Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


2011 Year In Review - Q4

Despite my decreased running activity, I managed to complete the Urban Cow 1/2 Marathon on the 2nd. I've done this race every year since we move to Sacramento, so I was determined to keep up the tradition, despite my slower pace. Adjusting to this difference has been quite a challenge psychologically, as it's hard not to remember how my running used to feel and what my pace used to be, and accepting that I'm no longer a 1:50ish 1/2 marathoner has been a mental triumph. These days, I try to just be content with the fact that I can still run at all rather than trying to push for more.

On the 5th, Mr. E and I headed off for our trip to Lyon and Geneva (see separate post for details), where we met up with his sister and brother-in-law for several days. We returned on the 14th and enjoyed having a whole weekend to settle back into our routine.

I've been part of a list-serve for ABDs/PhDs in the Humanities who opt for careers outside of Academia since I was in grad school at UW-Madison. The community has changed names and structures several times, and the current incarnation is called Versatile PhD. The founder, Paula Chambers, has gradually evolved the site over the years so that now ABDs/PhDs in the Sciences have their own group, and many subscribers organize local meet-ups of VPhD members to share ideas and network. I decided to give that a try for the Sacramento/Davis region, so our first meeting was on the 21st at Weatherstone Coffee in midtown Sac. We were a small group, but I'm hopeful that we might continue to meet and gradually attract new folks, especially since our next meeting is scheduled for Davis, so that might be easier and more attractive for the UC-Davis population. I also forgot to mention that in July, Paula asked me to submit an article for the online content of the web site as well as to be a member of a week-long panel discussion focused on "Careers in Grant Writing." So nice to be able to contribute to a community that has provided helpful career advice and support over the years!

Mr. E and I enjoyed another food tour on the 22nd, this time with a focus on midtown Sac as part of a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen foundation. We'd already been to several of the restaurants on the list, but we enjoyed having some tasty appetizers and visiting some new spots, especially Kupros Bistro on 21st Street.

Our Sacramento Ballet season opened with "Dracula" on the 28th, just in time for Halloween. Throughout the Fall, Mr. E was very attentive to college football, especially since the Badgers started off so strong. Thanks to the broadcast schedule, we were able to watch most of the games at home, even the heart-breaking last-minute losses 2 weeks in a row. Drat!

My sister and I were finally able to coordinate our schedules so that I could go visit her and B in their new home in Austin, so I made a trip to the Texas State Capitol on the 9th-12th (see separate post for details).

On the 19th, we helped S with her move for a couple of hours in the afternoon before attending the Beaujolais Nouveau festival from the Alliance Francaise in the evening. We had joined the Alliance Francaise when we first moved to Sac in 2004 but had let our membership lapse. This year, however, we decided to re-join in the hopes of having more opportunities for me to experience French language and culture, which just aren't terribly common here in NorCal.

The new Central Terminal B at the airport had opened in early October, and one of the unique features is the public art program. Mr. E and I attended a guided tour on the 20th to learn more about each piece, and it was fascinating to see the sculptures and mosaics up close rather than just passing them by as we departed for or returned from a trip.

We spent Thanksgiving with Mr. E's colleague S and his family and then repeated our wine country weekend tradition from the 25th-27th (see separate post). Mr. E had been sick for over a week at that point, and when we finally got him to the doctor on the 28th, we learned he had pneumonia! I worked from home several days that week to take care of him during that first really nasty stage. He's been gradually improving, but the full recovery period could take at least 6 weeks. Poor guy! He doesn't get sick often, so he really goes all out when an illness does finally creep in...

Despite his illness, Mr. E was feeling up for his scheduled trip to Houston for work the 5th-10th. He also extended his stay over the weekend to visit friends G & G and son L in their new home near Dallas. I kept busy during his absence with wine and munchies on the 9th at Revolution Wine with C, whom we'd met at the Beaujolais festival; monthly brunch on the 10th at Danielle's Creperie followed by C's lovely party that evening to celebrate her 2-year milestone of being cancer-free; and a marathon of "Top Chef" reruns with L on the 11th at home.

On the 13th, I went to a workshop sponsored by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) on "Integrating Health & Equity into the Sacramento Region's Regional Plan." Although I haven't been a member of the City Planning Commission since 2007, I've still nourished my interest in urban design and planning, and I'm especially fascinated by how such decisions can intersect with and affect public health.

Mr. E and I joined a surpisingly large group on the 17th to celebrate S & N's new apartment in the midst of other holiday preparations - cookies, holiday photo cards, final decorations, gift wrapping, etc. I had taken the lead to organize a cookie exchange and gift swap at PPMM, both of which were scheduled for the 20th, so I got to take home a mixed bag of holiday treats along with beautiful silver earrings from L, who turned out to be my "gift buddy." I also suggested a rather last-minute holiday potluck for the 22nd, which was quite well-attended.

Since we didn't have any travel or hosting plans for the holiday weekend, Mr. E and I just enjoyed some extra time off from the 23rd-26th. HP has a "shut-down" the week between Christmas and New Year's, so Mr. E is still on "break" while I'm back at work. So far this week, he's steam-cleaned the carpets, re-configured the big downstairs rug, collected and dropped off a bunch of stuff for the Salvation Army, washed down the patio, re-hung the patio lights, cleaned up paperwork from the desktop, and done multiple loads of laundry. So great to have those house chores done in time to start the New Year off fresh. :)

Happy 2012 to all!


2011 Year in Review - Q3

Our annual summertime visit to Mom included dinner at the new Marshfield Tavern, just behind the Roche Bros. grocery store near the high school complex. And of course we had to indulge in some fresh-from-the-Atlantic-ocean lobster on the 3rd before heading into Boston.

We went to part of the Red Sox game on the 4th, but our bleacher seats were in the bright sun, and I just couldn't tolerate the heat and humidity, so we left fairly early and enjoyed the rest of the game from the air-conditioned comfort of Boston Brewery right across the street. The Sox lost that game but emerged victorious the following evening, when we stayed for the whole game, despite the warm temps during the early innings. We made a short road trip to Salem on the 6th and walked around some of the historic area before grabbing lunch and a frozen treat prior to making our way back to Logan for our return flight.

Our schedule aligned perfectly to get us back to Sac just in time for the visit of our dear friends K & M, who now live in Phoenix, AZ. We got to meet their son J for the first time when we went out for dinner on the 8th, and then I joined the trio for a special wine-tasting at Todd Taylor at the Old Sugar Mill in nearby Clarksburg, along with P & J. Mr. E wasn't able to attend since he was getting ready for his upcoming work trip, but I brought home a couple of bottles to share. On the 9th, we spent the day on the American River with Gold Rush Whitewater Rafting on a trip organized by our gym. Lots of fun, but we were tired after the whole day in the sun and agreed that a 1/2-day excursion would be perfect next time.

Mr. E spent the 11th-15th in Houston for work, and I definitely had no desire to visit that city in the middle of the summer!!! On the 12th, I finally got to see my sports medicine doc, who confirmed the stress fracture diagnosis on the 3rd metatarsal of my right foot. He indicated that the walking boot is the proper treatment and that I'd likely be in the boot for about 6 weeks total. By this piont, I'd finally begun seeing some improvement in both the appearance and pain in my foot, so I was hopeful that the remaining 3 weeks would pass quickly.

When Mr. E returned from Houston, we caught another River Cats game on the 16th and enjoyed morning brunch at Orphan as well. On the 25th, I continued our trend of film viewing with "The Greenest Building" at The Crest. We attempted another brunch at Orphan on the 30th, but it was too busy, so we headed to 33rd Street Bistro instead. We've had mixed experiences at this restaurant, primarily because the quality of service doesn't match the food, and I'm much less forgiving of poor service than poor food. Unfortunately, this visit didn't change our impressions at all, and we were relieved to return to Orphan on the 31st and confirm our love of that spot!

Thanks to PPMM's new Title X grant for a health center in Carson City, I headed off to Miami Beach for a week of meetings the 1st-6th. Due to "weather" issues in the Midwest, my flights were delayed several times, but I still managed to reach my destination late on the 1st, so I didn't miss any of the meetings. Mr. E was very understanding of my need to depart on his birthday... And luckily, this was the day that marked 6 weeks in the walking boot, so I was able to leave that particular accessory at home!

We embarked on a trip to the Pacific Northwest on the 11th, flying into Seattle and then driving down to Portland to meet friends C & S and daughter C for lunch before joining my cousins W & M for dinner and an overnight. We drove back to Seattle on the 12th to watch the Sox beat the Mariners, but the outcome on the 13th wasn't quite so positive. We opted to drive up to Vancouver the morning of the 14th rather than staying for the 3rd game, which was definitely a good decision, since the Sox lost in one of Wake's multiple attempts to get his 200th win. Our trip wrapped up on the 16th.

On the 25th, we went to the Crocker for another film, this time about John Singer Sargent and one of his contemporaries, whose name I can't remember right now, which was sort of the point of the film - both artists were popular at the time, but Sargent's work has continued to be more favored.

We rounded out the month on the 28th by joining some fellow Badgers for the annual Big Ten bowling tournament. Although I grew up with candlepin bowling and didn't ever bowl ten pin until after I moved to Madison in 1997, I was one of the highest scorers on our team! Despite our small but mighty group, we didn't bring home the trophy, but maybe we'll do better next year.

We went to another River Cats game on the 1st and managed to watch most of the game before Mr. E dropped me off at the airport for my red-eye flight back East to visit Mom. We enjoyed several good beach days, including one with great waves for playing and body surfing, along with the requisite fresh lobster, of course! I returned on the 6th, just in time to drive to Reno on the 7th for a Title X internal team meeting.

On the 16th, Mr. E left for a long visit to Chicago. I caught another River Cats game solo that evening and then splurged on theatre two nights in a row with "The Drowsy Chaperone" from Runaway Stage Productions on the 23rd and "Mr. & Mrs. Fitch" at the Studio Theatre on the 24th. Mr. E returned on the 26th, and we made time for several date nights that week to enjoy being together again.


2011 Year in Review - Q2

We started the spring with a visit on April Fool's Day to Cafe Rolle after seeing this local restaurant featured on Food Network's "Triple D" (Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives). Although we had to wait a bit, given the small size of the restaurant, we were both very pleased with the food and the friendly service. We also took advantage of the large map of France on the wall to get a better understanding of the Lyon region, as we were already thinking of plans for our trip later in the year. Our server gave us some great advice as well, since he's originally from that region.

The Red Sox began the season with a loss to the Rangers, and my datebook is full of sad faces next to the game times, as the first month was rather pitiful. *sigh*

Mr. E and I made a trip to the Mondavi Center in nearby Davis on the 6th to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Absolutely amazing. Our seats were very close to the stage, which I usually don't enjoy, but for this performance, being able to see the dancers up close was riveting. Totally worth the traffic jam in the parking lot afterwards...

We tried another local spot featured on Triple D on the 9th, but our trip to Gatsby's was a big disappointment. I had been looking forward to the beet sliders, which we'd seen on the show, and I ordered them without onions (of course). The chefs are in the middle of the restaurant, since the space used to have hibachi grills, so we could watch them preparing our food. This means that I got to witness the chef put the onions on my sliders, notice the note on the ticket, and then simply remove the onions rather than making a new batch to fix the mistake. Um, hello? If I'm allergic to onions, then just taking 'em off doesn't really help much if they've already contaminated the food underneath, now does it? Coupled with poor service, this lack of quality food definitely turned us off, so no return visits for this spot.

The 10th was much more fun, with Marie's annual Spring Fling and egg hunt. I actually found both "prize" eggs, so I got to go home with two cool Easter-themed decorations.

On the 16th, Mr. E and I participated in the Local Roots City of Trees Food Tour, which led us to various spots in downtown and midtown Sac. We got to have tasty nibbles along with an informative tour about some of the local history. I had alerted the tour guide to my food allergies, and most of the spots we visited were able to prepare something to accommodate these restrictions. Perfect weather, yummy food, and interesting local history made for an ideal afternoon.

We headed down to Oakland on the 19th & 20th to catch part of the Sox vs. As series. My datebook shows a sad face for the 19th and a happy face for the 20th, so at least we got to see one good game!

One of our goals for the year was to explore more of this area and take advantage of activities in the region (hence the food tour and restaurant visits), and we continued this theme with a guided morning hike at Rancho Seco park on the 23rd. I think we picked a perfect day, as the sun was warm but comfortable, so the lack of shade during the hike wasn't an issue.

Our first River Cats game of the year (a loss) was on the 24th, preceded by brunch at Orphan, one of many visits to this our favorite restaurant spot by McKinley Park.

The month finished with the annual Sac Ballet performance at our gym on the 29th followed by a studio performance of Beer & Ballet on the 30th. The latter is always a fun event, as most of the pieces are choreographed by the dancers, and tickets include beer or wine (hence the name).

Since the Fall of 2010, I had been experiencing recurring and ongoing pain in my right hip/lower back/oblique area. I went to a sports medicine doc, a physical therapist, and had an MRI done, but nothing provided a diagnosis and/or treatment plan, except to reduce any activities that made the pain worse. Of course, I'd already done that and had greatly cut down on my running, but I also decided to try a chiropractor, based on the recommendation of my favorite massage therapist. When I pulled something nasty in my back at the end of February, I was very relieved to have the chiropractor to help so that I didn't suffer too much during the trip to Panama. But by this point in time, I wasn't really seeing any additional improvement or benefit, so I gave it up as another lost cause. Rather frustrating.

Mr. E and I made a long-delayed trip to Monterey on the 5th-8th. This was another spot we'd talked about in the past, but other plans kept pushing this farther down on the list. Although the weather was a bit cool, we enjoyed the Aquarium and walking around the historic downtown as well as the waterfront. And I love my little silver sea otter earrings with the small aqua stone - a great memory of watching the critters themselves as they frolicked in their habitat at feeding time.

On the 13th, we closed out our Sacramento Ballet season with "Modern Masters." We're such big fans of this local company, and I'm so glad we became season subscribers! We also attended the "Tapas & Tutus" fundraiser on the 22nd at House restaurant on Capital Ave, which was a fun event and the first time we really mingled with other donors.

Mr. E headed to his annual Brewfest at Miller Park on the 21st, and the weather this year finally cooperated, with sunny skies and temps in the 80s. In previous years, this weekend has always been marked by a spike into the 90s, which isn't terribly comfortable for an outdoor festival!

We both headed off to see our families at the end of the month, with Mr. E going to Chicago from the 25th-29th and me going to Marshfield from the 28th-1st, primarily to help celebrate my aunt & uncle's 50th wedding anniversary on the 30th. What a great reason for a party!

Mr. E & I attended the annual PPMM Voices for Change fundraisder 2nd. This event honours loyal donors, local activists, and exemplary volunteers who support PP's work, and it's always inspiring to hear about the work these folks do on behalf of PP.

On the 4th, Mr. E headed off to San Diego for the HP supplier conference, which continued through the 9th, and I attended a studio performance of the Sacramento Ballet on the 5th.

The Sacramento French Film Festival was earlier than usual this year, and we attended screenings on the 18th, 19th, and 25th, with a small discount as members of the Crocker Art Museum. We became museum members back in October 2010, right before the grand opening of the new building, and we've really enjoyed the new space along with the member benefits. On the 23rd, we continued our film viewings with "Gen Silent" at the Crocker. This was a moving and fascinating movie about older GLBTQ folks who sometimes go "back into the closet" as they age and need additional health care or support. So many parts of our health care system need attention, but I had never thought about how challenging it can be to have to hide parts of yourself just to get the appropriate and caring attention you need when you're ill or elderly.

In the midst of all this, I learned on the 20th that I had a stress fracture in my right foot. I'd been having pain for several weeks and finally noticed a red inflamed spot in the middle of the top of my foot, so I figured I should get to the doctor. She diagnosed me right away and sent me to get fitted for a short walking boot. Her diagnosis was confirmed several weeks later when I finally got in to see my sports medicine doc, but wearing the boot provided immediate relief, even if it was a bit clunky and warm! This treatment also meant that I couldn't do any impact activities until I'd recovered, so my decrease in running became a total cessation, which was probably a good thing for many reasons. Luckily, I'd already increased my swimming thanks to the winter Polar Bear challenge at the gym, so I could still be active despite the injury.

PPMM's annual Morgan Scholarship luncheon for the Sacramento region was on the 24th. Mr. E and I usually attend to support the graduates of PPMM's Teen Success program who have been selected to receive scholarships to pursue post-secondary education, and we're loyal donors to this program as well, especially since I provided support for Teen Success for 5 years prior to assuming my new job duties at PPMM.

On the 26th, we headed to an ice cream social sponsored by the local UW alumni group. We hadn't gotten involved with prior events much, but we decided it would be good to meet fellow Badgers in the area, and we enjoyed chatting with folks of all ages and comparing memories of Madison.

At the end of the month, we headed off to the East Coast for a visit to Mom on the 29th. Unfortunately, our flights were delayed, so we ended up staying at a hotel in Braintree when we arrived late that night and then dropped off our stuff at Mom's on the 30th on our way to Provincetown for the day. I hadn't yet taken Mr. E to visit P-Town, and we had a great time strolling around, enjoying the sites, and having some yummy seafood.


2011 Year In Review - Q1

Every year when I replace my datebook, I go through the previous datebook insert to transfer birthdays and other special occasions, and I always enjoy this process of reviewing an entire year's worth of activities. I decided that this year, I'd document some of this by composing a Year in Review for my blog, so here's the first installment of Q1 (January 1-March 31).

I don't have anything in the old datebook until January 17th, which reminds me that I ordered the new insert late, as I thought I still had an automated 3-year renewal in effect. Oops!

Mr. E and I celebrated our wedding anniversary #8 on the 11th. Go team JEMS! Je t'aime, my one!

On the 20th, I survived my second summons for Jury Duty since we've been in Sac, and I didn't even get called in for a possible panel, so I got to just read all day and meet Mr. E for lunch at Cafe Roma. This was followed by the first of several monthly Happy Hour outings with Steph, beginning with Revolution Wines on 29th & S.

Mr. E headed off for a work trip to Denver on the 31st, and I joined him the following weekend.

Our winter trip to Denver was filled with snow and cold, which felt very appropriate for the season, but I really wished I had packed my snow boots! Mr. E found a great deal on a hotel that has a heated outdoor pool on the roof deck, so I got to swim in the snow. :) We discovered the nearby Avenue Grill as we wandered around, and we so enjoyed the dinner offerings that we returned the next day for brunch as well.

On the 10th, we began our Sacramento Ballet season with "Romeo & Juliet," which was absolutely wonderful, with excellent dancing and emotional performances by some of our favorite dancers (e.g. Stefan).

Mr. E had a second work trip, this time to Houston, so he was gone for the week of the 14th, butI declined to join him for a weekend in Texas. :)

On the 19th, I helped out with the final in-person National Practice Test event for the Sac Kaplan Center, and also TAd an online Math Refresher course, along with a couple of other marketing events.

After much planning, we finally organized and hung our Gallery Wall in the stairwell. This wall extends from the landing between the two short flights of stairs all the way up to the base of the high clerestory windows, which are basically at the level of a 3rd floor, if our townhouse extended that high. Since we completed two major home projects in 2010 (the first floor in January/March and the balcony enclosure in November/December), we had decided to be more selective when putting up all of our artwork again, so rather than having lots of items distributed throughout the house, we conceived of the idea of this Gallery Wall as a way to display numerous items all in one large focal area. I laid out the pieces on the floor to estimate how/where to hang each piece, and then Mr. E did the ladder work as I supervised and adjusted the positioning as necessary. We've both been very pleased with the final result, and I was even able to rearrange a few items to find a place for the new elephant print I purchased in Austin later in the year.

On the 6th, we headed down to the Hilton by SFO in anticipation of my early flight the next morning for my Road Scholar trip to Panama with Mom from March 7th-12th (see separate blog entry that encapsulates the experience). I got back in time for the Shamrock'n 1/2 marathon on the 13th, and considering how little I'd been running, I was quite pleased to finish in just over 2 hours.

For my birthday weekend over the 19th, we headed off to Santa Rosa and a visit to the J Vineyards Bubble Room. Yum!

On the 24th, Steph and I decided on Burgers & Brew on R Street for our monthly Happy Hour, and then Mr. E and I continued our Sac Ballet season with "Icons & Innovators" on the 25th.

In anticipation of baseball season, we upgraded our subscription to so that we could stream all of the games through the Roku rather than just having the Audio Gameday access, but the opening of the season in April didn't look too good for my Red Sox. *sigh*


Holiday Song for Calypso

(to the tune of "Jingle Bells")

Oh she's Calypso cat
She's such a silky one
She stretches on her back
And sprawls out in the sun

Front paws as white as snow
And go-go boots behind
A snuggler and a burrower
She always speaks her mind

Oh Calypso, Calypso, she's Calypso cat
All curled up in her saucer bed just waiting for a pat,

Oh Calypso, Calypso, she's Calypso cat
My vampire kitty lover girl, oh yes, she is all that!


Holiday Song for Captain Jack

(to the tune of "Little St. Nick")

Oh way up north
Sacramento lies
Where the rivers meet
Under deep blue skies

There's a tiger cat
And he lives on Q
With his human folk
And Calypso too

He's a little Jack cat (little Jack cat)
He's a little Jack cat (little Jack cat)

He's a stripey boy
Whom we all adore
As he rolls around
On the kitchen floor

Such a fluffy one
With the softest fur
He's a little cat
With a great big purr

He's a little Jack cat (little Jack cat)
He's a little Jack cat (little Jack cat)

Oooh... Captain Jack cat (Captain Jack lives in Sacto)
Oooh... Captain Jack cat (Captain Jack lives in Sacto)



I never really thought that you needed a recipe for hard-boiled eggs. Just dump them in some water, let them boil for awhile, and try not to forget to remove them from the stovetop before the water boils away and the eggs stick to the bottom of the pot (not that I've ever done that, of course... that's what kitchen timers are for, right?).

However, I recently finished reading "The Kitchen Daughter" by Jael McHenry, in which food plays a large role in the life of the main character. Most chapters begin with a recipe card for a particular food item, and one of these recipes was for hard-boiled eggs. The process is pretty simple: place eggs in cold water, add a pinch of baking soda, bring to a boil, turn off heat, let eggs sit for 12 minutes, and then peel.

I decided to try this out with my most recent batch of eggs rather than just letting them percolate for 25-40 minutes or so as I usually do, and I must admit that the results are impressive. All of the eggs are cooked beautifully and are very easy to peel, which isn't always the case (though I store them in the fridge in the shell until ready to eat rather than peeling them ahead of time). I forgot the baking soda part of the process, and I'm not sure how that would really affect the results, but I may try the full recipe next time, just as an experiment.

And a side benefit of this particular method is that it's more environmentally friendly, since the stove-top is only actively pulling power for 12 minutes instead of 25+ minutes!


Wine Weekend - Thumbs Down to Morimoto Napa, Thumbs Up to J Vineyards (of course)

Mr. E and I engaged in our 3rd annual Thanksgiving weekend trip to wine country, with stops planned in Napa Valley on Friday, Sonoma Valley on Saturday, and Vacaville on Sunday. Unfortunately, since Mr. E was sick, we had to cut short part of our activities, but I'm so glad we came home when we did, especially since we found out on Monday (when we finally got to the doctor) that he has pneumonia. No wonder he felt so miserable!! Despite this fact, we enjoyed our Friday and Saturday events:

Friday 11/25 - Napa Valley
Our first tasting appointment was at William Hill, where we shared sips of tasty Cabernets and enjoyed being the only folks at the winery. As we left, we appreciated the autumn view over the vineyards.

We then headed farther north to find Prager Winery & Portworks to pick up a bottle of port as a favor to S & S, who had hosted us for Thanksgiving and asked if we could run this errand to get some port as a gift for S's father. Finding the site was a bit challenging, as it's on a small dirt road off the main highway, but we managed to locate the correct place. When we entered, however, we realized that we didn't know exactly which port was appropriate. Uh-oh... We made good use of our new HP Touchpad tablet out in the car, along with the free wi-fi from the neighboring inn, to find a phone number for S so that we could call and confirm the correct purchase. Ah - gotta love technology when it really works for you!

Mr. E had made lunch reservations at Morimoto Napa, and we arrived in downtown Napa a bit early so that we could walk along the new riverfront path and enjoy some of the new mixed development in the area. The lunch itself, however, was definitely a lowlight of the trip. Mr. E ordered the ramen for $14, which was described as "Morimoto's chicken-noodle soup," but he only found 2 small pieces of poultry in the whole bowl. Our maki choices were far more successful (and reasonably priced at around $9 each), but the service was lackluster at best, with a young female server who barely smiled and was rather slow at each stage of the meal. This is clearly one of those "celebrity-chef" restaurants that trades on the name and reputation rather than on delivering actual quality food and service. Disappointing.

After a brief tour of the nearby Oxbow Public Market (and purchase of a lemon cupcake for J to enjoy later), we headed to our afternoon tasting appointment at Robert Craig. A friend of Mr. E had made a reservation for us at the tasting room, which is tucked away amongst some bland commercial buildings near downtown Napa. Our host, Jeff, was very friendly, informative, and passionate about the wines, but he wasn't a very good listener, despite the fact that he several times emphasized how important it is to validate everyone's own unique experiences with tasting wine and exploring how it can hit the palate differently for different people. When Mr. E and I attempted to provide feedback, he countered with additional information that wasn't really directly related to our comments. Regardless, he was very attentive, and we did make a purchase of two high-end Cabernets to add to our wine fridge.

We decided not to try to fit in a stop at Trefethen and instead just headed over to Santa Rosa to the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, our favorite launching point for this type of visit. For some reason, however, the usual Friday-evening wine-tasting wasn't offered, supposedly due to the holiday weekend (even though we're both quite sure we enjoyed this activity for the past 2 years when we did the same trip). We asked about the option for a suite, given Mr. E's illness and the consequent increased snoring, but we were told that the hotel was fully committed, so we made a quick stop at the nearby Safeway for some additional medicine for Mr. E and earplugs for me. Mr. E trotted over to Baja Fresh to grab some dinner, and I picked up some fabulous seafood & vege udon from Boathouse Sushi. Such a contrast to Morimoto!!! My udon was chock full of all sorts of goodies in addition to the noodles and was definitely worth the $14 (which included the tip).

Back to the hotel to find a movie-on-demand ("Unknown" - pretty decent and worth the $4.99 fee) while we ate dinner. Thanks to the earplugs and some extra pillows, I managed to get a decent amount of sleep even though Mr. E was a bit noisy.

Saturday 11/26 - Sonoma Valley
I got up for a run around the rather hilly path across from the hotel, and we grabbed Starbucks for breakfast on our way to the meeting spot for our Sonoma Canopy Tour. This is a zipline tour in the woods near the Alliance Redwoods Christian Conference Center just past Occidental, about 45 minutes northwest of Santa Rosa. We had reservations for the 9:30am tour, along with 6 other folks (8 person maximum per tour). Our guides, Colin and Molly, were great, and we had a fabulous time on all of the zips along with the final rappel down at the end. Mr. E didn't cough at all during our zipping! Neither of us had done a zipline tour before, and we both agreed we would definitely do it again. Although Mr. E sometimes has issues with heights, the harness and lines are so sturdy that you feel completely secure, despite being high off the ground.

We made a quick return stop at Starbucks for some snacks and then watched part of the Badger game back at the hotel before going to our favorite wine-country experience, the Bubble Room at J Vineyards. Surprisingly, there was only one other reservation at 2pm, so we shared a table with a very congenial mother and daughter pair who were visiting J for the first time. As always, the service from Courteney and Dana was excellent, and the food from Chef Mark was incredibly tasty. He and his staff do a fantastic job of adapting to dietary restrictions, so although my offerings were different from the usual tasting menu, they were all extremely yummy and appropriate companions to each wine.

Although Mr. E and I had agreed not to purchase additional wine, since we were picking up both our October and December wine club shipments, we couldn't resist the special deal of 25% off on two or more bottles of the J Pinotage. This is a very unusual wine that we've come to love, and the wine is only sold on-site. Since neither of our shipments included the Pinotage, we figured it was worth the extra cost to have a couple of bottles to enjoy.

I repeated my yummy udon for dinner, but Mr. E wasn't very hungry, so he just got some chocolate cake at Safeway and ate part of that later in the evening. This night, the ear plugs and pillows just weren't sufficient, so after lying awake for about 45 minutes trying to drown out Mr. E with my Aqua Cube (water-proof mp3 player), I recommended that we just check out and drive home so that (selfishly) I could get some sleep. We had already decided to nix our plan to stop at the Vacaville outlets on the way home on Sunday, given Mr. E's condition, so we really didn't have any other reason to stay.

One thing I hadn't considered, however, was the night-time fog that creeps in during the winter. The drive home was a bit scary at times, with very low visibility in certain places, but we still got back to Sac in about 2 hours. We both headed off to bed in our separate rooms (thank goodness for the pull-out couch in the office for me!) and managed to get several more hours of sleep.

Overall, we had a lovely weekend, even though Mr. E wasn't quite up to par. But we were both glad to get home early and have time to just relax and rest on Sunday.

P.S. Mr. E unpacked our wine on Sunday, separating bottles into our fridge and wine storage in the island. On Monday, I happened to be pulling a bottle from the island and noticed that we had 2 bottles of J Chardonnay, which seemed odd to me, since we're not big white wine drinkers and usually opt for the shipment offering that doesn't include a white. I then double-checked our other J inventory and the list for the October shipment (which we'd already paid for) and discovered that we had gotten the wrong wines! We should have gotten 2 bottles of 2008 Nicole's Vineyard Pinot Noir in our "All Reds" shipment for October, but instead we got the "All Wines" version, which included a Chardonnay. I emailed J that evening to notify them and see what could be done to correct the error, especially since we'd already been charged the higher price for the "All Reds" shipment. I got a response on Tuesday morning, apologizing for the mistake, indicating that we should keep the Chardonnay, and promising that a bottle of Nicole's would be sent to us. Sure enough, the missing Nicole's arrived today, just 2 days later. Now that's what I call awesome customer service! This is why we (HEART) J Vineyards!!!