JULY 2007

06/24/07 - California - Day 1: San Francisco – It was finally here; the annual vacation from the daily grind.  When we stepped off the plane someone else summed it all up with a few simple words: "I can already smell the cork" ;).  Our trip to California ran smoothly with only a few glitches (don't worry - all of the glitches actually worked out with any further problems).  Our first glitch was in our original plans to drive straight to Chinatown for an ethnic first lunch.  Unfortunately, a local parade blocked our entrance to most of downtown....wait....this wasn't an ordinary parade.  This was a parade of men in banana hammocks, men in pink furry tutus, men dressed up as Tinkerbell, and some other very flamboyant strangers demonstrating their pride.  Welcome to San Francisco =D.


Fisherman's Wharf

Pier 39 Sea Lions

Okay...so our first official destination was Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39.  We stopped for lunch at the Sea Lion Cafe where we could actually see the Sea Lions and Alcatraz from our table.  After lunch we walked around on the pier a bit before heading over to Ghirardelli Square for dessert.  There is something to be said for an establishment that only serves Ghirardelli chocolate in their sundaes - yum!  After lunch we rested by the beach on the bay side of San Francisco and tested the waters.  It was cold, but nearly as cold as I expected (I later found out the colder water is located on the ocean side of California). 


Trolley Car

Crooked & Steep

Our first day continued with a short drive up and down (and UP and DOWN) some of the famous streets of San Francisco.  On some of the ascents I was nearly waiting for the clickity-clack sound of the roller coaster cables to start pulling us to the top - "steep" really doesn't describe these hills with justice.  We also took a short trip down Lombard Street - the crookedest street in the US.  We also drove by Coit Tower and took a tour of the downtown area.  One of my biggest surprises was the cable cars.  I had imagined all sorts of old fashioned trolley cars navigating the streets, but instead I found current era busses linked to the cable system.  That being said, there is a small section of town where we did find some of the original trolley cars still in use (the Powell-Hyde line).  Commuters were packed into these cars like sardines in order to experience a historic piece of San Fransico.


San Francisco Skyline


By the time evening rolled around we eventually found our way back to Chinatown.  We walked up and down the main road and stopped in several shops.  We picked up a few souvenirs, I found some intriguing candles for my zen garden, and we all snagged some refreshments at the top of the Empress of China Roof Garden where we enjoyed a pleasant view of the North side of the bay.  For dinner we enjoyed a Cantonese style dinner at Chef Hung's.  I thought the food was excellent and it was definitely traditional cuisine.

- Nathan

06/25/07 - California - Day 2: San Francisco – A beautiful morning!  We could see the bay right outside our room at the Alpine Inn.  After a quick breakfast at the inn we began our day with a drive to Santa Cruz - a small town South of San Francisco with a beautiful drive along highway 1.

Highway 1 - Island

Ocean Fisherman

We stopped at several beaches and I even dipped my toes in the water - brrrr!  I was utterly amazed to see several surfers in the "freezing" water (I guess those body suits work wonders).  We spotted several pelicans, seagulls, and seals/sea lions along the trip - we also photographed some really pretty flowers and amazing scenery.   We also visited the historic Pigeon Point Lighthouse along the way.


Where the Ocean Meets the Cliffs

A brief lunch was devoured on the boardwalk while we watched fisherman catching mackerel.  We also fed some of Nina's fries to the pigeons (one of which she named Ahab because he had a "peg-leg").  Eventually we stopped for ice cream at one of the various shops along the boardwalk.  

Seals or Sea Lions?

Berries Galore

On the drive out of Santa Cruz we stopped at a tiny brewery for a beer tasting (we figured if we were going to subject Rick and Nina to days of wine tasting we could at least sample a few beers ;).  Nina thought the beer was yucky and I tend to agree (well, I tend to agree generally speaking when it comes to beer).  The drive home contained a few stops as well - one for a farmer's market and another to pick fresh olallieberries straight off the vines.  These berries looked and tasted a lot like blackberries and it was a definitely a fun distraction.


A Peanut From Susan

Upon returning to San Francisco we visited Golden Gate Park - a huge park near the heart of downtown.  This was a great opportunity to see lots of tall redwood trees, a historic windmill, and tons of beautiful flora.  There were lots of short hiking trails through the botanical gardens and even some great spots to feed the wildlife (which you are not supposed to do, but how do you resist feeding a squirrel that crawls into your lap?!?).  On the edge of the park is the Cliff House - a fancy restaurant overlooking the ocean and the remains of Sutro Baths (which I hiked down to and found an interesting cave).

San Francisco Sunset

Cozy Neighbors

In a city of very little space, one interesting item to point out is how the houses are adjacent to each other.  Each home is fairly similar, but the homeowners enjoy painting and decorating each house so that it is unique on the block.  In addition, the hills create a frequently stair-step look to the homes which, in my opinion, is very specific to the "look and feel" of San Francisco.  Many of the homes had beautiful flowering vines going up the fronts and nearly everyone pulled their cars onto the sidewalks when parking (in order to save space).

- Nathan

06/26/07 - California - Day 3: San Francisco & Sonoma Valley – Fog - "Fog comes in on little cat's feet.  It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on." - Carl Sandburg.  Our first sightseeing point of the day was the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was bitter cold and very windy - Susan and Nina stayed in the car while Rick and I toured the bridge itself.  Fog covered the peaks of the bridge, Alcatraz, and the city in the distance - I suspect this is a typical morning in a city known for its fog.

Golden Gate Bridge

Muir Woods

On the other side of the bridge was Muir Woods.  Muir woods consisted of miles of winding roads up and down through the hills along the coast.  There were beautiful views of the ocean and spectacular images of the valleys.  Up and down - left and right - twist and turn - dip and climb....it was actually kind of nauseating ;).  When we reached a point where we could continue further or head straight to Sonoma we opted to start the wine trail a little earlier.   Wine and cheese settles the stomach, right?


Decisions - Decisions

One of our first stops in Sonoma was the Vella Cheese Factory.  There weren't any tours at any of the cheese factories in the valley (health regulations prevented it), but there were plenty of samples available to taste!

Punch Drunk Love

I Heard it Through the Grapevine

We visited several wineries during the remainder of the afternoon and Sebastiani was my favorite of the day - mainly because our host at the winery was lots of fun :).  We also visited Ravenwood, Buena Vista (the oldest winery in Sonoma), Bartholomew Park (nasty!), Valley of the Moon, and Mayo Family (I'm almost certain their wine was made from mayonnaise instead of grapes).

- Nathan

06/27/07 - California - Day 4: Sonoma Valley – From this point forward the trip gets a little repetitive.  There were a few cheese factories and gardens along the way, but more or less, the next 4 days went something like this:

1) Breakfast at the Sandman Hotel.

2) Visited wineries.

3) Uncorked a bottle of wine and enjoyed a serene picnic lunch beside a stunning vineyard.

4) Visited more wineries.

5) Susan starts acting loopy.

6) We find a spot for dinner and we retire for the evening back at the hotel.

As such, instead of describing the day in detail I'm going to stick with describing a few interesting wineries and posting lots of pictures of the gorgeous countryside.  If you would like to see a review of an individual winery we visited be sure to check our wine page.



In the Vineyard


This was a big day for us with lots of wine stops.  Passalacqua was one of our favorites because of both the wine and the wonderful view of their vineyards.  Wilson, Dutcher Crossing (no small samples here!), and Dry Creek (our picnic area) were also some great wineries. 


Neat & Orderly

Ferrari Carano


We also stopped at Simi, Mauritson, Ferrari Carano (beautiful estate), David Coffaro, Peterson, Amphora, and Teldeschi (I think we woke the winemaster from his afternoon nap when we arrived here).

- Nathan

06/28/07 - California - Day 5: Napa Valley – Generally speaking Napa wasn't as pleasurable as Sonoma.  It's stuffier, snobbish, and the wineries are more large-scale.  My personal preference is the small-scale wineries in Sonoma where the hosts are genuinely enthusiastic about showing you their wine.  In Napa it seems you're more of a number - taste our wine and move on.  Of course, that might be because we stopped at more of the larger wineries in Napa, so the basis for my conclusion may be slightly skewed.  That being said, V. Sattui was the exception to all wineries in Napa.  Not only was it our favorite winery in Napa, but it was our favorite during the entire trip to California.  We had a semi-private tasting in the cellars of the winery where the host allowed us to sample as much, and as many different wines as we desired - and every single one was outstanding.  V. Sattui was also where we had our daily picnic and where Susan finally spotted a cat she could pet.   One interesting aspect of V. Sattui is the wine can only be purchased directly from the vineyard (it cannot be found in stores).  This seems to be a big selling point of many of the small wineries in Napa and Sonoma.

V. Sattui

Sterling Vineyards

In terms of the big names we stopped at Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home.  One of the more interesting wineries we visited was Sterling - we had to ride an aerial tram to the top of the mountain.  Sterling also had a very nice self-guided tour with lots of interesting information.


Wine Gossip

We also stopped at Hogafen and Graeser wineries.  Graeser was about as close as we got to moonshine wine/McReynolds-style wine while in California - the owner was an old retired fellow making wine (with his two dogs and one bird) in the back of his house.

- Nathan

06/29/07 - California - Day 6: Sonoma Valley – Our first stop was the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa.  It appears Mr. Burbank was a pioneer in horticulture and part of his gardens have been maintained by the city for everyone to enjoy.

Big Barrels

Ledson Winery

Ledson was our favorite winery of the day (and also our picnic stop).  It was a huge mansion just outside of Kenwood and contained great samples within.  Like V. Sattui, Ledson only distributes wine directly to the consumer.

Kunde Vineyards


Kunde Winery stored all of their barrels underground and provided a short tour of their cellars.  Since the barrels are underground the winery can keep the temperature cool naturally.

What a Life

Too Much Wine for Susan

Eventually we made our way into town and picked up some goodies at the Sonoma Cheese Factory.  I think we all must have tried about ten different varieties of jack cheese - all were yummy.

Fix That!

Fill 'Er Up

We also stopped at St. Francis, Landmark, Kenwood, Wellington, and Loxton wineries.  We stopped at Loxton since they were "famous" for Shiraz - and they did have good Shiraz.

- Nathan

06/30/07 - California - Day 7: San Francisco – Only had time for one winery today, BR Cohn, since we needed to head back to San Francisco (for those of you counting, yes that is 31 total wineries; yes, I do remember each one ;). 

Golden Gate Park Waterfall

Wine Country

We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and then took a quick detour over towards the Bay Bridge (but we didn't cross it).  Near the bridge is a local farmer's market where we picked up some additional groceries (to go with our leftovers from the previous few days).  We finished up these remaining tidbits at a local park near the bay. 

Funky Purple Flowers

Pretty Purple Pink Flower

We returned the rental car, checked our two boxes of wine at the airport terminal (and crossed our fingers that it wouldn't "mysteriously disappear" during transit) and got ready for our flight back to Texas.  We waited....waited....and then waited some more.  It turns out the rain has been horrible during our sunny stay in California and most of the flights in and out of DFW have been delayed or even cancelled. 

Our flight eventually does arrive about 4 hours late and we finally make it home (with the wine - yea!) at a little after 3AM.  We spotted some people sleeping on cots at DFW so it could definitely have been worse than a simply 4 hour delay.  We're certainly glad we all had Sunday off!

- Nathan

07/04/07 - Fourth of July – Susan says, "Hey Joe, what do ya know?"  Joe says, "Not much, just going to take pictures of fireworks."  Joe was serious on that comment - you can check out his six pages of fireworks pictures on his website.  He caught some really spectacular photographs - here is a selection of my favorites:


Here is a slideshow of Joe's 12 favorite pictures:


There were actually two shows going on simultaneously that we could see from the parking lot of Central Market; one at the botanical gardens and another at TCU.  If I learned anything it would be that Susan and I definitely need to buy tickets to next year's Concert in the Botanical Garden show - their display was absolutely thrilling!

- Nathan

07/07/07 - Lucky Day Trip – I read several interesting items in the paper recently about today.  Weddings were up 400% and hotel reservations at casinos were up 700%.  I'm not a big fan of "lucky numbers", but I am a fan of celebrating anything special - and today was as good a day as any to celebrate - Susan had a surprise day off :). 

Susan and I hit a few garage sales and actually scored some decent goodies for a change (normally all we find is crap, crap, and more crap).  Today we found a fountain for the backyard, a bunch of supplies for The Cat's Meow, and a couple of pots for plants (I guess today was lucky!).

We ran a few more errands and then picked up Joe.  He had been wanting to test his camera and I had been wanting to take a trip to Fossil Rim so we decided to combine the adventures and spend the rest of the day just a little South of Fort Worth.  We spent several hours at Fossil Rim feeding the animals and eventually drove a little further West to have dinner in Granbury.


Susan Loves Goats

Cute Giraffes

Sweet Zebras

Deer Love Susan

Busy Hummingbird

Sleeping Cheetas

All in all it was a fun day and we had a good time - and I'm pretty sure everyone ended up with some decent pictures =D.  Joe's pictures can be found on his website.

- Nathan

07/11/07 - Slurpee Day – July 11th each year is 7-11's official Slurpee Day.  Since I'm such an avid fan of the frosty beverage I always make a point to visit our local store and acquire a free 7.11 oz Slurpee. 

It also gives me an opportunity to display a weird diary entry and peculiar photo.

- Nathan

07/14/07 - Medieval Times – Susan voyaged to the realms of knights many moons ago and left her yon prince (yea, right) at home (actually, I believe I was out of town on Rachel's birthday).  When dost opportunity arose for a second journey to the land of lords and ladies we decided to share in the wholesome experience. 

Our group gorged, with no apparatus other than our two hands, on chicken, ribs, bread, tomato soup, and apple pie.  It was a bountiful feast with wine to keep all merry.


Susan with the victorious Black & White Knight Susan with the young Red Knight
Susan with the villainous Green Knight Susan with the Orlando Bloomish Blue Knight
Susan with the Strapping Red & Yellow Knight Susan with the uncowardly Yellow Knight
Susan with the traitorous Captain of the Guard Nathan with the Princess of the Realm

The skillful knights rode their steeds into battle.  We had prime vantage for the splintering of lances and the clanging of steel.  It certainly was a night of victory and honor for our hero, the black & white night, who emerged victorious. 

When all was done and the cheering was over, my princess and I took still paintings of each knight who jousted this fine evening.  Despite the efforts of the captain to cast fear and direness upon the event, everyone still thrilled in the rivalry and I even was knighted by the King (thanks Joe!).

- Nathan

07/20/07 - Wine & Cheese 101 – Central Market, my all-time favorite grocery store, offers cooking school classes throughout the year.  Many of the classes look intriguing, but the recently offered "Introduction to Wine & Cheese" seemed to be right up my alley.  The class was hosted by Central Market's resident experts in Wine & Cheese and they each respectively offered up six samples for us to mix and match.

They discussed, in detail, the process of making both wine and cheese.  This included the individual steps, the regions of the world in which the products are made, and how to appreciatively taste the items.  Here are some interesting facts about wine/grapes:

We sampled 3 white wines:

We sampled 3 red wines:

We sampled 6 cheeses:

After the class we walked over to Borders to check out the Harry Potter release party.  We only stuck around for a few minutes, but it was surprisingly fun.  There were lots of people in great costumes and Susan even had her face painted with kitty whiskers.  I tried my hand at the trivia but I failed miserably.

On a side note I've pulled out my winemaking kit and purchased some additional supplies.  My boss, Gary, wants to make a batch of wine from wild Mustang grapes - it should be interesting.  I'll keep everyone updated on the progress of that adventure right after harvest (which won't be until next month).

- Nathan

07/21/07 - Here's Something About Mary – Two things that I feel are impertinent to share with you at this time, if I am to be a contributing writer to theheads.org.

The first is, as I am sure you will see from future stories, is that I am afflicted with a disease I like to call, lateosis. In layman’s terms, this means I am habitually NOT on-time to social events. I know, I know, it’s rude and self-centered and makes it appear that I have little regard for the time of others, but this is NOT true; I promise, I promise, I promise. I am never late intentionally and I’ve started leaving thirty minutes early, so I am improving!!! We all have our faults :) and I am working everyday to correct this** Note the entry below contains a true-blue emergency, not to be associated with this disclaimer.

The second is, I am not a weirdo, but I love this diary. I am addicted to it; it’s like the written version of reality TV – great stuff! Plus Nathan and Susan are so interesting and they get to do so much. I would start a diary for Chris and me, but in comparison, our lives are so boring. Most of the days would look like, got up, went to work, drove home, traffic, ate something, played with the kids, went to sleep….so on and so forth. They take fantastic vacations while we spend money, or HE spends money on, well, deer leases and NASCAR. That’s a whole other entry, though :).

- Mary

07/21/07 - Dinner at Fresco’s Cocina, Burleson-TX – The evening started off with a bang (not for Nathan and Susan), but for the Winter Family, and when I say bang, I mean that literally. Around 7:15 pm my 7 year old daughter, Makayla, was involved in a motor vehicle accident. I received a frantic phone call from my younger sister, a few minutes before we were due to meet Nathan and Susan for dinner. Turns out the accident was extremely minor, but because I raced north on I-35 at a high rate of speed, we were late to dinner. During this time I managed to eek out a phone call to Susan, to inform them of the accident and to leave word for Chris, in case he appeared at Fresco’s, since we were traveling in separate vehicles. Upon hearing that everything was okay, I raced south on 35 at an equally high rate of speed and arrived safely, albeit breathless and apologetic.

Chris joined us a few moments later and the evening was off. Nathan had ordered a bowl of queso and he was polite enough to leave the green drizzle swirl, unique to Fresco’s, in tact until we arrived. Once he pointed that out, though, we declared war on the queso. The Tex-Mex cuisine at Fresco’s was fabulous and the Heads shared some of their famous chicken fajitas, while I enjoyed the steak version. Chris devoured a plate of cheese enchiladas, but it looked more like a plate of cheese, since he requests that everything be drenched in it. Susan and I traded meat, chicken for steak, and I offered her some of their fresh guacamole. The service was excellent, proven by an attentive waiter who appeared every three seconds or so to refill Nathan’s beverage :) All in all the meal was a great one. Surprisingly enough, there may be hope for Burleson dining after all!

Conversation rolled along and we covered a variety of topics, ranging from deer leases (mentioned above), wine, cooking school, Susan’s loopiness after multiple glasses of wine, hangovers, and NASCAR drivers. It was a great evening and one we enjoyed very much, aside from the wreck part, of course.

Nathan's Tiny  Note - Had a blast while there.  My thumbs up on the cuisine; it's a scrumptious dining spot! 

- Mary

07/27/07 - Austin CE – I had a short trip to the State Capital of Texas late last week for two days of continuing education.  The topics were mostly related to the insurance industry with a little bit of info on investments and the market.  The classes (which were about 50/50 on boring vs. interesting) ran Thursday evening and Friday morning so I had quite a bit of time to participate in a few extracurricular activities.

After classes on Thursday the IASA (the hosts of the conference) held a happy hour just outside of the meeting rooms; well, technically it was a very happy 1.5 hours.  The free wine and beer made it easy to relax after a long half-day of driving and a half-day of education (a little bit of sarcasm there on the “long”).  After cocktails we adjourned to the dining hall for a delicious meal of pork, shrimp, vegetables, salad, and cheesecake for dessert.  After dinner we (my coworkers, Gary & Greg, and their wives, Lynn & Lara) toured the hotel and pulled up a few chairs on the “back porch” and listened to the evening sounds over the golf course.  It was actually extremely peaceful and a good place to rest.

After a quick continental breakfast in the morning it was back to the education grindstone.  There was an excellent class covering TWIA (Texas Windstorm Insurance Association; honestly, no sarcasm there – it was interesting for me) and a really dull one about IT systems.  After class we drove out to the Oasis for a Mexican lunch overlooking Lake Travis.  It rained while we were there but the tarps overhead kept us dry.  After lunch we zoomed over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for a tour of the last remaining flowers in bloom (and a huge red dragonfly!) – it wasn’t as beautiful as the last time Susan and I visited, but it was still a pleasant stop.

Eventually we made our way back downtown to 6th street where all the action in Austin transpires.  We snacked on a few appetizers at Z Tejas (the “tree” house) and then had dessert at the Driskill (we essentially skipped dinner due to all of the snacking – although I did snag some pizza from a street vendor).  We climbed aboard a horse-drawn carriage for a trip to the capital building and our trusty steed, Jake, dropped us off at the Congress Street Bridge to see the bats.  The bats were quite disappointing – they never truly emerged (that we could tell) during the time we were there.  After giving up on the bats we walked back down 6th street and stopped at a few places to admire the interesting sights – an aquarium bar, an old man in a thong, and a futuristic bar with wide-open spaces and bright lights.

- Nathan

07/29/07 - More Than Meets The Eye – Jonathan & Kahle stopped by for a weekend trip through Texas and hung out for a few days.  While they were here Jonathan simply had to take me to see Transformers (which I had several of as a young boy).  Although the movie wasn’t anything like the original cartoons from the eighties, it was certainly entertaining and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  In addition to grabbing grub from several of our favorite localities we also visited the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History for their Star Wars Exhibit.  The exhibit consisted mostly of activities for children, costumes, and several ship models.  To be completely honest I didn’t think the exhibit was very interesting (they could have done a whole lot better) but the kids stuff looked like it was lots of fun.

- Nathan