Home in Healdsburg

June 22, 2007

You know, that embassy guy was right. Noe is a lucky girl to be coming home to this place. It’s a stellar, sunny day and we’ve already enjoyed a morning bottle in the garden (still working on the coffee juggle . . . don’t worry, I’m being careful), a play in the living room, a bath by Daddy, and a lovely visit with our friends Kenny, Nadia and their daughter, Jasmine (10 days younger than Noe), who are leaving tonight to return home to Singapore. Our outdoor table has been christened with ‘sandia’—watermelon—by Noe, which she smeared all over the top. We’re home!P6210633

Noe was a total trooper traveler yesterday, all day, from Guatemala to Dallas to San Francisco to Healdsburg. A couple of ear-piercing screams and rants, but mostly just giggles (like a rat-a-tat-tat of ha-ha’s) and smiles that melted everyone’s hearts.

Here are a few highlights from the trip home and Day One in Healdsburg.

* The night before we left, our friend Ben and his wife Cecilia took us out to dinner in the hotel and they reminded us that Noe’s a kid, not a thin sheet of glass. Cecilia had Noe shoe-free and flirting with all the waiters, Ben (we nicknamed him Tio Arroz . . . a few step derivation from ‘Uncle Ben’) gave Noe her first taste of wine, dipping a breadstick in a glass of Malbec (she loved it). Noe ate all of my carrots (sauteed in garlic and butter) off my plate, we stayed out until 11:00 and Noe slept soundly all through the night, and Christopher and I were much more relaxed going into the trip home as a result of the experience. 

* Noe fell asleep on my lap on the Guatemala-Dallas leg and I couldn’t stop staring at her for three hours P6200587P6200600straight.

* Christopher and I had a couple of interchanges that had us laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe. A week ago, our conversations sounded like, “So I collapsed the first half of my novel and I think the narrative tension is much stronger now,” and “This Chardonnay would be really good with crab and mango.” So when, on the plane, Christopher said to me, “Baby, can you hand me that other part. You know, the bug?” and I asked in a full on tizzy, “Tell me you got the Chilly Dilly out of the ice bucket!” the difference between then and now was just so stark it slayed me.

* Noe slept in her bed and us ours until about 4:30 this morning, when I brought her into bed with us. Waking up at 9:00 with our daughter cooing between us was one of the most amazing moments I’ve ever experienced.

* When we took Noe outside for her first walk in the garden this morning, she looked like she’d discovered a P6210622treasure. The wind rustled the trees and she looked up wide-eyed as if it were just for her. When a bird whistled, she smiled and cooed. When I told her all about the tomatoes and cucumber and squash and carrots, she bent over my arm and curiously stared at each one.

So far, so very much better than good. Thank you all for your well-wishes and notes and encouragement through all of this. Now on to real life with Noe!


Hola From Guatemala!

June 19, 2007

I smell like baby powder and diapers and mango and teething biscuits and drool, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is wild being here in Guatemala with Noe, knowing that this time we’ll be coming home with her. It keeps hitting us little by little; we’ll think, “man, I’m so bummed we’re going to just miss her first tooth,” and then realize that from here on, we won’t miss anything.Noe

It’s also a bit surreal being at the Guatemala Marriott. Our old friend, Ben Villegas, is the General Manager here, so it’s fantastic to be able to see him. But this hotel is knownH as “baby central,” and one lap around the lobby will tell you why. Dozens of families each day meet their baby’s foster families and get the hand-off of their kids (as we did yesterday . . . a tearful affair for everyone but Noe), or rendez-vous with facilitators to be shuttled to the embassy for their final meeting (as we did today) or to pick up their baby’s visas (as we will tomorrow).

Every one of those families has been through an unbelievable amount of paper work, gruelling months of waiting and jumping into the wild unknown, and I respect each and every one for doing so. Yet some are more sensitve to what all parties are feeling than others (someone turned to us in the elevator last night with excited eyes and said, “I’m getting one tomorrow,” as if she were expecting delivery of a cocker spaniel or a dozen tomato seedlings. We didn’t quite know how to respond.)

Here are a few highlights from the past couple of days:

* Noe’s teething and we’ve got an arsenal of toys with all kinds of chewy surfaces, yet what does she just love gumming most? The tags.

* Noe has taken to the sling again. This time, though, we’re better prepared. Christopher and I actually watched the video accompanying the Maya Wrap before we packed up this time (it was hysterical, both of us standing at attention in front of our television the night before leaving, dutifully tightening and loosening our slings in practice). Now she just slips right in and either perches on my hip and watches the world go by or cocoons up against my stomach and pretends the world’s not there at all.

* We decided to brave the fine dining restaurant last night (Noe was cocooned) for a quick dinner and, of course, by the time the salads came, Noe was up and about. We panicked at first, but she laughed all through dinner and ate (well, gummed) all of the tomatoes from my salad and would have gone for more had there been any. Garden . . . here we come!

* What seemed like an hour after dinner—and in real sleep time probably was—we got up for our early morning appointment at the embassy. By the time we got up to the window, almost two hours after arriving, Noe was totally cocooned against me (I love that!), having no idea that the man before her held his fate in her hands. The guy (nice guy) ended up being from Oakland and we spent the bulk of the interview talking about wine country. He opened with the comment that Noe’s a lucky girl to be going home with us to Healdsburg, and I, in my enthusiasm, vowed to bring her up on good wine. Christopher chimed in quickly with, “and good food too!” noe and christopher

* After receiving the final stamp of approval (what a feeling it was when we heard the clunk of that stamp!) the three of us went to breakfast and Noe downed several spoonfuls of refried beans, wore a few hunks of watermelon and gnawed on a plantain (hence, the bath bit below). The girl eats, I tell you.

* This afternoon, Christopher and I gave Noe a bath after breakfast and a nap and got her sparkling clean (quite frankly, after that breakfast, she stunk). Then we decided to give her some mango in a little mesh pouch (thank you Kris Haugen!) to gnaw on by the pool. She ate it up, and then smeared it all over herself in between bites. Next, we thought it would be wise to give her a teething biscuit which, at one point, we caught her smearing in between her toes. When I thought about what we must have looked like as we walked back to the room, it occurred to me that we could have just drizzled maple syrup all over her and rolled her around in Ritz crackers and gotten the same effect. I think we’ll be having another bath today :-). 

All in all, I’m thrilled to report that there have been many more smiles and giggles than cries, and what cries there are are quickly quieted by Mama’s arms (or Papa’s!). We’ve got our little girl, and now we’re coming home!


Why Do We Fly?

May 23, 2007

I had all these lovely things I was going to write about today, and then I read this article in the NYT about how more and more airlines are charging for more and more “amenities.” Now, let me start off by saying, I understand that airlines are trying to make a few extra bucks by selling meals and chips and, quite frankly, I applaud them for doing that. If we think filling up our car is hard on our budget, just imagine what filling up those planes does to theirs. No profit equals no planes in the air for us to fly on, I get that. 

That said, what I don’t understand is why more airlines don’t just admit that it sucks to have your pillow and your drink and your movie taken away, instead of trying to spin it as if they were doing us a favor by allowing us the choice of checking a bag or imbibing water on the flight.

On American Airlines’ website, under Cabin Comfort (as the first paragraph, in fact), they state:

“At American Airlines, our goal is to provide a relaxing and comfortable flight experience for every single passenger (hmmmm  -ed). In our cabins, you’ll enjoy the uniquely designed interiors with blue diamond carpets, gray swooping accents and seats with a sharp, deep blue design.”

Now I don’t know about you, but the last time I was scrunched into a seat on a cross-country flight with a stale sandwich I’d paid $5 for, no water (they’d run out), no pillow or blanket, and a crappy headset that I paid another $2 for, those gray swooping accents really made my experience (yes, that sarcastic sass was intentional). 

American Airlines’ slogan is “we know why you fly” . . . I mean, come on. Here’s a hint, American, it ain’t for your blue diamond carpets.   

OK . . . I promise my next post will be much more upbeat ;-).






Off the Island

April 29, 2007

Me on Isla HolboxI’m back. There was a hiccup—well, more like a full on belch—with the transport to CasaSandra that left us stranded in Cancun for a quarter of our trip. Normally, I wouldn’t sweat finding my own way to the hotel. But Holbox is out there. A two and a half hour ride through the jungle to the northern coast of the Yucatan Penninsula and then a half hour ride on a launch to the island. But once we had set foot on the island late the next morning and treated ourselves to massages that afternoon, the stress of the mixup had dissolved.

DaybedCasaSandra turned out to be a funky, hip little hotel of about six rooms with daybeds on the beach and outstanding ceviche. But . . . they were also building a new casita, so good portions of our idyllic days were serenaded with not-so idyllic chainsaws and belt sanders. 

holbox-5.jpgThe good news is, it forced us to peel ourselves off the cushions and explore farther a field. One day, we wandered into town for a mamay licuado (why don’t we have mamays in this country? They’re like a mixture between butterscotch and chocolate . . .), another we spent trolling the surf for cool shells, and another we wandered to the other end of the beach and sipped cervezas while watching the sun set.

Much to our delight (and I’ll admit, surprise – I’m a skeptic about the fish in the quaint little boats actually ending up on my plate), the restaurants we went to on Holbox served terrific seafood. Fish and shrimp ceviche became our usual lunch, and I also had a meaty grilled lobster and tacos made from corvina that was light as air.

All in all, it was a fantastic little getaway and we’ll probably go back with Noe in the future (she loves baths, so we’re reasoning that she’ll love this beach — it’s just about as shallow and warm as splashing around in a bathtub). Only next time, I’ll confirm our ride before we leave!


I’m off to Holbox!

April 23, 2007

I know, I just got here. But I’m surprising my husband and taking him to Isla Holbox, a little tiny island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, for our anniversary, and the plans have been in motion longer than Swirling Notions has. So I’ll check back in when I get back next week.

In the meantime, if you want to peek on us in paradise (figuratively . . . no way am I allowing real peeks), check out www.casasandra.com.


Whew! It’s been a whirlwind this past week getting Swirling Notions off the ground (yes, I could say my head is swirling, but I won’t). I’m glad you stopped by. Let me start by telling you how this all came about. (You can find out more about me, Lia Huber, here).

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend of mine who said that he was working with Clos du Bois on a campaign to raise money for women’s heart health during the month of May (www.toasttomom.com), that they were thinking of doing a blog, and that he thought I’d be perfect for it. Could I get it planned, up and launched in a couple of weeks?

Yes, the deadline was brutal. But to help you understand what a kismet deal this seemed to be, I need to give you a bit of background about my own personal connections with Clos du Bois. First of all, their vineyards and winery are landmarks in California’s northern Sonoma County, where I live (yes, it’s gorgeous here). Second, it’s an American winery with a French name—I’m an American who has been a Francophile since I was eight, when I set as one of my life goals to attend the Sorbonne in Paris (yep, I did it). Third, my husband, Christopher, and I spent our first anniversary up here at a friend’s house (we were still living in San Francisco at the time) amidst their vineyards and guess where those grapes were slated to go when they were good and ready? You guessed it, Clos du Bois. So from my perspective, I thought it was a great fit. And it turns out they did too.

What LS from Clos du Bois said was that they were looking for someone who “sucks the marrow out of life,” (to quote Thoreau) who travels with a sense of curiosity and is inquisitive about everything, someone for whom food and wine and travel and well-being are all intertwined—just like the people who buy their wines. And they found me. And now, barely ten days later, SwirlingNotions is up and running and here you are, and not just by chance, I believe.

Let me tell you what to expect from this blog. Actually, first let me tell you what not to expect. Don’t expect any Clos du Bois plugs from me. When I talk about their wines, it’s because I’m excited about them or I’ve learned something new from their winemaker, Erik, and want to share it with you. What you can expect is musings from me as life unfolds each week. It may be about a toast I composed over the weekend (our friend has a BIG birthday coming up on Sunday), or a roast I concocted (did I mention I’m a recipe developer?), or some nutty thing I heard on the radio and wanted to get your input on, or a dispatch upon return from a remote island (leaving this Tuesday, back Saturday). In short, anything life has to offer that makes me stop and go, “hmmm” and leaves me thinking you might too.

I’m glad you here. I’m excited about this blog. And I look forward to swirling around many notions (and sips of wine!) with you in the days to come.


Hi . . . I’m Lia

April 21, 2007

Lia-headshotYou know, writing the first entry of a blog is sort of like stepping out to get the mail in your bathrobe at 2:00 in the afternoon (who, me?), and then realizing that there are people driving by who actually see you. It makes you feel a bit exposed and vulnerable. So I’ll just jump in . . . fully clothed.

I’m Lia Huber, and if you’d like to see how I came to be a part of Swirling Notions (and how Swirling Notions came to be), check out . . . By trade, I’m a writer and recipe developer. You may have seen my name in Cooking Light, where I’m a contributor, or in a number of other magazines I write for often, including Prevention, Health, Fitness, Bon Appetit and others. I’ve been doing this for about a dozen years, and consider myself blessed to have a career where I’m immersed in my passions.

People ask me all the time if I review restaurants. The answer is, not unless there’s a deeper story to be told. To be honest, I don’t really like to have to keep up with all the ‘hot new’ spots and who’s just opened and who’s just closed. Sure, I adore a great restaurant experience—whether it’s a sweet taco spot on a remote beach or a Michelin-starred gem in Paris (or Healdsburg, hallelujah). But what I love more is writing about food as it relates to people, to life. How it connects us to the earth, draws us together and speaks to our souls. Ditto for wine and travel.

Health has become a fairly recent focus of mine partially, because of my views on food. Personally, I think a lot of the health problems in this country happen because we’re so disconnected from what it means to be truly ‘nourished’ by a meal—by the food, the companionship, the wine, the experience as a whole. And I want to be a part of changing that.

I’ve also just finished my first novel, I Land Home. So stay tuned to see where that goes as I shop it around to agents.

On the personal side, I have lived in a gazillion different places, including New York, New Orleans (BA from Tulane, minor in French), Paris (a year at the Sorbonne), Corfu (engaged to a Greek man after leaving Paris), Costa Rica (wacky, ‘let’s just chuck it all and go’ adventure with the man I did – happily – marry) and San Francisco. But seven years ago, my husband, Christopher, and I set down roots in California’s northern Sonoma County and have truly found home here. We are also in the final stages of adopting have also adopted a little girl, our daughter, Noemi (Noe – pronounced ‘no-ee’ – for short). Our dog, Talisker the Rhodesian Ridgeback, is shunning the addition of a sibling, but he’s learning that she leaves a trail of avocado and Oatios wherever she goes.