Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite photos from 2010

Cross posted from Vivid Elegance Blog;

I took a few thousand photographs in 2010 through a wide range of subjects: portraits, food, products, a school play, vacations, a couple of births, and many birthdays. Here are a few of my favorites.

The Vice President of Lincoln Mortgage. One of my annual clients and the best photo on their staff page (I don't take the rest).

My sister-in-law asked me to take her family's Christmas portraits this year. I just love the expression on my 6 month old nephew's face in this image.

Asta 20100730 006.jpgLike many pet owners, I have way too many photos of my dog. I took this photo while testing the focus with my Canon 7D / 70-200 2.8 IS combo. I think he was stalking a squirrel or something.

Good beer, maybe a little sour. You can probably still find it, but not for very much longer. The highlights on the top and side edges of the glass show textbook dark field lighting technique, and I love the way the green table fades into black.

Football food! Tastes great, easy to make, and better for you than fried. Plus another Navy win over Army.

So yummy. Such great blueberries in 2010. I love the circle of light and the reddish shadow on the stem. I just wish I could have done a better job getting rid of the distracting highlights on the snifter.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugA 2 year old with no fear. After jumping off the diving board into the deep end, he likes to float around the pool with his swimmies on. Polarizing filter took the glare off the water to make this image.

Napa 2010 351The view from Armida winery during the Napa vacation Wifey and I took with my parents. We liked this image so much, we printed it on wrapped canvas and hung it in the dining room.

Napa 2010 229Another photo from the Napa trip (Cuvaison Winery), but I didn't take it, Wifey did. Great lines, awesome perspective. Probably the best photo she's ever taken. Taken with a now discontinued Canon SD880IS, it just shows you don't need an expensive camera to take great photos.

Baby Wilhelm Says HiOK, I didn't take this image either, the ultrasound tech did, but I did scan it. Plus, it's the first image we have of our unborn baby's face.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Year Later; It's Time to Tell the Story

It started weeks before, but one year ago today it happened. Actually, it started months before with the receipt of written directions, but only weeks before were the directions carried out. IT was a phone call.

“Just got the worst news I could imagine.” my tweet rang out into the void.

Next steps were explained. Arrangements were made. Phone calls were made to families and friends. Bosses were notified so days off could get scheduled. The word wasn’t said. Everyone talked around it.

“It wasn’t what we expected.” I told her mom.

I don’t know when she first used the word, but I did in the next days while telling a friend from work. I got dizzy as I said it.

“Gretchen has breast cancer.” She’s 35 years old.

Appointment with the breast surgeon. We’re still in shock. The staff is rude. The lack of a family history is discussed. A new family history begins. The words mastectomy and lumpectomy are spoken with the nonchalance of cat and dog.

“Its the best kind of breast cancer to have,” we’re told as if there was such a thing.

More doctors; more appointments. Recurrence risks are explained. Tamoxifen treatment is refused. Radiation is mandatory. Genetic testing is negative. Surgery gets scheduled.

“I’m only going to take out a sonometer of tissue.” We were lied to.

Surgery is over. A one inch scar remains. Lab report tells of two and a half inches of tissue. She hurts. Intense, unfathomable pain. I’m powerless. I tell her she’s brave. Thanksgiving comes and goes. She hurts. I tell her she’s strong.. Christmas, New Years; she hurts. I tell her I love her. We call the surgeon.

“It will take over a year for the incision site to heal.” The truth this time, unfortunately.

Radiation. Permanent tattoos are put on her breast to guide the machine. Thirty five treatments. Five days a week. Seven weeks. Worst winter in decades. She goes to radiation. Two feet of snow knocks out power at home. I take her to radiation. The radiation pattern shows as “sunburn” across half her torso. It gets redder daily. Every day she gets more tired. Every day she hurts more.

“Congratulations, you’re a cancer survivor,” we were told after the last treatment.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugThere’s still healing to do. There always is after cancer treatment. “Survivor” is as much about beating the treatments as beating the disease. The fatigue vanished. The “sunburn” went away; mostly. The tattoos remain, but can be removed. The scar will always be there.

The scar has become a metaphor for me. Just as it will forever adorn my wife’s breast, the experience forever altered our lives.

Its not in my nature to ask for donations and the like and I am not going to here. Gretchen and I supported charitable organizations in the past, and after ours and other family members’ (Hi Mike) recent bouts with cancer we give more. The organizations we contribute to and support are:

American Cancer Society
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Not long after we found out about Gretchen’s cancer, a recommendation came out for women to delay having their first mammogram from 40 to 50. Obviously the recommendation distresses us, but more worrisome is that doctors like Gretchen’s gynecologist can no longer order the test for younger women; like my wife whose life he saved.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Napa 2010 Day 7

Last day, and a difficult one to beat. We started at an old favorite: Grgich Hills Estate Winery. For those who've seen the movie Bottle Shock, the reality is that Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Montelena for the '73 Chard. They make a full suite of wines on their own vineyards which are both organic and biodynamic, so they are about as natural as you can get. Fortunately, Grgich distributes most of their wines so I didn't have to buy any here.

Whitehall Vineyards sits right up Rte 29 from Grgich so we stopped there and each did tastings. The wines weren't spectacular, but the Chardonnay was nice, so we purchased a bottle.

Out third tasting of the day took us to V. Sattui winery. A bit of a disappointment, V. Sattui is extremely commercialized, but has a nice deli and picnic area if you buy food and wine there.

Owned by Peter Mondavi, Robert's brother, Charles Krug winey also distributes widely, but they make a nice Port they only sell at the winery, so we each bought a bottle.

For lunch we went to Silverado Brewery, a really nice brew-pub in St Helena. I ordered the fish and chips and a pint of seasonal American Wheat beer which tasted great.

The last winery of the day completely made up for our earlier disappointments. Rick from Frank Family recommended we go to Bremer Family winery up the mountain on the Silverado Trail side of the valley. Richard poured us one of the best tastings we had this week and was a great finish to our vacation week. We spent two hours tasting, getting quizzed on wine (Bill got and A+++++), and totally enjoying ourselves with another couple that came in soon after us. Highly recommend, we even purchased a $105 Cabernet to bring home.

Grgich Hills
Whitehall Vineyards
V. Sattui
Charles Krug
Silverado Brewing Co.
Bremer Family

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Napa 2010 Day 6

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We went over to Sonoma for our wine tastings today. Sonoma seems less commercialized which is also reflected in the costs of the wines and tastings. You can find places which only charge $5 and there are still some free offerings on that side of the mountains.

We started down the southern end of the valley at Schug, in the Carneros appellation. Schug's tasting cost $5 and they waived the fee for each bottle of wine purchased. The tasting room isn't very large, but the counter is made of recycled wine barrel wood. Schug specializes in Pinot Noir, but they make an excellent chardonnay, so we bought a bottle.

A fun, worthwhile tasting can be found at Valley of the Moon winery. The tasting room has a huge bar (didn't matter since we were the only ones there) and is also a gift shop. They offer two tastings, a $5 regular and $10 reserve tasting, and the fees are waived with three bottle purchase. VotM makes a full suite of wines, including a sparkling and a port which can only be purchased at the winery. We also bought a couple rosé of sangiovese and two sangiovese's to get our six bottles.

Russel, our host from Pride yesterday recommended we go to Chateau St. Jean, and even gave us coupons for free reserve tastings. CSJ distributes some of the their regular wines, and the reserves are very good. We got a Chardonnay and Vionier. In CSJ's tasting room they offer sandwiches and salads brought in daily from a local deli, so we ate a nice picnic lunch in their beautiful courtyard.

For our last winery of the day we took a looooooonng drive up to the border of the Dry Creek and Russian River areas of Sonoma to Armida Cellars. We know Armida from a fun Zinfandel they make called PoiZin which they distribute to Total Wine on the east coast. Unbeknownst to us they also make a reserve PoiZin sold only at the winery and to club members each bottle of which comes in its own coffin box (see bottles below). Dad joined the wine club, so he will be getting two shipments per year in addition to the case of chardonnay, two reserve PoiZins and two Antidotes we shipped home.

We ate a really nice steak dinner in downtown Napa at Cole's Chop House, an á la carté steakhouse. Everyone ordered the filet and we shared mushroom caps and asparagus.

Places Visited:
Valley of the Moon
Chateau St. Jean
Cole's Chop House

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Napa 2010 Day 5

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A day of old favorites today. We started at our favorite winery in the whole valley, Frank Family Vineyards. We order FF's wines mail order by the case and guess what: a case is on the way back east now. Unfortunately FF now charges for the tastings with $10 and $25 options (like many other places), but since we are on the mailing list, and had visited so often before (4 times), they gave us the reserve tasting complimentary (shhhhhh). I can't express how much we enjoy FF wines, and you know you're in Gigi's club if we serve you FF at home.

Last time we visited Napa, I signed up for one wine club, unfortunately it cost $800/year. Eventually I came to my senses (Wifey forced me) and cancelled my membership, but Von Strasser's wines taste so good, and we had such nice experiences meeting Rudy the owner/winemaker, and Mark the GM, we had to come back. Even without a reservation, they took us on a tour of the caves, an exceptional treat considering the 92 degree heat today (a nice, cool dry heat for all you suffering in NJ humidity). Von Strasser specializes in Cabernet Sauignon, making many single vineyard wines, but we bought their dry blush, the one white they make (Grüner Veltliner, a shout out to Rudy Von Strasser's Austrian heritage), and a bottle (375ml) of their Petit Verdot Port. Only Bill's club members get the port so really have to be in the know to get some.

After the last time we came to Napa, I got a t-shirt, the back of which reads, "I survived the drive to Pride." Now having driven the drive twice, I say I earned it. Pride sits atop Spring Mountain, and their vineyards flow down the mountain into both Napa and Sonoma. Besides the excellent Vionier (got one) Pride's has GREAT picnic areas. Before starting out for the day we went to Trader Joes, and got some salads, sandwiches, and cheese; then we ate a great lunch looking out over the valley vineyards (above)

Finally, we stopped at Domaine Chandon, my favorite sparking producer. Chandon's tasting room doesn't offer any of the privacy or specialness of any of the vineyards we've been to this year, however they make good sparking wine. Aside: I don't say champagne since you can't call bubbly champagne unless it was made in Champagne, France, even if the winemaker makes it via the same technique (methode champenoise). Fortunately Chandon distributes widely (get some Étoile, its cheaper in NJ than here), but we bought a vineyard only Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Only Asta Club members get wines we bring home from vacation. So now you know all the 352 Club levels.

For dinner tonight we went back into Napa City and ate outside at Ristorante Allegria, a very nice Northern Italian restaurant.

Places Visited:
Frank Family
Von Strasser
Pride Mountain Vineyards
Domaine Chandon
Ristorante Allegria

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Napa 2010 Day 4

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Today's day of wine tasting seemed more relaxed than the rest of the week. At no point during our four tastings did we feel rushed, and we still enjoyed some extremely nice wineries in the southern end of the Valley: the Carneros appellation.

To begin, we sat oustide the gate at Etude waiting for them to open at 10am. We love arriving at wineries when they first open because you get a more private tasting than if you get there later with everyone else. I can't express how beautiful Etude's tasting room looks, and their wines don't fail to impress either. Etude specializes in Pinot Noir which grows well in Carneros due to the cooler climate and sea breeze off the San Pablo Bay. They also produce some really nice (expensive) Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes they purchase from growers further north in the valley. Wifey and I bought a Pinot Gris, a dry Blush of Pinot Noir, and a Chardonnay.

Next we went to one of the area's most beautiful wineries, and a specializer in sparking wines: Domaine Carneros. The winery owners modeled their Chateau after one owned by Louis XV of France, which is not surprising considering Taittinger, one of the premier French Champaign makers is a partner. They offered seated tastings either inside or outside, so we found a table outside with a wonderful view of the valley (above), and sipped on five different sparklers, and two Pinot Noirs. We purchased three of the sparkling wines: a Rosé, a Late Disgorged Brut (aged five years instead of three), and a Ultra Brut (even drier than the brut).

Cuvaison sits right across the street from DC and they also served seated tastings, which are sooooo much better than the "saddle up to the bar" tastings you get many places. We found an inside stainless steel table which cooled us on an otherwise hot Napa day. Each of us tried the white and red tasting, but they also offer a red only option. We really enjoyed the Blush of Pinot Noir, which, if you are keeping score, is a recurring theme. Like John and Lisa posted on their blog, dry rosés are really nice in the summer, so I tend to gravitate to good ones this time of year. Along with the rosé, we also bought a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay.

Unfortunately for Pop and I, Mom and Wifey found 30% off coupons to the Coach Outlet, and since there is a Coach store at the Napa Outlet center, we had to go.

After some intense purse shopping, we went to our last and best tasting of the day. Patz and Hall winery makes only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and their "salon" is located just south of Napa city. Patz and Hall doesn't own any vineyards, but purchases grapes from area farmers who specialize in cultivating the two varietals they make. Each vineyard's grapes taste different based upon its terroir, so P&H markets some wines by the grower's or vineyard name under their label. The tasting consisted of a private table tasting of three Chardonnays and three Pinot Noirs with food pairing hosted by Marcus, the Wine Educator. We spent an hour tasting, sipping, and talking wine around a six person dinner table. Easily the best tasting of the week.

We actually got a chance to spend some time at the pool today, which felt great against the 90 degree heat. After the splash time, we went to dinner at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville which Dennis, our waiter from last night, recommended. Jeanty serves traditional French cuisine which meant Coq a Vin for Mom, escargot and rabbit risotto for Wifey, puff pastry tomato soup for Pop, and steak tartare for me.

Places Visited:
Domaine Carneros
Napa Outlets
Patz and Hall
Bistro Jeanty

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Napa 2010 Day 3

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We bought A LOT of wine today! For our first stop of the day we went to Robert Sinskey Winery for a four glass tasting (+ one extra). Since the winery is owned by a husband and wife who are a winemaker and chef respectively, they served each wine with a recommended one-bite food pairing. We bought a bottle each of their Pinot Gris and POV Bordeaux blend.

Our second stop took is to Chateau Montelena, whose chardonnay won the 1973 Paris Tasting and was featured in the 2008 movie Bottle Shock. Their chardonnay is still awesome and we got two bottles to bring home, along with a Riesling, and two bottles of their Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. The photo above I took at the Japanese garden at Montelena with multiple bridges and pagodas, turtles, ducks, and a swan.

Mom and Dad wanted to go into Calistoga se we could stop into the bike shop (who am I to argue with that), so we ate lunch at the Calistoga Inn and Brewery. Since the bar was stuffed with unhappy soccer fans, we ate in the restaurant area, and I had a grilled cheese which would make the Pop Shop jealous: monterey jack cheese, avocado, red onion, cilantro, and spicy chipotle sour cream paste. I paired it with a pint of their American Wheat Ale which cooled the hot valley day.

Right across the street from the Inn we found the store for Vermeil Wines (On the Edge Vineyard) co-owned by former Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil. Pop loved the Eagles memorabilia on display there, and he really enjoyed talking to former Eagles linebacker Frank LeMaster who was visiting the winery too. Since they only had red wines, Wifey and Mom skipped the tasting, and missed out on some really nice zinfandels which Dad bought a bottle of.

For our final winery of the day we went a winery everyone should recognize: Beringer. Fortunately we found coupons for two-for-one Reserve tastings. Beringer serves the regular tasting at a bar in the gift shop, but the reserve tasting featured their better wines and was held at private tables on the patio of the Rhine building, a German inspired building at the winery. Also fortunately the Reserve Chardonnay and Reserve Cabernet were on sale (got two chard and a cab) We also bought two bottles of the Alluvium Blanc, a great white blend which I can't seem to find in NJ anymore.

For dinner, we went to Tra Vinge in St. Helena, a great Italian restaurant which features fresh mozzarella made the moment you order it. Don't miss it if you get out here.

Places Visited:
Robert Sinskey
Chateau Montelena
Calistoga Inn
On the Edge (Vermeil Wines)
Tra Vinge

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Napa 2010 Day 2

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Awesome day of wine tastings today. We started early (10am) at Tefethen Vineyards with a wonderful tasting hosted by James, an NJ native. Trefethen offered two tastings: a selection of four wines for $10, and a reserve tasting of five wines for $25. We, of course, had both, with Pop and I ordering the reserve, and Wifey and Mom getting the regular, and we shared all the wines. It really didn't matter, because by the end of the tasting James was pouring us each all of the wines, and even went off menu to offer us Trefethen's Halo Chardonnay, which was beyond awesome. We bought a Halo, a regular chard, and a cab sauv to bring home.

After an hour at Trefethen, we continued north along 29 to Saddleback Cellars which Lou, the owner of Amalthea in Atco recommended. Saddleback's poured seven wines for $20. We sat ousted on the deck and listened to country western music (they have both kinds) and drank some really good, inexpensive wine (Nils, Saddleback's owner already paid off his 17 acre vineyard) and got though our Asta withdrawal by giving the vineyard dog some well deserved attention. A chardonnay, and a viognier decided they want to visit NJ.

For lunch, we wend to Rutherford Grill, which was near Saddleback. Even without reservations, they seated us right away, and we enjoyed a nice lunch of sandwiches and salads (I had the special Ahi Tuna burger, yumm).

We got to our next tasting on Napa time (late). Joseph Phelps Winery only does tastings by appointment only and they accommodated our tardiness. The wines were good, but they stopped making the Napa Chardonnay which introduced us to the winery, but it would be difficult to beat the view.

For out last winery of the day we decided to try one of the wineries that specialized in sparkling wine: Mumm Napa. Mumm offers different levels of tastings and we went for the reserve tasting which was two whole glasses of champagne and a cheese tray while sitting on the veranda overlooking the vineyard, nice.

Mommy works as the office manager for a doctor's office and one of the doctor's was staying in the same hotel for continuing education and we met them for dinner at Angele Restaurant in Napa city. Built out of a ship repair dock, Angele is a traditional French restaurant. Wifey and I shared a cheese plate appetizer and I had a rack of lamb for dinner. If you go to the valley, definitely have dinner at Angele.

Places visited:
Rutherford Grill
Joseph Phelps

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