Tag: wine

Lost-Time for Patio Writing

Lost-Time for Patio Writing

22 April 2018

I’m not completely lost. Some days I do wonder. And on those days it feels like I’m wading, carefully stepping to avoid sinking deep down in the mud or dropping into a hole.  It’s not treading because that was part of last year.

I trust the timing and the path I’m supposed to be on…mostly. My impatience shines through on days I feel like it’s time to have more, do more, be more.

It’s hard to have conversations with people who seem more scattered than I am, and I try to hide so many things with walls up. I hide my heart, locked in steel vault so that nothing can hurt it; it’s already breaking from the days and months that are ticking with my dog. I remember the pain when I had to put my Bassett Hound down. Devastating.  The circle of life.

Rock bottom line is I think I’m more lost in my thoughts. Writing. Definitely losing myself in writing again, and it feels good. The story ideas just keep coming, and I keep writing them down.

So, the patio is now open for writing! After an exhausting month of work, that continues to eat at my soul, I was able to get 12 hours of intermittent sleep. It wasn’t a full 12 because Duke woke me up, but that’s all part of being a pet owner. We do what we have to for our pets because they are our family, and he is the one constant I come home to every day. It’s hard to resist a grin and tail wag after walking inside.

I am questioning some of the paths that are coming up soon, and I always think of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken;” my favorite poem. My motivation extends beyond my own wants, needs, and goals; I am inspired by writers who have found themselves in situations and rise. It’s all about the timing, but until it arrives the element of feeling lost remains.

It’s a sunny Sunday morning and the wind isn’t roaring for once. However, it’s still early and they tend to arrive in the afternoons. I have my very first dinner party in my new home this week, and excited with the simple menu that includes a couple of bottles of fine wine that’s been cellared for a while. Good wine should be shared.

I am going to take advantage of the grand opening of my new patio and get down to work for several hours before I meet a friend at the movies. There is more writing to be done, more stories to be told, and stories entering the revision stage so that they can be shared with the world someday.



Wine Country Inspiration

Wine Country Inspiration

7 April 2018

Last Saturday was a late-start morning for me. It’s officially spring and my allergies have been affecting my daily life performance. The only thing I’m not allergic to is food. I get sick from molds and mildew. This is one reason I would like to stay in the Southwest; I can tolerate (for the most part) my allergies in the drier climate.

I enjoy being outdoors, especially when the weather gets warmer and I can read and write while soaking in the vitamin D, but I swear I need to be enclosed by a bubble first. I should have taken stock in Kleenex and Puffs when I was a kid.

I took a break two weekends ago for a girls’ trip to wine country. My second favorite place to be in California. Mornings are my favorite moments as the fog rolls over, in and down the hills, as if the mist is slightly kissing the vines and grapes. It’s relatively cool in the mornings and evenings in wine country; enough to warrant a light jacket or sweater. I love to look at the neatly organized rows of vines, just as the headstones are arranged in Arlington Cemetery. The gnarled vines take on their own characteristics. The more established ones have huskier stalks while the younger vines look like something out of a horror movie with their tendrils reaching out as if grasping to catch someone or something.

For several years now, I’ve been thinking about owning a winery. Because science is not my forte, I would need to hire someone. Of course, I would be proactive, hands-on during harvest because that’s part of my work ethic. And I would start small. It’s not so much a dream as it is a goal. I have other ideas for the vineyard but will just write it down in my business plan for future use.

Not only did another trip to wine country inspire me to take a deep breath, enjoy what the Napa and Sonoma regions have to offer, but also appreciate the wines; some I revisited, others were new to me. I would like to return at least once a year from here on out. There is so much to do, so many wineries, and I haven’t had a bad meal yet. In fact, I had a phenomenal meal at The Rutherford Grill and went to Fume for dessert. I am not a big sweets/dessert person any longer, but the waitress at the Grill highly recommended the dessert; when in Rome! We were not disappointed. The gelato sundae and lemon cheesecake with blueberry compote melted in our mouths. After such a heavy meal, with leftovers to cover Sunday morning breakfast, we walked down the street from our hotel Saturday night for a meal at In ‘N Out. Always a must-stop in CA.

Inspired by the regions, the people, the food, and the wine, I came up with an idea for my next novel. The setting will be in a vineyard. And since I like to write about topics that some women find hard to speak up about, I have my subject matter. I’m documenting my ideas to begin writing in 2019.  That is the current goal since I have several other writing projects for 2018 to keep me busy in between moving this summer and taking care of my dog.

Easter was fairly quiet. Has been for a long time, particularly in 2017 and 2018, but I don’t mind. My aunt is a big fan of Leon Day (June 25), and I have been home to celebrate since 2016. Decorations, paper and plasticware encompassing nearly every holiday are pulled out of storage for Leon Day. I texted her on Sunday to let her know I was prepping: I boiled some eggs set to expire this week; I never got the chance to make corned beef and cabbage for St. Patty’s Day because I went to a friend’s house, so I cooked that up; and then opened the boxes of wine delivered in November that I didn’t open until Easter. It was like Christmas unpacking, labeling, and organizing in my new wine fridge to cellar. Again, more book ideas surfaced as I went through my boxes of treasure.

It’s almost patio writing season! I am ready and excited about the next round of adventures. This translates into more writing and blogging as life and writing continue to collide.

Photos:  Cover: VIP Wine Tour and Tasting at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards; Wine tasting at V. Sattui, Dinner at Rutherford Grill, Dessert at Fume Bistro Napa Valley; Wine tasting at Castello di Amorosa; November 2017 Napa and Sonoma Wines, including wine won during A Night of Writing Dangerously. Copyright 2018 Karen M. Hellinger

Photo Mar 23, 6 20 39 PM


Nov 2017 Wines

Another Transition

Another Transition

18 February 2018

It’s nice to have a space to write. My days are pre-occupied with working, packing, and moving. My nights are littered with conducting research. Writer-in-residence. This temporary space gives me everything I need: a place to sit and type, music is playing, a place to socialize, a place to stay hydrated, but more importantly, it’s a safe space.

My life isn’t in the limbo phase that I was once found myself in over the fall and early winter. Things clicked. Things fell into place. Even if it’s all still temporary. I do have a long way to go, and I’ll get…somewhere. It’s just nice having something ready, and I am excited about the next transition in my life. A new home. Another new wave in life. I’m having fun and living life. I would like to say I’m “living the dream,” but it’s so cliché. Instead I will say I am being the person I’ve always been. People here don’t know what Karen used to be like. My ex didn’t know me while we were married, he certainly didn’t know who I was before we met. That’s all behind me and is something I now tell people I really don’t want to talk about it. You can read about the bullshit that went down in this blog, get a glimpse of it in my thesis-turned-novel, or read about it in The Downfall.  The whole world is waiting for this book to come out.  It’s coming, dear readers. I promise. I work at it when I have my mandatory writing nights that I schedule 2-3 times a week; it’s all I can manage at this time. Once the move is done, I’ll continue conducting research, but only 2-3 nights a week, not 6-7, and will get back to writing full time.

The poetry book, Broken Systems, is also under way. I spend a little bit of time on that and The Downfall on writing nights. It’s a matter of organizing at this point.

With facing another fork in the road, I am noticing items are falling apart. The vacuum cleaner stopped working. Even after troubleshooting, it decided it was done. Just as well. I didn’t like it very much. I bought a new one today, along with new jeans because I’m down another size. I needed a few small pieces of furniture but didn’t have any luck finding what I was hoping to get. I did find a few pieces that will work, and they’re small enough I can pack them for the next move. Duke is stressing. He peed all over the floor when I got home last night and again this morning. I can’t get mad at him. He notices my anxiety. He stayed very close during my numerous meltdowns on Saturday.  In addition, smells I associate with no longer linger. They have moved to my place. These past two weeks have been extremely rough, with Saturday being the absolute worse; I was barely breathing. I plan to keep all of that out of this blog. It doesn’t belong here.

I’ve also been stationary for more than a month. It’s time to move and travel again. I am giving a soft skills presentation to petroleum engineering students, then spending the weekend helping a cousin celebrate his birthday. Next is a girl’s weekend trip back to wine country. I honestly don’t need any more wine. At this point I need to buy a full wall wine fridge to cellar my newest wines. But I know I’ll bring more home. I plan to return to entertaining at my house, and I have a great space (and bar) for it.

The weekend is winding down which means I’m winding up for another crazy week. But travel also means writing time…once I get my presentation built.

The next transition is almost here. I just need to survive February. If I remember to stay focused, and make sure I stick to my writing schedule, I’ll welcome March 1 with open arms. And pray the weather gets warmer. It was really cold this year, and I didn’t care for it. It bothered me a lot more than it usually does.

Speaking of winding down, it’s time to switch gears and get back to The Downfall. Have a great night!

(From Google Images)


Riding the Rails

Riding the Rails

27 May 2017

I love roller coasters.  I’ve always loved roller coasters.  There’s something to be said about the unknown, especially as a first-time rider.  Whether the ride is on wood or steel, the adrenaline rush of being whipped, zipped, cork-screwed, and turned upside down and around is thrilling.  It begins with the anticipation, standing in line, watching the carts working with and defying gravity.  You are getting closer to the front of the line.  Do you ask to sit in front, to be the first witness at that 90-degree plunge, or do you ask to sit in the back, when you are the last to see what unfolds in front of you as you are slightly lifted from your seat?  Or do you stay within the middle?

A few summers ago, I was at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio.  Their claim to fame is being the roller coaster capital of the world.  Rollers coasters are the only rides in this park, so if you’re not a fan, it’s not worth the trip.  It was an overcast, turned rainy day.  I was standing in line for the Millenium Force.  I was under shelter for a bit, but as I got closer to the front of the line, it started to rain hard.  I watched the cars ascend the track at a vertical pace.  You are not harnessed in; you have a lap bar.  I was seriously doubting whether I wanted to get on this ride.  A vertical ascension with just a lap bar?  Um…not sure.  I have never doubted a ride, but at this moment I was voicing my doubts, recognizing a fear.  Still, I wanted to know what was beyond that ascension.  Where was the drop?  What was going to feed into the adrenaline rush?

I was drenched and cold.  It was my turn.  I stepped into the car, and pulled the lap bar down as far as it could go. It locked me in.  I pushed up on the bar several times, assuring me I wasn’t going anywhere, but the fear remained.  The ride began, and I went up, followed by going straight down.  Then began the adventure of careening through tunnels, around corners, back up (a progressive incline) and down, at well over 90 miles an hour.  The rush was back, and the ride was over in a matter of minutes.  I walked off…completely dry.  I was all smiles, reflecting on what a great ride it was, but my day at the park was also ending.  The line was long; there wasn’t an opportunity to ride it again.

I am looking at the last three Saturdays and Sundays, the last two Monday-Fridays, of my education.  It’s crazy that I’m nearly done!  I don’t think there has been a single moment in my life when I haven’t felt the waves of emotions that I have been hit with this term, this year, this past week and a half.

I began my ride of anticipation, seeking an adrenaline rush to end with smiles a week ago Wednesday.  The ride wasn’t what I envisioned it would be.  It felt more like the small coaster ride in Toon Town at Disneyland; there is a single moment you’re at the top and can see the Sierra Nevadas before they disappear the moment the coaster drops.  I got to see out, but was reigned back in.  This has been my ride for a week.

The next ride I’ve experienced mimics a combination of Space Mountain and the Millenium Force, beginning last Thursday.  From a brief moment of life, I sped into the darkness, unable to see anything but the stars and black “sky” in a vast abyss.  As I exited, I realized I had to finish the last 5,000 words of my thesis/novel.  I spent the entire weekend and Monday in darkness.  I shut out the world, closing in on the dark hours.  By Tuesday, I was preparing for the next ride, and struggling to get 500 words in.  I was around strangers on Wednesday, and felt a need to be with friends instead.  I was on my second day back at the gym, and still walking with Duke every night.  The gym erased the darkness and drowning feeling; I had some clarity.  I wrote Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough.

I got up early Thursday to write some more before I returned to work (first day since the beginning of May).  649 words.  By 9:10am, waiting for my number to be called at the local motor vehicle office, I was anticipating a fear once again: I was not going to finish the story, and get it turned in before midnight.  Especially not with other matters I was dealing with all week, and knowing I had one other assignment due that same night.

I don’t remember what happened (perhaps I simply blocked out life), but I was back to writing at noon.  I took a couple small breaks in the afternoon to wrote some more.  I left work before 5:00, tossed a turkey burger patty in the microwave, added a heaping helping of spinach and shredded carrots to my plate, grabbed a small glass of Chardonnay, and sat at my computer to write.  I wrote for two and a half solid hours.  By 7:25pm, I had 5,040 words, and was on the Millienium Force after the first initial drop.  I took a moment to celebrate with smiles and tears; add in laughter as I looked at Duke and said, “I can’t believe I did it!”  He celebrated with me, wagging his tail, allowing me to give him a big hug.  The first draft of my novel was complete and submitted. I grabbed a special bottle of wine, and visited with some friends for a few hours after.  It was the perfect ending to my week. And…I got to know a little more about Red Nose Day, and told I need to watch “Love Actually.”  (It’s on my list, ladies!!  You’re always welcome over for movie night.)

The ride, and writing, is not over yet!  I’m on a new coaster, a new segment for the next 8 days, working on revisions: from the very beginning to the very end.  This isn’t the coaster ride I have been waiting for, but it’s new as I try to finish up.  There will be new waves of emotions, but I hear my cheering squad, from all over the globe, behind me.  This will be a book many are excited to read.  I am simply excited that I can say I have begun to revise my first draft…after I offer two peer critiques on their final 5k words, and provide two more critiques on our literature research papers.  Still, I’m revising!

If you’re curious about the Millenium Force, check out the coaster video Cedar Point has on their website.  If you’re a coaster fan-this should be on your bucket list.

Have a great weekend!




26 March 2017

The world feels a little different today.  Perhaps it’s because I’m two (long) days from finishing this term.  Maybe it’s due to spring’s arrival and my clothes no longer fit; I’ve had to do some therapy shopping, being mindful of my spending. However, I know I’m still on a roller coaster, and struggle to find a balance while focusing on positives to avoid being torn down.  Buckle up.  This coaster is all over the place, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  Walls might help.

On Friday, the Indian Student Association celebrated Holi on campus and invited everyone.  It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, and unsure of my future, I thought it might be the last opportunity I had being on campus.  Why not!  I love Indian cuisine and there was some good food.  I appreciate other cultures, and the Indian culture is a prominent one on campus.

I was greeted by students as they smeared colors on my face, arms, hair and clothing (I wore old clothes that were tossed out after).  “Happy Holi!”  Other students did the same.  Waves of color were splashed into the air, falling like dust to cover those nearby.

It only took one person to chant my name, and the large group joined in.  A wall of momentary silence approached like tunnel vision before I only heard the chanting, “Karen, Karen, Karen.”  What was I to do?  I removed my flip flops, took my phone, earbuds, and keys out of my pocket. One student, who had been repeatedly asking me, “Do you have your phone on you?” was thrilled I was going to “fully experience” their festival. Before I could change my mind, both of my hands were grasped and we ran.  We jumped up and into a pool of cold water, sliding in feet first and falling onto our backs.  More colors were reapplied. Somewhere there is video evidence.

It was refreshing.  It was fun.  It was exactly what I needed, and the day continued as I was joined by friends for a wine tasting class, and ending the evening with more wine; some bought after the tasting.

I was out, surrounded by friends who care.  More importantly, I felt safe.  Even at home I feel safe with the doors locked.  However, things tend to become a struggle when I am not respected and I am expected to be a pawn in some game where rules don’t apply.  Last weekend I spent hours on my patio revising and building my two biggest final projects for class.  I was distracted by weeds that plague my lawn.  We had terrible winds early Friday morning and I was greeted by a fallen tree branch and a fence being knocked over. More items to do once I have a week off.

Since I needed physical exercise, I spent some time Saturday morning pulling weeds and thinking about what I was going to write in this post.  Series of events have been steadily increasing all week and by the time friends left Friday night, a new wave of events were set in motion.  As I pulled weeds, I listened to the wind rustle the newly formed leaves.  I listened to the sounds of cooing by annoying birds.  I listened for cars driving by our street.  At the sound of car doors closing and a beep coinciding with a locked vehicle, I would quickly run back into the house, locking the patio door.  If I knew it was safe, I would return to weed pulling, only to repeat the action again and again.

There are three fences marking the territory of the property. While they keep jack rabbits from entering the yard to torment my dog, they do not offer the protection I need for myself and for my well-being.  I am building walls to obtain this protection.

I almost wish I was in Natalie’s shoes.  I left her, in Chapter 5 at the end of this term, hiding in her bathroom. The door is locked and she used her telekinetic powers to “move” some furniture around in her downstairs condo.  As she destroys things that signals her fortitude, she feels safe where I left her.

I should not have to feel like this.  I don’t want to become a prisoner within my four walls.  I should be able to freely work in the backyard without listening to every single sound, prepared to dash back indoors with all doors locked.  This is not healthy for my mental state that is already injured, bruised and abused.  Natalie will get to leave the bathroom in Chapter 6, but I am beginning to question my imprisonment, the walls that exist and ones I have built.  Can concrete walls cushion the impact of mental and emotional abuse?  As I think about all of this, I believe a wall is the only thing that will stop this roller coaster.  This is the most ridiculous and saddest thing to endure.  Rest assured, my walls will match my strength so that I won’t have to face this again.

(Image by Karen Balch.  Some of the colors used in the festival)

Holi 3-24-17