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Farewell to Another Year – See you later 2013!

And just like that, another year has flown by and it is time for another annual recap.  The top 10 for another (mostly) great year in chronological order, rather than order of importance, are:

1. Jon and I took our first trip to Walla Walla wine country, after Jon ran his 3rd half marathon in Richland, WA.  He placed 3rd in his age division and 11th overall!  We had some great food, great wine, and visited the Whitman Mission National Historic Site.

2.  My dear sweet bitchy kitty Martini went home to the angels after losing her battle with lymphoma on March 1.  I’ll never know how old she was, but I will always remember the nine years I got to spend with her.  And unless you are Oliver, to know her was to love her…

3.  Jon and I took a fantastic road trip to California, down the coast through the Redwoods, the Anderson Valley wine country, San Francisco, Monterey and finally Sacramento.  We saw huge trees, big elk, lighthouses, one of the world’s most awesome paintings, and we ate great food, tasted great wine, and saw great views.  And I puked.  Several times.  Ten days and almost 2,500 miles later, we came home exhausted and thoroughly spent, but happy and with memories to last a lifetime.

4.  On April 20, this sucker for a cute baby brought home sweet Coraline, a six month old kitten who was brought to my vet’s office after being dumped on a farm.  She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, but she does love her kibble.

5.  I got to indulge my inner nerd in June with a trip to Antiques Roadshow in Boise!  We didn’t make it on the show, but if you are interested in watching other people from the Northwest, the 3 hours are airing on January 6, January 13, and January 20 (who knows, maybe the back of my head will be on!).  Although we can’t fund our retirement by selling our treasures, we had a blast, and had a great time seeing the Old Idaho Penitentiary and the World Center for Birds of Prey.

6.  I completed my fourth (on September 1 in wine country!) and fifth (on October 5 at home for a great cause!) half marathons.  Next year, I will have several friends testing their resolve with me!

7.  Jon and I enjoyed a weekend trip to Olympic National Park, where we hiked in the Hoh Rain Forest and listened to the crashing waves of Rialto Beach.  Although Hurricane Ridge gave us the finger with a huge downpour, we’ll be back to see those views.

8.  I had a scare with my horse Biz, who had a scary bout with colic after his most recent dental x-rays.  At 26 years old, I am aware that my remaining time with him… well… you know…

9.  Jon and I welcomed our newest nephew on November 13 (that makes two nieces and two nephews now!).  He is sweet and perfect and cuddly.  His parents love him dearly (at least until he starts talking back).

10.  Jon finished his first full marathon on December 8, in Sacramento, California.  I got a trip to California out of the deal (no more trips to California Jon!), where I got to visit the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the Governor’s Mansion, and the John Muir National Historic Site.  Posts on the trip coming soon, I swear!

This annual recap reminds me of how truly blessed we are to live the life we do.  We are surrounded by awesome friends and family, loving animals, and we are lucky to have the freedom to enjoy our travels to wonderful places.  Although there are always the highs and lows, I am thankful that there are many more highs…  I hope you have all been blessed by 2013, and that all your dreams come true in 2014.  So bye, bye 2013 – you have been good to me!

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Mouvance Winery – Pinot in Idaho?

The second winery that we visited in Boise was such a surprise!  Who knew that we would find Oregon Pinot in Idaho?  Turns out the owners, who live in Boise, purchased a 50 acre vineyard site near Salem, Oregon.  They worked to build the vineyard and opened the winery in Carlton, Oregon, but moved the winery in 2012 to Boise.  They opened their downtown Boise tasting room in March 2013.  The grapes will continue to come from their vineyard site in Oregon.

We started our tasting with the 2009 Pinot Gris.  It is 98% Pinot Gris and 2% Riesling, and is full of aromas and flavors of honey and pear.  It is a more creamy Pinot Gris, rather than being crisp and acidic.  I tend more towards the crisp, citrus Pinot Gris, but if you like a creamier Pinot Gris, you will love this one.  We had the 2011 Rose next, a light Pinot Noir Rose with strawberry and light cream flavors and vanilla on the finish.  It had far less citrus flavor than is typical in a Rose, but the heavier mouth feel and creamy flavor will appeal to many.

The 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir had strong flavors of black cherry and spice – without overpowering tannins.  I really enjoyed this wine, and it is very reasonably priced at $25 dollars a bottle.

The last two wines we tasted were two different expressions of the Pinot grapes in their vineyard, the 2009 Judith Marie Pinot Noir and the 2009 Donna Jean Pinot Noir.  The Judith Marie has flavors of fig, date and mocha, and a smoky toast flavor on the finish.  Jon preferred this one.  My favorite was the Donna Jean, with stronger blackberry and plum flavors mised with smoke and wood aromas.  Both were excellent, both were young and I’m sure both will be even better after a bit more time in the bottle.  Of course, they are both sold out now, so you’ll have to get the 2010, which I have no doubt are just as good.

The owners, Lonnie and Judy, came out and chatted with us for a bit, taking a break from their barrel cleaning chores.  They were very friendly folks, and we chatted about marathons and the upcoming wine country half marathon.  Sorry there are no pictures, but I was just enjoying the wine so much!  It is certainly a place we will visit again!

Boise Road Trip: Snake River Winery

During our Boise road trip, we had an opportunity to taste at a couple of wineries.  We were already going to be in the downtown area, and since I knew nothing about any of Idaho’s wineries, location seemed as good a criteria as anywhere to select a few to visit (you have to start somewhere right?).  We visited Snake River Winery’s downtown tasting room on a super-hot Saturday in the later afternoon.

Snake River is an estate winery, meaning that they grow all their own grapes in their own vineyards – they have 75 acres planted.  They strive for sustainable and organic winery practices, including making their own compost from pomace (which is the solid remains of the grapes after the juice has been pressed off),  eliminating pesticides and using organic fungicides.  At this point, they don’t have a biodynamic certification, but are working towards it.

When we walked into the downtown tasting room, it surprised me a bit that we were the only ones there.  It was a great little shop with a tasting bar, and lots of cool gift items as well.  Wine glasses and associated wine goodies, Snake River t-shirts, and greeting cards.  Jon appreciated having some gift items to look at, as he always wanders away from the bar during a tasting.

I don’t remember all of the wines we tasted that day, but I was pleased with several.  The 2010 Rosé is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Touriga Nacional.  It had a light sweetness and strawberry flavor, wonderfully refreshing for a hot, summer day.  Snake River Winery also makes a single varietal wine from its Touriga Nacional grapes, a bold red with strong tannins and black fruit.  The grape varietal is originally from Portugal, and not often seen in the United States, at least on the West Coast.  I really enjoyed this wine, and we brought home a bottle.

The wine list at Snake River is extensive, with offerings that include Chardonnay, Riesling, Barbera, Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah, as well as some blends.  And I was surprised to learn that they had another varietal that I had never tasted before, but unfortunately it wasn’t open that day.  Blauer Zweigelt, a varietal developed in 1922 in Austria, is more widely planted in Europe, but is beginning to be planted in British Columbia as well.  I’ll have to wait until another day to taste it!

Perhaps the best thing about Snake River though, is the wine pairing chocolates that they offer with the heavier reds, and sell packages of!  They are made from 85% Cocoa, and have a bitter dark chocolate taste that goes so well with the red wine.  These chocolates, made by a company called Dream Chocolate, are fantastic, and they are even better with wine!  I couldn’t resist bringing home a package of these as well!

I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Snake River, and I hope to find their wines closer to home.  If you have a chance, stop in.

Boise Roadtrip Random Highlights!

During our Boise trip, after we went to the World Center for Birds of Prey, Jon and I spent some time just relaxing without an agenda.  Here are a few of the highlights:

BitterCreek Ale House:  The food was great (we each had a salad) – and they have a lot of local micro-brews to choose from.  For days when it isn’t quite so hot (it was 104 the day we were there), they have outdoor seating available on the sidewalk.

A Beautiful Historic Sign on a Sandstone Building

A Beautiful Historic Sign on a Sandstone Building

Record Exchange:  Jon liked this local downtown music store – he browsed their albums for a long time.  They have an adjacent coffee shop and cafe that is attached to the store, and it also sells kitschy and novelty items, so I had some perusing to keep me occupied.  They have a bunch of funny greeting cards, and cute gift items.  And maybe the best part, the cafe booths offered me an opportunity to sit down while I waited for Jon to finish shopping!

Aspen Leaf:  This is one of those pay-by-the-ounce frozen yogurt places in downtown Boise, and Jon and I split one topped with raspberries and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  Bad for the waistline, but great for the soul – delicious!

Aspen Leaf Frozen Yogurt - Perfect for a Hot Day!

Aspen Leaf Frozen Yogurt – Perfect for a Hot Day!

Cycle Pub:  While we were eating our frozen yogurt, we were amazed to watch a man piloting a pedal-powered bar down the street.  He was all alone when he rolled onto the street, but before very long, several people had hopped onto the strange contraption.  Apparently you can book this thing for a rolling pub crawl – with a bit of exercise thrown in!

Cycle Pub - A Pedal Powered Pub Crawl with your Friends!

Cycle Pub – A Pedal Powered Pub Crawl with your Friends!

The Old Assay Office: Now you didn’t think that having no agenda would really mean no historic buildings right?  We visited the historic Old Assay Office, built in 1871 to weigh and value minerals and gold brought in by Idaho’s miners.  Between 1872 and 1933, millions of dollars a year came through this office – some estimates are over $1.5 million each year.  The Office was constructed of sandstone in the Italianate architectural style, and the top floor was occupied by the chief assayer and his family, and the security guards lived in the basement.  The building is now the office for the Idaho State Historic Preservation agency, and the grounds outside are a city park.

The Old Assay Office - Built 1871 - Italianate Architectural Style

The Old Assay Office – Built 1871 – Italianate Architectural Style

Wineries:  Jon and I had time for two tasting rooms while we were in town.  We were already downtown, so we checked out a couple in the downtown core, the Snake River Winery and Mouvance.  I’ll post about them separately, but both were great – for very different reasons.  Snake River is making wines with Snake River Valley fruit, both estate grown and sourced from other vineyards.  Mouvance is bringing in their fruit from their family owned vineyards in the Willamette Valley, specializing in my favorite red, Pinot Noir!

We had a great time in Boise, and will certainly go back!  It was a big city with a small town feel – clean, easy to get around, and (at least for us) no big city traffic congestion!  The downtown core had a nice feel and I loved our drive through the area of historic homes.  Although it was way too hot while we were there to take advantage of the many recreational opportunities (103 to 107 degrees the days that we were there!), we would love to go hiking next time we visit.  Antiques Roadshow introduced us to a whole new, beautiful city!

Boise Roadtrip: The World Center for Birds of Prey

After visiting the Old Idaho Penitentiary with me the day before, it was Jon’s turn to choose a touristy activity.  Of course, he hadn’t really done any research ahead of time, so he is lucky that we drove past an informational road sign on our way into Boise, stating that the World Center for Birds of Prey was nearby.  That got him curious enough to look it up online and declare that that’s what he was interested in seeing.

The center is a couple miles outside of town, a pleasant drive through strip malls, urban sprawl, and then agricultural land.  It is located at the top of a hill, and it overlooks the valley below, which is designated as a wildlife preserve.  The World Center for Birds of Prey was founded by the Peregrine Fund, as a conservation and education center for… well, duh… birds of prey.  I had heard of the Peregrine Fund before, but had never really thought about what their mission is – I learned that they are actually a group dedicated to the ancient sport of falconry.  That’s right – the Peregrine Fund is a sportsman association for hunters who use falcons to kill other birds – including other birds of prey.

At the center, they are pretty candid about this sordid connection and explain that conservation is part of their mission, because they need the prey birds to remain at healthy numbers in order to be able to continue their sport.  That got me thinking – I really don’t agree with the concept of sport hunting (using birds or otherwise) but I suppose they do have a point.

Their first conservation mission began in 1970, to save the Peregrine Falcon from extinction – the Peregrines and other birds of prey had become threatened due to the agricultural pesticide DDT, which causes birds to lay eggs with thin shells.  The breeding program and legislation to ban DDT were so successful that the Peregrine Falcon was removed from the Endangered Species list in 1999.

We bought tickets (AAA got us a discount) and listened to a kind, older gentleman give the intro before heading through the double doors back outside into a fenced area.  The man explained that the birds are not able to be released into the wild for various reasons; either they have been injured or because they are too imprinted on humans.  The center doesn’t take in wild birds though; because they are a breeding center for critically endangered birds, they cannot afford to risk diseases getting into the center.

Once we stepped outside, we were in a sunny courtyard with several benches and natural landscaping.  Around the edges of the courtyard, there were several gorgeous birds on perches in enclosures.  The center has two Bateleur Eagles, native to Africa, who were raised from birth by humans and are imprinted.  They were hatched in 1966 and 1968 – making them 45 and 47 years old!

Bateleur Eagle - Native to Africa

Bateleur Eagle – Native to Africa

I had never seen a Bateleur Eagle before (nor had I even heard of them), and I was struck by how beautiful they are.  They are considered medium sized eagles, but they seemed large to me – and they are all black with red orange feet and faces.  Also on display were a Bald Eagle, an Ornate Hawk Eagle (native to South America), and a Peregrine Falcon.

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Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

In another enclosure, the center has three California Condors, two adults and a juvenile.  The story of the California Condor is an interesting one.  Over the last hundred years, the condor population declined significantly due to habitat loss, hunting and lead poisoning because Condors eat the carcasses of animals discarded by hunters.  The shot used to kill other animals often contains lead, and the pellets were ingested by the Condors as they were feeding on the carcass.  Add to that the fact that Condors only raise one chick every other year – although they will hatch a second egg in a year if something happens to the first egg.

As a result, the wild population plummeted to 22 – that’s right – there were only 22 California Condors remaining in the world in 1982.  The drastic decision was made  to capture all of the remaining Condors and begin breeding them in captivity – the capture was completed in 1987.  The World Center for Birds of Prey has 20 breeding pairs of Condors – and they have released several Condors near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  To date this year (as of June when we were there) the center had hatched 14 eggs!

California Condor Adult - Native to California and Arizona

California Condor Adult – Native to California and Arizona

The program is not without some controversy, but there is no way to deny that it has had success.  Currently, there are 226 Condors in the wild and another 179 in captivity.  And they are beautiful to see – these birds have the largest wingspan of any North American bird, about 9.5 feet!  They eat carrion and have the characteristic bald head of a vulture, and always worth mentioning, they poop on their feet to keep cool in the hot desert sun.  How’s that for making good use of your resources?!  In their enclosure, they have enough room to do a bit of flying, although in the wild they will soar at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet, looking for their next meal.  Amazing!

After seeing the birds outside, we went inside, where there is a small museum and some other birds.  The museum contains exhibits on falconry, the captive breeding program and specimens of many bird of prey, ranging from the very small to the very large.  It is disconcerting to see dead animals preserved, but it does allow you to compare the different birds to each other to see differences in size and appearance.

Orange Breasted Falcon - Range from Southern Mexico to Argentina

Orange Breasted Falcon – Range from Southern Mexico to Argentina

Inside, we saw:

  • Gyrfalcons – native to the Arctic and threatened by global warming
  • Eurasian Eagle Owl – the largest of the tufted owls – native to Northern and Southern Europe
  • Turkey Vulture – native to the Americas and the Caribbean
  • Orange Breasted Falcon – native from Southern Mexico to Northern Argentina
  • Aplomado Falcons – Endangered – native from the Southern United States to Southern Mexico
Eurasian Eagle Owl - Native to Northern and Southern Europe

Eurasian Eagle Owl – Native to Northern and Southern Europe

The Center also breeds Aplomado Falcons – in 2012 their 24 breeding pairs hatched 74 chicks!  These falcons are released in Texas and New Mexico to repopulate areas where the birds had not been seen since the 1950s.  During our visit, they had demonstrations of various birds they care for – we watched one with a Western Screech Owl.  That little guy was super cute!  It was an opportunity to see the bird up close and to hear a bit about what they eat and how they live.  I did kind of want to take him home though!

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I really enjoyed our visit and learned a lot – if you are in the area, you should definitely go.  It is well worth the time.

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.

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?