06-29-18 Niagara Falls and Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens

We left the USofA and went across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada.  Checked into our hotel and drove down to the park and walked along taking some pictures of both the American and Horseshoe Falls.

The American Falls as seen from Canada
Another selfie! American Falls behind us.
Really there are not enough words – I asked if Janeen wanted to do the boat thing but she passed.
Beautiful day to be here.
Horseshoe Falls behind me

There really aren’t enough words, good thing the photos are available.

The next day we came back, via the WEGO bus and went directly to Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens so Janeen could get a garden fix.

One of the largest Herb Gardens in North America!

It was a beautiful day to wander around, smell the roses, see the various gardens and enjoy.

Color contrast within the Herb Garden
We could have taken a carriage ride around the Gardens.
Janeen getting a rose hug at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens
The color of the leaves on this tree were amazing!
Light puffy blooms on this bush at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens.

After that we went back to the area where the Falls are located and walked around the Queen’s Rose Garden.  Seems the roses at Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens have become deer food so there aren’t a lot of them left.  Lost of them at the Queen’s Rose Garden.

Janeen getting a second fix of roses at the Queen Victoria Park.
OK, this is a selfie picture of us at the Queen Victoria Park rose Garden

Had a delightful lunch along with a full pitcher of Molson’s beer.  Not a bad view of the Falls from our table.

We had a delightful lunch and a picture of Molson beer overlooking the Horseshoe Falls – at Queen Victoria Restaurant.

The next day we left and headed to Ottawa for the evening.  300 plus miles along the Trans Canada Highway.  Lots of lakes and trees but not much else.

06-27-18 Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes is a region of New York State named for its series of long, thin lakes, and known for its vineyards. There are eleven long, narrow, roughly north–south lakes in an area called the Finger Lakes region. There are over 100 wineries and vineyards located around Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Keuka, Conesus and Hemlock Lakes. The main grape varieties grown are Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Vitis labrusca (an American native). We tried most of these but in limited number during our visit.

There are a number of notable historical events that happened around the general area of the Finger Lakes – most notable might be the birthplace of the Woman’s Suffrage movement in Seneca Falls, Waterloo, the birthplace of Memorial Day and Palmyra, the birthplace of the LDS Church (Mormons). However, our goal on visit was to taste some of the wines.

Wine Enthusiast has a travel guide for the area with recent updates on some of the better places to visit. First on the list is Hermann J. Wiemer, so that seemed like a good place to start.

The entrance sign at Hermann J. Wiemer

Several of their Rieslings have scored some good reviews – 93 points for the 2016 Magdalena Vineyard bottling and 92 for another Riesling.

Vines outside of the tasting room at Hermann J. Wiemer

We arrived after having a light lunch in Watkins Glen – the base of Seneca Lake – in mid afternoon. The Hermann J. Wiemer estate was established in 2001 and has been in continuous operation ever since. It has changed ownership at least once over the years but at present seems to have a stable operation.

Upon our arrival to the tasting room, we were directed to a table to sample a few different wines. The tasting menu has several different options from Chardonnay to their late harvest Riesling.

A pump over was in process at Wiemer.

We sampled at will for the better part of an hour and had informative conversations with the staff. The primary wine is Riesling – although they do make a Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztruminer, Chardonnay and a sparkling wine.

The dry Riesling from Wiemer – nice juice

On the red side of things they make a Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc but neither of these were on the tasting menu. The wines were pleasant, we found the Riesling Reserve Dry 2016 most to our taste.

I found it interesting that in the book, 1,000 Places to See Before you Die there is a section on the Finger Lakes and Hermann J. Wiemer is listed; they have a blow up of the page on the wall.

Our next stop, the following morning, was to Ventosa Vineyards.

Janeen at the entrance

Not only do they have a wine tasting they also have a small café that made stopping easy and resulted in a delightful lunch. Ventosa, like everyone else in the area, has a number of white wines – Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay – but we were coming for the red selections – Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ventosa Vineyards Pinot Noir

We tasted a number of the reds and were quite pleased with the Pinot Noir and the Lemberger both of which could find places in our cellar (assuming we were going to buy more wine).

Janeen tasting at Ventosa

For lunch, however, we opted for the Dry Riesling, as it would pair better with our lunch. The tasting room was large, well appointed with a large covered porch overlooking the vineyard.

The covered patio at Ventosa Vineyards
Having some Riesling on the patio.

All in all a lovely spot to taste some wines and have a snack – they also have music evenings on Wednesday but not until after 6pm so we didn’t stick around.

From there were off to Damiani Vineyards.

Here’s the sign for Damiani of course

Again, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, make up the bulk of the white side of the house and Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are on the red side of the house.

Damiani – The upper level of this is the tasting room – the bottom is an event space.

The tasting room is a converted home that has a tasting room on the upper level and a large event room below. Much more rustic then the other places we had visited.

Damiani Pinot Noir

The tastings we did required us to drive completely around Seneca Lake. Seneca Lake is the larges of the Finger Lakes, which is 38 miles long, and a combined shoreline of 75 miles.

The Seneca Legion tours around the lake – we didn’t take the tour.

I was surprised to learn it has a maximum depth of 618 feet and has only frozen three times in the last 200 years. The shoreline is dotted with homes, wineries, small communities and lovely spots to just sit and watch the lake. Unfortunately our second day going in the area was rainy and restricted our view somewhat.

While we could spend many more days here tasting wines we have gotten a feel for the area and will move on. The Rieslings are good, not to be compared with those of Moselle Germany, but in a pinch I would certainly drink those from the Finger Lakes area. The Pinot Noirs we tasted were OK but seemed to be lacking some of the structure we are used to, that’s not to say they were not good they were – just different from those we have had from other new world sources.


06-24-18 Bethlehem and Fairview Lake

A long time ago, over 40 years at this point, we lived in Bethlehem PA. I had a job at Lehigh University as Director of Housing. The campus was founded in 1856 and has always had a strong engineering program.

Lehigh University has lots of old buildings.

This was during my higher education employment days. Over the course of the three years we spent in Bethlehem, we got to know a number of people, visited around the area (Kutztown, Bucks County, Quakertown, Philadelphia) and generally had a good time. One of the things I remember vividly was touring the Bethlehem Steel Plant with friends of my parents – a superintendent in the production area. We toured a couple of times and there is something really magical about watching a huge crucible filled with molten steel tip and pour out a river of liquid steel.

Steel crucible

Today the plant is closed – and has been for the better part of 20 years –

A view of the Stacks

sections are being reused, Sands Casino, shopping areas, public TV studios, but most is still in rusting degeneration.

The main entrance to the Steel Stack – the area that has been developed.
The blast furnaces in the background with the south side grave yard.

The City is divided into two major parts – separated by the Lehigh River. The South side was the home of Bethlehem Steel and Lehigh University. The North side was the City Center, Moravian College, Church and Victorian splendid mansions. It defined itself in the 1980s as Christmas City. Since our leaving the area, with the steel plant closing, the South side has had to reinvent itself around its immigrant population and University students. There are a number of new business buildings, coffee shops and restaurants, plus a large portion of the steel plant was taken over by the Sands Casino. It seems this Casino is the closest gambling spot to New York City and attracts a lot of bused in business. Other sections of the old steel plant have become art studios, a public TV studio, Industrial Museum and other reuse spaces.

The North side has also had to refocus, but seems to be turning around. The old Bethlehem Hotel has been renovated and made much more comfortable, the Old Town has some interesting shops and various business areas have been developed. There are several large warehouse distribution centers in the area (Amazon has a HUGE operation and FedEx is developing a very large center also) helping the City to survive.

When we moved here in 1975 we decided it might be time to actually buy a home and eventually purchased a duplex on Wall Street for $17,000.

The left side of the house, with the American Flag, was where we lived while in Bethlehem.

We ended up doing a lot of work to this place but it was ready to move in when we purchased it. The house still stands and looks very much like it did when we sold it before moving to California.

During our visit we drove around a bit on both sides of the river.

Main street down town

It is surprising after all the years to be able to find things we remembered from long ago. The Lehigh Campus has expanded with a number of new buildings taking over, many of the fraternities have closed and been taken over by the campus housing operation and the school has become much more of a liberal arts college than just a highly recognized engineering school (which it was when we were here).

When we lived in the city, dining was limited – ok, it was basically none existent. There was a restaurant in Hess Department store in Allentown the country club in Bethlehem, one or two small restaurants – think diners– and nothing like a place with a wine list unless you drove into the Poconos or NYC. Now there are a number of tasty eateries including specialty cafes doing breakfast/brunch only, steak and fish restaurants and a couple of up scale Italian spots.

One of our favorite places to visit while in town was always the Moravian Book Store.

The Moravian book store – once a great place, not so much now.

This place is reputed to be the oldest bookstore in the country and always had wonderful books, artistic gift items, Christmas decorations and other treasures. Well, unfortunately, it is not longer the ‘go to spot’ as it is turning into a Barnes and Noble store for Moravian College. We found the change to be very saddening.

On Saturday we connected with friends Chad and Lynne for dinner.

Chad and Lynne

It was really wonderful to reconnect with them – sure we exchanged the occasional Christmas card over the years but really haven’t seen them since we left Bethlehem (well, not entirely true – Janeen went to their wedding which was held in the National Cathedral in Washington DC). They have lived in the area for over 40 years and seem to know all the movers and shakers around plus a good part of the development history and our conversations provided a nice perspective on the changes and progress of the City.

After visiting in Bethlehem for a few days we left and drove up to Fairview Lake – where Jim and Carol have a lovely lake front “cottage” (1930s chestnut log) they have refurbished and made into a lovely retreat.

The Cottage

The home has two out buildings along with the main cabin allowing them to spread family around when they visit.

Here we are on the porch of Jim and Carol’s cottage on the lake.

Our retreat area was the upper portion of the garage, which Jim had added to the property several years ago, with a great view of the lake. While it was a bit breezy and cool while we visited, it didn’t stop us from going on a lake cruise the first evening or enjoying the patio for afternoon relaxation time.

Of course the cruise did include some wine.
Janeen taking in the sites while on our cruise.

There is no telling when we will be back to either Bethlehem or Fairview Lake but I can certainly see a time when that will happen.

06-21-18 It’s Been A Year Update 3

It’s been a year since we started this adventure – Update #3:

We flew back from Europe to Virginia moving back into our ‘room’ at Jason’s home. The first part of our return involved spending a good deal of time with our granddaughter

KB with her Unicorn outfit

and submitting paperwork for new drivers licenses, income tax returns and transferring the title of the Prius to Jason.

We had a lovely dinner with Jason, Katie and Terri while in Virginia

We hadn’t been back more than a day or two and we were notified that our car, which we had dropped off in Paris in November, was available for pick up at the dealer. It was nice to have our new wheels back and allowed us to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. This was very fortunate as we got a call that Janeen’s dad had fallen and was on his way to the Hospital. We left the next day for Macomb, Illinois.

It seemed to be winter when were in Macomb in late January.

Fortunately, he didn’t break anything but he did have a case of pneumonia that needed to be addressed. By the time we arrived,

Yup, snow on our car!

Harold had been moved to an assisted living arrangement for more direct attention. While we were there, Harold had a relapse of the pneumonia and went back to the hospital and upon release, went into a different assisted living arrangement that was much better.

While we were there, Jason, Terri and KB came for a visit which was a great boost to Harold’s well being.

Harold with his great granddaughter

After being there about 4 weeks, we drove back to Virginia and made arrangements to fly to California. It had been 8 months since we had been back to our “old homestead” and while the house

Our front yard still looks good!

was rented we have some great friends who allowed us to stay at their place during our visit. The primary reason to return was to check in with our various doctors and have a general check up to make sure we were still good to go on our continued travel plans.

It was great to see our friends,

Kirk and Denise – winemakers from WesMar in Russian River area. They were in town the weekend we returned to California and it was a treat to have dinner with them.

visit some eating establishments we have enjoyed in the past, and of course for Janeen to get to the

Lovely flowers in bloom at the Huntington Gardens while we visited California.

Huntington Gardens. We also got a few things out of our storage in the garage and a couple of cases of wine to bring back when we returned to Virginia. All in all a wonderful 4 weeks in the sun!

When we arrived back in Virginia, the cherry blossoms around the tidal pool were in full bloom!

Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin in DC
The Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin

We could not have planned a more beautiful day to visit and see the cherry blossoms and enjoy spring! When we left, in mid March, it was still WINTER – cold, snow and wet. When we got back it was SPRING with trees leafing out, flowers blooming and beautiful sites all around. It was now time to return to Macomb and check on Janeen’s dad and plan our southern loop drive.

Janeen and her dad – he turned 101 in March of this year.
Our beautiful MercBlue in front of a lovely dogwood in Macomb.

We returned to Macomb late April and stayed for a couple of weeks making sure Harold was getting all the assistance he needed.

While in Macomb we say this production put on by the Macomb Community Theatre.

Once we had confirmed that, we packed up our car and started our way south. Our first stop was to Cincinnati. Neither of us had been there and it was a beautiful day to enjoy the sites along the Ohio River.

Friendship Park in Cincinnati

We also took in a visit to the National Underground Railroad Museum.

A huge quilt at the Underground Railroad Museum

This Museum covers all aspects of the anti-slavery efforts and also pays tribute to all efforts to “abolish human enslavement and secure freedom for all people”.

From there we drove to Maysville Kentucky. My father grew up in Maysville

My dad, his brother and parents lived on the second floor of this house.

and Janeen and I visited once while my grandmother was still alive in the early 70’s. We were able to drive by both the house my dad grew up in and the home my grandmother was in when we visited. After driving around the town a bit we headed out to try and find the old family homestead.

It is a fact that Lee’s have been in Maysville since the late 1700’s. General Henry Lee purchased the house and land in the late 1700 and his descendants include my grandfather – my dad’s father.

The major farm building still exists (no longer in the family) and we were able to find it.

Leewood – the original family home in Kentucky.

Referred to as Leewood it is a two-story home with twin chimneys with a balcony between. I also learned that the family graveyard was close to the property and it was my goal to try and find it. Once we found the home, we noticed some folks behind the house working some cattle. I stopped and asked if it would be OK to visit the graveyard and was given permission – fortunately there were no cattle in the field we had to go through to reach the graveyard.

The Lee Family Plot – started in the early 1800’s. My great grandfather is here.

The earliest grave markers date to the early 1800’s and include both direct decendents (Lee’s by name) and the related families. Unfortunately the graveyard is really overgrown and many of the stones are unreadable. It would be an interesting project to come back and clear all the weeds; clean the stones and general refurbish the place. Maybe another time we can come back and do that.

After leaving Maysville, I visited with Cousin Bonnie –

My cousin Bonnie – we connected after our visit to Maysville.

the daughter of my dad’s adopted sister. I don’t recall having meet Bonnie previously, but it could have happened sometime in the past. It is always great to reconnect with family.

Bourbon – Whiskey – stuff made in Kentucky that people drink a lot – that was the mission today. First stop, Jim Beam Distillery

Jim Beam – need I say more?

for a tour and tasting. Located just off interstate 65 south of Louisville is the place where they make a LOT of this bourbon. It was an interesting tour going over the entire process and into their aging barns holding hundreds of barrels and finally into a tasting room where we were able to sample the final product. Being a scotch drinker, bourbon is not my first drink of choice but it was a great tour and we are glad we made the stop. Next stop – Nashville

Music City USA – Nashville the city where a lot of music has been recorded, played and enjoyed. Before we checked into our hotel, and toured downtown Nashville, we stopped at Cheekwood Estate and Garden. Once the family home of Mabel and Leslie Cheek, this extraordinary 1930s estate, with its Georgian mansion and 55 acres of cultivated gardens

Janeen peeking out of a greenhouse at Cheekwood Estate and Garden

and expansive vistas, today serves the public as a botanic garden, woodland sculpture trail, and art museum. We spent the better part of the day touring the gardens (a must for Janeen every so often) and the home of the family. Much of the interior of the house has been restored

The drawing room of the Cheekwood Estate.

to the original condition and a lot of the original furniture has been acquired and placed throughout. Nice visit to a lovely spot.  We also visited the Belle Meade plantation – which was a ‘big’ race horse place for a number of years.  The place has been restored and is a good example of the period.

The plantation, was named “Belle Meade,” French for beautiful meadow, and known as the “Queen of Southern Plantations”
The stable of Belle Meade
A cute little house for play for the girls of the family.
Slave quarters at the Belle Meade Plantation

When you think of Nashville you cannot help but think of the Grande Ole Opry that really put the place on the map.

Bluegrass started right here at the Ryman in Nashville.

The Ryman Auditorium was home to the Opry for many years before a new facility was built.

Here’s the author and his wife at the upper level of the Ryman Auditorium

We did a tour of the place and enjoy the history very much. From there it was off to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Sure, I’ve listed to Country Music from time to time but the breath and depth of this museum is beyond comprehension. Spending a few hours going through the building is just the beginning.

Our goal, when we left Macomb on this southern loop, was to get to Savannah, Georgia and connect with Bob and Linda. Bob was my boss when I worked at Lehigh University in the late 70’s. When we left we lost contact but reconnected last June. They have a lovely home in Skidaway Island just south of Savannah and graciously hosted us for several days.

Bob and Linda – they seem to be enjoying retirement living in Savannah

Nothing like catching up after 40 years while visiting an interesting part of the world. Bob gave us a quick motor tour of Savannah and the following day we took the hop-on-hop-off bus to get a more in-depth view of the City.

Stately home on our tour around Savannah

Lots of old homes, great restaurants, city parks, and a lovely city. You know that stuff that hangs from trees called “Spanish moss”? Well, it’s everywhere.

Spanish Moss – lots of it hanging on the trees.

From Savannah we headed to Charleston and stayed at the French Quarter Inn. This was like taking a vacation while on vacation. I had decided we needed a true break and spent the bucks to be able to stay at a really nice place, have some great meals and enjoy the City.

A lovely garden and home we saw during our walking tour of Charlestown.

Fortunately in both Savannah and Charleston we were not overwhelmed by the heat and humidity – both of which can be murderous particularly in the summer.

Leaving Charleston we headed to Asheville, NC and a visit with our friends Gloria and Jerry. Readers of the Blog will remember they were the couple that joined us in Portugal for the River Cruise. It is always a treat to visit with them and see the sights of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We spent a day visiting the state Arboretum,

Gloria and Jerry taking in the sights

having lunch at a spot along the Blue Ridge Highway and dinner in town. They kept suggesting we could move to Asheville and who knows, it could happen. After Asheville back to Springfield, Virginia for a few weeks to recoup and figure out what’s next.

It’s now been a year. We have travelled a lot, visited old friends and generally had a good time. During this last year Janeen and I have been together virtually the entire time and with very rare exceptions have gotten along well. We continue to learn about what we need to have available to us when we are driving around (how many changes of clothes do you really need; how many shoes can you really wear?) and stayed in a bunch of different hotels (mostly Best Western actually) and had all kinds of weather – sun, rain, snow, everything as far you can imagine. Over the next several weeks we are going to do a Northern Loop – through Pennsylvania, the Finger Lakes of New York, Niagara Falls, drive through some of Canada on our way to Prince Edward Island, visit friends in Boston and return to Springfield. Once we return its go west time, checking in on Janeen’s dad, then all the way to California.

Only time will tell where we end up, but so far the Gap Year Adventure has been fantastic. The Blog will continue!

06-20-18 It’s Been A Year Update 2

It’s been a year since we started this adventure – Update #2:

Over the last dozen years or so we have taken a number of river cruises and had booked one on the Douro River with our friends Gloria and Jerry.

Here we are with Jerry and Gloria in Lisbon having our first glass of wine.

We met them several years ago on a tour of the UK and been able to convinced them to join us several times on various river cruises in Europe. Starting in Lisbon

Belem Tower at the entrance to the harbor in Lisbon.

and moving to Porto with the group was enjoyable. We have been to both areas previously but it was nice to be able to share it with Gloria and Jerry.

Queen Isabel was our ship for the River Cruise on the Douro.

The cruise up the river was relaxing and filled with fun times – we became part of a group of 12 or 13 passengers

Our River Cruise Group had its own private dining room – we were to load in the main lounge.

who all dined together and exchanged experiences.

Once the boat returned to Porto

Porto and the Douro River from the bridge.

we had a chance, for about 10 minutes, to connect with Janeen’s old high school friend Cherlyne

Janeen’s friend, Cherlyne, we were able to catch them for about 10 minutes in Porto! Another one of those small world situations.

and her husband David, who live in Eastern Oregon. They were with a different group and we caught them just before they went to taste Port wine!

Vineyards along the river

From Portugal we flew to Stuttgart Germany. The prior December (remember this is now late September) we had ordered a Mercedes Benz for foreign delivery. It was now time to pick up our new car!

Here’s our new cars first Baby Pictures!

There really is something special about buying a new car and picking it up from the factory. After several days in Stuttgart we packed everything up and headed to Venice stopping in Igls Austria for the evening and continuing through beautiful vistas of the Alps and Northern Italy.

We stopped for a picture as we were heading through the Italian Alps on our way to Venice.

In Venice we picked up Jason and Terri from the airport as they were going to join us for several days in Venice

Venice – oh what a beautiful part of the world.

after their adventure drinking great beers as part of OctoberFest.

After Venice we really didn’t have any plans other than to head south through Italy along the Adriatic side (east) with the intent of trying to get all the way to Sicily.

Here I am with Chef Massimiliano Alajmo – Le Calandre in Rubano Italy  – #29 on list of best restaurants in the World

We stopped along the way and enjoyed the sights of Silea, Padova, Barietta, Campoposto, and Torre di Palme to name just a few places we stopped. We took a tour of a

Barrels with aging Balsamic Vinegar – an interesting process very much like the sherry solera process.

Balsamic producer and learned how long it takes to really make the aged stuff – like 50 years! We toured various gardens learned about the local cultures, ate great meals and drank wonderful wines. Along the way we met any number of interesting people – both fellow travelers and locals.

While on a long trip eventually you want to have clean clothes. We learned a lot about how to do laundry on the road.

As we got further south in Italy, around Bari (just above the “heel” of the ‘boot’) we decided to turn north and head to France. Along the way we stopped at Paestum and walked some Greek Ruins,

Paestum in Italy has fantastic Greek ruins. It was great to explore and learn about the time the Greeks were here.
Of course, the selfie stick was used.

visited Tivoli Gardens near Rome,

The Fountain of the Owl at Tivoli Gardens

Neive in the Piedmont region

We stopped in Neive in the Piedmont region of Italy to say high to the guide we had when we visited several years ago.

and stopped for a few days in Genoa along the Mediterranean.

We stopped for lunch in Genoa next to this beach – difficult to find but great food and the views were wonderful.

On our way to France we passed through an 8-mile long tunnel – half way through it we went from Italy to France.

Our goal in France was the Loire Valley. We found a fantastic VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) in a small village of Rochecorbon. I loved this place – out the door and about 50 yards down the road was a boulangerie where I would walk down and pick up a warm baguette and croissant for breakfast. Fantastic! During our stay we visited several

Fall colors at the entrance to the Chateau
Rigny-Ussé – a privately owned Chateauú open to the public.

Chateau’s and gardens – wonderful time.

Janeen getting her Garden Fix at Villandry.

From there we went to Brittany – northeast France for a few days and then to Bayeux

Bayeux Cathedrial

and the Normandy Beaches plus

The Beaches of Normandy have lots of monuments. We toured several of the landing sites, a museum and the National Cemetery. A very moving experience.

a day trip to St Mont Michel

Le Mont Saint-Michel – we spent a lovely day exploring this treasure of a place.

. Then off to Paris, via Rouen, to drop of our car for shipment to the dealer in Virginia.

Next stop London! We went from Paris to London via the Chunnel

Here we are on the EuroRail train going through the Chunnel to London.

taking all of 2 ½ hours or so with average speeds of well over 160 Mph. We had another VRBO apartment this time in Covent Gardens. Over a week, we saw 3 plays,

Three plays while were in London.

shopped in Harrads,

Harrads Department Store – all the windows had wonderful Christmas decorations.

had a fantastic meal

The Chef and crew at Ledbury Restaurant in London. Considered the 27th best restaurant in the world.

and generally appreciated being in a country that speaks English!

A flight to Dublin

Our first pub in Dublin – Ferryman – just down from our hotel. Had a great conversation while drinking Guinness.

to got us set for a 10-day introductory bus tour with CIE Tours around Ireland.

McDaids pub in Dublin – one of the oldest in the city.
Our CIE Tour of Ireland was well worth the time and money. This was our route – duh.

After the tour we spent Thanksgiving in Kilkenny a town south of Dublin .  We had not been to Ireland it was amazing. Stops in Waterford,

Waterford – Fortunately we didn’t buy anything.

County Kerry, Blarney Castle to KISS THE STONE,

Janeen kissing the Blarney Stone!

Galway, Cliffs of Moher,

The Cliffs of Moher were clear but cold. Well worth the hike to get the view.

Giants Causeway,

Giants Causeway – a fascinating place filled with myths and stories.

Belfast and lots of other places.  There is one thing that there are a LOT of in Ireland – Sheep.  We visited a place where we were treated to a sheep guard dog demonstration – really neat.

World class sheep dog moving the sheep around. Really cool.
We did the entire tour of Guinness – well worth it and you get a pint at the end! It does taste better in Ireland!

We will be back to Ireland!

Scotland – Glasgow

WE didn’t stop in at the Tiki Bar in Glasgow

and Edinburgh and LOTS of scotch. It was Christmas Market

The Christmas Market and fun zone in Edinburgh

time and we visited several in both cities along with the historical sites of course.

Chef Mark at his restaurant Mark Greenaway in Edinburgh.

From Edinburgh we flew back to Paris and connected with Ryan and Chris in the apartment I had leased for the month.

Christmas in Paris!

Ryan, Janeen and Chris on a bridge over the Seine River in Paris

Our friend Claudia joined us and we all had a fantastic time touring,

One of several open air markets where we shopped while in Paris.
This music box store, in Paris, was filled with musical treasures.

visiting various places,

Here we are walking along the streets of Paris.

taking in the sites

Ryan and Claudia in the Paris Opera House.

and of course eating and drinking great foods and wines.

Chef Alain Passard at his restaurant, Arpège in Paris – the 12th best restaurant in the world. Our lunch was wonderful and about 12 courses!

New Years Eve was spent at a traditional French Bistro where we expected to be done in a couple of hours,

Here we are celebrating New Years Eve at a traditional French Bistro in Paris. Wonderful evening.

but were there for over 5 hours and rang in the New Year over an extravagant dessert!

I would hope you know what this is…

OK, we have now been in Europe for four months and it is time to fly back to the States. During our time in Europe we had visited 9 countries collecting a number of stamps in our passport. We boarded our flight back to start part 3 of our yearlong adventure.

Having some bubbles on our flight home to Virginia.

06-19-18 It’s Been a Year Update 1

It’s been a year. Yup, a full year since we drove away from our house in Alhambra and started our Gap Year Adventure.

Our home is ready to rent!

Since that time we have traveled through 20 different States of the Union (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina) and visited 9 European Countries (Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy, San Marino, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland). While in the US we have visited with great friends and seen wonderful places and travelled over 8,000 miles before heading across the ‘Pond” to Portugal. In Europe we traveled over 5,500 km (3,417 miles) in our new car prior to dropping it off for shipment to the dealer in Virginia.

A good part of the drive across country was reconnecting with friends and family. When we left our home our first stop was in Morro Bay to visit with our friend Claudia

Claudia – our friend in Morro Bay who joined us in Paris for Christmas and New Years.

at her B&B where we invited her to join us in Paris for Christmas – which she did! We reconnected with a friend, Myrt,

Myrt – a friend from Bethlehem PA where we lived in the mid 70’s and have not seen since then!

from when we lived in Bethlehem PA 40 years ago and she reconnected us with another friend from that time frame living in Savannah who we visited too! The drive through Northern California was beautiful visiting with friends, seeing the sights and relaxing.

Beth, who lives in Sonoma and our host for a couple of days prior to heading further north.

We tried to stay off the interstate and took the local highway as much as possible.

Gary Peter and Jaynese with us for dinner in Berkeley prior to going to a one woman show.

Sure there was roadwork and single lane situations but it was a grand drive.

My sister Georgia, my brother Richard and my other sister Marilynn – all together at the Cousins Reunion in Oregon.

Once out of California we made our way to a Cousins’ reunion – cousins and family we have not seen in years. A week on the beach with good family was wonderful. It didn’t hurt that both of our sons and their family were able to be there too.

Jason and our lovely granddaughter at the Cousins Reunion in Oregon.


Of course Oregon for us means the Willamette Valley and wine.

My family all together at DDO Winery in Oregon.

We were fortunate to have close friends at Stoller Vineyards and were able to stay in one of their cottages on the property for 2 weeks! After leaving the International Pinot Noir Celebration, held each year, we drove to Seattle to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary.

Janeen at the Chihuly Glass exhibit in Seattle

A visit to the Chihuly Glass Exhibit prior to dinner at RN74

Celebrating our 48th wedding anniversary at a nice restaurant in Seattle – RN74.

made the day very special. A visit to Bainbridge Island to visit with some of Janeen’s childhood friends, a tasting of great Champagne at Fat Cork

In Seattle we stopped at Fat Cork to drink some great champagne with Bryan and his wife Abby.

and off we went heading east.

The skyline of Seattle

We had planned to stopping a couple of times going East from Seattle but the smoke from the various forest fires in Canada and Montana made the air unpleasant, so we pushed through to Bozeman, Montana and a visit with Bonny and David.

David and Bonnie during our tour of a history museum

Bonny was matron of honor at our wedding so we have known them a VERY long time…and it was wonderful to reconnect with them and catch up. Sure we exchange Christmas cards and calls, but being in their home was wonderful.

Throughout our trip, thus far, we had not stopped at any of the various National Monuments or Parks. Well, as we were driving along, there was a sign for the Battle of the Little Big Horn

Little Big Horn Battlefield

and it was just off the road! Seemed like the thing to do and we did. Our ranger guide was very knowledgeable and brought the entire battle to life with his discussion.

Sometimes the world becomes incredibly small. We made a snap decision to drive through the Sand Hills area of Wyoming. After cruising along for a couple of hours, it was time for lunch so we stopped at a Subway in Lusk, Wyoming for a sandwich. Nothing special about the place and the sandwich was as good as any other Subway provides. Just as I was about to close the car door and drive away, I noticed two people we actually know! Dale and Roxanne live in Arizona.

Roxanne and Dale – friends met on the road in the middle of no-where!

We first met them in Oregon at IPNC but they haven’t been to the event for several years. Turns out they are on vacation. Roxanne’s mother lives in Nebraska and having completed their visit, they were heading to Mount Rushmore when they too decided a break and a sub would be a good idea. What a treat to find friends literally in the middle of nowhere!

Carhenge – this is a strange place in Alliance, Nebraska. We have been to the original in Salisbury UK

Back on the road through miles and miles and miles of cornfields, we made our way to York, Nebraska where we reconnected with friends from Michigan – John and Lora.

John and Lora – we met these folks in East Lansing Michigan in the early 70’s.

We have not seen these guys since we left Michigan in 1973! Sure Christmas cards exchanged most years kept us in touch but meeting up with them again after all these years was fantastic. It was like we had seen each other only yesterday. Great visit. From Nebraska, through a lot more cornfields, we got to Macomb, Illinois and Janeen’s dad.

Janeen and her dad during our visit in August.

We stayed a couple of weeks visiting and getting everything together for our next hop to Virginia – stopping at Fallingwaters (Frank Lloyd Wright)

Fallingwater – I could live here but the maintenance cost would not be fun to pay!

which was specular and our final stop – Springfield, VA and our son Jason, his wife Terri and most importantly our granddaughter Katie Beth.

Janeen and our little miss on the Potomac River on my birthday.

Our friends Jessie and Phil from Pasadena made it to the East Coast and more particularly to be with us for my birthday!

Terri, Janeen, Jessie, Phil and David at his (David’s) 70th birthday celebration in Alexandria during our pub crawl to start the day.

It was really a treat to have them with us for several days prior to our taking flight to Europe

Two weeks after arrival in Virginia, we boarded a plane

Here we are settling in for our flight to Lisbon.

and flew to Portugal; the beginning of our planned 4 months in Europe. Look for Update #2

This has become on motto.




06-12-18 Home Brewing

Former President Jimmy Carter may have a somewhat mixed record, with a Nobel Peace Prize on the one hand and a lost 1980 reelection bid on the other. However, it is thanks to Jimmy Carter that there is craft brewing – and more importantly home brewing! In 1978 Carter signed into law the ability for home brewers making less then 50 gallons for personal use to make beer legally and without the need to pay any taxes! Prior to that time home brewing was hidden behind closed doors and illegal.

Since that time, craft brewers have exploded resulting in hundreds if not thousands of small producers starting in their garage and turning it into a real business (yes, at that point they have to start paying taxes). Jason, our eldest son, has been home brewing for several years and we have tasted the results often. (He has no intention of turning this into a business.)

While we were visiting recently Jason decided to make a batch of what he calls G’Nu Castle Brown Ale, a “clone” of New Castle Brown Ale.

Following the spirit of the original New Castle, this brew requires two separate fermentation tanks (buckets). One batch is prepared to an Original Gravity (O.G.) of 1.050, while the second is prepared to 1.035 OG.

Here’s the gear to make beer

Gravity is a measurement of the wert’s density, and in home brewing is a measure how much malt (sugar) is dissolved into the water.

Everything has to be cleaned – this is the brew kettle.
The first step, fill the brew kettle with purified water – 10 gallons

Distilled water has a Specific Gravity (S.G.) of 1.000. The first batch, which is denser and has a higher Gravity, will end up with a higher Alcohol by Volume (abv). The second batch will have a lower abv because it has less malt to convert to alcohol.

The fence is keep little people away from the burner – adding grains to the wort steeper
Steeping – Pouring the boiled water onto the grains for conversion.
Mixing it all up
Checking the temp – need to be at 154 degrees for an hour.

The unique qualities of these two batches help give this New Castle clone it’s distinctive taste. The higher Gravity means the yeast converts the malt faster (more food to eat, so it eats faster) and the product has a “fruitier” flavor to its alcohol. The lower Gravity batch converts slower and will end up with a more “malty” flavor. These two batches are combined after fermentation into a single batch, and mixed thoroughly.

Pre-crushed 2-row pale malted grain – the first (and biggest) ingredient
Hop Pellets – Added at intervals for flavor (30 minutes before end of boiling) and for bittering (15 min before end of boil)

After about two weeks, the two batches are each transferred to a new (sanitized) fermentation tank. This accomplishes two objectives; first the “debris” that has settled on the bottom of the primary fermentation tank (which is called “trub”) is unwanted and gives poor flavor and clarity to final beer, the second is the transfer re-originates the beer and reinvigorates the yeast to convert more malt to alcohol. During this transfer an additional Gravity reading is taken.

Sparging – taking the first few gallons and pouring it over the grains to wash the malt and maximize malt conversion from the grains.

At this point the Gravity was approximately 1.035 for the first batch and 1.018, which is about half of the fermentation that is expected. The yeast will continue to convert malt to alcohol for the next few weeks.

Grains ready for more steeping – Steeping container isn’t large enough for the batch we made, so we had to steep in two rounds.
Adding more water to the grain – a second run through.
Preparing Wert for boil – After collecting the wert from steeping, it is returned to the brew kettle to boil for one hour.
Wert at boil
Steeping – Second round of wert is steeping

Once no further malt conversion is occurring, which can be judged by taking several Gravity readings over several days until there is no change in the reading (or just letting it sit for a long time and then arbitrarily deciding “it’s done!”), it’s time to prep for bottling.

Final gravity readings are taken (1.021 for batch 1, and 1.008 for batch 2) it’s time to combine the batches and add bottling sugar. The bottling sugar is a relatively small amount of sugar that re-vitalizes the yeast and causes them to convert just a little more alcohol. The by-product of this is carbonation; which gives the beer that nice mouth feel. Because the beer has been sealed behind a bottle-cap, the CO2 has no place to escape to and becomes “dissolved” in the beer until the bottle is opened.

Irish Moss – A single table spoon of Irish Moss is added 15 minutes before the end of boil. This works as a “magnet” to bulk the unwanted organic material together for easier filtering.
Terminating boil – After boiling for an hour, the wert is removed from the brew kettle for cooling to aprox. 65 degrees.
Cooling – A copper coil with cool water running though it, is submerged into the wert to quickly chill.
Used grain – Perfect for brewers bread (lethal for dogs)
Fermentation begins – After pitching the yeast, an airlock is attached to the lid to allow off-gasses to escape but keep unwanted bacteria out of the bucket. From this moment on, the wert is now beer.

Using a special bottling wand, which only allows the beer to flow from the bottling bucket when it’s depressed inside the each bottle (which have all been very well cleaned and sanitized), the beer is transferred from a bucket where everything has been re-mixed into the bottles.

Mixing batches – Mixing the two batches together then adding bottling sugars
Here’s the brew on it’s way to the bottling line.
Filling the bottles – gravity sycphon attached to a bottling wand, ensure each bottle is full with a small gap to keep the bottle from exploding during bottle fermentation
Sealing the bottles – Placing caps on the newly filled bottles and “folding” down the edge to seal it in place.

After bottling, the beer is left to sit for two to three weeks, during which time the yeast converts the small amount of sugar into both alcohol and carbonation.

This batch turned out very well, with an estimated final abv of 4.5%, and a flavor that is very much like New Castle. We used a little too much sugar for bottling, so it’s a little over-carbonated, which is why we had one bottle explode during bottle fermentation.

Because this is a home brew, the yeast remains “alive” because there’s no pasteurization process to kill off the yeast. So, as the beer continues to rest the flavor may change subtly over the ensuing weeks and months.

Farnum St. Brewing – G’Nu Castle Brown Ale
The first pours of the new batch
Jason with the finished product!

This adds a new element to home brewing as you could have something that’s pretty terrible after the first two weeks, but is actually really great after two months!



05-27-18 Asheville, NC Arboretum, Blue Ridge Parkway and Dinner in town

We arrived in Asheville to visit our friends Gloria and Jerry and had a lovely evening. The following day, being nice and sunny, we headed out to

Entrance sign to the Arboretum

The North Carolina Arboretum. This place, about 434 acres in size, includes a lovely arboretum, botanical gardens and a lot of walking paths to explore.

Although the idea for the arboretum stretches back to landscape architect in 1898, the actual place was not developed until quite recently – 1986 – so it is new and filled with lovely plants. While the place is still under development, there are a variety of hiking and bicycling trails along with several mature gardens. Our goal for the day was to get to the bonsai collection.

Inside the main building was a travelling exhibit, Making Scents: The art and passion of Fragrance. While we have seen similar examples of fragrance displays, including a museum in Paris, it was neat to see someone Janeen knows from the Huntington Library and Gardens in CA as part of the exhibit! Tom Carruth

Janeen knows this guy – he is the rose curator at the Huntington Library and Gardens Tom Carruth! Everywhere we find roses we seem to find Tom

is the curator of the Rose Garden and is known for breeding scented roses such as Sentimental and the Juila Child Rose

After looking over the traveling exhibit we headed outside

Janeen, Jerry and Gloria trying to figure out the map.
Blue Ridge Quilt Garden – very nice indeed.
NC Arboretum Greenhouse.

and walked towards the bonsai garden and past the model train (which it seems every garden needs to have)

We have not visited two different gardens both of them have had model railroads. Not sure what happens when the snows come…

and past a number of lovely areas. Eventually we made our way to the bonsai area

The entrance to the Bonsai garden with it’s winding pathway.

that was specular. It always amazes me to see these huge trees pruned to be so small!

A little forest about 18 inches tall.
Japanese maple
Lovely little treasures
This Azalea was in full bloom and about 18 inches tall!
I could never been patient enough to grow these.
Gloria and Jerry at the bonsai area.


After the Arboretum we drove out the Blue Ridge Parkway

There were at least 12 tunnels along the way.

and stopped for lunch at Pisgah Inn. This restaurant is at the top of the

The dining room at Pisgah Inn
The view of the mountains from our lunch spot at Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway

mountain overlooking the various surrounding hills. Nice views, lunch was OK views were better.


For dinner we hit a Mexican restaurant called Limones Restaurant.

Limones Restaurant where we had dinner in Asheville.
Here we are having dinner at Limones Restaurant in Asheville.
Halibut with crimson lentils, organic kale, grained mustard-lemon sauce, pineapple-green onion pico.
Ceviche Sampler – shrimp, trigger fish and tuna.
Roasted Beet Salad with watermelon, mint, gruyere cheese, aged cider-cardammon vinaigrette
Three Cheese Chile Relleno with pico de gallo, black bean sauce, crema

Not overly crowded and had delicious food.