Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let the gardening begin!

 There is this moment in our garden when things look really good.  It is the moment when we are ahead of the weeds, the plants look healthy, the temperatures are not yet blazing hot, and all seems right with the world.

This weekend was that gardening moment.

We actually had the chance to put some plants in the ground and to do some weeding.  I also got to set out the plant markers I made this winter.

Inspired by a blog post by Pam on Simple Details, I thought I would try to make these plant markers.  We have a ton of bricks - literally a ton - left from replacing the sidewalk at a rental property.  We dug them all out of the old sidewalk, stacked them, loaded them, moved them to our house, unloaded them and stacked them again.  During the whole process, I kept wondering what to do with all of those bricks.
 I still have two that I would like to make - rosemary and parsley.  And, maybe I should make a few sets to give away.  We would still have just shy of a ton of bricks left.
 We also planted our tomatoes and peppers.  See?  Doesn't everything look right in the gardening world.  Now, give it three weeks and we will have all sorts of weed pulling to do.
And, these little beauties are the volunteer violas that pop up around our grill each spring.  My husband moved them to a planter to protect them from the first lawn mowing of the season.  He's a good guy to humor his plant geek.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring time fun: alpaca shearing

 Ahh, spring is here!  We all seem just a little more thankful for the warmer temperatures after the snowfall last week.  Snow in late-April is a bit of a trial for people desperate for warm temperatures and time outside.  It also adds a layer of complications to shearing alpacas.

Last Tuesday, we were scheduled to join our friends on their farm for shearing day.  This is always a much anticipated day and involves a lot of logistics to trailer our animals back and forth.  I had to work and we made arrangements for my mom and dad to help my husband.  They are experienced alpaca shearing day helpers and really generous with their time.

At 5 a.m., we started prepping.  I needed to be in the shower by 6 a.m., so we got an extra early start.  We haltered all of the animals and put them in the trailer in the middle of a wintery mix of precipitation.  We were hoping that the snow would pass us by and if not, the trailer would keep everyone dry.  Worse case scenario?  We would get everyone sheared and put all of their fiber out to dry on tarps in our garage. 

I left for work and called my husband to say that the roads were wet and starting to get slushy.  By the time he left, the roads were really slick.  He saw several car accidents and decided that he needed to turn around. We ended up postponing shearing until the next day.

What to do with the alpacas?  If we took them back to the barn, they were going to need to somehow dry out.  I was too cold to use the fan that we use during the summer to keep them cool.  My husband sent me a text to say that he had a plan!  He built a makeshift pen in our garage and put them up there for the night.  They ended up drying out and staying out of trouble.

The next morning, we loaded everyone up again.  The day was cold in the morning, but the sunshine warmed us up.  I am still a wimp; I wore three layers of pants and three layers on top, including my huge winter chore jacket.

Once we got there, everything fell into place.

 Four farms came together for this shearing day.  Read about last year's shearing for more about the process.
This year we had three guys on the shearing crew from New Zealand.  They work very quickly and do a great job.  It is an added bonus to get to hear their accents.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Orange you glad day

A week ago Friday, I broke out "Orange You Glad" day at staff meeting.  We had all been working really hard and needed a special celebration.

I would have called it "Orange You Glad It's Friday?!" day, but we all had to work the next day.  Seriously, it's April in higher education and no one has a standard work week.

For "Orange You Glad" day, I bought several different orange items and spread them out on the table.   To kick off the meeting, we went around and said something that made us glad.  Then, everyone got to take a few things with them for the day.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Napa Valley adventures: Castello di Amorosa

 If you have been following my blog, you know that we traveled to San Fransisco and Napa Valley over spring break.

One of our favorite stops was the Castello di Amorosa. This winery is in Napa Valley near Calistoga.  We knew with our travel schedule that we would have the chance to do one wine tour and my husband did some research in advance to see which might be the best option.

We left a little to chance.  We didn't call ahead for our reservation, but we thought since it was the off season that we would be safe.

After a wonderful breakfast, we took off for the castle in the rain.  On the way, my husband called for a reservation and we were lucky that we could catch the next tour.  While we knew that the castle was reported to be really cool, we were not prepared for the dramatic facade.
 The castle was amazing!  It was hard to believe that it was built in the last 20 years.
 The proprietor had almost all of the materials shipped to the site from Europe, using stone and other items from demolished castles.  He hired artisans who used traditional methods to do the metal and stone work, and murals.
 At the center of the castle is the courtyard.  It is a beautiful gathering space, even in a steady rain.  I loved this space and could imagine having great parties here.
 The vineyard was really beautiful.  The vines had yet to leaf out, but seeing them in lines across the acres was really spectacular.
 As part of the tour, we had the chance to see the production floor.  The ag nerd in me longed for more time talking about how the whole cycle from planting to glass worked.
 Even the equipment barn was beautiful construction.
 Around the castle, we had the chance to see a collection of wine production equipment.  It was fun to contrast the vintage items with the high tech equipment.
 We had the chance to walk in the storage areas and learn about this portion of production.  This part of the castle was part spooky and part awesome!  We learned that the castle has Halloween parties in the lower floors of the castle - fitting.
 We had a mini tasting in the wine storage area.
 At the end of our tour, we had the full wine tasting and enjoyed several different samples of the wines offered.
 We loved this chicken house in the tree!
The whole place was really beautiful and dramatic.
 This might be my favorite picture of the trip.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Ferry Building

 The Ferry Building is one of my favorite places in San Francisco.  I was so excited to be able to show my husband this really cool building full of great restaurants and shops, mostly centered around food. It truly is a foodie's dream!

On our first night in San Francisco, we made our way along the Bay to the Ferry Building with the hopes of finding dinner and buying a few supplies for the week.

A few years ago, I stayed across the street from the Ferry Building while attending a conference.  When we had a break, I would run over and enjoy all of shops, including the farmer's market that sets up outside of the building on certain days of the week.

I was really happy to be back and it was mostly because of the Cowgirl Creamery.  This cheese shop was featured years ago in a magazine and I had saved the article just in case I ever made it to San Francisco.  When I did, I looked it up and was not disappointed. We love cheese and I was sure that my husband would love seeing so many different varieties.
 We had a great time sampling several kinds of cheeses and hearing the staff member make recommendations.  We settled on three different types of cheese - all delicious.  We also picked up a loaf of fresh bread from the Acme Bread Company and a bottle of wine at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.
 Our dinner that night was at Mijita.  The tacos included freshly made tortillas and great fillings.  I fell in love with the light fixtures.
We returned to the Ferry Building for lunch on Tuesday before we left for Napa.  We had the best hamburgers from Prather Ranch.  This lunch counter is right next to the butcher shop and everything is fresh and sustainably raised. We had the best black cherry cola made with cane sugar.  I was in heaven since I have given up regular soda.  It was such a treat!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A birthday celebration

 My mom and I celebrated her birthday on Sunday!  It was a fun day that started with lunch at Blanc Burgers and Bottles in Kansas City.  My husband and I count this restaurant among our favorites.

Mom and I enjoyed some kobe burgers, house made pickles, sweet potato fries, and sodas.  Delicious!

And, check out the little shopping cart that held the fries.  This might be my favorite thing about this place!

We opted to head right to the theatre instead of walking around The Plaza.  I thought we had plenty of time, but just to be safe, we should get a head start. It was a good thing we took off right away because parking was a mess!  We did find a space and made a speedy walk to our seats.
 We took in Mary Poppins and it was charming and delightful.  This show is the first show that I ever saw on Broadway and it holds a special place in my heart.
We did get a picture together at the restaurant.  It is important to make the disclaimer that every time I have someone else take my picture, we end up with something strange - heads cut off, person photo bombing us, and in this case, a bar that seems to come out of my head. We did get a picture, though!

Happy birthday, mom!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Finding Peace

In a week that began so rough, it has taken some intentional living to find peace and hope.  Here are a few things that have inspired me.

My husband and I watched a great movie with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.  I love them together in any movie and we needed a feel good story.  Larry Crowne is a movie that I had heard very little about and ended up enjoying a lot!

And, it is spring!  And, spring means spring flowers are here.  Nothing brightens my day like beautiful blooms.

Monday, April 15, 2013

San Francisco adventures

 Our spring break vacation began in San Francisco.  Actually, it began kind of early on a Monday morning with a drive to the airport in Kansas City.

I never have trouble getting through airport security, but this time my bag got selected for additional screening.  No big deal - until the security officer said he needed to take items out of my bag and screen them separately because my bag was disorganized and crowded.  My husband got a big kick out of this and I got really irritated.

We always joke that our main goal when traveling is to avoid getting a permanent place on the "no fly list" by losing our cool with the general frustrations of travel.  As I stood at the x-ray machine watching my organized bag get disassembled, my husband stood five yards away mouthing the words, "no fly list."  (We have a good time, even when we are tired and annoyed.  Remember this...it was tested for our trip home.)

Regardless of how it started, we made it to San Francisco and navigated our rental car reservation disaster.  We opted for the $98 rental instead of the $498 rental.  This decision involved using an off-site rental car agency which was a train ride and shuttle bus ride away from the airport.  We finally made it and they were overbooked with a whole lobby full of angry people.  Luckily, we made it out with a car, but only after waiting in line for nearly two hours.
 The long wait meant that we missed the night tour of Alcatraz.  Even though we missed our Plan A - to land, get the rental car, check into the hotel and catch the last boat to Alcatraz - we still were fine.  Our Plan B was to walk around Fisherman's Warf and then to make the four mile round trip walking tour from our hotel to the Ferry Building.  More about the Ferry Building in a future post.

I think the photo above is the last boat of the night returning from Alcatraz.  Maybe next time.
 The next day was full of walking and wonderful sightseeing in San Francisco.  We rode a trolley from the beginning to the end of one of the lines and then hopped off to walk around. We had breakfast in a diner and then headed to Chinatown.

In Chinatown, we enjoyed some window shopping and taking in the history described in our guidebook.  Our guidebook told us about the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory.  It was described as being in an alley between two streets.  We found the two streets and we walked around the block at least two times.  It looked like there was a line for people seeking food assistance and a few other back entrances to restaurants and stores - not a public place. When I shared this story with a friend, he remarked that typically tourists are not advised to go down alleys.  He is right - this didn't seem right.  

My husband said that we should just walk down the alley and see.  We get halfway down the alley and a man steps out of a doorway and says, "Fortune cookie?"

We found it!  We stepped inside and watched two women making fortune cookies at this machine.  The workers would take a hot, freshly baked cookie that was still pliable, add a fortune, bend it just right, and drop it into a bin.  This went on and on and on.  I think the man leading the "tour" said that they make 1,000 in an hour.  We decided to buy some fortune cookies to take with us.  I grabbed a small bag and our tour guide suggested I buy the larger bag.  I agreed.  How could I not?  Our tour guide was the cutest little man.  My husband whispers, "You just got up sold!"
 We continued our walk and saw some amazing things - beautiful bay views from different high points in the city, lovely flowers, and so many beautiful homes and gardens...
 Gorgeous buildings with amazing architecture.
 The hills in San Francisco are amazing (and tough on tourists' legs).  Lombard Street is reportedly the windiest road in the United States.  Wow, right?
 Primroses were in so many flower beds and boxes.  I really enjoyed seeing the vibrant colors and it made me long to begin planting our own flowers for the spring.
And, the Golden Gate Bridge!  We made the goal to drive across the bridge and we did on our last full day.  On our drive back from Sonoma, we took a different route just to catch the bridge.  We learned later that we were some of the last people to pay our toll ($6) to a human toll collector, as electronic toll collection was implemented a few days after we left.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A beautiful Saturday

 Today was a beautiful day!  My mom and I started the morning by participating in a 5K race.  It was chilly, but lovely.  Everyone was really friendly and the race with my mom was a great way to not only start the day, but also her birthday weekend.

After finishing our run, I drove home to finish chores and get ready for a workshop in Manhattan.  Mom was kind enough to ride along for the day and we enjoyed some lunch before I met up with my group.

After the workshop, we took our cameras around campus to capture some of the spring foliage.

Then, we took off for Wamego to take in the Tulip Festival, an annual spring celebration with an arts and crafts fair, food vendors, music and more.
 One of the surest signs of spring is the forsythia in bloom.  I actually am able to see these blooms from my office window.
There are few tulips blooming, except for these white tulips near my parking lot at work.  It is always a little disappointing when the tulips are not in bloom for the Tulip Festival because they are pushed along too early or too late because of the weather.  These white blooms made it right on time and we hope the purples and reds follow soon.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A sure cure for spring fever

 This winter has been lingering on and on and on.  We got a bit of a reprieve from the cold and gloomy weather over spring break.  My husband decided that we needed a vacation and some time in San Fransisco and Napa would be a good adventure for us.

We really had a quick trip in mind - five days with two of them for travel. This was no problem for us because we usually jam as many activities into our vacations as possible.  We are incurable achievers - a to-do list even on vacation.

We had multiple travel adventures and even with all of the frustration and missteps, we kept our good humor and made good memories.

There were so many highlights - good food and wine, beautiful country and just time together.  One of my favorite aspects of the whole trip was getting an early view of signs of spring - spring flowers, trees in full bloom, and green plants!  We also got a little snowfall back in Kansas while we were away. We felt really fortunate to have warmer temperatures.
No matter where we went, there was something beautiful in our view.  This tree was one of many in downtown Napa.
These beauties were in the garden area near Chef Michael Chiarello's restaurant and store in Yountville.
I loved this drapey, romantic pergola - what a statement for an entrance.  This entryway was just off the main street in Yountville. 

My husband and I learned that our incurable achiever characteristics in combination with the time difference meant that we were awake and out and about early.  We were in Yountville before most things were open.  Ok, we were there before everything except the French bakery and a coffee caboose were open.  We even walked into a staff meeting in this cute antique store, mistaking the unlocked door and the light on for being open.  We apologized like fools and backed out of the shop.

More vacation adventures coming soon!