Napa Valley, Day 4

Our first winery for our first and final full day in Napa Valley was Schramsberg, known for their sparkling wines even up to the White House!

We had a scheduled tour which took us back into their caves and through the finishing process. I had no idea the amount of effort involved in wine-making, particularly sparkling wines.

Don’t worry, that’s natural moss growing up there, not any kind of spider web. Though it really was revolting.

The sparkling wine process is complicated, and I’m going to butcher it if I try to repeat as our fabulous tour guide did. The wine is in the caves to ferment, and the pressure in those bottles can reach incredible heights. If the bottles have a weakness, he said, the pressure will find it and burst the bottles. Which is why they have sections of the cave covered in canvas at the peak fermentation period, to protect us tourists.

In some spots, there were bottles missing from those types of mishaps, and they replace the bottle with cardboard or item of similar size.

To keep the sediment rotating in the bottles, there is a complicated and time consuming process called riddling. They have a machine now that does riddling mechanically, but some bottles are still rotated regularly by hand on racks like these:

And the mechanical riddler:

Likewise, while they use mostly mechanical labelers now, there are some bottle that still require labeling by hand. There are two women whose job this is, and they use this old equipment that’s been the same for ages:

Following our enlightening and educational tour, and with a new appreciation for sparkling wine, our small group sat down in a room together around a large table for our tasting.

Our guide demonstrated the best way to aerate sparkling wine or champagne, which is not to swirl it around but to roll it on the palm of your hand.

He poured our tastings quickly, but not to get us to move faster; instead, he said that we should taste the wines at different temperatures. Allowing the wine to warm up a bit would introduce new flavors. So we were encouraged to try each wine again and again as it stood on the table.

I also enjoyed the fact that the table was made of an old riddling rack covered in glass. It was very charming. We enjoyed lingering over our glasses before leaving.

Our next stop was to a bit more touristy but highly recommended winery (simply for its looks!): The Castello di Amorosa.

The Castle Winery parking lot was separated by grape vines, so I was excited to get up close and personal with some grapes for the first time this trip.

The castle itself was very authentic looking, though newer than any real castle would be! We did not take a tour here, but we were able to walk around the outside in inside courtyard without it. The view from the castle was also amazing.

In addition to wine tasting, they also offer grape oil tasting, and I was surprised to find that I could taste a difference in the different varieties of oil. The wine tasting was not spectacular, though we had just been spoiled at the attention and thought we received at Schramsberg.

The tasting room was open and bar like, but our bartender did not really speak to us about the wines we were drinking. While you can’t get their wine anywhere else, and we enjoyed their Merlot, Cab Sauv and sweet wine, we still left without any bottles. We were satisfied with the beautiful setting and were glad we came.

It was near time for lunch, so we decided, at Brian’s parents’ suggestion, to stop and buy a lunch to picnic with at the geyser in Castiloga (a region in Napa Valley).

We stopped at St Palisades Deli for sandwiches, and arrived at the geyser minutes before it went off.

We ate our sandwiches (which were fabulous, by the way), and then stopped at the goats. The Old Faithful Geyser of California has a collection of goats, including fainting goats.

We did our best to try and get the fainting goats to faint, but they weren’t surprised.

(This is not a fainting goat)

Our next stop was Sterling Vineyards, which is more well known. They have an air tram lift (similar to a ski lift) to their winery.

We were told that the scenery from the winery is beautiful, and that was true.

The tastings at Sterling are done in a gradual fashion, along your walk and “self-guided tour” around the winery. It was casual and well done, and I enjoyed walking around with our glass of wine.

Since we only paid for the base tastings, we were able to taste the basic wines. At the end though we enjoyed Malvasia Bianca, a sweet wine only available there. It was good palate quencher.

All in all, Sterling was worth the views, though we didn’t anticipate the time it would take to wait in line for the lift to and from the winery itself.

We following Sterling with a visit to Rombauer, which we had some difficulty finding because it was on the opposite side of the road from what we expected.

Rombauer was recommended to us the prior day by a couple who came to Napa Valley specifically to visit. We enjoyed it, and particularly their Zinfandel which she paired with a bittersweet chocolate (my favorite part, obviously).

The winery itself was quaint. It had a nice view and small gardens with sculptures, and it wasn’t very crowded though it was smaller.

With the day nearly ending (or at least, the part where wineries are open), we decided to visit V. Sattui.

V. Sattui was the most crowded place we had been to yet, but it was beautiful. They offer a deli and a huge assortment of cheeses. So as not to ruin our dinner, we opted for a sausage stuffed mushroom, which tasted like pizza without the marinara and bread.

Because their tasting room was so crowded, we decided to get a bottle and eat outside.

Despite the crowds, we were still able to find room outdoors to sit down and eat. We got a bottle of their Zinfandel, which we enjoyed enough to try and bring home the rest of the open bottle on an airplane.

Our bellies satisfied, we left for downtown Napa to find a place for dinner.

Before dinner though, we did find a tasting room in Napa still open when we arrived. Waterstone at Oxbow

So close to closing time, there weren’t many people in the room. I loved their recycled glass counter tops in particular. One thing I noticed was that this tasting room offered an opportunity to buy by the glass, instead of just tastings and bottles. We hadn’t seen that anywhere else.

We shut that place down and left to cross the bridge back to downtown. I could see as we walked up and down the street lots of tasting rooms for yet another kind of experience if we had had the time.

In downtown Napa, there is a small micro-brewery (leave it to Brian to find those), so we decided on one more stop before dinner.

Downtown Joe’s offered a tasting of their entire lineup, which we had to try. I enjoyed their great raspberry ale.

It was finally time for dinner, and by this time it was prime eating hour, so we had to wait for about a half hour before being seated at the Bounty Hunter. We waited outside at a table, so it wasn’t any hardship on this beautiful evening.

It was dimly lit and dark outside at this point, so we don’t have any (good) photos, but they had simply amazing BBQ and offered 3 sauces.

We split a dish of pulled pork brisket and ribs, and the cole slaw was excellent. I am not a BBQ person, but to me, this was exceptional food.

So ended a wonderful day in Napa Valley, from tours to sightseeing to downtown, touristy spots to those less traveled.

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Breweries & Wineries, Day 3

After Muir Woods, we drove to Russian River Brewery. Brian told me just this weekend that their Pliny the Elder might be his very favorite beer ever, so I’m sure it was a thrill for him to be able to try the entire line up they had available at their brewery and restaurant.

Many of their beers are not sold to anywhere outside the brewery, let alone outside California.

I did help Brian sample the beers too, so don’t be worried that he drank 18 full tastings all by his lonesome.

Also, we ate.

They are known for their pizzas, and this one entirely met that expectation. And as for the beers? I enjoyed many of them; particularly and surprisingly, the sour beers, which are fermented in old wine barrels that you could see through a window just past our booth.


We had one more brewery to hit before we finally began the wine leg of our vacation: Lagunitas. They are unexpectedly located in a corporate business park; and I was shocked as we walked back that there was a backyard, party-like atmosphere.

As they told us on their tour, they’re getting big enough that they are no longer a small micro brewery any longer.

Brian shared a story, which they repeated on tour, about one of their brand new tanks that was lost at sea and needed to be remade and resent from Europe.

My favorite part of Lagunitas was the beer glasses, which were large mason jars. We took 4 home, and I love them for regular drinks too. I would replace my entire glassware with these, that is how much I love them.

Everything seemed timed perfectly then for us to be on our way and arrive in time for one of only two scheduled winery visits.

This first winery was at my insistence. I was concerned, while looking online for places to visit, that we wouldn’t be surrounded by vineyards anywhere. I wanted to sit by vineyards, and it seemed like so many tasting rooms were in downtown areas.

(I needn’t have worried, since there were plenty of vineyards everywhere; though this one would still top in terms of scenery from most)

Cuvaison was intimate and small but not too small, even though it was by appointment only. As Brian’s parents warned us, if you go too small, then you may feel obligated to walk away with a case. This one wasn’t that small and we just walked away with two bottles.

We chose to sit outside surrounded by vineyards, despite the wind that day. With jacket, scarf, and wine, I was comfortable. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable, and we received 5 tastings of great wine.

It was a great place to start our winery tour in Napa Valley, and we were in no hurry to leave.

Next up was Peju Province, and I confess that my first impression was that this winery was pretentious; but wine continued to flow, was pretty good, and I adjusted my impression. I liked Peju.

Peju offered standing group tastings, which was different than our relaxed, individual attention at Cuvaison. Everyone was nice and having a great time; we met a couple there who suggested a few other wineries to visit, of which we went to one the following day.

My favorite wine there was their Fifty Fifty and their Provence. The Provence is a combination white and red wine, which reminds me of Catawba wines from Put-in-Bay, but not as sweet. We sampled 9 wines in a half hour.

We decided there was time to stop at one more tasting room before heading to check in to our hotel and get ready for dinner, so we went to a tasting room right off the road called Cosentino.

We opted to share one tasting between us, and there I enjoyed the Cigarzin (which we came home with) and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Throughout my wine tastings in Napa, I determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite style of wine right now. Almost every one I tried, I thought was exceptional.

A special offering to the group next to us who had been there a while was “The Poet,” and we requested to try it as well, for fun.

The wine was from 1985 (the year I was born, as Brian reminded me a few times). There was sediment at bottom, and it was almost gold-tinged around the rim, but it was actually not too bad. Aged wines this old don’t have good consistency, so some bottles are good, and some may as well be vinegar. This, however, was decent.

The tasting at Cosentino was casual, and I was happy to have enjoyed that day 3 totally different experiences, from an intimate setting, to a scheduled group, to casual at the bar.


We arrived then at our hotel, and I was very impressed. We stayed at the Napa Valley Embassy Suites, and it had a big center outdoor courtyard with a lovely swan and mother and baby ducklings! It was a like a resort. In the mornings, it even offered an omelet bar, included with our stay.

We had dinner reservations at Brix, and Brian was sweet to share that it was an anniversary celebration for us (3 years!). They also gave us a seat with a view out into their gardens.

Our chocolate creme brulee (which I didn’t even know was possible) was divine.

Thus ended our first night in Napa Valley, which had so far lived up to all my expectations and then some.

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Muir Woods, Day 3

We weren’t originally planning to visit Muir Woods because I had heard it was very touristy and crowded. However, Brian convinced me we could make it there early in the day and still hit Napa Valley by our appointment at 2, so we changed plans and decided to go.

I’m so glad we did!

But first, we had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge! I took these shots from our moving car, can you believe it?

We did pick up a rental car that morning, which wasn’t too exciting, but did it’s job well. It was a comfortable enough ride, though I was very unhappy with the cleanliness of the windshield. Most of my good shots were out the passenger side window; the windshield straight on was covered in soap spots, in and out, even after we rubbed it down with towels.

I felt like I should say something meaningful as we crossed and left San Francisco behind, like “straight on til morning”. The way ahead was beautiful; it was a perfect mist-free day with bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds. I was surprised at the hills — covered in some sort of brown hay interspersed with green trees.

The way was pretty intense as we got into the hills; the road twisted around more than Lombard Street, and I got mildly nauseous. It may have just been Brian’s driving though. (just kidding)

We arrived at Muir Woods shortly after 9 in the morning. We enjoyed the early morning light among the trees which were, in short (or tall, heh heh), amazing.

It was difficult to capture their size on my camera. I tried though! A lot.

Muir Woods is filled with old-growth coastal redwoods. These are different than the Giant Sequoias, which are known for their girth rather than their height! (Think of the trees that you can drive through; those are sequoias) However, they are of the same family. Coastal redwoods can grow up 365 feet tall.

I could understand why Muir Woods is so popular; the trail was easy for any age. There was a trail back around which was a little tougher and not appropriate for strollers, but there was a good path on the way in which you could return by.

I was happy that we had arrived so early so we could enjoy the woods without too many other people.

Well, but I’m always happy when there are enough people to ask one to take your photo together. Someone who could even use my camera!

The ground was carpeted in large clover, moss and ferns, and even though the sky was clearer than we had seen in days, there was a heavier humidity to the air in the woods. It seemed to retain a lot of moisture from overnight; every once in a while, the wind would blow droplets of water off the trees.

On our way out, we saw an owl perched in a tree, just watching us watch it.

And then we were on our way again! Twisting our way out of the hills and to our next stop, a brewery for lunch.

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San Francisco, Day 2

After Alcatraz, we decided to walk along Fisherman’s Wharf; there were a lot of places to stop for food. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly food, plus the Aquarium (we didn’t visit). It was full of activity when we were there, and later we walked along it at night which was another perspective.

My favorite part though was the Arcade Museum, Musee Mecanique, filled with coin-operated arcade and video games!

Brian and I got a few coins and played a couple games too. I played Ski Ball, which is my all time favorite game. I am only okay at it, but it is thrilling to hit the 50 slot! Brian played whack-a-mole, and with our last coin, we watched a French Execution.

The game play made us hungry, so we headed up to the famous food truck, The Codmother Fish and Chips.

We both got an order of fish tacos. Cabbage, a good sized piece of fish made fresh, and their signature sauce (I got mild, Brian got medium) in a basket. We shared some fries, and I was happy to see vinegar at the table because there is nothing like fresh fries with vinegar! It was excellent.

Following lunch, we walked up a few cable car stops then and hopped on, standing along the side.

We got off at Chinatown, which is the biggest Chinatown in any city in the US. I liked it even more than the one in NYC, but Brian said he preferred the “sketchiness” in NYC. It’s true, this Chinatown was not filled with knockoff brands or a whole lot of side alleys (or at least… it didn’t seem to be!).

We purchased a scarf for me there, because it was really chilly that day. With a jacket and scarf on, I was finally comfortable.

The day was really starting to clear up by this time, we even saw bright blue sky heading into downtown to catch the metro to our next stop, Buena Vista Park. The park was supposed to give us great views of the bridge, though I was more pleased with the views of the city proper.

To reach the park, we got off the metro, and then walked what felt like an entire mile, entirely, steeply uphill. At one point, there were steps in the sidewalk because it was so steep.

The views were nearly worth it.

Okay, afterwards we stopped for drinks, and then it was totally worth it.

We took a different way back down, onto Haight Street and the so-called “hippie” district. It may have been a little be eclectic, and I enjoyed the murals, but my favorite was this spot: Hobson’s Victorian Punch House.

That is three bowls of punch there, their house punches, made with rum and various fruit juices. It was really a rum bar, with over 100 types of rum available. My kind of place!

Brian had an Anchor Steam Ale (based in San Francisco, though we didn’t go) and Descheutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale.

And I had two of these.

But the day wasn’t over! Eventually we had to leave, and we made our way to Ghiradelli Square and the dock extending away from it, where I was happy to finally get some good photos of Golden Gate Bridge.

Oh yes, we did stop for some chocolate samples and a sundae as well.

What made the sundae was the crushed nuts, and the chocolate, I think. It was so good, we were barely hungry for dinner that night.

Speaking of, to get there, I was happy to walk off more of that sundae by walking down the windy, twisty Lombard Street.

I’m pretty sure it was mostly tourists driving down that street!

For dinner, we decided we wanted to sit outside at a small Italian restaurant, as it had finally warmed up enough to be comfortable. A lot of places had outdoor heating, though we eventually chose a place which did not (because we didn’t want to wait for a seat that had heating. If you can’t tell by all the places we made it to even after Alcatraz, all in ONE day, we walk fast and might be a touch impatient!).

We didn’t have reservations, but we checked Yelp for a good spot along Columbus Avenue, which had a lot of Italian restaurants along it. We selected Rose Pisolta and enjoyed a fabulous dinner; like the previous night’s tapas dinner, we were pleased with the portion sizes since we had consumed most of the day already.

I had an Italian Quarter Shrub cocktail (Abuelo 7 Year Rum, Fresh Orange Juice, Lemon Shrub, Agave Nectar). It was sweet, and not at all alcohol-tasting, reminding me of my favorite martini, a lemon drop)

For my meal, I enjoyed a Black Summer Truffle Ravioli with Yellow Corn Brodo.

Brian had the pasta with Lobster, Orange & Micro Basil. It had a very herbal scent and taste, but was very good. It was missing the substance though that my dish had, I think.

For our grand finale that evening, we walked along Fisherman’s Wharf again, and then went to Buena Vista Cafe, sat at the bar, and had a famous Irish Coffee.

Well, Brian had one two. I was completely full; I did try his though. The flavor is very intense.

It was a nice, relaxing end to our long and busy day! We were excited that we were able to do all of the items on our list for San Francisco, and I was excited to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge the next day and see the redwood forest!

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Alcatraz Island, Day 2

Have any of you watched the new series, The Great Escape on TNT? I confess I haven’t, but I’ve seen so many commercials for it while watching Falling Skies that I feel like I have.

Anyway, the first episodes are set at Alcatraz, which I thought was ironic since we were just there. Surprisingly, no one mentioned the show while we were there just a week or so prior to the premier.

It was really appropriate I think that our visit to Alcatraz was gray and misty. It added an air of heavy history to our visit.

The seagulls followed us there. Or maybe we followed the seagulls there. As it turns out, it’s nesting season for the birds, and there were plenty of the seagulls (and two other bird species) with their chicks on the island.

We were the first tour group to arrive to the island, so after an introduction from a book author and former resident of the island, we headed up to the cell block to try and beat the crowds.

There are 4 cell blocks; Cell Block A, pictured above, was not secure enough for prisoners, and was actually used for storage and supplies. Cell Block D had a few more nicely furnished cells, and then the solitary confinement cells.

Some cells were “faux furnished” with “people”; some were set up as if for new inmates, and a few cells were even open.

I also got a shot of myself doing this same pose. Yes.

There is a self-guided audio tour, which Brian and I didn’t listen much to. Neither of us had much patience for the slow speaking on the tour, but I have since read up a little more about the island.

On the other hand, by escaping from the rest of the groups, we had an opportunity to get this lonely shot of the recreation yard without a soul in it:

Alcatraz has a lot of history behind it: It served as a prison, then occupied by Indians, then abandoned for years. There were escape attempts and political drama; everything you need for plenty of good stories.

But some of my favorite parts of the island was the gardens contrasted by the old structures:

By the time we left the island, the mist had begun to lift, leaving great views of the city and back toward the island.

While I wasn’t originally planning to enjoy Alcatraz as much as I did, I walked away feeling like we both had an opportunity to see something interesting to each of us. For Brian, the prison and its history was fascinating. For myself, I loved the birds, gardens, and old run down buildings.

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San Francisco, Day 1

Are you ready for experiencing 5 days in California with me? Okay okay, I was already there and back, but I’m excited to share the fun with you now!

In case you don’t guess by the photos, no, Jameson did not go with us. He stayed with Brian’s parents and had a really fabulous time. He ate really well, saw family at Brian’s cousin’s wedding shower, and terrorized Sasha. Just kidding. But we hear they had a lot of fun, and grandma had to go to bed early after that for nearly a week, she was so tired out!

The flight and jet lag weren’t too bad, aside from whole being up for some 20 hours in a row (maybe not literally, but close with the time change). We stayed at the Hilton in the Fisherman’s Wharf district. It wasn’t a fabulous hotel but decent, but it was free with points, and the location was ideal!

The first place we went was to get food, of course, so we walked a couple blocks (after walking too far one way, we turned around because we realized we had passed it) and stopped at Rogue Ales Public House. Rogue Ales served great burgers. So. Good.

For the record, I did drink a beer here too. When in Rome…! Brian had the Reserve Hop and Russian Imperial Stout, and I had the Trumer Pils

Our next stop was the cable cars. Here’s a tip we figured out after waiting in line for 40 minutes: You don’t have to wait in line. Buy your 1- or 3-day pass, and then walk up a few blocks. The cable cars will stop, and you can get on, though you may be standing on the outside, which is half the fun!

On the other hand, Brian and I got the prime seated spot on the cable car and I got a couple fun photos of myself!

It was pretty cold there right by the water; I was thankful for my hood covering my ears. Most of our time in San Francisco it was in the 50’s, which actually was perfect walking weather!

The cable car went up and down the steep hills of the city, and we rode it all the way to it’s end. Here we are passing Lombard Street; I have pictures of that windy street from better angles when we walked down it a day or so later.

At the end of the cable car line, we were ready to stop at a microbrewery on Brian’s list: 21st Amendment. It was a short hike there (we opted to walk where we could and avoided the bus, sticking with the metro and cable car during our stay).

21st Amendment had a large space. We sipped beers in the loft area. If you haven’t already gathered, there is a lot of eating and drinking on this trip.

Here Brian had the Gigantus IPA, and I had the Saison, which had the most lovely smell. It tasted good too. Brian said that it was one of the best Saison styles he had ever tried.

Here is Brian, looking at a map and scoping out the journey to our next stop, the Painted Ladies.

Contrary to what it may appear, we had a list of things we wanted to do, but no scheduled time frame in which to do them. We also didn’t commit to getting to do everything, because that is the way to make your vacation stressful! Instead, we were flexible with our time, our stops, and had a few key things planned out for our trip:

  1. Alcatraz (we had to book this one, so we scheduled it for the morning)
  2. Painted Ladies
  3. Seeing The Bridge
  4. Seeing Big Trees (Redwoods)
  5. A couple brewery stops (of which we hit all, and then some!)
  6. 2 Wineries we had scheduled (otherwise we just had a list of ones that would be good to stop at)
  7. A couple dinners schedule (not all!)

The key to our stress-free sightseeing vacation was to map everything to see where it was, so that we could make effective, efficient choices about where to go next, with few requirements.

Brian was really, very good about that. And it was the most stress-free sightseeing vacation I’ve ever had. The relatively frequent stops for drinks helped too.

I propped up my camera to take this photo of us by the Painted Ladies on a trash can. No hesitation. It was the perfect height!

Then it was time for another bar stop, of course!

We went to Toronado’s, which is famous for their beer list. Those are dried hops hanging above the list.

If Brian owned a bar, he said, it would be like this. For me, it reminded me of the winery we went to in Ohio, with collections gathering dust. It had such atmosphere.

We stayed awhile. I just looked back at my list, and it appears that Brian had 4 beers. I had one.

Brian started with a Russian River Pliny the Elder, which he has had before but loves; followed by Russian River Damnation, Firestone Walker Pale 31, and Drakes Drakonic. I had a Two Rivers Pomegranate (hard) Cider which was nice and sweet.

We were there long enough to take photos of the awesome bathroom.

Dinner that night was at Bocadillo’s, which we did make reservations for. It’s a smaller restaurant, serving tapas. We were able to stop at the hotel first to freshen up first.

Dinner was excellent; I am developing a fondness for tapas, since you can try so many different things. I’ve now had tapa dishes in Chicago, Vegas and San Francisco, and always been happy to try new dishes.

And for us, since we had been eating and drinking all day, it was perfect to just get a few dishes without overfilling ourselves.

Then we stopped at a fudge and taffy shop Z. Cioccolato‘s, and a pastry shop, for dessert. I had a butterfly cookie like my grandma used to make which I have never seen before in any store. It was a great, late end to our first day in San Francisco.

Up tomorrow: Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Buena Vista Park, Lombard Street, and just a couple more shots of food and drinks!

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Wedding Rehearsing

Brian and I had a 7 hour drive to Emma’s wedding last weekend, so we were up bright and early, grandma arrived shortly after to be there when Jameson awoke, and off we went!

Her wedding was on a Sunday, so we left Saturday morning to arrive in time for rehearsal. It was a long drive, but my husband is a champion driver and offered to do the whole she-bang. As long as he got to stop at McDonald’s for breakfast. And the brewery he wanted on the way.

They usually have good food, so no objections here!

We stopped at Fegley’s Brew Works in Allentown, PA where Brian got to try a beer that several people had been telling him about. He’s an IPA/hoppy beer kind of guy, and apparently this beer was really good: Hop’Solutely.

Brian enjoyed the beer so much that after he purchased two cases (and then one more for good measure), he called our trip for Emma’s wedding a vacation!

Yes, a vacation for poor Brian, left alone Saturday night and all day Sunday until after the ceremony. He’s a keeper.

I knew better than to try it myself though!

On the way, I brainstormed my wedding toast. I knew she was having other family give speeches, so I wasn’t too concerned with length. I didn’t read anything online for help; I wrote my short but very sweet toast from the heart.

I may have gotten slight inspiration from the series finale of In Plain Sight. But otherwise, it was completely original.

Satisfied with that, I felt free to relax and read the second book of the Hunger Games for the remainder of the trip. Oh, remember my Amazon rant? Our Prime account was finally up and I just happened to think on that last week so we switched the main account to myself, and now I can access the Kindle Lending Library! WIN!

We arrived in time to stop at both our hotels before rehearsal to change: Emma had me stay with her the night before the wedding while Brian got a fancy executive suite for free with points. Jealous.

We practiced inside first since there was a Bar Mitzvah going on. Loads of fun here, can’t you tell?

Ah, that’s better.

If you haven’t noticed, I am not taking these photos with my fancy-pants camera. A good old point and shoot is much better when you are actually IN the wedding.

One of the things I remember distinctly about my rehearsal is that I had no photos of it. So I was determined to take some for Emma.

If you can’t tell yet, this is going to be a great wedding. However, I got very few photos of the event itself (for obvious reasons!). Therefore, you will have to wait a bit until the photographer puts up some of her photos so I can direct you to the professional ones.

Next week, I promise.

Meanwhile, Emma and Joe are at the British Virgin Islands, hopefully relaxing their hearts out. Congratulations!

P.S. I should mention the sweetest part of the whole event.

After rehearsal, we had a fabulous dinner, which included a well-aged red wine from France. Emma’s dad purchased 20 bottles some 20 years ago in preparation for her future wedding!

It was smooth and very good; enough so that I asked Emma what it was and got the story! How sweet is that?!

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Vegas, Sans Baby

The weekend finally arrived! After all the months of planning, we all flew in to Vegas to celebrate Emma’s bachelorette party!

I may not have mentioned before, but this was my third visit to Vegas. The first was with Brian, and we toured a few days in Vegas and saw all the highlights, drove out to see the Hoover Dam, and to Arizona for my friend’s wedding. Brian had a blast driving through the dessert.

The second time though was with Emma and Jamie, and I was pregnant. Bummers.

So this time sans baby, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to do Vegas girl-style. We stayed up late, ate well, lounged well. Our itinerary looked much the same as it did at it’s formal invite stage, but I switched up a couple times for things:

Note: For breakfast and lunch, we didn’t really end up at the places I had initially recommended. We all pretty much did our own thing in various groups until the evenings when we all got together. It worked out perfectly!


  • Arrivals
  • 11 am-3 pm – Check-in is 3pm, courtesy at 11am
  • 1:30 pm – Planned Lunch ~ Earl of Sandwich, Planet Hollywood (we didn’t end up making it here, but I heard it is so good!)
  • 2:30 pm – Actual Lunch ~ The Buffet, The Mirage (buffet right in our hotel, I needed immediate food gratification ha)
  • 7 pm – Dinner ~ Tao Restaurant, The Venetian
  • 10 pm – Haze Nightclub, Aria: Shannon, Jamie and Hilary


  • 9 am – Breakfast ~ Le Village Buffet, Paris
  • 11 am-1 pm mani & pedis ~ The Spa & Salon, Aria: Emma, Hilary and Jamie
  • 1 pm – Planned Lunch ~ BLT Burger, The Mirage (we ate here another day instead)
  • 2 pm – Actual Lunch ~ Julian Serrano, Aria
  • 5 pm – Dinner ~ Brand Restaurant, Monte Carlo
  • 7 pm – Le Reve-The Dream Show, The Wynn
  • 10 PM – 1Oak Nightclub, The Mirage (Cee-Lo performs!)


  • 9 am – Breakfast ~ Blizz, The Mirage (I ate here, others ate elsewhere. I had a savory crepe and smoothie which were stellar!)
  • 12 pm – Planned Lunch ~ Mon Ami Gabi, Paris (we kind of skipped lunch)
  • 3:45 pm – Gondola Ride, The Venetian: Kristen, Hilary, Shannon; meanwhile Emma got her hair done at Aria!
  • 5:30 pm – Dinner ~ Olives Restaurant, Bellagio
  • 9:30 pm – Men of Sapphire Revue Show, Club
  • 11 pm – Planned ~ Haze Nightclub, Aria (we opted not to go, the show was entertaining)


  • Departures
  • No planned activities, we did BLT Burger for an early lunch at The Mirage
  • We saw the Monet Art Gallery in Bellagio, which was fascinating
  • The girls left, and I laid by the beach for a while, shopped and walked.

The Mirage

Nice entryway and decent pool. We requested adjoining rooms, but they weren’t available, so they gave us rooms near each other. However, two of the girls who opted to stay to a room themselves had a smokey-smelling room. Overall, I felt like the ventilation in the hotel wasn’t as good as other places I’ve stayed. On the other hand, they did have a very nice pool, easily and quickly accessible to our rooms (which is why the bride wanted to stay there in the first place). Oh, and it’s reasonably central to a lot of the activities we did.

The Package

We booked with The LightGroup, and I would do so again absolutely. We got into two great clubs quickly with minimal fuss (where we needed to go at Aria was a little confusing, and 1Oak was exceptionally busy the night we were there so there was a little extra time/effort/convincing that went on). And no flip flops, ladies!

On the other hand, I am an excessive planner, so not knowing the details of every moment and exactly how to get in the clubs was tough for me (my instructions were to “call these people”). Overall, definitely worth the one dinner we had to pick. That’s it!

Oh, and I did have trouble momentarily when I booked our hotel through the LightGroup, they booked the wrong nights, which luckily I caught because I called the hotel directly to check. Because I’m an over-planner. That would’ve been a HUGE negative, so remember to always be your own advocate and all that good stuff.

The Food

Brand: This was a really great deal with the package! Decent food, lots of food provided actually, there was plenty.

Olives: Excellent olive tapenade to go with the starter breads. Excellent wine-by-the-glass list, in my humble opinion. I had the special which was a spaghetti and meatballs, and I enjoyed it a lot, though it was very traditional. Not as exotic as I expected with all the hype about this place, but very good food. Our service was less than stellar though.

Tao: Very good. We allowed the chef to pick three dishes for us to share. It was a good choice, to let the chef pick his favorites!! The ceiling was high and decorated; it had a great atmosphere.

Julian Serrano: Tapas are so fun! I love sharing small portion dishes, especially in Vegas where it felt like we were eating all the time. I am a big fan, so that I can try all kinds of new things. They have a house sangria, which was decent.

Blizz: I enjoyed my smoothie a lot; I went for another one the next day in lieu of a meal after all the girls left. The savory crepe was huge, I only ate half.

Jean-Philippe Patisserie: Creme Brulee gelato in Bellagio. SO GOOD. We also tried the nutella bar and eclair and were wowed.

BLT Burger: Okay service, excellent burger. The fries were great, in little cups. I’m glad we made it here for sure.

I wish we could’ve made it to Mon Ami Gabi, it’s still on my list to sit outside along the strip to have a meal there. Guess I’ll have to save it for next time!

The Spa

I can’t say enough good things about the salon portion of the spa at Aria. We were in massage chairs while they did our nails (must get a pedi for that but they can do the mani’s there too). We had champagne and great service. I wanted to go back the very next day, and Emma actually did, to get her hair done. It was truly relaxing, exactly what I needed. It was phenomenal!

The Shows

Le Reve is kind of like Cirque du Soleil, but not. Still acrobatics. But, just like when I saw Ka at MGM, I nodded off for a few seconds here and there. Show time is right at my down time after meals, sigh.

I loved that the theater was round and that we had great seats. We could see everything! When I called to place the order for those seats, the lady told me that the 6th row is her favorite. My favorite too! Not too low, not too high, a nice panoramic view of all the action.

Men of Sapphire. Classier than the one I went to Cleveland for my own bachelorette party for all of fifteen minute cause it was gross. Just gross. This club was classier in every way with nice seating, nicer men, better show. We enjoyed ourselves enough that we skipped going to Haze.

If I had to do it again: Only stay for two hours. After that, it gets un-classy real quick, just like the Cleveland place. Oh, and if you’re going to do do/buy someone a lap dance (just saying), do it early before the drinks start flowing, before they start cutting corners, and before you have been removed of all your cash!! Speaking of, bring some ones!

It was a fun experience, but I’m not in a hurry to go again.

The Clubs

Haze: Exactly what I envision a Vegas nightclub to be. Big screens, big music, crazy dancers. I wish we could’ve gone again and stayed longer. We got free drinks with our package, but got there too close to their expiration (which was midnight), so we rushed our drinks. If you do the package, come early, get your free drinks, enjoy yourself. Wish we had made it here just a touch earlier for sure.

1Oak: I wouldn’t go here again I think. Dance floor was small, lots of tables instead which of course you need table service for. There’s a little story here about how one of the girls decided to buy Emma table service. Which was awesome to say we’ve done since we all got to join in, but outrageously expensive. Just to give you an idea: table service is a two bottle minimum and bottles run $500 each at those clubs. Yikes! But we got a cool stamp out of it that took forever to come off our hands.

But 1Oak was happening that night since Cee-Lo was there, so, just to be there? awesome. Aside: Jamie and I got a better look at him when we saw him giving a press conference outside Caesar’s Palace earlier that day. Jamie even got to go up and snap a very close picture of him! She’s a fan, so it was very exciting for her.

Gondola Ride

We went on the outside ride instead of indoors, which was great because of the perfect weather, though it was a shorter ride than I expected! Our boater had a great voice and was entertaining. I got a lot of pictures. It’s so touristy… and so cool anyway!


And those were the highlights, it was a great trip. I sent photos and some text messages to Brian, but actually didn’t call until Sunday after the girls all left. It was nice to get away from daily life and live like I was still in college. Well, better than college.

Meanwhile, Brian and Jameson had a great time. Jameson even had a sleep over with his friend! Almost sorry I missed it 🙂

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Breakfast and Vino (or not): Part 2 of 2

No, we didn’t have wine with our breakfast.

Yesterday, I left off with a sneak preview of our cabin, oozing with adorableness. This is Peggy’s Bed & Breakfast, and I can hardly believe my pictures look just as great as the advertised photo on her site.

Despite the slightly restless sleep, we woke up happy and even slept in a little. Does 8 o’clock count? Our breakfast arrived from the main house at 9. That’s right, we had our lovely B&B all to ourselves.

And this breakfast was amazing. Days later, and I’m still calling it the best breakfast I ever had.

Brian enjoyed Asparagus Strata with asparagus, sausage, egg and cheese with toast and jam. While I! I had the stuffed French toast, filled with cheese and ham and topped with baked apples. I can still taste the melding of salty and sweet on my tongue.

Details like the lovely silver pitcher above were also noted everywhere in the cabin. From here on, the photos can do most of the talking.

When you enter the cabin, the little living room charms you first.

From the note on the fireplace and little charm, to the story book with handwritten installments from previous visitors, everything was placed just so.

Behind the couch was an array of rustic statues and decor.

To the left are the open stairs, perfect for a few more friendly guests.

The bedroom upstairs was cozy with the angled and paneled ceiling and the plantation shutters.

The closet was miniature but deep enough to show off an additional welcome setting.

Returning downstairs, I loved how all the space was utilized to its fullest potential. This nook under the stairs for books really spoke to me.

The kitchen came complete with vintage stove and oven, and exposed beam ceiling.

Finally, each room was livened up with fresh flowers, which I believe were literally from her backyard. Even the bathroom!

The cabin was quaint, and we enjoyed exploring every corner. There were board games and movies; I’m certain that had we been able to stay for more than a single night, we would’ve enjoyed an evening in, just the two of us and a glass of wine, as much if not more than spending the night out at the wineries themselves.

We left refreshed and renewed.

The weather was overcast Sunday morning, but that didn’t stop us from taking the long way home with a look at Lake Erie from Geneva-on-the-Lake. It’s not much, but a little warming up of the tones in a photo can brighten even the overcast day here in Ohio.

Our mini vacation was the perfect escape from everyday life for us. We came back ready to enjoy it again.

We came home Sunday to a baby who (almost literally) bounced on the floor in excitement upon seeing us. We celebrated with our neighbors at their daughter’s first birthday party. We ate some more good food (and cake), went on walks around the circles by our house, and relaxed in front of the television.

And then we woke up every hour to a fussy baby. Welcome back!

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Conneaut and Vino: Part 1 of 2

Saturday and Sunday, Brian and I escaped daily life and for the first time, together, we left Jameson with Brian’s parents and drove off into the sunset off to wine country (again).

I can barely choose amongst the many amazing photos which ones to share. So I’m not choosing, just splitting the post into two. Yes, I can have it all.

On Saturday afternoon, we arrived at Laurello’s for lunch. I myself had a pre-lunch on the way since I neglected my breakfast and preferred not to be a cranky monster by the time we finally ate. In any case, I never pass up food, so we had a sweet chilled eggplant dish on crackers and roasted red pepper pizza.

I was a little disappointed in the wine selection, but only because they didn’t have my usual favorite (Josephine). However, Brian and I did enjoy a glass of the Cabernet Franc, and took home some bottles.

Alright, alright. Pictures! And, the star of the show.

I know, I know. It doesn’t look like much.

Usually when we drive up to the wineries, we stay in what’s called Grand River Valley. However, because we were staying the night at a lovely B&B, we decided to venture further afield, to Conneaut. This one above came highly recommended by Brian’s parents.

It is a special place. Markko Vineyard sits, not untouched by time, but collecting time.

And puppies! You are taken in by this place now, for sure.

When we pulled up, we were a little uncertain. The entrance, off to the right, is noted with a faded chalkboard sign. We went in through the side, missing the sign. An older lady saw us and started pulling down the wine glasses for samples.

We started off with the reds, Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had a hard time focusing on my wine. I was torn between my taste buds and my camera eye.

Around the small room were years of trinkets and antiques stowed away on a wide upper shelf, collecting cobwebs.

We finished the reds and moved on to chardonnays.

And this lady? She was old school.

She rinsed out our wineglasses with more wine: these $30+ bottles of wine. She poured some in, swirled, and dumped into this bucket, before giving us clear glasses of chardonnay.

I’m usually not a fan of chardonnay, but perhaps I just hadn’t met the right one yet. The first one here that I tried, I loved.

Another turn around the room, and I saw more.

So careful in processing these photos to try and retain the vision I had while there.

And my favorite, this leaf, pinned up plain against the wall.

I told Brian as we left the winery that the trip already felt complete.

We weren’t done yet, though we were almost done with Conneaut. Up the road is Tarsitano, a winery and cafe housed in a barn, and recommended by Arnie himself from Markko for their food.

A completely different atmosphere than what we left, this place was vibrant and bright. They were completely booked for dinner (not to worry as we already planned on dining at Ferrantes).

The wine here was eclectic: Brian had a sample of unfiltered “Lemberger” wine; I tried the Mia. We settled on glasses on the front porch and I dreamed of fall.

Okay, not really. Almost though. My Riesling smelled and tasted of apples.

As we left, I noticed their front herb garden, with basil and thyme and cucumbers. The food did smell delicious. I think we’ll be back.

We rounded out the night at Ferrantes, where I had a great seafood dish. Finally, well-cooked mussels! And even later, we made sure to visit South River, our old favorite. And finally we ended up here.

This lovely cabin is where I leave off today. It’s our bed and breakfast where we stayed and it had charm like Markko’s (though it has more “planned” clutter and without the cobwebs). I’m excited to share this place with you tomorrow.

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