Viking River Cruise From A Rookie’s Point Of View

Never had I ever taken a cruise of any kind until a few months ago when we embarked on a Viking River Cruise along the lovely Rhîne, boarding in Amsterdam and disembarking in Basel, Switzerland.

The VIking Hlin

Over the years, my lack of enthusiasm for a cruise would more accurately be characterized as a lack of enthusiasm for travel on a giant cruise ship in the middle of an ocean.

First, I am sun-averse so days spent on the Lido Deck perfecting my tan would be completely wasted on this fair-skinned gal. Also, my extreme claustrophobia, oddly, makes me develop a case of the vapors just thinking about being out to sea without a speck of land in sight. Maybe “reverse-claustrophobia”?

But a river cruise? That I could handle. Worst case scenario, I could swim to shore, right? This comforting, if a bit delusional, thought allowed me to throw caution to the wind and make my reservation.

Also, I knew I’d have a wicked case of FOMO (fear of missing out) if I didn’t join with the rest of our group of college pals on this trip.

THE SHIP

Our Viking River Cruise ship, The Hlin, has capacity for about 190 guests and 50 crew members on four decks.

On top is the sun deck offering lounge chairs and tables, a walking track, shuffleboard court and putting green. Fortunately, the sun deck also has canopies which provide the shade some of us require. On the upper and middle decks, the ship has a small library, a restaurant and a lounge containing a bar, buffet area, and outdoor seating section.

Viking Hlin at dock

Our room was on the middle deck – a “Veranda B” stateroom. For perspective, the middle deck is where the gangway meets the ship in the photo above.

Measuring about 205 square feet, the room was not big but certainly comfortable with plenty of space to unpack and store suitcases out of sight. We had a small veranda (room for 2 chairs and a cocktail table). While we spent very little time on the veranda, we loved being able to open the sliding glass door and step into the fresh air.

In general, the design vibe of the Viking River Cruise ship is clean, simple and beautiful. Every inch of the ship feels calm and comfortable. Quite Zen.

THE FOOD

Chef Arezina and his staff prepared fabulous meals and snacks for us. At each meal, guests can choose from the menu in the restaurant or dine on lighter buffet fare in the lounge. The meals, afternoon snacks, and demonstrations highlight local foods and traditions.

dinner in the restaurant

Maître d’ Ivan greeted all guests with a smile and guided his staff as they made meal service seem effortless – quite a feat!

Meals include house wine (quite good!), beer, and soft drinks.  For an extra price, Viking offers the Silver Spirits Program which allows for unlimited soft drinks, wine, beer, and cocktails including local beers, fine wines, and brand-name liquors. These same upscale drinks are available for purchase individually.

We are not cocktail drinkers so, even though tempted by the opportunity to try a greater selection of wines and factoring in an occasional night-cap of Bailey’s on the rocks, we did the math and decided to skip the Silver Spirits Package.

By the way, Viking allows guests to bring bottles of wine on the ship. Waiters will happily serve this wine for you without a corkage fee.

A special shout-out to our waiters Rudy and Jimmy for taking such good care of us and making every meal a memorable experience!

Rudy and Jimmy

EXCURSIONS

One excursion is included in the itinerary for each day. Additional, optional excursions can be added for a modest price.

The included excursions are tailored to give guests a feel for the port location. Each tour is led by a local guide. Viking equips all guests with a listening device which makes it possible for guides to speak in a conversational tone. Guests don’t have to elbow their way into position near the guide in order to hear what is being said.

As our included excursions, we enjoyed walking tours of Cologne, Heidelburg, and Strasbourg, a trip through the Black Forest, a visit to Marksburg Castle and a tour of the spectacular windmills of Kinderdijk.

Windmills at Kinderdijk

Our Program Director, Daniel, made certain that all guests were safe, comfortable and in the right group. And, while I’m sure he often felt as though he was herding cats, he never got flustered and never wavered from his cheery disposition.

The choice of optional excursions included a visit to the Mercedes Benz Factory, an evening of beer tasting in Cologne, wine tasting and dinner at Eberbach Monastery (which OBVIOUSLY we signed up for) and many more.

Our absolute, number one favorite excursion of the trip was “Colmar in World War II: Museum & Memorial”. This optional excursion was created and led by a local man named Malcolm who has a passion for World War II history and a true gift for making the story of what happened in the Colmar Pocket come alive.

Audie Murphy Memorial

Maybe you’ve heard of Audie Murphy, the 19-year-old soldier who single-handedly fought back an entire company of German soldiers? Well, you have never heard the story told as Malcolm does. It is something you will never forget and this excursion is not to be missed!

THE REST OF THE EXPERIENCE

When we weren’t off on excursions, we spent time on the sun deck playing cards, trying our hand at shuffleboard, and taking in the scenery along the way.

Relaxing on the Deck

The weather cleared for our beautiful afternoon of sailing amid the castles of the Middle Rhîne River.

Middle Rhine

Captain Ivan and his crew expertly guided the ship along the river through lock after lock, graciously invited guests to check out the Wheelhouse and answered all of our (possibly annoying) questions.

The entire staff was incredible. Led by Hotel Manager Armin, each member of the staff and crew were professional, kind, helpful, charming – truly A+. The level of customer service we experienced on the Viking River Cruise was exemplary.

Every member of our traveling group loved the trip. We felt that it was an excellent value for the dollar and we are ready to sign up for another voyage!

Now that I’ve shared the nuts and bolts of the Viking River Cruise, next time I’ll give you our thoughts on what we did right and ways we will make our future trips even better.

Here’s a teaser: the very best thing we did as we started to plan this trip was to reach out to our incredible travel agent, Sandy Grodsky of SG Travel Advisors. Sandy guided us through the entire process providing sage advice and saving us from making some rookie mistakes. Sandy’s blog, You May Be Wandering, features amazing travel ideas and breathtakingly beautiful photos. Check it out!


FYI, I have received no compensation from Viking, although I would happily entertain and readily accept such an offer. Just sayin’…


Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

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Happy National Drink Wine Day

I wasn’t going to miss this one…

Mocadeaux Wine collage

Happy National Drink Wine Day!!!

Cheers!

 

 

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Pizza Is Nature’s Perfect Food. Add Wine, Even Better!

How on earth could I have missed National Pizza Day on February 9th?!?!?!

Me, the gal for whom pizza is the universal cure for what ails me and the dish I would request for my death row meal?!?

Me, the one who was an advocate of “Pizza for Breakfast” long before scientists proved its health benefits?!?

pizza for breakfast

I’m so ashamed.

I can remember the first time I tasted pizza. I was about 5 years old, 1962 or so, when a trip to the Round Table Restaurant on 4th Street North in St. Petersburg, Florida, changed my life.

And, because the internet is amazing, I can show you this from eBay:

Round Table Restaurant

Holy trip-down-memory-lane, Batman! Even now, I can remember the taste of that ooey, gooey, delicious cheese pizza and how excited I was any time my family dined at the Round Table.

Over the years my love of pizza has taken many turns.

During stretches of my life, the Dark Days as I like to call them, I had to be content with frozen pizza, managing to get by, doctoring up Stouffer’s French Bread Pepperoni Pizza, adding a little extra mozzarella cheese.

In college, Food Service pizza purchased from the little kitchen in the basement of my dorm became an all too frequent late night treat. #Freshman15 …Also…  #SophomoreJuniorSenior15

Upon graduation, I was lucky enough to move to Chicago, otherwise known as Home of the World’s Best Pizza.

Now I know that some folks disagree and say that New York pizza is better or that Chicago deep dish pizza isn’t really pizza.

Those folks are wrong.

I’m a bit of a traditional purist when it comes to pizza – just one or two toppings, red tomato sauce, and plenty of mozzarella cheese (the chewy, stretchy kind not the fancy fresh mozzarella which belongs on a caprese salad or a gourmet flatbread).

You’re probably thinking, “That’s all well and good, Mo. We love pizza too and heartily agree that Chicago pizza is the best pizza. But we were promised wine!”

OK, let’s go.

Pizza and wine – the perfect food made more perfect.

Here’s the thing…

Pairing wine with pizza shouldn’t be complicated. It’s all about choosing pizza toppings you enjoy and a wine you like to drink.

If you are a Chardonnay fan who loves a veggie pizza, go for it!

Pair your meat-lovers pizza with Cabernet Sauvignon? Great!

Pinot Noir, the perfect middle-of-the-road-food-wine, can be a good choice for those who can’t decide and/or simply love Pinot Noir.

But if you want to think outside the box a little and explore some new taste treats, how about one of these:

SYRAH

 

2012 Blair Fox Syrah

2012 Blair Fox Syrah from Santa Barbara County

Syrah is a full-bodied wine that combines luscious fruitiness with a bit of smokiness and spice. It is an excellent foil for the spice and heartiness of traditional pizza meats like pepperoni or sausage and also works well with my favorite topping: green olives.

We are particularly fans of Syrah from California like this Blair Fox wine from Santa Barbara County. Other Santa Barbara favorites are Foxen, Fess Parker, Jonata, Kunin and Andrew Murray.

2009 Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch "Gianna Marie" Syrah

2009 Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch “Gianna Marie” Syrah

In Sonoma, Martinelli makes a number of great single-vineyard Syrahs. And in Paso Robles, a new favorite is Terry Hoage.

If a straight-up Syrah is not your thing, how about trying a red blend containing Syrah?

We have plenty of wickedly good Syrah blends from Napa’s Alpha Omega and Lewis Cellars in our wine collection. Fess Parker makes “The Big Easy” which should be available at your favorite wine store.

Syrah is a frequent ingredient in red wine blends so do a little exploring and ask your favorite wine salesperson for some suggestions.

Zinfandel

If you are enjoying a pizza that is hearty, rich, and topping-packed or a fabulous Chicago style deep-dish pizza, you might want to give Zinfandel a try.

Zinfandel is best known for its notes of pepper and spice. No shrinking violet, this medium to full-bodied wine stands strong to balance equally bold foods.

Zinfandel is famous for its compatibility with barbecue flavors so if a BBQ chicken pizza is your jam, Zinfandel might be your new best friend.

Hendry Zinfandel

2010 Hendry Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel

We are huge fans of Hendry’s Zinfandels from Napa. (By the way, if you want a really unusual, deep-dive wine experience that you will never forget, visit Hendry. You can read more about the Hendry experience here.)

Stroll the aisles in the Zinfandel section of your wine store and you will see great, reliable producers like Duckhorn, St. Francis, Frank Family, Klinker Brick, and Seghesio.

Just as with the Syrahs, if you want to dip your toe into the Zinfandel pond slowly, consider a red wine blend. Rely on the knowledgeable folks at your wine store. They know their stuff, love wine and want you to have a positive wine experience!

Enjoy your pizza! Enjoy your wine! Life is good!

Designated driver, Uber or cab

Or, serve your pizza and wine at home and save the cost of the Uber ride!

No one paid me to say this.

Thanks for stopping by,

 

 

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Hello!

Hello

Hello!

You haven’t heard from me in a while. A pretty long while.

My lengthy, unintended absence started slowly. Looking back at past posts, it seems that the tide turned in early November of 2016. Around that time I seemed to lose my blogging mojo.

Go figure…

Anyway, I’ve missed my blog and I’ve missed interacting with you folks so I’m going to heed the words of the wise and wonderful Taylor Swift to “shake it off”, “keep cruising” and believe “it’s going to be alright”.

I’m back in the game.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Returning to my blog after an absence feels a bit like going to a class reunion without having done a good job of staying in touch. Will people remember me? Will they care that I showed up?

This insecurity is probably why I have only attended one of my high school reunions.

My 20-year high school reunion turned out to be a blast owing entirely to the fact that I attended with my BFFs, Ellie and Therese. We all flew to Florida for the event and these gals knew how to make the weekend special. Ellie arranged our rental of a red convertible and Therese arranged for us to stay at her parents’ gorgeous beach house.

Even with Ellie and Therese at my side, I had some trepidation about reconnecting with the rest of my classmates all those years after our graduation. In my defense, my family moved out of town after I graduated and left for a college 1,000 miles from our high school. Also, this was back in the dark ages, WAY before Facebook made it possible to stalk connect with long, lost pals.

Excuses, excuses. The bottom line: I had not done a particularly good job of keeping up with others – not even a Christmas card here and there. So it should have come as no surprise that when I stepped up to the registration desk on the first day of the reunion I was handed a badge bearing my name but the yearbook photo of someone else.

Hello my name is Mo

Clearly, I had not made my mark on the hearts and minds of the organizing committee.

Hopefully, I’ve made more of an impression on you, my loyal readers, and you will welcome me and my blog back into your life.

Oh, I know what will do it…

Mocadeaux wine glasses

WINE!!!!!

Yes, indeedy. Just because I haven’t been writing about wine certainly does not mean I haven’t been diligently doing research on the subject.

The same can be said about fabulous food and adventures. I have stories to tell about travels to Paris and the Rhine River Valley (my first cruise!), Disney World with 5 grandchildren, restaurant recommendations and yummy dishes that Chef Peter has made accompanied by perfectly paired wine, of course.

I hope you will stay tuned!

Mocadeaux - page break

P.S. I’d like to extend a personal thank you to my dear blog pals Katie from Preppy Empty Nester and Kelly from Just Typikel for their kind and gentle “where have you been??????” messages of concern. Ladies, I’m pretty sure that attending another blog conference with you would get me fully back in the groove. Who’s in?

Thanks for stopping by,

 

 

 

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(The Long Overdue) Paso Robles Part 2

We’ve been so busy enjoying the wines from Paso Robles, I’ve been quite remiss in posting Part 2 of our travels. So much wine, so little time to drink and post at once.

When last we were together you might remember that I said I always learn something new on wine tasting trips. In Paso Robles, I learned of some new-to-me varietals thus expanding my repertoire of California wines.

Tablas Creek

Show of hands: How many of you have heard of Counoise? Tannat?

Tablas Creek Counoise and Tannat

Although a name you might not recognize, Counoise (pronounced Coon-wahz) is used in many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. Tablas Creek has been growing Counoise since the early-1990s. 

Counoise is a medium intensity wine with a bit of spiciness and plenty of fruit. Think of it as a Syrah with the volume turned down a few notches.

In particularly noteworthy vintages, Tablas Creek bottles Counoise as a single varietal wine but more often it is used in red blends to soften and complement bolder wines.

Tannat came to Tablas Creek purely by chance when their French supplier decided to throw some of the vines in with others that had been ordered. A happy accident that has resulted in a very successful and relatively easy to grow wine.

Tannat can be pretty intense. In fact, in Europe Tannat is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to calm it down. But this bold wine loves the growing conditions and climate of Paso Robles which allow it to more fully ripen, releasing its beautiful true self.

The Tablas Creek tasting room is worth the stop to explore a wide range of varietals. Plus, they have a killer gift shop.

L’Aventure

L'Aventure Tasting Room

How gorgeous is this place?

At L’Aventure we tasted a wonderful Rosé (made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot) and three additional blends from some combination of these same red wines with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

L'Aventure Estate Cuvee

This 2014 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah and 15% Petit Verdot) convinced us to join the wine club.

If you are keeping score, that is wine club number 14 for us – the first, but not last, wine club we joined on this trip.

The stop at L’Aventure was also educational as they displayed this sample of bark showing how corks are born.

Cork bark

Pretty cool, right?

Caliza

We quickly learned that wine tasting in Paso Robles is all about fun and wine blends and more fun.

Caliza

At Caliza we started with yet another Rosé, this time a blend of Grenache and Syrah. It has taken me a while but I can honestly say that after this trip I am firmly on board the “Rosé all day!” train.

Next, we enjoyed a series of red wine blends – combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.

Caliza’s wines have garnered some great and well-deserved scores from the experts.

Thatcher

Our visit to Thatcher on this gorgeous day started with a taste of – what else? – Rosé. Thatcher didn’t make much of this wine, only 90 cases, and I’m sure it sold out fast!

Thatcher Winery

Thatcher also poured two single varietal wines: a Syrah and a Zinfandel. After tasting so many blends, it was interesting to get back to a couple of wines in their “pure form”. I’m a big fan of both Syrah and Zinfandel. These did not disappoint!

Of course, we also sampled some of Thatcher’s blends (combinations of Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Grenache).

Thatcher is serious about their wine making but has a great sense of humor in naming the wines. Oxymorons are their game.

“Controlled Chaos”

“Constant Variable”

“Original Copy”

“Normal Deviation”

“Resident Alien”

You get the idea. Well played, Thatcher.

Our visit to Thatcher also coincided serendipitously with the occasional visit from our most beloved, the sentimental favorite, will always be #1 in our hearts, Paso Robles wine producer:

The Farm

The Farm

The Farm winery is tiny; proudly boasting a mere 4 employees. They do not have their own tasting room nor really enough wine to supply a full-time tasting room so twice a year or so they set up a folding table on the patio at Thatcher and share their magnificent wines.

The Farm’s stated goal is

“to make small amounts of fine red wines with the very best fruit from Westside Paso Robles (Adelaida and Willow Creek Districts).”

And YES they do!

The Farm Wines

We first met Jim and Azmina at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event. The Farm was brand new – this was their first or second vintage. My husband had not heard of The Farm before and he was curious. Because they were so new, their table wasn’t mobbed with fans so we had the opportunity to chat with Jim and Azmina and hear their story.

Their partner/winemaker is Santiago Achaval, the legendary winemaker from Argentina.

The wine was love at first taste. Big, bold reds beautifully crafted, expertly decanted, a joy to drink.

Jim and Azmina

Since that first meeting we have (of course) joined the wine club and introduced The Farm to friends and family who have joined as well.

By the way, if you are in the Paso Robles area, there are a couple of places you can taste The Farm’s wine by appointment and I would enthusiastically encourage you to do so.

We always look forward to crossing paths with Jim and Azmina. Seeing them reminds us why we love to visit wineries and attend wine tasting events, particularly the Family Winemakers of California event.

Having the opportunity to meet the people responsible for the wine and to learn about their journey and their passion adds so much to the enjoyment of the wine.

Well, not only was this post long overdue, it is LONG. I will save the rest of our Paso Robles tales for Part 3. Look for more fun, more wine blends, a craft project and a character. I’ll be back soon!

 

No one paid me to say this.

Do not drink and drive!

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Paso Robles Wine Tasting – Part 1

Each time I go on a wine tasting trip I learn something new.

For instance, on our recent trip to Paso Robles, California, I learned that I have been mispronouncing “Paso Robles”. Rather than using the Spanish pronunciation of “Paw-so Row-blays” locals go with “Paw-so Row-bulls”.

Or you can just stick with “Paso”.

Paso Robles

We have been trying to schedule this Paso Robles wine tasting trip with family and friends from California for quite some time. The California gang made a few reconnaissance trips without us, diligently doing research for this excursion and compiling a list of favorites for us to visit.

Located on California’s Central Coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been in the wine-making business since the late 1800s. Paso grows over 40 different types of grapes some of which, I have to admit, are completely new to me.

See? Wine tasting is educational!

Paso Robles Wine Festival

Paso Robles Wine Tasting Festival

Serendipitously, the dates chosen for our trip coincided with the Paso Robles Wine Festival. This four-day event takes place in the park in the middle of downtown Paso Robles and features wine and food from local businesses.

We chose to sign up for only the Reserve Tasting Event on Friday afternoon figuring the crowds would be at the festival all weekend and we would have wineries’ tasting rooms to ourselves.

Paso wine festival reserve tasting

The Reserve Tasting featured the best wines from a limited number of wineries along with tasty bites from local restaurants. It was a great Paso Robles introduction.

EPOCH ESTATE WINES

Epoch Estate’s tasting room is a gorgeous blend of old and new.

Epoch tasting room

Originally the home of York Mountain Winery –  the very first winery in the Central Coast, dating back to 1882 – this structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003.  Seven years later, the owners of Epoch Estate, purchased the land and the rubble and set out to reconstruct the historic building using all of the original materials, painstakingly, piece by piece.

Epoch even managed to bring back York Mountain’s 100+ year-old wine press which now holds a place of honor in the open loft of the tasting room.

Epoch wine press

Our tasting flight included a lovely Rosé (made from Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah grapes), a white blend (Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne), three red blends (varying combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tempranillo) and one 100% Syrah.

Epoch White and Rose

I brought these two bottles home for Girls’ Night In.

Guyomar

In 1996, modern day pioneers Mareeni and Ishka Stanislaus moved west to Paso Robles. Mareeni was recruited to be the area’s first OB/GYN and Ishka set his sights on starting a winery.

While we didn’t get to see Mareeni or Ishka on this visit – he was out of town and she was on call at the hospital – we did enjoy a lovely tasting, complete with a cheese and charcuterie platter, in the dining room of their home.

Guyomar tasting

We enjoyed tastes of Guyomar’s Rosé (made from Grenache grapes) and four different red blends (varying combinations of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah).

Guyomar The Editor

Given the fact that the majority of our group was made up of journalists and English majors, Guyomar’s delicious blend (69% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Zinfandel, and 4% Petite Sirah), “The Editor”, was a fan favorite.

Law Estate

Law Estate

The California gang discovered this fabulous place on their first visit to Paso Robles and have been anxious for us to meet Law’s yummy wines.

Law Estate barrel roomOur young winery guide, Maggie, impressed us with her knowledge and delighted us with her stories about discovering her passion for wine at the family dinner table and her dad’s help in furthering her wine education. Maggie’s dad is being rewarded now with the family discount at his daughter’s place of work and access to some incredible wines.

While nestled in the gorgeous room just beyond the barrels, Maggie poured us an array of red blends with descriptive names like “Audacious” and “Sagacious” (combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon) and”Intrepid”, of 100% Syrah.

The names of these blends prompted us to imagine what we might name our own signature wines. As you might guess, the English majors and writers among us were more skilled at this game than we accountants.

The best I could come up with was “In The Red” which doesn’t have the greatest connotation although it does describe the financial situation of many who try to start a vineyard.

Still, I think I will leave the wine naming and winemaking business to talented and experienced professionals like those crafting the delicious wines at Law.

mocadeauxFolks, we are just getting started on our tour of Paso Robles.

Up next, some wine varietals you may have never heard of and our #1 sentimental Paso Robles favorite.

Stay tuned!

 

No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

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Disney Vacation Club – Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

After spending a bajillion dollars on Disney vacations over the years, we finally wised up and joined the Disney Vacation Club.

Disney Vacation Club locations

Disney Vacation Club is kind of like a timeshare but, rather than buying specific weeks at a specific location, members buy points which can be used anytime at a variety of Disney resorts and hundreds of non-Disney properties.

Welcome home

Even with a pretty generous carryover policy, points do have an expiration date. Recently, Peter and I found ourselves with a handful of points that had reached the point of “use it or lose it”.

Reviewing our options and taking into consideration that we already have reservations for an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World with the entire family, Peter suggested a getaway to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort

A little back story…

I am a native Floridian; born in St. Petersburg. In my youth, the city was known as the retirement capital of the world. The downtown streets rolled up at 4pm to allow everyone to get in line for the early-bird dinner at Morrison’s Cafeteria.

Today, downtown St. Pete is swanky-town where you can pay a cool million for a condo with a view of the water and a plethora of museums, galleries and hip restaurants at your doorstep.

But I digress.

The point is, back when I was growing up and the state’s population was largely concentrated on the two coasts with a whole lot of nothing but orange groves in the middle, we Floridians felt a strong affinity for our locale.

An East Coast – West Coast thing.

Florida's Best Coast

There was no ambivalence. You were “Ft. Myers” or “Ft. Lauderdale” – not both.

I will always be a true-blue, loyal Gulf Coast gal.

The West Coast, the Best Coast.

So, when Peter suggested vacationing on Florida’s EAST Coast I was not immediately on board.

Old misconceptions die hard.

But, this is Disney after all, so I decided that I could cope. Look at me, walking in the flip flops of others to understand our differences.

Flying into the Orlando airport, we had momentary buyer’s remorse as we headed to our rental car rather than the Disney Magical Express bus to Walt Disney World.

Those feelings were quickly dispelled by the scenery upon our arrival at the resort.

Ocean view

After spending some time relaxing by the pool we enjoyed dinner on site at the Wind and Waves Grill and cocktails on the lovely porch at the Green Cabin Room. Their wine list was not great but the Agave Nectar Margarita was a delicious Plan B.

We spent one entire day lounging under an umbrella on the beach. This fair-skinned Irish gal was also under a hat, towels and a double layer of SPF 50 sunscreen.

Under my umbrella

The cooling breeze and the sound of the waves made for the perfect setting to enjoy my magazines and take a nap.

At one point, we ventured into the surf to frolic in the waves, reminding me of two truths:

  1. As I am no longer 17 years old, my boogie board should have been retired some time ago.
  2. The monster waves of the Atlantic Ocean are much meaner than the gentle, rolling swells of my beloved, placid Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the rest of our time was spent relaxing by the pool.

The pool

Although we resisted the temptation to join in the poolside games like bingo and dive for sharks, we were powerless over the two-story waterslide as a vehicle for somewhat more age-appropriate thrill seeking.

Pool slide

We patiently waited in line among the children and there is no truth to the rumor that we elbowed little ones out of our way or distracted them by shouting, “Hey, look! There’s a shark!”.

After three glorious days, it was time to say goodbye to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and head off on our next adventure.

Spoiler alert: the next adventure involves wine.

As my friend Mickey says, “See you real soon!”

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Baby Sister And Retirement – Take 3

Recently, our family has experienced two momentous events.

A few weeks ago we welcomed our fifth grandchild and first granddaughter!!!

Baby sister

To say that girls are scarce in our family would be an understatement. Baby sister is the first female to be born on either side of our family in almost 25 years.

She’s kind of a big deal. And she is beautiful.

Her twin older brothers, Chip and Dale, are quite besotted with her. The household is settling in nicely; that is to say, they will be once the wee darling gets a little better grasp on night vs. day.

To celebrate her arrival, we opened a bottle of 2009 Wallis Family Estate “Little Sister” Proprietary Red Wine from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

2009 Wallis Family Estate Little Sister Proprietary Red

Perfect, right?

We discovered Wallis Family Estate at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event about 5 years ago. Pouring wine at their booth on that day were both Mr. Wallis and his younger daughter, AKA the Little Sister.

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Shortly after Baby Sister’s arrival, Peter started retirement.

For the third time.
Peter Begins Retirement

Retirement #1 never really happened even though the date was set and we completed the planned relocation.

You see, Peter is a team player. When the company came to him saying, “We’ve had a bit of a situation and we really, really, really need to have you stick around for another six months or so. Pretty please???”, he couldn’t say no.

Retirement #2 proceeded swimmingly for a grand total of three months.

During that time we packed in all sorts of fun activities like concerts and wine events.

I became quite accustomed to having Peter cook dinner, pairing it with the perfect wine, as I perused my People Magazine.

Well, that arrangement came to a screeching halt when Peter received a call asking if he could help out on a teeny, tiny project  – “should last no longer than a couple of months” – which turned into a big, big project consuming about fifteen months.

Now, finally, all is as it should be in Maison Lux. Peter is home and splitting his time, once again, between his two happy places: the kitchen and the wine cellar.

Wine Spectator magazine’s website has a series called “8 & $20” which features wonderful recipes (with suggested wine pairings) serving up to 8 people for $20 or less (not including wine, obviously).

One, in particular, caught Peter’s eye and he decided to give it a whirl.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Mushroom Sauce

Braised chicken thighs in mushroom sauce.

Now I was a little wary of this dish for two reasons: I don’t like dark meat chicken and I REALLY don’t like mushrooms. Other than that, it sounded great…

But, if Peter was doing the cooking I figured the least I could do was to be a good sport and try the dish without complaining. Besides, I knew it would be served with a great wine so not a total fail.

I may not have instantly become a dark meat/mushroom convert, but I will tell you that this combination was delicious! Check out the recipe here.

Peter paired this yummy gem with a 2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir.

2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir

Located in Santa Barbara County, Foxen makes a wide variety of wines including single-vineyard Pinot Noirs like this one, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and red blends.

The Foxen tasting room in Santa Maria is a simple and rustic but beautiful place and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting Santa Barbara County. Just a tiny bit down the road is their second tasting room, known as The Shack, where visitors can enjoy selections from Foxen 7200 which focuses on Italian style and Bordeaux wines.

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Now that Peter has more free time, I’m looking forward to many delicious meals, great adventures and lots of time to spend with the five grandchildren: Baby Sister, brothers Chip and Dale and cousins Andy and Harry.

Life is, indeed, good!

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Boston Fun And Pi Day

Hi, folks! Checking in to let you know what I’ve been up to and to wave my nerd flag proudly, wishing you a Happy Pi Day.

Recently, I spent several weeks in Boston for part one of my current granny nanny stint when our daughter, Annie, returned to work following her maternity leave.

I was in charge of the newest arrival, Harry

Baby Harry

(as you can see we are already turning him into an Irish fan)…

and his big brother, Andy (whom we are apparently turning into a fan of lifestyle magazines like the Real Simple he is about to peruse in this photo).

Andy 2017

There is a reason that babies are born to those who are young and energetic rather than those of us who are older and, let’s say, more sedentary. Still, I managed to hold my own with these two guys.

They made it pretty easy.

On-time feedings, attention to the nap and diaper changing schedules along with perpetual song singing and book reading were all they asked of me. In return, the boys accepted my non-stop smooching, cuddling and picture taking.

We got along splendidly.

Because both of our children and all of our grandchildren live only a couple of miles from each other (approximately 1,000 miles away from us but practically next door to one another), we get to spend time with all the little nuggets when we visit Boston.

Although my granny nanny duties kept me busy, we did manage to join Chip and Dale for play dates, trips to the trampoline park and playground and general fun.

Chip and DaleChip is still in his PJs here because he was a bit under the weather. Dale, having just returned from pre-school, was helping his twin brother pick out some “quiet time” books for Momo to read.

The timing of my trip allowed me to attend a beautiful luncheon at the home of my dear pal and superstar blogger, Katie Clooney of Preppy Empty Nester.

Lunch prepared by The Mister

What a treat to spend time with this group of smart, interesting and hilarious gals. I’m eager to crash their next party join them for another get together soon!

Katie Clooney's lunch guests

Hostess Katie (with the help of her husband, the chef du jour) outdid herself. Her beautiful home, warm hospitality, and all-encompassing awesomeness made for a perfect afternoon!

Now back home I’m spending time with my folks as my mom recovers from a little something-something.

In honor of Pi Day, we enjoyed a ridiculously delicious chicken pot pie from the Centerville Pie Company in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Centerville Pie Company

My dear pal, Ellie, sent a couple of these pies as a “get well soon” treat. And what a treat it was!!

Half the pie is gone

We gobbled down half of the pie before I could snap a picture.

You are probably wondering what wine we paired with this extraordinary pie.

2008 Argyle Spirithouse Reserve Series Pinot Noir

This 2008 Argyle Reserve Series Spirithouse Pinot Noir came from our cellar but you can find Argyle Pinot Noir at your favorite wine (maybe even grocery) store. In addition to the single vineyard, reserve wines, Argyle produces quite a lovely, reliable, everyday wine.

Before too long I will head back to Boston for nanny granny part two and to wait for the arrival of our next grandchild – OUR FIRST GIRL!!!!!!  A shower of pink is coming our way!

So stay tuned for that excitement and, of course, more wine.

Happy Pi Day!

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A Grandmother’s Guide To Toddler Books – Part Two

I love reading books to my young grandchildren. I especially like it when the toddler books are entertaining and do not make me want to poke a sharp stick in my eye.

Please let me share with you some of the books I recommend. You can find more in Part One.

(By the way, as in Part One, this post contains some affiliate links which means that if you buy something after clicking on the link, Amazon will send a few pennies my way. I will promptly send the pennies back to Amazon as I buy new books for the little ones. I thank you and they thank you.)

I will be spending lots of time reading these and other favorites to the little guys during my upcoming stint as granny nanny.

 

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Goodnight, Goodnight COnstruction Site

Even the toughest equipment on the construction site needs to tuck in at night to be rested up and ready for the new day. This story helps rambunctious four-year-old twins realize that they do, too.

 

Pom Pom Panda Gets the Grumps written and illustrated by Sophie Henn

Pom Pom Panda Gets The Grumps

We’ve all had those times when we get out on the wrong side of the bed and everything that can go wrong throughout the day does. Pom Pom Panda’s friends help him to turn his day around.

 

Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups written and illustrated by Tadgh Bentley

Little Penguin Gets The Hiccups

This sweet and silly book illustrates the pitfalls of serving chili to a penguin. Little penguin needs help to vanquish his hiccups and he calls upon the reader and the audience to help.

 

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Spoon

There is something about this book that I absolutely adore. Captivating illustrations depict this creative tale about Spoon who thinks those around him (Fork, Knife, and Chopsticks) lead more interesting or, in the case of Chopsticks, more exotic lives than he does. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Spoon, help him to realize that there is something special about each of us.

 

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

Giraffes Can't Dance

As someone who was kicked out of ballet class at age six because the teacher thought I was “too clumsy”, I feel vindicated by this book. With some encouragement and the right music in our hearts, we can ALL dance.

 

Finally, you can’t go wrong with ANYTHING by author Mo Willems. True, I might be drawn to him because of his awesome name but just look at these examples…

The Pigeon Needs a Bath! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

The Pigeon Needs A Bath

The Pigeon series (including other gems like “Don’t Let Pigeon Stay Up Late” and “Don’t Let Pigeon Drive The Bus” are silly tales about a cantankerous pigeon. He doesn’t think he needs a bath; he had one last month. Our little guys find the Pigeon books to be hilarious.

 

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Even from the cover of the book, you can see the personality that comes out in the illustrations.

Wee, little Trixie and her beloved knuffle bunny go along on a trip to the laundromat with dad. Unfortunately, knuffle bunny gets left behind and Trixie can’t get her parents to understand baby-speak. Finally, determination wins out and Trixie speaks her first real words, “knuffle bunny”.

 

The Elephant and Piggie Series

Elaphant and Piggie boks

There are 25 books in the Elephant and Piggie series. The books tell of the adventures of best friends Gerald the Elephant and Piggie the pig. The books are entertaining for all ages – seriously, I could read these over and over and over again.

The Elephant and Piggie books are also written to be “easy readers”. No dumb “See Spot run.” nonsense for this generation. The brilliant and talented Mo Willems helps children learn to read and want to read.

We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book), in particular, engages young readers.

Here is how the New York Public Schools Library Journal describes the hilarity:

“…the best buddies star in a witty metafictional romp replete with visual gags, such as Piggie hanging from a speech bubble and Elephant blocking the author’s name on the title page. Willems revs up the fun when the friends realize that someone is watching. Who can it be? Cautious Gerald asks, “A monster?” while savvy Piggie answers, “No. It is…a reader! A reader is reading us!” Mirth ensues as the delightful creatures comprehend a newfound power: “If the reader reads out loud,” they can make the reader say words.”

 

All of these books would be great additions to any family’s library. And, without a doubt, instilling a love of books in children is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Happy reading!

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