Friday, April 30, 2010

A Night at the Yards

I got to spend a cold evening at Camden Yards the other night. I love going to baseball games--I an convinced that is one the reasons why I enjoy living the the Baltimore region.

The Orioles, of course, are in the American League East--which by most accounts is the toughest division in baseball. The defensing World Series Champs, the NY Yankees were in town Wednesday night--and although the Orioles are off to the second worst start in franchise history, it is always fun to see the Yankees lose.

OK--so that didn't happen on Wednesday night. The O's lost 8-3. But even on this cold 50-some degree night, I enjoyed being at the park for a couple of hours seeing the O's battle the Yankees.

Saturday night--we are off to see the Boston Red Sox--I like watching them lose at the Yards, too. But the Boston fans are, frankly, terrible. They epitomize everything that is wrong with visiting teams fans. I truly would not want to be considered part of the Red Sox nation--because they are downright unruly.

I remember days when the O's won more than they lost (like 13 season ago) and when the Yards were sold out every night and just getting a ticket to see the O's play with almost 48,000 of your closest friends was a big deal.

Ah, those were the days. Now I get upset when I have to wait in a concession line--and some nights there are less than 10,000 people in the Yards watching the game. Not so on Saturday--the buses and trains will be full of screaming, mean Red Sox fans--and I am convinced I will be sitting in the middle of these same fans in my seats.

But for the other night--it was baseball, beer, and a nice evening. Even though we lost--it was still a treat to see the team play.

And the pictures--they are taken from my seat--which gives me an awesome view of the field and after about an inning, I can even start calling balls and strikes fairly accurately.

Hey--meet me at the Yards.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sun gets in my eyes

There is was again this morning. My old friend Sol.

It has been about two months since Sol's brightness was noticeable during my morning commute and this morning as I left the club after an atypically good racquetball match, Sol was staring directly into my eyes.

It hurt--but at the same time it felt so good.

The sky was crystal clear--not a cloud in sight for the first time in almost a week. And for the first time since the time change to daylight savings time--Sol was there to greet me and fill my inner self with warmth and light.

Yet--it was a brisk 38 degree morning even so.

I barely felt the cold as I was greeted. And I was reminded--I love sunshine!

I was feeling good already because I overcome, even briefly, the crappy racquetball I have been playing and put together three strong games. Sol's light made me feel even better and more positive about the incredibly busy day that was ahead.

I stopped for a moment to appreciate the light, the clear blue sky, the crisp air, and the day ahead.

Robert Frost wrote a poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" about a similar situation during the winter. My stopping during the warmer seasons is far more applicable to my personal situation, but the ending of the poem still rings too true:

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Parador Cellars: A Review

During our Napa trip, and I guess on any trip, there is always the hope that I will discover something that not everyone else has discovered. Of course, with all of the wineries and commercialism in Napa and Sonoma, that is nearly impossible to do.

Chris and I along with my sister Pennie and her husband Scott; however, did find that unique memory of the trip in the form of a very small winery called Parador Cellars. How it happened is almost as much of a story and the pure enjoyment we got from "discovering" something that not everyone finds.

Parador is run by the winemaker--Steve and his wife. Steve is solely responsible for the quality of the wines and the blends. And, I believe he hit it perfectly in the wines he makes. A visit to the Cellars, is a visit to their home in Napa--and a phone call for an appointment.

We were introduced to Parador Cellars at Zu Zu, a tapas restaurant in Napa where we found the Parador Red Wine, a Cabernet-Tempranillo blend on the wine list and tried it. It is fabulous. As is the Tempranillo that Parador produces.

We were treated to a personal tasting at the house and were able to taste an assortment of the wines. I was able to taste the 1999 Reserva which was a Cabernet-Tempranillo-Sangiovese blend as well as the 2004 and 2005 red which was the Cabernet-Tempranillo blend and complimented the 2003 red we enjoyed at the restaurant. We also sampled the 2005 Tempranillo and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon which were used to create the red.

I highly recommend these wines and the experience of meeting the winemaker, Steve and his wife, to discuss the wines and get to know them was fantastic and was truly a highlight of the week in Napa.

The find of the week! Fine wines and a great winemaker.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Left Behind Memories

Well, maybe it was something more than memories.

Each of the past two weekends were special with respect to time spent with our grandsons. We were able to spend individualized time with each of them. And that is something very unique in our fast moving world.

Saturday, this past weekend, was filled with baseball (tee-ball and Orioles on the TV) and time spent with Ethan and Jax, while Sunday provided some good one-on-one time with Lucas while we were out looking at a house and then back to our house for more Orioles baseball and a meal. This was followed by more time with Ethan and Jax in the evening.

It was a wild and crazy day and since summertime fruit is beginning to appear--there was the obligatory watermelon. Watermelon is a favorite of our family. We cut it into bite size chunks, put it in a bowl and munch on it all day long until it is gone.

This morning, as I opened the door of the powder room, I was reminded of the grandsons and the watermelon as I turned the still sticky door handle.

I never really thought about it before this morning, but we expect door handles to be smooth and metallic to the touch. And when they are not smooth--we are somewhat repulsed. We wonder--what am I touching and what is wrong here?

And then I realized--it is a memory.

A memory of Sunday, and watermelon, and laughter (with some crying thrown in) and of grandsons with sticky, watermelon sloppy hands running to the powder room to wash up.

I was going to clean off the knob. Erase the stickiness which recalls the memory.

But then I decided not to.

It made me smile--and on a gray, overcast morning with more rain and gloom in the forecast I needed something to make me smile.

I chalked it up to a left behind memory.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Musing - April 26, 2010

1. A rainy weekend did not prevent us from removing yet another tree from the yard and making my obligatory weekend trip to the landfill. Good-bye apple tree which bore no fruit.

2. Our family has matured to the point where there are multiple events every weekend which keep us busy and together. That can be exciting.

3. I do note that the Orioles provided their baseball faithful with their third win of the young season yesterday in a thrilling comeback, extra inning victory over the Redsox. They are now 3-16 and have only four fewer wins than the next two worst teams in major league baseball. But--they won!

4. And writing of sports--the Penguins advanced into the NHL Conference Semifinals after spotting Ottawa a 3-0 lead Saturday night, they came back to win 4-3 in overtime. Let's try not to do the cardiac arrest approach for the next round.

5. The grass sure is green right now. The rain and temperatures are really helping everything to grow.

6. It is hard to believe that in a just shy of two months--we will be having another wedding in the family as Patrick and Tina make the commitment to each other. The closer it gets the more real it seems.

7. I guess I have been cutting a lot of things with my chainsaw--both blades now need to be sharpened. I could always buy a third blade and that was not sharpen the other two--but that doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?

8. Well the league racquetball playoffs are underway this week. Keeps me busy and interested.

9. Memorial Day is coming. Can you believe I'm already thinking about it. And we have conflicts already! Ugh!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Baseball Saturday Morning Season Opener

Well--there we were. The first. When you have young grand kids there are a lot of firsts and Saturday was no exception.The first tee-ball game for the first grandson.

I was excited--he was wearing the number of my favorite player Brian Roberts, which is number 1. And he started the game a second base.

It was fun to watch these five-year olds try to grapple with the complexities of baseball.

Watch, catch, think throw--to where again?

And I run to where? Why?

One player couldn't get the concept of coming home down and kept going to the bench after he left third base.

But Ethan--tried hard to stay in the game and keep involved.

But of course then there is grandson number two--Jax. What did he do while big brother was playing. Well he kept himself entertained with the storm drain--until if course the excitement became overwhelming and his established nap time slipped past. He received a pass to head home with gramma and take a nap.

It was a cool and overcast day with occasional sprinkles--but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the ardent fan base nor the players.

As for the score--who knows.

This is Tee-ball--everyone hits and runs.

Three innings of batting around.

All told--I think only one out was recorded. So that would make the final score 39-39 because the out was noted but the runner stayed on base and subsequently scored.

Hey--it is tee-ball.

Oh what was the play of the day? Start of the bottom of the third (and last inning). Ethan's team being the home team is coming to bat with E scheduled to bat 12th. He walks up to his Mom and announces he needs to go to the bathroom. No he can't wait.

Nicole turns to me and says--"This sounds like a job for Poppop!" The situation becomes clearer as there are no "port a potties."

And so Poppop saves the day and we took care of the problem and had the young player back in time to take his swing at the ball!

Shoulda been on ESPN's "Play of the Day."
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Azalea in the Garden

I forget each year how dynamic azaleas can be when they bloom.

And this year is no exception. We have a white azalea in the front garden which puts on a show that rivals the Fourth of July at the Mall in Washington, DC.

OK--maybe not with the booms, but the sheer splendor of the blooms and the size and volume of blooms.

Wow! It makes me smile to notice it and it is there just asking to be noticed.

A splash of color and brightness surging the springtime forward and farther away from the memory of the days of cold and winter.

I love the green I see now all around with the trees in leaf and the grass growing. Soon--the pool will be open and I'll be lying on my floatie with a cold one in my hand feeling the heat of the sun on my face!

But I am rushing things--let's just enjoy the journey to get there.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dead Trees

They stand almost together at the back of the yard among other tulip poplars. They are tall and there are now three of them.

For some reason as springtime arrived in each of the succeeding past years, they didn't wake up from the slumber. And now they stand, mostly devoid of branches which have fallen into the yard and been removed, rapidly becoming a potential danger to the trees around them and to the yard should they falter and fall.

And they will fall--like one of their brothers who fell last year and served as firewood during the past winter, keeping us warm on those all too cold nights in February during the deepest part of the Snowpocalypse.

So I need to call a professional and have them felled, so their falling does not cause undue damage. And then I can begin preparing them for the next phase of their existence--firewood.

I guess that's the green thing to do--in honor of Earth Day which was yesterday, make sure everything is used and not wasted.

So these formerly majestic trees which provided a cooling summer canopy will soon be providing warmth during the cold winter months. Is that a cycle of life?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sipping Wine at Robert Mondavi

Another of the great and well known wineries we visited during our Wine Week in Napa and Sonoma was the Robert Mondavi Winery in Rutherford, CA.

This is another of those larger than life wineries and is another winery which, because of its size, wasn't on our original daily plan, but because we were there at the end of the day and felt like doing one more winery, we stopped to visit.

The winery is expansive with a large parking lot and big open areas. As always, we went to the reserve tasting to taste some of their wines. The reserve tasting was actually recommended to us by another winery we had visited when the person doing the pouring chatted with us and discovered the kinds of wines we really enjoyed.

I admit--the reserve tasting included four wines with retail prices of $135, but we were able to do a vertical tasting of the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2006. I love vertical tastings and thins one helped confirm in my mind that right now, my favorite vintage of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is 2005 due to its complexity and deep tannins. The 2005's we samples around Napa are definitely not for the fruit lovers in us--but for the hard core, rocking deep, complex wine lovers.

As the tastings in Napa go--this one was one of the few that was simple a pour and go. Meaning that they poured our flight of wines and sent us away to enjoy and sample them without the narrative to describe the wines. I have come to like the narrative. I want to understand the wines and the weather conditions that helped to create them.

The other thing I was looking for from this winery was--so what is so special about a wine which retails for $135? And is it special enough to make me want to buy it?

The answer, sadly, is that I found many wines for less than half the price which stand up to these highly priced and special wines--so no, I cannot yet be convinced to buy them. Actually the B.V 2005 Maestro Cabernet which retails for $65 (and was on a half price sale by the case at the winery) matched up real well. OK--better. If I didn't live in Maryland, I would have a case. Thanks Maryland!

But, I did thoroughly enjoy tasting wines that are so far outside my current budget--just to see what makes them special. They were complex, and they were very good wines, but in my opinion--priced about double their true value given the range of wines we sampled during the week.

Don't misunderstand--the visit to the winery was fantastic and I am glad we visited--the perspective was extremely useful. But, I'm not likely to being home a reserve Mondavi in the too near future.

Recommendation: Put this winery on your B list. Visit if you have time, because it is a beautiful stop and a delightful way to end the day. We were in Rutherford anyway. But, depending upon the length of your visit to Napa, there are better places to focus attention on. I admit, we did not take a tour--this was one of those point and shoot stops based upon a recommendation from another winery. If you are really in to Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and the $135 price tag doesn't scare you--this winery should be raised to the bottom of your A list.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Relaxing at Chateau St Jean

One of the things we discovered about the wineries of Napa and Sonoma was that many of them tried to create a unique environment to enjoy and taste the wines. We found the emphasis on mixing teaching with history and a unique experience to be very enjoyable.

One place where we didn't do a tour, but went straight to the tasting was at Chateau St Jean in Sonoma.

It is a beautiful winery and when the day began, it was not on our list. But through the course of the day we happened to decide to stop in and enjoy the wines. It is a beautiful winery--as many of the wineries in Napa and Sonoma are. It is almost as if they are not only selling wines--but encouraging an experience.

We have been to a few wineries in our time, and what we encountered in most wineries in Napa and Sonoma was the need to slow down and enjoy the wines and the atmosphere. While a wine tasting in some places may take 15 minutes to taste 5 wines, here at Chateau St Jean we spent almost an hour and a half tasting six or seven wines--and savoring every mouthful. Learning about the wines and the wine makers. We did the reserve tasting.

And of course enjoying the beautiful scenery.

We received personal service. And we enjoyed wine. Chris is very fond of merlot--and frankly, there isn't a lot of merlot in Napa, so this was a good stop for her. She discovered a very nice merlot.

Sadly, we actually had to truncate our visit here a bit because we had an appointment at another winery about 45 minutes away--but we could have spent a lot of time at this very nice and enjoyable winery.

Recommendation: Chateau St Jean should be on your visit list when visiting Sonoma. A good place to stop mid-day and relax and recover while enjoying well made Sonoma wines.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Joy of Being Outside in the Evening

Until almost 8:30 pm last evening, Makayla and I enjoyed being outside working around the house and then ending the day with a walk in the deepening twilight.

In a tee-shirt. Doing fun stuff like mowing the lawn, and getting the pool pump put back together and operational in advance of my favorite Saturday of the year--pool opening. And then getting the back deck area cleaned off of all of the tree flower debris.

And I did all of this in daylight.

Yesterday, I noticed that I was once again driving to work being treated to skies that are bright and full of the colors of the dawn. Yay.

It was a short two months ago we were still reeling from the incredible snows and cold--and now, the trees are in leaf, the flowers are up, I have mowed the lawn now three times, and I am seriously thinking of opening the pool in advance of the onset of the summer swimming season.

And look at what is ahead of me--Memorial day, a wedding, Independence Day, vacation, the dog days of summer. I want to be able to enjoy each one in its time and not worry about rushing from one to the next.

All of this because I enjoyed a solitary evening around the house with my dog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Musings - April 19, 2010

1. I am amazed how many people spent the better part of last week trying to get their taxes done. I mean, I hate paying taxes too--but waiting until the last minute? Well, given I am a huge procrastinator, I could be in the same situation some day.

2. I wrote yesterday about going into church and the first song being one of my real favorites. There is something refreshing about singing songs with energy and full of meaning rather than tired old tunes written in a minor key.

3. I was marveling the other day at how quickly the leaves on the trees have filled in the bare spaces. It is good to see them back.

4. My first adventure to Medieval Times with Ethan and the family did not disappoint. It was a well choreographed show. And Ethan was enthralled. And made out like a bandit--two swords and a shield. I wonder if the celebrations for Ethan turning five are not complete?

5. Springtime helps identify the around the house projects needing to be accomplished during the summer. I think I'll put most of them on the list. Although the last of the storm damaged trees was removed and trucked off to the recycling landfill on Saturday.

6. Someone the other day asked me what the TEA Party stood for--was it a in reference to the Boston Tea Party? And I said it was but TEA is also an acronym standing for Taxed Enough Already. Scary--we ain't seen nothing yet given the mountain of bills coming due in the future.

7. I am happy to report this morning that yesterday was a good day in sports for teams that I cheer for--the Orioles won their second game of the young season and the Penguins took a 2-1 playoff series lead over the Senators by winning in Ottawa. Some days I sing "O Canada" for fun, but not this morning. I guess I like teams with birds as mascots: Orioles, Penguins, and Ravens!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rejoice in the day

Church this morning started out with one of my favorite Lincoln Brewster song -- "Today is the Day."

Sometimes it is really important for me to be reminded that today is the day that God made and I should rejoice and be glad in it. Sometimes I just need to be reminded that the day will be as good or bad as I make it.

And if I rejoice that God has provided me the capability to enjoy the day and what He has planned for me--then it really improves the day.

It totally changes my mood from looking at the day as a bunch of tasks that I have to do into a day filled with opportunities.

Today is the day--and I will rejoice and be glad.

And I also was able to see my entire family for dinner and another birthday party for the big E who is now 5 years old. Talk about wedding plans and watch a baseball game. And top it off with a stop to Medieval Times for dinner.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Best Pictures of our Week in California

I went back through all of the pictures we took in on our California wine adventure looking for the one best picture that best represented the week and what we enjoyed doing the most.

Funny, I could not decide on just one--but it took two. And neither has anything directly to do with wine, or drinking, or vineyards.

I guess I'm still a country kid at heart because they were both from our trip to the Armstrong Redwoods State Park. Funny--I still enjoy a nice walk in the woods--even on a very crisp morning.

Chris took both of these pictures--and she was being creative, but they also capture something really special.

The first is of the cool haze that was hanging in the morning forest as we were enjoying the natural beauty and marveling at the works of God. The sunlight reflecting off the trunks and stumps and moss covered rocks. Being refracted by the atmosphere. I still remember the cool, clean smell of the forest that morning. And the sounds of the birds high above us in the canopy.

And the second--a sight so easily missed as it was off the trail and the web could only be seen from one specific angle as the sun reflected off it. The silk shimmers in the morning light as the spider, in the center, rests from the work of the night. It was beautiful shimmering there. A work of beauty.

I remember a saying from a long, long time ago--it was about taking time to stop and smell the roses along the way.

And I am glad that we took time out of our California wine adventure to see the natural beauty of the land and marvel at magnificence not created by the hand of man!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Orioles Baseball

I, along with about 13,000 of my closest friends went to the ball park the other night.

It was a raw night--cold and misty.

I was treated to seven innings of great baseball. A pitching duel between the Orioles and the Rays. It was fun to watch--especially since the O's had a 3-0 lead at the end of seven.

I was at the park with Jeremy and we had a great father and son time together. It was my first trip to Camden Yards of the season--one in which the Orioles have sunk to be the worst baseball team in the American League and arguably (with the exception of the winless Houston Astros) in all of baseball.

I love baseball--and it pains me to see a major league team make so many Little League mistakes.

I'm demoralized just watching them. Base running mistakes that run the team out of innings--and a huge managerial mistake at the game I was at where the manager failed to protect the starting pitcher , who had pitched a fabulous game, from being in line to get a loss when he finally tired one out into the eighth inning. He needed to pull him out one batter before he did. Although, it worked out for the pitcher--the team lost their lead and wound up losing 8-6 in 10 innings. I didn't stay after the Rays hit a three run shot in the top of the 10th (shhhh, don't tell Chris, I never leave games before the last out).

It is frustrating to watch.

It must be more frustrating to be a player and be on a team that can find a new way to lose, rather than win , every night.

I have such high expectations for the season. I'm still hoping for 82-80 at least. And 91-71 is possible even with this dismal start. It is early and there is a lot of baseball yet to be played.

So, let's get on with it and start winning. The sports talk radio has been talking about how the fans are booing--but the night I was there, we cheered pretty hard--we all felt like we could will the team to a win.

Yet, I lost my voice for naught. Had a good time with my son. Spent a cold night at the Yard. Imbibed some cold beer.

Does it get better than that? (yup, diving the Vandenberg off Key West)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Complicated Factors

Life has a way of racing out of control. Left to its own devices, the pace of life can cause us to become victims of the life we are trying to lead.

And that is a bad thing.

The hardest part is to try to understand the motivation behind the often competing requests and even harder--to separate fact from imagination.

I have noticed that we tend to naturally impose our own reasoning on a situation and when something happened we say things like: "What they meant was . . . " or even "They did that because . . ." and the truth be known--we really don't know the meaning or the cause. But we need to create one to either justify our own actions or to put meaning into a situation. Even though--we really don't know what is really going on.

I've had a conversation where someone tries to tell me why I did something or said something--and here's the rub, they argued with me when I told them they were wrong!

So let me get this straight--I'm me and you're you, and you know my motivation for saying or doing something so well that when I try to explain it to you that you argue with me and presume to tell me I'm wrong?

That, friends, is a complicated factor!

When we imprint our own understanding on a situation or an action, we complicate the activity by masking the facts with the presumption. It is like when driving and someone changes lanes suddenly in front of us and we need to avoid them--we assess that they were inattentive or distracted while talking on a cell phone. Some of us spend a lot of brain power on that--and cause our own driving problems or blood pressure issues. In reality--we don't know why it happened--and we don't need to know the why, just the fact of the sudden lane change we needed to avoid.

In relationships, we complicate situations by trying to infer motivation for actions--when we what we really need to do is address the fact of the action--and allow the motivation to play out. We use the motivation to rationalize our response--especially if it is retaliatory or inconsistent with our normal behavior.

Yes--it is important to understand the broader situation, and it is OK to have a hypothesis--but to move from hypothesis to assumed fact based upon nothing other that intuition is dangerous. Seek data. Ask questions which probe and help expose the underlying situation. It is probably very different from what we believe (or want to believe).

I have seen many occasions where people believe the worst about a person and presume that they are being deceitful or mean-spirited. But it could be, and most likely is, something far less nefarious like just not appreciating the dynamics of the people and situation, or acting naively.

We also complicate situations be trying to determine "fair"--or more accurately when we believe someone is being less than fair to us and we do not believe we are getting what we deserve. Then the labels start going out--"they like ____ better," or "they don't like me," "poor me," "I deserve ___."

Fair does not mean equal--especially to someone who believes they are getting the short end of the stick! If you look at the definitions, you will find that equal is not a synonym for fair.

We need to allow people to make decisions and assume "noble intent." When we do not, we begin to create problems which may not really exist.

Strive to uncomplicate life by keeping the peripheral issues just that--peripheral. It will allow more time to focus on activity and fact rather than stewing about an incorrect perception. It will help keep the pace of life manageable by allowing us to focus more brain power on what really matters.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Back into Life--Making Lemonade from Oranges?

The hard part about traveling is returning to life, afterwards.

The memories are good. The pictures remind of the fun times.

But when the return to life comes--there they are: bills to pay, events to deconflict, crises to solve.

I feel like I'm going through life right now with concrete overshoes on--trying to get going, but I can't.

I remember this tree we saw in front of Rubicon Vineyards. It was the epitome of everything that can be really funny.

Look at the picture--click on it if you need to--the right branch of the tree is growing lemons and the left, oranges.

It is an example of grafting (obviously) and is a good demonstration for how European grape vines are grafted onto US root stock.

But is this is one of those cases when you have a bunch of lemons and wind up making orange juice?

It can be confusing, if you let it. Just like life.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Schramsberg Vineyard: A Review

A visit to Napa should definitely include a trip to Schramsberg for an inside look at sparkling wine (champagne) production.

The vineyard sits up a hill just south of Calistoga in a picturesque part of the valley.

The tour and tasting cost $40 and was well worth the price. There is a very nice pond outside the tasting room with a statue of Riddler's Night Out in the water--and that is very appropriate for the vineyard. I did get to meet the Riddler in the tour and watch him. He is pictured on their website.

The tour was very informative about the history of the estate and the wines that are made--mostly of the sparkling variety (a/k/a/ champagne). I was impressed that the White House serves these sparkling wines at State dinners--according to the tour. Of all of the cave that we visited at the various wineries on our Napa vacation--these were definitely the most interesting and some of the oldest.

I learned a lot about sparkling wine production and even got a chance to see some bottling in progress.

We did get to sample a Cabernet sauvingnon--which for the red wine lover in me, really appreciated the opportunity--but I learned so much that I would definitely repeat visit this place.

RECOMMENDATION: Visit this winery. They require appointments--so get an appointment. Make it your one expensive winery of the day visit for one of the days you are visiting Napa. Ask questions and enjoy the expensive sparkling wine they will serve as part of the tasting.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Musings - April 12, 2010

1. Vacation weeks end too quickly and it seem the drudgery begins creeping back into life before the vacation really ends.

2. Winter's grip has really finally departed the area--after a week of 80 degree temperatures and light rains, I had to mow the lawn again yesterday, and I still enjoyed it.

3. This one is for Chris, Tina and Patrick: I love my new iPhone. Yea--it drops calls, but the mapping app is awesome and all last week I was able to do things my Blackberry coundn't even dream of doing--like finding a Starbucks near where I was and then interactively guiding me to it.

4. I am still going over everything I learned and collected during last week's jaunt to the west coast, I guess that is really one of the high points of weeks away--when they stay involved in life and don't just slip into the fond memory category.

5. I missed Makayla last week and was crushed when she seemed underwhelmed to see me. Dogs really know how to put people in their place.

6. Wine is rapidly becoming a hobby. I met a couple while in Napa last week who are living the dream--their hobby became their livelihood--what a neat thing. Don't worry, I don't think I'm going to go into wine making anytime soon.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Safe Return and Fond Memories

Well, it is over.

Thanks to a relatively uneventful trip on Southwest Airlines our Napa adventure came to a safe conclusion early this morning (about 1AM) when we pulled into the driveway and unloaded our treasures and dirty laundry.

During the trip we saw natural wonders including geysers and giant redwoods; and we saw grape vines and wineries and mountains and so many things that it just really can't be all told.

These pictures here kind of give the variance of the week--from looking at the new leaves sprouting into the warm sun, to bottles of champagne lining the cave walls at Schramsburg--to works of art and a Persian Palace Winery at Darioush.

There are so many things to see and do. We even got in a little shopping and antiquing.

The high points of the trip were walking among the giant redwoods and talking to the winemaker of Parador Wines.

We spanned quite a diverse set of wineries from the opulent at Darioush and Rubicon, to the modest Buena Vista (in Sonoma).

We experienced a wide variety of wines and were able to sample some wines with incredible price tags--$165 per bottle. And found that they were OK. But we also found some great wines for much less.

I continue to be unhappy to be living in Maryland--where the legislature has no problem regulating things like cell phone use in a car--but can't see to get its act together to "Free the Grapes." Come on--it will increase state revenue! That we lived in Maryland almost always was a source of discussion at the wineries and I was told many, mostly illegal, ways to circumvent the Maryland liquor shipping laws--most of which require the commission of a felony! Here is a real good question--how can something be absolutely legal in most states but yet be a felony in others?

But--all in all--the trip was awesome. We saw art--and we saw nature's beauty.

And now I'm home where the lawn needs to be mowed and I get to return to the reality of daily life. But always with the memories of a great trip.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stalking the next big adventure

And so we aren't even home yet from our current spring fling adventure
and are already talking about next year. Somewhere in the Carribbean
seems to be the leading contender.

And as I sit here on the plane in Las Vegas, I am wondering why
aircraft wind up sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open when
I have vacations to plan and things to do?

A sandy beach sure sounds nice right now.

Ah. When is spring break 2011 anyway?

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday Morning Insomnia

I am sitting here in the hotel room at the end of a great trip with
insomnia. It is like 3am and there is packing to do later and then the
journey to home.

It is hard to believe the week is over.

It was a great week. We visited some 15 wineries as well as seeing
some great sights.

We met a lot of really cool people along the way and I'm sure we had
such a great time because of the really nice people we met. That and
it is off season meaning cooler temperatures and fewer tourists like

I have a lot more to write about the trip and the things we did. But
in one area I feel we really were successful and it was a highlight.

As corny as it sounds, we really wanted to discover a winery that not
everyone knows about or has heard of.

Yesterday in what was the culmination of something which really began
with our first dinner on Monday evening, we met with the winemaker and
his wife and really cute 3 month old jack russel terrier of Parador
Vineyards. We sampled six wines at their home and this was in adition
to the two wines we had enjoyed during the week.

They are all fabulous. He is a small wine maker and makes a very
special and unique Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempernillo blend.

We talked about grapes and wine and wine making for the better part of
almost two hours.

Talking with them really helped put into perspective the differences
between the big production wineries and the small literally two person

To say it was great is an understatement. But more later. I'm
thinking I can finally roll over and get some much needed sleep.

Travel days are always hard on me.

See you soon

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Walk Among the Giants

We had the opportunity to walk among giants as part of our vacation to the Napa/Sonoma area of California. We went for an early morning walk (after over an hour drive) in a redwood grove at the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve.

It was awe inspiring and I sent a couple updates on the jaunt--but it really is something beyond words.

The trees, and I confess, this was the first time I had been in a no kidding full grown redwood forest, are so big they cannot even be comprehended when you are looking at them.

I enjoyed the smells of the forest in the morning and it was cold--only in the low 40's as we arrived--but the walk was so worth the time to get in touch with these old and magnificent trees.
They are that big.

And did I say, old. 1400 years some of these giants have been growing. There was one exhibit which really put the timeline in perspective. It was a cut piece of trunk exposing the growth rings. And most of the things we consider as history--were in the very outer rings. I was awed to think that that tree was alive and pretty tall in 1066 AD--dating from the Norman invasion of Britain. The tree was already almost 400 years old when that occurred.

All in all--we really couldn't see the forest for the trees.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tasting at Gundlach Bundschu

Cave tasting and a great tour. The wines are just average though. But
for the educational perspective this is a great winery to visit.

The winery is located in Somoma, CA. The tour guide was great.

Recommendation: visit and enjoy the tour and the views and the close
up view of the vineyards.

A football field in the air

Really. 300 plus feet tall. Big around too. And dark on the ground.
Redwood trees are awesome.

Deep in a redwood forest

From the redwood stand our intrepid travelers venture our.

Sterling Winery: A Review

The first winery we visited, right out of the barrel was Sterling.

Sterling is located in Calistoga, near the north end of Napa Valley.

Although I had read mixed reviews about this winery, we still wanted to visit it because it is just plain neat--with the cable car ride up the hillside to the winery.

We upgraded to the reserve tasting, so the admission was $30 per person. That is pretty standard around here for tours and tastings. The basic tour and tasting was $25--so we really only had a minor upgrade.

The gondola ride was beautiful and provided a nice way to see the valley in the morning sunlight. It was a beautiful way.

The tour is self-guided--but the positioning of tasting stations along the tour route was really nice and creative. The winery is beautiful. The tour is great and fun to wander around the various stations. Although the tour is not informative about the history of the winery.

Here is the real thing: the wines are not that good! They are so-so wines. Fun to taste, but even though it was our first winery, we knew that these were not the great wines of Napa County. They are OK--and over priced OK. There are much better wines out there.

But the winery is fun and is a must visit kind of place.

Recommendation: Visit this winery. The gondola ride is fun and the construct of the tour is unique. The winery is beautiful and definitely with the visit. Use the wine tastings as a baseline for other wineries.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to combine two of my favorite things

I love palm trees. And I love barrels used to age wine.

Who would have thought to combine the two?

Well, the Schramburg Winery, that's who.

What a great idea! And here are two examples. Wow!

Decorating tips! Who woulda thunk?

On the road with Bob and Chris--decorating, winery style!

Geysers, Wine and More Fun

The Napa adventure took on its first full day of excitement yesterday.

We were all up early and decided to do some sight seeing in the Calistoga area. There are two sights worth the effort to see: Old Faithful the Geyser (not "The" Old Faithful, but an Old Faithful) and a Petrified Forest. So it was very applicable that we began the day looking at natural wonders before enjoying the wonders of the grape.

I have always been amazed that there are places in the earth where water boils and shoots out with such force to create geysers. This one varies in frequency and while we were there it was erupting about every four minutes--which is really pretty exciting. Actually--extremely exciting and interesting. It was one of the things I definitely wanted to do while we were in Napa--and I was really happy that it wound up the first thing that we did--even before grapes. Well, it opened at 9AM and the wineries don't open until 10 am or later.

The second sight we visited was the petrified forest to see the huge redwoods which were blown down during a volcanic eruption 3.8 million years ago and subsequently petrified. They are huge! One is so big they actually tunneled into the hillside to demonstrate how big these trees were. It didn't make a very good picture though.

The tree pictured here was laying where it fell and had become rock--due to the rain--the area around the base of the tree had filled with water--but you get the idea of how they were laying.

Both of these sights are in the Calistoga, California area and only five miles from each other. The information at the geyser site indicated that it was the eruption of the volcano which used to be at the geyser site that blew down the redwoods that were subsequently petrified. So, it really isn't such a stretch to see the two attractions together.

And then there were the vineyards--but more on that later.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Quote of the day

O my god you look like a little cow.

And was the four horned sheep insulted? Who knows.

On the Road Again--California or Bust

Well it seems that the more I travel. I never cease to be amazed at how the whole process works and how we have adapted to the ever changing mood swings of the TSA. The mood seems to change from checking everything and everyone to a more rational approach. Today was more rational--not gun residue swipes were noted.

I did find one small placard that was posted along the security screening line to be a bit funny, and true. It went something like: "We come from different places and we bring many different things with us to the different destinations we are going, but we are all here looking for one thing: a Safe Trip."

I have to agree.

Travel though seems to be more of the same--time after time. I feel like so much cattle being sent into the chute to an unknown ending on the other side. Muck like cattle--we are watched and evaluated as we make our way thorough the lines to get to the officials who examine our documentation and then on to the scanners.

I felt great relief--I undressed just enough to get through this time. Watch, belt, glasses, cell, shoes, coat, laptop out of the case and remembering to keep the boarding pass in hand. As I stepped into the x-ray portal and passed through, I received a plesant--"have a good trip." Yay! I hadn't forgotten one of those things that set the alarms off.

Aside from our connecting flight being an hour late--the trip was uneventful, except of course for the people along the way.

I have never been to Napa before--and my first impression is that the area is beautiful. I don't know what I was expecting but the agricultural setting--especially the vineyards, is very peaceful--and o so green. Pictures will be coming, but we were so tired yesterday that we really didn't take any pictures except of the cloud tops. They were especially pretty as we were landing in the Oakland area.

And so the Napa adventure is underway. We have already sampled three Napa/Sonoma red wines and had a fabulous dinner at Zuzu, a tapas restaurant in Napa. I wrote a review on TripAdvisor which I'll link in as soon as it is published.

The day begins soon with wineries, geysers, petrified forests, and wineries. Did I mention wineries?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Musings - April 5, 2010

1. The musings today are bit late because it is a travel day. Spring
break. Yay. A good reason for a trip.

2. Easter was awesome with the entire family together. I can tell the
boys are getting older because they played together.

3. The competative nature of some people is very evident during Easter
egg hunts. Wow. Some people really need to chill.

4. Do you know what the best part of traveling is, aside from actually
getting to the destination? That time after clearing security and
before boarding the plane. Why? Because it is that in between time
when you can still walk around and you no longer wonder whether you
will make it to the gate in time to board.

5. I miss my dog already. Why is that?

6. Reconnecting with family can be a good thing. I'm glad we did some
it this weekend.

7. The weather was so awesome the past couple of days, we turned the
heat off. Take that BGE!

8. And so, my transition to the darkside is complete. Armed with my
new iPhone and the AT&T network I am off to learn the ways of dropped
calls and life without my Blackberry.

9. Ever notice how a six day trip is really only a four day vacation?

10. Funniest thing heard today so far. The Southwest Airline cabin
crew describing how to use the oxygen mask: "and when you stop
screaming, put the mask over your nose and

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, April 4, 2010

After church in the parking lot

There we were. Lucas with his shades to protect his eyes from the sun.
And grandma carrying him across the lot.

I couldn't resist.

Happy Easter

The day dawned with sun kissed clouds in the sky and Springtime trees and flowers in full bloom. The birds were chirping loudly and squirrels were performing their acrobatics high in the tops of the tulip poplar trees seemingly oblivious to the precarious nature of their activity.

The dog is whining to go out again to enjoy the beautiful Easter morning.

And I think I will go out in a minute to also enjoy the day, coffee in hand to smell the fragrance of multiple blossoms on the breeze.

And find some Easter eggs?

No, that comes later after church--because the Easter Bunny comes by just before the grandchildren arrive. Really? Yeah. I have some time to myself.

For the moment, it is quiet and I meditate upon the dawning of the day and the shock, disbelief, grief, and joy of about a dozen men and women some 2,000 years ago who woke up on a similar day mired in grief that soon changed into a joy that has continue through the centuries till today when we still remember that history changing event.

And we remember their greeting--

"He is risen"

And the response from the believers:

"He is risen indeed!"

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Passover--Easter: The Relationship

Chris and I had the opportunity to celebrate Passover with a dear friend and his family earlier in the week. We have been privileged to be part of his family's Passover observance for a couple of years now--and I always look forward to it. I love the history and the retelling of the story to ensure that all generations remember what God did for the Israelites.

Of course--Passover and Easter are somewhat tightly bound together in that the setting for the first Easter was Passover. Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples as the last meal he ate on Earth. And so, usually, the two observances occur close together.

And that is about as much thought as I ever gave to the relationship between the two.

But this year, as I was celebrating Passover it dawned upon me that there is a similarity between Easter and the Passover observance that I had not thought of. And it floored me.

Now I'm sure there is some reference to this in the Bible and that I have read over it all these many years--but still here it goes.

So I was at Passover dinner hearing the story of the Exodus and Moses' interaction with Pharaoh. And I was reminded that the Passover is a celebration of freedom. Freedom from slavery by the Egyptians.

And amazingly--there is the similarity--and it was there looking me in the eyes all of my life. Easter is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus which freed us from the law of sin and death. Or put another way--we were freed from the slavery of sin which results in death.

Like the Israelites were freed from being slaves of the Egyptians and death, we are freed from being slaves of sin and death.

And so, I am sure it was not a coincidence that Passover was the time God appointed for his Son to make the supreme sacrifice for us--but rather--as Moses led the Children of Israel out of slavery into the desert and ultimately the went into the promised land; Jesus leads believers out of slavery and sin and into the promised land of eternal life.

Happy Easter.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday 2010

Low points and high points.

Did you ever notice the relationship between them?

It seems that when we hit a very low point in life, there invariably follows a high point or some type of mountaintop experience. And later, another low point. Followed again by high points.

I admit--I'm still looking for the high point after getting annihilated during two racquetball matches on Tuesday--but I'm sure I'll run atop one during my trip to Napa next week.

But here's the point--

I believe there is a relationship in our lives between high points and low points. If life were nothing but highs, in a pretty short time we would begin to not appreciate how good we have it and we would see the highs as average--or as an entitlement. Likewise, if life were nothing but low points--we would be very depressed and lack the perspective necessary to help us through these life turning and life wrenching events.

Good Friday and Easter together remind us of this cycle.

I have always believed that I must pass through the darkness and despair of Good Friday in order to truly appreciate the incredible and unmerited joy of Easter. And this is my personal journey every year, but it is through this dark path that I experience God's unbelievable grace and forgiveness.

I used to be so busy during the Lent-Easter season that I didn't have time to actually reflect on the meaning. On how the days were positioned just perfectly. It seemed I was racing from one church service to another and planning another--and before I could even stop to reflect, it was all over and I was sitting at the table after consuming a huge Easter Sunday meal wondering where the time went. Feeling deflated and let down.

Surely there is something more?

There is.

I can appreciate the cycle now--

It is like Springtime. I never would enjoy Springtime as much as I do without having struggled through another Winter. It is in facing the Winter that I can find renewed joy at those first signs of Springtime.

And so--take a moment today to reflect on the your blessings, and if you are so moved, to reflect on Good Friday and why although it seems oxymoronic, the name Good Friday really isn't.

Many blessings on you--and may your joy be full and bright in the morning when the sun/son shines upon you. May your day be peaceful and filled with what pleases you most. And may you always give thanks to God for the blessings that you have.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thursday afternoon

Enjoying the day.

OK--so I didn't mow the lawn. But I did enjoy my daffodils. This one is right off my front step. And it is just awesome.

I also checked out the camera on my new cell--yeah, Chris finally wore me down and we switched to I-phones.

I feel as if we have gone over to the dark side.

But the afternoon warm sun was great and the flowers are just bursting with Spring.

Bring it on.

April First

Already the first day of the fourth month of 2010.

My how time flies.

We were struggling with snow and cold just a short time ago and today is supposed to be in the 70's close to 80 degrees.

I think I'll mow the lawn this afternoon just to celebrate springtime.

We have crossed over the 12 hour per day mark for sunlight as of about March 20th. In fact, we will have almost 12 hours and 39 minutes of actual sunlight (dawn to dusk) and over 13 and a half hours of usable light. It is funny how the sunlight gets stronger and longer by such a small amount each day that we barely notice it. But here is the really nice part--the high is supposed to be in the upper 70's.

I believe we can only truly appreciate these blessings because we have in the very recent past, had something so dramatic to compare them to. Let's remember February 10th--only 49 days ago. The high was 30 degrees, the total sunlight was 11 hours and 29 minutes, and we received 15.5 inches of snow.

I like this better. More better even.

You make the call:

15.5 inches of snow or top down on the convertible flying down the parkway?

I know my vote.
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