’m enjoying getting to know and being a part of my new community. We are surrounded by water (like the Bay Area) and the weather is relatively mild. Other than that, it is quite different! I am loving life and hope you are too.


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Hello From Spain

(This is a post that just reflects who I am and some writing I shared with a friend while traveling in Spain a few months ago.)


I’m enjoying a vacation in Barcelona for 2 days and thought of you. I spent a week as the guest of Segura Viudas, owners of Freixenet Cava and added 2 days on my own in Barcelona. Today I hired a private tour guide, Marga, for 4 hours. Wonderful decision. I learned all about the eccentric, touched-by-God Antonio Gaudi.

I attended a Spanish guitar concert in a 15th century church that I booked online at home. Intimate and didn’t disappoint. I walked from my hotel down Las Ramblas, the promenade full of people at 9pm, past the Pt Catalunya square with a huge fountain into the Egleslias Santa Ana courtyard. Mass was being held in one of the buildings.

I had booked the concert and 3 course dinner. Ended up I was the only person to have purchased the dinner tonight. When you travel you imagine what it will be like. It is only a dream, when you are there it is usually different.

After the beautiful concert I met the musician who now lives in Slovenia. I asked why did you choose to live in Slovenia?  He said love.

A producer walked me across a square to the restaurant. My dinner included a bottle of Vina Mantibre 2011 listed under young wines (Cosecha from Rioja) 7 Euros-cheapest on list. All for me. Thank goodness it was decent wine.

My first course was salad with goat cheese and apple compote served with warm bread.  The goat cheese was the size of a mini frisbee. The salad could feed 4 people.  It could easily have been my meal.  How do the women here stay so slim? Healthy mediterrean food with wine.

The people In Catalonia are nice. Every time I smile a small smile at someone they smile back.

Eating at this restaurant alone, I feel a bit like Jane Austin observing and writing about what I see.

Table of six women, I’ve finished first course they have just wine (two different glasses each) white, I think they already ate. They are dressed like they are single, 4 of them went out for a smoke.

My second course is duck confit on scalloped potatoes. Devine smell. Large leg with sauce. Earthy not as sweet as I’m used to. I serve it with black cherry sauce. A little salty but good enough that I wanted to eat more than I had room for.

I am also surrounded by tables for 12 and 8, young people plus lots of couples. Interested  new dates and older couples too. The table of 8 seem like blind dates.

The smokers returned and were given dessert menus.

Lively atmosphere. Fabulous. Staff scurries. Why?

The couple to my left, there is a rose on the table. They are falling in love. Would it be too intrusive to ask for a picture? Now or never they are leaving. I can not do it because they may be ready to spend their first night together. He’s carrying a motorcycle helmet. They kissed before walking out the door.

I ordered a dessert that has a liquor in it and it is 3Euro more.  I have no euros with me. They will have to eat the profit tonight.

With such small wine glasses people drink slower. I’m on dessert and if I can drink 1/2 of this bottle…didn’t make it if I drink half a bottle I won’t make it down the Ramblas without someone noticing. I wonder if I order coffee if I have to pay for it?

It is 1120 and half the restaurant is empty. A previously loud table of 7 older men (40′s) is quieter now but they are still here.

The girls table of six are 1 talkative blonde and the rest dark. I think they know I’m writing about the restaurant and perhaps them.

Only 8 tables left, myself, the one behind me, the girls, the men, a not so in love couple who have been talking a lot but not smiling.

My 10 minute dessert was a lie. It feels much longer. Ah here it is!  Oh wow. Amaretto  ice cream, the pastry full of chocolate sauce not worth it. I am not in France.

No food came for the ladies. They were given menus and I notice dessert spoons but none of them ordered any I guess.  Ah wait desserts were delivered to all of them. The empty wine bottles were removed and a large bottled water placed in the middle of the table.

My fresh red wine did not compliment my dessert.

I accepted the offer to have an expresso- it will help me walk back to the hotel 6 blocks.  I hope I don’t get billed for it since I left the room without any money!

I just noticed the only table with a little lamp is where the lovers sat.

Also the couple who were talking and not smiling are holding hands across the table.

The table of beautiful skinny girls are licking their dessert spoons and seem happy. Another detail. The blonde is wearing white and all of the brunettes are wearing black.

The empty check plate arrived with 3 business cards.

Will I recommend them? Of course, especially if you are a married yet independent woman spending a weekend in Barcelona.


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Novato Wetlands

I’m not a fan of specific days or months being allocated to observe something, I like to think people are capable of caring about issues they believe in every day of their lives. However, perhaps declaring Black History Month or one day to celebrate Earth brings an awareness over time that helps raise people’s consciousness. Analogous to Earth Day, I have been thinking about simplifying my lifestyle. I feel a strong and exciting calling to leave my suburban existence behind and to design a new lifestyle based on what I have learned is really important to me.

In my twenties when I lived in the city, my belief was that it was a sin to live in San Francisco without a view; therefore that was my number one lifestyle criterion. My other criteria was to be in a neighborhood among friendly people, enjoy great food and drink, and I could walk or take a $5 cab ride to anywhere I wanted to go. My 1930 railroad flat on Telegraph Hill may not have had great plumbing but my ‘hood was North Beach. Every morning I walked down the hill to Washington Square to catch the bus to my job near the Golden Gate Bridge. If I missed a day, the old Italian men who visited each morning on the park bench would check up on me. With old country accents, they’d simply ask, “Hey, where were you?”  Getting off the bus in the evening, I’d stop at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and enjoy a Focaccia sandwich and glass of Chianti at the five-seat bar. Like every bar and restaurant in my neighborhood, the owners would watch out for me and ensure that I could enjoy myself unmolested by people they didn’t know.

In 1993, my once peaceful neighborhood park started to be overrun with unwashed, drunk, drugged-out or mentally ill men who accosted young women like myself or openly pee’d in front of families. That year, I met my husband, Bobby, through a series of events having to do with a wedding and a white water rafting trip. Bobby lived across the bridge in a place called Marin County. After a year of dating “long distance”, I left my compact San Francisco urban lifestyle and joined him in his ranch house on a quarter acre lot next to an open space preserve. His wide circle of friends shared their love for outdoor recreation, restaurants, bars and hot tubbing at his place. While I loved Bobby, I was less enamored by suburban living; I thought I’d fallen into the abyss where no one would be able to find me. However, I consider myself a good sport and I was willing to give it a try, so I threw myself into decorating, gardening and exploring outdoor recreation. The former went better than the latter, as my nickname quickly became “Bruiser.”

I distinctly remember discovering suburban shopping. I had never been to a Target and had never heard of the discount clothing and home store, Marshalls. I thought Marshall’s was pretty neat and I enjoyed bringing home new tablecloths, cloth napkins, napkin rings, candles, candle holders, vases, and various knickknacks. Eventually I bought clear bins that I stored in the laundry room for “extra stuff” and seasonal tchotchkes. My kitchen cupboards became crammed with lovely serving pieces in various colors and patterns that I would bring out for themed dinner parties and backyard BBQs. Of course, the same pattern was happening in the bedroom and I soon had a hall closet full of sheet sets, decorative pillows and comforters for every season.

Like many people before me, my interests have changed and I find myself eager to design a lifestyle that better fits what’s important to me presently. I’m glad for the experience of living the suburban lifestyle, now I won’t ever feel like I’ve missed out, but I find myself returning to my old criteria. I want to live in an uncluttered, simple home with things I love that includes a library that equates to peace and quiet. I want to live in a place of natural beauty yet it is not isolated so I can walk to cafés and restaurants. I want to live where I can meet interesting people who I share some commonality with yet I can discover new things through knowing them.

I bet my experience, and my criteria is not that different than many people of my generation. Interestingly, if we all act upon the urge to declutter and simplify, we will be positively contributing to helping Mother Earth.



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What’s Next?

It’s fall again, my favorite time of year.  I feel the enjoyable pull of contemplation; like leaves falling, everything old in me is drifting away. Despite the calendar beginning and ending in the middle of winter, my inner calendar goes from fall to fall. Fall is the time I reflect and let go, winter I rest and celebrate and come spring, I literally spring forth with lots of energy. Summer is always a time to shine.

2012 was a year of patiently pointing myself in my desired direction and using the incredible power of observance (listening and learning) to get there.

In my career, I envisioned that I would work with someone with a MBA so I could ratchet up my business acumen and lo’ and behold (as Peanuts’ Linus would say), I’m happily working alongside a Stanford MBA with 40 years of wine business knowledge. (Added bonus is there are three other delightful, high-achieving men in the office.)

My wine hobby has been interesting this year. The most unusual thing that happened is developing a friendship with Rex Pickett, author of the novel-turned-movie-turned play, Sideways. It doesn’t feel coincidental that we met just as his play started to gain serious traction.  With my batchelor’s degree in playwriting, I’m vicariously re-living all the giddy feelings that come with being involved in live theatre. It’s an unexpected treat.

Health-wise for Hubby and I, it’s been over 18 months since his paralysis which means we are in the so-called “sweet spot” for acceptance in the grieving process. I’ve seen how grief has pulled us backward while we are geared to move forward. Thank goodness, we are getting unstuck. I see a fabulous and fun future on the immediate horizon.

Lastly, the picture above is of Silkbush Mountain Vineyards in Breedekloof, South Africa. My new job is to launch their wines into the global market. I haven’t traveled there yet, but hopefully soon. Stay tuned.


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Being Healthy in 2012

Inspiration from Catena Zapata, Argentina

Inspiration from Catena Zapata, Argentina

It all started a month ago, when my husband and I decided to eat simply, local and organic.  We also stopped eating grains, dairy, legumes and nightshades. While it sounds drastic, it actually makes it very simple.  What’s left to eat?  Wholesome, natural food.

We eat avocados, nuts (no peanuts which are legumes), fruit (dried & fresh), greens, eggs, grass-fed meats, almond milk, lemons, limes, herbs, carrots, beets…lots of yummy food.

My guiding principle is, keep it simple.

Caveman Diet (Cavewoman?)

We are eating similar to the Caveman or Paleo diet, but I don’t call it that because I don’t like labeling eating. I prefer to think of it as a new way of shopping and eating. I haven’t changed what happens in the kitchen; I still use pots and pans, bake, sauté, chop and sauce.  And if you share a meal with me, everything will be recognizable and there will be no conversation about restrictions.

Sourcing Food

Living in a community where healthy food is easy to get is extremely helpful.  I’ve never shopped at the farmers market (I don’t like the crowds, using weekend time, or shopping outdoors). I don’t have food shipped to me direct from farms (although I think that’s pretty cool).  There are four markets in my area that carry local and organic food, so I just shop there and nowhere else.

Saving Money

I didn’t think about this costing more money or less because helping my husband feel better was my first criteria.  What I’ve found though is this way of eating is cheaper.  There is no more money being spent on anything in a bag or can (processed), so all that money is now available to pay a few more cents on organic, local produce. Grass fed beef is super expensive so we eat less beef, instead we have lamb, chicken or seafood which I prefer anyway.

Tighten, Leaner and Lighter Body

I’ve learned first hand that the old saying you lose inches first, is true.  The first change I noticed was the puffiness in my face disappeared.  Then I noticed that my arms and legs were tightening. My body felt like it was “righting” itself. It’s been 27 days and I’ve shed 5 pounds.  Am I happy? You betcha!  Am I hungry?  No. It’s really a better and more satisfying way to eat.

Medical Changes

My husband’s left arm has been palsied since October 2009 (post-spinal cord surgery). He can now move it across his body in a standing position.  He used to struggle through the day and be physically spent by 7:00 p.m., now he’s back to his old routine of enjoying activities until 11:00 p.m. or later. For several years, he has been working hard to walk but the distance was stagnant; this week, he walked 25% farther.

Sharing My Story

Like so many others, I’ve struggled with my body image my whole life. Even when I was (an unhealthy) 87 pounds, I didn’t know I was too thin. In the peak years of being strong and lean, I didn’t appreciate that my body was in great shape, instead I silently self-criticized. Hitting the fourth decade of life was a bit of a shock, everything I once did to lose a few pounds or shape up, no longer worked.  Simply eating only local, organic, fresh food is working.

If it’s on your mind to gain health in 2012, I hope my story gives you an extra boost of energy to go for it.

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I Wasn’t Always a Foodie

Today, we ascribe a bit of romance to cooking from scratch–making our own bread, cooking “homey” stews with cheap cuts of beef.  Thirty years ago, my mom cooked from scratch to save money and feed a large family.  I thought she worked too hard so I decided I wasn’t going to be a housewife and that meant, not learning to cook.  She laughed (encouragingly) at my feminism and crowned me, Microwave Queen. My teen years, I only ate microwaved Elena frozen burritos every day.  I even proudly made a pineapple-upside-down cake in the microwave. Then I went to a liberal arts college on the far north coast of California.

I lived off campus with older students who were health conscious.  No microwave allowed.  The little cooking I did consisted of putting food in a steamer basket in a pot and putting the lid on.  When I moved to San Francisco, I loved, loved, loved eating out.  I could tell you the best place for a Martini, roasted garlic and baked brie, Italian pot roast or the best French restaurant.

After marrying and moving to the ‘burbs, I thought Hubby was going to cook because he had been a bartender and foodie early in his career. He made the drinks but he only cooked if it involved an outdoor grill. For a decade, I made spaghetti, steak, microwaved potatoes and salads.  I subscribed to Sunset Magazine and played around with recipes a bit.  I thought my friends who followed Martha Stewart were neurotic.

Meanwhile, Hubby built me a huge raised bed garden.  I remember looking at him cross-eyed, saying under my breath, “do you know how much work gardening is?”  I gamely filled the beds with herbs, vegetables and flowers.  By the third year, it was a pitiful plot of under-nourished leggy herbs and pale, sickly vegetables.  I was working full-time and traveling a lot. Hubby’s response was to buy me a few cooking classes and a wine refrigerator for Christmas.  I traded one of the classes for a knife sharpener but I did learn all about wine.

His persistence has finally paid off. Seventeen years after we started dating, I’m in cooking school and actually learning how to cook.  My favorite recipes come from Epicurious and I no longer scoff at Martha Stewart.  The garden is once again functional–I’ve even started seeds this year.  Hubby’s throwing out hints about raising chickens which of course, I’ve always called horrid dirty things.  Fresh eggs would be nice though…

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The Power of a Nap

R.B. Meyer Photography, All Rights Reserved

This is an excerpt from Lessons From the Creek, written by Life Coach & Adventure Leader, Deb Martin.  I’ve been reading her email newsletter for years.  She lives in the Michigan woods enjoying a lifestyle vastly different than mine.  Peeking into her world always brings me peace, joy and common sense good advice that I can use.

Give it A Rest, by  Deb Martin

Once again, January has locked the northland in a deep freeze.

With the cold temperatures, little moves. The creek has numerous ice bridges over it and the little bit of running water moves toward the river like liquid gelatin. In an otherwise silent world, the river itself is full of ice flows, creating an unearthly groaning sound as they bounce off the frozen bank. The chickadees, jays and nuthatches stay busy at my bird feeder, a little more frantic for the food that will sustain them in these cold temperatures. They have become friendlier, grateful I imagine for the unending source of seed I am able to provide. They speak little, too busy eating for warmth than having conversation over a meal. The deer move in each evening for a snack on what’s left of the corn I’ve thrown down for the jays. The squirrels have moved inside their tree-top nests, the partridge and rabbits are buried deep in their snow caves. There is little evidence of night activity beyond a few mice prints on each night’s new snowfall. Life moves minimally. Everything has fallen silent.

And even though we have so little light during these days of January, I too feel the urge to close my eyes and enjoy the peaceful darkness of a nap. …more

Note from Alana – The picture above is me on an atoll in Belize. I wrote an article for CleverGirls & LifeScoop about taking a Virtual Vacation.  It’s a lot of fun when you can’t get away!

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Goodbye 2010

Hubby Walking

2010 was the best of times and the worst of times (nod to Charles Dickens).  A lot of wonderful things happened, but honestly the end of the year overwhelmed it all.

By September, Hubby’s spinal cord injury progressed to the point that if he did not have surgery immediately, he would be completely paralyzed.  The difficult operation morphed into a critical situation on the operating table; but in the care of three skilled specialists, they repaired the spinal cord as much as humanly possible. However the cord damage was so intense, he spent the next month in a San Francisco hospital for spinal cord injuries, learning to walk again.

Still the Superman type, he’s worked full time since coming home from the rehab center.  I’m his full time assistant. I help him shower dress and eat.  I bring him what he needs at his desk and drive him where he needs to go.  His left arm is temporarily palsied, once it comes back to full function, he’ll be able to do much more by himself.

I’m thrilled by his progress.  Before the surgery, he was getting more and more paralyzed in both legs and arms over a four-year period. Two months post-surgery, he has progressed from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane and now sometimes without a cane.  His muscles are stronger in his legs, and his attitude is hopeful.

Our 17 years together has prepared us well to cope and be strong.  Bobby’s pushed himself and me to ride to the top of tall mountains on our bikes, ski deep powder in the snow, cross rivers on our motorcycles, run 10ks in the rain, scuba dive into caves, and surf among sharks (not kidding).  If we had our choice, of course he wouldn’t have these physical problems, but it’s just another adventure, another mountain to climb.  Bring on 2011!

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Thanks to American Express for sponsoring my writing today about small businesses.  American Express is presenting Small Business Saturday, a way to honor the local merchants who are the backbone of the economy, this Saturday, November 27.  They’re offering statement credits to people who shop at small businesses, advertising for small-business owners, and donations to Girls Inc. for “Likes” of the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook.  Join the celebration by clicking the “Like” button and then visiting the Facebook page to learn more about the program and read the terms and conditions that apply.


I love, love, love this idea of promoting small business shopping the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I buy almost everything from small businesses…groceries, clothing, gifts, shoes, jewelry, art, wine and dining out.  Supporting small businesses creates a sense of adventure and fun.

American Express asked me to write about one small business, and I’ve selected Oxbow Market in downtown Napa.  Filled with small shops, it’s heaven for foodies, art lovers and wine drinkers!

Here’s a list of all the artisan purveyors and here’s my itinerary for a perfect small business Saturday.

Share a glass of wine with a friend at Oxbow Wine Merchant (there’s also a Wine Merchant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building) and pair it with a cheese plate from Oxbow Cheese. (The cheese gurus craft a perfectly paired cheese plate for your wine selection.)  After warming up on wine, stroll through the merchants “stalls” and visit Culinary Heritage Antiques for a unique, one-of-a-kind gift for yourself or a friend (it’s owned by a Sommelier).  The Oxbow is a charming, intimate space so I spend time asking lots of questions and chatting with the experts at the Whole Spice Company and the truly amazing 7th generation natural beef company Five Dot Ranch.  There are several places to eat; my current favorite is C Casa, an artisan Taqueria, enjoy festive, friendly service and addictive gourmet tacos. Before I get in my car to head home, I run back into the wine shop and buy a few bottles of Uvaggio, grab some Kara Cupcakes and get a cup of Joe to go at the famous Ritual Coffee.

If you’re near Napa, check it out or discover your local neighborhood stores & tell me about them.

I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective , which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Small Business Saturday

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My Birthday Wish

Birthday Cake

Some birthdays involve big trips, lovely parties, friends or family, but this year, I’m resting.  My spirit says, give yourself the gift of quiet time. I made no plans except to care for myself.  As I happily played in my garden, I opened a beer and turned on the radio.  A Reggae tune came on, transporting me back to college…good times, good friends and a decidedly slow pace on weekends. (Was it a sign?)

When I give someone a birthday card I always wish them a fabulous year ahead.  Last year was packed with parties/events, wine tasting, work, and unfortunately some personal crises.  Frankly, if the next 12 months are a little calmer, I’d love it.

So this year, all I have planned is a trip to Germany (as a guest of Wines of Germany) & Paris (my gift to myself), a reasonable work-pace and of course, the best gift in the world will be an improvement in my Hubby’s spinal injury.  Keeping my fingers crossed and a positive thought, and making a big wish when I blow out  my candles.

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