My Own.

Fill in this blank: “I love the way I ­­­______.” Don’t worry; no one else will hear you. What is the thing you think you do quite well? Try some of these on for size:

I love the way I cook.

I love the way I play the piano.

I love the way I can raise a garden full of vegetables.

I love the way I paint, sing in the shower, tell jokes…whatever.

There should be something, ideally several things, that you really get a kick out of doing and for which you really get a kick out of the result as well.  If not, you either need to get better at the things you are sort of good at now, or quit being such a niggling perfectionist. There is scant delight to be had in a life that’s “never good enough.” Thinking ourselves modest, we are really just killing a lot of fun and enjoyment that might have been had if we’d acknowledged that sub-perfect can still be pretty amazing if we’ll allow it.

I’m going to stick in a disclaimer right here. We all know some people (I am thinking of one now) who truly believe that any effort, even the paltriest, is deserving of a great deal of pomp and circumstance and maybe a cash bonus as well. To them this post does not apply. But these are typically adults with personality disorders and illusions of grandeur, or millennials. Neither which comprise my readership I assume.

The other pseudo-modest side of the coin is to claim we do whatever it is we do for the sheer enjoyment of the act itself with no thought to the final product. Like it doesn’t matter if everything I bake turns out shit, I just so love rolling out those pie crusts or mixing up those brownies. Really?

That’s child’s play. Children do mindless, inane things with no thought to the result because they have this very special gift of living right in the very moment (not necessarily a bad thing) and also the inability to properly link cause and effect. They could be mixing up mud pies in the garden and out of the oven come chocolate chip cookies and for them there may be no great disconnect at all.

But for the adult mind there is a necessary connect. We associate good doing with good results. So I would wager that those who say they just delight in the doing also get a secret charge out of the done. And there is nothing wrong with this at all.

For example, I love the way I cook. There is almost no one else’s cooking I would rather eat than my own (‘cept Mom’s, of course). I literally astound myself in the kitchen and as a result I eat my creations with a lot of satisfaction (maybe too much satisfaction?) and delight. Does everything come out Thomas Keller-quality? Not necessarily, but I am happy in the act and usually happy in the result so when I cook something that’s a flop, I am reminded that most of the time I am knocking them out of the park.

I am also a writer, evidenced by what you are now reading, and I find I like the way I write. This wasn’t always the case, but it is more and more now. Is everything I pen Pulitzer-worthy? Obviously not, but because I write what pleases me or is humorous to me, I am equally amused by reading it.

Am I an egomaniac? Depends on whom you ask, I suppose, but in my estimation I am simply honest about the fact that I find enjoyment in the results of my labors as well the labors. And I think this is how it should be and we should be free to admit it without being thought grandiose. So here’s the takeaway: like what you do…a lot. It’s far more delightful that way.

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Delighted Life Wine

I think it was inevitable. I blog about the things that delight me. It follows that wine would soon find a permanent spot in that mix. So this is the new turn this blog is going to take: in addition to the various delights of life I report, each week will also feature a wine that knocked my socks off. These won’t be the high-enders, necessarily. In fact, considering my budget, they almost certainly won’t be. They will, instead, be the wines that make an impression, that create an experience, that surprise me with their winning charm, and that help to make life just a little more special. These are not reviews and rankings; these are the wine stories—reportage on the intersection of wine and life, interesting tidbits, sensory observations. I invite you to come, to drink, and to be delighted with me.

Most of us ask and try to answer the wrong questions about wine. For a long time I felt guilty about my inability to distinguish by smell or taste graphite from menthol, or blackberry from black cherry. Tasting wine with a former manager once, he claimed to be picking up “smoked Meyer lemon” after one swirl and sniff. You’ve got to be kidding me.

We want to know, or we think we want to know, what does this wine taste like? But I would say that this isn’t the information we’re seeking at all. Allow me to describe using an analogy I am sure we can all relate to. A friend says, “I know this person who would be perfect for you. I should set you up.” You nod and she continues giving you the information she thinks you want to hear: “He’s about 6 feet tall, dark hair, wears these sexy, thick black glasses, dark brown eyes…whatever.” Sounds good, but you could pull twenty-five people matching that exact description and they would essentially bear no other resemblance to one another. This information, while true, is not all that helpful.

What you really want to know is how am I going to like this man? How am I going to connect with him? And, I would say, these are the same questions we want to explore when it comes to wine. However, we’ve been so trained to ask about exact varietals and flavor profiles that we aren’t really questioning and identifying the character of the wine, nor are we identifying what we’re really looking for based on our own personality and preferences.

Dating professionals and the like recommend that singles looking for a match get very specific about who they are and what they’re looking for. I don’t know if this is to activate some law of attraction process or if it is because once you are very clear about what you are looking for, you will be quite certain when you find it.

Case in point, there is a very popular wine at the wine store at which I work. I am floored by how many bottles of this juice sail out the door daily, but I had yet to try it. So when it was time to bring a bottle to a party, I thought it would be a prime opportunity to give this one a shot—it’s evidently a crowd-pleaser judging by the numbers.

So what did it taste like? I could tell you it tasted like deep black fruits or this or that spice, but what you need to know is: What was this wine like? What was the personality? To which I would respond: fat, lazy, and stupid. This is a wine that would have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. It is lethargic and unmotivated.

I recently tasted through a grouping of chardonnays at the lower end of the price spectrum (I hesitate to use the word cheap). What I encountered in the five was: 1) fat and happy with a big, though slightly off-color personality; 2) tropical and high strung; 3) solid, but not terribly exciting; 4) weak personality riding the coattails of a well-known name (all hat and no cattle, if you will); 5) refined, elegant, and charming. And guess what they all tasted like…Chardonnay. Toast, butter, pineapple, mango, oak, and all of the other traditional California chardonnay descriptors.

The flavors and the aromas are important, but I’m more interested in how they perform and how I find the experience of drinking them. As I now recommend these wines to customers, I want to convey the experience of the wine rather than the exact flavor profile. Which is more helpful and informative to you?

Delighted Life Wine is thus committed to the story of the wine, the personality, the background and the history. Again, do you want to know that guy’s driver’s license statistics or might it be more revealing to hear that he was the son of Italian immigrants, owns his own business, and can have a room full of people rolling with his charming sense of humor? People are more than what they look like and wines are more than what they taste like. Come, let’s get to know some wines.

Man-Smell.

I ride the city bus regularly and thus I can attest that not all of the smells one encounters whilst riding are those I would consider pleasant. Aside from the uplifting whiff of diesel penetrating the morning winter air (which I do truly enjoy), it’s usually a multi-national mélange of B.O.

Today, however, nose deep in a book as I rode downtown, I was caught off guard. I sniffed the air. I smelled a man. Naturally there were several men on this crowded bus—I wasn’t smelling all of them. I was catching the scent of what a man is supposed to smell like. I looked up as a middle-aged African American gentleman took his seat in front of me. I took a deeper whiff–cologne in the morning with a light overlay of cigarette smoke. I was in heaven.

The aromas that scented my childhood and adolescence were Calvin Klein Obsession for Men (dad) and Channel No. 5 (mom). In our family we believed that good people smelled good. It was simply a matter of proper breeding. Yet it appears there has been a shift in the cultural mindset. Today, evidently, we prefer people who don’t introduce themselves with their scent, no matter how delicious it may be. I wonder how the fragrance industry is making out these days. Are middle-aged black gents keeping the biz afloat?

Several years ago I worked as a barista at Starbucks and as my manager had not one ounce of compassion in her, I was frequently scheduled the early morning shift days on end. I never liked the thought of the 5:00am arrival, but once the customers started to emerge from the dark, begging the brew that would get them through the early hours, the chill morning was forgotten and I became excited to watch my regulars pour though the door. I loved three things especially: their suits, their deep, raspy baritone voices still unaccustomed to the day, and their just-showered morning man-smell mixing with freshly ground coffee. Aftershave, cologne, shampoo, pomade—these business-ready men were an olfactory delight. Sandalwood, pine, cedar, spices, leather, and evidently iced mango according to Ralph Lauren. Yes, this is what men are supposed to smell like.

But the man on the bus caught my notice because he was something of a rarity. It’s not so often (and certainly not often enough) that I encounter men who, for lack of a better way of stating it, catch my nose. So here is the question I have: When did everyone stop trying to smell good? When did neutrality of scent become the goal?

I would love to hear from my male readership in the comments section: Guys, what happened to the aftershave?

New.

I love the New Year, but I have a real hate/hate relationship with New Year’s Eve. I have yet in my adult life to participate in an evening that was worth bragging about the next day. I’ve learned to keep my expectations abysmally low.

As a child, NYE was a family affair. We’d make a spread of hors d’oeuvres, lay out a carpet picnic and watch movies all night. I have good memories of that. There was nary a thought of what to wear, nor where to go, nor whom to kiss at the end of the night. Miss those days a bit…

Once I turned 18, the bar was the place to be—crammed in with every other living creature in Minneapolis. It became an event of overpriced drinks, inflated cover charges, and skittering around downtown dressed in something that didn’t provide much more warmth or coverage than a Kleenex.

I am trying to think very hard about what I did last year, but I have no memory of it whatsoever. I make a point not to mentally record too many details. This year I enjoyed dinner at a neighborhood restaurant with some other semi-singles and can say, as a bonus, I was quite pleased with the wines I chose. Nothing earth shaking, but a very fine evening with friends and family.

But as much as I loathe NYE,  the start of the New Year enchants me—the new beginning, the opportunity to turn a corner. Naturally I make a whole pile of resolutions and I am suspicious of people who don’t. Nothing to change? No need to be better? No thought to how one might improve his or her character or contribute greater value to the world? Am I judging? Yes. Add that to the list of personal improvements to make.

This month, for book/wine club, we’re reading The Elegance of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. These quotes struck me as I thought about the year to come and the contribution I wanted to make in the space of it. Both are reflections from the journal of Paloma Joss, the twelve-year-old prodigy.

“…I was ripe for despair. Then I remembered I had decided to build and not destroy…We have to live with the certainty that we’ll get old and that it won’t look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it’s now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there’s a retirement home waiting for us somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity. That’s what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people” (127, 128-129).

Here’s to a year of building and seeking to contribute something positive to the world.

“So here is my profound thought for the day: this is the first time I have met someone who seeks out other people and who sees beyond. That may seem trivial but I think it is profound all the same. We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors. If we actually realized this, if we were to become aware of the fact that we are only ever looking at ourselves in the other person, that we are alone in the wilderness, we would go crazy…As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone” (144-145).

A staggering revelation. No more meeting myself in others. What a delightful experience to try to meet others in themselves rather than me. I have quite enough of me.

And lastly, a word from the late Christopher Hitchens. When asked, not long before dying, what he wished he’d done more of?

Everything…”

Sounds like a plan.