A Necklace You Never Want…

So, way back in March of 2011, one of my best girlfriends’  (I’m going to call her Mary for confidentiality reasons) 10 year old son Kody was sick with Strep, one of the usual suspects of the cold and flu season. Kodys a tough kid… a sharp, thin, dark eyed boy with a wide pink smile and baseball cap shoved down over his long sandy blonde hair. He plays Football, is the fastest runner in 4th grade, rides off road motorcycles, loves to dance, rap like Eminen and always has a gleam in his eye. But Strep can get you down and Mary had it too. They took antibiotics in harmony and cleared it up just in time for Spring Break fun times. Kind of.

So Mary calls me one day, after the course of antibiotics, telling me Kody is feeling bad again, this time complaining that his shoulder hurts… agonizing pain, the kind that goes to the bone and keeps you awake all night crying. Remember… tough kid. Had to be bad.

Once in the pediatricians office the next morning, the doc finds a big ol strep infection in Kodys shoulder bone. More antibiotics.  Strep moving into a bone? Wierd, but not totally uncommon and it calls for Xrays, to see whats going on in there.

You know when someone called an Oncologist suddenly comes on board and starts poking around the xrays, that it’s a bad sign.  Then they start using the C word. This is when, as a parent, you can lose the ability to stand upright.. when you think your 10 year old kid could have cancer.

The next steps were a blur, as Kody began undergoing test after test at Childrens Hospital, to determine why he had pockets in his bone where infection could get into. Talks of a super-infection, cancer and even “saving his arm” are enough to send any parent into a panic. The doctors began drilling into Kody’s bones, removing marrow and bone samples to be send to St Judes and Mayo Clinic, the big guns brought in to help lead the search for what ailed Kody. Spinal taps were next, and blood sample after blood sample.

After the now team of doctors from across the US finally agreed on a diagnosis, the news came this Summer.  Kody had Cancer, a difficult to diagnose type of non-hodgkins lymphoma, because it is rare in Children. Just a handful of cases in the country. Sickening news, but a glimmer of hope…it was very treatable. And, like with many things, just knowing what you’re dealing with can often be comforting.

I could tell you the next part of this story, about long weeks of Chemotherapy in a port in Kodys chest and directly shot into his spine, hair loss, a pale, translucent “Chemo-kid”with no hair and no appetite, appedicitis, blood transfusions and relentless bouts of vomiting and diarrhea but thats not what this is about. Ya, that all happened, and worse. The things Kody and his mom have had to endure are beyond what any parent, let alone person could ever imagine.

But… that’s not what this is about. This is about a brave boy who, when told about his Cancer, told his mom that he was ready to fight, and take it on like anything else hes ever fought for. He referred to an Eminem song he loves, I’m Not Afraid.   He kept the nurses in check, monitoring his own tubes and tests. He danced to his spinal tap when he felt good, (against the nurses wishes) because he was sick of being wheeled around. He giggled at me and his mom when we danced around the hospital room for him. He comforted other kids waiting for treatment, older and younger, because he’d had them all. He reflected, and talked about how he would never look at a kid with no hair and a hat on the same again. he was that kid.

I have a brave friend.  Mary took it all in stride, absorbing what the doctors told her, reading up, comforting her son and hoping and praying for the best. She’s amazing and I want to be just like her when I grow up.

So the necklace…     These necklaces, like Kody’s pictured here, are given to each child as they officially start treatment for cancer at Radys Childrens Hospital. They start with a string, and for each treatment or test they get, they get a bead. Each bead represents a different type of treatment.  The harsher the treatment, the more exotic the bead. Chemo or a spinal tap are really fancy beads. Some beads have even been really amazing places. The space shuttle bead pictured, went on a space shuttle voyage. But you see… Kody started his treatment this Summer with all the beads pictured, scooped into a pile in his hands by nurses on the first day. That’s how many tests he had, without fear, brave and stoic, before Kody even “officially” started Chemo.

Since then, the necklace has tripled in size. Kody just finished his last round of Chemo, thank God, and with it got a thumbs up after a clear MRI. He’s beaten the beast, we hope… and you can see it in his now dark knowing eyes and set jaw. A couple more tests… a PET scan just to make sure,  and then a party is in order.  The necklace, well, it will sit silently on a shelf, knowing all it knows, everything it represents… while the owner of it dances.

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Hey look, its 2012

So..I’m wiping the dust off my poor ignored Blog and my ramblings of 2011, to begin a new dialogue. Fear not, I’ll continue to keep it absolutely random, with everything from an ongoing discussion about local wineries to local eateries and events, my MMA training, life, liberty and the pursuit of the perfectly seared Ahi. Throw in some stories about the incredible people I am blessed to know and the opportunities I get just walking through life and there you have it, my blog. I’m lucky to work with my family at our winery. Its as real as it gets… This itself leads to some pretty comical posts. Bear with me… and please, read the next post. It’s near and dear to my heart.

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Facebook, not Facebook-Soapbox.

Sometimes you wonder what people’s motivations are for having a Facebook account, and…if they actually nurture, feed, water and maintain their accounts as they first intented.

To me its a scrapbook, a sharing center, a photo album, event posting, recipe sharing, breaking news kind of posting place. I keep it to family and close friends, it’s personal and real.  Where I retreat to when other social media is too big and open and fast paced.

So, why… if FB is my happy place to see my cousins new baby or catch up with old friends, do others find it ok to go on a political, religious, and otherwise socially innapropriate rant? I dunno…. but I’m over it.

I don’t care who you dont like, why you think we need a new president, plan, stumulus package or religion. Nor do I want to see you drunk at a nightclub, hanging on strangers, working out, showing your new muscle, or checking-in to the dry cleaners.  I want to know what you love, read, laugh and cry about, take photos of and dream of. I want to learn something new, share something too, make someones day, make someone smile. Life is too short for hate and soapboxes. get over and off them, pulleeez? The power of positive thinking is alive and well, lets use it… and save the hard messages for the people they’re about. PS…  they’re probably on their own soapbox right now too, and… just for the record, I’m getting off this one. Right about now.

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Wineries in San Diego? really?

There’s this point in just about every conversation I have regarding wine in this town, where someone inadvertently blurts out that question that usually makes me take pause for a moment while I sip my Syrah and contemplate the most effective answer. “There are wineries in San Diego??” sip. another sip. smile. breathe….

“Why Yes, there are..  many of them, let me tell you about them while I pour you a glass”

I used to just answer that question with a sharp bleeting yes and then go into some diatribe about the ignorance of the sheep, blah blah blah, that travel Northward to Riverside Country, namely Temecula Valley, to taste wine when we had such interesting and diverse wineries in San Diego sprouting up, right here in their own backyard. Sloshing wine and waving hands I would curse the hordes that travel en masse, en bus to Temecula, jostling to taste wine, as San Diego Wineries quietly greeted the lesser numbers of visitors that sought our their tasting rooms. The unlucky querent would then quickly react as though they had stepped on a snake and move away from the conversation without getting further bitten. Ok, so being a part of a local winemaking family,  I took it just a bit personally.

I  soon realized, news flash… that  San Diego wine tasters were not privy to the local wineries. They drove Northward because they didn’t honestly know there was wine under their nose, that there was a choice between driving an hour North or driving 15 minutes locally to taste wine. Temecula has sold itself very well as a wine region, hands down. They have some beautiful wineries to behold and have branded themselves well in San Diego. The problem is.. (this is where it gets awkward) is that many people you ask say “oh San Diego Wine.. you mean Temecula?” errr no. Nice job with the branding guys, but you are Riverside and We’re San Diego. let’s just let that elephant out of the closet, shall we, and set things straight?

So after many a wide-eyed response of “really, I had no idea??” and several glasses of spilled wine I came to the realization that people honestly had no idea there were wineries in San Diego, let alone over 50 of them. They weren’t informed, didn’t realize what was here in the county, no harm, no foul, and definately, no more bantering from this Diva. Just information with a smile, and let the people decide.

The Wineries here just happen to be tucked away, for the most part, in the hills and valleys of San Diego County, dotted across the landscape.  Families, some second and third generation winemakers, planting, pruning, nurturing, and hand crafting wines. Some have been in San Diego since as far back as 1889, some just opened last month. They’re not all down one tidy little convenient street, mind you.  Hell, they’re not even all in one town. That’s the beauty of it. 

The wineries of San Diego, much akin to Sonoma, are found down beautiful country roads, nestled into the landscape, set away from the crowds and the highways.  They’re jewels to be found by the wine traveler, who seeks them out one by one, sometimes visiting a few on one day, that are clustered together.  Bernardo, Orfila and Cordiano are neighbors in the North County and Schwaesdall Winery, Pamo Valley, Woof n Rose, Cactus Star and Milagro Farms are in The Ramona Valley but San Diego Wineries stretch as far North as Warner Springs and as South as Campo, near the border. They vary in size, shape and production numbers like a white house party of foreign diplomats but all have a commonality, a love for winemaking.  The best part is, they’re not shy about sharing that love, turning the soil and harvesting the grape.

San Diego Winemakers work together, in harvest, in sharing grapes, in laughter and community, an extended family of sorts, who has each others backs. This is a San Diego winemaking tradition that hasn’t changed much since early San Diego winemaking when abundant harvests and family, friends and festa were the way of the land.  The first grapes were planted in California by the Spanish Friars, the beginnings of the San Diego wine industry.  Prohibition, rising water costs and severe draught crippled the industry for some time, leaving only two wineries standing in San Diego but since then the grape has slowly made its way back into the soil.  With the cost of land falling and the rising awareness of the rich terroir of San Diego County,  the San Diego County Vintner’s Association www.sandiegowineries.org has grown significantly in the last couple of years from a handful of wineries to over 50. Vineyards have sprung up across the County. Very exciting!

No corporate wineries here, just people who use sustainable farming, know their craft and are working hard at it.  The old, with the new, each sharing techniques and advancements in wine technology and science with each other. The diversity of the micro-climates of San Diego lends itself to the wide variety of grape growing,  from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo and Arneis to Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Primitivo, Petit Sirah, Aglianico and Nebbiolo.

Well, San Diego Wine Country is ready to earn its rightful place on the California Wine trail and secure the southernmost place on the map.  With the changes in San Diego County Ordinances last year,  allowing smaller vineyard owners to open tasting rooms, many of them are busy opening their tasting rooms for the first time and increasing the number of local wineries significantly. http://winelawsandiego.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/san-diego-tiered-winery-ordinance-eases-tasting-room-restrictions/

Welcome to San Diego Wine Country my friends. You’re armed and dangerous with the knowledge of what’s out there.  Now, go out and explore all San Diego has to offer. From Cordiano and it’s delicious wine and weekend wood-fired pizzas fresh from the oven to La Serrissima’s expansive vineyards and Bernardo’s 120 year old winemaking history, there is so much to explore. Enjoy and Salute!

SDWC Wineries

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Olive Pressing. Old School.

I think you often need to experience things from the ground up to really appreciate where things come from and to celebrate the processes in life; such a cliche… but there is truth to this. I recently got the pleasure of experiencing olive pressing at our family winery, old school style, like we used to do it years ago. We hadn’t pressed in a few years, but our workers remembered it well and were anxious to begin. All hands on deck, workers, family, everyone together, getting our hands in it.   There’s nothing quite like the feel of the sweat run down your brow as you gingerly work the thick olive must into the nubby burlap, not considering at that point that its going to soon be oil but just appreciating that very moment of the process.

The olive must is placed in the mats for pressing

The harvested olives were two varieties, a smaller glossy black Italian variety and the larger meatier mission olives, which actually produce less oil than the Italian ones. go figure. The olives are loaded into the crusher, which grinds them into must, the consisency of well, something less palatable that I won’t go into. The air in the loud crushing room is thick with the scent of the olive, you can almost taste it. From there,  the must is scooped out of holding bins into the burlap and rope olive press mats, sort of like flying saucers, that eventually get stacked in the huge hydrolic vertical press. Once all the mats are in the press, the hydrolic press is turned on and the mats are squeezed tightly to release the precious oil from the olive must. This is a beautiful thing to watch, as the oil drips thick like honey from the mats into the tray below the press, then pumped into tanks. The hydrolics are modern, but otherwise, the use of the vertical press and the burlap and/or rope mats are part of the centuries old process which we still adhere to.

Pressing the oil out of the olives

Olive pressing is part of our history at Bernardo Winery. It’s one of the resourceful ways we got through prohibition, making oil from the abundant trees on the property and selling it to the San Diego Tuna canning industries. Italian ingenuity at it’s finest. It’s also about life, to us. Tradition and family and creating things together for all to enjoy.

After collecting the oil in tanks to let it settle before filtering, everything comes to a standstill as we stop to enjoy another part of this beautiful experience. My brother collects a beeker full of the precious liquid gold for us to enjoy with our lunch, a traditional Italian feast of homemade twisted bread (an old family recipe), Frosia, Caponata, cheeses, salami and for dessert, chocolate cupcakes, all made with love by aunt Nina.

The Unfiltered oil, ready for our lunch.

Everyone sits down to this meal on this day, family, workers, even the dogs at our feet. The hard labor is celebrated with laughter and enjoyment of a delicious homemade traditional meal. We sop up the unfiltered oil with the warm bread and are thankful for the richness of the food and for the day itself and the good company around the table. This is what it’s all about.

A traditional Italian lunch

delicious unfiltered oil

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Wearin o’ the Green…

A little green for thought.
Obviously, Green is the color strongly associated with St. Patrick’s Day, as evident in every cheesie Green felt hat, plastic shamrock shaped pair of sunglasses and sloganed tshirt associated and mass marketed with the holiday here in Americana. Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate my own Irishness with full flavor. A pint of Guinness and some soda bread will do my well today and I’m safely among the un-pinchable,  just in case.
For the rest of the year though, the color Green is associated primarily with the environment, money, inexperience, life, sickness and envy. A color of contradiction, really. A dichotomy. Fascinating, I’d say, considering on this one day, March 17th, we just associate it with all things Irish, whether we’re Irish or not,  and lets not forget, for avoiding the lethal pinch.
Green is so plentiful in the world that the human eye literally sees more green than any color. look outside your window, there it is, in the grass, the trees, the shine off the water, the reflection in your sunglasses. The salad I’m eating right now. The veggies you should be eating.
Moving inside the body, Green affects the human central nervous system, causing us to breathe slowly and deeply, helping the heart to relax by slowing the production of stress hormones.
So, why do we focus on one day of the year to wear this glorious paradoxical color that represents wealth and nature all in one fail swoop and decreases stress levels? Why don’t we wear more, eat more, see more and do more Green in the world? Envy and Nausea can take a backseat to the positive effects.  Maybe, herein lies the answer to saving the Earth, our money and our sanity? Lets throw down the gauntlet and get this color a little more face time. One day ain’t enough. Just forget your light-up, boingy, shamrock headband and green socks… that just makes you look like a moron. period. And Green beer? don’t get me started. Peace and Guinness to you. Éirinn go brách 🙂

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Yes, I practice Martial Arts.

So there’s this other side of me, the less understood side, that takes me from petite, funky girly girl to serious opponent in the change of a uniform and donning of gloves. It got my attention and took hold of me a few years ago, first gently leading me by one hand and then, eventually, firmly gripping me from head to toe… It’s my passion for Martial Arts.

 I’m not going to go on about whose ass I’ve kicked, whose kicked mine,  what I’ve broken (wood and bones)  or what Belt level I have achieved, because that doesn’t really matter.  

I stepped  into the Karate studio after being encouraged, coaxed, persuaded, pushed and dared by my son’s instructor over a period of months of me watching his lessons from behind the glass. I would knit something to pass the time, or just watch, interested at the fluid movements, the self discipline, beyond the glass.  Most of all, though, there was a sense of calm within the room amidst the yells, the kicking and punching and the loud booming voice of the instructor. Though there was a heightened physical awareness, an inner peace existed in the room and on the children’s faces. Ok, I could use some of that… not to mention the fact that my exercise plan was non-exixtent, save for a random pilates class and running my boys from here to there. Besides that, I could use some self defense techniques to back up my cocky, mouthy, fearless 5’4″ side that tends to get me into trouble.  Here goes nothing. Better get this guy off my back and just do it, just like the damn Nike ad. Sitting here knitting is just going to make my ass widen.

When I look back a few years at my those first weeks and months in Tai Kwon Do, I often feel tears well up, as I recall a time when I was pushed beyond my own expectations of my capabilities by someone who drew out the potential within. You want me to do how many situps and pushups? big girl style? yes maam, until you cry, by the way, but I will help you. Punch like this, look for a target, think before you move, stretch more, now stretch even more. Think more, speak less. Much less. Trust your abilities, practice, focus. Use your whole body and mind, be more aware of others. Be on time, control your movements, respect your opponent,  remember to breathe, go harder, engage, don’t be afraid.

You fall into this pattern, I believe, as a parent, where you see your abilities fade from another life, before you had children and slid comfortably into suburbia, carpools, homework and Bunco nights. The serious urge to grow within transfers to that of nurturing and guiding your children to reach their full potential, as it should be. Sort of. 

There’s this thing called potential for full self expression that should never fade within, that’s also an important guidepost to our children, showing them that we too can always grow and strive to reach our full potential. This is a great lesson to them as they follow by example. Almost four years after first stepping onto the mat, panicked and awkward, I still have people ask me, even those close to me,  why I have committed to something so challenging and outside of the norm for a mom of two boys who should be making cookies, not breaking boards. The answer is easy. I can do both. It’s all about the balance, within and without, that completes us.

Crying over situps is in the past now, thank goodness, but self-improvement is still top of mind for me, even as I take on another form of Martial Arts, Krav Maga, the self defense techniques of the Isreali Defense Forces. Physically demanding and very sweaty, indeed. Less art to it, more street fighting. No one ever drowned in their own sweat though, so I think I’m good. I’m also reading several books on the Art of Aikido, as I broaden my mind and share that knowledge with my children. I will go back to Tai Kwon do, when the time is right, with my instructor, encouraging, as always. Yep… the one that made me do all those situps. By the way, don’t tell my sweet Bunco girlfriends I’d rather be in the MMA studio punching and kicking. I really don’t like to make girls cry unless they’re wearing handwraps and a mouthpiece. Just saying.

If you would like more information on where I train… http://mmaacademy.com/Home_Page.php

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I like my weeds with a little oil and vinegar please…

Mustard Weed growing in our Vineyards

So, I’m venturing lightly back into my weed discussion that I so quickly abandoned in the last post in favor of a dismal discourse into creative angst. Bear with me.. I’m going to roll with the angst. It seems to be working for me in the creativity department.

During the Winter months at our winery, the vines are neatly trimmed low and peeking out from the vast explosion of yellow mustard weeds that all but consume the otherwise domineering vines. This is when the vines are in quiet contemplation overshadowed by the Mustard Weed that grows freely, with wild abandon, between them, fed by the rains and undisturbed by the workers. 

To our family, the beautiful weed (oxymoron?) is but a delectable nutrient-rich wild crop that we eagerly look forward to gracing our table every year at this time. It’s a tradition that stems from old Italian resourcefulness and well.. the fact that Sicilians pretty much eat everything thats not nailed down and spoken for.

The best part is watching the process, as mom starts getting excited, searching around the vineyards for the first signs of the fragile young weed shoots like it’s an egg hunt. The young mustard weed is the most tender and highly prized, resembling a thin version of Broccoli Rabe. By the time it becomes a thick field of yellow, the stems are too tough and pungent to eat, unless you are a range goat.

After picking the tender stalks, Mom then parboils them,  and then frys them in a skillet, potato pancake style,  with lots of olive oil, shaved garlic, salt and pepper. The trick is to flip it over like an omelete after it’s a bit brown on one side and then finish it on the other side. Serve immediately.

Well known Author Euell Gibbons, often referred to as a survivalist, was an advocate of the harvesting of nutritious but ignored plants, plants that otherwise wouldn’t get a second chance of landing on the dinner table much less be allowed to grow on the side of the freeway. Much like the mustard weed, he encouraged the preparation of such plants  as rose hips, stinging nettle, purslane, amaranth and lamb’s quarters. He typically prepared these not in the wild, but in the kitchen with abundant use of spices, butter and garnishes. In his book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,”  Gibbons noted how the first sign of spring would be not the robins on the lawn, but the Italians who would swarm out from town to gather winter cress from fields and ditches. Here are a few lines from the book, originally published in 1962:

“The suburban dweller seldom bothers to identify the plant which the immigrants are so eagerly collecting. Such knowledge is strictly for squares. He is satisfied to refer to it merely as “some weed the Italians eat.” We have come to a poor pass when we think that allowing ourselves to be bilked because of our own ignorance contributes to our status. And still we think we have a mission to teach the rest of the world “the American way.” Heaven forbid this kind of thinking. We do have some things to teach, but we also have many things to learn from other cultures. Unless we realize that cultural exchange is a two-way street, we shall fail, and much of the ancient and precious wisdom now residing in the simple peoples of the world will be lost.”

There’s something to be said about living off of what nature has provided us, enjoying what’s right under our nose, and rejoicing in the fact that man did not propegate it. An interesting concept for those folks hunkering down for the world to end in 2012… bet they haven’t learned the art and appreciation of eating weeds. They’re too busy stockpiling Peanut Butter and canned fruit. Keep your cans, leave me the weeds. They’ll pair well with the wines in our cellar, I’m sure.

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sometimes you have to see the Vineyard for the weeds.

This is, by the way, one of those days where creative thought processes spring from somewhere deep, so bear with me if I sink into some disconsolate place, angst has its creative perks…
For thousands of years, people have speculated that there’s some correlation between sadness and creativity, so that people who are a little bit miserable (think Van Gogh, or Dylan in 1965, or Virginia Woolf) are also the most innovative. Aristotle was there first, stating in the 4th century B.C.E. “that all men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art and in politics, even Socrates and Plato, had a melancholic habitus; indeed some suffered even from melancholic disease.” This belief was revived during the Renaissance, leading Milton to exclaim, in his poem Il Penseroso: “Hail, divinest melancholy/whose saintly visage is too bright/to hit the sense of human sight.” The romantic poets took the veneration of sadness to its logical extreme, and described suffering as a prerequisite for the literary life. Still with me? As Keats wrote, “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”
Well, it turns out the cliché might be true after all…
Carl Jung quotes, “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity”.
Unfortunately, sorrow does not ignite the embers of humorous writings regarding eating weeds out of the vineyard, which is where I was going with this before I took an abrubt left turn into a literary discussion involving miserable writers. so, having said that, I will adjurn this blogpost and start fresh with my weed discussion as soon as possible,  post-funk..  promise I won’t cut my ear off.

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Adventures in Chiropractics… part 2

This time, I go a reference from a couple of different friends on this one. Long story short, the office was normal, no strange admin lady, and no high pitched, loud opera being piped through the clinic. phew. vibrating chairs in the waiting room and Kung Fu Panda playing on a flat screen. already like it.


I liked that it was a family business, father and son team, and just cute as a bugs ear. (I chose the son, of course 🙂

After some X rays, a short video (this time much more medically focused, not on how he could part the seas) Dr Rassel showed me on my Xrays how screwed up my spine is. FYI doc, I kinda knew that, just to let you know. I agreed to his treatment plan over the next few months, he didn’t throw me out like the last guy, and I liked the normalcy of the office and staff. Dr Rassel announced he would do an adjustment (I call it torture) right away to alleviate some of the pain I was feeling in my uber-pinched spine.

Yikes, hes really going to crack (adjust) me. so… I layed down on the table and after a few directions, pokes and deep pressure with his hands, he snapped my neck like a wish bone. or so it felt, ok.. I’m exaggerating. BUT… it was so loud it was shocking. He was even impressed. “Wow, Sam, you really need that” well, yes I did, no shit. But could I have some earplugs. thats pretty freaky. Longer story short, after one week, I can actually see my left shoulder <been difficult since a little teeny sparring injury in Karate>. I’m seeing Dr Feelgood a few times a week until we sort out all my twists and pinches, in the meantime, I feel like Jello and its awesome. Sold on Chiropractics. I haven’t had to pop one Tylenol or muscle relaxer or sinus pill since seeing him. He said the adjustments will help releive sinus pressure. Yay, because my neti pot is overworked and the pharmacy overvisited. Love it. It doesn’t hurt that the Chiro is handsome and charming, did I tell you that part? 😉

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