Cheers! My Birthday Celebration with the Napa Valley Wine Country Tours

After losing my grandmother a few weeks before my birthday, I really needed to celebrate life. I know she would want me to do that. This year, I decided to ring in a new year of life in wine country. My soror traveled up from So Cal to visit. This would be her first time in Napa. I didn’t want to drive so instead, we bought bus tickets for the Napa Valley Wine Country Tours.

Let me tell you something, going on this bus tour was one of the BEST decisions I made. The Napa Valley Wine Country Tours bus isn’t just any bus. It’s a limo bus that looks like a VIP club lounge on wheels. We paid $119 for an 8-hour trip, visit to 4 wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties, continental breakfast and lunch. It was worth every penny. The tastings aren't covered in the bus fare, but they ran about $10-$25. Wineries won't charge you for tastings if you buy a bottle. I recommend this for tourists and any Bay Area locals who have folks visiting from out of town and want a short excursion to Nap…

Remembering Natalie Cole
Unforgettable and Inspirational

Natalie Cole and Jenee Darden
at NPR studios in LA
I met Natalie Cole about 8 years ago when I was a producer NPR. She rolled up to the studio in a Hummer. She was nice, but very quiet. Maybe she wasn’t in  a certain mood or didn’t feel well. But she was kind enough to take photos with my colleagues and i. Once she got in the studio and behind the mic for her interview, Ms. Cole lit up.

I spoke with her and noticed she had on really cute sunglasses. I got so comfortable with her I asked her where did she buy her sunglasses. Ya’ll know damn well I don’t have Natalie Cole money. LOL She was very polite and said she couldn’t remember. She was probably thinking, “What is with this girl?”

Natalie Cole left us on New Year’s Eve at the age of 65. The family said she died after a long  battle with an illness. According to NBC she received a kidney transplant in 2009. She contracted hepatitis from her previous years of substance abuse.

What I love about Natalie Cole, aside from her gorgeous voice and gowns she wore, is that she got her life together. She was a heavy drug user and pretty open to sharing her story. She wrote in her memoir that she began using drugs in the late 1960s because she was still struggling with the death of her father, the great singer Nat King Cole. The pressures of living in his shadow also got the best of her--temporarily.

But she got the help she needed and became a classy, respected musical artist. I remember back in the ‘90s when she recorded a type of duet album with her late father. Before holograms, producers took Nat King Cole’s voice from his songs and spliced it with Natalie Cole on her Unforgettable album. It’s a beautiful album that received many awards. People gained a whole new respect for Natalie Cole. From there she became a classy, jazz songstress.

Natalie Cole died on New Years Eve, which is a time of year that people reflect on what they want to change in life. We think about what we want or need to be better, do better and live better. While I hate that she left us so soon, I think her passing on New Years Eve is symbolic. She is a great example of someone who changed their life for the better. Addiction to anything is not easy to stop, which also involves getting your mind right. Getting clean and getting her mental health together speaks to the testament of her strength and courage. I appreciate her for sharing her story and inspiring others. If she can change and heal so can we.

I am going to miss watching her on stage in beautiful gowns, while the orchestra plays on and as she blesses us with her beautiful voice. 

Miss Natalie Cole is simply unforgettable.