Over Napa Valley

imageThere are many busy weekends in my life but this last weekend was a banner weekend. What does that mean? It was full of the greatest adventures and milestones. Saturday began at 5:30AM at the Napa Marriott where we met up with about 100 people to do a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley. This is something I have wanted to do for years.  Six years ago I tried to book a ride in Sonoma County and found that there are not as many days of great ballooning weather due to the coastal location. Thanks to Ken Raith, pictured above, our group of five had an incredible ride this year to commemorate three birthdays.

imageThe ride was not without some challenges as our balloon did not want to inflat. There were five balloons that each held around 20 people. Once the other four balloons were in the air, the ground crews from all of them came over and helped our crew. Once we were in the air, it was obvious that Balloons Above the Valley is not the only company that gets people out at the crack of dawn for an early morning ride.image

imageI have driven up and down Hwy 29 in Napa many times but this was a view that I had never seen. We lifted off a bit north of the City of Napa and floated past the Veteran’s home (did you know that they have a golf course?) and traveled past Yountville in the quiet, cool morning air.  It was quiet other than the short bursts of butane flames to keep up afloat. This little estate is one thing that I have missed all these years!

The time in the air was about an hour which seemed like less than fifteen minutes. Our pilot, Russ, who travels from Minnesota every summer to balloon over Napa, set us down with a smooth landing in Alston Park, west of the city of Napa.  We headed back to the Marriott for a champagne brunch. It was the perfect way to celebrate the three June birthdays in our group.

imageNow this is just the beginning of my weekend as the brunch was over about 10AM!  Once I knew that the champagne was not effecting my ability to drive, I headed to Santa Barbara. Check in here a few days from now and see how the week is progressing!


Memorial Day Weekend


This weekend is not about how many fun events I can attend or how many houses I can show. This weekend is about remembering those who served to maintain our freedoms and being thankful for the lives we have due to the fact that we live in the best country on the planet. I made the decision that this weekend was about friends and family. My weekend to feel and act truly thankful.

I began my Sunday morning with a walk down Joe Rodota Bikepath to the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market.  One thing about this market is that there is a bit of everything.

Whether you are looking for produce, meat, clothing, flowers, baskets, breads, hats, etc., you will find a variety at the Sunday morning market each week. There were imageso many choices that I could not make up my mind.  I decided that it was best to browse the rest of downtown and see what sales were being offered for the weekend. I love Sole’s Desire for shoes and  Silk Moon for clothing and I was able to resist the temptations. But I was caught by a sale at Copperfields Book Store and seduced into purchasing two books so that I could get a third free. While standing in line I saw a new release (hardcover, of course) of Sweetbitter, a novel previewed in Bon Appetit this last month. So off, I go with four books instead of lettuce in my shopping bag.  After having succumbed to my fatal flaw – books, I decided to risk visiting Cultivate, the best kitchen and entertaining shop in Sebastopol – or better stated – west of Santa Rosa.  It was not two minutes before I saw “the sign.” It is the perfect gift for my latest buyer. I am planning on seeing her on Sunday and this is perfect.

imageI buy the sign, slip it into my bag and head for home the fastest route possible. Have I ever mentioned that getting home from downtown is mostly uphill? So off I traipse with four books and a wooden sign. Deciding to make the trip as pleasant as possible I walked to Florence Street to look at the beautiful gardens and Patrick Amiot sculptures on my way back. Feeling content, I arrived home and had a pleasant evening recovering from a walk with a heavy load.

Memorial Day is finally here! Today is sharing time and food with friends. I had a quick trip to the local market and finished making the salad right in time to leave for lunch. A group of us took a picnic to our friend, Phyllis, whom we can no longer take out.  So off we go to Primrose. It was a wonderful lunch.


With a half hour to spare, I was off to deliver the sign. The ride to Monte Rio was traffic free and the river was beautiful. Nothing like a happy client (now great friend) at her river home.


Memorial Day Weekend – Back on the Page

imageI have been absent from my blog and a bit from my life for the last year or so.  Maybe even before that but I can’t really remember.  In honor of Memorial Day, I am returning to both!  I started this weekend with a return to my much younger self by having a dinner party that was a flash from the past.  Julia Child & Company  was the inspiration and I had three couples over for a wonderful evening.  I got so involved in the cooking, serving and imagedrinking that I forgot to take pictures!  The meal was enhanced by consuming Walker Station 2012 “Leslie” Pinot Noir and Siduri Ewald Vineyards 2009.  Neither the Ewalds or the Walkers could join us so we included them by having their wines. Needless to say, they were both fabulous and greatly enjoyed. To add to the meal of pork tenderloin and all the other great foods that go along with it, we had rosemary focaccia from Nightingale Bakery in Forestville.  The bakery is not often open but when it is, there is a line out the door. Look for it in downtown Forestville.

imageSaturday morning I was off to SF to pick Jen up from an evening of visiting friends.  I have not been in San Francisco (other than to run down to the DeYoung a few times) in ages and it was a beautiful day for visiting some old haunts.

I am sad to say that Alex Bakery on Clement Street is no longer open. For those of you not local to SF, Clement Street is populated with a plethora of Chinese dim sum eateries – mainly for take out.  The Alex Bakery has been a favorite for years. Made the best steamed pork buns around. Not to be denied dim sum, we needed to browse the other places and settled on imageGood Luck Dim Sum just a couple of blocks down the road. Jen thinks that the name was not a good choice for a restaurant but the food was tasty.  I think it was meant to tell us we would have good luck if we ate there and she thought it was taking a chance.  Oh, the differences in perspective!  We took in the culinary sites on our way back to the car. Fresh durian and soft shelled crabs made me reminisce about my days in Singapore and Malaysia. The streets were bustling with shoppers and I am sure some tourists but this is a really local neighborhood without the tourist places of Chinatown.  We ate it on the way home – by the veterans’ cemetery in the Presidio which was decked out with flags are every gravestone and the Golden Gate Bridge was brimming with people presumably celebrating its anniversary. It was a great outing with little effort or money.

We drove home via Valley Ford where the Oysterpalooza was going full steam. If you have never been there and love live music put it on your calendar for next year.  It has been going since 2008 and will certainly return next year.  Even the small town of Bodega (and that is not Bodega Bay!) was hopping. Can’t wait for Day 2 of the weekend.  Check back to see what else is happening in my village.


Artist Profile – Jessica Snowden


Jessica Snowden is your “every mother” of Santa Rosa. Tucked in a quiet neighborhood with her husband, two teenagers and a couple of cats, there is only a hint of what lies inside her home from the exterior – that hint being a hand painted sign announcing that no normal family lives inside. Step through the front door and you are greeted by the studio where Jessica creates her current offerings.

Jessica has always loved to draw, paint and craft. Growing up with an artist as a mother, she is no stranger to trying something new. But like so many artists (or people in general), Jessica did not make a straight line to successful painter. In high school she aspired to be a fashion designer but enrolled at SRJC with a Business Marketing major. Married and beginning a family, she and her husband moved to Lakeport for a few years and life was all consuming. But a move back to Santa Rosa and a gift of water pencils from her mother made a major shift in direction. Jessica began experimenting and creating. She developed a line of gift products that highlighted butterflies, animals and flowers on pill cases, boxes, small canvases and jewelry. These treasures were sold at local boutiques for about 3 years until Jessica started focusing on her paintings.

SoCo Coffee on 4th Street was Jessica’s first solo show. Comfortable with the space and known to the owners since her book club met over coffee regularly, Jessica asked if she could display her paintings of sunsets, sunrises and stars.  Last June the show was a complete success. Two paintings were sold and a new enterprise was launched. Jessica downplays her marketing abilities but it is clear that those years at SRJC were not lost in her art career progression.  Jessica is now preparing Looking to the Skies, a series of 150 paintings to be presented at the Finley Community Center from March 31 to May 21, 2015.  The Reception is Friday, April 3 from 5 to 7 pm. The paintings are vibrantly colored and often in silhouette. The messages (to me at least!) are calmness, life and whimsy.

If you wonder where else you may have seen Jessica’s name, Jessica has been a longtime art instructor volunteer in Santa Rosa schools. She teaches at the Community Center. This spring her classes are Intro to Treasure Hunting – an experience in geocaching and Made to Wear – jewelry class for 7-13 year olds. Google “geocaching” and learn about this family oriented, outdoor activity. Jessica also works at the Sonoma County Library in the adult literacy program. Oh, and did I mention that Jessica is mom to two teenagers?

Jessica believes that her art keeps her grounded and focused. The word “progression” comes up in her conversation regularly. Life’s lessons are reflected in the creation of art. There are no mistakes. Your creations are not like anyone else’s. Accept that things start one way and something else comes out. Patience yields the best results.

Plan to visit Looking to the Skies.


Barrel Tasting on the Russian River


Barrel tasting is a tradition in many wine areas and a great deal of fun in the Russian River area.  No – you do not taste the barrel but you taste the wine that  is still in  the barrel!  This is a great time to try new vintages before they are bottled and you can get them at reduced prices which are referred to as “futures”.

Check inThis year I passed on the daytime tasting to go to a private barrel tasting at Dutton Estates which is at the corner of Hwy 116 and Green Valley Road – between Sebastopol and Forestville. This was for wine club members only and is much less crowded.  Plus we were able to taste from the barrel and do a vertical tasting  of the last couple of years.  Yes, each vintage is different but to experience the maturation of a wine with time in the bottle is always fun.

This is not a food pairing or themed event.  IT IS ALL ABOUT THE WINE!  And it is happening all over again next weekend, March 14 and 15.  Check out the website and see if your favorite winery is participating and learn about some new ones. http://www.wineroad.com/events/barrel_tasting/11


Tasting from the Barrel


Pouring from the Bottle

Pouring from the Bottle

Showing Appreication – Wine Country Style

FoodLast night was my Client Appreication Party for all my wonderful clients – held at the J. Keverson Tasting Room in Healdsburg. This was the first time that I hosted an event outside of my home and it was a great time – wine, food, a great duo for entertainment and wonderful conversation.

ConversationThere was a lot of history and love that went into this evening. I think the earliest transaction represented was completed in 2004. The 2003 client came down with the flu and texted his regards earlier in the day. The most recent was October of 2014. And then there was the client who is writing an offer today!  It was terrific
to see everyone and we had a wonderful time.  I really enjoyed watching clients meet and converse with each other – and there seemed to be a lively discourse on everything from the real estate market to who should win the Oscars.


Jackie Tompkins

The J. Keverson Tasting Room is a wonderful venue for any event. Spacious and wine country chic, the room has art and furniture constructed from barrel stays. The decor is fun and the hostess, Jackie Tompkins, is the daughter of a colleague from my life as an engineering manager, Kevin Tompkins. The “Kev” in Keverson is from Kevin. The “J.” represents John Hazlewood. John is the winemaker and was the Realtor who represented me when I first moved to Sonoma County. John owned Fountaingrove Realty and Mortgage for many years. Jackie is pouring Starkey’s Court Zinfandel named in honor of Tim Starkey who was the guy who got me to relocate to Sonoma County.


CiCi Wilcoxon and Jesse Boggs

Our entertainment was CiCi Wilcoxon and Jesse Boggs of Honey B and the Pollinators. I first heard the group sing at The French Garden in Sebastopol. I knew CiCi as a Realtor when my office was in Sebastopol but did not know that she has a smooth, catchy voice and plays the bass. They were perfect for this event. Everyone loves their song selections – check it out on their website honeybjazz.com. CiCi now owns West County Property Management and was helpful in getting my son and business partner the rental across the street from my home.


Mike and Lynn Lamka with Katherine Radcliffe

My thanks has to go out to Mike Lamka of Stearns Lending who helped with the event and provided some gracious hosting as I was busy hugging and loving my friends.

Next year I will attempt to be closer to home but this venue is going to be hard to beat. And, yes, I am back to writing on this blog. It has been over six months that I have been on hiatus and it is time to change. But I need to find my camera if I am going to get back to my pictures!


Conversation at the Food Table

The Discussions at the Bar

The Discussions at the Bar

Quarryhill Botanical Garden with New Sculpture

Uprising by Bruce Johnson

Uprising by Bruce Johnson

Quarryhill Botanical Garden is a Sonoma County treasure.  The garden is about 25 years old and has the mission of conservation, study and cultivation of the flora of Asia.  I have written about this place before but I got to go to a special event this weekend.  As a member of “the press”, I was invited to a luncheon to meet Bruce Johnson, sculptor, who has placed six of his current works throughout the garden.

Detail of Uprising by Bruce Johnson

Detail of Uprising by Bruce Johnson

These works are planned to be the first of a series of installations each lasting a year.  I could write about the works and how they are placed exquisitely in the landscape but pictures are so much easier!

The day was lovely.  There were two carts of press, Quarryhill Botanical Garden employees and Bruce Johnson.  The garden was beautiful with the natural wildness of a perfectly planned composition.  The sculptures are spotted within about a 7 acre area of the 25 acre property.  Bruce described the path he took to yield the works.  He calls his business Form and Energy and it is an appropriate description of these pieces.


Void by Bruce Johnson

Void by Bruce Johnson

So you are wondering how I am a member of the press?  I have written for the Gazette from its infancy and now it is well over 15 years.  It has been suggested in the past that I use my writing to get a visa to Cuba.  I thought that no one would accept me as a reporter and laughed it off.  I must say that this opportunity to lunch with the artist of these magnificent objects and take in the beauty of a renowned garden has made me feel differently.  I am a bit sorry that I didn’t get a badge that said “PRESS”!

Johnson 5 Elements


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