Have a great trip…see you next Fall

When we moved from San Jose back to Texas in 2005, my husband and I promised ourselves we would continue to visit our beloved Bay Area—our home together for over a decade. At least once a year, we said. At first, we were true to our plan. We went back several times to visit friends and wine country. But after spring of 2006, the timing never seemed right. Airfare skyrocketed. Then I got pregnant again with our son, and he was too little (i.e., annoying to fly with). Emma, our oldest, was in “real” school now. One heap of inconvenience after another. The next thing I knew, it was 2010, and I realized I hadn’t been on airplane to anywhere in OVER FOUR YEARS. Which was just wrong. I could stop party conversation entirely with my horrific announcement of freak-ness. Luckily, we had a wedding to attend last winter after Christmas, and our whole family got to experience The Miracle of Flight together as we headed to Baltimore for a few days. What joy. I love my kids dearly, but flying with a family of five in today’s security-happy world is not that simple. Explaining to a three-year-old that he has to remove his beloved Spiderman shoes and walk through the scary capsule-looking thing surrounded by guys in uniforms scowling because they have such awful jobs... well, it wasn't natural. I longed for the easy days of jet-setting about with Matthew on a whim. “Want to go to Seattle?” one of us would say to the other on a Friday afternoon after work. “Why not,” the other would say. And we’d throw a few things in a backpack, buy a $100 round-trip ticket, and zip away for a few days of fun and exploration. We were the people that went to Antarctica on our honeymoon. We did crazy travel big-time. It was in this spirit of nostalgia and serendipity that Matthew and I booked our tickets back to SFO last month. We spotted a great airfare sale, snagged a deal on a hotel, and—with the help of his mother to watch the kiddos—planned ourselves a four-night trip. Just the two of us and the quaint town of Healdsburg. That’s the Dry Creek Valley, baby. Wine country heaven. I did a happy dance almost every day for a month, until the day came to depart…and off we went. Getaway trips for couples can be wonderful blessings. They can also be learning experiences. Our trip was both. I would like to offer you a brief summary of Our Trip to Wine Country 2011: Lesson 1: Planes are SO UNCOMFORTABLE now I’ve only flown First Class a handful of times, so I’m not spoiled on that or anything. I just remembered Coach being, I don’t know, HUMAN-SIZED. Nowadays, planes have:
  • First Class—which sat EMPTY for the most part on our flight out, taunting me with its ginormous seats from behind its stupid gauzy curtain. If you’ve seen “Bridesmaids,” you know what I was very tempted to do.
  • Main Cabin—where I was folded and stuffed into a doll’s seat with no elbow room, no foot room, and no ability to lean back because my husband put us in the row before the exit on our flight out, which I suppose I will forgive him for someday.
  • And…Main Cabin Select—which is what Coach used to be before planes shrunk and got cheap. We “upgraded” to Main Cabin Select on the way home, thank God. Hubby hates to hear me complain.
  The lack of space wasn’t the only thing causing discomfort. When you buy a plane ticket for what you think will be a $99 round-trip fare, and then you add on the ridiculous $25 bag fee, and then another $24 to actually be comfortable, $8 for Wi-Fi so you can hear the Rangers game while watching Stanford annihilate Washington State, $6 for a crappy sandwich, and $14 to chase fear of turbulence away with Sauvignon Blanc, your price goes up substantially. At least the headphones and the screening of “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” were complimentary. Lesson 2: No kids? Take your top off I had booked us the practical (read: UGLY) compact car from the cheapest provider I could find, figuring whatever, it was just the vehicle that would transport us from winery to winery. About as important as a fork is to the taste of a meal, right? Thankfully, the good lady at the Fox Rental Car counter heard we were having a getaway sans kids, back in Cali for the first time in years, and she took pity on us. For a paltry upgrade fee and a huge discount, we kissed that Focus goodbye and drove out of the airport in a rockin’ red convertible Mustang.   As we drove around top-down the next few days, wind in our hair and tunes blaring in what might arguably be the most beautiful place in the world, I have never been less consumed with buyer’s remorse. Finally, a splurge that was WORTH EVERY PENNY. (For the record, you should know I drive a minivan at home. That’s our ONLY car and has been for almost 7 years. To get that minivan, we traded in my beautiful Mercedes and Matthew’s awesome Yukon Denali. Practical sucks.) Lesson 3: Find luxury needles in cheap-ass haystacks If you hadn’t noticed, the theme of our little vacation was KEEP THE PRICE DOWN. When booking our hotel, I stayed away from the mammoth resorts and boutiquey B&Bs. I headed straight for inexpensive and found a great deal through, of all things, a Best Western. (Don’t laugh. I’m totally serious.) I booked what sounded like a decent room with a king-sized bed, a fridge, even a little fireplace, in a good location in Healdsburg. It was really cheap—like $99/night cheap in big bucks wine country, which is unheard of in October—so I wasn’t holding my breath for perfection. Imagine our surprise when we checked in and it was honestly BETTER than we expected. Comfy bed, nice service, a cute little patio with a bistro table and chairs! Fluffy bathrobes! A courtyard view with a fountain! A Jacuzzi tub! Free breakfast! Flat-screen TV with movies! I highly recommend the Best Western Dry Creek Inn. And you should tell them I sent you, in case I get a future discount. (Incidentally, the theme songs of our trip, which played incessantly on the radio, were Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Both songs, at least twice an hour, like clockwork. I used to like them.) Lesson 4: I am not 25 anymore When we were fresh out of college and only visiting the Napa area on a day trip, Matthew and I would hit about four wineries and a good restaurant and then head back home. This rarely resulted in any distress. On this trip, because we thought we didn’t have to limit ourselves as much, Matthew and I visited 10 wineries, one brewpub, and a bar in the first two days alone. Big mistake. Let’s pause and do the math. There were about five tastings at each winery, and we visited between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. That’s 50 two-ounce pours of wine each within a 12 hour period—or slightly over eight ounces of wine every hour for six hours at a time. Shameful. And delicious. By the morning of Day Three, after concluding Day Two with a raucous night out at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill watching the Rangers game with a bunch of new friends who were having an equally good time, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was tired and puffy. I felt old. Fortunately, my longevity has taught me perseverance. At 37, I am not a quitter. It was Day Three of My Vacation Without Kids, dangit, so I put on a happy face and did some shopping in downtown Healdsburg all morning. We enjoyed a marvelous lunch at Baci, an Italian restaurant just off the square, where Matthew ordered a superb sparkling wine from Ramazzotti—which he drank and I mostly looked at with disdain, the way I imagine people stared at Benedict Arnold, that traitor. After we ordered it (and probably butchered the pronunciation), the waiter leaned in and whispered, “That’s the owner of the winery right next to you at that table.” Sweet. Cheers from the hungover Texans. After lunch, I demanded downtime, so we headed back to the hotel. Unable to sleep, we hid in the dark room drinking Gatorade and water, watching “Midnight in Paris” without the distraction of children asking for stuff every five minutes. Miraculously, even after a Woody Allen movie, I felt alive again. We dressed up and hit the town for a glass of wine at Spoon Bar—where Matthew treated himself to a plate of oysters that he said were divine, and I will take him at his word on that because I find oysters disgusting. We concluded the evening with a late dinner at Barndiva, a restaurant featuring local organic cuisine housed in—you guessed it—an old converted barn. The chef worked for two years with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, if that gives you an indication of the yum factor and the ambiance. Oddly, Matthew’s favorite thing there was the bread, which he said was perhaps the best artisanal bread he’d ever had—and that’s saying a lot because he makes homemade bread that’s criminally good. I ordered an agnolotti with baby summer squash and other assorted goodies. Tasty, tasty stuff. Lesson 5: Oh, who are you kidding, join the clubs Before we left home, Matthew and I swore right and left that we wouldn’t bring home any wine and we MOST CERTAINLY wouldn’t join any more wine clubs. We were managing a budget vacation, and we wanted to simply be grateful for the time away. We didn’t need to spend any more money. Boy, we’re really dumb. I’ll spare you the gory details, but after Day One and Day Two, we became the proud new members of wine clubs at Seghesio (six bottles every three months), Mozzocco (two bottles every three months), Quivira (twelve bottles every six months), and Hop Kiln (four bottles every three months). We also shipped home a case of wine we happened to pick up along the way. Needless to say, we’ve restocked our sad and empty L’Hermitage wine cellar fridge thing for the foreseeable future. Lesson 6: I missed my kids Sure, we have Facebook and cell phones and texting, and we didn’t go a day without talking to the little monkeys, but by Day Five, we were ready to see their faces in person. Okay, so we stopped at the Hyatt DFW sports bar to watch the Rangers get massacred by the Cardinals for an hour or so after our plane landed—but that was purely a logistical decision. If we had arrived home before the game ended, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the kids and give them their souvenirs, and that just wouldn’t have been fair. Still, I missed those mess-making fools a little more than I’d anticipated. We’re already planning our next trip out, this time with the whole family so we can visit our alma mater in Palo Alto and maybe catch a football game before Andrew Luck leaves the Farm. We’ll totally grab Main Cabin Select seats. And this time, the practical car will prevail.