Thursday, February 14, 2013

Escaping the Great Blizzard of 2013 - Trip to California

On Thursday February 7th, we embarked on our long anticipated trip to visit Daniel in Palo Alto. Daniel moved to California a couple of months ago for a new job, and we were eager to see his new living arrangements and take advantage of their location in order to escape winter in New Hampshire over a long weekend. What we didn't anticipate was that we would also be missing the weather event of the season, the Great Blizzard of 2013, aka Nemo. I don't know when they started naming nor'easters; maybe they always have. I had mixed feelings about missing this storm. I was definitely glad we left on Thursday, because if we had decided to leave on Friday we would not have been going anywhere. But I like big, blasting blowing snowstorms, at least up to a point. You'd think the winter of 2011, when we received over 90 inches of snow, would have cured me of that, but no, I still like snow. We called our snow plow guy, asked to to have our driveway plowed by the time we returned, and off we went.

Its a long flight to San Francisco. I was able to watch 3 episodes of season one of Homeland, the excellent new series starring Claire Danes. Its certainly riveting, to the point where at least one inadvertent oral exclamation of shock probably annoyed my neighbors and definitely alarmed Lee. I also started a good book, A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Its really a collection of short stories, but the characters in the stories are all related. A peripheral character in one story might be the main character in the next one. 

We land at noon, pick up our rental car, and drive to Palo Alto. Daniel is working from home. He's got a room in a nice little house near Stanford. The weather is pretty, blue skies, 50 degrees. Lunch is enchiladas at a little Mexican hole in the wall. Oh I've missed this kind of food!  And dinner is sushi at Jin Sho, supposedly Steve Job's favorite Japanese restaurant. The sushi is good; very fresh. We're not in Kanas, Toto! 

On Friday, Daniel takes day off from work so that he can properly entertain his parents. In the morning I run through the neighborhood by our hotel, in the process finding a nice bike path to run upon and a hill, perfect for doing the hill repeats that are on my running schedule for the day. Later on we pick up Daniel and go to the Stanford campus. There we meet my friend Joan and her children. Joan (who I can't help but think of as Joanie), was one of my good friends back in my college days. She was one of my roommates on Wilkes Boulevard, but like me, she has been a grownup for the past thirty years, married to a scientist, working as an accountant at Stanford, mother to three darling kids. We go up the Hoover Tower from which we can see the mountains and San Francisco in the distance. Stanford is the prettiest college campus I have ever seen; its more like a park than a University. We walk around, looking at the chapel and other beautiful Stanford buildings. 

After we bid goodbye to Joan we decide to go explore the Ames NASA research Center: The main NASA research facility on the West Coast, as we approach Ames we can see the remaining skeleton of a large, mysterious-looking building. This turns out to be all that we can see of the actual research center, since its in a secured area. There is a Visitor's Center right outside the front gates. It is a bit decrepit but the guides more than make up for the state of the building. They are very enthusiastic about space, NASA, and aviation history. They are quick to inform us that scientists from Ames invented the swept-back airplane wing, which helps enhance aeronautical lift, and the famous heat shield on the original Mercury space capsules. We had a great time exploring the weirdness behind an infared camera display. My nose was purple in the infrared display, while most most noses were just red. Well I was cold.

Then Daniel took us on a quick tour of downtown Palo Alto. The Patagonia store was having big sale, so I get a new long down coat, since my old one is almost worn out. He also takes us to Philz coffee, which we declare fabulous: . I'm not sure how influenced we were by their creative descriptions of their coffee, but we like it. I wish we had brought some back to New Hampshire with us, but it also looks like it can be ordered online. 

We meet Dorsey and Katherine for dinner. We get to see their house, which I've had an imaginary vision of for many years. Its a nice little house on a very pretty piece of property. We voice our intentions to try to see each other more often. Maybe we can entice them to come sailing sometime.

Saturday morning I'm due for a 5 mile run. I head to the bike path I found on Friday. Its a beautiful run even though its cold. I wend my way through a park and into the foothills, past the Stanford Medical Center, grapevines, and cyclists. I love running in new places! Then its time to go into city for dim sum at the Hong Kong Lounge. Located on Geary near the Presidio, this is the real thing. Oh. my. yes. Pork buns, egg tarts, shrimp noodles, shanghai dumplings, sesame balls, fish congee, everything is great! Lee and I eat so much we can barely walk. Who knows when we will have a chance to eat good dim sum again. We make total pigs of ourselves. In a food-induced stupor, we wander up to the Presidio. On the way back to Palo Alto we stop off at Half Moon Bay. We walk along the cliffs overlooking the beach. Lee and Dan go off on a walk by themselves, chattering away, while I have fun  taking pictures. It makes me happy to see my son and husband enjoying each other's company.

Lee and I are basically not hungry for the rest of the trip.

On Sunday its time for the wine tour for which I have made reservations. The one drawback is that its a long drive to Napa from Palo Alto, longer than I thought. 

The nice thing about a wine tour, besides not having to drive, is the small wineries and good wines you get to taste. I've made reservations with Platypus Wine Tours, There are only 6 people on our tour, including us. Toni our driver is friendly and knowledgable, with plenty of stories about the surrounding area, the local vineyards, and Robert Mondavi, the founder of the wine industry in Napa. 

The first winery we visit is named Casa Nuestra. The tasting room is in a funky little house, with goats sunning themselves in the back. We do a barrel tasting, of an unusual Cabernet blend, Charbono, that we really like. We order a half a case, that will arrive sometime in April.

The second winery, Paoletti, is one of those crazy places where someone has way too much money. They've spent it decorating some massive caves with faux Greek-like statues of people the owner knows and/or admires. There are statues of Napoleon and Einstein among business associates and relatives. Again there are some good wines here and we decide to buy a couple bottles. Its fun to buy some varieties we usually don't enjoy that much, including Merlot, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. 

After a lunch in the caves we head to the third winery, Rutherford Grove. Here there are friendly, relaxed owners, where neighbors come by to visit and do a tasting with their Wheaton terrier puppy in tow. 

The final winery, Razi, has maybe my favorite wines of the trip. They give us generous pours, but I'm pretty done, just trying a sip or two here and there. Tony and the wine pourer comment that our group, instead of becoming loud and raucous as some groups do, is almost comatose. We certainly are quiet, but content.

We have dinner at Graces Table in downtown Napa. Lee and I are still only minimally hungry, but I have a nice chicken dish and Lee has a steak salad. Nobody wants wine. I drive back to Palo Alto, white knuckles on I-80 cause my contacts are blurry and I hate driving on strange interstates at night. We should have stayed in a b&b in Napa. Oh well, maybe next time!

Monday is our last day. Dan goes off to work; although he loves us he doesn't mind a break from his parents I expect. Lee and I hike the Stanford bowl. Its a brilliant sunny day.. The dish is this big hill with satellite dishes and other research equipment, ground squirrels and dead live oaks. The trail is a 5 mile loop with big rolling hills, a good workout.

On Tuesday we head back to Boston and huge piles of melting snow. The plow guy came, Lee made a path for the dogs with the snow-blower, the mail was delivered, and we're glad to be home in sunny, soggy, slushy New Hampshire!

Monday, February 4, 2013

80's Night At Zorvino Winery

I was going to start this post by saying that I don't know what possessed me to suggest that we go to an 80's Night party at a nearby winery, but yes, I do. Winters in New Hampshire are long. They are dark and cold. It gets to the point where you don't want to go out at all, but you are bored and want something to do. So when the Windham Newcomers Club announced this activity I thought, why not? Lee was in town, and he was game, so I RSVP'ed that we would attend.

A looked at Zorvino's Winery's website. It said that there would be a wine-tasting from 6-8 pm, followed by dancing and partying until 11. It said dressing up was optional, and at first I thought I wouldn't bother. But about an hour before we needed to leave, I thought, why not, and decided to dress up in 80's wear.

The problem was I really only had a vague notion of what 80's wear meant. I really don't remember the 80's much at all. Well, yes, I do remember them...I remember being pregnant, twice. I remember giving birth, twice. I remember 8 years of babies, toddlers and little kids. That's what I remember!

But, what did people wear? What did people do when they weren't changing diapers or rocking babies (or working, I worked fulltime too)? I remembered a lot of padded shoulder dresses and jackets. I did remember all the big hair, but my hair is too short (or should I say small?) to try to emulate that. I have one really nice circa 80's jacket I've hung on to in the back of my closet, but one glance at it and I knew I would have to try to go another route. Its still beautiful but I have nothing anymore to wear with it. You can't make a costume out of one jacket!

So I got online and apparently 80's parties are all the rage. There are lots of resources for putting together an 80's-appropriate outfit. At first I thought maybe I could do punk, but that would have required getting a black t shirt with appropriately ghoulish designs, and there was no time for that. Then I came upon Joan Jett.

I didn't really remember her, but I did remember her big hit ("I Love Rock and Roll"). And her look was something I could do! Jeans, big metal belt, lots of costume jewelry, a black turtleneck, a thin scarf around my neck, a black leather jacket, boots. Lots of gel in my hair. Lots of black eyeliner. Check, check, check!

I was pretty happy with my look. I don't know how authentic it looked, but I didn't look like myself, and I looked kind of rocker/punk, so I figured it would do.

Off we went. Zorvino's Winery is in Sandown, New Hampshire, a small town around 20 minutes from Salem. I'd actually tried their wine before and I didn't think it was that bad. For New Hampshire, anyway, not exactly the epicenter of wine culture. When we arrived a party bus was just disgorging its passengers so we entered with a large group of Flashdance/Madonna wannabes, accompanied by leisure-suited men, and a few Ninja Turtles too.

We immediately realized we were going to be the oldest people there. That's not really surprising. It made perfect sense to want to attend an 80's party if that's the decade where you enjoyed your teens and twenties. So, we were out of our usual comfort zone. Winter in New Hampshire, its TIME to get out of your comfort zone!

The next thing we noticed was the music. It was loud, very loud. Lee and I are both losing our hearing a bit, and very loud music was going to accelerate that process. Well, we could be all huffy and crabby about it, or just go with the flow. One night wouldn't kill us, hopefully.

We looked around for something resembling a wine-tasting, but couldn't find it. I ordered a glass of their Malbec. It was okay, not wonderful, but not terrible either. Lee was less than impressed and quickly changed to beer. They had plenty of great appetizers  so we set about trying to find a place to hang out where we weren't right in front of the speakers, eating snacks and waiting for our friends to show up.

The other Newcomers arrived eventually. There were two other couples and another lady and that was it. I thought more people would have been up for this, but never mind. We were ready to have some fun!

The other people remembered the 80's a lot better than I did. Soon, the women were dancing, and before too long I was dancing too. I am a terrible dancer, but I tried hard to copy other people's moves so I didn't just stand there flailing about. The men in our party stood at our table, drinking beer and looking amused. Lee had no intention of dancing, but that's okay. I pretended that I looked cool, and tried not be be self-conscious. Everyone else on the dance floor knew all the songs and sang along. Sometimes a song sounded familiar, sometimes I even sort of knew the chorus! I kind of sang along too. It was so loud nobody could tell that I was just making up words as we went along.

It was a lot of fun. We made it all the way to 10 pm, kind of the witching hour for us, bid our friends goodbye, and headed out into the freezing, buzzing New Hampshire night (buzzing because of our temporary hearing loss). I was actually a bit sore the next day from dancing, which apparently requires different movements than running!

I posted pictures on Facebook and several people said they thought I should dress like that more often. I don't know how to take that. The black turtleneck and the leather jacket are doable, perhaps without quite so much jewelry. But the copious amounts of gel in my hair are a non-starter, and as for the thick black-eyeliner...well it was fun being Joan Jett for one night, but one night was enough. Now I just need for someone to decide to do a 60's night. Now THAT I could rock!


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