L o b a B l a n c a {dot} c o m

If there's nothing wrong with me, maybe there's something wrong with the universe.

Please Stand By…

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So here it is, the first day of my favorite month of all…the month that I love to turn into a 31-day challenge here at the lair, either to my geekery or my drinkery…and nothing. Not for lack of thought (although I gotta tell you, denizens, my creativity levels are dangerously in the red lately).

You all might have noticed that there are some technical problems here at the lair. Things have been wonky with my WordPress software for a while now, but I’ve been managing to keep it going with a little gumption (and a lot of R-rated language). Things have reached a critical level, however, and I’ve had to reach out for help. Truth is, though, I might need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. I was deeply upset by this thought at first, but I think I’m coming to terms with it. I’ve been able to pull a backup of my posts, so the text won’t be lost. How I return that text to the blog is what I’m considering at the moment.

Who knows though? Someone with more know-how than me (and that’s quite a long list, I assure you) might be able to address the problem and get things back up and running. Paws crossed, right? Just know that I know things are wonky and I’m trying to set them right. And that I think of you and the lair often. Now go grab a beer and watch a horror movie for me.

Hugs and howls,
Loba B

BookBin2014: The Silkworm

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It looks like this is the year when I rediscover J.K. Rowling, eh? I’ve already reviewed The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling this year, and obviously enjoyed them enough that I wanted to continue reading Rowling’s more adult fare. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite prepared to jump into her latest offering, The Silkworm, just yet. However, when the library emails to inform you that you’re next in line for a popular book you’ve placed on hold? You make yourself ready.

As with The Cuckoo’s Calling, this is another book Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and another book featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike. Again, I have to say that I love Rowling’s ability to create holistically stimulating worlds for her characters and, subsequently, her readers. I love falling into the pages of these books, walking alongside these characters. I think Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are delightful and I enjoy every moment I’ve gotten to spend with them thus far. I admittedly find some of the secondary characters irritating, but that’s life, innit? The core is compelling, and that’s what matters most.

I also enjoyed the plot of this novel a bit more than the first Cormoran Strike story. Much darker than the first story. Much more gruesome and sinister. This story focuses on the fate of an out-of-favor author who goes missing, only to turn up murdered in a manner similar to the fate of the protagonist in his latest book. With only a select group of people having seen said manuscript, it’s up to Strike and Ellacott to shake away the chaff and find the culprit.

Let’s drag out the dead horse that I usually beat at this point regarding mystery novels. All together now: “Not my cuppa.” Fine. I think they might at least be growing on me…or at least, Rowling’s take on the genre is wearing me down. This story was a lot less anticlimactic in its reveal than I found the reveal to be for The Cuckoo’s Calling. I still felt slightly “meh” regarding this reveal (perhaps because I had started to pick up on where the story was heading and why), but more for my own personal mystery aversion. Objectively, Rowling pulled together a fantastic story. Also, she’s quite the twisted sister. Me gusta. There were a couple of particularly vicious reveals that either made me newly appreciative of her obvious internal darkness or laugh as a result of my own gallows humor. Rowling continues to impress me with her authorial acumen to a point where, even when I don’t necessarily enjoy the genre, I’m still going to willingly go along for the ride because I know the driver is so impressively skilled.

Final Verdict: Even though I wasn’t quite prepared to fall down the mystery novel rabbit hole once again, Rowling made it easy for me to follow her by providing me with another riveting visit to yet another one of her skillfully built worlds. Actually, I think I enjoyed this one enough that I could see it finding its way into my library. Definitely looking forward to the next Cormoran Strike tale!

BookBin2014: Batgirl Volume 3: Death of the Family and Volume 4: Wanted

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It seems to be that I’m locked in a ménage à trois with Kate Kane and Barbara Gordon. I spend time with one…I inevitably then spend time with the other. It’s not a bad relationship, to be sure…especially when you’ve got someone like Gail Simone still plotting the course for Batgirl (I can’t really deal with Batwoman’s future right now).

Simone is still at the helm, thankfully, for Batgirl’s third and fourth graphic novel collections, Death of the Family and Wanted. The third volume is part of an umbrella story arc that ran through a few other Gotham-related characters’ comics as well, but was still compartmentalized quite nicely enough that you don’t need to read the others if you’d rather not (which I’d rather not, thank you). There were a couple of elements that I was a bit curious about, but the wonderful thing about teh Interwebz is that you can find the answers to almost any of life’s lesser mysteries with the click of a few mouse buttons or the swipe or two of a finger. It’s fantabulous, is what it is.

I love that one of the holdovers from the “clean slate” reboot that continues to remain a significant part of Batgirl’s storyline–being previously shot and paralyzed by the Joker–returns in this collection, full-throttle. I love that the writer who helped Barbara Gordon deal with the aftermath of that moment in her life is once more leading our heroine through the fray. I also love that Simone is one of those rare gems of a writer in that she’s able to balance between the action and the interpersonal connections of her characters with the dancer’s grace of Batgirl herself. Sometimes, she falters a bit…but she is mostly on-point the entire time.

Same continues into the fourth collection, which deals with the aftermath of how the third collection ended. Cliffhangers are cliffhangers, denizens. They keep you hanging on and hanging around. I would love to give more details regarding the action…but spoilers. I don’t necessarily mind mentioning something like Batgirl’s former paralysis by the Joker because that original action happened many moons ago at the hands of a Joker wielded by the pen of Alan Moore. The expiration date on keeping that secret ran out a long time ago. However, all this action is new and fresh–and quite enjoyable. Again, I feel a bit guilty stating this, but I think Batgirl is having the better run in the Bat Race between her and Batwoman.

Why do I say this? More holistically solid writing. Less misogynistic artwork. Way less. Again, I can’t help but wonder if this is because Simone is at the helm of the writing, but the artwork for Batgirl not only has been consistently beautiful, but it also rarely ever feels exploitative. It’s celebratory of the female form, yes. It’s depicting physiques that are physically impossible, yes. It’s a comic book. That’s allowed. What shouldn’t be allowed is wanton sexism and objectification of women. And that is something that has been blissfully absent from each one of Batgirl’s collections. I wish I could say the same of Batwoman.

The other thing that I will mention in this review, that happened in a beautifully understated and naturalistic way, is this moment:

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Alysia Yeoh is Barbara Gordon’s roommate. If you’d like to know more about Simone’s rationale for this character, you can read it here.

With what transpired with Batwoman and the fallout of Williams and Blackman leaving before they could even finish their story arc, I’m admittedly skittish about this revelation. I’ve no idea where it will go from here. If it were up to Simone only? I’d have no worries at all. She is brilliant and kind and will give this character the respect she deserves. However, there’s always the shadow of DC itself, hovering over its characters and making rash decisions for no logical reason. I hope nothing bad happens to Alysia. I’ll be watching, DC. Make note.

Final Verdict: Keepers, they both are. I was a little meh about the revelation at the end of the fourth collection, but mainly because it was predictable in that genre fiction way. However, cliffhanger failure notwithstanding, these two were solid entries into the New 52 continuation of Batgirl’s story.

BookBin2014: Batwoman Volume 4: This Blood Is Thick

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I’m quite sad that I am here to give a rather lackluster review to my latest adventure with Kate Kane. Perhaps it’s because the last collection was, by far, the best of the best since Batwoman’s “New 52″ relaunch. After all, it’s kind of hard to top Batwoman partnering with Wonder Woman. Also, Williams was back as the artist, which you all know delights me to no end. And both Williams and Blackman were fiercely on-point when it came to that collection’s story arc. Simply put, the third collection was perfection, IMHO.

The fourth volume, This Blood Is Thick, isn’t awful (that’s such backhanded praise, no?). Something about it, however, didn’t set well with me. Perhaps it had more to do with my knowledge of the behind-the-scenes issues. As fans know, this was Williams and Blackman’s last run as Batwoman’s authors. She’s now in another’s hands, with Williams and Blackman not even concluding the cliffhanger on which this collection ends. It’s a good cliffhanger, to be sure…but that just makes it all the worse. Dance with the one who brought you, DC. They brought the Lady Kane to this precipice. They should have been the ones allowed to lead her over the edge.

But I digress.

Perhaps it also was because Batwoman actually doesn’t get all that much air time in this collection. Surprisingly, for being the titular character, she’s almost relegated to supporting cast a lot of the time. That’s not necessarily terrible, since many of the supporting characters in Batwoman’s world are pretty ace…but I still would like my fair share of time with the star of the show. Also, I didn’t really like the injection of Batman villains into Batwoman’s storyline. I get why they’re there, but I have always enjoyed that Batwoman kind of exists in her own…what? Parallel universe to Batman and the rest of the Bat family? They don’t really intersect all that often (although Batgirl got a full-on taste of Batwoman’s mad skills a while back). I like that. But this time, seeing Batwoman going up against Batman foes like Mr. Freeze and Bane? I don’t know anything about these characters…and I don’t care to. They aren’t Batwoman characters. So GTFO.

Says the one who went crazy over Wonder Woman’s appearance in the last collection.

Finally, though, it really is the ending that really pissed me off with this collection. Again, Williams and Blackman were cut off at the knees here. They’d already written Issue 25 (the continuation of where this collection ended) and were beginning to plan out Issue 26, which would have ended the arc of this particular Batwoman run. They knew where all the characters were going to end up, they knew how they were going to conclude the story…and now? Now we’re never going to get their ending. And that sucks. Seriously, I reached the last page and felt oh so frustrated and not the least bit furious. Really? That’s it? That’s how you wanna roll with this, DC Comics? Lame.

Final Verdict: All that being said, I’m keeping this in my collection. I don’t think that it was so terrible that I don’t want to own it anymore. I am, however, very disheartened by the truncated whimper on which Williams and Blackman have gone out with Batwoman. This is the last batch of their comics, and the next collection will mark the arrival of the new Weaver of Tales for the Lady Kane, Marc Andreyko. I’m not sure what to expect with the next collection, but I love the character enough that I’m willing to give it a proper chance to impress me. All I have to say is don’t blow this, Andreyko. I don’t take kindly to people fumbling my fandoms.

Photo Fun Friday: Dylan McDermot Mulroney

I’m struggling to find the time and the motivation for posting lately, but this was another one of those “inspired-by-true-events” misspoken names, a la the now infamous Tawny Kattan photo (which is still probably less traumatic than Steven Tyler Moore), that turned into an “I have to make that happen” PhotoShop moment.

Without any further explanation or any further ado, I give you…Dylan McDermot Mulroney. You are, of course, very welcome.

Dylan McDermott Mulroney

BookBin2014: Scream Deconstructed: An Unauthorized Analysis

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This is going to be a really short review because: A) this book isn’t going to be for everyone; and B) my feelings for the book are probably already very obvious to those who know me. Lucky you, denizens.

I bought the Kindle version of Scott Kessinger’s Scream Deconstructed: An Unauthorized Analysis completely on a whim (darn easy 1-click Amazon shopping option). Why? Because I love Scream.

You know, in case you haven’t noticed that before in all the myriad posts I’ve dedicated to banging on about this particular movie/franchise.

/ end sarcasm

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that, if I had to choose one horror movie I’ve seen…just one…that would be my default horror movie from now until forever? Scream would be in the elite list of five from which I would struggle to make my final selection. I’ll let you try to figure out what the other four are.

Do I love the rest of the franchise as much? Not by a long shot. That first film comprised some bit of magic that was so precious and rare that it simply could not be recaptured for the sequels. But I find things to appreciate about the other movies. Well, maybe not the fourth one. I do believe I have already made my feelings about Scream 4 very clear.

Although, to be honest, after reading Kessinger’s analyses of the fourth movie, I was intrigued and impressed enough by his thoughts that I rented the movie to give it a fair shake at perhaps showing me what it showed him. I admittedly still didn’t see what he saw (and still saw a depressingly disappointing addition to the trials and tribulations of Woodsboro’s sauciest survivors), but I still appreciate what he sees in this film and value his opinion.

All that being said, I can’t recommend this book to everyone…or to most people, for that matter. If you don’t like the movies, then this is not a book for you. It’s definitely only for the truly obsessed. Like yours truly. However, if you do love, or even just really really like, Scream and its sequels? Then I can’t recommend this book enough.

Final Verdict: Staying on my Kindle. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s got some great analyses, even if I don’t always agree 100 percent, and I imagine I will be going back to peruse this one every now and again. Whether or not that means I’ll ever give Scream 4 another go is a completely different story…

BookBin2014: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend

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Before you even ask, no. I have never seen a Rin Tin Tin movie. I have never seen a Rin Tin Tin show. I didn’t even know what the original Rin Tin Tin looked like until I read this book (or how different German Shepherds used to look in comparison to how they look now). However, these facts speak to the illustrious ubiquity of this dog in such a way that I felt compelled to borrow Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend from the library when I saw it. I don’t know about in other countries, but here in the United States, the name Rin Tin Tin is so entrenched in the American pop culture lexicon that I’m absolutely certain that there are myriad others, just like me, who have never once seen any Rin Tin Tin movie or show, and yet know precisely who Rinty is.

For those who might not know, Rin Tin Tin is a German Shepherd (or Alsatian, as I believe the breed is called in some other countries) of epic entertainment proportions. I use “is” rather than the past tense, even though the original Rinty has been dead for many years, because just like other famous dogs—Lassie, Benji, Toto, Snoopy, Scooby—the dog might die but the name lives on (okay, Snoopy and Scooby can’t die). In Rin Tin Tin’s case, however, the name isn’t merely a stage name given to another dog. Lassie was never Lassie. Lassie was Pal. Benji was Higgins. Toto was Terry. But Rin Tin Tin…was Rin Tin Tin.

The life and legend both began during World War I, in a field in Flirey, France, where American soldier Lee Duncan found two German Shepherd pups still alive among the wreckage of a battle-damaged kennel. Duncan, a quiet, shy young man who found solace from an emotionally turbulent childhood in animals, claimed to instantly see something special in little Rinty and fought to bring him home once he was discharged from service. Back home in California, Duncan trained the dog and took him to Hollywood, where they literally walked from studio to studio, looking for someone who would be interested in making movies that would star Rin Tin Tin.

And it worked. (Or so the legend goes…)

Talk about a fairy tale story.

Rin Tin Tin starred in several silent films and appeared in talkies as well as television shows (and radio, too! Radio! For a dog!). Of course, the name has fallen to several different dogs (the original dog lived from 1918 to 1932, which means that the name of Rin Tin Tin has outlived its original designee by 82 years…and has existed for this line of pooches for almost 100 years). In fact, Rin Tin Tin XII still makes appearances at public events, although the ownership of the dog and the name has become quite muddled throughout the years.

And that’s where Orlean’s book becomes quite an interesting tale. Honestly, the entirety of the story is fascinating. Orlean weaves a tapestry not just of the lives of the dog and owner and those they brought into their fairy tale, but also of the times and the events that shaped and were shaped by Rinty throughout the years. History, sociology lesson, Hollywood fabrication, love story, legal dissent, and urban legend, all rolled into this impressive tale of one of the most long-lived and beloved canine legends to emerge from the mists of bygone Hollywood.

Final Verdict: I love dogs, so of course I loved this book. I’m willing to bet that if you actually watched Rin Tin Tin, either his movies or his shows, then you would love this book even more than I did. Even if you know nothing about Rinty, this is a beautifully crafted biography of a dog and a time long passed but still cherished. I’ve already added this one to my wish list.

Wine A Little

I went really deep into the contemplative weeds on that last post, eh? Thought I would lighten things up a bit by finally discussing something that I’ve discovered I really, really love doing. A lot. A LOT.

Naughty denizens, whatever you’re thinking right now…I’m proud of you. But it’s not that. Or that.

No. See, while another one of my Internet PersonalitiesTM might be known as a whiny hater, Loba would now like to declare her passion as a wine-y lover. (Ooh, overwork that pun, Loba!) I love to drink. True, I used to love to drink because I loved the numbing insouciance of total inebriation. Rite of passage and all that jazz, I suppose. I’m a bit of a higher-class drinker now. I drink to enjoy the flavors, the craft, the love that goes into these libacious fineries. I’ve already proven myself to be quite the beer snob, both through Darktober and Febrewary.

Now it’s time to do the same with wine.

For several years now, we’ve been making regular trips to both the East Coast (Virginia) and West Coast (California) wine regions. Virginia has surprised us several times with some really fabulous wineries nestled throughout the Shenandoah region, but none so far has come close to competing with what California has to offer. Whatever miracle of wind, water, fire, earth, and air that winemakers have captured out there, they have become masters (and mistresses) of bottling the magic in the most delicious ways possible.

First, a few points of clarification. When we visit California wine country, we stick with Sonoma. Why? Personal preference. Experience has left us with the opinion that Napa is overcrowded, overpriced, and overhyped. They have decent wine, sure, but not decent enough to support the fees and prices they charge. Napa is the Disney of Wine Countries.

Conversely, Sonoma is bucolic, relaxing, and they offer wines that are the most appealing to our palates. If you lean toward Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels and shy away from crowds and empty fanfare, then Sonoma might be the side for you, too.

The other thing that we love about Sonoma is the abundance of small wineries. I love going to wineries so small that their bottles don’t even have bar codes on them. I’m not trying to be “I liked that wine before they had bar codes” hipster or anything. I’ve simply learned that a lot of times (but not always), if a winery has become large enough that they’re able to ship large batches of multiple varieties and vintages all the way over to the East Coast, then it’s because they’ve hit upon a process that allows them to produce bottle after bottle after bottle of generic wine. Again, it can be generic and delicious—but it’s still generic.

Think of it this way. When you buy tomatoes from a chain supermarket, they’re tasty, right? Nice, pretty little hothouse on-the-vine tomatoes that all taste fine…and the same. And then you get tomatoes from a farmers’ market or, even better, from your own garden. They might not be as refined or as pretty as the hothouse tomatoes, but they’re fresh and warm and succulent. And the flavor! You can taste the difference—intense, rich, robust. That’s kind of how I feel about wineries large enough to mass-produce versus the smaller wineries. The mass-produced wines can be great (there are a few I love), but the smaller wineries are free from the pressures of mass production and can focus on cultivating a wine of intensity and surprising variation.

Like I said, today is my declaration of wine snobbery, denizens.

That all being said, whenever we’re about to take a trip to Sonoma, I spend a good week or more doing research. I pull out my map of the region and I begin to cross-research wineries there against wineries recommended by different sites related to the area as well as against personal reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor. I narrow down the selection to a list of places I think will be good (or places we’ve been to previously that we enjoyed and want to revisit). I group them according to area, charge up my GPS, and I’m ready to go. So far, we’ve made it to more than 50 wineries (in both Sonoma and Napa). That might sound like a lot (okay, it actually is a lot), but we haven’t even scratched a patch on wine country, considering that Sonoma alone has almost 400 wineries.

So what’s the point of this post? Well, I’m not Yelp or Trip Advisor, but I do have some recommendations. I’ve narrowed my first list down to 10 (because that sounds like a lovely even number, right?). Some of these are wineries we’ve been to more than once. Some are wineries we just discovered—but their wines were so delicious, I couldn’t help but praise them. All of these wineries produce rich, bold, complex reds—so sorry if you aren’t a red wine drinker. I’m admittedly just starting to learn more about white wines, but I will be sure to indicate if any of these wineries have whites I enjoyed.

Oh, and enjoy a few of the multitudinous photos I took recently while driving around Sonoma. That’s another thing I love about Sonoma—even if you don’t like wine, you’re going to love the area. Stunning vistas and long, winding roads that duck through groves of ancient, gnarled trees cloaked in Spanish moss and meander through orchards and rustic valleys full of flowers and farmhouses and collapsing barns. I could drive around these areas all day. Plus, the perfectly aligned rows of grape vines do wonderful things for my mild-grade OCD.

And now, in alphabetical order…

Loba’s Top Ten Sonoma Wineries, 2014 Edition

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A. Rafanelli. We visited this winery for the first time during our most recent trip. It’s by appointment only, but it’s well worth the effort. They also are very amenable to making time to welcome you for a tasting. I didn’t realize we needed an appointment, so we ended up literally phoning them while sitting outside their gate; 15 minutes later, we were driving up to one of the most beautifully kept wineries we’ve ever visited. Seriously, this place is beautiful. Do not miss the opportunity to wander around the property after your tasting. We entered the rustic tasting room and immediately received a glass of the most delicious Zinfandel I’ve ever had. It was dark and luxurious, with a fine floral finish. They don’t offer many wines for tasting, but this Zin was wonderful enough to make the trip worth it. We also were lucky enough to meet the owner (who looks eerily like actor Ray Wise, who will always be Leland Palmer to me). He’s quite a gentle, genial gentleman, and the history of his family’s journey from Italy in the early 1900s to this beautiful winery and its wonderful wines is lovely.

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Bacigalupi Vineyards. This was another recent discovery, but another winery that shows the strength of its age and experience through delicious wines. One of the things that we learned from other wineries’ staff is that Bacigalupi is a well-respected vineyard. Several other wineries purchase grapes from them because of their quality and consistently praise them (which is kind of nice; Sonoma wineries are very supportive of each other). It’s only been since 2011 that Bacigalupi have run their own tasting room to let others sample their own blends. The winery produces a lovely Chardonnay, but we instantly fell in love with their Pinot Noir. Again, this is a wine that speaks to a deeper level of care and skill, with delicious complexity. Additionally, the family-run tasting room was a lovely experience; we even ended up meeting both the Bacigalupi twins, Katey and Nicole, as we stopped one day for a tasting and the next day to pick up a bottle of Pinot because we couldn’t stop thinking about it. Great experience.

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Frick Winery. What do you get when you combine a charming tasting room, an eclectic wine maker, and a line of wines so delicious that it’s virtually impossible to select one favorite? You get my favorite winery. Bill Frick is a viticultural virtuoso. He’s been working his vines since 1976, and it’s pretty much just him running the whole show. He only produces 1,400 cases each year, which grants him the ability to be very hands-on and selective with the whole wine-making process. The end result is a series of some of the most holistically pleasing wines I’ve ever had the honor of experiencing. He also offers one of the most diverse line-ups, especially for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel-heavy Sonoma. He excels at both reds and whites; his Viognier is elegant and coquettish, and his Cinsaut and Counoise are bright bold streaks of incomparable flavor. There’s a reason that we have more Frick in our fridge than any other winery’s offerings. Simply put? He’s amazing.

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J Vineyards & Winery. This is probably the most mainstream winery that will be on this list. It’s also one of our first truly great wine-tasting experiences (and the winery that introduced us properly to the Sonoma side of the wine coin), so J has a special place in my heart. They are gifted at Pinots, including several single-vineyard rotations that definitely wow and surprise with subtle flavor variations that make each worth trying. They also surprised me with some truly exceptional sparkling wines. I’m typically not much of a sparkling wine fan, but J’s line is atypically sweet (without being cloying) and refined (without being overly processed). Be forewarned though: They are also one of the most expensive wineries we’ve ever visited in Sonoma. Definitely a treat reserved for when we feel like splurging a bit.

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Matrix Winery. I nearly didn’t stop at this winery because of the name. Unless Trinity is going to be my sommelier and Morpheus is somewhere in the back, adding blue and red pills to the wine, I kind of think the name is a little silly. Then again, I go by LobaBlanca, so what do I know about serious names? I’m so glad we stopped, because Matrix has become one of our favorite stops since we discovered them a few years ago. They are a premier producer of fabulous Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, (sensing a theme?) and Sirahs, including several awarding-winning vintages made with…Bacigalupi grapes (insert “It’s a Small World” theme here). Their tasting room can get a little crowded on weekends, which detracts from the experience slightly, but their wines have always impressed.

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Merry Edwards. Ms. Edwards, one of California’s first female winemakers, has been cultivating her viticultural skills since 1974. The result is unquestionably stunning Pinot Noirs. In fact, I would be so daring as to state that I think her line of Pinots are the finest we’ve yet experienced. Considering the competition (even on this list alone), that’s about the highest praise I can offer.

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Moshin Vineyards. What’s not to love about a winery with a giant hummingbird statue out front? Even when we don’t stop to go in, I love driving by this charming little tasting room. Inside, though, I know is a sublime line-up of amazing reds, including a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon (which is more prevalent over in Napa than among Sonoma vintners). They also make a couple of delightful Chardonnays, but I always come back to their wonderful line of Pinots. One thing that I haven’t yet noted is that, with smaller wineries, variation is a reality…a beautiful, delicious reality. Vintages at these wineries will change depending on how well (or not so well) that year’s grape crop did. With a winery like Moshin, with several different types of Pinot Noir, you are bound to find yourself switching preferences based on all the wonderful, magical things that transpired in the process of getting from grape to wine. What’s even more fun is when wineries let you do a side-by-side comparison of different vintages of the same wine (something that Moshin has let us do). So much can change in the span of a year…

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Porter Creek Vineyards. Roll up to this vineyard and you might find yourself greeted by a friendly vineyard pooch. You will definitely find yourself floored by the beautiful view from the tiny tasting barn (yes, it’s a barn). Again, this winery can get crowded easily because of the small size, but the wines are worth the stop. Pinots and Zins, of course, dominate, but Porter also makes an exceptional old vine Carignane as well as a silky Russian River Chardonnay.

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Thomas George Estates. This was another recent discovery, but their wines were so amazing that I ended up buying half a case of their varieties (and would have bought one of each if I could have). They are equally skilled at whites and reds, with divine Viogniers and Chardonnays and Pinots and Zinfandels of impeccable caliber. Plus, their tasting room is located inside their wine cave, which makes for an awesome tasting experience. We were lucky enough to have a great sommelier, who had recently taken a trip to Virginia to sample some of their wines, so we were able to compare notes and exchange recommendations. We were also lucky enough to finish up our tasting and purchases right as a limo-bus full of tipsy bridesmaids (and presumably a bride) arrived to make the wine cave echo like it was being invaded by drunk chickens. Why mention this? To point out that wine tasting is not just about the wine. It’s about the sommelier, the location, the other patrons. I have no doubt that my experience there would have been far different had we arrived while the bridesmaids were getting their drunk on. In fact, I probably would have left without even going in. Just keep in mind that sometimes a winery needs a second chance to impress you (or disappoint you twice).

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Zichichi Family Vineyards. If you are looking for a unique boutique experience (try saying that five times fast after a day of wine tasting), then I direct you to Zichichi. This winery does barrel tastings, which means that they take you directly into their fermentation area and draw samples straight from the barrel. It’s really quite awesome. (True, they might do “regular” tastings, too, but I don’t think they do; at least they haven’t either time we’ve been to their winery). Also, they make some truly remarkable Zinfandels. I vacillate in preference between their Estate Zin and their Old Vine Zin (see? Tasty, tasty variation), but both are extraordinary. Plus, the vibe here is so…chill. You enter a beautiful tasting room and are greeted by some of the friendliest, most relaxed sommeliers possible (I’d be pretty mellow, too, if I had their view all day). Nice, friendly, informative staff and some amazing wine. Seriously, what is there not to love about a place like this? Just note that what they are offering from the barrel hasn’t yet been bottled…so if you like what you try, you can order it, but then you’ll have to wait a few months for it to finish aging. Trust me, though, when I say it’s well worth the wait.

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And there you have it—Loba’s top 10 Sonoma wineries for the moment. I’m sure this list will change. I’ve already started a list of new wineries for our next trip. Who knows what those might bring (other than more delicious red wines)? If you ever find yourself roaming around the back roads of Sonoma and you stumble across any of these wineries, I hope you give them a go. Or head to their Web sites and see what they’re selling (if you’re lucky enough to live in a state that allows wine shipments). Whatever you decide, I hope you enjoy. I also hope you have some really strong tooth paste…or just enjoy having a purple smile. Red wine—stainfully delicious.

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it, denizens? Not a while since I paid any love to the lair. I’ve been banging on about books and beers and strange ephemera from my youth that once (and forever) made me happy. But it’s been a while since I wrote something navel-gazey, eh? What better day to change that then the auspicious 11th birthday of my bloginations?

One of my favorite online stops every now and again is The Oatmeal. Funny, dorky, irreverent, and grammar sticklers.

During a recent perusal, I ran across the section The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. True, I don’t really run all that much. Sometimes, if I have an abundance of energy, I’ll bring it down a few notches with a jaunty jog here and there, but mostly I walk. A lot. Uphill, downhill, on paths, on trails, in cities, in the woods, wherever. I love to walk. The longer and more strenuous the walk? The more I’m going to dig in. I don’t take glucosamine every morning for nothing, dammit.

But why? The unglamorous reason is that I started walking four years ago as a means to outpace having to deal with my mom’s death. I dealt with it some, mostly through blogging here, but when the edges got too sharp and the feelings got too raw? I moved on. If I just plugged in my earbuds and kept moving, then I could focus on the music, on the pace, on the sweat and exhaustion, on the physical pain and not the deeper hurt. Basically, I tried to walk away from dealing with it all, not accepting that it was chained to my ankle and following right along with me.

But that’s a whole other story.

Funny thing (and I’m always one for gallows humor), is that when I started to resurface from the fog of my self-enforced avoidance through exercise…I really liked the physical me I came back to. I’d “avoided” myself down 50 pounds and up several metabolic notches. I had a reduced appetite and increased energy. I was toned and muscular and for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to run away from the reflection in the mirror.

Thus bringing me back to the Oatmeal post on running. Bet you thought I’d forgotten that, didn’t you? Some of the post made me laugh and some of it passed right over me without any response. One panel, though. One panel punched me right in the solar plexus:

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“I grew up a fat kid.”

When I was in the safety of my own world (as any good introvert will tell you, we all have two worlds: the outside one in which we have to live, and the inside one in which we choose to live), my weight wasn’t an issue. It never stopped me from battling Cobra Commander and Destro or using my proton pack to fight ghosts or calling for K.I.T.T. before the bad guys found my hiding spot. I could be anyone, do anything in the confines of our yard…although, looking back, I would love to have known what the neighbors thought of my strange antics, swinging from tree limbs, running and rolling and ducking and dodging, none of them able to see the fantastic adventures my imagination was creating for me.

Outside of my own world? I was fat. And others made a point of informing me that I was fat, as if somehow this truth eluded me without constant reminding. Because somehow having to shop in the boys’ husky section for jeans or the women’s plus-sized section for school clothes when I was 11 wasn’t enough.

[Loba Tangent: Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Yes, kids bullied me for being fat. The sad truth, though, is that when someone else came along, even lower on the popularity food chain than me, I didn’t step up and defend them. Instead, I reveled in the feeling of finally giving back some of what I’d been taking all those years. Kick a dog too much and sometimes the wrong person ends up losing a hand when the dog finally bites back. I bear the weight of that truth even now, because introspection is deservedly cruel sometimes.]

I’ve tried since my teens to tame my weight, but almost always in that half-assed, “miracle diet,” snap-my-fingers-and-it’s-done-right? way. You know what that approach gets you? A boatload of disappointment and discouragement. Intellectually, I understood that being healthy was more important than being skinny, and that being healthy was a commitment (that I obviously wasn’t ready to make).

But the part of me conditioned by years of fat-shaming and societal demands to fit into one generic mold, regardless of the multitude of body shapes women should have, had left me convinced that I was never going to be attractive as long as I had a double chin or my thighs rubbed together when I walked or I had bingo wings—and these were the reasons that I had to be skinny!!11!!!1

[Loba Tangent 2: That’s a whole other post as well: realizing that society’s expectations, especially for how women “should” look, are bullshit. Okay, so maybe that’s not a whole other post…but I bet I could turn it into one. Because wordy.]

Worse yet, I was never going to consider myself attractive. I was only going to see these “flaws.” I was always going to feel terrible and let those acidic feelings erode my self confidence, thus trapping me in a cycle I simply didn’t have the strength from which to break free. Truth is, at the point when my mom died, I was still overweight and still unhappy about it…but it was an “I can’t do anything to change it so why bother trying” defeatist unhappy, which feels as sucky as it sounds.

And then I finally pulled my head out of my ass after a year of running from the sorrow of my mom’s death and, I’m not going to lie, denizens…emotionally, I was still a mess, but physically, I felt fantastic. I had the energy level of a hamster on speed, my joints and back no longer hurt after I did any physical activity, my cholesterol was no longer a worry, I’d developed muscles in places I’d never had them and strengthened the muscles I’d previously had—I had let go of my erroneous focus on weight and ultimately ended up letting go of the weight as well. Not the ideal way to finally get my ducks in a healthier row, but sometimes we just have to go with what we’ve got.

Also, in my need to outrun my sadness, I’d finally outrun the shadow of my arch nemesis: “The Fat Girl.”

See, Mr. Oatmeal Running Man Matthew has his Blerch. I have the Fat Girl. I joke about her all the time, saying that she’s still back there, WAAAAY behind me…too out-of-shape to catch me now. But she’s persistent, and one day, she’s finally going to close the gap between us. I “joke” about her, but secretly, she is my greatest fear. Wounds heal, but scars remain…and if a wound goes deep enough, the scar is just that much uglier.

The Fat Girl is my ugliest, deepest scar.

Do I let her control me still? Not often, but sometimes…sometimes I can hear her breathing right behind me. And so I strap on my sneakers and I go. I go walking. I go work out to some shockingly bad 80s movie. I move in some kind of positive way, because as long as I’m moving, those admittedly juvenile fears won’t catch up…even when I stop to drink half a bottle of wine in one sitting or eat ice cream for breakfast while at the beach (because what else should I eat for breakfast while at the beach?).

I’m always going to have a damaged image of myself. I’m always going to worry about my weight, always going to pay attention to what I eat. It is what it is. However, I’m not going to let that damage stop me from enjoying myself. Even in the not-quite-how-you’re-supposed-to-do-it way that I typically employ, I’ve learned that it’s not about dieting and meeting external ideals. If that were the case, I still wouldn’t look the way I do (but I finally look the way I like, so nyeah). No, I don’t always eat what I “should” or stick to some kind of tortuously limited diet. But, no matter what I eat or drink, I always make sure I keep moving…moving way more than I ever moved before.

“I run because it’s the only way I know how to quiet the monster.”

I began walking to quiet the sorrow in my head. I still walk, only now it’s to quiet the sound of a past that I can’t change but that I can continue to outpace. One step at a time.

BookBin2014: Weekends with Daisy

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Speaking of books that suckered me into reading them because of their cover art, that’s precisely what happened when I saw this painfully adorable puppy dog punim staring out at me from the cover of Sharron Kahn Luttrell’s book Weekends with Daisy.

Seriously, if you ever want to sell me anything, tell me anything, convince me of anything, or just get my general attention, put a dog on it (to paraphrase Portlandia).

And so it went with Daisy. I couldn’t resist her cute doggy smile or wanting to know the story behind it. What makes her more special than any other adorable pooch? She’s a service dog. Luttrell’s book is all about Daisy’s training through a program in which inmates do the bulk of the command training, and “outside” volunteers take the dogs for the weekend, to work on acclimating them to the sensory overload of life outside prison walls.

As cute as Daisy is and as laudable as this program is, I have to admit that I considered quitting this book after only a few chapters, simply because I found Luttrell too…judgy. Even before she learned why Keith, the inmate responsible for Daisy’s weekday training and care, was incarcerated, she makes several disparaging comments about him and inmates in general, which all came across as obnoxious and elitist. No, not all who are incarcerated are redeemable. However, not all who are incarcerated are the unintelligent, vulgar cretins Luttrell apparently assumed them to be. We are all fallible, all capable of making mistakes, all capable of stepping too far over that line of scrimmage and into the penal fray.

Just one mistake away, Luttrell. Ask Piper Kerman.

I will allow that Luttrell does seem to change her tone as the book proceeds and she begins to see Keith as more than his incarceration or more than his crime (without forgetting why he is in prison or the harm he caused). Really, this book is more a testament to Keith’s ongoing redemption. I would have been far more interested in reading more about his story rather than the banal Lifetime Move Network life of Luttrell and her family.

Still, it’s an interesting “beach read” kind of story that, indeed, has a happy, feel-good ending.

Final Verdict: Daisy is very cute and I’m thrilled that she is now helping someone as she was trained to do, but I think I’ll pass on adding this to my library.