Saturday, May 30, 2009

Clearance Wine

Man I love clearance items at Target. They seem to put everything on clearance, even things that don't necessarily go bad, like pencils? Or air filters? Or batteries that say they're good through 2015? Or wine? Okay, wine can go bad, but a cabernet should age well, right?

As we were scavenging for food, we came across the wine aisle and saw many a wine on clearance, including tonight's selection, a 2005 Beaulieu Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon for only $15 (see the red sticker in the photo?). Now you might be saying, $15 that's a lot for wine (or maybe you're saying, $15? My dog won't even drink that!), but either way, this wine normally retails for $30, so half price is a pretty decent deal.

If you have had the BV Cabernet, then I suppose this is the next step up from that (just before entering the $50+ bottles). So is clearance wine as good as the non-clearance version? Were we about to find out why this wine was clearanced in the first place? Well let's see...

Initial impression: YUM!!!! This is a great wine. Maybe the best $15 wine I've purchased, which is limited company to begin with, but still... Now my palate hasn't yet gotten back to it's fighting weight, but (and not to sound redundant) I did pick up a little cherry action on the tongue. The aroma wasn't quite as distinctive for me, but did remind me of the wine tours we have been on, specifically the cellar room with the oak barrels (which is good because the reviews I've read highlighted oak aromas). According to the label, I should have picked up some black cherry (okay, so I guess a cherry isn't a cherry), crushed blackberry (which I assume tastes different in its non-crushed form), licorice (what, no black licorice?), and cocoa. One out of 4 isn't bad. I will agree that it is full bodied and bold, and I would added very well balanced with tastes that linger on the palate.

I would definitely recommend this wine at $15. At $30 (full price) it is kind of a stretch, especially for those of use who rarely venture past $15, let alone $20. I think I would choose the regular BV Cab more reasonably priced at $20 vs. this one at full price. But, if you happen to be at Target, check out their wine aisle and see if they have any clearance BV Rutherford Cabs left. Who knows, by now they maybe 75% off.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nathan's Swimming Adventure

Nathan went swimming for the first time over the weekend and he seemed to really enjoy it. But maybe it was just his new outfit - he was actually wearing more clothes for swimming than he wears normally, just hanging out.

Getting in for the first we like it???

Sonoma standing guard, well actually waiting for me to throw the ball.

Having fun splashing around.

Maybe it was just his normal legs kicks and arm flailing, but he certainly enjoyed splashing around. Now we just have to work on his technique.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Babies with Boo Boos

Both of our babies had boo boos. Nathan got the first of his vaccines and Sonoma is recovering from a broken claw. Poor babies...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wine Review: Il Vecchio Maneggio - Chianti "Colli Senesi"

Our friends Steve and Val gave us a bottle of wine last year that we recently enjoyed for our 7th anniversary. Originally, we were planning a Europe trip for early summer 2008 and they were also going to be in the same region so we were discussing meeting up for a wine tour. However, our trip didn't happen, but Steve and Val did go and surprised us with a bottle of wine from their trip. And since Laura was pregnant, we decided to save it until after our little Bugamoo arrived.

So, we decided to pop the cork on our anniversary. Laura was so excited for her first glass of wine in over 11 months and we were both eager to try a new wine, straight from Italy. According to the website, Il Vecchio Maneggio is in the "medieval town" (ooo, spooky) of San Gimignano (Tuscany) region of Italy, which just so happens to be the same region as one of our original favorite wines, Vernaccia. The wine is a Chianti from the Colli Senesi area (never heard of it). Apparently, the Chianti region is divided into several regions with Classico being the most famous, but according to the word on the street, all regions produce fantastic wines. Our bottle was made from grapes that are typical of traditional Chianti: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, together with white and red Malvasia, and Colorino and produced with wine-making methods that "strictly follow tradition" (of course).

To accompany our wine, we had Pugliese bread (an Italian bread to go with our Italian wine), bruschetta (an Italian appetizer, notice a theme?), and Muenster cheese for appetizers (nope, it's French). And the main course was grilled steak with a baked potato. We looked into Tuscan fare, but according to our wine bible, Tuscany is traditionally known for some bland food. Apparently, when other Italians want to be derogatory towards Tuscans, they refer to them as "mangiafagioli," (bean eaters - I know, not to witty, but whatever). Having never been Italian or been to Italy, I don't know if this is "traditionally" true, but since every American brand overuses Tuscan to death, you'd think they'd have some decent grub. But back to the wine...

Now, the website offers a bit of a description, suggesting cherry and violet notes. Having never eaten a violet, let alone been around many flowers to distinguish a violet from a tulip, I can't comment of the flower aspects. And maybe because I was eating some blackberries I didn't pick up on the cherry initially, but I'd say our bottle had an unripened cherry flavor. Overall, a bit too tannic for my tastes (think of how your mouth feels after eating a very green banana), but enjoyable nonetheless, making me think of the green, rolling hills of the Italian winery where I've never been. I think we'll have to make a visit to this winery when we do finally take out Europe trip.

Thank you Steve and Valerie for thinking of us on your trip and bringing us back a little sample of Italy. Oh, and happy anniversary too!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wine Review: Little Penguin Cabernet-Merlot

The Little Penguin - Cabernet-Merlot
South Eastern Australia (Trader Joe's: ~$5)

Overall a good wine. My palate is still in spring training, but I convinced myself that I tasted a little cherry flavor, ripe and juicy. I'd put it in the same class as Yellow Tail or those other animal character brands, which come to think of it are all from Australia. What's up with that - Wine must have and animal associated with it to be good? In the end this wine is good and dependable. If your looking for a blend or haven't tried this one before, give it a try.

More Nathan Pictures

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, The President of The United States

President Barack Obama spoke at the ASU commencement last night and Laura, Nathan, and I were lucky enough to be able to attend. Being the Democrats that were are, we carpooled in our fuel efficient car over to the light rail station to travel to ASU to hear the President talk about the importance of education.

First, a bit of a rant or two...ASU wanted people to arrive several hours early to help manage the crowds. The same crowds they are able to manage every Saturday night during football season, but they seemed to think the security lines would take 4-5 hours to process everyone, whatever. Oh, and even though it'll be 100 degrees (in the shade) you cannot bring your own water, but don't worry, we'll have "complimentary water stations...available outside and inside the stadium" and "there will be tenting outside the stadium in several locations as well as “cool zones” outside and inside the stadium." Okay, I saw a total of 1 "cool zone" and 2 water buckets (which were right next to each other, one of which was 90% empty. And unless you count the small tents covering the security check points, 3-4 tented areas (2 of which were in shaded areas effectively eliminated the naturally available shade).

So we started out with Laura's and Nathan's first light rail ride. Knowing that there would be a long line for both tickets and boarding, I tried to buy tickets online. However, it apparently takes 5-7 business days to process. WHAT?!?!?! I can buy a handgun in less time than it takes the Phoenix Light Rail to process my ticket request. I guess this is there "cooling off" period. So, no online tickets, but luckily most people are quite unfamiliar with the light rail, so I bypassed the 250 person ticket line for the 30 person line on the platform.

So once we boarded the light rail, we found seats and immediately I hear, "He needs a hat." Oh, "Well you need a muzzle." He doesn't "need" a hat. He "needs" to be protected from the sun, and a hat is one way to help do that. We have a way to protect him from the sun, a way that protects more than just his little head, but his full body, so, no, he doesn't "need a hat." Like I'm sure you don't need a muzzle, but it is one of many ways to make you shut the F up.

Anyhoo...everyone else seemed to enjoy Nathan immensely. One guy, half a car away said, "That's a cute kid you got there." Why thank you very much! After getting off the light rail, we proceeded to walk the 3/4 of a mile to the north side of the stadium. By the time we made it to the main parking lot on the south side, we were ready for one of the "cool zones" and maybe a little tent action. Let's see, where are they, where are they... Ah, there's one.

After a little rest and cooling off, we proceed towards the entry ways, planning on stopping at a few other "cool zones" on the way. But there were no more! Well, at least there will be water right. Well at 4pm we arrived at the security check points to hear, "You can now bring in your own water, because, they're running out inside." What?!?!?! What kind of planning is that. You expect 70,000 people, tell them to arrive 5 hours early in 100 degree weather at an open air stadium with no shade and you run out of water at 4pm!!! I might be able to understand running out at 7pm, but 4pm??? Luckily, we brought our own water and out seats were on the west side of the stadium, so by the time we entered, they were covered in shade.

We scored awesome seats, row 12, 50 yard line. As we go to sit down, we begin to hear a bunch of "awwws." It seems Nathan is very popular with the moms in our section. Nathan was great throughout everything thus far, including some horrible acoustics, a forgettable "concert" by Alice Cooper's son, and the heat. And wouldn't you know it, right as the ceremony begins, Nathan gets fussy. Fortunately, Michael Crow wants to bloviate for a bit, giving us time to calm Nathan down. As Crow drones on we take turns with Nathan before he gets settled in the sling and calms down. Seemingly teetering on the edge of unhappiness, Laura begins to rock him in the two-foot space that is her seat for the remainder of the event. Poor Laura.

Finally, we hear, "Ladies and Gentlemen, The President of The United States!" The show is about to begin. Barack Obama is a great speaker and he did not disappoint. He was funny, relevant, and inspirational. There was this great West Wing quote I love that captures the essence of great speakers: "Words when spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and timbre and volume. These are the properties of music and music has the ability to find us and move us and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can't." President Obama accomplishes all of this providing the ASU graduating class with a great, memorable performance.

I'm so glad we were able to attend and I would recommend to everyone else, if you have the opportunity to go hear Obama speak, it is well worth it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

iTunes Smart Playlists

Are you tired of the same old playlists? Do hate how time consuming it is to search for songs for your music playlists? Are you sick of listening to the same songs over and over? If so, Smart Playlists are for you…

While there are several things about iTunes that annoy me, I do love the smart playlist feature. For those of you that may not be familiar (because Apple prefers to talk about how cool they are instead of any product features), I thought I would share.

Smart playlists allow you to tell iTunes how to create a dynamic playlist instead of creating playlists manually. This helps keep your listening fresh and saves time as well. Simply tell iTunes some basic criteria and it will populate the playlist automatically. Then set iTunes to automatically sync with your iPod and you're good to go. [This compliments new research that shows listening to music counteracts stress by improving blood flow and that listening to the same songs repeatedly has diminishing returns…so keep your happy music rotating!]

One quick caveat is that the more information you have about your songs the better this will work. If all of your songs only have the title and the artist, this may not be as useful. But if your files are tagged with genre, release year, and ratings, this feature becomes sooo awesome. I believe you can have iTunes get some of this basic info for you in the advanced toolbar, but if not there are other free programs that can such as TagScanner and MediaMonkey (ooo, ooo, ooo). The rating info is probably one of the key fields to use - though time consuming at first, I think it is well worth it. Plus you can create playlists that will help you rate your songs to have a little fun with it (see end).

So enough with the do you do it:

First you need iTunes, but if you have an iPod, then you have iTunes, and if you don’t, I don’t think this will work with other mp3 players.

Click on File-->New Smart Playlist - A dialog box will come up (below) and you can begin to select which fields to query, from about 25 of them. Here are some I find useful:

Last Played - I didn't use this one much at first, but now I find it essential to keeping your music rotating. Depending on the size of your music library, you may forget you have certain songs, and this will ensure that they get the shine they deserve. Combine this with rating info and you can avoid those that you aren't too crazy about, but enjoy every other blue moon. Whether played on your pod or on your computer, iTunes will track and refresh your playlists accordingly.

Rating - I love the ratings! Sometimes I forget which are the best songs on an album, so I just have iTunes remember for me. I think the ratings field is one of the best fields for querying allowing you to listen to your favorites more often.

Play Count - not to be overlooked, especially if you don't or haven't yet rated your music. Presumably, those songs that you have listened to the most are your favorites. However, to get the Play Count credit, the song must finish (no skipping the last few seconds) which may not be useful if you skip to the next track before the song is done.

Comment - user generated to query based on your own information. Let's say you have a lot of parties and only want certain songs for those occasions - type Party in this field and you can query based on that information. And you can add as much information as you want. For example, enter Party, Poker Night, Workout, or Tea Party and you can query based on “Comment field contains XXXXX.” Now if you only enter Party in the Smart Playlist query field, your Tea Party songs will come up causing embarrassment, so query by "Party," (with the comma or type each entry without spaces (TeaParty) to get around this or use “does not contain Tea” as one of the criteria.

Grouping - Not sure what this is for, but I treat it the same as Comments (user generated). If your comment field becomes too crowded, enter some info here.

Finally, select "live updating" to keep song info up to date and select the song limit and order preferences. If you have a smaller ipod, 2 gb, you will need to limit your playlists for it to work properly (or else iTunes will say “Playlist too big, cannot sync, you loser” and you won’t have anything to listen to). Personally, I prefer “selected by random” so I won't know what's next (otherwise I may skip past Beastie Boys' Girls to get to Fight For Your Right To Party).

Last but not least, when your pod is connected select the playlists to sync and you are all set (this is the only managing that you need to do). Select or unselect playlists based on how you want to listen (if your listening at work, maybe Work music playlist – check; Poker Night – uncheck; heading out on a road trip Music To Drive By – check; Tea Party – Uncheck and re-sync your pod).

And finally, last, in conclusion, here are some of my favorite playlists:
  1. I Love The 90s - for all of those high school memories (Ice Ice Baby):
    1. Release year is between 1990-1999
    2. Rating is 5 stars
  2. Year End Top 10 List - your favorites of the year:
    1. Year is 2009
    2. Limit to 10 selected by most played [I have a best of 2009, 2008 (below), 2007]

  3. Remember Me? - Favorite songs that you haven't heard in a while:
    1. Rating is greater than 3 stars
    2. Last Played is not in the last 6 months
  4. Oh-Ver-Ray-Ted (aka Hi, I'm a Mac) - Songs that maybe I rated too high:
    1. Rating is 5 stars
    2. Last Played is not in the last year
  5. Shuffle - to a constant stream of music I haven't heard in a while (this takes 4 smart playlists):
    1. Playlist A) Rating is 3 stars and Last Played is not in the last 8 months
    2. Playlist B) Rating is 4 stars and Last Played is not in the last 5 months
    3. Playlist C) Rating is 5 stars and Last Played is not in the last 2 months
    4. Playlist D) The playlist that brings them all together: Playlist is A or B or C limited to 300 songs selected at random [obviously, change the Last Played to suit your preferences, but this will give you a playlist of fresh music that you haven't heard in a while favoring those songs that you love]

  6. If you have a bunch of Holiday music or Polka or other music you may want to exclude, be sure to set a criteria to exclude them “Genre is not Holiday” (or make a playlist for all excluded songs and just set a criteria as “Playlist is not Excluded Playlist”). This will prevent Jingle Bells from showing up during your August road trip to the beach or your favorite orchestra piece from interrupting your morning jog
Overall, maybe it is a bit more upfront effort, but if you love music like I do and want to lower your risk for heart disease it is worth it (and fun).

*Playlist to help you rate your music: Rating is no stars; sorted by Most Played. Then simply listen and rate your songs from your iPod controls.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dancing Bull Zinfandel

I meant to post this sooner so I would remember more about it, but unfortunately, no dice. So you will only get a limited review, very limited. But I will try to be better in the future. In a nutshell it was pretty good - smooth, balanced, basic. We (I) haven't had many wines over the last 9 months, so my palate is a bit out of shape, but that will now change as we enter wine season. I had the '06 and if I remember correctly, it was about $7 or so. I think it was on sale, plus we bought 6 and got an additional 10% off. Definitely worth the price. I would give Dancing Bull Zinfandel 3.5 wine glasses.

Anyone have any recommendations?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Keeping An Eye On The Neighborhood

Neighborhood Watch, Day 316, watch post #2:

- 8am - 2 kids on bike ride by - Threat Level: Grrrr

- 8:37am - No activity for 37 minutes, all quiet - Threat Level 0

- 9:14am - Noise outside, possibly my arch nemesis, Whiskers. Threat Level upgraded to Grrr. Note to self: Whiskers seems to be meeting with another cat. Could they be plotting something?

- 9:49am - Large brown truck stopped outside. Threat Level: Grrr. Man approaching with box. Upgrade Threat Level to Woof. Man closes in on entry way. Engage warning growl. Doorbell!!! Threat Level: BARK!!! BARK!!!

- 10:22am - All quiet. I think I'll rest my chin for a bit...

Laura & Nathan