Archive | August 2013

Boise Roadtrip: Old Idaho Penitentiary

After I finished cleaning out shopping at Hastings, it was time for some touristing.  The first place on my must-see agenda was the Old Idaho Penitentiary.  I’m not sure why I have a fascination with old prisons – perhaps it is because I likely will never see the inside of a new one (knock on wood) because I lead a pretty boring, plain-vanilla life (which I’m totally fine with by the way).  And my family doesn’t really have any run-ins with the law either, so I’ve never had occasion to visit anyone in prison either (again, I am not expressing any kind of regret for not having had this experience).

But the reviews describe Old Idaho Penitentiary as better than Alcatraz, so I had to find out.  The Old Idaho Penitentiary was built in 1870 and housed prisoners for an astounding 101 years – from 1872 to 1973.  The site was chosen because of its proximity to the growing Boise area, and the cheap building material – sandstone.  The prison began with a single cell block, and most of the buildings were built by inmate labor.  It eventually grew to an entire compound with over a dozen buildings.

The New Cellhouse - Built 1889

The New Cellhouse – Built 1889

From the beginning until Idaho became a state, the prison was operated by the Federal Government.  This was the rough and tumble West, so many of the prisoners were hardened criminals, there for murder, assault, horse thieving, and a host of other crimes.  In its history, the “Old Pen”, as it was affectionately known by the locals held over 13,000 prisoners, with a maximum occupancy of 600 at one time.  The prison was known for being a pretty harsh environment; if you have ever been to Boise you know that the summers are hot and the winters are very cold.  The sandstone provided shelter, but didn’t keep you warm…

In the early years, women were housed with men, but after one female inmate told the Warden she was pregnant (I’m sure she was just trying to stay warm in the winter), they figured they had better get cracking on a separate cell block for women.  Women were separated from the men in 1906, and a new building was built for them in 1920.  Women on the frontier were often as tough as the men – on infamous lady prisoner, Lyda Southard, became known as Lady Bluebeard, because she was convicted of murdering several of her husbands to collect on life insurance policies.  Another lady was incarcerated there when she drove her wagon by the house of her husband’s mistress and tried to kill her.  Is is one of history’s first drive-by shootings?

The Women's Ward - Established 1906 - This Building Built in 1920

The Women’s Ward – Established 1906 – This Building Built in 1920

The prison did have a gallows, and over the 101 years, ten prisoners were executed there.  The first nine were carried out in the rose garden, which was planted there in order to give the inmates some worthwhile pursuits.  Interestingly, the rose garden was a test garden for the Jackson and Perkins Company.  If you have any Tropicana roses in your yard, first sold in 1962, they were tested here at the same site where prisoners were executed.  That’s a little creepy!  The roses were kept well trimmed so inmates couldn’t hide among the shrubbery and use the bushes to help them escape.

Old Penitentiary Rose - Where Executions Were Carried Out Early On

Old Penitentiary Rose Garden – Where Executions Were Carried Out Early On

Buildings were added over the years to house the growing number of prisoners and make the prison more modern – the original cell block from the days of the territorial prison was converted to a chapel in the 1930s.  Three cell blocks were added in 1899, another in 1952 and the last building was built in 1954.  The 1899 buildings were still not someplace I would want to stay; the only facilities were a bucket that was stored in the ventilation area behind the cells.

Cellhouse 2 - Built 1899

Cellhouse 2 – Built 1899

A Row of Cells in Cellhouse 2 - Built 1899

A Row of Cells in Cellhouse 2 – Built 1899

The 1954 building was the maximum security prison, it had its own walled recreation area and these prisoners were not allowed to mingle with the general population.  It was inside this building where the final execution was carried out.  Raymond Snowden was known as Idaho’s Jack the Ripper, due to the way he brutally murdered a young woman by stabbing her repeatedly in 1956.  Snowden was executed in 1957 in the Maximum Security Building.  The gallows have been removed, but the “Drop Room” is still there along with the mechanism for opening up the floor.  Not a pleasant thought.

Solitary Confinement - These Cells Are About 2 Feet Wide and 6 Feet Long

Solitary Confinement – These Cells Are About 2 Feet Wide and 6 Feet Long

Apparently, there are rumors that the “Old Pen” is haunted, and I can see why.  13,000 angry, suffering men and women, 10 executions, and likely countless other deaths, from violence and disease might leave some ghosts who have trouble moving on.  Apparently visitors have seen an inmate tending the rose garden, and have experienced being shoved, along with the sounds of voices and heavy footsteps in the various buildings.  The prison has been investigated by Ghost Adventures.

We loved our visit – it was really interesting to see the progression of the buildings over the years.

2008 Michael Florentino Miscolato

Tomorrow is Cabernet Day!  But tonight I’m not drinking a Cab.  For two reasons – Cab is not a favorite varietal of mine, and we are still working on the bottle that Jon opened last night.  It’s a red, at least, a blend, but it doesn’t even have any Cab in it.  I doubt I will drink Cabernet tomorrow either.  I’m a terrible follower of Cabernet Day, apparently…

Tonight, I’m drinking the 2008 Michael Florentino Miscolato Red Blend.  Michael Florentino is a small, boutique winery with a tasting room in the warehouse wine district in Woodinville – the first vintage was 2007.  They make wine with several grapes that are not frequently seen in this area, both as blended wines and single varietals.  Their approach is to create fruit forward wines with balanced tannins and light spice.  Right up my alley!

Michael Florentino - Their Labels Look Like This

Michael Florentino – Their Labels Look Like This

The Miscolato is blended with two thirds Grenache and the balance a mixture of Tempranillo, Syrah and Counoise.  It is a rich Bing Cherry color, and on the nose you get heavy aromas of earth and smoke (I didn’t really pick up any fruit on this one).  When you taste it, you get the same flavors of earth, smoke and a little spice, but it is balanced with the flavor of plums and black raspberry.  This wine packs a punch at 14.6% alcohol, but you don’t feel overwhelmed by the alcohol when you are drinking it.  I had mine after dinner, and the tannins are light enough and well balanced so you can drink it without food.

This was our only bottle, purchased at the 2013 Anacortes Wine Festival, but if you find your way down to Woodinville, they are certainly worth a visit.  Although sadly, you might not find the 2008 Miscolato, as they only produced 112 cases and I think they are already sold out.  But they have a Cabernet!

I Digress… But There is a Bookstore in Boise!

The fact that our experience on the Antiques Roadshow set was so darned fast meant that we had the whole rest of the day for touristing!  Except for one problem.  It was 8:30 am.  Nothing we wanted to see opened until 10.  DRAT!  So we headed back to the hotel to drop off our priceless treasures stuff and Jon’s Dad’s Louis XIV vase perfume bottle and headed out to our first destination; the book and music store, Hastings.

Really, I’m surprised that more book stores and music stores haven’t discovered that you could double up your efforts and draw in a whole new crowd.  Jon loves shopping for records, and he could stay there all day.  I can’t.  I putter around the music area for a little while poking randomly at a few artists I know.  If there are movies, I’m good for another twenty minutes or so, as I check out the documentary/history section (usually sorely lacking) and the chick flicks (subjecting myself to chuckles from Jon…).

And, by the way, chairs are conspicuously absent from almost all record stores (occasionally I find one of those circular plastic stools like they have in libraries, but they make your butt go numb after awhile) – this is really poor strategic planning, if you ask me.  HELLO?  If I had a comfortable place to hang out, with books, I could totally be in for the long haul.  The other thing that Hastings had going for it were these pieces of paper taped all over the bookshelves that said – Sale – Saturday Only – All Used Books $2.99.  The fine print said something about the fact that they were only marked down if the regular price was $29.99 and below.

We had actually stopped in the evening before on our way to sushi, and I asked the clerk about the signs.  Are audiobooks on sale?  I’m a huge fan of audiobooks – I listen to them on my treadmill and in the car on those long drives to Portland to see my brother and his family.  But audiobooks are SUPER-expensive.  Anywhere between $25 and $50 for a new audiobook!  OUCH!  As a result, I have never actually purchased a new audiobook.  And even the used ones are pricey – so the only time I ever buy a used one is if I run across a good one at the library book sale.  I usually just check them out from the library, but that is a challenge with some longer audiobooks, because they can be hard to finish in three weeks.  If somebody else has a hold on the same book – no renewals…

Hastings had their audiobooks regularly priced anywhere from $5 to $17.49 for used one.  The clerk didn’t know if the sale included audiobooks, but she went and asked her manager and BINGO!  I was in!  So we had to go back Saturday!  At any rate – I loaded up.  I looked at all of the audiobooks and loaded up my basket with all sorts of great finds!  I got some for myself and some for my parents for their road trips.  I had so many audiobooks that the clerk gave me some really funny looks as she was ringing us up.  It was awesome.  The most fun I have had in a bookstore in a very long time, and I love bookstores!

How about you?  Are you a Kindle reader, an audiobook listener, or a die hard traditional paper book fan?

We Went to Antiques Roadshow!

Finally, the day had arrived!  It was the morning of Antiques Roadshow!  I had literally been waiting for years for this day! (Yeah, get it out… If you must say to yourself what a huge nerd I am, so be it!  I can take it – I know I’m a nerd.)

We had the 8 am time slot and the instructions said to arrive at the venue a half hour before your scheduled time.  That would be 7:30 am.  We ate breakfast and headed out, arriving in plenty of time (Of course!  Because we had made sure we knew how to get there the day before!)  We parked and walked into the expo center, getting mentally prepared for “The Long Wait…”  I even brought snacks…  Jon is not very patient about crowds and lines, so I made sure to prep him on the fact that there would be crowds and there would be lines, and I explained that he had decided he wanted to go, so I had better not hear any complaining….

Other people were walking in too, and as we passed several of them, we checked out their items.  I can’t help it – I walk fast – I learned from my father who has much longer legs than I do.  I had to keep up with dad or I might have gotten singled out by the lions as the weak gazelle.  Ok, maybe it’s not as dramatic as all that – I just walk fast.  We saw all sorts of neat things – an antique chair, vases, a metal model car in a big glass case, but of course, nothing would be as valuable as my items!

We Were Some of the Younger People There!

We Were Some of the Younger People There!

We got to the entrance and they tore our tickets and let us in to the staging area…  The first room was set up with a huge snaking queue line.  There are signs indicating the entrance time, and then you snake back and forth until you get to the beginning of the line.  Since it was still early in the morning, the line really hadn’t gotten very long yet…  So far, so good.

At the beginning of that first line, we found several volunteers who are there do to a preliminary assessment of your items.  The appraisal area is divided out by categories and the volunteers take a quick look at your items and assign them to categories.  We showed the gal our artist proof print (Posters and Prints), my bracelet (Jewelry), my great grandmother’s glass cosmetic jar with a silver lid (Silver), and my father-in-law’s small glass vase with the silver inlay (Silver).  Once we were assessed, another volunteer took us into the main room.  They don’t allow any photos inside the main area, so you will just have to imagine it for yourselves (hopefully I can do justice with a verbal explanation…

Jon Practicing Patience - Luckily the Line Wasn't Long (You can see by the barriers behind him what it might have been like later in the day...)

Jon Practicing Patience – Luckily the Line Wasn’t Long
(You can see by the barriers behind him what it might have been like later in the day…)

When you enter, you see a big circle in the center of the room with the Antiques Roadshow royal blue curtains hung all around.  There are spaces between each curtain and the category lines begin in this area.  At that point, you pick a line and wait until a volunteer comes to collect you.  Then you are in the main appraisal area.  The appraisal tables are set up around the perimeter of the circle, and the filming area is set up in the middle.  There are also big flat screen TVs hung up around the center area to give you a good view of any filming that is going on in the filming area while you wait.  The volunteer who collected you at the category line drops you off to wait in another short line at the appraisal table.  There wasn’t much of a wait in the line we were in, so before we knew it, it was time for an appraisal!

The appraisals are brief (I wasn’t really expecting anything different) – if the appraiser doesn’t know the manufacturer or anything about your item, they aren’t going to do much research as you stand there.  We went to the silver category first.  The appraiser let me know that my great grandmother’s cosmetic jar isn’t worth that much, other than the sentimental value, but that it was made in the 1890s by an American manufacturer (he couldn’t say which one).  He also explained that it would have once been part of a set (long ago lost, I assume, since I was only given the one jar).

Next he took a look at Jon’s dad’s “Louis XIV” vase (as he likes to call it); the one he picked up for a steal at the Goodwill where he worked in the 1960s.  The appraiser didn’t know who made it, but he did know it was American made, not French, turn of the last century (1890-1910), not Louis XIV period, and not even a vase at all.  It is actually a perfume bottle that is missing its original stopper.  Suddenly it all made sense why it was such a small vase!  Jon’s parents aren’t going to be striking it rich from the proceeds of the sale…

For my silver and scrimshaw bracelet we had to get in a new category line.  There wasn’t much of a wait in this line either, so before we knew it, we were back at another appraisal table!  The jewelry appraiser was very pleased with my bracelet, although he didn’t know the artist.  My mom had gotten the bracelet in the early 1990s, back when they had classified ads on the radio.  She got it from a woman, and believed that it had been made locally in the 1970s.  The appraiser said what he saw in the piece matched up with the story my mother had been told.  It was made in the 1970s, from silver and mastodon ivory, and was most likely made in the Northwest.  He said there was a lot of that style of jewelry being made here at the time.  It won’t ensure our early retirement, but he appraised it at quite a bit more than my mom paid, so that made me happy.

Which left us standing in the line for posters and prints.  It made sense, considering we brought an art print, but when we got to the front of the line, the appraiser frowned and said he wouldn’t be able to tell us anything about our print.  Apparently posters and prints is more the concert or travel poster variety.  He pointed us over to tribal art, so we got in line over there (we didn’t have to go back and stand in another category line).

And tribal art was where it was at.  We brought in a 1960s print by a woman artist living and working in Alaska.  The theme show of the print shows strong women and a whale; very forward for the early 60s.  The man at the table lit up when he saw our print.  He took a look at it, and explained that it was very unusual for art to show women in such strong roles during the time period.  Our artist proof is numbered, and he explained that it isn’t common for artist proofs to show a run number, and a run of only 5 (ours is number 2) increased the value.  He let us know what he would value it at now, and told us it will certainly increase because of the scene depicted.  We were pleased with the information that he gave us.

All in all, it was a great experience.  We learned a little more about all of items and everything is worth more than we paid for it!  All of the appraisers were very friendly, and treated us kindly even though our items certainly wouldn’t knock anybody’s socks off.  We didn’t ever feel like anybody was snooty or condescending and the other folks in line were all friendly and personable too.  To be honest though, we didn’t have much of an opportunity to stand around and chat with other Roadshow-goers, because the lines were short and moved so quickly!

In fact, the lines were so short, we were shocked at how quickly we were done!  Jon didn’t even have time to get grumpy about the crowds or the lines!  We were back in the car and on our way at 8:26 am!

The Rest of the Way to Boise!

After a relaxing sleep in Pendleton, Oregon, Jon and I got up so we could continue on our way to Boise.  Our hotel for the night, the Red Lion, didn’t include breakfast, so we headed downtown to find some quick and easy breakfast before getting on our way again.  But quick and easy it was not.  First of all, it was about 9:40 am when we got downtown, and we could only find one place open!  The coffee shop/cafe didn’t open until 10.  What?!  So we settled on the only open restaurant we could find – which seemed to have not seen a tourist since last year’s Pendleton Roundup.

The View Behind our Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon

The View Behind our Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon

We ordered breakfast – the 2 egg breakfast for Jon and a ham and egg bagel breakfast sandwich for me, and then we waited while they hatched the chickens to lay the eggs to collect the eggs to scramble them up.  It was the longest short-order cooking I have ever experienced!  And no, they weren’t busy.  There were a couple other tables in the place that already had their food, and while we were waiting one elderly lady came in to order her daily cup of tea…

After making our way ALL the way through the Pendleton Real Estate listing magazine (I swear – 10 more minutes and I might have made an offer on a second home just out of sheer boredom!), we finally got our breakfast, scarfed it down and got on the road.  Our route took us through miles of fairly desolate grazing lands filled with scrub brush and tumbleweeds.  Then we headed up into the Blue Mountains.

An Interesting Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon!

An Interesting Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon!

The Blue Mountains were the last large mountain range that the pioneers had to traverse before reaching their final destinations near what is now Walla Walla, Washington or the Willamette Valley, Oregon.  For many pioneers, who had been on the trail for months, reaching the west side of the pass was a welcome sight.  I-84 in many places follows the same route as US Route 30 and US Route 30S, which largely were built on the Oregon Trail.  The highest point on the highway is 4,193 feet, reminding us that this could be a completely different drive in the winter!

It was neat to see the beautiful mountains approaching in the distance; they really do look blue!  I know it has something to do with the atmosphere scattering blue light, but we still enjoyed pondering whether it was the type of trees or grasses on the mountains.

We made a pit-stop in Baker City, Oregon, a town of just under 10,000 residents located in the mountains.  It is named for Edward D. Baker, the only U.S. Senator killed in military combat.  He died leading a charge of U.S. Army soldiers in the battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, during the Civil War.  We only stopped long enough to get gas and some snacks, but I would have loved to have more time there.  Baker City has a historic downtown with several historic buildings, many of them built between the late 1880’s and 1915.  It is also home to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, a museum of sorts offering exhibits, living history demonstrations, and four miles of interpretive trails.  There are still visible wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail on the site.  That will have to wait for another trip though…

We continued on our way and we stopped briefly at the Upper Perry Arch Bridge.  The bridge was designed by Conde B. McCullough, the first State Bridge Engineer for the State of Oregon.  The bridge was built in 1924, and restored in 2008.  It is located off the interstate, on the old U.S. 30, and crosses over the Grande Ronde River and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.  This section of U.S. 30 was bypassed in the 1960s when I-84 was constructed, but up until that time it was heavily used.  The bridge was constructed from concrete, with a total length of 312 feet and a main span of 134 feet.

The Upper Perry Arch Bridge - Built 1924 - Arch Bridge with Reinforced Concrete Deck Arch

The Upper Perry Arch Bridge – Built 1924 – Arch Bridge with Reinforced Concrete Deck Arch

It’s pretty amazing to think that this concrete bridge has been standing for 89 years, and even more amazing when you realize that this bridge now leads to a dead end.  That’s right, after the bypass, crossing over the bridge takes you to a dead end – transportation experts estimate that 10 cars per day use the bridge.  It’s a good thing that they completed the restoration by the time the economy collapsed – I’m not sure the State of Oregon could afford this kind of project now for such a little used bridge.  I found this bridge fascinating – we are capable of so many great things that we take for granted.

After a bit more time on the road, through largely agricultural areas, we finally made it to Boise and got checked into our hotel, a Residence Inn.  We had a room with a living room, separate bedroom and a kitchenette.  They even stock the room with complimentary popcorn (it doesn’t take much to make me happy)!  We were hungry, so we decided to get some sushi – considering the hot day we thought that would really hit the spot.  We hadn’t done any research, so we looked online and found Sushi Joy near downtown Boise.  Jon decided to try some low carb sushi rolls, rolled in cucumber instead of rice; he thought they were delicious (although they did seem a bit difficult to eat with chopsticks).  My dragon roll was very good too.  The service was fast and friendly too; I would certainly visit again!

We finished off our night watching some TV, something I rarely have much time for at home.  I went to bed with anticipation, because the next morning was our visit to Antiques Roadshow!

Antiques Roadtrip to Boise

In late June, Jon and I had an amazing opportunity.  We went to Antiques Roadshow!  I’m sure you are wondering about the backstory…  In case you don’t know what Antiques Roadshow is, you are really missing out.  It is a television show on PBS, where people bring their antique and collectible items to be appraised.  The show has events in 8 cities each year, and they amass an army of appraisers to assess everybody’s items and tell them a bit about them and the value.

Each year, people can enter their name into the lottery for 2 tickets to an Antiques Roadshow event.  You can only enter for one city per year, and you can only enter once.  After the date for entries has passed, they randomly choose 3,000 people per city to receive tickets.  The tickets are free, and it is against the rules to sell them.  If you win tickets, you get a pair of tickets to the event where each person must bring at least one item to be appraised, and you can bring two.

This was the fourth year I have entered the lottery, and I didn’t win tickets when they were in Seattle, Portland or Spokane, all closer to home.  But this year I won!  To the event in Boise, Idaho!  That’s an eight hour drive from home, but I was so excited that I won, we decided to make a weekend trip of it.  The funny thing is, they send you an email to let you know the winners have been selected, and you have to go into the website to see if you won; I was so convinced that I probably didn’t win that I waited the longest time to go check.  Once we found out we got tickets, we had to put in requests for time off!  Luckily, I didn’t have much going on for those couple of days at work…  Jon and I both got the long weekend off, and we left for Boise on Thursday evening after work.  We made plans to make it to Pendleton, Oregon the first night, knocking out a little more than half of the drive.

We headed out a bit late (due to a lost driver’s license and some time spent searching for keys – people who know us will know who lost their stuff…) and were on the road when the trouble started…  We were on our way over the mountain pass when we saw a sign indicating that the pass was going to be closed for rock blasting 10 miles in front of us.  Starting at 8 pm…

It was 7:54

(Insert expletive here…)

I crossed my fingers and prayed that because it was government, they wouldn’t be starting right on time…

But they were…

Right on time…

We were stuck in a dead stop at the top of Snoqualmie Pass while the construction crews worked.  The sign had indicated a closure of 2 hours, with additional time if necessary to clear the road.  Yikes…

There was nothing to do but wait.  I took the opportunity to take some photos of Lake Keechelus, a beautiful crystal clear blue lake at the top of the pass; the source of the Yakima River.  I am almost always barreling by this lake at 60+ miles per hour, so it was kind of neat to be able to just enjoy it for a spell.  Talk about making lemons into lemonade!  Of course, the mosquitoes soon drove me back to the car, and I pulled out a book to read.   At one point Jon decided he was going to go for a run up the road, but fortunately he didn’t  go too far.  The road crew was better than on time and under budget – they had us moving again in 50 minutes, leaving me to wonder if they over-estimate so they can deliver the re-opened road with travelers thinking that they got lucky!

Lake Keechelus at the top of Snoqualmie Pass - You can see the completely empty I-90 in the background

Lake Keechelus at the top of Snoqualmie Pass – You can see the completely empty I-90 in the background on the left side at the edge of the lake

After the closure, we got moving and made good time, but of course we were already an hour behind schedule.  Which meant that we weren’t going to get to Pendleton until midnight.  Oh well, we just kept driving…  Sadly, more of the trip was in the dark, so it was a long, dark, desolate, tiring drive.  It also meant a sad dinner of gas station snacks, because we didn’t want to make any more stops than necessary.  Ugh…

But we eventually we made it, and were able to get a good night’s sleep so we could continue the rest of the way to Boise in the morning!

May Day at Walnut City WineWorks

While we were down visiting family in Portland in May, my cousin and I decided to do an afternoon of wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.  After Megan and I visited Chehalem Winery, we headed to another winery in McMinnville: Walnut City WineWorks.  Jon and I had visited a few years before, at the recommendation of Jon’s grandfather, and they had some really good wines, so I was excited to try them again.

Walnut City WineWorks is a custom crush facility that provides a production facility for several wine labels: Walnut City WineWorks, Bernard Machado, Carlton Hill, Z’IVO, Lundeen, Genius Loci, and Robinson Reserve.  What makes Walnut City WineWorks different is the fact that they are actively involved in vineyard management for the various labels, and all the labels are sold in the tasting room.  The Walnut City label produces about 6,000 cases per year, and when you combine all the labels the production is about 12,000 cases per year.  They are located in a historic brick building right near downtown McMinnville; I’m sure that it used to be an industrial facility of some sort.  It has been nicely renovated with a modern and tasteful decor, although it is a bit dark inside.

Our server for the day guided us through a selection of their wines from a few of their different labels.  We began with the Walnut City Hodge Podge, a white blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Riesling and Auxerrois.  Wow, that’s quite a blend!  I certainly picked up a lot of the Gewurztraminer in the wine, but overall I thought it was a bit too sweet for my taste.  Megan really liked it though.  After that, we tried the 2011 Z’IVO Pinot Blanc.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write any tasting notes on this wine, and I couldn’t find any online, but I liked it enough to buy two bottles (I’ll have to crack open a bottle soon to give you some better tasting notes on this one!)

We also tried the Z’IVO Charly, which is a blend of 75% Gewurztraminer, 20% Pinot Gris and 5% Viognier.  Again, I thought the wine was a bit too sweet, but Megan loved it (she declared it to be her favorite) and went home with two bottles.  Next we tried the 2012 Walnut City Rose, a Pinot Noir Rose made in the Old World style.  It was dry and crisp and absolutely delicious.  The 2011 Walnut City WineWorks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is the largest production at the winery, with 4,000 cases produced.  It was bright and tart, with a light mouthfeel and a soft, elegant structure.  I really enjoyed it, but it is certainly a very delicate Pinot.

We also sampled the Bernard-Machado 2007 Pinot Noir.  Our server explained that this wine is only produced in years of great grapes, which was confusing to me because I have heard that 2007 wasn’t such a fantastic year in Oregon Pinot – the cool, wet season led to wines that are much softer and more delicate than other years – characteristics in Pinot that I personally love, but not everybody does.  This wine exhibited more of the earthy, forest floor flavors, and it was good, but not outstanding, and it didn’t warrant the $36 price tag for me.

The Walnut City WineWorks 2008 Pinot Noir Reserve was more up my alley.  Spice, black cherries and cola dominate this wine that was barrel aged for 18 months and bottle aged for another 24 months.  It won a Gold Medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, a new competition where the judges aren’t professional tasters, but rather people working in the wine industry in Washington and Oregon.

We finished off our tasting with a Lundeen wine, the 2008 Rogue Valley Syrah.  The grapes are sourced from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, which has hotter, drier summers and and is known for growing the hot weather grapes.  That said, this Syrah is nicely balanced, and was described as a Syrah for Pinot lovers.  The flavors of blueberry and blackberry are accented by just a hint of dark chocolate.

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit, but of course I didn’t think to take any photos.  We did take some wine home with us – we got a case between us and the server was kind enough to allow us to ring the orders separately and still apply the discount.  If you have a chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And be sure to let me know what you think!

A Sweet Heat – Who Doesn’t Love a Hot Beer!

Jon has been on a bit of a beer kick lately.  I think it’s the summer heat, and he’s been wanting a cold drink in the evenings after work.  As a result, we have been trying some new micro-brews that he has found in the grocery store.

Last night, we popped open a beer that we found by the Burnside Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon. Burnside was founded in 2010, and is focused on making food friendly beers that do something different.  They want to make some calculated risks and this beer is one of those.  When we bought it, based on the description, we figured we would really love it, or really not…

The beer was called Sweet Heat.  It is a wheat ale with apricot puree added, and Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Hot Peppers dry hopped into it.  I’m not much for spicy food (or beer, so I thought…), but this one is really good!  The sweetness of the apricots are tempered by the slight kick of the peppers; just enough so you know they are there, but not enough to make you regret taking that swig.  Just a gentle heat on the back of your tongue and throat, that slowly spreads to the roof of your mouth.

I would certainly buy myself some Sweet Heat again!

When is a Vacation Not a Vacation?

I was talking to a coworker the other day, and she mentioned that she would be on vacation beginning the next day. So, of course, I asked where she was going. She responded that she wasn’t going anywhere; rather she was staying at home and would be doing a few little hikes and just hanging out with her daughter.

That reminded me of a question I am frequently asked when I say I’m going to Georgia, or Arizona, or Ohio, or anywhere I happen to be going off to. “Oh, do you have family there?” More often than I would like to think, people are genuinely puzzled by the fact that no, I do not have family there.

These scenarios just got me wondering – When is a vacation really a vacation? Of course, I can only speak for myself, but a vacation must include a destination – generally with a plane ride but a road trip can certainly count too. I know the concept of a stay-cation has been much in the news lately, but to me, hanging around home is sheer torture. I look at all the organizing projects I should be working on, all the clutter I should be tackling, all the deck painting, de-mossing, gutter cleaning, weeding, car waxing, light fixture changing that I should be doing and it just makes me depressed. I can only truly unwind if I’m not stuck staring at all that stuff, thinking about what I should be doing.

That isn’t to say that I never want to do these things, but I just don’t want to use my vacation time to do it. It is a conundrum. A friend of mine only considers it to be a vacation if it includes 5 (consecutive) days off work.

Sadly, I have no vacation on the immediate horizon (under either the destination/plane ride theory or the 5 day theory) – just a couple of weekend trips nearby for the usual – a wedding, a birthday party, a baby shower. All fun, all looked forward to, but all not vacations. Now a destination wedding is a different matter! Although I have to admit that a wedding in Washington, D.C. would be more of a vacation than one in Arkansas.

Over the years, I have been on some fantastic vacations – I have had some wonderful experiences and made some great memories.  Here are just a few from the last couple of years.

Crater Lake, Oregon - August 2011

Crater Lake, Oregon – August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard - August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard – August 2011

Gold Beach Whaler

Gold Beach Whaler – August 2011

Slate Run Living Farm

Slate Run Living Farm – Winchester, Ohio – August 2008

The Hanoi Taxi

The Hanoi Taxi – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, Ohio – August 2008

The front entrance of Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle – San Simeon, CA – August, 2010

See, no snow on the sidewalks (or the roads)

Antietam National Battlefield – Sharpsburg, MD – February, 2008

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate – Asheville, NC – June 2012

The Joseph Manigault House - Built in 1803 - Federal Style Architecture

The Joseph Manigault House – Charleston, SC – June 2012

Savannah's Colonial Cemetery

Savannah’s Colonial Cemetery – Savannah, GA – June 2012

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery – Manson, WA – September 2012

An Elk Herd

Elk Feeding Area, near Hamilton, WA, September 2012

Male California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore – Point Reyes Station, CA – March 2013

Harbor Seal Outside Monterey Bay Aquarium

Harbor Seal – Monterey, CA – March 2013

The Lone Cypress - Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress – near Pebble Beach, CA – March 2013

So, how about you? What defines a vacation?

There’s Smoke in My Glass – Yamhill Valley Pinot Noir

A couple of evenings ago, I cracked open a bottle of the 2009 Yamhill Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir.  I picked this bottle up on my May trip to Portland at the local Safeway.  May is Oregon wine month, and they all sorts of specials at the Safeway, so I took the opportunity to try some Oregon wines that I haven’t sampled before.

This wine is a bit darker in color that the typical Pinot Noir, with a distinct smoky nose.  When I say distinct – I mean the smoky nose in this bottle could reach a hand over and knock you down.  The flavor of the wine is bold and powerful, with strong notes of tobacco, earth and more smoke.  Jon’s eyes lit up when he tasted it, because he thought it was so smoky that I wouldn’t like it.  He gets excited about the prospect of more for him when he likes a wine.

Yamhill Valley Vineyards 2009 Estate Pinot Noir

Yamhill Valley Vineyards 2009 Estate Pinot Noir

I drank it over a couple of nights, and it held up nicely.  The smoke flavor did soften quite a bit on the second evening, but it was still very evident.  Overall, this wine was good, but not amazing.  It will certainly appeal to people who like a bold, robust Pinot Noir.  Connoisseurs  who flavor a more delicate, cherry flavored Pinot won’t like this wine as much.  But, given the price (I believe it was $14.99), you can’t go wrong.