Archive | July 2013

Book Review: The Cloud Atlas

I didn’t set out to read The Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell.  There, I said it.  I never intended to pick up the book, and had it not been for my husband, I would have been perfectly content with my historical non-fiction and my usual, complex-dramatic familial relationship novels.  But Jon really wanted me to read The Cloud Atlas, because he loved it so much.  And he really wanted me to read it now, because the movie was coming out, and we wanted me to finish it so we could go see it in the movie theater.  And so I agreed…


The novel begins at some point in the past – the mid-1800s, sometime after the Gold Rush began in San Francisco.  The book is actually a series of short stories, jumping back and forth between the past and future, showing the slow downfall of the human race.  Various characters are willing to abuse, torture and mistreat their fellow humans in order to obtain what they desire, be that profit or power or control over others.  Slavery is a topic that comes up several times, as well as the 20th century issue of a nuclear leak that poisons the Earth.  Various thugs and gangs also play prominent roles.

At some point in the progression of time, a cataclysmic event occurs which wipes out a large portion of the human race, and sends Earth into a post-apocalyptic downfall where the remaining humans are largely unaware of whether there are other surviving pockets of people.  A return to religion occurs, centering around a Korean visionary who gains a mythical status, as humans try to regain a footing in a world that has essentially collapsed and returned to tribal forms of life and governing.

But did I like it?  The pros – some of the stories were deeply moving, with great character development that allowed the reader to step inside the story with the character and empathize with the circumstances.  Other stories were bogged down with unwieldy language – Mitchell tried to grow the stories by having his characters speak dialects – complete with strange spellings of English words and made up words (think Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle).  Although eventually you pick up the rhythm of this odd use of language, it prevented me from really bonding with the characters in those vignettes.  And I found the tie ins to the other stories a bit weak.  You could tell that Mitchell is making a point on the theme of humanity, interconnectedness, and cause and effect, but it fell flat.

Overall, the book just didn’t do it for me.  It started really slow and was difficult to get into.  Jon said I just had to muddle through for a little while longer and it would get interesting, but that never really happened for me.  The Cloud Atlas was a struggle until the bitter end.  I am a very fast reader, but this book, even when I forced myself to pick it up, took me a very long time to read.  Several months, in fact…

Finally, one day on the couch, on a Sunday afternoon, I was on the last twenty pages of the book.  Jon was trolling around, eagerly waiting for me to finish.  By this time the movie version had come and gone in theaters, and Jon had the newly released DVD in the DVD player ready to go.  After the last page, I looked up and asked him a question about the ending (I don’t remember now what the question was).  Jon said “Does that mean you are done?”  I replied, “Yes,” and without another word, he pressed play on the DVD.

This might be the only time in my life that I have ever liked a movie more than the book.  The story in the movie intertwines the vignettes in the book with a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards that tie them together.  Each actor plays multiple characters, leading the viewer to the conclusion of reincarnation, which although not implied in the novel, does help to reinforce the concept of the theme of humanity and interconnectedness.  Not to mention a standout cast was led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.  I was interested until the end.

So, to sum up…  Skip the book; watch the movie instead.

Oregon Wine Tasting – Chehalem Best Barrel Day

On our full day in Portland, my cousin Megan wanted to spend the day doing some wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.  My mom volunteered to be our designated driver, so we made plans to visit a couple of wineries and spend the day socializing and trying some new wines.  Being from Michigan, Megan had never tried tried Oregon wines before, so she was looking forward to experiencing something new.  To be honest though, I was a little concerned because Michigan wineries tend to make much sweeter wines than the wineries on the West Coast.  I wasn’t sure if Megan would like them!

After catching a bit of my nieces’ T-Ball game, we headed over to the Willamette Valley and made our first stop at Chehalem Winery.  Chehalem is one of my absolute favorite wineries, and I was super-excited to be there because it was Best Barrel Day.  Best Barrel Day is a special event that Chehalem puts on each year in May, the weekend before Memorial Day weekend.  Jon and I are wine club members, one of the very few wine clubs that we belong to.  The Best Barrels are available only to club members, and they are only available for tasting this particular weekend (they might taste them again the next weekend – Memorial Day – if there is still enough available).

Megan and I began our tasting with the commercially released whites.  We began with Inox Chardonnay, which is a wonderful crisp stainless steel aged Chardonnay.  This is a fantastic white wine, that is consistent year to year and always a crowd pleaser when we have guests over.  The Corral Creek Riesling is a great Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, with just enough sweetness.

Chehalem Barrels - Waiting for Some Wine!

Chehalem Barrels – Waiting for Some Wine!

After tasting the whites, we went into the cellar to taste the barrels.  Chehalem produces several single vineyard Pinot Noirs and a single vineyard Chardonnay each year, and every year, the winemaker selects one barrel from each wine that exemplifies what that particular wine is supposed to be – the best barrel.  The best barrel is then aged and bottled by itself and sold in 6-packs to wine club members.  The five wines were:

  • 2012 Stoller Vineyards Chardonnay – this wine is aged on oak, so it is a bigger, bolder Chardonnay than the Inox, which is made from grapes from the same vineyard.  It is wonderfully balanced between fruit and oak, with flavors of honey, pear and floral notes.
  • 2012 Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir – Corral Creek Vineyard is the Chehalem vineyard that produces the softest, most elegant Pinot Noirs.  They are some of my favorites.  This barrel is excellent, but this years Corral Creek grapes are more robust than typical, with a bit more earthy flavor than normal.  It still has light tannins and the cranberry and cherry flavors that I enjoy so much.
  • 2012 Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir – This wine is very big, with a much darker purple color that a typical Pinot Noir.  It is very spicy  with much heavier tannins than many Pinots.  This was my least favorite barrel of the bunch.  That said, as the wine is not finished aging, I have every expectation that this wine will transform into a beautiful Pinot – Chehalem’s wines always do.
  • 2012 Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noir – This Ridgecrest Pinot Noir came from a block planted in 1983, and shows moderate tannins, some blackberry mixed into the cherry, and some light spice flavors (is it oregano or thyme?).  This wine was my favorite from the five barrels.
  • 2012 Wind Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir – Wind Ridge is a smaller section within the Ridgecrest vineyard, and has characteristics that are similar to the Ridgecrest barrel.  There are the same flavors of blackberry and spice, but a bit more pepper and earth than the Ridgecrest vineyard barrel.  It was hard to choose the favorite between this one and the Ridgecrest, but this one came in a close second for me.

It was always interesting to taste from the barrel – these young wines will change a lot before they are finally bottled and sold, but you can taste the beginnings of what they are going to become.  After the barrel tasting, we headed back out to the event tent, where we got to taste the bottled versions of the Pinots that were recently released – 2011.  The bottlings were the commercially released wines, so essentially, we were tasting the versions from all the barrels from the vineyards that were not selected as the best barrel.

Even though these aren’t the Best Barrels, these wines are certainly nothing to turn your nose up at!  The 2011 Corral Creek, Stoller, and Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noirs are all excellent, and Megan and I enjoyed them immensely.  They were served with some gourmet hors d’oeuvres, which paired nicely with the wines.

Even though we don’t often have the opportunity to visit Chehalem, their events are always second to none.  They make you feel welcome and valued when you visit, and I always have a great time.  Still at the top of my list for wineries!

Note: I apologize for the lack of photos on this post – I was enjoying myself so much that I neglected to take more pictures…  I will try to do better next time.

Detroit’s Bankruptcy Breaks an Art Lover’s Heart.

I don’t normally post on current events.  I decided when I started this blog that I didn’t want to provide commentary on the state of affairs of our country or our world.  I wanted this blog to be cheerful and upbeat.  But this news makes me sad.  Detroit, Michigan has declared bankruptcy.  What was once one of the grandest cities in the nation, if not the world, with its majestic art deco architecture and auto industry money.  A city that has lately been much more known for its grand photo essays of urban decay.

But a bright spot in all that blight has always been the Detroit Institute of Arts.  If you live in one of the counties immediately surrounding Detroit, it is free to visit.  We visited there in September, 2012 and I wish I could have spent days wandering its galleries – I blogged about my visit here.  Quite simply put, this museum is amazing.  And not just when you compare it to its surroundings.  The DIA and its collections stand up as one of the finest art museums in the world.  The museum is housed in a 1927 Beaux Arts building that is just as spectacular as the art it contains.  The DIA received its first piece of art as a donation in 1883 and since that time, has grown to a collection of over 65,000 pieces.  The DIA is the second largest municipally owned museum in the world.  The art it contains is valued at an impressive $2.5 billion.

The DIA has works by Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse and numerous other painters.  It contains priceless artifacts from Egypt, the New World, tribal art, religious artifacts, blown glass, and woodworking.  There is a mural by Diego Rivera that spans all four walls of a huge room.  There are pieces of antique furniture, vases, baskets and masks.  The collections span the globe and all throughout human history.

Unfortunately, with Detroit’s bankruptcy, creditors have begun to eye the DIA’s collections – you can read about it here.  No one knows yet what will happen, but selling off the museum’s priceless works of arts to the highest bidder would be such a shame.  There would be no way to know what would happen to the pieces; if they would end up in a private collection locked away from public view.  Michigan’s Attorney General has issued a legal opinion arguing that the DIA’s art collection is held in a charitable trust for the people of Michigan, and therefore, the city of Detroit doesn’t own the art to sell it.  I hope that legal opinion is upheld in the courts, if it comes to that.  The DIA has been providing the public with access to art for over 130 years.  I hope that it can continue.

Fort Vancouver: A Step Back in Time

After my mom, my cousin and I visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass, we got back on the road and continued on our way to Portland.  We weren’t sure if we would have enough time for our second destination – Fort Vancouver, a National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington.  The traffic gods were with us, and we made it there an hour before they closed!  I had been there before, so I knew that an hour would be enough time to visit.

When we got to the Fort, we stopped by the Visitor’s Center to check out the souvenirs (I had to get a few postcards!) and of course, we needed to get a stamp for my National Parks Passport! And then, we headed over to the site of the Fort.

Fort Vancouver was founded during the winter of 1824-1825 by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  If you are close to the Canadian border, like I am, you have probably heard the radio commercials for the Canadian department store, The Bay.  Same company.  The Hudson’s Bay Company began as a fur trading venture by England into Canada.  In 1670.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest commercial corporation in North America, and one of the oldest businesses in the world!  When the Hudson’s Bay Company began operations in North America, it served as the de facto government in the areas where it did business, and at one time, it was the largest landowner in the world.

Fort Vancouver was set up to protect the interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company along the Columbia River and to serve as a hub for their fur trading operations in the West.  The fort served as a collection point for the beaver hides that trappers in the West were bringing in.  The site also offered fertile soil along the river, while lying just outside of the flood plain.  The intention was for the fort to be self-sufficient, producing all of its own food and most other provisions, as goods were very expensive to ship.

Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver

The fort was built with substantial palisades; the walls were 750 feet by 450 feet, and 20 feet high.  Inside there were homes, and a school, library, chapel, pharmacy, blacksmith shop, warehouses and a manufacturing facility.  Outside the wall were more homes, an orchard, gardens, a shipyard, distillery, tannery, sawmill and a dairy.  At its height, Fort Vancouver oversaw 34 outposts and about 600 employees.

 The Chief Factor's Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Chief Factor’s Residence at Fort Vancouver

The beginning of the end of Fort Vancouver under the ownership of the Hudson’s Bay Company came in 1846.  That year, the United States and Canada signed the Oregon Treaty, which set the border between the two companies at the 49th parallel – right up near my home!  Although the treaty ensured that the Hudson’s Bay Company would be allowed to continue operations at Fort Vancouver, the treaty and the number of Americans moving into the area effectively stifled the fur trade there.  At that point, beaver trapping had continued a such a high volume for so long that beavers were nearing the point of extinction.  The Hudson’s Bay Company abandoned the fort in 1860 and moved north; the U.S. Army immediately took over the fort.

The Porch of the Chief Factor's Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Porch of the Chief Factor’s Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Army had already had barracks right next to Fort Vancouver, but they built more barracks.  During this era, the Indian Wars were happening in the West and Civil War heavies Ulysses S. Grant and Philip Sheridan were stationed there.  The Vancouver Barracks continue to house troops through World War I and World War II, and even continued to serve as home to the Army Reserve and Washington National Guard until it finally closed as an active military installation in 2011.

The Bastion in the Palisade Wall

The Bastion in the Palisade Wall

The buildings that are inside the fort now are reconstructions of the original buildings from the periodic of occupation by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Archeological digs at the site showed historians where the original buildings were and the size of the structures, so the reconstructions were built directly over the historical structures.  We had the opportunity to wander around at our leisure – some of the buildings are open and you can go inside, but others are only open during special events.

The View from the Bastion at Fort Vancouver

The View from the Bastion at Fort Vancouver

The friendly ranger explained that there are two other sites in Oregon City, Oregon, the Barclay House and the McLoughlin House, which were the homes of two employees of the Hudson Bay Company in their retirement.  We didn’t have a chance to go there on this trip, but one day I’m going to make it over there to check them out too!

High School Reunion: To Old Friends, Old Again…

I’m having an early dinner tonight, because in a couple of hours, I’ll be off to that timeless tradition, the high school reunion…  I won’t tell you how many years it has been, except to say that it somewhere between 19 and 21.  And for those of you who have seen photos of me on this blog and are puzzled by the math… I graduated high school when I was 3.  I was a very precocious child.

This week I have been reflecting on the fact that even though I still live in the same town where I grew up and went to high school, I hardly ever run into people that I went to high school with (I used to work with a childhood neighbor, but he has since sought greener pastures and changed jobs).  Even though I work in HR, it had nothing to do with me – I swear!  We live in the kind of small city that is blessed with abundant beauty, tons of recreational opportunities, great restaurants, low crime, and lots of small town charm.  The inevitable tag alongs are screaming high real estate prices, lots of retired Californians, few jobs, and tons of college educated competition for those few jobs.  OK, perhaps the Californians aren’t inevitable, but they are here.

This is the Sunset I am Blessed With, at a Local Park

This is the Sunset I am Blessed With, at a Local Park

I was fortunate to find great jobs and a rare career progression here, when a lot of my peers weren’t so lucky.  Moving away after high school or college to find employment somewhere else is the norm around here.  So this weekend I will be reunited with my childhood peeps and I’m sure we will tell stories of life lived away from here and life lived here, and laugh about the crow’s feet, the gray hairs, the triumphs and the not-so-successful moments.  Except I won’t have any stories about gray hair and crow’s feet, because I’m only 23.

With my early dinner (because I’m certainly on the downhill slide to 5 o’clock dinners followed by BINGO, right?), I decided to do a little pre-celebration with a glass of local wine.  I’m drinking the 2008 Dolcetto by Dakota Creek.

Dakota Creek was founded in 2005 by Ken and Jill Peck, who source most of their grapes from the Yakima Valley – many from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.  The Dolcetto has light tannins and aromas of ripe blackberries and prunes.  It is smooth and fruit forward, with the same flavors following the nose.  While not a terribly complex wine, it is a light red that won’t overpower anything you decide to pair it with.  The winery is open Thursdays through Saturdays, and it is always a pleasant experience to sit out on their patio and enjoy your tasting while taking in the lush grass fields nearby.  It doesn’t hurt that Ken and Jill are two of the friendliest people you will ever meet, and always the most gracious of hosts.

Here’s to friends, old and older…

A Trip to the Tacoma Museum of Glass

Back in May (yes I realize I’m a bit behind in posting about all my adventures!) my cousin came out to visit from her home state of Michigan.  She spent a few days with her brother in Oregon (I have spent years training my cousin and her family to not pronounce it Ore-Gone), and then hopped the Amtrak up to my neck of the woods.  I took Friday off work and my mom, Megan and I went on a road trip down to Portland to visit my brother, my sis-in-law and my nieces and nephews.

The plan was to take the whole day to make it to Portland, stopping at a few places along the way to do some sightseeing.  I drive that long, boring road several times a year, and I was looking forward to an opportunity to do a bit of touristing in my own backyard.  A few weeks before the visit, I emailed my cousin a list of the potential to-dos on the way down the I-5 corridor to Portland (what can I say – I like to have a plan).  She picked some things that appealed to her and off we went.

After an evening of drinking wine, laughing and staying up too late (it is the rare night when I stay up until midnight anymore!), we dragged ourselves out of bed and got on the road.  After a couple of hours on the road we were at the Tacoma Museum of Glass.  I have been curious about it for a while, but hadn’t yet made it down for a visit.  The Museum of Glass was the brainchild of Dr. Phillip Phibbs, the retired President of the University of Puget Sound.  He contacted Dale Chihuly, a local glass artist who has gained worldwide acclaim for his huge indoor and outdoor glass installations, and a plan was hatched.  About the same time, the City of Tacoma was working on a plan of urban renewal, and was looking for a project that could anchor a revamp of a waterway that had historically been part of a working waterfront.

The Museum of Glass is a 75,000 square foot building with 13,000 of gallery space, and a 7,000 foot hot shop.  The hot shop is a glass blowing demonstration area with seating for 145 people.  There are several demonstrations each day and they are streamed live online.  The museum also has a visiting artist program, where artists complete a residency of anywhere from a few days to several weeks.  One piece from each artist’s residency goes into the permanent collection.

Blue Glass Vase at the Tacoma Museum of Glass

Blue Glass Vase at the Tacoma Museum of Glass

We checked out the fountain in front of the museum and admired the beautiful glass pieces that make it so pretty.  Created by Martin Blank, it consists of 754 individual pieces of glass!  They are all clear glass pieces, and it made me wonder if maybe they have colored lights shining on them at night.  Since we were only there during the day, we didn’t get to find out.

After going inside the museum, we got some lunch at Choripan, an Argentine restaurant.  I had the squash soup (very good – thick and creamy with just the right amount of spice) and the empanada.  It has been a long time since I had an empanada, and these guys did a very good job.  It was doughy and delicious.

We checked out the hot shop, and caught the tail end of a glass blowing demonstration.  Then we went inside the galleries.  The pieces in the collection were all contemporary, and there were a wide variety of themes.  Abstract figural glass, pots and bowls, landscape-type pieces to hang on the wall.  There were several Native American style pieces, and for lack of a better description, there were several still life style pieces, like what you might find in an office building or a restaurant display.

The displays were neat, but I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t any historic glass.  It would have been nice to see how glass-making has changed over time.  I know, I know, it is the history nerd in me!  I also thought that the gallery space was a bit on the small side.  13,000 square feet in a 75,000 square foot building?  What are they doing with all that extra space?  The Hot Shop is only 7,000 square feet.

This Piece is Supposed to Evoke the Rolling Hills of Scotland and Bales of Hay - Do You See It?  My Mom and I Did!

This Piece is Supposed to Evoke the Rolling Hills of Scotland and Bales of Hay – Do You See It? My Mom and I Did!

Native American Themed Glass

Native American Themed Glass

After our time in the gallery, we saw the outdoor Bridge of Glass.  The Bridge of Glass is a pedestrian walkway that goes over the freeway, connecting the waterway where the museum is located to the downtown Tacoma core.  There are three main features of the bridge of glass.  One section is a covered portion of the walkway, with 2,364 pieces of large Chihuly glass placed on a plate glass ceiling.  You could spend hours looking up at the different pieces and always see something new!  There is an installation called the Crystal Towers, which a two 40 foot tall polyurethane sculptures which are made to withstand the weather – and they glow at night!

The Glass Ceiling on the Bridge of Glass

The Glass Ceiling on the Bridge of Glass

And, my favorite part of the bridge, the Venetian Wall, which consists of 109 blown glass Chihuly pieces that are set into a section of the walkway.  They rise four levels high, and are extremely intricate and beautiful.  Amazing!  We spent a while trying to decide on our favorites, but it was really an impossible task!

The Venetian Wall on the Bridge of Glass

The Venetian Wall on the Bridge of Glass

Closer View of the Venetian Wall - See That Detail!

Closer View of the Venetian Wall – See That Detail!

And with that, it was time to get back on the road and keeping heading towards our destination.  Our visit to the Museum of Glass was very enjoyable – it doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to feel like you have seen all you need to see.  And at $12 per adult, it isn’t overly expensive either.  If you have a chance, it is certainly worth seeing!

California Road Trip: The Long Road Home

Sadly, any good vacation must come to an end, and we were at the end of our California Road Trip.  We loved the scenery, we loved the things we saw and experienced, and I think we managed to pack a lot into it!  The summary of what we did:

Other notable stats include:

  • seven different hotels
  • 2,492 miles driven
  • two times driving around the same blocks in San Francisco while trying to find the parking garage
  • one fight about the San Francisco traffic
  • one killer bike fell off a car in front of us on the freeway
  • ten bottles of wine made it home with us (I thought that showed a lot of restraint!)
  • 2,476,983 bugs lost their lives on our windshield, grille and mirrors
  • Six – the number of times I vomited, in two different towns
Mount Shasta From the Car Window

Mount Shasta From the Car Window

Jon and I had a fabulous time, and we managed to make the long, boring drive home from Sacramento in one long, boring, exhausting, marathon of a day.  The drive without any stops is about 11 hours – we only stopped for gas, food and bathroom breaks.  We did run into heavy traffic in all the usual places – Tacoma, Seattle and Everett (a complete stop in Everett due to a car accident) – but otherwise it was smooth sailing the whole way.  We made it in about 13 hours.  The non-stop drive made for some sore, stiff bodies the next day, but thankfully we had a day to do some laundry and get some rest before we had to go back to work!  And Oliver and Oscar were so happy to see us!

I Don't Condone This - But This Guy Did Look Like He Was Enjoying Himself!

I Don’t Condone This – But This Guy Did Look Like He Was Enjoying Himself!

If you want to go back and read from the beginning of the trip – of course you do!  I can’t wait for the next trip – for now we are saving and planning until we can make it happen!

California Road Trip: Leland Stanford Mansion

Our very last tourist activity of our California Road Trip was visiting the Leland Stanford Mansion.  It is in downtown Sacramento, surrounded by commercial buildings and concrete.  It looks a bit out of place, to be honest… but it wasn’t always that way.  The two photos below, show the Mansion as it really looks, directly in front of a gigantic glass and steel office building – and the photoshopped Mansion postcard that you can purchase in the gift shop…  (I didn’t take photos inside, so I have scanned some of the postcards I purchased for interior shots.)

The Leland Stanford Mansion - Built 1856-1857 - Second Empire Architectural Style The Home Today Without the Commercial Building Photoshopped Out

The Leland Stanford Mansion – Built 1856-1857 – Second Empire Architectural Style
The Home Today Without the Commercial Building Photoshopped Out

The Leland Stanford Mansion Postcard - Country Setting

The Leland Stanford Mansion Postcard – Country Setting

Leland Stanford was born to a successful farmer in New York in 1824.  He studied law and was admitted to the bar, and then like so many others of the period, he moved west.  To Port Washington, Wisconsin.  In 1850 he married Jane Lathrop and they settled in together, but unfortunately, his law office and his entire collection of law books was destroyed in 1852.  Why is all this important?  Well, because after the fire he decided to follow his five brothers to California, where he discovered that he loved the hustle and bustle of the Gold Rush and was quite successful operating a store selling supplies to miners.  Shortly after, he and several other businessmen pooled their resources and founded the Central Pacific Railroad, and Stanford was named President of the company.

In 1861, Stanford ran for California Governor and was elected to a two-year term.  In the grand scheme of things, he really wasn’t Governor for very long… In 1868, while the Central Pacific Railroad was under construction, Stanford and his buddies created the Union Express Company, which merged with Wells Fargo and Company (you know the express company which delivered money and mail…) and they they managed to acquire control of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which Stanford became President of.

If all this robber baron finagling is confusing, no worries, because what you really just need to know is that a) this guy played a big part in the railroads to the West Coast, and b) as the President of the Central Pacific Railroad, he got to drive the ceremonial last spike at Promontory Utah, where the Central Pacific Railroad met the Union Pacific Railroad.  Talk about something to tell your grandkids!

But sadly, he never got to tell that story to any grandchildren, because Leland and Jane’s only child, a son named Leland, Jr., died of typhoid fever while traveling with his parents in Italy in 1884.  As a result of the death of their only child, Leland Stanford decided that if he would not have the opportunity to educate his own child, then he would educate other children.  He set up an endowment that created a university that perhaps you have heard of: Stanford University in Palo Alto.  The University was named for Leland, Jr.

But the mansion, you ask…  The mansion was built between 1856 and 1857 by Shelton C. Fogus.  It wasn’t quite a mansion at that time – only 4,000 square feet.  The Stanford’s remodel of the home between 1871 and 1872 would raise the home by twelve feet (remember my last post where I explained that Sacramento was prone to floods?), add a new bottom floor and a new top floor and expand the square footage to 19,000 square feet!  And he wasn’t even Governor anymore at that point!  It was at this point that the very distinctive Mansard roof was added.

The Music Room in the Leland Stanford Mansion

The Music Room in the Leland Stanford Mansion

Stanford died in 1893, at the age of 69 and Jane kept the home until 1900, when she donated it to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, who gave it to the Sisters of Mercy to be used as an orphanage.  In 1932, it was handed over to the Sisters of Social Service, who converted the orphanage into a home for dependent high school girls.  These are girls who have been removed from their homes for various reasons, abuse, juvenile deliquency, etc. and they ended up here in an attempt to give them some sort of home life that they couldn’t get in their own homes.

The State of California acquired the property in 1978 through eminent domain to be used as a state park, but allowed the Sisters of Social Service use of the home until 1987.  Our guide told us that the Sisters of Social Service were ok with getting out from under the home at that point, as the cost of upkeep of the mansion had become a burden.

The State then completed a major restoration of the home, restoring most of the home to its 1870s look.  One of the things that the nuns did is to preserve the original walls and layout of the home – instead of knocking down walls, they added walls in places where they could easily be removed.  They painted and wallpapered too, but they didn’t damage or remove the original architectural elements, having plumbing and electrical wiring worked around the features to avoid damaging them.  And the orphans and girls apparently treated their home with respect – that doesn’t seem to happen so much anymore…  The restoration project left one wing of the home as it looked during its time as a Girls’ Home, and it is interesting to see the differences.

The home is now open for tours (on the hour), except when the current Governor of California is using the home for special events.  The tour begins with a 15 minute video about the history of Sacramento, the Stanfords, and the home, and then you get to visit all but the very top floor of the home.  Our guide was very knowledgeable about the home, and you could tell she is very proud of it – she should be, it is awesome!

The Master Bedroom of the Leland Stanford Mansion

The Master Bedroom of the Leland Stanford Mansion

A lot of the Stanford’s original furniture and the home’s accessories (sconces, doorknobs, etc.) are still in the home.  When I asked how they came to have so much of the original furniture, when the home had been a girls’ home and an orphanage for almost 90 years in between, the guide explained that the nuns had put all of the furniture up into the attic for safekeeping.  They did sell off some pieces when they needed money for the home’s upkeep, but many of the original furniture pieces and accessories weren’t sold.  Stanford was very proud of his association with the railroad, and he had furniture custom made to look like trains – the guide showed us a sideboard that had the distinctive look of the front of a train, and wall sconces designed to look like train lanterns!

Dining Room Sideboard - With Locomotive Motif

Dining Room Sideboard – With Locomotive Motif

And one last thing that our guide explained – why our tour was free!  Apparently during the budget crisis a few years ago, the mansion was transferred from the California State Parks Department to the Legislative Branch – after all the Governor maintains an office here and uses the home for events.  Apparently, the Legislative Branch of the California State Government is not allowed for charge for its services (that makes sense, being government for the people and all…) but they have interpreted that to mean that they are not permitted to charge admission to see the home.

If you have a chance, do visit, and I hope you enjoy this beautiful home as much as we did!

California Road Trip: Old Sacramento and the Underground Tasting Room

Our last full day of vacation had arrived… Well, that’s not quite true, because we had one more after that, but it was dedicated to making the all day drive from California to the very northwest corner of Washington.  So anyway, our last full day of touristing was in Sacramento.  We were there to visit Jon’s friend Pablo, and so Jon could enjoy his old stomping grounds.

Me at Old Sacramento with the Delta King Riverboat - Now a Hotel

Me at Old Sacramento with the Delta King Riverboat – Now a Hotel

We started our day with a return trip to Old Sacramento.  Jon took me there the first time we visited Sacramento before we were married.  I know it is touristy, but I do enjoy the historic buildings there and the fact that they are almost all built before the turn of the 20th century.  The earliest is from 1852, just after a terrible fire swept through the city.  Sacramento was also prone to severe flooding, so in the early 1860s, they began the process of raising the city of Sacramento.  However, they simply raised the level of the streets and not the buildings.  The first floors of the buildings became a basement, and the original second floor was now at street level.  There is a historic underground tour, but unfortunately, it was only on Saturdays (we were there on a Friday).

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

The several blocks of Old Sacramento today are part of the Old Sacramento State Historic Park.  Almost all of the buildings in Old Sacramento today have been re-purposed into tourist shops and restaurants, and there is also a museum on the history of the railroad that is an excellent stop (we didn’t go this trip, but we went a couple of years ago).

Jon and I had lunch in a little sandwich shop and then headed over to The Underground Tasting Room, to sample a couple of their wines.  The Underground Tasting Room is shared by two wineries, Fenton Herriott Vineyards and Twisted Twig.  You can choose a flight from either winery, or a combined flight with wines from both places.  The tasting room is set below the current street level on the original street level of Old Sacramento, and has a little enclosed patio seating area with a fountain.  It was a warm sunny day and we enjoyed just sitting in the sunshine.

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

We were the only ones there when we visited – a couple was just leaving as we got there – and our server was gracious and friendly.  We decided to sample the Fenton Herriott Vineyards selections, as they make some white wines in addition to the reds, where Twisted Twig is reds only.  Here’s what we had:

2011 Chardonnay: Aged on neutral oak.  It tasted of light oak and cream with an herbal finish.  It just wasn’t really my style.

2012 Rose: Light flavors of cranberry and raspberry – good, but I was a bit turned off by a bitterness on the back of the throat on the finish.

2009 Merlot: This wine had a medium body and was very fruit forward with light tannins.  It is ready to drink now.

2007 Twisted Twig 2007 EPIC Cabernet Sauvignon: We did get to sample one Twisted Twig wine because the Fenton Herriott Cab was unavailable.  It had heavy tannins and was a very bold cab with a nice balance.  It had begun softening but would hold up for a while longer.  It was good, but I felt that the $38 pricetag was a bit much.

2009 Tempranillo: We ended with this wine which tasted of smoke, light cherry and coffee.  It was very drinkable and delicious.

Fenton Herriott is a small, family-owned winery – their wines have a production of 100 cases or less for each one.  The vineyards and winery are located in Placerville, California.  To be honest, I was hoping to like the Fenton Herriott Chardonnay and Rose more than I did, but I was pleased with the reds, and it would be worth a trip out to the winery when we are in the area again.  We purchased a bottle each of the Fenton Herriott Merlot and Tempranillo and headed on our way to our next stop – the Leland Stanford Mansion!