Vintage 2016 Harvest

Vintage 2016 Harvest

This morning we picked grapes for the Vintage 2016 harvest at Flat Creek Estate winery. There were about 21 volunteers who picked about 8 tons of Syrah and Sangiovese grapes from 30 rows. We arrived while it was still dark at 6 am so that  we would be ready to start picking at sunrise when it started to be light enough to see the grapes.

We were provided harvesting instructions by the owners and wine maker, along with coffee and granola bars. About half-way through the picking the chef brought out breakfast tacos and watermelon for everybody during out break, along with the water and Gatorade that was available under a tent. Here are my photos.

These are Sangiovese vines where we picked in Helen’s block (named after an owner’s mother). We started further to the left with Syrah.

This is a photo down one of the rows after most of these had been picked, although you can still see some on the right.

This is what it looked like with some of the volunteers that were working these rows. We have a picking buddy to work in pairs on both sides of the vines so that we make sure everything is picked. A small Kubota pickup drives up and down collecting filled buckets in 1/2 ton containers. It was amazing how many grapes we harvested in only four hours.

The Sangiovese grapes tend to be fairly large and hang in heavy clusters making it easier to snip them from the stems. Other grapes like Pinot Grigio, which we have picked before, are very small in tight clusters that grow very close the vine. Of course, you need to be careful that you don’t cut yourself with the clippers, and it’s a good idea to wear gloves.

Here’s a closer shot that shows some of the grapes hanging from the vine ready to be picked. There is netting covering the vines to protect the grapes from birds which has to be raised to allow picking.

Here you can see the grapes a little closer and notice how the stems are fairly easy to snip with one hand so you can simply catch a whole cluster when it drops into your other hand.

This is another shot that shows the grapes with some sunlight behind them so their color is more visible.

And this is a closeup of a grape cluster.

After we finished our picking we were treated to a mimosa in the Tasting Room (before it opened for the day) made from their Sparking Raspberry Wine mixed with Orange Juice.

All the volunteers will be able to attend a free Harvest Dinner (with wine, of course) prepared by the chef later in August in the Bistro, where they have many events.

We have been doing this for many years now and it’s always a fun experience. It’s great to help out and later enjoy the grapes we picked when the wine is finished, bottled, and available.

Truckee-Tahoe Trip

Truckee-Tahoe Trip

Recently we enjoyed a visit for a week at Truckee, California in the North Lake Tahoe area. It’s a great place to visit in the winter with all the ski areas such as Northstar, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Alpine Meadows, Boreal, Tahoe Donner, and Soda Springs. However, it might be even better during the summer with so much to do.

The weather was perfect all week, except for some wildfire smoke in the area on the last day, and we went hiking most every day. I have included my photos.

Prosser Lake – Truckee

These are photos of Prosser Lake from the deck of my sister-in-law’s house in Truckee where we stayed all week. It was a lovely place to have breakfast in the morning, as well as dinner and wine in the evening. It got a little too warm in the afternoon especially with the sun being so intense at about 6,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The temperatures were higher than normal for July, but it still got down in the upper 30’s overnight. Truckee frequently has the coldest US temperature in the summer. Truckee was named #16 of the World’s 25 Best Ski Towns by

West Shore Cafe – Lake Tahoe

We celebrated my birthday with a nice lakeside lunch at the West Shore Cafe which overlooks Lake Tahoe.


Tahoe Rim Trail – Tahoe City

After lunch we went for a hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail west of Tahoe City on the edge of Lake Tahoe. Actually the 165-mile trail completely circles all of Lake Tahoe, but we only went for about an 1 1/2 hours. It shares about 50 miles with the much longer Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail through California, Oregon, and Washington for 2,659 miles from Mexico to British Columbia. It’s on the back side of the Alpine Meadows ski area just south of Squaw Valley, site of the 1964 Winter Olympics.

 Donner Lake – Truckee

On another day we took a hour-long hike along Donner Lake in the Donner Memorial State Park. It was a nice shaded trail with views of the lake, kayaks, rocks, and surrounding mountains.

Legacy Trail – Truckee

For another day, we took a 4 mile 90-minute hike on Legacy Trail along the Truckee River, the only outlet of Lake Tahoe, which flows through Truckee and down to Reno. In addition to the meandering river, it included lovely vistas of meadows, boulders, wildflowers, snow-capped mountains, and a passing railroad freight train.

Tahoe Rim Trail – Brockway Summit

We hiked another day for 2 1/2 miles (83 minutes) at Brockway Summit on the Tahoe Rim Trail on the north side of Lake Tahoe, above Tahoe Vista and King’s Beach. The trail is about 7,200 ft in elevation, although it was smoky that day from fires along the Pacific coast of California so it’s hard to see Lake Tahoe beyond the trees.

The smoke was coming from the large Soberanes fire near Big Sur and Carmel Valley in Monterey County. It has now burned about 30,000 acres over 50 square miles with at least 57 homes destroyed so far and 2,000 threatened, and it’s still only 15% contained after burning now for 9 days.

Bocce Ball & Pizza

One afternoon we played bocce ball for about 45 minutes before dinner.

Then I made a vegetarian pizza from Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough, and it turned out pretty good. Of course, I had to wear the silly chef’s hat that my sister-in-law placed on my head. There’s a margherita pizza already cooking in the oven that my brother-in-law made, and an unfinished 2000-piece puzzle on the table.

Of course, we did some walks, shopping, and other activities, but I didn’t take any photos there. It was a fun relaxing week.

My First Dinner

I have had Type 2 Diabetes for almost 10 years now. Focusing on my health is very important to me so I decided to finally start cooking, and last night was my first dinner!

Actually, I have wanted to get started for quite a while, and have even been gathering recipes in anticipation. I think that I will enjoy it, and it will be another way to try a variety of meals that are especially diabetic-friendly since managing carbs is critical for good glucose control. Also, my wife needs a  break after cooking for me almost 49 years now. She appreciates the time off, and actually liked the first meal I prepared. I think she was probably surprised that I pulled it off, but didn’t mention it.

For this meal, I used some recipes from Diabetic Meals in 30 Minutes – Or Less! by Robyn Webb for the American Diabetes Association (pp. 157-161): Chicken Rigatoni, Oven-Based Parmesan Zucchini, Salad Greens, Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Pinot Noir. I made everything except the wine, and it actually came out pretty well. Here are some photos.

First Dinner

First Dinner


Chicken Rigatoni

Chicken Rigatoni


Oven-Baked Parmesan Zucchini

Oven-Baked Parmesan Zucchini


Balsamic Vinaigrette

Balsamic Vinaigrette


Main Dishes

Main Dishes


Dinner Italiano

Dinner Italiano


Next up for tomorrow night will be Spinach, Artichoke, and Mushroom Toss.

Photo 101: Lake Gallery

Photo 101: Lake Gallery

For Weekend 1 of the Photo 101 course it was suggested that we “Experiment with Composition” using a Gallery of photos. During our time off from the daily assignments, things to explore included capturing establishing wide-angle shots considering foreground and background, compare horizontal and vertical versions of the same scene, and using a “Rule of Thirds” grid to place our subjects.

I decided to take photos of lake views since it was a fabulous sunny warm day after many cloudy days with rain. I rode around the area and tried to capture some selected views. Lake Travis will be 100% full again by the end of this week! The last time it was full was 6 years ago in 2010, and it’s actually risen about 60 feet since last spring. It’s wonderful living at the lake, and it’s great that it’s back.

I tried several different horizontal and vertical shots. Generally I think the horizontal ones highlighted the water the most, although the vertical ones captured interesting combinations of foreground and background like live oak trees, boats, houses on the hillside, etc.

Now onto the week 2 daily photo assignments.

Photo 101: Solitude

Photo 101: Solitude

Our Day 5 assignment of the Photo 101 course was “Solitude & the Rule of Thirds”, which focuses on how we interpret the state of being alone, a solitary subject, or a lonely and uninhabited place. We also explore the Rule of Thirds for composing our shots by placing the subject at the intersection of horizontal and vertical lines separating the nine parts of a photo grid. Or if we break that rule, use it as a guide to make the composition more interesting.

I love to travel, and certain places make you feel alone, yet connected to everything. Here are several photos that capture that feeling for me, taken with my iPhone 5 using the standard Camera app.

These were taken during a trip to Big Bend National Park in February 2013, and combine the solitude of golf, hiking, and desert. We stayed at Lajitas Resort and played Black Jack’s Crossing golf course which meanders in the desert adjacent to the Rio Grande river with the Mexican mountains on the other side.

This was a wonderful visit and you really get a sense of solitude in places like Big Bend. I love playing golf and usually enjoy the peaceful relaxing feeling (when it’s not very busy) just enjoying the surroundings. However, in this setting it’s even more spectacular because the place is so remote and there are so few people around in spite of all the marvelous scenery.

In the first photo, the flag pole is aligned with the vertical “third” line, with the lake and mountain horizon aligned along the horizontal “third” line, making for an engaging photo. Also notice the flag shadow and how close my approach shot got to the pin.

The photo with the scenic golf tee shot shows how the golf course layout was embedded within its natural surroundings, with the Rio Grande river visible along the horizontal “third” line beyond the green. The other shot highlights more of the Mexican mountains with the Rio Grande focused at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical “third” lines with the golf fairway aligned along the lower horizontal “third” line.

The final view shows the view while hiking inside Santa Elena Canyon on the Texas border with Mexico. There’s a wonderful feeling of solitude there as you look up at the opening to the sky along the steep narrow vertical canyon walls. It’s extremely cool on the floor of the canyon, and its very bright as you look up from the darkness. I thought the reflection in the water on the lower “third” line draws your eye there, which shows the upper canyon wall and sky quite vividly.

More photos to come with my gallery of lake views over the weekend.

Photo 101: Bliss

Photo 101: Bliss

Our Day 4 assignment of the Photo 101 course was “Bliss & Captions”, which focuses on our image of bliss. Also, we experiment with Captions and additional image metadata fields like Title, Alt Text, and Description.

Bliss represents perfect happiness, great joy, and total relaxation. For me, I think of music. I love music! Discovering new music. Listening to all kinds of music. Sharing music via my blog, which now has over 800 music posts.

I feel music, and it makes me happy (mostly). Sometimes music can be very emotional. Certain music brings tears because it’s so beautiful (or sad). Some music makes me feel like dancing. Other music is just simply pure joy. I have tinnitus (ringing in my ears) and music is good therapy. Music is very relaxing, especially solo piano.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about learning Midsummer Night by Brian Crain, I would like to learn to play piano (again). Last year, I was very fortunate to be able to attend four Whisperings concerts at Kendra and Michael Logozar’s house, including guest artists Christine Brown, Tim Neumark, Darla Bower, and Altimirano.

I asked him for a suggestion about which of his songbooks would be good for me to try to learn, and he thought his 2014 album Dreams from Afar would be easier than his others. So that gives me some other music to practice learning such as Your Smile, and maybe then Finding Hope (although the entire album is great).

Here are photos of my Yamaha piano and Michael’s music for my daily dose of bliss, taken with my iPhone 5 using the standard Camera app.

I have also included the album if you would like to listen to hear what it should sound like if I get it right.

Dreams from Afar by Michael Logozar (2014) – 12 songs, 42 mins

Photo 101: Water

Photo 101: Water

Our Day 3 assignment of the Photo 101 course was “Water & Orientation”, which focuses on our relationships to and stories about water. Also, we experiment with the orientation to see whether horizontal or vertical work better.

I live on Lake Travis northwest of Austin, Texas. It’s actually just one of seven lakes established along the Colorado River. It’s one of two reservoir lakes which are primarily intended for water storage and recreation. The others are “constant-level” where they control the water height so levels don’t rise or fall by selectively releasing water from their dams as appropriate, which makes it attractive for houses and other lakeside amenities. There’s Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Lady Bird Lake.

Finally, it is almost full again (97%) after many years of extreme drought where it got very low. After the tremendous extended rains during May 2015, as well as the recent El Nino rains over the past several months, amazingly it has actually filled back up. We have a wonderful view of the lake with many large windows on the back side of our house as well as a full-width deck. But for many years, we can hardly see the water any more, and it didn’t help that the trees have grown higher too. However, now we can really see the water once more, and it makes such a difference. It’s especially beautiful at sunset many evenings when the sun goes down, with various pretty effects depending on cloud configuration, etc.

Unfortunately, we’re having several days of rain again. But I decided to take my water photos of the lake and rain anyway, since so often I tend to take them when it’s sunny. So I thought this might be interesting. Most of my photos captured the lake horizontally since that way you see more of it, but I did try different views (left, middle, right). Also tried to get several pictures during the rain around the deck, where it’s obvious that it’s wet. I cropped several of them to make them more interesting and to eliminate unnecessary stuff. You probably can’t see the rain drops, although it was a nice steady slow rain all day.

It’s great living here and so nice to have a view of the water. I’m not sure what it is, but it tends to make you feel more peaceful, calm, and relaxed. We haven’t really taken advantage of being at the lake that much other than swimming, since we don’t have a boat. However, we keep intending on going kayaking, although it was so low for so long, we thought there might be more risks until it filled up to normal levels again (which is has).  So now I can we just need to do it.

I visited local swimming pools and the beaches in South Jersey when I was growing up, and always enjoyed the water. My wife also loves the water since she grew up at the Central Jersey shore and went to the beach almost every day in the summer. We had a swimming pool in our back yard when we lived in the Dallas area for about 27 years, and that was wonderful. She and our boys (and often our neighbors) would enjoy it. We decided not to put a pool in our current house, especially since we’re at the lake.

The photos in this gallery were taken with my iPhone 5 using the standard Camera app. More photos tomorrow…

Photo 101: Street

Photo 101: Street

Our Day 2 assignment of the Photo 101 course was “Street & Establishing Shot”, which focuses on a wide-angle street scene.

I captured several interesting street scenes during a visit to Philadelphia in 2010 – Urban Landscape, Cheesesteaks, South Philly Musicians, and Chinatown. The photos were taken with my father’s point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot A400 camera. I might not have had an iPhone at that point.

Our Urban Landscape

This first photo suddenly jumps out at you when we encountered it during our drive through South Philadelphia. This wall mural called Our Urban Landscape was originally painted in 2006, and then restored in 2014 (after my photo). 

It is a colorful collage of neighborhood residents, landmarks, and foods, which is painted on the side of the Colligas Family Shop Rite at Front and Snyder. The large faces of the people stand out in the foreground with everything else in the background. See an updated photo on the web site for the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

Colorful Wall Mural


Pat’s King of Steaks, self-proclaimed “inventor of cheesesteak”, has offered classic versions of Philly’s favorite sandwich since 1930 at 9th & Wharton Streets in Philadelphia (where Passyunk and Wharton meet). Because of their popularity and high volume, the line moves very quickly so you need to be prepared.

It’s located right opposite Geno’s Steaks, it’s long-time rival since 1966 with a constant battle 24 hours a day for the title of best cheesesteak. There’s an interesting article about Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks on the Philadelphia official visitor site, including tips on how to order, like “one whiz wit(h)”. And yes, Cheez Whiz is the most popular topping. Here the Pat’s Steaks sign is in the foreground, with the buildings in the background. In fact, that wall mural with a clock behind Pat’s is my next photo.

Pat's Steaks

South Philly Musicians

Across from the world-famous Pat’s King of Steaks is a towering tribute to seven of South Philly’s music and film stars. This wall mural has huge portraits of Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker, Fabian, Eddie Fisher, Al Martino, and DJ Jerry Blavat. It was created at this Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue location in 2005, but now is chipped, faded, and crumbling, apparently damaged by roof leaks.

The Mural Arts Program had planned to paint it over for a “dignified retirement”, especially with a proposed four-story development for the lot next door that would block the mural. but the whitewashing plan was scrubbed so see if it could possibly be moved to another wall somewhere. Apparently donations by Frankie Avalon and Jerry Blavat for the restoration project may result in a revamped mural in the fall of 2016, possibly with the additional of James Darren and Charlie Gracie. Again the musicians (and clock) occupy the foreground with a street scene in the background.

South Philly Singers


As we were driving around, we ventured into Chinatown, which had lots of interesting street scenes. Here’s one view of the street with several restaurants (and signs) in the foreground and buildings as the background.

Chinatown in Philadelphia

That’s all for today. More photos to come.

Photo 101: Home

Photo 101: Home

Our Day 1 assignment of the Photo 101 course was “Home”, which reminds me of some of the places where I have lived.

St. Nicholas Hospital - Sheboygan


I was born at St. Nicholas Hospital in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, which was my first home (very briefly). Now it has been converted into an affordable apartment housing complex for senior residents.


My parents loved me all my life. These photos of my mother and father were taken when they were married during the last year of World War II. She’s almost 96 in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, but he died 3 years ago.

Photo-Elinor      Photo-Corky

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I was blessed to have a wonderful family with two brothers and two sisters. We grew up in a small house and my father raised the back roof for more bedrooms as our family grew.


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After marriage and 4 years in the Air Force, we lived in a townhouse in New Jersey . Our 2 boys initially grew up there before moving near Dallas, Texas. There was a nice common area with playground and swimming pool near an elementary school.


Now we’re very lucky to be retired and living on the north shore of Lake Travis near Austin in the Texas hill country. It’s very comfortable in a quiet community which is close enough to our grandchildren as well as downtown when we want to visit.  We have two lovely golf courses and tennis courts nearby which we love to play.  There’s quite a bit of wildlife in our backyard to watch like white-tailed deer, hummingbirds, squirrels, birds, butterflies, etc.

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We have a wonderful view from our deck where I captured this panoramic iPhone photo of a morning rainbow at breakfast after a light rain several years ago when the lake was very low. At least the recent El Nino rains have filled it back up again to about 97% full.

Morning Rainbow

I will be sharing more photos with daily assignments over the next couple of weeks.

Germany: Berlin

Germany: Berlin

After arriving from Leipzig by a fast InterCity Express (ICE) train, our nephew picked us up at the Südkreuz train station near his southwest Berlin home in Zehlendorf. We stayed four nights and had a wonderful visit with him and his family while getting to see so much of Berlin and Potsdam with our own personal tour guide. We also had great weather for sightseeing – sunny and low 70’s.

On the first day, we visited Potsdam which borders Berlin on the west. We saw the Sanssouci Palace that was the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, and walked around its landscaped gardens where we noticed this gilded gazebo.

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We explored the surrounding Sanssouci Park where there was also this New Palace. Later we went to Cecilienhof Palace northeast of Sanssouci that was the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945 where the heads of the Soviet Union (Stalin), United Kingdom (Churchill), and United States (Truman) made important decisions affecting post-war Europe and Asia including  partitioning of Germany and Berlin.

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We enjoyed a nice dinner at a cafe on the Lake Wannsee near my nephew’s house. Its at the western-most part of Berlin before crossing the bridge to Potsdam. His teenage children attend the John F.Kennedy international bilingual school nearby since he’s American and his wife is German; they both speak their native language at home with them, which was interesting. We took the family out to dinner twice, and they made special German meals for us the other nights.


The second day we walked all around Berlin. We visited the Brandenburg Gate, which is an 18th-century triumphal arch that was a former city gate where the Berlin Wall had divided the city from 1961 to 1989 when it was opened and Germany was reunified. Also there are various monuments nearby like this equestrian statue of Frederick the Great, honoring King Frederick II of Prussia.

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The third day we rode around Berlin some more and visited the Charlottenburg Palace and gardens, just west of the large Tiergarten park in center city not far from the Brandenburg Gate. There were other interesting sites like silver people that look like statues and come alive when you give them some money.

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There is an interesting mix of old and new buildings throughout Berlin, which we saw on a boat cruise on the Spree River which goes through the city, looking at all the massive federal buildings, churches, and museums.

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On our last day we went to the American Checkpoint Charlie on the former east-west border before the Berlin Wall came down. It’s now been 25 years since the reunification of Germany. Also we visited the Wall Museum next to the checkpoint with lots of information, pictures, and exhibits about the reality of that time.

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The joys of travel … Our 7am flight from Berlin Tegl Airport to Austin via London Heathrow was grounded after we left the gate because it “lost control of steering”. First they went over to the maintenance facility to see if they could repair it, but that was not successful. So they unloaded all our luggage and took us back to the terminal by bus to rebook flights after going through customs and picking up our luggage.

Then we had to wait in line at British Airways for about 4 hours after the initial 2-hour grounding delay to see what we could arrange as alternate flights. Finally we managed to get re-routed from Berlin to Austin via Amsterdam and Atlanta on KLM/Delta so we thought at least we might get home late that same day.

We made the KLM connection in Amsterdam. However, in Atlanta after customs, baggage claim, security checkpoint, bag drop-off, train to another terminal, and long walk to a gate, we just missed our very tight connection to Austin. At least Delta gave us a Marriott hotel voucher, an overnight amenity kit with toothbrush/paste, razor/shave cream, deodorant, etc. and meal vouchers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So finally we got home to Texas about mid-day the next day. It was a fantastic 3-week trip, although it was probably too long, even though we saw a lot.

Click on the following photo to view the Berlin photo gallery (about 148 photos) at my SmugMug photo web site.

Germany Trip: Berlin

The automatic slideshow displays each photo for 2 seconds with a 1 second fade transition. There are options for full-screen mode in the lower-right corner, and a pause button in the lower-left corner. There are also arrows on the left and right sides to move manually forward and backward through the photos.