Golfing gals hit Napa!

Napa may be a hotspot for couples, but this gang of golfing gals from Arizona needed a getaway while our home golf course was being taken over by the men for their final golf event of the year in mid-April. Our second love is wine – so Napa was a natural fit. Sorry hubbies – you’re a close third!

Golfing gals do Napa!

After a 90 minute flight from Phoenix to San Fran, followed by a 90 minute chauffeured drive we arrived at our accommodations at Silverado Resort on Silverado Trail in the eastern side of the Rutherford township in the middle of the Napa Valley. Since golf is our first love, we played two days of golf sandwiching a day of hitting wineries.

Entrance to Silverado Resort, off of Silverado Trail in Rutherford, Napa Valley.

As we waited for our rooms to be ready we hit the links at the Silverado North Course, host to the PGA Safeway Open (first tournament of the FedEx Cup season). The benign conditions did not offset the challenge of the heavily tree-lined, narrow fairways lined with thick sticky rough, finishing off on crowned greens that ran fast. One of our gals recently moved to Santa Clara, a 2 hour drive south of Napa. She surprised us with a car filled with wine, beer and snacks. You da best crazy girl!! After a very long day of travel and challenging golf, we indulged in all the above, along with some intensely heated matches of bocce ball and corn hole. Then early to bed to ready ourselves for a day of wine tastings.

Can you guess which one likes to push us over the line and which keeps us toeing the line? 🙂

Testing our tossing abilities after a day of wine tasting with the corn hole toss at the Silverado Resort.

Bocce ball courts at Silverado Resort – a great place to wind down after a day or golf or wine tastings.

The rooms are spacious, each with a private outside entrance, and possible wild life sightings – see pic below. With a Starbucks onsite it was nice to get our days started with a much-needed jolt of energy. My roomy and I traded turns for the morning jaunt to Starbucks – but she wins extra points by spoiling me with a turn down service of 4 Advil to ease the pains of a day of golfing and/or drinking.

A couple of deer made their way through the inner courtyard area outside our patio at Silverado Resort.

Our winery tour day began with car service by Damon of Bliss Wine Tours – pick-up at 9:30 am. The studly and sweet Damon took great care of us gals all day long and we would highly recommend his services! He had a cooler full of water to keep us hydrated between wineries (we aren’t ones to waste a single drop at the wine tastings); he was highly knowledgeable about the area and the wineries; he was prepared with a wine opener and tracked down extra cups for us to enjoy a newly purchased bottle of wine to have with deli sandwiches we pre-ordered from the historical Oakville Grocery.

We started our day of winery visits at Robert Mondavi Winery – the first winery I ever visited some 30 years ago when there were only a couple of dozen wineries compared to over 450 wineries today in the Napa Valley. Mondavi has matured into one of the pinnacle wineries of the Napa Valley. The Mission-style winery sits on a 35-acre vineyard and we were treated to a full tour of their beautiful, lush, expansive, extremely clean winery while becoming informed about the wine business as a whole.

Robert Mondavi Winery.

The gals experiencing the first wine tasting of the day, 10 am, at Robert Mondavi.

After lunch it was off to a very unique winery – Raymond Vineyards. A beautiful setting with a large garden area replete with a mini-animal farm with goats and chickens. A fairly nondescript entrance is an offset to what lies behind several doors; The Red Room – reminiscent of a speak-easy highlighted in hues of red from the furniture to the lighting; the Crystal Cellar – we playfully dubbed the S&M room with fuchsia lighting flooding the ornate cases of cut crystal ware, animal skin covered wine barrels, and mannequin swinging from a trapeze – oh the parties that must go on in this room; and the more subdued Library – walls lined with rows and rows of bottles instead of books and a library ladder to reach them all. Be sure to check out the Corridor of Senses. Sadly the Raymond wine did not pass our tastebud test, but the winery itself was worth the visit.

Mannequins hanging from a trapeze in the Crystal wine tasting room at Raymond Winery.

The mini-animal farm at Raymond Winery. The whole scene is a real head scratcher, but oh so entertaining.

Our winery tour day was on a warm spring day and after a couple of wineries we were ready to mix it up a bit with a couple of beers. On cue Damon scored a few more brownie points knowing right where to take us for one of the coldest beers we have ever tasted – and that’s saying a lot! We played a few games of pool at this no-name dive bar, enjoying our cold beers, while Damon tracked down another great winery for us to properly fill out our wine tour day.

Truly a ‘no name’ bar for the gals to take a breather from the wine tastings.

A little billiards and ice-cold beer at the no name bar in Rutherford.

Goosecross Cellars was not on our original line-up of wineries, but when we found ourselves with a little extra time before our final wine tour, Damon made a call and got us into this family owned Yountville winery. The recently built ‘hospitality’ structure has a nouveau rustic look and feel with a relaxing back patio overlooking their expansive vineyard. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wines – reds were bold, but smooth and the whites were crisp, but refreshing. Not a bad little find. Thank you Damon.

Goosecross Winery.

Our day finished with an opportunity to meet Sue McNerney, owner of Le Chanceux, a boutique winery consisting of a 1 acre plot of cabernet sauvignon grapevines. What she has been able achieve with that micro plot has earned her high accolades in a very short period of time (nee’ 2002). Sue is a genuine soul who ran with a dream and made it a reality. Her cabernet sauvignon, grown from French root-stock, can hold its own against some of the long-standing heavy hitters from the Napa Valley. I have found over the years I often get a headache from lesser quality cabernet sauvignons – but am happy to report no headaches from Sue’s premium variety.

Sue McNerney, proprietor of Le Chanceux winery – ‘One Woman, One Wine’!

Our third day in Napa had us back at the golf course – the South Course at Silverado Resort. After a day of being plied with great wines, we all apparently loosened up and a more enjoyable day of golf than we did on the North Course. The South Course is a more open course and with a more consistent feel hole to hole and green to green with a level of beautify that we all felt eclipsed the North Course.

Approach into the beautiful 13th hole from the center cut of the fairway.

One of our group was not able to join us in Napa in time to take in the winery tours, so on our way back to the San Fran airport for our trip back to AZ we searched out one last winery to share what Napa is all about for this winery virgin. We struck out on our first two attempts at Domaine Carneros – apparently a great place for a champagne tasting, and Del Dotto Vineyards, specifically their Napa Historic Winery and Caves . They were listed as having walk-in tastings available, but by the time we arrived at 10 am on a Saturday morning both vineyards were so full they could not accommodate any more walk-ins. We eventually found a quaint little winery down the road from Domaine Carneros called Madonna Estate. They were able to accommodate us and show this group of golfing gals a good time, finishing our golf/wine outing in true Napa style.

Golf/wine gals wind-up the Napa weekend at Madonna winery. We shall return to expand our search for more Napa wine and golf!

Check out more fun pics from trip ‘Napa Gals Trip‘ in the Global Gallery tab.

I’m back!! After a 3 1/2 year journey!

After a very long hiatus to give full attention to the building our family’s forever dream home, I am back to my writing, most importantly the writing of my travel blog.

But what a journey it has been. The home build was a year in the design process and another 2 1/2 years in the construction process. As much as the home build was a labor of love, it became a full time commitment in the final 18 months and I chose to put my writing on a temporary hold to give the build my full undivided attention.

In those 3 1/2 years I’m sure I logged enough road miles to earn AAA elite status – if there is such a thing! We chose to build on top of hill – but to accomplish our desire of building a one level home we had to excavate 25 feet deep from the highest point of the hill to the lowest point of the foundation. But after 6 plus months of digging, and exporting over 1200 truckloads of unusable material (325 of those were boulders alone), we had our flat lot. Now we can stay here until we are old and can race up and down the hallways with our walkers with no worries of stairs!

Luckily I somehow managed to fit in some very special trips during this busy time!

My last post was May of 2015. The following places are where I’ve been since then: Big Sky and Billings, Montana; Sedona (twice), Scottsdale and Wickenburg, Arizona; Napa Valley (twice), California; Vancouver, British Columbia; 4 different trips to Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; Palm Springs, California; Sao Paulo, Angra dos Reis and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and a few other jaunts betwixt and between these amazing trips.

I will also reprise my monthly food blog. My need to fill my foodie desires never wavered during the home build project. Had to keep that strength up!

As much as I love to travel, there is no place like home and nothing like coming home. Especially when home allows me views that equal any I’ve ever experienced in my travels. Rugged red mountain ranges, hawks soaring through the open skies, lush green golf courses and orchards dotting the saguaro laden desert landscape, owls and coyotes making their presence known in the dark of night with their hoots and howls .

But…this is a travel blog, and there are many more amazing destinations on my bucket list to see and experience. So time to get back to my nomadic living and narrate!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Martha’s Vineyard

Earlier this summer I crossed another item off of my bucket list. I have always wanted to visit the New England islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. To experience what has drawn the local population of the nearby mainlands to summer at these challenging to get to destinations. Because we love traveling by train and wanted to experience the ferry ride from the mainland to the island(s), we were limited to visiting only Martha’s Vineyard. We went on Memorial Day weekend and the ferries from the mainland and the ferries between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were not in service yet.

For a four-day weekend, Martha’s Vineyard served up plenty to do to fill our days and nights. The island is small enough to drop your bags in one location and see the rest of the island from wherever you choose to make base camp. Since we knew nothing about the island, and didn’t really know anybody who did, we chose the town based on the accommodation that drew us in. And for our wants and needs we chose well.

We began our journey on an Amtrak train from New York, arriving 3 hours later into New Bedford, Rhode Island – the suggested port for easiest access to Martha’s Vineyard. The sun was beginning to set as we neared the island and the air was crisp and clear with a hint of sea salt. Having no idea where we were going we relied on one of the many island buses lined up along the end of the dock ready to take the ferry passengers to their destination of choice. Driving by a spot on the island used to film part of Jaws, we made our way to our lodging for the weekend, The Charlotte Inn, in Edgartown.

The sun setting as we approached Martha's Vineyard on the ferry.

The sun setting as we approached Martha’s Vineyard on the ferry.

The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. Lodging at it's finest.

The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. Lodging at it’s finest.

The stay at the Charlotte Inn was a treat in itself. We could have easily spent every hour of our trip at the Inn and been content. Service is definitely job 1 at this place that has been owned by the same couple for over 40 years. They bought a dilapidated old hotel and spent years creating a homey, warm, inviting space that is full of character. In the ensuing years the owners bought four surrounding buildings, turning them all into uniquely, spacious, comfortable rooms. Every room has a library of interesting books and comfortable seating – indoors and outdoors. The immaculate condition of the Inn and the rooms was as I could as I have experienced anywhere.

The old carriage house, one of the buildings at the Charlotte Inn, providing beautifully unique lodging on MV.

The old carriage house, one of the buildings at the Charlotte Inn, providing beautifully unique lodging on MV.

The collection of books in our room, sitting on the steps of a stairway to nowhere.

The collection of books in our room, sitting on the steps of a stairway to nowhere.

The main building houses several sitting rooms, one with a roaring fireplace that we finished our days in, sipping on a cocktail, reading our books. The Inn’s restaurant, appropriately named The Terrace for its old world terrace look with French and Italian accenting, is a high-end dining experience of American cuisine. The owners live on the property and still work the reception desk, unloading delivery trucks, and walk the property to make sure their guests needs are being met. But our favorite part of our whole stay was our regular visits with the mascots of the Inn, the brother and sister Golden Retriever duo, Nicky and Bailey. They have free reign of their owner’s property and were always up for a good belly rub.

The Terrace restaurant at The Charlotte Inn - a fine dining experience of American cuisine.

The Terrace restaurant at The Charlotte Inn – a fine dining experience of American cuisine.

Nicky, the Inn Mascot enjoying a nice pat on the head while sitting in her favorite chair.

Nicky, the Inn Mascot enjoying a nice pat on the head while sitting in her favorite chair.

As for Edgartown, one needn’t leave this little village to be fulfilled. We started every day with a coffee or tea from Espresso Love, 3 blocks from our hotel. Then it was back to Main Street to make our way through the local independent bookstore, the boutique shops and the gallery showcasing local artists in a building that is 250 years old with original flooring and used to be a boat making building. For lunch we headed across the parking lot to take in some fresh seafood at the Seafood Shanty where we could watch a specialized mini-ferries transport 3 cars at a time from the Edgartown port across about 100 yd channel to Chappaquiddick Island – of famed Teddy Kennedy history.

The newly opened gallery selling works of art from local artists, housed in a 250-year old boat house.

The newly opened gallery selling works of art from local artists, housed in a 250-year old boat house.

Two mini ferries take turns taking vehicles and people back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island.

Two mini ferries take turns taking vehicles and people back and forth between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick Island.

As enjoyable as Edgartown is, there are other island destinations that are worth checking out. On Sunday morning, we rented bikes and made the 3-mile ride down to the long expanse of beach at Katama Beach (aka South Beach). The island is full of bike paths – from flat paved easy level trails to off-road dirt trails for the experienced rider. I’m sure in high-season Katama Beach is full of beachgoers – but on this weekend it was isolated and we enjoyed a nice private stroll before heading back to town on our bikes.

My daughter walking the Katama Beach, on the southern edge of Martha's Vineyard.

My daughter walking the Katama Beach, on the southern edge of Martha’s Vineyard.

Another option to getting around the island is to rent a car. The rental places stock all kinds of fun rentals, from Jeep Wranglers to Mini-Cooopers to Mustangs and Camaros – and even a Ferrari or two – all convertibles of some sort. We ordered a Jeep Wrangler, but were given a Mini-Cooper – which was way roomier than we figured and even my 6’3″ husband squeezed into this snazzy little car. Two-lane roads wind around the island linking all the little towns together. With the wind blowing in our hair, we headed out to our first destination:

The little Mini-Cooper we rented to tool around the island!

The little Mini-Cooper we rented to tool around the island!

Chilmark – we headed directly to the north end of town to the fishing village of Menemsha, where we stood in line at Larsen’s Fish Market to order up a plate of fresh lobster – literally. You are given a freshly boiled whole lobster on a paper plate and a small cup of drawn butter, and not enough napkins. If you’re lucky enough to score one of three picnic tables, it’s a big help – it’s a messy undertaking getting at that sweet fresh lobster meat, but oh so worth it.

No respect! - as we 'patiently' waited in the long line for our freshly boiled lobster.

No respect! – as we ‘patiently’ waited in the long line for our freshly boiled lobster.

2015-05-24 13.19.26

Aquinnah – situated on the farthest point on the west end of the island, this area is known for its untouchable clay cliffs, and for the Gay Head Lighthouse – no access is allowed to either. One of the first whaling ports in the US, this raw windy corner of the world has to be amazing for storm watching.

The clay cliffs of Aquinnah, on the western tip of Martha's Vineyard. They are protected and untouched by man.

The clay cliffs of Aquinnah, on the western tip of Martha’s Vineyard. They are protected and untouched by man.

The Gay Head lighthouse, used as a marker by some of the country's earliest whaling boats.

The Gay Head lighthouse, used as a marker by some of the country’s earliest whaling boats.

After a pit stop back at the Charlotte Inn for a rest and change of clothes it was off to dinner in the center of the island, at a working farm that doubles as an Inn with a fine dining restaurant, just outside of West Tisbury. The Lambert’s Cove Inn is tucked back into the deep woods of the island on a tight windy road that would be a tight fit for two cars to pass each other.

The next morning we hopped into the Mini-Cooper to check out the two remaining main towns on the island before catching the ferry back to the mainland:

Vineyard Haven – located on the northern tip of the island, this is one of the more populated towns on the island and similar to Edgartown has a few main streets lined with boutique shops, another great independent bookstore and wonderfully unique restaurants like the Waterfront Market. This is also where most of the larger ferries port, especially the ferries carrying vehicles.

The Bunch of Grapes independent bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard.

The Bunch of Grapes independent bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard.

The outdoor time clock in front the bookstore - "Time to read"

The outdoor time clock in front the bookstore – “Time to read”

Oak Bluffs – the largest town on the island, is home of the country’s oldest working merry-go-round and a collection of quaint gingerbread houses creating its own little unique neighborhood, covering several blocks. There is a large green space across the road from the port to sit and relax while waiting for your ferry. A great town to stay in for a younger family.

The Flying Horses Merry-Go-Round at Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.

The Flying Horses Carousel at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.

One of the many 'Gingerbread' houses creating a unique neighborhood of these quaint small colorful houses.

One of the many ‘Gingerbread’ houses creating a unique neighborhood of these quaint small colorful houses.

Martha’s Vineyard is a long way to go from most parts of the country, and not easy to get to from anywhere. I certainly understand why most people who go there, plan to stay for an extended period of time, many for the whole summer. Understandably a great draw for people who love to write, read, paint, love seafood and long walks. Sounds like heaven on earth to me!

Check my most recent food review post for reviews on island restaurants.

Check the Global Gallery to see more pictures from Martha’s Vineyard.

Life is a Journey – a tribute to my father

After a long hiatus I am back to start a new chapter in the writing of my travel blog, Nomadic Narrator. On June 24th my father passed away after a long valiant battle with cancer. He brought new meaning to the words ‘fight for life.’ I have never in my 51-years witnessed a stronger will to live than what my father showed, especially in his final days. It is this passion for life and living that feeds a new inspiration in me to be more aware of my surroundings, take more pictures, ask more questions, journal my thoughts and ideas, and fully enjoy the journey that is life.

In February of this year (2015), my father was told his cancer was in remission. Words we had all been hoping to hear since he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in April of 2011. After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer (cells that flowed through his bloodstream and on occasion metastasized to bones and arteries and grew into tumors), was finally whipped into submission. For two glorious months my Dad was cancer-free.

Then, in April, he began to have leg and lower back pain. A new scan showed the cancer had returned – with a vengeance. There were 11 new tumors: a large one in his liver, several in his lungs and the rest in his bones. The doctors felt he could not weather any more rounds of chemo or radiation and recommended he try a newly approved treatment that boosts the bodies immune system to kill off the cancer cells. At the very least, the idea that his doctors were willing to try something, anything, gave my Dad encouragement to push for more days to continue his life journey. As he said, “I’m not going to come 98% of the way, and then throw in the towel.”

This time around, we knew his days were numbered, and my three brothers and I dedicated the next weeks to spending more concentrated time with Dad. Two of my brothers and I live in AZ, while my other brother lives in MN where my Dad resided. It was a logistical challenge to create time together with Dad. Luckily, we all have flexibility in our schedules and on the weekend of May 30th, my three brothers and I gathered in Minnesota to experience a weekend that brings happy tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

We loaded Dad up into my youngest brother’s car, which meant dealing with a wheel chair and enough oxygen tanks to get us through the day. With my brother driving, Dad playing co-pilot/navigator/story-teller, and my two brothers and I wedged into the back seat, we headed ‘up the avenue.’ Our first stop was in Farmington (MN), where my Dad was born and raised. Thus began the day of Dad regaling us with stories of his youth, some we’d heard, a lot we hadn’t.

Our first stop was at the cemetery to pay our respects to his Mom, Dad, and grandparents. Then we wound our way through town: past the creamery where his mom once worked; along the Vermillion River where he swam, fished, read books and kissed many girls; by the railroad station where his step-father started his days as a caboose engineer; to the spot where his mother and step-father lived and where we all shared in years and years of Sunday dinners of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy; this house backed up to the old Ford Motor shop where my Dad’s Dad (who died when my Dad was 14-years-old) worked as a mechanic; past the diner where his Mom worked a second job. Dad’s memories of setting pins at the bowling alley, working beside his Dad at the mechanic’s shop, shooting pool at the billiards hall, working the printing press for the local newspaper were all part of helping to create the man we grew to love and spend time with.

After a trip down memory lane of his youth in Farmington, it was off to Northfield, 15 minutes further to the south to relive memories of his next phase of life – marriage and the birth and upbringing of his four children. We routed the car past the multiple (6+) different homes he/we lived in over a 20 year span, from the first place in ‘hungry hollow’ near the river to the house on the hill on Wallstreet Road; past the golf course we spent our weekends playing golf together as a family of 6; to the high school he taught at and we all attended; the location where his one and only restaurant venture began; the office where he built a successful business career with NML; the Cannon River where we fished.

We ended the day by picking up broasted chicken at the locally infamous Quarterback Club, a favorite hang-out over the last 40+ years, and headed up the hill on the west side of town where St. Olaf College sits. Dad graduated from St. Olaf and was a proud Ole’ for life – so it was fitting we found a picnic bench on campus and enjoyed a summertime meal and recounted the amazing journey we had just embarked on. The tiredness in his body may have been real, but smile on his face was priceless.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

The only way to eclipse a weekend like this one, was to have a weekend where all of the family – kids, spouses, and grandkids gathered together. And how fitting it was that Father’s Day was right around the corner. Dad had some setbacks in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day weekend, and we were worried he may not make it until then, but he dug deep – “mind over matter” – and was so mentally strong and physically tough over Father’s Day weekend it was beyond inspiring to all of us.

We began the weekend with all of the kids and grandkids (18 of us) taking in a Twins game, while Dad rested up for the weekends events. With Dad tiring so easily and being on oxygen 24/7 we decided to take advantage of the usage of the party room at his apartment complex for a place to gather. That way if he became tired, it was a mere matter of wheeling him upstairs for a nap. But he apparently was determined to not miss out on a minute of family time and he never even dosed off during the two 10-hour sessions of family bonding that took place over Father’s Day weekend.

Saturday began a lunch buffet with al lot of Dad’s favorite foods; followed by watching the men’s U.S. Open golf tourney while working on puzzles and playing board and dice games; great-grandpa reading a book to his one and only great-granddaughter; next came a collective toast from all the grandkids to their grandpa – where grandpa signed the lids of all the grandkids mason jars that were used to make the toast; topped off with a slide show presentation of Dad’s 81-years of living life to the fullest.

Dad's grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Dad’s grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Sunday was spent in similar fashion, 22 of us gathered back in the party room to pick up where we left off. Grandpa propped up in his chair, oxygen tank by his side, watching golf while being waited on hand and foot – being served his favorite foods and keeping his glass of Bushmills topped off.

Many years ago, my Dad wrote a monthly newsletter to his grandchildren telling the tales of the adventures he had on the north shore of Minnesota, specifically Tait Lake, with his ever faithful companion, a 100-lb. yellow lab he named Darby O’Doul. My Dad’s dream was to see these stories in print. Several years ago I took creative license and churned these adventures into a children’s novel, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. After several years of failed attempts at getting this published, I knew my days were numbered in getting my Dad’s stories into print. Thanks to the help of today’s technology and creativity of some very talented people, I was able to self-publish this book as soon as we understood my Dad’s days were numbered and have it in his hands in time for Father’s Day weekend.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

On Sunday, his final Father’s Day, my Dad personally signed a copy of the book for each one of us and had our picture taken with him and his book. A moment I know we will all cherish, because of his life long love of reading and writing and the special relationship he had with his human-like dog, Darby. Then we all settled in to watch a very exciting finish to the men’s U.S. Open golf championship – a premium way for a golf-crazed family to spend their final hours with the patriarch of all that was good and true of the family he nurtured and loved unconditionally all of his years. We could not have asked for or consciously created a more poignant weekend of activities to celebrate his life and give us closure to his passing.

Happy Father's Day, 2015 - from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

Happy Father’s Day, 2015 – from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

The next morning, Monday, found Dad exhausted and a little out of it. By noon, he was getting very sleepy so we propped him up on the couch for a nap that he would not wake from. Appropriately, at approximately 5:30 am, on Wednesday, June 24th, Dad/grandpa/great-grandpa took his final breath. For 81-years he had been trying to get everyone up at the crack of dawn to enjoy what he felt was the best time of day – his only taker in 81-years was his ever faithful companion Darby. But on this day we all arose as the sun rose and shed a tear for the man who touched so many lives in so many ways.

Dad’s legacy isn’t what he achieved career-wise or financially – his legacy is what he achieved at the family level. An unconditional bond so deep and so strong, the driving goal of our whole family surrounds the ideal of making sure our paths cross often. We love being together and can’t imagine a better way to spend time than with as many members of our ever-expanding family, whenever we can.

Cheers Dad! We love and miss you!

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40's.

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40’s.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

Travel is not something we do only when we are on vacation or holiday. Everyday we ‘travel’ through life. It is up to us whether we make these daily trips challenging or fulfilling.

Please check out Amazon.com for copies of Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. All proceeds will go to Dad’s favorite charities.

Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 2

Picking up where I left off, leads me to share our dining and drinking experiences from NYC and Martha’s Vineyard. ‘Our’ being whoever I can bring into the ‘foodie’ fold. It’s not hard to find takers.

As I curl up in my big comfy chair, laptop where else but in my lap, sipping a Manhattan created loosely from the Manhattan on Felidia’s of NYC cocktail menu – I resurrect the tastes of the delectable cuisines that have passed my palate in recent months. Okay, enough fluff talk – time to get down to the details:

NYC:

I lost count a long time ago, as to how many NYC restaurant reviews I have posted – but the one thing I have not lost count of is how many negative NYC restaurant reviews I have written – 0! And that is not because I have chosen not to write those reviews, it is because I have not experienced any sub-par dining experiences in NYC. That is remarkable seeing how many restaurants exist in this magnificent city – but it is that competition that keeps all of these restaurants on their shoe tips, trying to out-create each other, but yet knowing when to reign it in so their dishes remain edible enough to entice customers to return.

Tavern on 51, New York Palacelooking for a great place to end the busy day or grab a night cap? This is the place. In the New York Palace hotel, the ambience is inviting, the seating plush and comfy, the drink menu expansive, and the drinks mind-altering if you imbibe too much in these tasty beverages.

Tavern 51 at New York Palace. Check out the fun cocktail menu - lots of 'bourbon choices'.

Tavern 51 at New York Palace. Check out the fun cocktail menu – lots of ‘bourbon choices’.

Billy’s Bakery –  across the street from the newly opened Whitney Museum on the west side of lower Manhattan, this ‘bakery’ is a great place to grab a tasty and generous breakfast and a great cup of coffee while watching the lines grown while waiting for the museum to open.

Billy's Bakery serves up a great cup of coffee, as you sit and watch the action at the Whitney Museum across the street.

Billy’s Bakery serves up a great cup of coffee, as you sit and watch the action at the Whitney Museum across the street.

Via Carota – when you think of a fun dining experience in NYC, this is kind of place you think of. Interesting dishes served by waitstaff who ask you what kind of foods you like and creates a dining experience based on those tastes. Even with the place overflowing with people, they are willing to make any drink or any dish to fit your palate. A must return!

Roasted quail with garlic and rosemary served on a bed of mushroom and bean risotto.

Roasted quail with garlic and rosemary served on a bed of mushroom and bean risotto.

Ray’s Pizza – truth be told Famiglia’s has our favorite late night pizza, but in a pinch if one of these pizzeria’s can not be found, Ray’s can feed that 2 am hunger. The flavors and quality of toppings are good, the crust can be a bit dry and crunchy – hard to fold and eat proper NYC style.

Never short on ingredients - Ray's is a great late night pizza spot after a night of hitting the streets of NYC.

Never short on ingredients – Ray’s is a great late night pizza spot after a night of hitting the streets of NYC.

Extra Fancy – what a fun unique display of menu choices, in a neat boutique style setting, in Brooklyn. There is a large cool bar inside and an outdoor courtyard in the back dotted with trees. And the food trumps the setting – must tries are the oysters, deviled eggs and fried brussel sprouts.

Deviled eggs topped with trout roe is a tasty way to start off an evening of tasty seafood dishes at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn.

Deviled eggs topped with trout roe is a tasty way to start off an evening of tasty seafood dishes at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn.

Martha’s Vineyard:

A place that has held a place high on my bucket list, Martha’s Vineyard, met my main expectations of being a place rest and relaxation, but the restaurants did not disappoint. My next post will be about the activities available in all the quaint little towns dotting this amazing island, but for now I will focus on how we were able to keep our belly’s full and our thirst sated.

Atlantic Fish and Chophouse – a recommendation from our concierge at the Charlotte Inn for great drinks and great food. Such a good recommendation we made return visits. Sits on the waterfront, with great seafood choices and refreshing and flavorful drink choices. A happening bar come the evening hours.

One of the most interesting and unique cocktail menus was found at Atlanta Fish and Chop House on Martha's Vineyard in Edgartown. Like this Manhattan served with a bacon garnish.

An interesting and unique cocktail menu at Atlanta Fish and Chop House on Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown. Manhattan served with a bacon garnish.

The Seafood Shanty – sit upstairs, on the deck if you can. We sat at the bar and had a blast watching the bartenders going 100 mph serving up drinks, beers, wine and food – professional waitstaff and who have fun at their jobs. The seafood is fresh and they have their own twist on certain faves like the lobster rolls.

Two things draw people to a restaurant - ambience and food. Come watch the bartenders do their thing, sit outside on the deck overlooking the bay, while taking down one of their amazing lobster rolls.

Two things draw people to a restaurant – ambience and food. Come watch the bartenders do their thing, sit outside on the deck overlooking the bay, while taking down one of their amazing lobster rolls.

The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn – a quiet indoor garden-like setting, the knowledgeable but patient professional waitstaff, serve up a dining experience that I’m guessing is not replicated any where on the island. And the chef serves up a menu that has us putting The Terrace on our must revisit list.

Fine dining at The Terrace at The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. These lamp chops were so tasty they didn't need the mint sauce.

Fine dining at The Terrace at The Charlotte Inn in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. These lamp chops were so tasty they didn’t need the mint sauce.

Larsen’s Fish Market – now obviously when you are this close to the sea where lobsters abound – all you have to take notice of is there is not a restaurant, 1-star to 5-star, that does not include a lobster dish on it’s menu. But Larsen’s is where you go to stand in a long line to get a whole fresh lobster to eat at one of the few thrown together picnic tables or barrel and upturned crab traps. Doesn’t get much better than that!

A full lobster served up fresh at Larsen's Fish Market in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard.

A full lobster served up fresh at Larsen’s Fish Market in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard.

Lambert’s Cove dining – another fine dining option in one of the many quaint little towns that dot Martha’s Vineyard. Lambert’s Cove is an Inn, that sits at the end of a very long and winding narrow road to a beautiful little working farm setting that many of the menu ingredients come from.

Halibut with a panko crust served on a bed of mash potatoes and a light creamy sauce at Lambert's Cove Inn, Lambert's Cove, MV.

Halibut with a panko crust served on a bed of mash potatoes and a light creamy sauce at Lambert’s Cove Inn, Lambert’s Cove, MV.

Waterside Market – while waiting for our ferry to arrive to take us back to the mainland we searched out a breakfast spot in one of the little quaint towns we had yet to visit on Martha’s Vineyard – Vineyard Haven. We walked the streets, and came upon a market, that sold high quality, beaucoup flavorful dishes that you ordered at the counter. A fun little find!

Tex Mex breakfast consisting of two sweet corn cakes on a bed of housemade pico and topped with black bean hummus, two eggs, avocado at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard.

Tex Mex breakfast consisting of two sweet corn cakes on a bed of housemade pico and topped with black bean hummus, two eggs, avocado at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard.

With so many of these restaurants being so busy, all the time it’s often hard to get a reservation short-notice – which can be tough when you don’t know your schedule. We have taken to sitting at the bar, that is first come first serve, and are learning to enjoy this dining experience even more – as you really get to watch the place in action – dining and a show all rolled into one fulfilling evening out.

Springtime Spreads – Phoenix, KC, Naples (FL), NYC, Martha’s Vineyard – part 1

Even though I missed submitting a food review in the end of April and now May, I did accomplish one very important task – getting my family and friends trained to not take a bite of food before I take photos of their delectable plated food whenever we head out to taste test a new restaurant. I do get a few curious looks from other patrons or wait-staff wondering why I am taking pics of every course of food – I’ll have to get better about dropping my business card on the table so restaurants can check out my reviews.

Because it’s been such a long time between food review posts and my daughter and I have eaten at several great restaurants in that time period, I am just going to get down to business and get right into the reviews and tantalizing pictures!

First off is my daughter’s review of several of her favorite sandwich haunts in NYC:

Despite the cultural cachet the deli sandwich has in New York, I’ve always had a hard time justifying $10 for two pieces of bread and various toppings when I could buy a whole loaf, a packet of prosciutto, and a block of cheese for not much more and eat for a week at home. Last week, Cheeky Sandwiches (35 Orchard St, between Canal and Hester) forever changed my mind on the matter of the sandwich. First off, their menu items are not $9 to $11–all too pervasively the norm–but $6.50 to $8.50, no tax added. Chicken, beef, pork, grass, veggie, sea (that last one a choice of po boy done with shrimp, oyster, or half and half). That’s all you get, and that’s all you need. I started from the top: an idyllic proportion of fried chicken breast, crunchy coleslaw, and thick gravy on a homemade flaky biscuit. The place has a thrown-together look: a narrow wooden bar painted the kind of white that’s dirty before it dries, one low communal table, and a few bright blue accents. But the service is casual-friendly, and that sandwich so good I dragged my finger across the paper wrapping to capture every last drop of rich-but-not-too-rich gravy. Though Cheeky is out of my way both from work and home, by the end of the summer I imagine I’ll have worked my way pretty far down that menu list.

Mouth-watering, finger licking chicken sandwich from Cheeky Sandwiches.

For all my slavering, Cheeky isn’t the only sandwich shop in New York that’s convinced me to return for round two. My college favorite was a classic, if more upscale, Italian deli in Morningside Heights called Milano Market (2892 Braodway, between 112th and 113th streets), which, horrifyingly, garnered a small amount of internet fame after an employee followed Forest Whitaker around the store [LINK:TK]. The real draw here is the variety of gourmet bread: rosemary and sea salt focaccia, caramelized onion, a crackling ciabatta. In terms of unusual fillings, I steer towards Num Pang’s (various locations, including Chelsea Market and 28 East 12th Street) Cambodian take on the bánh mi. With an orange chalk-drawn rooster for a logo, this lunch spot serves up coconut tiger shrimp, ginger barbecue brisket, or five-spice glazed pork belly with cucumber, pickled carrots, and sheaves of fresh cilantro on a fat baguette. It’s messy desk eating, almost always worth it.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang's in lower Manhattan.

A delectable sandwich from Num Pang’s in lower Manhattan.

If you are visiting any of the locations listed in the title, you won’t go wrong checking out any of the following restaurants:

Phoenix:

The Herb Box – simple. fresh. unique. is how they market themselves – and I’d say that is right on. Their lunches are great, but my favorite dishes are served for brunch/breakfast. Sit outside and take in the ambience and people watching at DC Ranch Marketplace. Scottsdale.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box in DC Ranch.

Baby kale, green apple and brie omelet served with coffee-molases glazed bacon, served at the Herb Box.

Que Bueno – authentic Mexican food in a casual setting. Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two-fisted margaritas are tasty and their award-winning salsa is bursting with flavor. Fountain Hills.

Since 2003, it has been my families tradition to go to the local Fountain Hills Mexican restaurant on the night we arrive. The food is decent, but their two fisted margaritas are tasty and their award winning salsa is bursting with flavor.

Tilapia tacos in soft shells served with rice and beans.

The Vu – light of day or dark of night, the Vu Bistro offers one of the valley’s most spectacular views of the Phoenix valley. Sip a glass of wine from their minimal but strong wine list, while nibbling on their loaded cheese plate and watch the sun go down over Eagle Mountain, in this casual setting. Fountain Hills.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Sip a glass of wine while taking in the breathtaking views from the Vu Bistro.

Kansas City:

Fritz’s Meat Market – they have ‘smoking’ meat perfected. How often have you bought pork chops that become dry before you get them from the oven or grill to the table? Fritz’s double thick cut smoked pork chop only needs to be warmed through – all that’s left to do is savor the flavor and texture.

Kansas City's oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse does pork chops up right.

Strouds’s – the name is synonymous with ‘pan-fried chicken’ – the ultimate flavor in down home comfort food. Come hungry! All portions are large and to be shared. Start with a half order of fried liver and gizzards. Dinners come with a mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a basket of cinnamon rolls.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud's in KC.

Fried chicken dinner served family style at Stroud’s in KC.

Gram & Dun – sophisticated. soulful. unique – is how they market themselves. In a prime Plaza location, with a large outdoor patio area, be prepared to sip on fun libation concoctions and dine on flavors ranging from uniquely paired salads to savory southern comfort plates.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Double pork chop, breaded, served over creamed brussel sprouts with house-smoked bacon.

Naples:

Edgewater Beach Resort – if staying at one of the few oceanside hotels, you won’t go hungry or thirsty. Fresh seafood is an obvious choice – whether it’s a thick cut of grouper or blackened fish taco’s, be sure to check out their unique beverage menus – refreshing fruity poolside choices or bourbon based bar choices.

It doesn't get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort, Naples, FL

It doesn’t get much fresher than pan seared grouper, from Edgewater Beach Resort.

Cafe Lurcat – ‘…old world style with a nouveau twist.’ A hip, expansive restaurant with patio seating and more upstairs seating, the focus is on high-end American comfort food. The Fifth Avenue location is a great pairing to enjoy a before or after dinner stroll and take in all the high-end shopping found in Naples.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the 'Voyage' part of the menu.

Crispy Pollo Loco with Achiote-Chili Rub, Avocado Crema, Roasted Tomato from the ‘Voyage’ part of the menu.

Campiello – this is place to be seen in Naples. The large square bar – half inside/half outside – is always packed, and is flanked on each side by indoor dining and patio dining. Italian fare featuring a traditional Tuscan flavor using dry and fresh pastas paired with great sauces, meats and seafood and specialty items.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse Cake, Campiello Ristorante & Bar, Naples

Next week I will finish off with food reviews from NYC and Martha’s Vineyards! I know it’s hard to overload on good food, but didn’t want you to overload on good food reviews! I will also create a food review gallery to see more pics of the yummy dishes we’ve been indulging in!

Naples – Florida that is!

Generally speaking if you live in the northern states and west of the Mississippi you head to the southwest for a winter getaway – if you live east of the Mississippi you head to the southeast for a winter getaway. Growing up in Minnesota I was geographically on the fence. Being from a big golfing family, we were drawn to the golf mecca of the Phoenix valley. We were drawn to multiple sunny days and dry warm heat. When I was 13 years old, we began making this trek to the southwest on a fairly regular basis, and continued that trend for the next 30 years until my husband and I bought our first place in Arizona.

Minnesota’s geographic location in comparison to Florida in the southeast and Arizona in the southwest.

Florida had never been a strong pull for my family and I, but it does have Disney World and lots of great beaches and ocean views. Most of my trips to Florida have been either around the Orlando area or along the warm waters of the Gulf side: Long Boat Key, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Tampa, and Naples.

The bridge and groom saying enough of this sunset watching - let's party!

Captiva Island – a beautiful setting for a beautiful couple. Congrats Audra and Shawn on the birth of your new son!

I’ve never felt especially drawn back to really any area of Florida, but from the places I have visited, Naples holds the most appeal. Beautiful white sandy beaches overflowing with seashells; lush well maintained grounds in every direction; a quaint downtown area split into its own version of 5th Avenue with great shops and restaurants and an area about 7 blocks south of there with more great shops and restaurants. Even though there are plenty of places for the ‘beautiful people’ to be seen and want to be seen, there are plenty of places to settle into for a romantic quiet dinner, a stroll along the beaches that are so long there is plenty of room for everyone, or relaxing moonlit walk. (Restaurant reviews coming end of May post.)

Naples is an idyllic picturesque town. Mega mansions line a portion of the beaches, but at the end of each street splitting these ongoing blocks of mansions are public access points to the beaches. So unlike other high-end beach front properties the beaches of Naples are not broken up by private beaches. Live Oak trees create an over hanging canopy so thick on the inland streets they create a natural tunnel. Roads going north and south have gulf views on the west and inland marina on the east. There are very few lodging choices along the beach, instead being lined with high-rise condos which must afford amazing views, or low-rise complexes giving you more direct access to the beach.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

P1060106

The heavily treed inland streets of naples create a canopy so thick is produces natures version of a tunnel.

Being a golfer, Florida obviously holds great appeal and interest in the many courses that dot the plush landscape. I have not had an opportunity to play many Florida courses, but from what I have played they certainly stand in stark contrast to the desert courses of Arizona. Thick green juicy rough vs gnarly fluffy rough quickly giving way to desert. Towering palm trees vs towering saguaros. Alligators vs rattlesnakes. The ball doesn’t fly as far in this heavy air and the softer lush fairways, but the heat and humidity keep my body warm and loose so I can grip it and rip it and get us much out of my shots as possible.

While in Naples, my husband and I played a private course called Calusa Pines. They play golf there the way golf should be played, with caddies. The luxury of having your clubs carried frees you up to enjoy the leisurely walk of the beauty every golf course holds vs zipping through each hole in a cart. It helps me to stay focused on my game by keeping the round flowing at a steady pace and giving me time to assess my next shot as I walk up to my ball. With a cart I race to the ball, hit and race to the next shot. Plus it’s a nice benefit to have someone along who knows the greens and aiming points off the tee.

Calusa Pines Golf Club - showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

Calusa Pines Golf Club – showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

The few days we spent in Naples were extremely windy, but that didn’t stop us from getting set-up ocean side on double wide lounger outside out hotel, the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Umbrellas were anchored deeply in the sand by big muscled beach attendants to keep the beating sun off us. The wind made for big curling crashing waves and helped to keep us cool in the high humidity and temps in the mid-80’s in mid-April. We could walk 75 feet out into the salty warm waters of the Gulf before the water began to go up over our chest. One day we saw a couple of porpoises swim by about 50 feet offshore, just cruising and playing along that line all the way down the shoreline.

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

Even though we experience some amazing sunsets in Arizona, I have to give a nod to the amazing sunsets in Naples. We had a top floor room that allowed us a vantage point to see up and over the buildings. There is nothing more picturesque and photographed more often than the sun setting over the ocean, or in this case the Gulf. The colors are vibrant, and the reflection glistening on the waters is hard to replicate in any other setting.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

Naples residents are proud of their area and it shows. A lot of Florida looks old, run down, tired. Naples looks fresh, cared-for, vibrant and has earned the tag line ‘destination spot.’

For more pictures of Naples, check out the Global Gallery.