. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wine Tasting Day

They've won many awards at this
winery over the years.

We spent yesterday at a winery in St. Helena that has been our favorite for 20 years. When living and attending school at UC Davis we would take weekend trips to Napa and always stopped at V. Sattui Winery (Vittorio Sattui). They have such a beautiful location with a picnic area and beautiful flowers everywhere as well as a deli and wine tasting bar. The only things that have changed in 20 years is the wine has gotten even better tasting and what used to be free wine tasting now has a cost ($5 for 5 wines on a standard “menu” or $10 for 6 wines from their select menu). They still do not sell their wines outside of their winery.

A building at the winery. I love the vines
growing up the building.
Of course we had to taste from their select menu, which meant that between the two of us, we tasted 12 wines total with sharing each taste. In actuality, we tasted 14 wines because our tasting "bartender" told us we "just had to try this one too" for two extra wines.

I especially liked the Early Harvest Dry Riesling, Off-dry White Riesling, Gamay Rouge, Pinot Noir, Merlot, 35th Anniversary Zinfandel, Vittorio’s Vinyard Cabernet, and the dessert wines Muscat and Muscato (Frizzante, meaning that it was kind of like champagne with its fizz). We ended up buying a half a dozen bottles that we’re sure we’ll drink before we have to go back to New Mexico next week.

I believe these are Hydrangeas.
Water-loving flowers like these don't
grow in NM!
We were able to do a little cheese tasting too and got to sample some dipping sauces. The Garlic-Parmesan sauce was especially good with sourdough bread chunks. We bought a bottle to go with the bottle of wine we’ll take to our family reunion event at my cousin’s Saturday night: a wine and appetizer “social” gathering.

So now for the next few days we’ll be visiting with family up on the north coast of California and go to the beach as often as we can (weather permitting). It’ll be a fantastic time for sure.

Lots of beautiful rose bushes on the property at V. Sattui

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Exploring in Napa Valley, CA

So after being home for just two days, we left early this morning for our "real" summer vacation. We spent the day in Napa Valley, CA, starting off with a lunch at In N Out Burger. We do this every time we come to California: search down the nearest In N Out and go for it! I must say my cheeseburger, fries, and vanilla shake was just as good today as in the past and worth having to eat a salad for dinner tonight.

Rocks of Ages Trees, 6 ft in diameter
Anyway, we drove from one end of the valley, through all of the wineries along HWY 29, and ended up at the Petrified Forest up in Calistoga. (We'll hit some wineries for wine tasting tomorrow.) At the petrified forest we saw petrified trees all along a trail through the grounds. About 3 million years ago a volcano near Mt. St. Helena 7 miles away erupted and took out the giant redwoods with fire, ash, and molten lava. All of the petrified trees were felled in one direction, away from the volcano. Of course, they weren't petrified until silicate-rich waters from the ash seeped down into the gaps of the wood and replaced the organic material with quartz, turning it into stone.

Robert Louis Stevenson Tree, mentioned in a book of his, over 8 foot in diameter
Waiting for Old Faithful to burp
After visiting the Petrified Forest we drove down the road to see the Old Faithful Geyser (also in Calistoga). There are only 3 "old faithful" geysers in the world. This one erupts about every 30 minutes, sending steam and scalding water spraying 60 to 100 feet in the air. I learned that this geyser has been a good predictor of earthquakes. When it's regular cycle is delayed or diminished, an earthquake is likely within the next couple of weeks close by.

At first, we sat on the benches and watched as a few puffs of steam came out of the rocks surrounding the area of eruption. Then, we heard some percolating sounds that were followed by some spraying. This happened about 3 times and I couldn't help but think, "Is this it?" Thankfully, that was not it and it spewed water and hot steam for about 5-10 minutes total. It was really cool. I'm sure it was nowhere near what the one in Yellowstone does, but this was really worth the visit. We all got quite a thrill.
Thar she blows!
So what's on tomorrow's agenda? A lot of relaxing, I think. Before that happens, I believe we'll go sample some of the local wines at whatever winery offers free or low-cost tasting. Of course we plan to visit our favorite winery, V. Sattui, in St. Helena. Their wines have always been my favorite since I first came to Napa Valley back when I was in college (and that was a long time ago!). They have this fantastic deli and picnic ground so I'm sure we'll spend a good lunch time there.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Evacuation, Part 2

The Los Conchas wildfire, day 1, June 26th

It’s really interesting to find out what your family considers to be their most prized possessions. When the Los Conchas wildfire threatened our town last week and the town was evacuated for the second time in 11 years, all of us packed what we thought were irreplaceable items. For the boys, I told them to pack things that couldn’t be replaced at Target.

We thought we’d only be evacuated for a few days, just until the smoke left town. But it ended up being almost a full week, the same amount of time that we had to evacuate back in 2000 during the Cerro Grande fire that started when a control burn got out of control. With relief, this time no homes were threatened in our town site (unlike the 400 homes that burned in 2000). Unfortunately, all of the nature areas and trails were wiped out this time, as well as part of our ski hill.

For me, I packed all of the quilts and quilted wall hangings that I or my sister or mom made for us, all of the kids’ photo albums, every photograph off the wall, my iPod, Kindle, and enough clothes and toiletries to last us a week.

For my husband, he too packed clothes, but also the big computer, his iPhone, the Apple TV, his laptop, the wedding photos, and tools.

My oldest son, the teenager, was a minimalist. He packed his laptop, his iPod, the Nintendo Wii, his Nintendo 3DS, and a bunch of video games.

My pre-teen seemed to pack the most. He packed his Nintendo DS and video games, iPod, baseball and soccer trophies, Lego Bionicles, lots of stuffies, his guinea pig, his favorite DVDs, and his light sabers. It was this kid that insisted on bringing the turtles even though I thought they’d be fine during the evacuation.

My youngest, also a minimalist, included all his stuffies and baby blankets, iPod, Lego Bionicles, Nintendo 3DS, and video games. He wanted to bring his favorite board games but I assured him that we could buy those again in the store if we lost them.

Of course our dog and cat came with us, as well as the guinea pig and two turtles. They survived camping for 3 nights quite well and my sister survived them moving in with her for the next 3 days.

As I write today, the mountains are still smoldering. You can tell that all of the running trails that we used to run on are now gone. Back burns have been set on the ridges, firefighters hoping the fire won’t jump them and hit the town (notice they are calling them “backburns” rather than a “controlled burn” this time around). At night, the mountain glows and you can see spot fires all over. It is eerie and depressing to see such a sight.

Los Conchas Fire, day 10, July 5

Twice in a little over a decade is too often to have to leave town and worry that you’ll lose everything. But really, if you get all of your prized possessions out, the other stuff can just be replaced.