Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vine Life

Without knowing me, you might think this blog is about my love of all things fermented. Things like beer (nope), and wine (not exactly), and sauerkraut (maybe). I understand. The name is a little misleading.

But The Winepress has nothing to do with fine merlot. I am alcohol ignorant. I’d never heard of cabernet sauvignon until I got married and I didn’t take my first drink until I was in my thirties. Honestly, until I learned that people can drink responsibly, I was afraid of the stuff.

So it might surprise you to learn that my best beloved and I just spent our anniversary in wine country—Sonoma Valley—because he does know a thing or two about wine. And among the apparently thousands of vineyards in northern California, he found one with our name on it: MacLeod  Family Vineyards. Of course, we had to go there.

Because he loves wine and I have a Winepress and we are a McLeod family. Ta da.

We joined the wine tour already in progress—because I am the navigator and . . . oh, let’s leave it at that. Four other couples sat comfortably on hay bales as we arrived, surrounding a dungaree clad man lecturing from a plastic lawn chair. Mr. MacLeod himself, who took a barren hilltop thirty-seven years ago and transformed it into a fifty acre vineyard full of merlot, ladyfinger, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel grapes, to name only a few. He was fifty-six years old at the time.

That was my first lesson of the day. You’re never too old to follow your dreams.

“I never worked a day in my life after I planted this vineyard,” he told us. “That’s the trick—find the thing you love to do and it’ll never feel like work.”

I’d kind of been listening politely, holding the glass of rose (ros-ay) I’d been handed, spinning the stem casually like I knew what I was supposed to do with it when I was really thinking that 10:30 in the morning was awfully early to begin drinking and would he be offended if I didn’t like the stuff?

Suddenly I snapped to attention as he told us how the grapes have ‘a relationship’ with the vine tenders. “Are you listening?” I heard the Lord whisper to me.

I was. I remembered Jesus talking about grapes and branches and how He is the Vine in John 15. Somehow it came across as kind of a frightening passage, with all that talk about pruning every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not crazy about getting cut down to size.

Instead, I was about to learn the day’s second lesson. Pruning is not a punishment. It’s life giving.

“Pruning is one of the most important things done in a vineyard,” the old gentleman was saying. “Leave too many buds and there will be too much fruit for the vine to ripen properly.” I didn’t  know there was such a thing as too many grapes. But there is. Get too greedy and you’ll wind up with a crop that won’t reach maturity.

Branch by branch, bud by bud. “. . . He Who started a good work in you (He) will carry it on to completion . . .” (Philippians 1:6) All the branch and grapes have to do is hang out and enjoy being attached to the Vine.

But Mr. MacLeod was still teaching from his plastic lawn chair. “Grapes are sensitive,” he said. “When you know how to listen, the vines will tell you in a dozen different ways whether or not they’re happy. If you want to grow quality grapes you want to make sure that your vines are happy.”

And that was lesson number three. It’s a gift to be sensitive.

We don’t value sensitivity very much in our culture. Being sensitive is often seen as a weakness or, at the least, a handicap that needs to be overcome. There’s no place for sensitivity in a dog-eat-dog world.

I’ve been told most of my life that I’m too sensitive—I cry too easily, wound too readily, feel too deeply. But here sat a ninety-three-year-old man who told us that the key to excellent wine is the careful handling of sensitive grapes.

If it matters to the Vinedresser to keep his grapes happy, it must be all right if they are sensitive.

I drank some of the rose, walked through the sloping rows of vineyard, sampled a few dozen grapes right off the vine, and listened to the other guests with gifted wine palates extol the intricate flavors of three MacLeod wines at the tasting table.

But what I really learned on that shady hill in Sonoma Valley is that the Gardener loves His vineyard and His relationship with sensitive, dependent grapes.

I’ll drink to that.

Quotes reinforced by content from "Journey To Harvest" by George M. MacLeod, published by George and Greta MacLeod, copyright 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Listening to the Lullaby

I sat on a black leather sofa in the dimly lit family room—listening to her voice and processing our afternoon together.

“Jules has some kind of virus and is very sad,” her mama texted me earlier. My daughter needed some things from the grocery store. “I could use a bit of help.”

Katy doesn’t ask for backup very often and Jules hardly ever cries when she hurts. It was an SOS if ever I heard one. Calling for details, I could hear her little four-year-old sobbing in the background. On Sunday she spiked a fever and for the next two days she had a pounding headache. They’d had a long week and it was only Tuesday.
I know I went through it—the whole sleepless, clueless, endless mothering thing. And when I got Katy’s text, I thought something empathetic like, “Poor thing. It’s so hard to be a mommy.” But until I walked through the door and saw Jules’ swollen eyes and took in the whole weary scene, I forgot what it’s like to be in the trenches with your children.
I read once that becoming a mother is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” You’re permanently vulnerable—it doesn’t matter if it’s a limp weed-blossom bouquet offered by sticky fingers or your own frightened imagination stirred by childhood illness, every gift is priceless and every attack on your babies targets you, as well.
That goes for grandmas, too.
So I hung with the other two kids, which gave me a chance to read and cuddle with them while my daughter took Jules to the doctor—who ran some tests, scratched her head, and sent Katy home with no final diagnosis. Maybe they can’t be certain until the patient gets well. A few times when my kids were small and got sick, the doctor actually wrote “F.U.O.” on the billing, followed by the amount I owed him for that professional opinion.

I’m not sure “Fever of Unknown Origin” was worth the co-pay.
Katy knew what to do, though. By the time the night was over, she had comforted her little one with warm baths, head rubs, pizza, meds and an impromptu tea party. They don’t teach that kind of care in medical school.
Lost in thought on the sofa, I waited while she ran through the bedtime routine with her kiddos. Suddenly Juliet stood next to me. “I have a present for you, YaYa,” she said, and put a purple unicorn in my hand. It was one of her treasures, handpainted and marked with a “J”. What do you say to a four-year-old who forgets how much her head hurts and gives her favorite unicorn to you just because she loves you?
She hugged me and ran off to bed, while a six-year-old breeze filled the void. Her older sister, Allie, always running at high speed through life, sprinted past me into the living room, grabbed a forgotten book, and spun around to run the other way. Abruptly, her arms were wrapped around my neck and she gave me my second good night kiss.
“Please come again soon, YaYa,” she pleaded with big, expressive blue eyes. “I love it when you’re here!” And then she was gone, papers ruffling on a shelf as she flew past.
For a few minutes I was alone, my hands filled with a ceramic unicorn and my eyes full of tears. Quietly, serenely, my daughter’s soprano voice floated down the hall. I sat in the shadows while she sang a lullaby to her babies, comforting and reassuring them again that she would be there to protect them.
A priceless drama had played out before me for the last four hours, culminating now in the soothing acapella which soaked into my own worried heart. I’d been there before, playing the lead role in my own family’s mini-dramas, and still tonight my heart beat outside my chest as though for the first time.
It was just me and that unicorn, listening to the lullaby, and pleading for mercy before an audience of One. The One Who heals, the One Who laughs, the One Who created music.
And the One Who held us all in His arms that night, His heart beating on the outside, too.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Can I gripe a little bit here? 

Fair warning if you’re only looking for ‘positive energy’ from me  today. Maybe I should have called this blog, The Whinepress.

Starbucks has been my coffee shop ever since that mermaid was a tadpole. Okay, maybe I’ve been unfaithful a few times—trying peppermint mochas at knock-off beaneries—but I always come back to the real deal. It’s my favorite place to blog and my first choice for coffee dates with friends.
But I’ll be danged if I’m gonna spend two or three hours sitting at a table with my legs dangling four feet off the ground.
Which is my gripe.
Why is Starbucks suddenly full of tall tables? Who signed the petition asking for barstools to sit on instead of comfy chairs? And what’s up with the eight foot tables. Did some designer think, “Hey! Espresso and picnic tables! Awesome!” That doesn’t make me think coffee shop—it screams cafeteria.  Sure, a long table like that could seat eight or ten people. But it never does.
Because nobody wants to sit next to a stranger at the same table.
That only happens at bars. And in tiny towns where you can still get a tuna melt at a Woolworth counter. Wait . . . nope. Even they went out of business. Because nobody wants to sit that close to strangers.
I don’t know. Maybe Starbucks is appealing to college students. But, listen, it’s the middle-aged crowd who has money to spend on overpriced coffee. And this isn’t Europe—we like our personal space here.
Last week I met my cousin in Mesa for breakfast. We did a little shopping and then headed for the real point of the reunion— a couple of iced grande peppermint mochas. We drove around town for an hour trying to find a Starbucks with seating for two that wasn’t in the nose bleed section or rubbing elbows at a communal table. In the end, we drank our five dollar coffees in the car.
The thing is, there wasn’t an empty cafĂ© table in sight that morning—only the uncomfortable spots were open. I don’t see how it could be any more clear than that. Nobody wants to share a picnic table, and we only perch like birds when there’s no other choice.
Maybe the timing is right for me. It’s not healthy to drink peppermint mochas all the time. I can blog at home. I can drink generic decaf coffee for a lot fewer calories than a grande three pump in a disposable cup. And now that Starbucks has taken down their welcome sign and replaced it with unfriendly tables, I can take a hint. Stay home, save some money. Sure, I know. This sounds like a ‘first world problem.’
But I live in the first world, whatever that means.
More importantly, they can’t get rid of me that easy.  I’m no quitter.