Archive | November 2015

2014 Domaine Le Clos des Lumieres Grenache

Thanksgiving weekend was full of good wine – chosen for me by the owner of our local wine shop.  I stopped by the shop the evening before Thanksgiving, and had him pick out an assorted case of reasonably prices wines.  And none of them, so far, have disappointed.  Unfortunately, some went so quickly at our family gathering that I didn’t catch a photo, didn’t get a taste, and I don’t even remember what they were!

2014 Domaine Le Clos des Lumieres - Grenache

2014 Domaine Le Clos des Lumieres – Grenache

Tonight I am enjoying a French Grenache Blanc, a white wine with flavors of pineapple, lychee and apricot, with a bit of minerality.  It has a velvety mouth feel.  It wasn’t chilled when I pulled it from the wine rack, and I actually think it was better that way, with the higher temperature of the wine releasing more of the flavors and aromas.

I could really find much about it online, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it is a nice, everyday white.  Happy Monday!


Virginia 2015: Headed Out…

Day 1 – Sunday, October 4, 2015

Our first day of vacation was the usual assortment of logistics and fatigue. Jon’s cousin got married the day before we flew out, so we were out late partying with family. We crashed at our friend’s house and he graciously agreed to give us an early morning ride to the airport. He had to be at work at 6 am, so we were up before 5 and left about 5:15 for our 8 am flight. Check in and security were smooth, which left us with plenty of time to get breakfast at the airport.

We flew direct from Seattle to Baltimore, and our flight was long but uneventful.

Somewhere over the U.S.

Somewhere over the U.S.

I did get to listen to the following classic exchange between a boy and his mother:

Boy: I have to pee.

Mother: You just went.

Boy: I farted.  That means I have to poop. 

While I wasn’t overhearing stories about the bowel movements of strangers, I even managed to get a little bit of sleep.  We arrived at about 4:30, just a few minutes ahead of schedule, and grabbed our bag.  Picking up the rental car went smoothly, a silver Nissan Rogue which we really enjoyed, and we made our way to Frederick, Maryland, an hour long trip over clear highways. Frederick was our home for the first two nights of our trip.

Our fatigue made for a quiet night. We got dinner at a brewery near the hotel – Barley and Hops.  I would have guessed that it is a chain, but their website says they are locally owned. Jon had Mahi Mahi fish tacos and the Francis Scott Key IPA; I had Maryland crabcakes with sweet potato fries and Citrus Slam Session Pale Ale. The food was good, the bartender was friendly, and the brewery was pretty quiet on a Sunday night.

A quick trip to Target for snacks ended our wild evening, and we turned in early to get some much needed rest.  The next day was going to be a busy one!


Car Rental – Alamo – Small SUV (We had a Nissan Rogue).  Surprisingly, that was the least expensive class of car for this trip!

Total driving distance on Day 1: 49 miles – Baltimore International Airport – Frederick, MD

Hotel for the night: Sleep Inn, Frederick, MD – The hotel was nice; one door to the outside was not working, which was a little inconvenient.  Breakfast was good, and it was quiet.

Virginia 2015: A Trip is Born…

A trip to Virginia had been brewing for awhile. The historic sites!  The Presidential homes!  The Civil War connection.  It was my turn to choose a vacation in 2013 (yes, 2013, you read that correctly), and I wanted to go to Virginia. Jon and I trade off on choosing our big vacation each year; at least that is the intent.  So… In 2013, I had dates in March scheduled, and we were researching Virginia airfares, but something was nagging at me.

That something was a little 6 pound kitty named Martini, who had lymphoma. I couldn’t bring myself to fly cross country and leave her at home, knowing that she could decline or die without me by her side.  So, I kept procrastinating.  The same night, Jon and I came up with the idea to do a road trip to California instead – that way we could be home in a day if we needed to. As it turned out, we said our final goodbyes to our sweet girl before we left for that California trip…

Virginia was again on the docket for 2014 – until Jon’s cousin announced his wedding in Los Angeles. We wanted to make the best use of the flight to California, so we decided to forego Virginia again and do a scenic loop of the Southwest before the wedding. A fabulous choice that I don’t regret, but not Virginia.

I was determined to do Virginia in 2015 – I had been dreaming for three years about all the Presidential mansions and historic homes, about Appomattox Courthouse and other Civil War Battlefields.  I started a new job in January – which could have put a wrench in our plans, but fortunately a generous vacation package and some front loaded time meant that I could still do the trip.  Finally we were able to make it happen! After we got back from Colorado in August, I set to work planning the trip. We had almost two weeks; our longest vacation to date (by one day)!

I mapped and researched and connected the dots between our various wish list sites, finding the most convenient stopping points, and booking flights, a car, hotel rooms, and a boat tour! I wanted a more leisurely pace than we’d had in Colorado, with two night stays at several of our destination towns. Slowly it began to come together.

We would fly into Baltimore (that was the least expensive) and visit Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Arlington House, Mount Vernon, Shenandoah National Park, Appomattox Courthouse, Monticello, Ash Lawn Highland, Montpelier, the Fredericksburg Battlefield, the Hugh Mercer Apothecary, Mary Ball Washington House, George Washington Birthplace, Stratford Hall, Menokin, Jamestown, Yorktown, and finish off at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Still ambitious, but workable.

Our route would look something like this - darn you Google Maps for only allowing 10 places!

Our route would look something like this – darn you Google Maps for only allowing 10 places!

Jon decided at the last minute that he wanted to see Gettysburg, so we traded that for Antietam. And oh, by the way, could we possibly fit in some time on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

The next series of vacation posts will be our Virginia Road Trip – October 4 – 16, 2015.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Colorado 2015: Highlights and Stats

Sadly, any good vacation must come to an end, and we were at the end of our Colorado 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!  So for those of you who like a stats recap, here we go!

Number of Flights: 4

Number of airport pat-downs: 2 (1 full body, 1 ankles only)

Miles Driven: 1188+

Number of Hotels: 7

Most nights in one hotel: 1 – we were constantly on the move this trip!

National Parks visited: 3 National Parks; 2 National Monuments

Number of historic tours: 3 – Healy House, Dexter Cabin, and the Matchless Mine

Animals seen: Moose (2), Least Chipmunks (dozens), Stellars Jay (a few), Clark’s Nutcracker (1), Yellow-bellied Marmot (3), Lizards (about a dozen), Rabbits (3), Squirrels (several), Pronghorn (about a dozen), Bighorn Sheep (6), and lots of other birds.

Temperature Variances: High temp, about 86 degrees (in Colorado National Monument and Great Sand Dunes National Park); Low temp – 40s (at night in Alamosa and Leadville).

Best Meal: Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen, Montrose, Colorado and the Caspian Café, Colorado Springs

Best Hike: Star Dune – Great Sand Dunes National Park

Place I most want to go back to and see more of: Grand Junction, CO, and Colorado National Monument

Most unpleasant experience: Altitude sickness and a pounding headache on Pikes Peak

Number of bear coats I tried on: 1

Number of  thunder and lightning storms: 2 (in Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado Springs)

Number of awe-inspiring views: Too many to count!

What stats do you like to see? 

In Need of a Better Way

This weekend I drove down to Portland to see my family and go to my niece’s birthday party.  I was on my own for what is, on a good day, a 4.5 hour drive, since Jon was working this weekend.  Of course, the drive went almost immediately awry, and it took me 40 minutes to get out of town!  UGH!

Most of the rest went as expected, with the usual Seattle and Tacoma backups.  But then, just south of Olympia, traffic came to a dead stop.  The WSDOT truck drove by on the shoulder, and then moved into the lanes, sporting a sign that read, CRASH AHEAD, ALL LANES BLOCKED.  I had to decide right then to get off at an unknown exit, in a rural area.  Oh, and I did mention that my GPS picked that moment to freeze up!?  Joy…

I got off the freeway, and followed some other cars that I hoped knew what they were doing…  We paralleled the freeway for awhile, then crossed over to the other side, and drove for a couple miles through the countryside.  After about 10 miles, we made it back to an entirely empty freeway.  The rest of the drive was smooth sailing!

I know I was really lucky, because had I been another 100 feet further on the freeway, I would have likely been there for hours…  When is someone going to invent a teleporter?

You’ll be happy to know that the drive home was easy – just one brief Tacoma slowdown.

Colorado 2015: Pikes Peak

Colorado – Day 8: August 8, 2015

Our last day had arrived – I wasn’t ready yet!

But before we headed for home, it was time for Pikes Peak! Pikes Peak is one of the tallest mountains in the continental United States; but not the tallest. It isn’t even the tallest in Colorado – that distinction belongs to Mount Elbert, near Leadville. But Pikes Peak is one of the tallest mountains in the United States that you can drive to the top of! 14,415 feet! Some signs say 14,410, but apparently the 14,415 is the correct height. We drove up slowly, stopping at all the various viewpoints along the way. We saw some spectacular views and learned some interesting things.

Pikes Peak from a distance

Pikes Peak from a distance


Me with my new boyfriend!

Me with my new boyfriend!

For instance, I had no idea what a popular site Pikes Peak is for daredevils and crazies trying to bring attention to their cause. One man rolled a peanut with his nose all the way up the road to Pikes Peak – it took him 21 days!   Others pushed a piano from Glen Cove to the summit in about 29 minutes. There is even a race, up the mountain; the fastest racers make it up to the top of the mountain in about 10 minutes –  this is not a road I would want to be speeding on!

Looking back at the road up Pikes Peak.

Looking back at the road up Pikes Peak.


Driving in the clouds, literally!

Driving in the clouds, literally!

We got to the top in one piece, and Robby decided that he had to try the famous Pikes Peak donuts. I’m not sure why they are famous, and they didn’t seem any different than regular cake donuts. They were good, but not famous good.

L to R: Jon, me, Robby's donut, and Robby.

L to R: Me, Jon Robby’s donut, and Robby.


Jon and me at the summit.

Jon and me at the summit.

We also saw the arrival of the cog railway train, bringing tourists up the mountain with a mechanical train – it gets pulled up the hill by cogs on the track, rather than by a powered engine. That was neat to see! I’m not sure I would have wanted to take that train up Pikes Peak though, because you are up there an hour before the return trip down. And unfortunately, within a half hour on the top, I was developing what would become an absolutely splitting headache!


The view from the summit of Pikes Peak

The view from the summit of Pikes Peak

We headed down, and on the way, I finally was able to photograph Bighorn Sheep! I saw them too late to stop without turning around, so my photograph from the car while moving will have to suffice for now. They are still blurry, but at least recognizable! Sorry if blurry pictures make you nauseous (like they do me).

Sorry they are blurry, but I saw Bighorn Sheep!

Sorry they are blurry, but I saw Bighorn Sheep!

We also had another chance to practice putting our rental car in low gear, as the Pikes Peak Highway has grades between 7 and 13 percent. I’m sure the rental car places love when tourists go to Pikes Peak!




Jon finding the best view

Jon finding the best view


The treeline on Pikes Peak

The treeline on Pikes Peak

Sadly, my headache just kept getting worse, and by the time we stopped for lunch, I was one sad puppy. Ouch! We had lunch at the Colorado Mountain Brewery, and Jon ordered us an appetizer of nachos to arrive quickly, just in case the lack of food was causing my brain crushing headache. After five years of marriage, he’s a smart man! And I quickly sucked down two sodas and three glasses of water, in case it was a lack of caffeine or a lack of hydration. One of these three remedies helped, but unfortunately I battled the headache off and on to various degrees for the rest of the day… I guess summiting Mount Everest just isn’t in the cards for me…

And just like that, it was time for the 75 mile drive back to the airport, to head home. It was an uneventful check in, except for the fact that my ankles are little terrorists, and had to get a brief, respectful pat down at security. Another flight home from a wonderful vacation – and my headache finally went away…

Total driving distance on Day 8: 147 miles – Colorado Springs – Pikes Peak – Denver International Airport




Colorado 2015: Florissant Fossil Beds!

Day 7: August 7, 2015

Did you know that the Redwood tree, now native to only a small part of coastal California, once lived in Colorado?  We were about to go see some! But first, we were going to see the homestead of a very strong, independent woman.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, in Florissant, Colorado

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, in Florissant, Colorado

We got to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument just in time to catch a ranger led tour of the Hornbek Homestead. We were pretty lucky to get the tour of the homestead, because it was only open for an hour! Adeline Hornbek put in a homestead claim on land in the Florissant Valley in the 1870s.  Adeline was a single woman living on the prairie – certainly an unusual arrangement at the time. In fact, she had some difficulty getting her land deeded to her after homesteading it for the requisite number of years under the Homestead Act, due to the fact that she had no husband.

The Hornbek Cabin - larger and nicer than most during the period.

The Hornbek Cabin – larger and nicer than most during the period.

On the tour, we were able to go inside the two story cabin that Adeline Hornbek built for herself and her family.  The cabin was larger than was typical homestead cabin at the time – a two story, four bedroom home with over a dozen glass-paned windows.  The ranger also told us about Adeline’s life, which was pretty interesting.

The cooking stove inside the Hornbek Cabin

The cooking stove inside the Hornbek Cabin

She was married three times in her life – her first husband died in a flood, her second disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  It is still not known whether he walked away from the family or died.  After moving to the Florissant Valley and establishing her homestead, Adeline Hornbek married a third time, to a man who is thought to have been her employee.  The last husband outlived Adeline when she died of a suspected stroke.

The Hornbek Homestead

The Hornbek Homestead

We weren’t allowed to go into the root cellar and one of the original cabins (now used as a barn) because they have dirt floors, and Hanta virus is present there. Hanta virus is a respiratory disease caused by exposure to mouse urine and/or feces, and actually has a decently high fatality rate, so that was just fine with me. We also heard that around the time we were in Colorado, they had two deaths from the bubonic plague, probably contracted through exposure to prairie dogs. All the more reason to let wild animals be wild!

The root cellar at the Hornbek Homestead - you can't go inside due to the risk of Hanta virus

The root cellar at the Hornbek Homestead – you can’t go inside due to the risk of Hanta virus

I was also excited to get some great photos of some Wyoming Ground Squirrels (I didn’t touch or feed them!) and a Female Mountain Bluebird.

A female Mountain Bluebird at the Hornbek Homestead

A female Mountain Bluebird at the Hornbek Homestead


Two adorable Wyoming Ground Squirrels at the Hornbek Homestead.

Two adorable Wyoming Ground Squirrels at the Hornbek Homestead.

After the Hornbek homestead, we visited the Visitor’s Center and the fossil site and walked the 1 mile Petrified Forest Trail.

The site has several Redwood trees that were fossilized after they were killed during a volcanic eruption and its subsequent lahar, a mud flow that quickly buried everything in its path. It is fascinating to think that there were once Redwood trees in the plains states, now known only in a small area on the California Coast.

We saw several of the giant Redwood stump fossils that were so prominent here. Unfortunately, during the late 19th century, fossil hunters carted off many of the fossils at Florissant, both for research and for personal collections. One tree stump fossil even has two metal saws embedded in the stump, where fossil collectors were trying to cut the stump into more manageable pieces.

One of the petrified Redwoods at Florissant

One of the petrified Redwoods at Florissant

A petrified Redwood stump, with two saws embedded in it.

A petrified Redwood stump, with two saws embedded in it.

Other fossils of interest at Florissant include a small three toed horse, a tse tse fly (which currently only lives in Africa) and many types of plant and insect fossils. Some of these fossils can be seen in the Visitor’s Center – they keep the fossils out on the site covered to protect them.

A petrified trio of Redwoods - these three trees were clones of each other.

A petrified trio of Redwoods – these three trees were clones of each other.

The trail also showed the sites of two competing tourist lodges; one was removed by the Park Service after the monument was designated on August 20, 1969. Apparently the owners of the lodges had a passionate rivalry; there are stories of spike strips to flatten guests’ tires and at one point the two owners were shooting at each other!

It was beautiful! And a great walk to cap off our day.

We also made a quick visit to the Florissant School, a historic schoolhouse built in 1887.  The building is now used as the local Grange.  Our last task was to finish the drive to Colorado Springs – about an hour from Florissant; we stayed at the La Quinta Inn there.

The historic Florissant School, in Florissant, Colorado

The historic Florissant School, in Florissant, Colorado

For dinner we went across the parking lot to the Caspian Café. Jon and I split an avocado, orange and almond salad, and a Caspian Kebab Platter. It had both beef and chicken kebabs with broiled tomatoes, grilled pitas, greek yogurt, onions, sumac, and parsley over basmati rice with saffron butter and lemon. It was delicious! My mouth is watering again just thinking about it now…

Our Avocado, Orange and Almond Salad - Yummy!

Our Avocado, Orange and Almond Salad – Yummy!

To drink, I had the Kunde Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc (delicious!) and Jon had a California Pinot Noir.  My mother-in-law Linda got the tzatziki and shared it with all of us, and the same salad that Jon and I had. Robby had a Mediterranean salad – they were all great meals.

Our Caspian Kebab Platter - it was so delicious!

Our Caspian Kebab Platter – it was so delicious!

The entertainment for the evening was a belly dancer, and she was quite good. She balanced swords everywhere during her performance, including her head, shoulders, hips and belly. I only dream of having that kind of talent – she was a very beautiful dancer.

And with that we turned in for the evening; and Jon and I quietly watched a thunder and lightning storm in the distance from the hotel balcony outside our room, before settling down to sleep.

Total driving distance on Day 7: 134 miles – Leadville– Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – Colorado Springs

Hotel for the night: La Quinta, Colorado Springs South AP, Leadville – The hotel was nice, but a bit of a maze with all the rooms opening to the outside in their “courtyard configuration.”  The rooms were great though!  Breakfast was really crowded, and they were out of caffeinated tea.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument History

Approximately 34 million years ago, there was a lake environment in the Florissant Valley of Colorado.  The whole area was part of the Laramide Orogeny, which also formed the areas that now make up Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado National Monument, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, in Florissant, Colorado

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, in Florissant, Colorado

About 20 miles southwest of the Florissant Valley were several stratovolcanoes that erupted periodically.  Like Mount St. Helens in Washington state, these eruptions created large lahars, or mud flows, that would flow at high speeds down the valley.  One of the lahars flowed down into the lake in the valley, covering the flora and fauna in layers of mud, thereby creating a favorable environment for fossilization.

Florissant Fossil Beds contains thousands of fossils, with large numbers of invertebrates represented.  They include spiders, millipedes and bees, as well as clams and other mollusks.  Plant fossils include fruits, seeds, and cones, as well as 130 types of pollen.  I am amazed that you can tell one type of pollen from another when looking at a fossil!

And then, of course, there are the Redwood trees, part of the Sequoia family.  The redwoods that existed in the Florissant Valley are genetically distinct from the modern Redwoods in California.  But they are similar enough that it allows researchers to determine what the climate was like in Colorado at the time.

In the late 19th century, the fossils had been discovered, and researchers and tourists alike were flocking to the Florissant Valley to cart them off, especially large pieces of Redwood stumps.  At one point, two tourist lodges provided accommodations to tourists in the valley.  One of these lodges is actually the current Visitor’s Center.  The Park Service acquired the property after legal wrangling that pitted the Park Service and several scientists and citizens, who wanted the area protected, against landowners who profited handsomely from operating their concessions in the area.

The view from the trail - looking over at the Hornbek Homestead

The view from the trail – looking over at the Hornbek Homestead

The monument was signed in law on August 20, 1969 by President Richard Nixon.  It protect 5,998 acres of land, and now the park receives approximately 61,289 visitors.

We were going to visit next!


Book Review: The Risks of Sunbathing Topless

I picked this book up from the free counter at work – how could I resist that title! I had no idea what it was about…

The book is actually a collection of short stories written by women about their travels. They are shocking, irreverent, and downright hilarious. From the woman trying to navigate the complexities of setting up her home in a foreign country, to the woman looking for a bit of nooky while getting over the heartache of her failed relationship, to the woman trying to earn some money to resume her travels by working as a table dancer in a German beer hall, all have seen their best laid plans go horribly awry.

The Risks of Sunbathing Topless, various authors, edited by Kate Chynoweth

The Risks of Sunbathing Topless, various authors, edited by Kate Chynoweth

They get themselves into all kinds of tight spots, and casually bare all (often literally) for their readers, so we get to enjoy the awkward situations they find themselves in. The book is not for the faint of heart, going way over the boundaries of decency with stories of boils, funky toe parasites, inappropriately deposited spearmint gum, and other unusual travel predicaments.

The book certainly reaffirmed that I lead a pretty boring life. I think the most exciting predicaments Jon and I have gotten ourselves into are a not-so-nice hotel, going the wrong direction on the elevated train, and trying to pick up a rental car on the wrong day! I guess I need to work harder!

If nothing more, the stories serve as a reminder to get out and see the world, and perhaps not worry so much about the method. After all, all these women lived to tell their tale – and seem none the worse for the wear. If you are looking for a light-hearted, easy read with a lot of humor, you’ll find it here.

Colorado 2015: A Scenic Train Ride

Day 7: August 7, 2015

The day dawned sunny and a little cold, even in August, which I suppose is to be expected, since Leadville, Colorado is the highest altitude incorporated city in the United States.  It gets pretty cool at night at 10,152 feet in elevation! We got ready, and made our way over to the historic train depot, where our scenic train ride would depart.

The Leadville Train Depot - Built 1895

The Leadville Train Depot – Built 1895

The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad is a scenic tourist train that takes you 9 miles up the mountain to the Continental Divide, at 11,000 feet in altitude.  The line travels along the original route of the Colorado and Southern Railroad line; the owners of the tourist train were able to buy the train and rights to the line for a song, but of course they have to pay for the maintenance!

Jon and me on the train.

Jon and me on the train.

Along the way, we traveled through the San Isabel National Forest, saw views of Arkansas Valley and Freemont Pass, and the two tallest mountains in Colorado, Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.  We also saw a view across the valley of the Climax mine, a currently operating molybdenum mine.

The Arkansas Valley

The Arkansas Valley

Molybdenum seems to be one of those completely obscure minerals – I certainly had heard of it, but had no idea what it was used for! As it turns out, it has many uses (beyond allowing me to use big words in my blog) – including to create alloys, as a fertilizer for some plants, and to bind ceramics and metals together.  It is also used to make radio tubes, and to make airplane parts. Who knew? It is also a trace element that all animals (including humans) need in low amounts to survive.

A View of the Arkansas Valley

A View of the Arkansas Valley

We sat in a train car that was covered, but open on the sides, so we had a nice view. We stopped at the water tank at French Gulch, which is one of the only remaining water tanks along the Colorado and Southern Railroad line.  During our stop, I got a chance to go through the engine and see the electronics that were powering us; this particular engine was built in the 1950s, so it seemed much simpler than things built today!

The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad

The Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad

During the train ride, our conductor related stories about Leadville and its history, telling us about the Tabors, Molly Brown, and other notable residents.  She also told us about the wildlife that exists in and around Leadville, although we weren’t lucky enough to see any.  Of course they wouldn’t want to hang around, because trains are pretty loud!

Mount Massive in the distance - elevation 14,428 feet.

Mount Massive in the distance – elevation 14,428 feet.

The tour was about 2.5 hours, bringing us back to the Leadville Depot at about 12:30. Prime starvation time for me! We got on the road and headed back to lower elevations, finding lunch at the Evergreen Café in Buena Vista. We sat outside and enjoyed our lunches; French Dip and sweet potato salad with iced tea for me, fish tacos and coffee for Jon, a tofu Reuben and iced tea for Linda, and a burger with coffee for Robby.

After lunch, we had a couple of hours driving through prairie grasslands, seeing long abandoned cabins, horses, and even bison, although I assume they were farmed bison, rather than wild.  We were on our way to our next stop, at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  We were going to learn about fossils in Colorado!