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Book Review: The Goldfinch

I was drawn to The Goldfinch because I had seen the painting once, in real life, on loan to the de Young Museum in San Francisco; an exhibit of the works of the Dutch Masters.  It was painted by Carel Fabritius, a Delft master painter who was a pupil of Rembrandt and a teacher of Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring).  He died tragically in the Delft gunpowder magazine explosion in 1654 at only 32 years of age. Only about a dozen of his paintings survive.  The Goldfinch is exquisite; photographs really don’t do it justice.  It immediately became one of my all-time favorite paintings.

The Goldfinch – Carel Fabritius – 1654

So when I saw The Goldfinch novel, by Donna Tartt, on the library website, I checked it out without knowing what it was about.

Shortly after I started it, I went for a walk with a couple of friends; books are a topic that often comes up.  After I said what I was reading, one friend told me that her book club had tried reading The Goldfinch and had all quit, frustrated and disappointed.  They couldn’t get into it.

I kept going, and found myself drawn into the story of a young teenage boy, whose mother takes him to see the exhibits at the Met in New York City, and The Goldfinch is among those paintings.  What follows is an intriguing coming of age tale of art theft, drug addiction, grief, finding family, international crime and the Russian mafia.  The novel follows a circuitous route of the life of Theodore Decker as he learns to navigate in the world.  In an often bizarre twist of fate, the painting is his anchor.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

You will likely either love it or hate it; I think this is a book where there is no in between.  I am in the former camp.  The novel held my interest, despite its length, and the ending has one of the best summations on life that I have read.  Enjoy.

 

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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!

Help Save the Cooper-Molera Adobe

This spring I posted about my California Road Trip and our visit to the Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey, California.  You can read about it here.  This adobe home was built in 1823, and has stood the test of time for almost 200 years.  It is currently owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who leases it to the California Park System to operate.  It is a beautiful structure that is part of the Monterey State Historic Park, which consists of 55 buildings all over town.

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Well at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

The California Park System has been plagued by financial difficulties over the last several years and is now telling the National Trust that it cannot continue to upkeep or operate a site that they do not own.  As a result, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is considering a proposal by a developer to turn the site into shops and restaurants.  The developer says they intend to maintain the historic integrity of the structures, but as I’m sure you know, it wouldn’t be possible to add commercial kitchens and office spaces without fundamentally changing the structure and damaging the historic integrity of the building.  And once a site is gone, we can never get it back…

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

Historic Barn at the Cooper-Molera Adobe

If this tugs at your heartstrings the way that it does mine, here’s a website with more information.  Send a letter, get involved, do what you can to help ensure future generations are able to visit historic sites.

California Road Trip: The Long Road Home

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

Other notable stats include:

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

Mount Shasta From the Car Window

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

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

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

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

California Road Trip: Leland Stanford Mansion

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

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

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

The Leland Stanford Mansion Postcard - Country Setting

The Leland Stanford Mansion Postcard – Country Setting

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

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

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

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

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

The Music Room in the Leland Stanford Mansion

The Music Room in the Leland Stanford Mansion

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

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

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

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

The Master Bedroom of the Leland Stanford Mansion

The Master Bedroom of the Leland Stanford Mansion

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

Dining Room Sideboard - With Locomotive Motif

Dining Room Sideboard – With Locomotive Motif

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

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

California Road Trip: Old Sacramento and the Underground Tasting Room

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

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

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

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

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

Old Sacramento Historic Buildings

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

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

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

The Underground Tasting Room in Old Sacramento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Road Trip: The 17 Mile Drive

After visiting the San Carlos de Borromeo Mission, we headed into the nearby town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Carmel is a cute, resort town a few miles away from Monterey, which has evolved as a quirky, artsy community over the years.  Back in the early 1900s, several well-known writers lived there, including Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis.  Apparently it is very dog friendly, with pups being welcomed in most shops and hotels and the outdoor areas of restaurants.  Clint Eastwood was the Mayor there for one term in the late 1980s.  Curiously, there is a law prohibiting wearing women from wearing heels over two inches high – to lessen the risk of lawsuits from tripping on the sidewalks, which are uneven from being pushed up by tree roots.  If you are interested in wearing high heels, don’t worry, you can get a permit for free from City Hall – and the law is not enforced.

After checking out Carmel, we continued to the 17 Mile Drive.  The 17 Mile Drive is a scenic drive in the gated community of Pebble Beach.  Non-residents must pay a toll of $9.75 to get into the community – but you get a map with your admission, and once in, you can travel at your leisure visiting the many scenic vistas and pull-outs along the drive.  The map gives you a bit of information about each of the stops.

The day we were there, it was a bit foggy – that is typical – but relatively warm for March, with just a mild breeze.  There were some surfers catching a wave off the beach and we watched them for a few minutes before continuing on our way.  China Rock was next – named for the Chinese immigrants who made their homes in lean-tos against the rocks in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  They fished and polished agates to sell to tourists to make a living.

A Cloudy Day at the 17 Mile Drive

A Cloudy Day at the 17 Mile Drive

One interesting vista point is at Bird Rock.  As the story goes, Bird Rock was called that because thousands of birds roosted there.  Bird Rock was harvested for its rich deposits of guano back in the early 1900s (bird poop makes great fertilizer!) and after the guano was gone, the seals and sea lions decided this rock seemed like a good place to hang out!  So now, Brandt’s Cormorants, Western Gulls, pelicans and Ashy Petrels hang out with California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals, all vying for the perfect spot.

Bird Rock on the 17 Mile Drive - Get Your Fill of Guano Here!

Bird Rock on the 17 Mile Drive – Get Your Fill of Guano Here!

In the parking lot of the view point, there are several California Ground Squirrels that make their home in burrows they have dug in the rocky soil at the edge of the water.  Even though there are several signs asking tourists to not feed the animals, and their fleas can carry bubonic plague (not something I want any experience with!) we found someone ignoring the signs right away…

A Tourist Feeding Ground Squirrels

A Tourist Feeding Ground Squirrels

Fanshell Overlook is a great place to spot Harbor Seals.  The moms and pups love the soft white sand beach so much that they close the beach from April 1 to June 1.  During our visit there were already seals there hanging out enjoying their time on the beach.  I could stand there and watch them for hours…

Harbor Seals on the Beach Below Fanshell Overlook

Harbor Seals on the Beach Below Fanshell Overlook

Another of the scenic pull-outs is at the Lone Cypress, which is a Monterey Cypress tree growing on a rock outcropping jutting out into the bay.  Monterey Cypress trees are native to only two small areas, at Cypress Point in Pebble Beach and at Point Lobos near Carmel.  The trees in these native stands are up to 40 meters tall, 2.5 meters diameter and 300 years old.  These trees are unique because as they age, they take on a twisted, spread-out form due to the high winds that they are exposed to on the coast of California.

The Lone Cypress - Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress – Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress Isn't Really As Lonely As They Make It Out To Be

The Lone Cypress Isn’t Really As Lonely As They Make It Out To Be

As you drive, you see the beautiful homes of the rich and famous – this is some of the most exclusive real estate in the world.  Some of its famous residents include Charles Schwab, King Merrill Chase (GM Executive), George Lopez, Clint Eastwood and Condoleeza Rice.  On the drive, you also come upon the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Pebble Beach Lodge.  The lodge is open to the public, and so is the golf course, but at $495 for 18 holes, it is a bit rich for my blood.  You can stay at the historic Lodge (built in 1919) starting at a mere $745 per night!  I better keep looking for my anonymous benefactor…  Good thing golf isn’t really my sport anyway.  I’ll stick to mini-golf!

A View of the Pacific Ocean Through the Gnarled Cypress Trunks

A View of the Pacific Ocean Through the Gnarled Cypress Trunks

The entire drive is 17 miles, and is well worth the time.  The only thing that would have made it better is if we had blue skies – but I suppose the cloudy weather probably meant that there were fewer tourists.  There are only limited options for food and fuel (super expensive gas!) – the Pebble Beach Lodge does have a public restroom tucked in among the many ritzy golf shops and clothing boutiques.

After our slow cruise through the 17 Mile Drive, it was time to hit the highway for our next destination – Sacramento!