Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hang Gliding Yosemite

Here's a unique perspective on Yosemite -- half dome, Yosemite Falls, panoramic views, and hang gliders.

Hang Gliding Yosemite

(This image courtesy of wikimedia)

Now I get it - the hang-gliding thing...
Click the link above to see a really neat video.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It is harvest season in Napa. Our wine group, "Leap of Faith" has just pressed out the cabernet sauvignon for 2009. The merlot was pressed about two weeks ago. We brought home several buckets of prime cabernet grapes to make jelly again. Here is the recipe. After getting the first batch made and sealed, I tootled off to sing with the Cinnabar Womens' Chorus. Dear John volunteered to make more jelly in my absence.

The drive to Petaluma is about 45 minutes each way, so rehearsal and commute takes about 4 hours. What greeted me on my return was a counter full of freshly sealed jelly jars, dozens and dozens of them. Such riches of fresh and juicy jelly. There may be many stockings full of yummy ruby lushness this Christmas. Two years ago John made several batches of huckleberry jam - almost all gone now. No longer will we search the pantry for that last jar of jam - the basement larder has been re-stocked.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

haint blue and the porch

The front porch is an American architectural element with origins in western Africa, brought to the colonies by slaves. The porch as we know it today, and as popularized in "pattern books" in the age of Victoria was added to the southern colonial vernacular plantation house by African craftsmen. Although the "stoa" of ancient Greece and the "portico" of Rome were formal elements used in some European classical traditions, the vernacular buildings of the American colonies - based on vernacular forms of England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, France and others - did not have a "porch" as we know it today.

According to Michael Dolan, Author of "The American Porch", in answer to the question, "What was the most surprising thing that you learned about the American porch?"

A: That the porch as we know it – a social institution -- came from Africa. Pre-colonial Africans built roofed platforms at the fronts of their houses, raised off the ground to keep out insects. Families lived out there, greeted their neighbors, conducted business. One early European visitor likened these structures to stages – he had no other word to use, which suggests how remote the idea of the porch was to Europeans. When Europeans began enslaving Africans and brought them to the New World,the first thing their captives had to do was build their housing. Africans built what they knew; their vernacular architecture traveled with slavery,gradually absorbed by the dominant cultures of the New World. Folklorists Jay Edwards, who’s at Louisiana State University, and John Vlach,who teaches at George Washington University, have shown how the porch came from Africa to Brazil to the Caribbean to North America.

Here's a Queen Anne porch designed by Luther M. Turton in Napa, California in 1892:

Note the sky blue ceiling of the porch. The house had been encased in stucco in about 1930 - and when the stucco was removed in 1991, the original ceiling color was exposed:

Now, having grown up in the south, attending architecture school there, and living amongst the remnants of colonial and plantation era buildings - I never thought twice about a sky blue porch ceiling. Porch ceilings seemed to almost always be blue. In college was the first time I heard the expression "haint blue" describing a porch ceiling. A friend's mother had grown up in Charleston, SC and referred to a ceiling as "haint blue". The African American language spoken in the "low country" of coastal South Carolina is called "gullah". "Haint" was explained as "haunt" or spirit -- and the story went that porch ceilings and wide overhangs on the exteriors of homes were painted a sky blue so that "haints", "haunts" or spirits would think they were the sky and pass right on through. This kept spirits from haunting or lingering around the home. There is no official "haint blue" color. The intent was to fool the spirits.

Obviously in 1892, in Napa, California, the African tradition was honored even though the basis of the tradition was never known.

Happy Halloween!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oak Knoll, Oak Alley

The practice of historical architecture provides access to some places not usually seen from the "public right of way". Where would you suppose this house is located?

... You would be wrong. This is not Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana, pictured below with a clip from their website. This is a grand Victorian mansion (first built in the 1870's) in Napa County's Oak Knoll District. The house was altered in 1949 to replicate the 1837 Oak Alley Plantation - and quite successfully at that. The Victorian tower, porches and "gingerbread" were removed, the porches expanded, and the hipped roof altered. Even the dormers were added. The setting is on a true "Oak Knoll", with the drive curving through a natural savanna studded with 70 to 80 mature valley white oaks (quercus lobata). The stand of valley white oaks is the largest and oldest I have seen yet in Napa County, with most of the trees appearing to be hundreds of years old. All of the owners of this ranch since the 1800's have refrained from cutting the oaks and planting grapes, prunes, walnuts or any of the cash crops grown in the Napa Valley since the 1840's.

Oak Alley Plantation has an equally distinctive allee of 28 live oaks lining the walk to the river - the Mississippi River. The trees may have been planted in about 1710. The link above is to some photos of the trees taken by "Larry" - a member of the Louisiana Native Tree Society.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Love, tissue

For two months this summer we had a boomerang kid living at home and working at Trader Joe's. One of the delightful work stories was about a little girl riding in the grocery cart seat and clutching a box of tissues. She was excited and sparkling and told my daughter, "we got some love, tissues!"

The little girl then went on to quote all the messages on the tissue box. She was too young to read, but had memorized the box.

We love our Trader Joe's almost as much as the little girl loves her "love, tissues". An unofficial commercial for Trader Joe's:

And after a long day at the store, birthday dinner and three layer carrot birthday cake!

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

old house blog contest

A tweet via facebook from a really old house owner alerted me to a little blogger contest on the Old House Web. Here's the link to the contest:

The suggestion is to log-in and vote. I submitted "the wabe"; because, unlike Tweedledum and Tweedledee declaiming the longest poem they knew, this is a mercifully brief post - with picture, ghost winery, murder, and land use suspense in very few words. The winery is the historic Franco-Swiss winery (also known as "Crochat Winery").

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

on the verge

We are on the verge of something. This past week the Napa County Planning Commission unanimously approved and recommended to the Board of Supervisors that a zoning text amendment be adopted that will allow the restoration of the historic Franco-Swiss Winery (Crochat Winery) - a unique stone gravity flow "Ghost Winery". The picture above is one of the old hoppers used when the winery was converted to a perlite manufacturing plant. Unfortunately, many of the upper floor joists were removed to allow for the hoppers, furnaces and conveyors used in perlite production. As a result, the exterior stone walls are unbraced in many locations.

Here's another section of roof about to collapse. The concrete patch on the left is one of the many areas with joists removed.

On the north side of the building this intriguing red door remains, although the steps and landing are long gone. Notice the finely cut stone surrounding the door opening. Quoins at the corners of the building are equally well fashioned. The rougher rubble stone originally had a plaster finish.

Commissioners had a wonderful tour of the winery and barn buildings, on the verge of ... restoration? demolition? collapse? We shall see in a few more weeks.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009


Historian and State Librarian Emeritus Kevin Starr spoke at the League of California Cities conference this week. His talk on cities and the classical idea of "polity" supported our understanding of the importance of local government/governance.

I felt like a groupie getting my new copy of "Golden Dreams" autographed. Mr. Starr's talk was near the end of the conference, but I stayed dutifully through the last vote as the delegate for the City of Napa. Due to cutbacks everywhere, the conference was shortened by one day. Thus, I got on the highway back from San Jose at about 5:15 pm. The rush hour drive was worth it for the discussion of Aristotle, the history of city government and the pueblos of California.

San Jose's inner city decay has been restored and revitalized. I loved the neon sign for The Sainte Claire Hotel:

This sign is quite a landmark all by itself.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bolgia Book Club

At long last my turn to host the Bolgia Book Club rolled around once again. The club is a coed group, 16 strong, comprised of equal numbers of men and women. After a suitable period of time agonizing about my next selection, I finally went with "pleasure" - as in - a pleasure to read, and a narrator recounting the pleasure of discovering her passion in life - Julia Child. The book selection was "My Life in France".

The food was particularly outstanding, as everyone worked to live up to the standards set by Julia herself.

I prepared Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child, and John prepared creme brulee a la John Poole. A salmon mousse appeared, vegetable side dishes, figs and tiny tomatoes from our garden, wines, bread and new Syrah Port from our home winery.

It turns out that several of our members have been professional chefs - working at such famous locations as the Diner in Yountville (now closed) and the French Laundry. Thumbs up all around for "My Life in France" - and a rollicking good time discussing food, passions, life's work, and memories of Julia and how her magnum opus affected our lives. It's the best beef stew in the world, by the way. Highly recommended!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Sierra Buttes and Yuba Pass

After months of walker, crutches, cane, physical therapy and "rehab.", I was able to return to the Sierras to hike on the remodeled hip. My goal was to get back on the trail by the end of summer, and by my accounting, Labor Day weekend still counts officially as "summer". Over the long weekend John and I met friends Francois, Gerda, Melt, Bob and Karen to camp at the Diablo campground near Sardine Lake. Melt towed Francois' classic Jeep up to the home base campsite, and we took this amazing little mule up a logging/fire trail part of the way up to the Sierra Buttes. We then hiked the rest of the trail up past the Pacific Crest Trail to the fire lookout on the top of the Sierra Buttes.

The Sierra Buttes are ancient rock formations that have fist to head-sized cobbles metamorphosed into a composite showing a range of colors and cobble types. These aren't little bitty crystals.

The top of the Buttes has a fire lookout station perched on the crest, with precarious steel stairs anchored into the rock.

The views are stunning in every direction, and as the highest point in this part of the mountain range, it's all downhill from here.

Even on a sunny day, we're bundled up for the wind - puffy purple vest for me, and fur coat for Jasmine!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

history mystery

Historical sites, buildings and records have fascinated me for decades. As a child I roamed the back roads and historical traces remaining in my home town. A colonial era roadway, stone arch bridge, miller's house ruin, mill and mill pond was one of the sites I intermittently visited. To my enduring dismay, this whole group of sites was destroyed in order to build a major cross town freeway in Greensboro, NC. As historic sites across the nation were decimated in the 1950's, 60's and 70's - I acted in my college town to snatch building parts prior to the bulldozers moving in. Most of these relics were sold in about 1984 before yet another cross country move.

My friend Missy will recall the bandsaw cut railings rescued from an eastern NC building - some used for a restoration in Raleigh, NC, and the remainder given to a restoration effort in Little Rock, AR. All of our marriages ended - in the 70's 80's and 2000's.

I found recently a fabulous Library of Congress site. On this site can be found thousands of Dorthea Lange depression era photographs, ans well as many thousands of other documents. This is truly one of the Federal Treasure troves available.

Pose an historical question - and some unexpected results may follow. Check it out! After reading "Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx" by Joseph P. Ellis, I searched for photos of Monticello and found a treasure trove. Likewise, in seaching for "turpentining" I found the Dorothea Lange archive.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

stagger lee

The internet makes it possible to re-connect to a long vanished past in many surprising ways. We can now access maps, photos, documents, film, and virtual cemeteries. A small and growing group of alumni from design school began posting notes and a few photos in a facebook group, and now the archive has grown to include all kinds of ephemera from the intervening years. We are spread across thousands of miles, and took wildly different paths. The postings have become more and more creative and are as unlike the dry university sponsored page as can be imagined.

There are also music and cultural connections that are meaningless to those who never lived in our little slice of the south. Another southerner posted a recent "status update" about going dancing - western swing dancing - and I posted a wikipedia link to the official state dances. Of course I commented that the Shag is the official dance of two states. Her response to the video was that it looked like "Riverdance gets drunk at a fraternity party!"

"Shag:The Movie" - starring Annabeth Gish, Phoebe Cates and Bridget Fonda shows the southern beach culture and dance. For those in UK countries, it is not what you might think! A road trip movie... check it out.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What would Julia do?

Cover of "My Life in France"Cover of My Life in France

I discovered even before my recent marriage that my husband was an excellent chef. I did not realize the significance of the first meal he cooked for me, though.

That meal was a tour de force featuring sole meuniere and a souffle. I discovered that his batterie de cuisine was extensive, and that he had mastered eggs, butter and puff pastry. His well worn and appropriately spotted cookbook collection included the entire works of - Julia Child.

After marriage my walk partner loaned me a book she was sure my husband would appreciate. It was the Julia Child memoir "My Life in France". The Pasadena connection was only one degree of separation - as his step mother had visited Julia and Paul Child when they lived in Paris.

I read the book also - and thought about it quite a bit. My turn to select the book for the Bolgia Book Club was approaching, and I dithered for two months. What book to choose? History (Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson on the current list), adventure ("Down the Great Unknown" about John Wesley Powell's trip down the Colorado River), something new ("The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao") - or something dear to both our hearts?

Around here the term WWJD now refers to "What Would Julia Do?" -- so the answer was simple after all.

It is coincidental that the new movie "Julie & Julia" opens this week as the book club reads "My Life in France"... or is it? The first meal in France that awakened the senses of Julia Child was a luncheon featuring sole meuniere...

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Sunday, July 26, 2009


Living in California it is hard to imagine not having visited Yosemite; but this year another brother, John, and his wife Patti visited - and asked if we would like to go to Yosemite with them. We took a whirlwind trip up to the high country to show them the highlights of this vast park. It's an impossibility, though. Most visitors see the Yosemite Valley, but see none of the high country, the giant sequoia groves, Hetch Hetchy, the Tioga pass, the high alpine lakes, the charming historic Wawona Hotel. Ah, well, we did the best we could in two days.

The Merced River

Being a fan of all things historical, I took them to the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Patti, John and Anna at the first overlook...

And here's Patti enjoying a little light reading in the Ahwahnee lobby.

Finally,a little hiking... and I got to try out the new and improved hip joint.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Que Syrah

The annual Napa Home Winemakers Classic was held last Saturday, July 18 at St. Supery Winery.  Our home wine making group, Leap of Faith, dutifully entered our wine in the competition for the 15th year.  Now they only permit one entry per group/label.  Of course our new hardly even bottled yet 2007 Late Harvest Syrah Port won a first place. It is "hardly even bottled yet" in that we only bottled 8 bottles for this event.  The rest of this lovely wine is still in the barrel, waiting for our labels to be printed. We will get together before the harvest this year and spend a day bottling.

Last year we entered the 2003 Zinfandel Port (about 20% late harvest Cabernet) and won first place.  Even though we have made port only twice, we seem to have struck a nerve or a taste bud.

The day was beautiful - and not too hot...

The event benefits the Dry Creek - Lakoya volunteer fire department and is staffed by young and good looking firefighters. It is not a bad way to spend a lovely summer afternoon in Napa.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Napa fourth of July

This year we stayed home for fourth of July, along with everyone else in town.  We were invited to a wonderful barbecue - and the host was surprised that almost everyone accepted.  A last minute email went out to round up additional tables for the feast.  This was not just any barbecue, but a southern (specifically North Carolina) barbecue.  The menu included pulled pork, corn on the cob, sliced fresh tomatoes, black-eyed peas, cooked greens, potato salad, cucumber salad, okra and tomatoes, cole slaw, soft rolls, Napa wines, pecan pie, black bottom pie... Guests brought some starters - including pimento cheese, chopped liver, deviled eggs, and catfish pate.

Earlier in the day we had a home grown parade - with the Wells Fargo stagecoach as the big "shew". 

After our leisurely afternoon, we ambled down to the river to watch fireworks.  

It was a great day to think about Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton - subjects of three books I've read this past month.