Monday, May 31, 2010

Trying to Keep Cool on a Hot Summer Day

A Sign of Spring

Last spring, I noticed this Italian planter we have hanging on our upper deck had some debris in it. When I climbed up to get a closer look, I found it wasn't debris at all but a very intricate little bird's nest, delicately woven from pine straw . I left it alone because there were tiny little speckled bird's eggs inside. The little ones eventually hatched and left the nest.

These photos were taken this morning when I noticed the nest looked a bit larger than it did a year ago.

A little while ago, after getting the ladder and taking a peek inside, this is what I found. I hope St. Francis will watch over these new ones and they will be safe and prosper, just as their predecessors did last year.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Our Mountain Vineyard

Occasionally, someone will ask about the progress in our vineyard.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this project, it has been a dream of Dennis' for several years. However, it began to materialize about four years ago, when he charted the sun patterns, studied the plot drainage, did a lot of research and took classes, visited other vineyards, and began regularly having the soil tested.

Three years ago, he began to work the soil and blueprint the actual layout. Two years ago, he planted the infant vines, which resembled small, frail sticks. It was hard to imagine these unattractive little twigs would produce anything close to the knotted and weathered beautiful vines we had seen covering the hillsides of Napa Valley and Senoma, Italy and France. But Dennis never lost sight of his vision.

Over the next two years, all of the work was painstakingly done organically by hand. Weeds were pulled, cordons were hung, and massive rocks were drug down from deep in the woods to make the hand-stacked wall that will eventually surround the rows.

We have had our ups and downs. Last summer, we had a long dry spell, so much so that I had to string 300 feet of hose from the pump house to the vineyard and water the dry cracked earth manually. Then, this past January, we became concerned when we had three separate snowfalls, and the frail little vines were covered with snow and ice more days than not.

But somehow, these vines, whose heritage dates back to ancient times, had the strength to persevere. What we thought were harsh mountain conditions have turned out to be no match for this vegetation that has existed as long as modern man.

During this second year of growth, we will continue to prune the vines back, hopefully resulting in a more hardy grape in the third year, and allow the primary arms of the vines a chance to mature.

The few clusters of grapes you see below will be allowed to grow, just for samples. The others will be clipped away. But next year, baring any unforeseen circumstances, we hope for something like this on every vine.

The wonders of nature are astounding!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

American Idol

This will be one of those stories that you might cause you to question its authenticity, but it is all wonderfully and unexpectedly true!

A year ago, almost to the date, my niece Janae (who is often my traveling companion) wanted to go see fellow Arkansan and UCA student, Kris Allen, in the finals of American Idol. We applied for tickets in both of our names, thinking it would increase our chances of receiving them. Very naive of us!

We both received notices indicating there were so many requests, we would be placed on a "wait list". The show came and went, we heard nothing more, so basically, we both forgot all about it.

That is, until the night of May 20th last week when an email showed up in my niece's inbox, indicating the tickets she had requested for the finale (ONE YEAR AGO!) had been awarded and she needed to respond immediately if she still wanted them. She called and asked if I still wanted to go.......of course I did! One small detail: the voucher we received didn't guarantee us a ticket. It guaranteed us a place in line with 7000 other people in hopes of actually GETTING a ticket. So it was a gamble, but we were ready to take it.

We had three days to put a trip to Los Angeles together, so I called the best travel agent I know, my sweet hubby Dennis, who was about to board a plane for his next pre-draft scouting destination. This is the busiest, most hectic month of his job and probably the worst possible time to add to his "to do" list, but he understood we wanted to give this a shot and he was able to get us plane tickets, a hotel, and a car and driver within the hour before he boarded his plane.

So Monday, we headed to California for a whirlwind, very-little-sleep and a lot of standing-in-line trip.

Janae on the plane.

Our driver and longtime acquaintance of Dennis, "Super Steve", picking us up at the Burbank Airport.

A bowl of homemade strawberry ice cream and chilled white wine awaited us when we arrived in our room.

Dennis put us in the beautiful brand new J W Marriott in the exciting ,newly revitalized "LA LIVE" area of Los Angeles. 50 feet from our door was the Nokia Theater and across the street was the Staples Center, with countless bars and restaurants packed in between. We were able to walk to everything we wanted to do. This is the view from our 20th floor window.

Drinks and appitiezers in the lobby of the hotel before going out to dinner Monday night. The entire cast and crew of American Idol stayed at this same hotel, so we saw a lot of people from the show as we sat on this sofa.

The American Idol Tent set up outside the Nokia where they did the interviews, etc.

Janae and I had dinner Monday night just down the street from the hotel, on the patio of Wolfgang Puck's Bar and Grill. While sitting here, a camera crew from the Sacramento Fox affiliate stopped by to talk to us and thought our story about receiving the ticket voucher ONE YEAR LATER after we had requested it was pretty crazy so they interviewed us about it for the late news that evening. Shortly after that, the news crew from the Fox affiliate from Las Vegas stopped by and interviewed us again.
We explained that we had to go stand in line the following morning with the voucher in hopes of actually getting a "real" ticket and they asked if they could accompany us and film while we were in line. The following morning (Tuesday) the Las Vegas Fox people called and we agreed to meet at the line that was forming at the LA Convention Center. When we arrived (4 hours before actual ticket time) the line was already two blocks long. The first people in line told us they had been there since 5:00am, in addition to driving 6 hours to get there! For the record, we saw on the news that people who wanted tickets for the Wednesday performances slept on the sidewalk all night to make sure they got a place in line.....interesting shots of people dressed in evening clothes, sleeping on blankets and chairs along the sidewalk.
The 3-page list of bluntly written instructions we had received was very specific (in all caps!) that we could be denied entry if we brought a camera or cell phone, so unfortunately, I have no photos from this day. A few brave souls brought their phones in.....but they lived in the area and didn't have as much at risk as we did if they got kicked out.
Somehow, out of the 7000 or so people in the blocks-long line, they picked 53 people to be the live audience for the TV Guild Channel's pre-Idol red Carpet Show. Once again, we got very lucky to be picked for this group! They hand placed us where they wanted us to be and Janae and I were put next to the interview platform.
Lady luck seemed to be in our corner Tuesday.
We met three lovely women who were from California that we were fortunate enough to stand next to in line, we placed next to at the TV Guide taping, and got to sit next to in the Nokia Theater. You meet the nicest people in the most unusual circumstances!
The producer picked one person out of the 53 to do a live interview segment of the show, and that person turned out to be JANAE! We didn't get to see the broadcast, but from the calls and text messages she received from friends and family who did see it, it sounded like she did a really good job.
After standing on our feet continually for about six hours in the hot sun (we both got sunburned!), we ended up on the 23rd row, center section, of the Nokia Theater, so we had excellent seats for the performances of Lee and Crystal Tuesday night.

As they often do in life, our "ah-ha" moments came when we least expected them. Monday night, we took a walk in the LA Live area just outside of our hotel. You just never know who you are going to run in to in Los Angeles.......
Janae and #3 Idol finalist Casey James

"Big Mike" was getting out of a cab, by himself, as we walked by. We stopped and talked to him about his wife and baby (who he told us was teething and not feeling so good). Very sweet guy who was willing to talk as long as we wanted to.

Siobhan Magness was probably one of the most beautiful and captivating people I have ever met. She was out taking a walk with her adorable little sisters (in the background of this photo), the ones she talked about a lot on the show. When she speaks to you, she looks deep into your eyes, listens to every work you say, then responds sincerely. When you are with her, you have 100% of her attention, which can be a little disarming. She is so naturally beautiful it is difficult not to stare! What an extremely sweet and genuine person.

The look on Janae's face pretty much sums up the whole experience.
We got home late Wednesday night, and as fate would have it, we completely missed the results show while we were flying. But we both predicted (on camera) three different times that Lee would win, in spite of the fact Crystal blew the doors off of her performances on Tuesday night. Of the thousands of people gathered there, with tickets and without, the support for Lee was probably 3-1 over Crystal. Lots of older women with "COUGARS LOVE LEE" signs and lots of pre-teens screaming their undying love for him. Kind of hard for a hippie-chick single mom to get that kind of following, despite her unbelievable reincarnation of Janis Joplin.
As my niece very eloquently put it to me last year before the finals of Idol when I told her there was no way sweet little Kris Allen could compete with the singing, acting, and stylistic performance of Adam Lambert:
Probably the best assessment of American Idol I have heard.
Back to reality for to you all!