Travel There: Pinot Days in San Francisco

Pinot Days Brochure

Pinot Days Brochure

If you recall, this vacation went through a number of alterations before becoming a reality. In one of the original stages, a trip to Wine Country was penciled in, but by the time we went, Napa and Sonoma had been erased. Instead we enjoyed Pinot Days at City View At Metreon.

How We Got There

When you’re visiting your hip nephew in San Fran you do all kinds of cool things.  Take it from me, Uber is cool.  It’s like a taxi, but a lot more chic.

Since all I did was go along for the ride, I don’t claim to know all the details, but to quote Uber “request, ride, and pay via your mobile phone.”  That means you don’t call or hail a cab.  You request a ride at a certain time with the app and the car shows up.  If you wonder if you have time to go to the bathroom, the app tells you where the car is and how long before it will be to your pick-up point.  You don’t have to ride in a cab either.     A sleek black SUV picked us up and the driver was dressed very professionally.When we left the wine event my nephew punched a few buttons on the phone and by the time we got downstairs our car was waiting.

Uber’s website says they do have taxis, but that wasn’t our ride.  Nephew says it’s about the price of parking and since we were going to a wine tasting without a DD it was a lot cheaper than a DWI.  Dallas is an Uber city, but I haven’t Ubered here yet.  Let me know if you have.

Where It Was

Meteron is like nothing I know of in Dallas.  It’s like NorthPark‘s Food Court on steroids, but the anchor store is a Super Target and for kicks there’s an AMC Cinemark.  You got it?

Well, upstairs there’s something called City View which is a huge event space.  They do weddings, corporate events, whatever.  The “restaurant-centric mall with multiplex” is amid the Marscone Center and City View overlooks the Yerba Buena Gardens.  Yeah, it’s cool.

How It Wa2014-06-21 16.56.19

I’m just going to be straight with you.  This wasn’t the most fun I ever had tasting wine.  I used to live on the Central Coast and spent Sunday afternoons at Castoro Cellars Tasting Room, Edna Valley Vineyard and other local wineries.  My first date with Bill was to a function called Art and Wine at the Dallas Museum of Art.  We’ve been to Dallas Opera Wine Tastings. We have also been to other wine festivals, like the Paso Robles Wine Festival.  We know from wine tastings.

The Metreon was cool and I loved looking out over Yerba Buena Park and San Francisco’s Financial District.  However, I got a little tired of Pinot and there was a crowd.

I love wine, but I’m no wine connoisseur.  Were I a wine connisseur, I’m sure the opportunity to compare so many Pinots in one afternoon of tasting was euphoric.  However, there were so many people crowding around the tables that there was really no way to have a decent conversation with the winemakers and that’s one of the things I like best about a tasting.

There was also nowhere to sit.  There were community baskets of crackers and cheese to give your palate a break, but no where to give your sore dogs a break.  Am I glad I did it?  Yes!  Would I do it again?  Probably not.

But come back next week, because we’re going to Golden Gate Park.

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Heading to Heath: Will We Find a Rental?

You can't live here either!

You can’t live here either!

I believe in the power of prayer and friendship. Early on a Saturday morning I made a post on Facebook, “Mission Find-a-Rental is in full swing. I’m hearing a lot of ‘But you have to sign a year’s lease!’, ‘Pets? I don’t think so!’, and ‘Sorry, it’s been leased.’ I think I need a little prayer coverage on this project.”

Help Was on the Way

Almost immediately things improved.  I got some good advise on next steps and the prayer warriors went to work.  One friend offered a guest room.  Another offered up a one bedroom condo.  Another friend had just bought a rental property and offered it “friend-priced” and without a lease term.  None of those exactly fit the criteria we’d set, but they were all better than homeless.

That afternoon we ventured out to look at some properties, hoping that someone would fall in love with us, in spite of our pets and our six months lease.  The pickings were mighty slim.  There was our friend’s new rental, but it was about twenty miles and $3.92 toll away from Heath, not to mention that the “friend price” was still a little steep for our budget.  There was one house in Rockwall we’d seen, but we hadn’t confessed we only wanted six months, yet.  We had an appointment to see a house in Wylie on Sunday and were trying to get an appointment with another.

The Sunday Tour 

So, Bill wasn’t crazy about the house we toured.  We drove by every other possible rental in all the communities on the eastern side of Dallas, but each one seemed worse than the other.  We were stumped.  We decided that first thing Monday morning we’d confess to the Rockwall agent that we wanted a six months lease.  If Rockwall rejected us, that left my friend’s house.  Still no more perfect than it had been the day before, but looking a whole lot better.

Down to the Wire

Monday marked thirty days until we had to be out of our house.  Bill called up the Rockwall agent, did his best sales thing and was shut down – completely.  Other than that, we had one more appointment we’d set.  We decided to go see my friend’s house after that, because then we’d know there were no other options.  Our budget would be busted and every time we went to the build, we’d pay about $8 in tolls.  That adds up fast.

What were we going to do?  Come back next week and I promise, there’s still hope.


Filed under Art &Travel, DFW Metroplex, Heath, Picks and Pans, Texas, The United States

Travel There: San Fran Brunch Bites

Who wouldn't go to San Francisco to visit this little guy?

Who wouldn’t go to San Francisco to visit this little guy?

For us, the main attraction in San Francisco was Jack. He’s our grand-nephew and being one year old was still brand new to him when we got there. Imagine all the wonderful things you can do with a darling one year old boy and insert them here.  We also enjoyed some great food.

In the Thick of Things

Jack’s parents are hip.  Really!  Dad went to Greenhill, graduated from Wharton School of Business, got married in a museum and is an investment banker in the gaming industry.  If I wrote a novel about him, people would think I made him up.  Mom also went to Greenhill, has her MBA from UTD, had a ballet commissioned for her wedding reception and she spends her days being Jack’s mommy.

So, of course, they live in they live in the coolest part of San Francisco.  From atop their building you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge.  They’re blocks away from Fisherman’s Wharf, Washington Square Park and the crazy intersection of Columbus and Broadway.

Brunch at Original Joe’s

Saturday morning after Jack’s morning routine was accomplished, we took a stroll to Original Joe’s.  In San Francisco you stroll a lot.  It’s not a car-centric society like LA or Dallas.  There are plenty of cars, but you don’t drive one unless you have to.

The beautiful Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is also on Washington Square.

The beautiful Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul also faces Washington Square.

Original Joe’s faces Washington Square Park on Union Street.  The restaurant may be a San Francisco classic, but once I was inside, I thought I was in New York’s Little Italy.  Black and white tile floors, lots of woodwork, tuxedo-ed waiters, white linen tablecloths, gleaming chrome and brass;  and the aroma of marinara permeates it all.


The food?  OMG! We stuck to the brunch menu, enjoying treats like Crab Cake Benedict, Brioche French Toast and other amazing goodies.  The food looked so delicious when it arrived, I dove right in!  The prices are reasonable, but not cheap.

Brunch at Cafe Francisco

Sunday morning Bill and I ventured out on our own to Cafe Francisco, just around the corner from our nephew’s condo.  For me, this brunch spot felt more San Francisco-ish than the more famous Original Joe’s.  The space had for many years been an artist’s studio and along with serving great Belgian waffles, Cafe Francisco is also an art gallery.

If I lived in my nephew’s condo, I might just convert my kitchen into a gym and have all my meals at Cafe Francisco.  The prices were so reasonable that I doubt you can cook at home for so cheap.  The menu is not extensive, but it’s got everything from breakfast to Mediterranean salads to amazing cheese plates paired by the Cheese School of San Francisco.  I wish I’d gotten back over there to enjoy a bottle of wine and one of those cheese plates.

These were not our only gastronomic adventures in San Fran.  After brunch at Original Joe’s we went to Pinot Nights.  come back next week and I’ll tell you about that.

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Heading to Heath: Mission Find-a-Rental Revisited

No Pets Allowed!  One Year Lease Required!  Still on the Market!

No Pets Allowed! One Year Lease Required! Still on the Market!

With my list in hand I started to make calls. It was an eye-opening experience.

It’s Off the Market

About the first zillion calls I made for rental houses were completely useless.  The houses were “off the market,” “leased,” “gone” and other wise unavailable.

This is when I started worrying.  I’d thought this was going to be easy.  Do a little research.  Make a few calls.  Take a little walk-through.  Rent a house.

It’s Available, BUT…

Finally, I found a few (very few) homes that were actually available – but only up to a point.  We were starting out with two strikes against us….make that three.  The first two were Precious and Princess.

For the uninformed, Precious is my beloved Shih Tzu.  She’ll be 14 years old in a few days.  She doesn’t shed, stink, bite, chew or otherwise mess up our house.  She’s trained to use a doggie door and does so like a trooper.  Outside, all she needs is a small area cordoned off for her business.  I understand that there are dogs who will destroy everything in their path, but those dogs are not Precious.

Princess is our cat.  She was rescued from the pound and is a few years younger than Precious.  Like all cats, she very low profile.  She uses her litter box without fail.  She’s both spayed and de-clawed.  She does not chew or claw or any other nasty stuff.

I know everyone says that about their pets, but mine really are virtually invisible, except for the gallons of love we get from them and the occasional outrageous vet bill.  We’re willing to pay pretty much any pet deposit anyone wants to charge, because as long as it’s refundable, we know we’ll get it back.  (Shame on those folks who want the pet deposit to be non-refundable and you know who you are.)

Anyway, there are a lot of landlords out there that won’t even consider renting to people with pets.  I think this is a cause someone should take up.  Used to be you couldn’t rent if you had kids.  That’s called discrimination this day and time.  My pets are my children, so if you won’t rent to us, then you’re discriminating against me.  If you know of a petition I can sign somewhere, I’m in!

The Other Problem

The final hurdle between me and a rental was a one year lease.  Now it would have been very easy to lie about the whole thing and let the chips fall where they might, but that’s not how I do things.  We were willing to sign a six months lease.  We were willing to pay more per month and we would have even paid a penalty, but we were turned down left and right.  No shoes,  no shirt, no service!

So what happened?  I’ll tell you next week.


Filed under Art &Travel, Dallas, DFW Metroplex, Heath, Picks and Pans, Texas, The United States

Travel There: The Winchester Mystery House

Winchester House07032014Next stop on our California adventure:  The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

The Real Mystery

Several years ago, I asked my mother which San Jose attraction was better, the  Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum or the Winchester Mystery House, because she’d been to both.  She didn’t stutter or stall – she was all about the Egyptian Museum.  So, on that trip I went to the museum and promised myself I’d see the Winchester House another day.

Well, on this trip to California I carved out some time for the Winchester Mystery House and learned the real mystery is why it’s become so popular.  Remember last week when I told you Lotusland was worth every penny of the $45 tour price – and more.  Well, the Winchester House, in my opinion, is not worth anywhere near the $33 per person they’ll hit you up for – and that’s just the basic tour.  Some people pay more for extended and special tours.  Ten dollars?  Maybe.  Anymore than that?  Rip off!

Don’t Judge This Book By It’s Cover

An exterior shot of this rambling edifice leads one to believe visitors will tour a beautiful Victorian mansion.  Well, the exterior is very pretty and I do recommend that you at least drive by it on South Winchester Boulevard, but what you can see from the street is really all you need to see.  The interior of the house is pretty scary – and I’m not talking about the spirits some people claim they encounter.

We found the house, parked the car and went to the entry booth.  We actually discussed getting the more expensive ticket which included a behind the scenes tour, but we were supposed to be in San Francisco by six thirty.  We were afraid we wouldn’t have time for more than the basic tour – thank goodness.  That’s when things started to get weird.

Right This Way for your Cruise Photo

I’m used to lining up to go on a house tour.  At the Winchester House, the tickets are timed.  A sign tells you where to wait for the next tour and there’s a velvet rope hanging between stanchions.

However, I am not used to lining up for cruise-type photos at historic homes.  (They do the same sort of thing at Hearst Castle, but that’s Hearst Castle.)  At the Winchester they put you in front of a green screen and hand you a fake rifle.  We were not enchanted.  Bill resents having his picture taken on cruises, so this really set him off.  “I made an ugly face,” he told me.

Welcome to….the Stables?

After all the people on our tour had their obligatory rifle picture taken, we were allowed in the house.  We were herded into a sort of holding pen and given a very canned speech by an eager young guide.  In his defense, he was fairly new to his job as a guide, but it came off like, “I am thoroughly bored with this speech, and hahaha you’re stuck listening to it.”  It did not improve as the tour continued.

From the holding pen we went to the stables, but it was a little confusing, because it was also a sort of warehouse.  I thought to myself, “This isn’t a very engaging place to start.”  I didn’t realize then that it wasn’t going to get much better.  From the stable we used a very bizarre staircase to get to another floor.  I hoped better things were coming.

Most of the House is More of the Same

With very few exceptions, things didn’t get any better.  The floors were linoleum.  The walls were, for the most part wood, though there were some that were wallpapered.  Any room looked pretty much like all the rest of the rooms.  They had millions of visitors to the house and it looks like it.  It also doesn’t look like they’ve done anything to preserve what people may have come to see.

Part of the problem is that most of the rooms are unfurnished.  When the builder/owner died, everything was taken out of the house and sold for cash, per the little old lady’s will.  There are a few rooms that have items in them, but the furnishings matched everything else about the house – sad and worn out.

I think one of the reasons the house is so empty and so unfurnished is that they want to impress upon visitors just how nuts Mrs. Winchester was.  The story of the house is that she bought it and kept building on to it.  Another part of the story is that she was trapped in part of the house after an earthquake and after escaping closed down that part of the house, damaged as it was, and kept on building.

Okay, so I get the part about the lady being nuts and I realize her original belongings were sold, but if you’re going to charge me $33 dollars, I want to see more than an empty house in disrepair.

On to San Fran

On any other tour, we might have tried to sneak away and go on with our business, but in this dreadful rabbit warren of a place, who knows where you might have ended up.  We endured the rest of the tour and were relieved when we escaped.

The story of the Winchester Mystery House is well worth your investigation.  The owner was the widow of the man who invented the Winchester rifle.  Her idiosyncrasies are fascinating.  The Winchester Mystery House as it stands today, is not.

Our trip to California gets better though!  come back next week.


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Heading to Heath: Mission Find-a-Rental

This house is not for rent!

This house is not for rent!

So last week I mentioned we were having a little difficulty finding a place to rent.  Well, actually I think I said I thought we were going to be homeless.  Let me tell you about it.

Blinded by a Misconception

When Bill and I returned to Texas from California, eight years ago, we needed a rental and fast.  I called a real estate agent friend of my mom’s and by the end of the day, we’d found something.  A year later, Bill came home from Iraq and the tiny two bedroom duplex I’d been renting was suddenly too small.  I did a little research and in no time at all, we found something and moved in.  This is one time that my previous experiences were misleading.

Beware of Craig’s List

For my first stab at finding us a rental this time around, I went to  Bill didn’t like what I found, so he took the lead.  The first thing he did was lead us into trouble.

I am not a fan of Craig’s List, but Bill uses it all the time.  He’s bought books there, sold all kinds of things and also finds different kinds of contractors and workmen for the house.  This time he found trouble.

During his first search, he found a house for rent that was right around the corner from where we’re building.  The rental was only slightly above the budget he’d given me and Bill was ready to lease it sight unseen.  I’m usually a worry-wart about things like that, but hey, I figured we’d only be there a year at the most and I can deal with almost anything for a year.

The Craig’s Lister sent us an application.  Bill had it all filled out and was ready to send it back when a little bird sang in his ear, “Beware the Ides of March.”  Well, actually, Bill just got cold feet about sending all that information to someone he didn’t know.  So he had me check the tax records.  The Craig Lister was not the owner of the home.  OOOOPS!

The Do-Over

Besides living through a cautionary tale about Craig’s List, Bill learned several things while he was researching rentals.  For instance, he’d been unrealistic with the budget he’d given me.  No way were we going to find something within the range he originally gave me.  So he raised the budget by a couple of hundred dollars.  He also found out researching rentals is a lot of work, so he delegated it back to me with a long list of the rentals he’d found on a variety of rental sites.

His priority was for homes that were being rented out by their owners, rather than homes being leased by agents.  I just wanted to rent from someone who didn’t steal our identity and empty our accounts.

With fear and trepidation I started trying to figure out if the homes on Bill’s list were really real or just another scam.  I quickly found that most of the houses were on Zillow.  So I poked around Zillow a little more.  The new price range made things a lot easier.

Eventually, I had to quit researching things on the internet and start making calls, but I’ll tell you about that next week.


Filed under Art &Travel, DFW Metroplex, Heath, Picks and Pans, Texas

Travel There: Santa Barbara’s LotusLand

2014-06-19 03.48.12First atraction, first day: Santa Barbara’s Lotusland! Talk about a great way to start a vacation – this was it!

Hanging in SB

So, if our adventure started in Santa Barbara, why did we fly to LAX and stay in Carpenteria?  Well, this was a road trip which would end in LA, so it was cheaper to fly into and out of LAX, not to mention avoiding a one-way rental car charge.  And Carpenteria is only ten miles away from Santa Barbara and about a hundred dollars cheaper than any accommodations I could book in the more famous city.2014-06-19 01.53.15


The Beach

We left Carpenteria early enough to spend some time in Santa Barbara, because it’s one of our favorite cities.  The list of things we would have loved to do would be quite long, but all we had time for was a leisurely visit to the beach.  Next was lunch and we had fast food.


Lotusland07032014Finally, Lotusland!

Lotusland is one of those hidden travel gems people talk about, but it shouldn’t be such a secret.  Their website says they’ve been having tours since 1993, so I don’t know why more people aren’t raving about it.  I lived on the Central Coast of California for six years and in all that time I heard one person mention it in passing and they made it seem like a cactus farm.

Listen to me – you need to go to Lotusland.  Beautiful, serene, amazing – these are the words that come to mind.  Yes there are cactus gardens, but that’s only the beginning.  There are twenty other gardens there, also.  From a Japanese Garden to a Water Garden full of water lilies to a Topiary Garden – and the list goes on!

Lotusland Map07032014

Here’s a map from our tour.  At least, Trip Advisor lists it as the number two attraction in Santa Barbara,behind the famous Courthouse, but I’ve been to the Courthouse and it doesn’t light a candle to Lotusland.  Santa Barbara Mission is pretty wonderful, but Trip Advisor rates that as number seven.  What’s wrong with these people!

First you need to know Ganna Walska, the lady who planned and planted Lotusland, should have her own mini-series.  A famous opera singer with five different husbands, ties to both the Polish and Russian royal families and over thirty acres of gardens in Santa Barbara – what’s not to love?  Then there’s the gardens themselves.  Breath-taking!

Next, you need to know that you can’t just show up at the address on the internet for a stroll through the garden.  All tours are docent-led and there are two each day.  To tour the garden you have to go online, make reservations and pay for the tour.  Then you will get directions about where to show up for the tour.  I have to confess that you might get a little sticker shock.  The tours are $45/adult and $20/ child, but I am telling you it is completely worth the price of admission.  Trust me on this.

We had quite a tour.  About half-way through a sweet little old lady fell INTO a cactus plant, which sort of threw everything off – and certainly slowed us down on the next leg of our trip – but that’s for next week.  Lotusland is one of those places that I could wear myself out talking about and still not capture the essence of it, so now I’m going to shut-up and show you some of our pictures.  Just be sure and come back next week.  There’s more fun to come.

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The cactus mishap is just about to occur!

The cactus mishap is just about to occur!

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Filed under Art &Travel, California, Gardens, Photography and Scrapbooking, Picks and Pans, Road Trips