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Napa Crack’d

September 16, 2014

If you live in California, it is very likely you have felt the earth convulse. While technically temblors are shakers, and people report rocking and rolling, the ones that have occurred around my domiciles have felt more like a Snap. Crackle. And POP.

I was in Northern California during the 1989 Loma Prieta (10-17-89 6.9), in Napa Valley. I was getting ready to take my daughter out for her one-year pictures and I thought she was pitching a fit – since her crib was slamming against the wall. It was puzzling, and when the radio and television signals immediately went off air, we knew something devastating had happened.

That time, Napa mostly watched the Bay Area’s pain from a ring-side seat.

Cracked glass in a hanging lamp and decorative mosaic

My hanging lamps played bumper cars while the medallion in the background — a mosaic of broken pottery from the 2000 quake — held its ground.

Labor Day weekend of 2000 (9-4-2000, 5.2), my now-middle-school-aged children were off with friends spending the night. I woke up in mid-air. It is a most unusual feeling. You are sleeping. Then you are awake. And you are not lying on the bed, but have been tossed about 2 feet above it. As I banged back into the mattress, I simultaneously heard the rather loud crashing of glass, pottery, plants, and furniture – in my house, and my neighborhood. The darkness descended completely and quickly, as all power for blocks was wiped out.

My neighbor came by with a wrench to shut off my gas and inquired about my safety. I yelled from my bed that the dogs and I were fine, and I went back to sleep until daylight came and clean-up began.

We picked up our fences, and repaired our chimneys, and moved forward.

This year (8-24-14, 6.0), I had just left town on vacation. Earlier in the month, I was awakened by one of the smaller earthquakes preceding the 6.0. We hadn’t reached our destination, but were close. So, we stopped at 4 in the morning and made copious calls. My house had a broken water pipe, and again neighbors arrived to assess and assist. My office was in the historic district of downtown and escaped much of the structural damage that befell some of the other brick and stone architectural beauties. I missed most not being with my team to help respond to the situation.

I was not spared, however, from clean-up. Like most, I lost significant amounts of glassware, light fixtures, food, picture glass and frames. My house was recently remodeled and structurally survived with only scuffs. A blessing since earthquake insurance is expensive, has a huge deductible (think $30K), and most of us don’t have it.

I lost – again – all my glass bowls. Every one of them broke in the 2000 earthquake, and all those I had collected over the last dozen years are now also gone. If I lost one of a pair of candle holders in the 2000 quake, I did NOT lose the other one in this quake. I lost one out of my new sets. So, I am eating cereal and soup out of a small set of stainless mixing bowls, and I have an artistic collection of “eclectic” candle holders.

I am constantly amazed at Mother Earth’s latent power, and not surprised that sometimes she shouts at me to clean my room. Luckily, most of us lost just stuff.

The earth still smelled fresh, and the harvest still proceeds. We pick up the bricks, repair the facades, clean up the debris. We help our neighbors, and business associates, and we welcome the world back to our doorstep. We love it here. Every year we crush, and some years we crack.

Pick a couple of great Harvest Activities

August 18, 2014

 Weekend wine tasting in Napa is fun year ‘round, but things really swing into high gear when the grapes are crushed at the end of summer.

 Winery workers are up at the crack of dawn (and frequently before) – picking, sorting, transporting bins, crushing, cleaning, checking, testing, moving barrels, running equipment, and in general bringing in the harvest. Don’t expect to catch sight of the winemaker chatting with guests in the tasting room. Most don’t even get to see their families during this 6 week sprint across Mother Nature’s finish line.

Beyond the pace of activities, harvest brings its own smell and color to the Valley. Somewhere in mid-September you will start to pick up the smell of pomace – the pits, skins, and stems left over from harvest. You will see purple puddles on some corners made from grapes that escape the trucks transporting the clusters from the vineyards.

So, where should you go during all this buzz of activity? We like to share some ideas, and pick some places that are clearly visible, but might not be well-known.

Salvestrin: Salvestrin is an intimate, family-owned winery in St. Helena that captivates you with its welcome, and seals the deal with great wines. Unpretentious and personable, it offers a place to leisurely explore a great Napa cab paired with some serious history. 397 Main Street, St. Helena, CA

If you are lucky enough to be at the Inn on Tuesday or Saturday morning, you must stop at the Farmer’s Market in the Oxbow  parking lot. Browse among flowers, crafts, and fresh vegetables so eye-poppingly beautiful your mouth waters just thinking about all the meals they would enhance. Grab a coffee, but think about buying some lunch to go for an UpValley jaunt.

Louis Martini: Speaking of history, Louis Martini has been a notable wine name for more than 75 years. Tours at the post prohibition Napa facility are worth it at $50 a person, and are by appointment. If you are looking for a place to enjoy that sandwich, most people aren’t aware of the shaded picnic area in the back that doesn’t require a reservation (yet). 254 South St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, CA.

Into something completely off-the-wall?

Summer Movie Night Series at Flora Springs: Only offered once a month in September and October, enjoy movie on the Rooftop Lounge as the stars come out. Price is $20 per person for popcorn and the movie. You can bring your own picnic enjoy a glass (or two) or buy a bottle of wine. They also offer a nice selection of dinner items if you prefer to be pampered. 677 South St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, CA

A meandering ‘local’s favorite’ itinerary

May 29, 2014

Walking Adventure of Downtown Napa (Spring or Summer)

Day One:

You awake refreshed in your lovely balcony room at the Napa River Inn, make a cup of joe in the Keurig and relax for a moment in your robe, sipping the coffee and overlooking the river.

While breakfast in your room is included from Sweetie Pies bakery, today you decide to start your morning meal at one of the best places to eat breakfast outdoors:  Napa General Store, at 540 Main Street.  Mimosas are a requirement when you are having eggs al fresco. They serve breakfast until noon, which is great when you want pancakes for lunch.

It really isn’t too early to start wine tasting, but I would begin this day on the Napa River. Paddleboarding, canoeing, or kayaking will help you row away all stress and anxiety with a gentle two-hour tour of this lovely natural habitat. You need to make reservations for the water-sports rental companies. There are several good ones to pick from, just stop by the concierge desk at the Inn and they can get you started. Some of them even start or leave by the dock just in front of the Riverfront.

For an afternoon to early evening of active entertainment, consider shooting some pool at Bilco’s Billiards, 1234 Third Street. You don’t have to be a pool shark playa to enjoy a couple of games knocking the billiards balls around.

After such a hearty breakfast, there is no need to eat lunch early. Spending a couple of hours in the sun and water, however, you will have worked your appetite back up. Stop by Bounty Hunter, 975 First Street, for either a light smattering of charcuterie and a flight of wine tastings, or wolf down the ever famous beer-can chicken. Since they don’t close between the lunch and dinner service, you can eat at your convenience – especially if you stopped for a shower and nap after your river adventure.

Time to continue with your day of play. For an afternoon to early evening of active entertainment, consider shooting some pool at Bilco’s Billiards, 1234 Third Street. You don’t have to be a pool shark playa to enjoy a couple of games knocking the billiards balls around.  Their seriously excellent selection of beer make the competition all that more fun.

Time to eat, again? While there is pub fare available at Bilco’s, there are SO many excellent places to eat in downtown Napa, and so little time; we have to recommend trying as many places as possible. Slightly off the beaten path is another long-time Napa favorite, Pearl Restaurant, 1339 Pearl Street.  Here you will find soft-shelled crab (in season), barbecued oysters (try the Breton – roasted with aged balsamic vinegar), and an amazing double thick, bone-in pork chop.

After dinner, you must find some live music. There are several venues that could have the type of entertainment you need: City Winery, Uptown Theatre, or our own Silos, 530 Main Street. If it is a Wednesday or Thursday evening, Silo’s will have no-cover, local’s night with a variety of troubadours, balladeers, or ensembles that will get your toes tapping. Enjoy yourself until late in the evening, and since you are on-property for the Inn, you will not need to grab a cab or drive in order to get to your room.

One full day, a couple of local best-kept secrets, and lots of different things to do – a great way to enjoy a wide variety  of activities all within a couple of blocks walking distance.

The Art of the Kiss

April 28, 2014

Much like a smile, a kiss is one of the very special things a face offers us.

It is a welcome, an apology, a kindness, and an explosion of passion. Kissing, along with hand-holding and hugs, offers us a way to express ourselves without the need for words. In my opinion, it is the ultimate communication of the mouth.

I am not as much a fan of the formal buss: a dry lipped greeting that tries to straddle the line of casual and intimate. I can be warm, in-your-face-intimate, and I love a kiss in accompaniment of merry eyes, and approbation of personal space.

I have a favorite kiss story. Two actually, but one adventure is about a man, the other about the experience. This story is about the experience.

Kissing in Napa can be a bit wine soaked. Lips bearing a slight ring of burgundy color, teeth stained rosy, eyes bright, and breath a touch high in alcohol content. It happens in wine bars, on street corners, at happy hour, and during the height of winery tasting room hours. Decorum is usually maintained, but sometimes a look around the room is followed by an “oh hell, I will never see these people again” shrug and then background noise fades as you allow your tactile senses to connect the warmth of the wine glow with the love of companionship.

I have a favorite kiss story. Two actually, but one adventure is about a man, the other about the experience. This story is about the experience. One summer, when my children were small, I took sailing lessons on San Francisco Bay. The Bay is one of the best places in the world to learn to sail: heavy winds, strong tides, varying channel depths, and world-class commercial traffic. This is not floating on an inner tube down easy rapids with a beer in your hand. This is salt spray in your eyes, fingers frozen by the cold, and hypothermia that can set in two minutes or less.

I was on a boat for the weekend with three other students for some reefing and man-overboard drills in about a 25 knot wind. One of our fenders (white boat bumpers) fell into the white-capped rolling waters and the students were not able to retrieve it. Our instructor took the helm and requested that one student – a man who was taking lessons to help overcome his deep fear of water – stand, unprotected outside the stanchions on the stern, and grab the fender as the instructor sailed along side it.

This student was not hooked on to any lifeline. He had one hand on the railing and was leaning back in cold, slippery, wet flailing waves and winds and tried to catch the bobbing fender. Earlier that day, over a cold sandwich in the cockpit of the yacht, he had talked to me about his water phobia and struggles to over come it. Standing on the stern of that boat had to take every bit of emotional strength he could bring to bear.

I lay on the deck and reached through the stanchions and grabbed tightly to both sides of his pfd (personal floatation device). The salt water stung my eyes, my fingers cramped, and my heart beat in empathy of his fear. It took about 15 minutes to catch that piece of unintentional jetsam. It felt like years.

Once grasped it was cast into the cockpit, like a cold fish that smacked and flopped defiantly. The student looked into my face. He leaned through the stanchions, closed eyelashes crusted with salt, cold lips slightly parted; and gently, briefly, pressed them to my mouth. Never a word was spoken.

It was the most heart-felt acknowledgement of a small kindness that I have ever experienced. I remember not his name, or what he looks like. But the feeling of his lips on mine is a tangible recollection that will linger with me forever.

Napa’s Best Places to Hold Hands

April 3, 2014

When you are first together, the simple act of holding hands can be both titillating and quietly loving. After the blush of new love turns to the embers of long-term affection, handholding becomes a comfortable habit of endearment.

No matter what stage you are in a relationship, there are many alluring places to entwine fingers as you take in the adventures of Napa Valley.

Stroll on the River Walk – I would be remiss if I did not mention the scenic stretch of trail that follows the Napa River.  You can travel south past the Wine Train rail yard and walk as far as Kennedy Park. Or head north and amble to Trancas Street. This trail is level, wide, and easy to walk, the perfect footpath for leisurely, introspective time hand-in-hand with your companion.

Of course, I suggest that you either start or end at the Historic Napa Mill and sit a spell on the benches strategically placed on the River Front. There your eyes can settle on the river scenery, as your hearts slow to a relaxed rhythm.

Dine Al Fresco– Now that the weather is leaning toward pleasant, an intimate meal on a sunny patio (with mimosas, perhaps?) is a perfect place to sneak in a caress across the table.  Favorites are Angele and Don Giovanni’s on the elegant end; Compadres and Soda Canyon Deli on the more casual side.

Cozy Up at the Bar — If table dining is a little formal, and a little too far apart, there is nothing more fun than sitting thigh-to-thigh for a little something something than snuggling together at a great bar.  Carpe Diem and Zuzu’s in downtown Napa both fill up quickly. Carpe boasts a wallet-friendly happy hour everyday from 4 to 6 pm.  Norman Rose draws the pub crowd, and 1313 Main will satisfy your thirst for wine flights while you explore your flights of fantasy.

Where else do you hold hands? Well, in bed. But those journeys across crisp hotel sheets are yours and not to be chronicled in this blog.

Theme Night

March 6, 2014

When it comes to couples activities, one of the more interesting is “Theme Night.” Theme Night is a lot like date night, but with a twist. (For the sake of this blog, the twist will be rather generic. Some couples I am sure could get really twisted if they wanted to — but, we have chosen not to go there, much to either your disappointment, or relief.)

Theme night is basic role playing. It doesn’t have to be sexy; it can be just interesting, or fun. Think of this as a couples’ parlor game – just not in the parlor.

Downtown Napa is a great location for dates with a theatrical twist. Locations should be good for conversation, so think Carpe Diem at the bar or 1313 by the fireplace. Sashay into The Thomas at Fagiani’s Bar for a retro speakeasy location. If you want to go old-school local try Henry’s on Main Street — great for gritty film noir, or maybe blue-collar cops and robbers.

Date Night itinerary suggestions:

Leave your man waiting for you at either

  • Vermeil Wines Tasting Room. While waiting for your arrival, your man can get his football hookup here, as founder Dick Vermeil took the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV.
  • Bounty Hunter Wine Bar. A great place for the adventurous wine hunter, and maybe for those hunting a connection

Share food and make up stories at the bar at:

  • Angele Restaurant.  A good place to get French. Share a cocktail. Perhaps try the Fallen Apple? A concoction of Slow and low Rye and apple cider.
  • Hog Island at Oxbow. Traditional oysters on the half shel. ‘Nuf said.
  • Oenotri. Salumi. The ultimate finger food (for public).

Rules:

There are none.

Dress up or not, as your personal script decrees.

Drop in and out of character, or stay strict to a style or script

Be awkward

Giggle

Feed each other

Share drinks

Plan a different theme for every other month or so

He played along and invited me to sit down . . .

One of my more memorable Theme Nights was when I was on vacation with a boyfriend in Key West. I wanted to shop a little without him tagging along, so I sent him to wait for me at an outdoor beach bar. I wandered through the little shops and eventually picked up some bath items and body lotion.

When I arrived at the bar, I approached my boyfriend as though I didn’t know him. “Excuse me, sir is this seat taken?” He played along and invited me to sit down, “Are you on vacation?” “Where are you from?” After a moment of polite chatter, he asked after my purchases. I very flirtatiously described them and what they possibly could be used for, all along pretending that we didn’t know each other. As we had our cocktails, the conversation continued. I was coy, he was interested. Much of what we said was made-up for the moment. I think my name was Blanche and his was Dusty. He was a cowboy from Wyoming. I was a belle from the south.

Eventually, I excused myself for a bathroom break. When I left, unbeknownst to me the gay couple just across the bar from us worriedly interrupted my boyfriend. They were concerned that the nice, naïve Wyoming Cowboy was perhaps in over his head with the massage oil toting sun-kissed brunette.

How to Wash Your Lover’s Hair

February 4, 2014

When it comes to romance, nothing is more tender and loving than the simple effort of gentle attention to your mate. One of the most sensual, and appreciated actions, is taking the time to wash someone’s hair for them.

One bath, one shampoo, and one simple way to show deep affection.

Since — according to TripAdvisor — the Napa River Inn is considered Napa’s most romantic hotel, and we have a great set of claw foot bathtubs that would be the perfect location for this sensual delight, we decided to offer a set of instructions – guidelines, really – on how to undertake this gift of affection.

Ingredients

  • 2 glasses of Champagne or chilled wine of your choice
  • Dim lighting
  • A wide tooth comb
  • A pitcher
  • Oil (scented grape seed oil, is perfect)
  • Shampoo
  • Towels – two large (warmed, if possible), and one small hand towel
  • A stool (or if you are kneeling on the floor, a cushion for your knees)

Draw a warm, almost hot bath. Small drops of aromatic essential oils in the water will help create a mood of relaxation.

Allow your partner to immerse themselves in the bath, and relax while you pour the wine. Take your time; don’t discuss the day, the children, work, or other activities. In fact, you should start the light conversation with a compliment. Tell your partner something about them that you really love.

“I have always loved the color of your eyes. Whenever I get to look into them, I am always surprised by the intensity of color.”

Begin with the hair dry. Lightly comb it out. Once it is free from tangles, start by rubbing the oil in. If long hair, work on the dry ends and run your fingers through to lightly coat the hair. Move to the scalp; work your fingers from the hair line pulling gently to the top of the scalp. Rub, massage, and caress. Verbally ask if the pressure is correct. Adjust, if necessary.

Once the hair is well coated, let it soak in the oil while you move the massage first to the shoulders, then the neck, and finally the face. If you have taken at least 30 minutes to massage, you can now move on to the shampoo. If the oil needs to soak in the hair a little longer, use remaining oil to massage your lover’s arms and hands.

Use your pitcher to thoroughly wet the hair with deliciously warm water drawn clean, not from the bath. Your small hand towel can be used to dry water from the eyes, or to hold against the forehead so that water does not run into the face.

If the face gets wet, kiss the lips before drying the water.

Image

Add the shampoo and mimic the same massage technique that you used for the oil: ends, middle, and scalp – continuing the scalp massage. Rinse with warm water using the pitcher.

Once all the soap and oil has been removed, comb through gently with the wide-toothed comb.

Finish the bath, and use one warmed towel on your lover’s hair. Loosen the hair and drape the towel across their shoulders. Use the other towel on their body, starting at their feet and working your way up.

. . . .

Napa River Inn would be happy to provide you with a Couple’s Bath Collection, should the need arise.

(Pitch: Book a romantic stay through March 31, 2014, and we will include a bottle of sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries.)

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