Summer Travel Map

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas To All!!!

As we complete 2011, we continue to be thankful for our family and friends, and our ability to both travel and spend the winters in the sunny Southwest.  This past year was a  whirlwind of activity with graduations, rallies, an exciting RV caravan, an overdue visit to Canada, and travel coast-to-coast in the USA.  We had the good fortune to have some great family visits, and we had the chance to see old friends and make new ones along the way.  
Take a look at some of our photo memories from 2011 and here's looking forward to a wonderful 2012!

PS: We're also thankful for our ability to communicate so effectively and quickly with everyone.  With Facebook and Twitter, email and text messages, Foursquare and LinkedIn, our travel Blog, Skype and Facetime and even the odd HeyTell, we're able to stay in touch like never before.  While we know it's not everyone's "thing", we hope that you'll bear with us as we convert a lot of our communications away from "snail mail" to electronic formats.  In addition to saving a tree (OK, maybe just a branch), we're hopeful that we'll be more timely and frequent with our communications in the future.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

December 10, 2011
Peoria, AZ

It's been a busy couple of weeks, and it's been feeling like winter as well.

I managed to migrate my eBay selling processes to the Mac and put a bunch of used items out there.  Roughly half off this batch sold, bringing in enough to pay for the upgrades to the "spare" bathroom.  It's more work than you might expect, since each item has to be photographed and weighed, and the proper text describing the item (especially any flaws) created.  This batch went through pretty smoothly, with a minimum of questions and post-sale issues.  While I was doing the packing and shipping, I managed to send out most of the Christmas gifts at the same time.  We only have a couple of things that need to go out next week.

We've continued to eat well and I've been whittling away at the short list of "should have drunk this last year" wines. We've made some "old favorites" (my Lamb Ragú, Geri's Pasta Sauce") and tried some new recipes as well.  Geri made a nice Spicy Shrimp with Orchiette, and I had fun with Pork Chops Roasted over Cauliflower.  We did a couple of braises, of Short Ribs and Brisket, but neither was a "keeper".

Today, I wrapped up two coats of paint on the bathroom.  When it was completed, Geri and I looked at each other and said "crap".  Yes, that's what the walls look like.  Literally.  Yuck.  As it turns out, "what we have here is a failure to communicate".  I was worried about the wall color being too dark and thought we'd do contrasting colors on opposing walls, but didn't push the issue.  Geri didn't like the color right in the store, but we both let Paint Guy do the computer color matching and off we went.  Fortunately, we're smart enough to call a halt at this point and regroup -- while everything is all taped off and changing the color isn't a huge issue.  It may take a couple of coats of Kilz before we can go lighter, but that's relatively easy right now.  Once we have the colors right, we'll finalize the tile selection and wrap this project up.  Hopefully, we'll have selected a light fixture by then.

I did take time out this morning to watch the lunar eclipse.  OK, I actually got up early, oh-dark-thirty, and was outside pre-dawn.  Chilly, but a nice show.  I was able to get at least one halfway decent picture before the whole thing set behind a the neighbor's roofline.  The eclipse was visible here just as the moon was setting and the sun was rising, diminishing some of the visual flair, but it was still worth an early morning.

Finally, we're pretty glad we decided to put up the Christmas decorations early, right after Thanksgiving.  Within a few days, it turned cold and windy, and we actually had some rain.  I think we're almost up to 4" for the year at this point!  Anyway, we've use the same decoration scheme as the past several years inside and out.  Each year, we threaten to toss the whole thing and start over, but we like what we have and know how to get things up quickly.  One person's efficiency is another's tradition, I suppose.  Geri did a great job with the tree, as always, and she arranged for some upgrades to the outside lights with a series of LED "snowflakes".  All in all, we're definitely getting in the holiday spirit!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can you believe November’s almost over?

November 29, 2011
Peoria, AZ
Wow, time sure flies when you’re busy.  It doesn’t matter if you’re having fun.  Fortunately for us, the past couple of weeks have been mostly on the plus side.

We’ve completed all of the doctor and vet appointments for now, and everything is fine.  Merlin’s leg is healing, although it will probably be a while before he’s not running on three legs.  The anti-inflammatory medicine helped a lot and he’s able to walk on “all four” to an extent now.  We’re optimistic that he’ll be able to work this out without requiring surgery.

So, what else have we been up to?  Well, we’ve done some cleaning and started getting the house ready for the holidays.  The first holiday is Thanksgiving, of course, and we spent that with our friends Ana and Larry as we have since we settled on Arizona as our winter headquarters.  They we married on 11/23/1978 -- Thanksgiving -- and this year, their daughter got married on Thanksgiving as well.  It was a fine ceremony and a great after-party (“reception” is so last generation), and we were honored to be there for Alex and Brian.  I took a bunch of pictures with a specialized “app” on the iPad, just for effect.

And, much to Geri’s delight, I’ve started to clean out the mess I’d built in the spare bedroom.  Between things destined for Goodwill or eBay, there was just a lot of stuff in there.  Now, 90% of the Goodwill stuff (mostly older clothing items) is gone to a better place, and everything I felt was eBay-worthy is listed for sale.  In fact, one item is already shipped and five more have bids that’ll “win” once the auctions close next Sunday.  

Otherwise, I’ve been spending some time migrating my day-to-day computing over to the iMac.  I’ve found a series of free apps to handle things that I’m used to doing with Microsoft Office on the PC, and I’m getting the hang of the integration opportunities.  Having spent money I didn’t anticipate on the iMac itself, I’m trying to be cautious on the add-on expense.  My next project will be to reorganize the desktop -- the literal one -- by moving things around in the study to make the space more effective.

Once that’s done, it’s time to paint!  This year, we’re planning to paint both bathrooms and our bedroom.  Of course, painting is probably not the extent of the renovation, as we’ll likely tile the floors at the same time.  Fortunately, since we already have the right tools, that won’t be a huge challenge.

And, tomorrow is “Christmas Decoration Day”.  We’ll get out the boxes of stuff and deploy the decorations we have used for the past several years.  Geri will get the tree up and I’ll tackle the outside lights.  With temperatures in the upper-70s, this will be a piece of cake compared to what we used to face in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, we’ve continued to eat well.  We’ve had a couple of nice Porterhouse Steaks (for two), Geri’s made several of the salads she’s famous for, and we’ve restarted our “try a new recipe at least once a week” program, mixed in with “old favorites”.  I’ve started our annual reorganization of the “wine box” as well, trying to identify wines that probably coulda/shoulda been consumed by now, making room for the haul we brought back from this fall’s West Coast travels.  It’s a tough job, yada yada yada...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Back in the swing of things...

November 11, 2011
Peoria, Arizona

Well, things have been hectic since we've gotten back, but that's to be expected.  The good news is that most things are working out well, just like we'd hoped.

The biggest thing is that Geri's kidney continues to have healed well after her 2009 surgery.  We had our semi-annual follow-up at the urologist's office today, and everything is "unremarkable".  That's apparently medical-speak for "you're fine".  We got a similar report from the ophthalmologist earlier in the week; the eyes are fine.  With visits to the dentist (cleaning for both of us), primary care doctor (fine with minor prescription changes), hair and nail salons, and pet groomer complete, the list of appointments is rapidly getting cleared.  Geri goes for a mammogram next week and we're pretty much done.

Unfortunately, we're shifting our attention to the vet at this point.  Last week, we think Merlin got one paw caught in the closing door to the garage on the way our for a walk, and he came up limping.  We got him right in to the vet, and it seems like he's strained ligaments and/or tendons in his left rear knee.  Apparently, it's not uncommon in small dogs and should respond to an anti-inflammatory prescription over the course of two weeks.  If not, he may need a minor surgery to fix things up.  We're keeping our fingers crossed; at 13½, we'd like to avoid that if possible.  In the meantime, he's on "modified assignment", not allowed to go for morning and evening walks (and really not liking that), and restricted from jumping up/down on the bed and couch (not happy with that, either).

In other news, I've almost completed an assignment from last summer's motorhome caravan.  These aren't commercial caravans; they're put on by the members.  While the caravan leaders certainly have the lion's share of the work, everyone gets to participate in some small way.  I was asked to create an archive of selected pictures from the trip via DVD for all of the participants.  If you know me, this is where I say "nothing is ever as simple as it seems".

These days, burning a DVD from a notebook computer shouldn't really be a problem; most full-sized machines have DVD drives built in.  Unfortunately for me, mine (vintage 2009) has been acting up over the past year or so.  It often won't recognize a disc being inserted, blank or otherwise.  I knew this would be an issue at some point, and when I tried to burn a sample disc I couldn't do it.  "No problem; I'll just use Geri's".  Uh, not so fast, fella.  Geri's machine (vintage 2011; we got it in the spring before we hit the road) would burn the disc, but not play it.  Nor would our Blu-ray DVD player in the coach.

So, this is a timing thing more than anything.  Once back to AZ, I have another computer with a DVD burner that should work.  Worst case, I drop $50 on a USB-connected drive.  So, hardware isn't the issue.

The bigger challenges are selection and formatting.  Since I collected pictures throughout the caravan from several other participants, there are a lot of pictures.  Including my own, I have 4,969 images, to be exact.  It all adds up to over 10.2 gigabytes of data, enough for 3 DVDs.  Now, nobody wants to watch a slideshow of that size, so my first task has been to sort through all the images and try to pick the best ones.  Once I started this, I realized that I would have been well served if I'd provided the other contributors with some guidelines.  Things like use unique file names (similar models within a camera brand will use the same naming conventions, creating the potential for a duplicate - or 20).  And, who thinks to set/adjust the date/time in the camera?  Very few, until you're trying to merge multiple batches of photos together by event within day for review.  But, I enjoy this kind of challenge (at least until Geri starts reminding me of all the other to-dos I'm slipping on), so organizing and filtering was right up my alley.

Formatting?  Well, that's another story.  I've never really done a lot with photo slideshows.  "Back in the day", before digital photography took off, you got your prints back, then selected the best for reprints, and maybe even had an enlargement or two made for framing.  Fast forward to today, and most pictures live on hard drives and smartphones, delivered to photo sites like Picasa and Flickr, used in Blog posts, or sent directly to Facebook or Google+ or iCloud.  There may have been a time when digital slideshows (the term still conjures up images of Kodak carousels for me) might have been "in"; I think I was absent that day.

All that said, the caravan wants a DVD slideshow with transitions and background music and I signed up for the assignment, so a DVD slideshow  it will be.  And, leave it to me to find the most expensive and complicated way to make it happen.  After researching no- and low-costs options, I concluded that the best way to proceed was to get that iMac I've been dreaming of and use it to master the DVDs.  So, I made the purchase ("Merry Christmas, George") and have been learning many things "i" in the meantime (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iLife).

And, I have to admit, it's been a fun learning experience.  I was able to connect the iMac to my Windows machine, import the photos, make my selections and format day-by-day slideshows in iPhoto, import them all to iMovie for rendering, and burn a DVD using, what else, iDVD.  Geri and I watched the first cut yesterday, just over 30 minutes worth.

I've only got a few things left to work out, making final cuts to the picture sets, getting the sequence just right, verifying that the transitions (I'm using iPhoto's "Ken Burns" theme, which pans over the photos as they appear; very professional) all work and getting the music right.  There are a couple of dozen sample and theme tracks, but they're limited and I can include music from iTunes, so that opens things up.

So, in and amongst all the other projects, I'll put the wraps on the DVDs and get them in the mail by early next week.  Geri will certainly be glad when this is over!  We might even burn a couple of extra copies to share with family and friends who wonder what we're up to while we're on the road all those months at a time!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Travel Summary

November 2, 2011
Peoria, Arizona

I always find it interesting to look at our summer's travel in total when we get back in the fall.  This year, we traveled farther than anticipated, since we didn't have a full travel plan in mind when we left in April.  We knew we'd go to Alabama and Connecticut for college graduations, to Wisconsin and Michigan for RV get-togethers, and to South Dakota for my driver's license renewal.  The trip out to the West Coast was an "in-flight adjustment", and a great way to cap off the travel season.

Overall, we were on the road for 195 days, covering about 10,930 miles.  We stayed overnight at 47 different places along the way, which means we averaged a little over 4 days per stop.  We averaged just under $21 per night.  You don't want to know about the fuel.

Here's a summary map:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Back in storage

November 1, 2011
Peoria, Arizona

We must be getting better at this: we had the coach unloaded by 3:00 PM yesterday.  I was up early and started unloading before it got too warm.  Geri made a quick trip to Walmart to pick up some additional laundry baskets; we find that they're just the right size for most of the unloading.  We found that working in waves was best: I could bring in baskets of "stuff" and she could route things to the right place in the house.  This way, the dogs can stay with her and aren't running back and forth.  We've got a large pile of laundry in the queue (aka, the hallway to the spare bedroom), but most everything is back where it belongs (or at least in the right room). 

We did find another casualty, though; the standalone freezer we have in the garage will no longer cool.  It was a cheap model bought over ten years ago in New Jersey, so we probably got our money's worth from it.  One can argue that two people and two small dogs can probably get by with the freezer in the kitchen, though, so we'll hold off on a replacement for now.

Today, the "fun" began.  Every fall, we have a series of appointments for doctors, dentist, vet, grooming, etc.  We actually start making them 4-6 weeks before we get back.  Later this week, Geri has to go for her follow-up MRI to verify that her 2009 kidney procedure went well.  Since nothing is simple, she has to get a fasting blood test done before the MRI, so we were up early and off to the lab.  Then, after a quick breakfast at the local IHop, we stopped at the storage lot to sign up for our space for the coach.  Once we were set there and paid up, we moved the coach over to storage and were able to declare "done" on that phase.  Yea!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back to our winter place

October 30, 2011
Peoria, Arizona

We had a great breakfast with Wayne and Eva, then hit the highway heading east (for a change).  It was a beautiful, warm (low-90s) day and we had another easy drive, following I-10 to AZ-101 just west of Phoenix.  We were soon parked in front of the winter abode just before 4:00 PM.  The timing was pretty good, since our plan was to defer unloading most things until tomorrow.  Like my friend, Dave, we have a  homemade power cord with a 50 Amp plug, so I plugged the coach in to keep the air conditioners running, then started tackling the house.

Our fall start-up routine is nowhere near as complicated as preparing for departure in the spring.  I call the city (water, sewer, trash) and the Internet people about a week in advance; we leave the gas service on but turned off at the meter.  Basically, I have to reset the air conditioning, install new water filters and open the valve, fill the hot water heater, turn on the gas, bleed the gas lines to the stove and water heater, and light the pilot for the water heater.  Within an hour (barring any mishaps), everything is ready to go, and this year there were no issues, per se.  The water valve was a little sticky but nothing a 12" pipe wrench couldn't fix (last year, I had to make an emergency trip to Home Depot because the water valve wouldn't open).  The toilets and drains were fine, since I've started sealing the water in with plastic wrap before we leave.  The water heater pilot light takes a while to come on, but I'm used to that.  We buy the water filters in bulk, so they were already waiting for me to install them.  No leaks made for a pretty smooth start-up.

The only problem we had this year was that several of the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were beeping.  Actually, the real problem was that we didn't have any spare 9-volt batteries in the house!  Geri made a quick trip to Home Depot (not me for a change!) while I was doing the water filters, and we soon changed them all out and Merlin was able to come out from under the bed.  I thought I'd changed the batteries in the spring, but maybe not.  Needless to say, "get batteries" will be added to the one-week-before-arrival to-do list for next year.

Over the past few years, we've made a tradition out of heading to a local pizza joint, Grimaldi's, for dinner on the night we arrive back, and this year was no exception.  They serve the closest thing we can get to "real" New York pizza out here.  After dinner, I brought in the network equipment from the coach and restarted the cable modem.  Everything worked fine there as well.

All in all, an easy re-entry this year.  As always, we love our travels but it feels great to be back in AZ for the winter...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

One last stop...

October 29, 2011
Indio, California

We made one last stop on this year's "grand tour", visiting with Wayne and Eva (and their friends/neighbors, Will and Diane) in Indio.  We had a great time as always, collaborating on a nice dinner (Rack of Pork, something we don't have often).  It would have been nice to stay a little longer, but we were anxious to get back to Arizona and they'd just arrived home a few days before.  There are lots of things to do when you get back...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Heading east toward Arizona

October 28, 2011
Cathedral City/Palm Springs, California

We left Lompoc yesterday morning, bidding the Elks adieu.  We'd planned to stay at the Elks Lodge in Indio, which breaks up the 12-hour drive from Lompoc to Phoenix quite nicely, but they're hosting some sort of RV Rally and are all booked up.  Since we'd planned to catch up with our Canadian friends, John and Kristine, anyway, we ended up staying a little to the west, near Palm Springs.  This Outdoor Resorts park was one of the original developments, and it's a nice park.  We booked a space here for two nights.

We'd made arrangements to catch up with John and Kristine today for lunch, so it was a bit of a surprise for them when we passed their site yesterday afternoon.  We joined them for cocktail hour (OK, they came to pick us up in the golf cart, since parking at each site is tight), and then again for lunch today.  We had a chance to catch up, as we haven't seen them "live" since May of 2009, and compare notes on coach upgrades.  It was good to see them...

This afternoon, I had great plans - for a nap.  Unfortunately, I just happened to look at the Rover and it was leaning to one side.  What the...?  Yep, a screw in the left rear tire, down to 10 PSI.  I had to make a quick trip to the Post Office to pick up mail this morning and noticed that the ride was a little "loose" at highway speeds, so we must have picked it up over the past few days.  I might have been able to pump it up and we might have been able to nurse it back to Phoenix, but a quick search on Google Maps revealed that there is a tire shop location of the chain we've used lately (Discount Tire/America's Tire) right next door.

I fired up the air compressor, pumped the tire back up and headed out.  They confirmed that the screw was too close to the sidewall to patch, and - surprise - they had a tire of the right size (different brand) in stock.  They got me right in and within 45 minutes, everything was all swapped out and, $33 poorer (I only have to pay to renew the warranty on the new tire) and I was on the way home.  Not bad...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wrapping up a visit to Lompoc

October 26, 2011
Lompoc, California

Lompoc is generally known for its flowers, more specifically the farms that generate the seeds.  Or, for Vandenberg Air Force Base, where a lot of unmanned rocket launches happen.  Or even the big federal penitentiary located there.  Nowadays, it's becoming more and more known for the wines made there, specifically Pinot Noirs.  Yep, we're hooked.  We managed to visit several wineries and picked up all of our "wine club" packages.  It'll be a nice-drinking winter...

We also stopped to see Geri's sister, Kathy, twice, at the assisted living complex.  She was happy to see us, knowing we were there to see her even if she wasn't sure who we are.  Geri brought a short slideshow of pictures on her iPad, and she really liked that.  She even recognized Merlin from the pictures!  Awesome.

We parked at the Lompoc Elks Lodge for the first time, which was super-convenient.  On the other hand, we may have picked up an unwanted houseguest, as we found "evidence" of a mouse being pretty bold inside.  We cleaned everything up and the dogs, being programmed in their DNA to chase vermin, were patrolling and scratching all over.  If we didn't drive it/them out, we'll have to get some traps...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fiddling Around

October 22, 2011
Lompoc, California

One of the things we like to do when in "Wine Country" is take advantage of any special events available.  One of the benefits of being in various wine clubs directly with wineries is that you get invitations to "members-only" events.  We took advantage of one of these today, at Fiddlehead.  They invited their top-end club members (not just "Fiddleheads" but "Stradivarius Club" - everything is somehow "fiddle" related) to a luncheon in the home vineyard.  We had a fine afternoon, mingling with about 25 other wine geeks, spending some time with the owner/winemaker, learning a little more about vineyard management issues and techniques, having a great meal (from Snapper Ceviché to a Whole Smoked Pig) and tasting a series of "library wines", older vintage stock held back by the winery.  overall, it was a great way to spend a nice, sunny afternoon...

Back home, we decided to sit outside for a bit as the temperatures cooled off.  We'd left the air conditioning on with the generator running for the pups while we were off wining.  One of the nice things about being "out back" by ourselves is that Merlin and Maya Lynn can hang with us leash-free.  Fortunately, Geri spotted the largest spider we've ever seen (actually a tarantula), just walking through the campground, before Maya did.  Accordingly, we all retired inside for the evening, where I bored Geri with Game 3 of the World Series for the evening's entertainment.

Friday, October 21, 2011

South to Santa Barbara County

October 21, 2011
Santa Maria/Los Olivos, California

Today started out cloudy, almost foggy, but it was just the typical California "marine layer" that often develops along the coast.  It soon burned off and we had sunshine for the most part on our short drive continuing on US-101 from Atascadero to just south of Santa Maria.  Our destination today wasn't an Elks Lodge for a change!  It's a winery.

We stopped at Trés Hermanas Winery four or five years ago and were intrigued with their Wine Club deal: based on how much you spend on wine, you get "free" nights in the little RV Park they've built out back of the buildings.  If you're selective, the wines are reasonably good, so we signed up.  Then, we never took advantage of the parking.  Sure, we stopped by each spring and fall to pick up accumulated Wine Club items, but the relatively long ~10 mile drive out winding Foxen Canyon Road from Los Olivos just didn't seem to be fun with the coach.  Then, last spring, we took a different route and found a road that's much easier on the coach, so we decided to try that this fall.

The RV Park is only open to Wine Club members, although I'm sure they have some various other guests (probably family members) use it from time to time.  It's a nicely laid out 21-space, all pull-thru layout with water and 30-amp electric at each site.  It's nice and quiet and we're here all by ourselves, surrounded by a horse corral, cattle pastures and, of course, vines.  The only down side is that they didn't really execute well on the electrical service, trying to lay out 21 30-amp sites on a 100-amp circuit (that math just doesn't work) and using under-sized wiring.  As soon as there's any kind of load on the circuit, the voltage drops significantly.  Nominally, voltage in North America is 120 volts, +/- 10%.  Our coach's electrical protection system will automatically disconnect is the voltage drops below 108 or spikes higher than 132.  Here, we were able to drop the circuit below that just using the microwave; classic under-sized wiring issue.  It's OK, though, since it's "free" how loudly should you complain?  As long as it's relatively cool, we're fine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stop Wining...

October 20, 2011
Atascadero, California

Yesterday we had more success with wine tasting, so let the whining stop!  We relaxed in the morning, had an early lunch, and headed for Paso Robles.  We visited Eberle Winery on the east side, made a stop at the local Wally for some supplies, and then headed for Four Vines Winery.  It was pretty hard to find, since we didn't know that the Four Vines brand had been sold and the place had been renamed "Cypher".  It was OK, though, as we got to taste several very nice Syrahs and Rhône blends.  All in all, it was a successful day.

Eberle Winery uses a wild boar as their logo, so there are several sculptures of them on the grounds.

What to do when the old truck is "retired"?  Yard Art, of course...

Many vineyards contain devices to keep birds at bay.  This one is a huge wind chime!

We headed home via Trader Joe's again, this time a quick stop to pick up fresh basil.  Sounds like something Italian?  You bet: Jimmy's Famous Chicken and Brie with Farfalle.  I trimmed up a couple of chicken breasts, Geri made the sauce from scratch with heirloom tomatoes, and it was excellent!

Today, we were lazy.  We can't go wining every day!  We puttered around the coach, Geri went shopping, and I upgraded my iPad with the latest software from Apple.  The latter went mostly well, although I've got an app that's now behaving strangely, darn it.

We'd planned to go to the San Luis Obispo Farmer's Market, really more of an evening street fair from whet we've read, to catch up with our friends Wayne and Eva, but after a strong afternoon of shopping, Geri's ankles were sore and swollen so we decided to pass.  We finished off the Tri-Tip and called it a night...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tuesday is NOT wine tasting day

October 18, 2011
Atascadero-Templeton-Paso Robles, California

I know I'm sounding like a broken record when I say that yesterday was a nice driving day, but it was, darn it!  For years, we'd rush from place to place, up early, drive all day, stop after dark.  In 2009, Bob and Rod schooled me in the art of traveling in the top half of the clock: on the road at 9:00 and parked by 3:00 in the afternoon.  This fall, we've taken that a step further: leave by 10:00 and stop by 2:00.  I'm liking it.

In any event, we had an easy drive from Salinas to Atascadero, US-101 all the way.  This is farming country, in a wide, flat valley from Gilroy (garlic) through Salinas (greens, spinach recalls notwithstanding) down to just north of Paso Robles, where the valley floor narrows, the hills begin to roll, and the vines start to reappear.

Today, I made a quick trip to Templeton to pick up mail at the Post Office.  We're waiting for a new Visa card that hasn't shown up yet.  In the afternoon, we decided to do some wine tasting.  I looked over the various brochures available, did some Wine Spectator research, and made a couple of winery picks.  As we get older and wiser (and as the various spots to store wine in the coach fill up), we get more selective.  I like to seek out wines that actually do well in a given place, and producers who've gained some degree of recognition for their quality products.  Too often in the past, we've tasted and even purchased wines and realized later that they weren't the best ones available in a given area.  In Paso Robles, the varieties that do best are from the Rhône region in France.  While predominantly Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and other lesser-known grape varieties are growing in popularity.  So, we were off in search of Rhône blends (sometimes referred to as "GSM", Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre).

Unfortunately, I didn't allow enough research time to actually drill down to individual winery web sites and literature.  If I had, I'd have realized that typical tasting room hours in the Paso Robles area run Thursday-Monday, maybe even Friday-Sunday.  Tuesday?  Not so much.  So, we struck out with a couple of small, highly-rated producers.  We'll save them for next time.  Instead, we made a return visit to Turley Winery and tasted some nice Zinfandel.  We'd stopped here last fall as well.  We enjoyed the tasting, and their new tasting room, and made a few select purchases for the Wine Box.

Heading home, we made a quick stop at the local Trader Joe's to pick up some produce (and some Two Buck Chuck, since it's actually $2 in California as opposed to $3 everywhere else).  Geri made a nice appetizer plate and I got out the grill to sear a Tri-Tip.  It was a cheater Tri-Tip, pre-seasoned from Costco, and it was way too spicy and salty for our tastes.  We won't do that again!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Heading South - Again...

October 16, 2011
Salinas, California

Today, we were up a little later than planned, but we had an easy driving day.  We were all set to travel around 10:30, and soon heading south.  We cut across to I-80, then immediately exited for I-680, which we followed south all the way to San Jose (no, we weren't singing) and US-101.  Continuing south, we were soon exiting in Salinas, heading for the local Elks Lodge.  We were soon parked for the night.  We're only here for one night as we continue south.  Geri made a great "quick sauce" with linguini for dinner that went nicely with a cheap Chianti from Whole Foods (not quite 2-Buck Chuck).  We'll call it an early night and then continue south to Atascadero (and Paso Robles wine country) tomorrow...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

CIA at Greystone

October 15, 2011
St. Helena, California

Today was another relaxing day.  We puttered around the coach, Geri did some laundry, that kind of thing.  We headed out for a late lunch (or an early dinner, depending on your point-of-view) at the Greystone Restaurant  at the Culinary Institute of America in nearby St. Helena.  We've been here numerous times before and, as always, we had another great meal.  Geri asked to be seated along the bar separating the dining room from the kitchen, so we could watch the cooking action.  We began with their "Temptations" tapas small bites, then Geri had a Roasted Beet and Kohlrabi salad followed by a Seared Cod main course.  I had the Sweet Corn Soup with Peeky Toe Crab and the Crispy Chicken Leg Confit.  Everything was excellent, as expected.  We matched the meal with a Skaggs #6 Mourvedre Blend (yes, Boz makes wine now) and we finished with their "Sweet Finale", a tapas-style dessert plate paired with a flight of three dessert wines.  We ended up chatting with everyone else sitting at the bar, and everyone was interesting in our travel lifestyle.  Another excellent outing!

Greystone.  Get it?

Dessert wine "flight"...

Happy, Happy, Happy!