Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Oswego, NY: Family + Sun = Great Weekend!

While most people use Memorial Day Weekend to head to a beach, Dan and I decided to go in the opposite direction this year and traveled up to Oswego, NY. Oswego is a fun little city situated right on Lake Ontario, northwest of Syracuse. For most people, Oswego is known for things like fishing, Harborfest, and LOTS of snow; but to me, it is my parents’ hometown and home to many members of my family.

On Saturday, we arrived at my cousin Becky’s house right around lunch time and got a tour of her beautiful new home. Since it was so warm outside, Becky’s son decided to swim in the pool. Within seconds of him jumping in, my dog Vander followed him into the water. Anyone who knows my dog will not be surprised by this. Needless to say the two of them jumped in and out of the water for the next three hours or so. :)

Right around dinner time, my cousin Katie and her family arrived. This was very special, because Katie, Becky, and I have not hung out together in over 15 years! You would have never thought that if you had seen us chatting away all evening. Heehee… We also made sure to get a picture of us to commemorate the occasion.

On Sunday, Dan and I were able to spend some time on our own with the puppies. We visited the Ontario Orchard stand and walked a few miles on the paths at Fallbrook, a track of land that used to be a farm. After getting lunch at the Oswego Sub Shop, we stopped at Breitbeck park, which overlooks the harbor. I had been perusing the geocaches in the area, and I discovered that there was a geocache at the lighthouse in the harbor. For those who do not know, the only way to the lighthouse is by boat or by walking a 10 to 20 foot high break wall that stretches out a mile from the shore.

The lighthouse and break walls

Dan and I have both hiked the break wall before; however, we had never had two dogs with us. Eva had almost no trouble at all – she’s actually a better rock climber than we are. Vander had more trouble. Being a water dog, he would have much preferred to swim his way out instead of climbing over sharp rocks. He did well though! We got to the lighthouse and took all kinds of pictures.

On the way back, Vander slipped a few times because he was tired and managed to scrape up two back nails. When we realized he had hurt himself, we took turns carrying him, until a passing boat offered to drive us most of the way back to the car. I was worried about Vander at first, but when I saw him soaking up all the attention being carried and babied, I did not worry anymore.

Saturday evening, we went to Rudy’s, one of our favorite fresh fish restaurants, to have dinner with some family from my dad's side. Rudy's has some of the best fried clams/shrimp and fish sandwiches. mmm... After eating, we skipped rocks on the lake (a family tradition) and enjoyed Bev’s ice cream cones as the sun set over the water.

Before heading home on Monday, we had breakfast at Wade’s Diner and picked up lots of delicious cinnamon raisin bread to take home. We also visited with my grandparents for a few hours, which is always one of my favorite things to do. The drive home was pretty quick, but we were both tired when we finally reached Virginia.

If you have never been to Oswego, it is a fun place to visit, especially if you enjoy being outside. There are lots of outdoor activities and good places to eat. It tends to be a quiet town (unless you visit during Harborfest) and makes for a perfect long weekend getaway.

Here are some of my favorite places and activities in Oswego:
  • Skipping rocks and eating food at Rudy’s and Bev’s
  • Wade’s Diner
  • Visiting historic Fort Ontario
  • Fallbrook
  • Strawberry picking
  • Apple picking
  • Breitbeck park
  • Oswego River Walk
  • Chimney Bluffs (100 foot sand cliffs)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Afton Mountain Vineyards

Nestled in the Shenandoah Mountains of Central Virginia is Afton Mountain Vineyards. While Dan and I have visited many Virginia wineries and discovered many amazing locations and people, Afton Mountain is by far our favorite vineyard yet.

We first visited Afton Mountain in February, after attending a wedding in Charlottesville. Like the rest of the wedding party in attendance, we took part in the reserve wine tasting. I enjoyed a couple of their whites, but the amazing thing was that Dan and I both enjoyed all the reds in the tasting! Needless to say, we bought almost an entire case of wine that trip – quite a difference from our usual bottle or two.

Our second visit occurred a few weeks ago on Mother’s Day. My wonderful boyfriend decided to surprise his mom and take her to Afton Mountain for a glass of wine. The surprise was perfect, and his mom was completely shocked when we were standing in front of her outside Mitchie Tavern. :)

After lunch, we drove out to the vineyard and did a tasting. Instead of the reserve tasting, I chose to do the house tasting this visit. Once again, I was not disappointed with the selection. My favorites were the mountain rose and the mountain red. While we did not buy a whole case this visit, we did pick up bottles of the mountain rose, mountain red, and Festa di Bacco (Dan’s favorite). I also picked up some of their smoked cheddar cheese (really yummy!).

Dan and his mom

If you are ever in the Charlottesville area, you must visit Afton Mountain Vineyards. Everyone is sure to find at least one wine that they like, and the snacks are simple but tasty. There is also plenty of indoor and outdoor seating on their breath-taking property. One of my favorite features of their grounds was the covered outdoor seating. It is fantastic because the cover and numerous heat lamps enable you to sit outside and enjoy the views even in cold weather.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How Nerdy Are You?

A friend of mine posted a link to this nerd quiz today. She scored a whopping 98%, aka: Supreme Nerd God; so of course, I had to take the quiz for myself. :)

While I knew I would never be on par with her high level, I hoped to score at least a 50%. The quiz seemed like your basic personality-type quiz when I started. However, about halfway through, I came across some questions that had me a little scared. I mean, it would be horrific if I only scored a 30%! People would think I am an art major or something! (no offense to anyone who is/was an art major)

I clicked the submit button, and the results page popped up with this:

I am nerdier than 74% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

74% - Mid-ranking nerd. Not bad, I can live with that. :)

So, that was my fun five minute break for the afternoon. Now I am going to go back to work and finish writing a section of courseware on data graphics. Have a great afternoon!

Btw… you know you are going to want to find out what your ranking is now! Don’t deny it. LOL

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cool Semi-Healthy Summer Desserts

What to Avoid!

Now that it is finally warm outside (*crosses fingers*), I have begun to crave cooler desserts. While most of us love cold desserts like ice cream and/or popsicles, the brands you can find in the store are usually not healthy and filled with sugar. Luckily, my mom taught me some nice alternatives!

Homemade Jello:
JELL-O brand snacks usually contain a good bit of sugar and very little nutritional value. When I was a kid, my mom avoided JELL-O brand snacks by making homemade jello. Our homemade jello was made from fruit juices (whatever kind caught our fancy for the week) and Knox unflavored gelatin. Not only were we able to cut back on bad sugar, we got be creative with our juice choices and enjoy a fun activity!

Frozen fruit:
Some store bought popsicles are better for you than the Fireworks popsicles I loved getting on the 4th of July. However, if you are not able locate them or make your own popsicles, a nice alternative is munching on frozen fruit.

As a kid, my favorite fruit to freeze were grapes. They were automatically bite sized and were just plain fun to eat. I also enjoyed eating frozen peas – which most people find weird, but it was normal in my family. LOL Frozen fruit is delicious, and even if you do not eat it by itself, they can make many other delicious snacks, like smoothies.

Frozen Yogurt Pie:
This is one of my favorite recipes from my mom, and it is also one of the easiest to make! The resulting pie is light, creamy, and refreshing. It’s also easy to decorate it with fresh fruit and bring it to a party or cookout.

All you need are the following ingredients:

  • 2 16oz containers of Cool Whip (get the low fat kind to save a few extra calories)
  • 2 8oz yogurt containers (any flavor, or mix and match! My favorite is usually the Yoplait low-fat strawberry.)

Graham Cracker Crust
  • One package of crushed graham crackers
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (you really do not have to add this)
  • 1/3 cup of melted butter (you can use margin, but real butter is the best)

Mix the crust ingredients together thoroughly and form into the bottom of a pie pan. Mix the filling ingredients together and pour them into the pie crust, smoothing out the top. Put the pie in the freezer for about 8 hours and serve cold. This pie never disappoints, so be sure to try it out!

Hope you all enjoy the warm weather and sunshine!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Four Wineries and a Cache

Recently, Dan and I got to take his cousins, Denise and Raul, for their first a wine tasting day. :)

After looking through all the places we wanted to visit, we decided on Hidden Brook, Lost Creek, Fabioli, and Breaux. Hidden Brook and Lost Creek were on the list because I had found coupons for them on Specialicious a few months ago. Dan had heard cool stories about Fabioli, and since it was close, we added it to the roster. Finally, I picked Breaux because I have tried some of their wines at Wegmans and because I heard their grounds were beautiful.

Hidden Brook Winery
At our first stop, we found the log cabin tasting room nestled on a woody plot off of Route 15. Being the first visitors of the day, the staff was very friendly and eager to tell us all about the wines, owners, and cabin. They were also interested in Dan and I’s geocaching trail and happily gave us some corks to add to the cache we hid there.

Hidden Brook offers lots of sweeter wines, which were great for our newbies and me, though they also had a nice rich red that caught Dan’s attention. We were quick to ask for bottles of Reserve White and Merlot to take home with us.

Our favorite thing about Hidden Brook was learning about their Charagrittas, which are Chardonnay margaritas. All four of us recommend getting a Charagritta when you visit!

Lost Creek Winery
Just down the road from Hidden Brook is Lost Creek Winery. What is unique about both Hidden Brook and Lost Creek is that they are owned by a father and son. The father runs Lost Creek, and the son runs Hidden Brook.

Lost Creek had a good selection of both red and white wines, and each of us found at least one wine that we really enjoyed. We also learned that Lost Creek had started the idea of Charagrittas, and we were able to try a glass of theirs, which was deliciously refreshing. I also got to talk with the manager about geocaching, and she was more than willing to let us hide a cache on our next visit. :)

While enjoying glasses of Charagritta, we sat down on the patio with some fresh bread and olive oil. The grounds at Lost Creek are beautiful! They have both outdoor and indoor seating, and even a couple open fields that would be great for picnicking. After seeing all the dogs relaxing next to their owners, I realized that they were dog-friendly, and I am looking forward to going back with my puppies soon.

Fabbioli Cellars
Our third stop lay a few miles down Route 15 at Fabioli Cellars. The tastings take place in the basement of the owner’s home, which has an outdoor patio coming off of the basement.

I knew I would like this vineyard when I learned that they offer savory and sweet food pairings with the wines. Most wineries do not offer food pairings. In fact, this is only the second winery where I have seen it as a standard practice. It is a brilliant idea though. I enjoy tasting the wine itself, but I love seeing how flavors can grow and enhance with the right pairing of food.

Another unique feature of this vineyard is their Pear in a bottle. Yes, you read that right! This vineyard also grows pear trees, and some of those delicious pears are actually grown inside of a wine bottle! It really is the coolest thing to see. The specialty pear-in-a-bottle bottle is quite expensive, but I think it would be an awesome gift to give for a big anniversary.

Before heading out, we picked up bottles of their Aperitif Pear Wine and Raspberry Merlot.

Breaux Winery
Our final stop for the day was Breaux Winery off of Route 9. As many reviews have said, the grounds at Breaux are beautiful. If you want to have a wedding at a winery, this would be your ideal setting.

The facility looked pretty busy, but we found an opening at the counter and lined up for a tasting. While there were a fair number of wines in the tastings, we were disappointed that some of the wines we had really wanted to try were not available for tasting.

The other thing that we found disappointing was our server. While most servers at VA wineries are friendly and happy to answer questions about the wine and facilities, the server we had at Breaux was very curt – he barely even told us the name of the wine he was serving!

Even though we found the service off-putting, we did pick up bottles of Meritage and Madeleines Chardonnay. We also took a few pictures around the grounds, before calling it a day and heading home.

Until Next Time…
Denise and Raul had a great time on their first VA wine tour, and they are already talking about going out again when they visit in the fall. Hurray! Dan and I also had fun. We love walking by our kitchen table and seeing all the fun wines we picked up.

If you would like to find the cache that we hid at Hidden Brook, you can find the coordinates here. I will also post when the cache for Lost Creek is published, so be sure to check back! If you do not know what geocaching is, learn about it in my previous post.

Until next time, remember, it’s wine o’clock somewhere. ;)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

VA Wine Trail – Pearmund Cellars and Hidden Brook Winery

Two more caches are live for the VA Wine Trail geocaches!

My fellow wine and geocaching enthusiast, Dani, planted a fun cache at Pearmund Cellars last week. You can find the coordinates and hints here.

Over the weekend, my boyfriend, Dan, got to hide his first cache at Hidden Brook Winery. The details for this cache can be found here.

Reviews of the vineyards that Dan and I visited will be posted shortly, so be sure to come back and check them out. A couple of the wineries had a really unique beverage that I cannot wait to tell you about!

Please remember to respect the winery business hours when geocaching, and be sure to have a great time!

If you have no idea what a geocache is, learn all about it in my previous post.

Monday, May 7, 2012

How to Keep Deer out of Your Garden

Ever go out to your garden and see nothing but chewed off stalks? I have! My garden loves to get ransacked by deer.

Two years ago, my dad and I tried to grow a garden in his back yard. The day after we planted the garden, we walked out back to see nothing but the stalks of our plants poking mournfully out of the dirt. It was obvious from the tracks that our nemesis was a herd of deer. We attempted to replant and fight off the deer, but despite all our efforts, nothing we tried seemed to work. The deer enjoyed our “salad bar” that year, and last year, we did not even bother to plant.

This year, however, brought with it a strong desire for me to plant a nice garden. As you read in earlier posts, we tilled up the garden and planted all kinds of good veggies. My dad kept a visual on the garden, and after much thought, he devised a foolproof way to keep out the deer.

Part of this year's garden.

Before I give away the secret to our deer-proofing, we want to help prevent you from suffering through the same mistakes we did. So, here are the ideas that failed:

  • Marigolds: No, I know these are supposed to keep rabbits out, not deer. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. ;)
  • Human hair: Have you ever heard of this? We had, and it worked too! At least until we got the first thunderstorm of the summer. After the first rain hit, whatever had not washed away was completely ineffective.
  • Irish Spring soap: I forget where we heard about this solution. Basically, we nailed bars of Irish Spring soap around the edges of the garden. It seemed to work for a while, but the rain also ruined its effectiveness, washing the bars away slowly and leaving rusty nails for us to trip on.
  • Deer Repellent: We found some different animal repellents at Lows while shopping for planting supplies. While there were a few different kinds, we picked out one by a company called Sweeney’s. The repellent came in little round canisters that you placed into the ground on little posts. They were supposed to be weather and water resistant. While they did seem to hold up in the weather and water, we confirmed that they were not deer repellent when we discovered deer tracks in the garden.

  • Deer Repellent that does not work.

So, what solution did we finally decide to invest in? A Fence!

Seriously, if you are having trouble with deer, quit trying to find the inexpensive solution and just invest in tall posts and wire fencing. The deer will move on to easier pickings, and you will be able to enjoy a year full of delicious home-grown veggies!

Me putting the last few plants in the garden.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Must Read Books by Jacqueline Carey

Last year, while wandering the shelves of my local library, I came across an unforgettable set of books by an author named Jacqueline Carey. As usual, the covers and titles first caught my attention. However, after reading the description of her first book “Kushiel’s Dart”, I instantly grabbed the first couple books and have just finished reading one of her most recent books “Naamah’s Blessing”.

Because there are too many books to give individual reviews of each, I will give you a brief description of each of Jacqueline Carey’s series and review the qualities that make her writing so unforgettable. You can pick which book you read first, but I would recommend reading them in order (except for the Saints books, because they are a different series).

Kushiel’s Legacy Series:
Jacqueline’s first set of books are the Kushiel's Legacy series. In this series, you follow two main characters who are pressed into unlikely situations because they are the chosen tools of the god Kushiel, the god of punishment.

In the first books of the series, you are introduced to Phedre no Delaunay, a remarkable woman whose eye is marked by the scarlet moat of Kushiel’s Dart. Raised in the arts of Naamah (a goddess of love and pleasure) and the arts of covertsy, Phedre finds herself surrounded by traitors and intrigue fighting for control of Terre d’ange. It will take all her skills and trust in the gods of Terre d’ange to protect those she loves and bring the guilty to justice.

The second half of the series introduces you to Imriel de la Courcel, who is both a prince and a son to the nation’s worst traitor. Struggling to understand his past, Imriel must accept his inheritance as a scion of Kushiel and learn that running from choices will not overcome them.

Naamah Series:
In the Naamah series, Jacqueline Carey takes you a few generations into the future and introduces you Moirin, a young girl born from multiple royal lines but raised in the wild traditions of her mother’s people, the Maghuin Dhonn. While forever wanting to be a child of the Mahuin Dhonn, Moirin feels driven to follow an elusive destiny given to her by her people’s goddess.

In the third book,“Naamah’s Blessing,” Moirin finds herself back in her father’s homeland of Terre d’ange. Faced once again with accusations of being a witch, Moirin struggles to protect the future of young Desiree, the daughter of Queen Jehanne. A cruel twist of the gods forces her to travel across the ocean to Terra Nova, seeking the lost Prince Thierry and his companions. The journey to find the prince could very well kill her, but she knows she will face more than just oceans and jungles. To return the prince to Terre d’ange and be free of her driving destiny, Moirin must face both her childhood mistakes and the cruelty of her past lover, Raphael.

Saints Series:
This series has nothing to do with the previous stories, but they are still amazing books.

The Saints series starts in a town called Santa Olivia, which exists but does not exists between Texas and Mexico. In the town, the locals are basically quarantined from the rest of the world. Their only real sources of entertainment are gang-run bars and boxing championships that are held by the soldiers who guard Santa Olivia. Born into this world by accident is Loup, an incredibly strong girl whose father was not quite human. The books trace Loup’s childhood and early adulthood, watching as she uses her strength to secretly improve the lives of the Santa Olivia residents.

Why I LOVE These Books:
Now that I have given you brief descriptions of Jacqueline Carey’s books, here are some of the reasons why I LOVE her writing:

  • Her books have fantastic plot twists and intrigue. The battles of wits are intense and entertaining.
  • The characters can be exceptionally complex, growing and changing with the series. Readers are able to get a unique insight into the experiences of each character, both good and bad.
  • The stories have some fun spicy scenes, and let’s be honest – everyone enjoys a little spice in their books.
  • On a more personal note, I think there is a lot that readers can learn and take away from these books. Many of the books deal with difficult questions about love, loyalty, culture, and tradition. While I know that there will always be close-minded people, I think that Jacqueline’s characters provide us with a brilliant example of how to remain loyal to your own beliefs while maintaining the ability to learn from and respect other people’s beliefs.

If you have not read these books yet, I HIGHLY recommend that you do! I have enjoyed every single one of them, and that rarely happens. If you do not have time to read the books, the audio books are another good option. The audio readers do a great job and are not the slightest bit boring. Especially if you drive a lot to and from work/school, audio books are a great option!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

VA Wine Trail Geocaches - first stop, Winery at La Grange

This past weekend I got to do something I have wanted to do for years! I hid my first geocache. Woot!!

I have been contemplating this for years but never really found a good location to hide one. Recently, I had the idea to start planting them at the various vineyards scattered around the Virginia countryside. Dan and two of our friends were also interested in this plan, and together we decided to start hiding a track of VA Wine Trail geocaches.

The first location to be published was the beautiful Winery at La Grange, a favorite of everyone in the group. The managers of the facility were thrilled to be the first cache. They loved the idea of adding some wine corks for prizes and showed me a few possible hiding places. My dad, his friend, and I even got free wine tastings, which was a wonderful surprise. :) You can see the geocache listing here.

More caches are in the works for Pearmund, Swedenberg, and Hume vineyards, not to mention the vineyards I am planning on visiting this weekend with Dan and his cousins. If you would like to be alerted when these caches go live, you can follow me on Twitter at @AtTheLampost.

For those who have never been to Winery at La Grange, it is located on Antioch Road, near the intersection of 66 and 15. La Grange is an ideal vineyard for a day with your friends. The winery sells over ten different wines, which makes it easy for everyone to find at least one that they like. It is also a good spot for history buffs, because the tastings are done in a historic 1790s brick manor. As you go through the tasting, the servers always tell fun stories about the house’s history.

La Grange has some indoor seating and lots of outdoor seating. The grounds are open and spacious, making them very welcoming to people with children or dogs. (Dogs are allowed on the grounds, but not in the tasting room.) One of my favorite things about this vineyard is the scenery. Their views of Virginia’s rolling hills, grape vines, and a distant white mansion are both spectacular and relaxing.

On this last visit, I enjoyed a glass of their fantastic sangria (which is only available at the winery) and decided to take home a bottle of Cuvee Blanc (a yummy white wine for hot days) and a bottle of Reserve Cabernet Franc (a fantastic new red they recently started selling. It’s seriously delicious!).

Have fun treasure hunting and wine tasting!

(If you do not know what Geocaching is, check out my earlier explanation here.)