Stoller Family Estate 2015 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

With our cold snap continuing here, I went for a walk with a girlfriend this morning, stopped by the grocery store and then spent the rest of the bright, sunny, below-freezing day doing some early spring cleaning.  Rearranging, purging the old, deep cleaning, tossing old paperwork to be recycled or shredded, and hanging artwork that hasn’t seen the light of day in awhile.  It felt good to be motivated to get some more meaningful housework done.

I had some crockpot chili that I cooked up the other day, and felt like splurging a bit on a nice bottle of wine tonight.  I opened up the Stoller Family Estate 2015 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.  It has a nose and flavors of light smoke and earth, with dark cherries and overripe blackberries.  With heavier tannins than many Pinot Noirs, it held up to the strong flavors in the chili.  I loved this wonderfully robust Willamette Valley Pinot!

Stoller Family Estate 2015 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

Stoller Family Estate 2015 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

I got mine during Safeway’s 30% off all wines over $20 sale, that they run in November (and December?).  You get an extra 10% off if you buy 6 wines too (mix and match is fine).  Fortunately for me, my brother lives in Oregon, so I stopped by their local Safeway to see what they had before heading out to drive home last time I was there.  Unfortunately for me, this is the only bottle I got of this one…

Stoller doesn’t have it on their website, although they do have the 2014 vintage.  I assume that means that they already sold out.  If you can find it, grab it!  It is delicious!

Stay warm!

Hasta La Vista 2016!

While I can’t say that 2016 has been the best year, it has become a tradition to do the annual year in review.  Although in some ways, I won’t be sorry to see 2016 go, I still have to remember that even with its ups and downs, I do live a truly blessed life.  So without further ado…

  1. My beloved grandmother passed away in February at the age of 98.  She lived a long, blessed life, filled with God, family and good friends, and she was ready to go be with my grandfather again.  I was lucky to have her for the first 40 years of my life, but I will miss her always.
  2. I took a wonderful girls trip to San Diego in April, full of bonding with friends and relaxing in the California sunshine.  We celebrated Allysa’s 50th birthday and saw the sights.  I tried SUP-ping for the first time too!
  3. I did quite a bit of local hiking this year.  I hiked Fragrance Lake twice, the Ozette Triangle at Olympic National Park, and the Chain Lakes loop at Mount Baker.  There is a peace found on the trail that is unmatched elsewhere.
  4. I took a long weekend to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in Oregon and Southern Washington.  We went to a small town rodeo and went white water rafting on the stunning White Salmon River.
  5. My mom and I took a 10 day road trip through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming in August.  It was wonderful to spend so much time with my amazing mother, seeing the sights and laughing throughout our adventure.  More posts coming soon!
  6. I completed my 8th half marathon, the Woodinville Wine Country Half Marathon, in September with my dear friend Katie, with our friend Shelley providing support.  Even though the weather sucked, my 13.1 mile slog through rain and wind ended with a new personal record and a definite feeling of accomplishment!  And wine!
  7. My horse and the kitties are all happy and healthy.  Biz is down to just three old man teeth, and gave me a scare recently when he suddenly lost a ton of weight, but he is now on the mend and making me feel more comfortable about him weathering the winter.  At the ripe old age of 29, I am keenly aware that time with him is getting short, but the memories I have with him will last a lifetime.
  8. In November I took a long weekend trip to revisit Astoria, Oregon.  I went to see some old sights and some new, and relaxed over a beer at some of the town’s best breweries.  Even though the forecast called for a weekend of rain, I walked everywhere and stayed completely dry!  The rain began as I got into the car to head home.
  9. I am close to the two year anniversary at my job, and continue to enjoy the challenges and successes.  My staff are second to none.  And the vacation accrual is wonderful, as is the summer schedule!

I didn’t post as much in 2016 as I had hoped to, but still have many posts coming about my West trip, the half-marathon and Astoria.  I am hopeful that 2017 will have me back on a more regular posting schedule, as well as experiencing many new adventures.

Know that I am eternally grateful for all of you that I count as readers, family and friends.  Here’s to peace and happiness in the New Year.  Cheers!

West 2016: Big Horn County Historical Museum

Day 1: August 5, 2016

I love those museums that have collections of historic buildings that have been saved and moved from their original sites.  So after we visited Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, we headed a few miles down the road to the Big Horn County Historical Museum in Hardin, Montana, about 15 miles west of the battlefield.

It is one of those small community historical museums, with a twist.  The indoor exhibits included a collection of Western Art and items, and a cool local photography exhibit and sale.  They had a replica tipi, a stuffed bison (we were to learn that stuffed bison are a dime a dozen around the West), and several other cool historic items.

The outdoor exhibits were fascinating.  The museum had a whole collection of dozens of buildings that had been moved to the site over the years.  There was a church and a dentist’s office, resort cabins, stables, a schoolhouse, a mortician’s office – they even had an original Pullman car!  The Pullman car was in very rough shape, and the inside was empty save for some debris, but it was really cool to see.

We wandered around outside for awhile, poking around in all the buildings.  They were connected by a series of boardwalks, and most of the buildings were open to explore inside.  We strolled slowly due to the heat until we needed to get on the road to our destination for the night.

And then there was the drive – a long, monotonous drive.  We broke it up with a stop at Top That Eatery, in the tiny town of Forsyth, Montana.  I had the twin taco – a hard shell taco inside a soft shell taco – smothered in fake cheese and olives.  Not healthy at all, but YUM!  It brought back memories of those awful, but delicious, convenience store nachos (at some point in my future I really should eat better…).  I did get my steps in for the day though, so I figured I could end the day with something terrible for me!

We hit Glendive, Montana after dark, and I was so ready for sleep!  Mom stayed up for awhile, but I didn’t know it – I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!

Hotel for the Night: Comfort Inn – Glendive, MT
Distance for the Day: 275 miles (4 hours, 4 minutes)

West 2016: Little Bighorn Battlefield NM

Day 1: August 5, 2016

2:30 am comes early.  I know I have said this before, but I so love that 5 am flight, so I am willing to make some sacrifices.  There is just something about flying into your destination, and making it there before 11 am.  You still have most of the day to sight see!

We got into Billings, Montana before 11 am after a couple of easy flights, with enough layover time to get a quick breakfast in Seattle.  We picked up our car, and there was a bit of drama.  We had made our reservation through Costco – then prices dropped so we canceled it and made a new reservation.  Somehow, the car rental agency still had the first, more expensive reservation. It is important to pay attention to these things!

The clerk was having trouble fixing it too after we showed her our confirmation page with the correct, lower price. Eventually we got our car, a white Subaru with extensive hail damage.  It had golf ball sized dents everywhere, and the side mirror housing was ripped off on the passenger side.  We weren’t going to have to worry about any damage we caused!  Which I learned later, was a good thing (hello foreshadowing)!

We stopped at Walmart to buy a cheap cooler for our travels, since we were planning to do lots of picnic lunches on our trip.  Mom bought a camp chair so she could hang out and sketch or journal while I was out hiking at the various parks.  And we had a quick lunch at Subway.

Our first tourist stop was at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  If you don’t know the story, Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse resisted government attempts to force them onto reservations.  After gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the United States broke their treaties with the Sioux and allowed unchecked waves of gold seekers to move to the area.  As a result, many more Sioux and Cheyenne left their reservations to join the Native Americans who were already in Montana.  Custer and his troops were sent there to squelch the resistance.

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Me doing my very best Vanna White with the Little Bighorn sign

Custer attacked a village of Sioux and Cheyenne; he misjudged the size of the village and mistakenly assumed that most of the warriors at the village would be sleeping in.  Oops…  The counter attack was swift and decisive.  Custer’s troops ended up retreating to a grassy hill overlooking the prairie and were killed on the hillside.  Of the companies directly commanded by Custer, there was not a single survivor.  Of the approximately 600 U.S. troops involved in the battle, 274 of them were killed.

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The hill where Custer and his men retreated to make their last stand

It was very hot the day we visited; almost 100 degrees!  The battle occurred on June 25, 1876 – on what was probably another very hot day.  It would have been very difficult to fight in such conditions.  Custer’s soldiers knew there was nowhere to run; so they made the tragic decision to shoot their own horses to form a defensive barrier.  It wasn’t effective.  It is hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of killing my own horse; they must have known at that point there was no opportunity for a victory or for escape.

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The gravesite of the horses killed at Little Bighorn. Custer’s men killed their own horses in order to use their bodies as shields.

We checked out the Visitor’s Center, and then ventured out to see the site. There are markers showing where Custer and some of the other soldiers fell.  There are also a few markers showing where Native Americans died, but the Native Americans removed their dead after the battle, so the accuracy of these markers is based on recollections years after the battle. A few years after the battle, the remains of the U.S. Officers were removed from the site and buried with honors at other National Cemeteries – Custer was reburied at West Point.  The enlisted men and scouts were re-interred in 1881 at the base of an obelisk at the top of the hill – 220 men in all.

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The black marker shows where George Armstrong Custer originally fell and was buried. His body is now at West Point.

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This obelisk marks the grave of 220 U.S. troops and Native American Scouts killed during the battle

Also at the monument is a memorial erected by the tribes to honor the Native Americans who served there.  It is beautiful and moving.  In 1991 the name of the monument was changed from Custer Battlefield National Monument, in order to honor the Native American story.  Although Custer and his men were killed there, it was not a bloodbath directed at killing U.S. troops – rather it was the culmination of a long period of persecution and murder of the Native Americans.  It was kill or be killed for the tribes at that point.

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Me with the Native American Memorial

After we toured the battlefield, we listened to the Ranger Talk of what happened there.  He pointed out where people were at various points during the battle.  He talked about which tribes participated on which side of the battle and why.  It was interesting to hear both perspectives and to visualize the movement of both sides throughout the battle.

After Little Bighorn, we stopped to take the first of many photos of prairie dogs who made their home in a colony just outside of the monument.  Yes, I get all of the reasons why these cute critters are reviled, but they totally get a bad rap!  Prairie dogs are critical for a healthy ecosystem.  They provide food for predators like coyotes, foxes and ferrets, their burrows provide homes for those same ferrets and burrowing owls, and the process of burrowing helps to rejuvenate the prairie grasses that the bison need to survive.  No prairie dogs, no healthy ecosystem.  Take that, you prairie dog haters!

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A prairie dog at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

We couldn’t watch the prairie dogs too long though, as we still had touristing left to do!  Next up – the Bighorn County Historical Museum.

 

Planning for The West 2016

In August 2016, my mom and I decided to do a road trip of the west. There are a number of National Parks in North and South Dakota that I have been interested in seeing for some time, and it was time to knock some off of my bucket list!  I am so glad that my mom was game to do this trip with me!

I looked into flying into Rapid City, South Dakota and was surprised to find that plane tickets from Washington State were going to be almost $1,000 each! Ditto with Bismarck, North Dakota. It was time to change the Plan of Action. Fortunately, I found flights for just over $200 per person to Billings, Montana. A bit more driving, but we were on our way!

The second hurdle was hotel prices. I was kind of surprised by the cost of hotels; I get that it was summer, but they still seemed really high for parts of small town North and South Dakota. Once I discovered that our trip coincided with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, it all made more sense… I did ultimately find some reasonable prices for hotel rooms, but it took more research – and we didn’t stay at luxury accommodations…  Good thing my mama is flexible…

The car was another matter. For 12 days, our car ended up costing $497; which, with the exception of Colorado, is much higher than I have seen for my other long trips. Peak summer period, plus I think some of the higher price was due to the fact that the Takata airbag recall had taken so many rental cars off the road – car manufacturers were telling people not to drive their cars and were giving owners loaner rentals at no cost.  That would do it…  We booked a car originally at $525, then rebooked when the price went down to the $497 that we ended up with.  Ouch…

With our flight schedule set, I planned a loop that would begin in Montana and go through North and South Dakota, before moving into Wyoming and finally ending up back in Montana to fly home. I had an ambitious itinerary (don’t I always!) – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park and Devil’s Tower National Monument to start. With the extra loop in Montana for flights, I expanded the itinerary to include Little Bighorn Battlefield, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. Since we were going to be so close, I also put Jewel Cave National Monument and the Crazy Horse Memorial on the list!

west-trip-map

Our route wasn’t quite what appears in the map above, as Google Maps was not cooperating as I tried to drag its little points around to where I wanted them.  Technology… Sheesh… It is close though, and you get the gist…

I planned a crazy-busy trip, and I was excited to get started!

July 2016: Hood River

After our amazing rafting trip, my aunt, uncle, cousin and I camped on a sustainable practices organic farm.  There were chickens, turkeys, horses and pigs.  The farm had views of both Mount Adams and Mount Hood, and other than the sound of the irrigation ditch, it was really quiet out there.

The next morning, we packed up the tent and my aunt and uncle’s trailer and went to Hood River, Oregon to check out the town.  We watched people parasailing on the Columbia River.  We wandered the main streets and checked out the shops.  We went into two wineries too.

 

Paddle Wheel River Boats on the Columbia River

Paddle Wheel River Boats on the Columbia River

 

What's up with the weirdo on the cell phone?

What’s up with the weirdo on the cell phone?

The first was Cascade Cliffs Winery.   Our server was very friendly, and she served us some fantastic wines.  She explained that the logo for the winery is a petroglyph that was discovered on the vineyard property.  I bought the 2014 Dolcetto and the 2015 Symphony white blend there.  I haven’t had them yet, but I might have to open one soon!

After Cascade Cliffs, we headed over to Naked Winery. Naked Winery was a fun and lively place; there was certainly a young hip vibe going on there. The focus seemed less on the quality of the wines and more on the “curb appeal.” The wines all have fun, sexy names, and the logo of the winery is a naked woman. I purchased a great sparkling wine there, and a bottle of their Wanderlust White. It comes in a plastic, lightweight bottle that is perfect for taking on a hiking trip!  I also got a bottle of their Frisky Sparkling Wine, which was pretty good!

The tasting menu at Naked Winery

The tasting menu at Naked Winery

My aunt and I had fun at both wineries, and my uncle was a trooper, even though it isn’t really his thing. After wine tasting, we headed over to the Three River’s Grill. I had the fish tacos, and they were absolutely delicious. The view was amazing too – we got to watch more para-sailors (is this the right word for people who are parasailing?) out on the water from our table on the deck.  I would absolutely love to go back there on another gorgeous summer day and watch the view on the water.  It was really relaxing.

We made one last stop before we got back on the road to head our separate ways. We made a stop at the Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery. The Hatchery has some adult White Sturgeon that visitors can see. They are big fish! White Sturgeon can grow to be 20 feet long are the third largest sturgeon species.  Unfortunately, populations of sturgeon on the Columbia River are not abundant, because the dams have inhibited their ability to migrate freely.

I also saw some lamprey, which have sucker mouths to attach to things; they really like to stick on the glass in the underwater viewing area. They were interesting to see, but apparently they are nuisance fish.  And of course, I also saw lots of different kinds of salmon and trout.  They have a pond at the hatchery where you can buy fish food for 50 cents and feed the salmon – they all come up to the surface like they haven’t eaten in days!  Even though you just fed them 10 seconds ago.  But hey, my cats are like that too…

And then, too soon, it was time for my long drive home…

2016 White Water Rafting

White water rafting has been on my bucket list for several years. And thanks to an invitation from my aunt and uncle, I got to go on my first trip!

My uncle’s niece runs a white water rafting business on the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River in White Salmon, WA. Although she is my cousin’s cousin, she is technically not my cousin. But having such a large family, these family distinctions get pretty blurry in my world, so we have just declared each other cousins! That’s often way easier than trying to explain that someone is your second cousin, or your first cousin once removed, or your who-knows-how-someone-is-actually-related-to you…

The trip took place in July, when I went down to spent a long weekend with my aunt, uncle and cousin. Before we drove out to the rafting site, we had lunch at a little café in White Salmon, WA, a cute yet tiny town along the Columbia River in the Gorge. My lunch was a delicious scramble with a cup of gourmet coffee.

We headed north from White Salmon to find BZ Corner and All Adventures Rafting, our guides and our gear! The first order of business was safety. Learning what would be expected for a safe and fun adventure. How to paddle, when to paddle, how and when to paddle backwards and most importantly, what happens if someone falls out of the raft!

Next, we were each fitted with a wetsuit, booties, and a splash jacket.  The water in the White Salmon River is only about 40 degrees even in the summer, because its headwaters are on Mount Adams.  Staying warm is a major consideration.  We had swimsuits on underneath.  And we got helmets too – you know, for that aforementioned falling out of the raft thing…

We rode up to where the rafts were ready to be launched, and went on our way!

My cousin and I were in the two front seats of the rafts.  The wettest seats.  We had a blast!

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I’m on the far left – in the front right seat

Parts of the river were very calm, and we had an opportunity to hear about the history of the river, its flora and fauna of the area.  The White Salmon River was dammed in 1913 by the Condit Dam, and the dam was removed in 2011.  It is one of two dams in Washington State that have been removed in order to restore critical salmon and steelhead habitat.

The story of the Condit Dam removal was an interesting one. The dam was built with fish ladders, but they were wiped out twice by floods shortly after the dam was built. Ultimately, they decided to not build new ladders, effectively wiping out the spawning grounds for salmon and steelhead on the river. In the 1990s, when the dam’s owners applied to renew their permits, a determination was made to require remediation for the habitat that was lost. The cost was prohibitive, operating the dam no longer made sense and the company ultimately decided to work toward removing the dam.

The removal was not without controversy. Property owners upriver from the dam had enjoyed a man-made lake for many years – removal of the dam lowered the level of the river in that area significantly and eliminated the lake. You could still see docks and stairs going down to what was the former water level, high up the cliffs. Other than the few homes that were right upstream from where the dam once was, I was fascinated by how wild the river still is – there were very few homes along the river and very little evidence of development.

Other areas of the river are white water rapids.  They were so much fun!  My cousin, who was steering the raft, did such a good job of keeping us rowing together and adjusting to get us positioned for the rapids.  The front seats really were wet – several times I was completely covered by water!

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I’m in there somewhere!

The entire trip took us a 8.5 miles down the river, and was about 3 hours.  I had a blast – I haven’t laughed that much in a long time.  Which was kind of a drawback for pictures, since there were many where my mouth was wide open, laughing (or gasping for breath)!

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After our rafting trip, my family and some of the staff from All Adventures Rafting hung out and had a picnic dinner together, with hotdogs, fresh salad greens from the garden, cowboy caviar, and beer and soda.  It was a great evening.

If you have the chance to go; I highly recommend All Adventures Rafting.  I would even say that if they were not my family.  It is a small, family owned business that is committed to sustainable, green practices.  They only put two rafts on each trip, so the groups are small and personal.  This is one of the best experiences I have had, and certainly a highlight of my year!