Revisit: California!

Every Fall, the Cache Valley Bottling Team invades JRickards Winery in Sonoma County.  This Fall was to be no different except for one thing:  FIRE!  With no containment in sight, all wine festivities were canceled.  However, by the time the weekend rolled around, the fires were mostly contained and folks were being allowed back in the region.  In fact, the County and cities were asking that tourists return.  By the time we arrived, one wouldn’t have known that a fire had so threatened most of the region, and devastated areas of Napa Valley and Santa Rosa.  Comparatively speaking, the area we were in was untouched.  Santa Rosa is visible via 101, and we did catch a glimpse of some of the devastation from the car.



Over in the Cloverdale area, the threat was floating/flying embers igniting brush and trees. Our favorite walk from last spring was the Russian River walk; a 4 mile walk along the Russian River in Alexander Valley.  The following is an example of an ember fire which was quickly extinguished.  The closest fire, Pocket Fire, was just up on the hillside above the Russian River.


Along this same walk, were huge turkey vultures sunning themselves in trees along the river:



The spread out wings is not take off.  They camp out on the branches “spread eagle”.  It looked very cool.  I am convinced that these birds have no idea just how huge they are.

We spent one afternoon with Jim Rickards at his winery.  Another wine maker was visiting the winery and Jim invited Liz and I to join them for a vertical tasting of Zinfandel from 2008-2014.  After that, we went in the tasting room and tasted his regular current line up (You’ll have to visit us in Utah if you want to taste them!).  Then we went outside and barrel tasted two Rose wines.  What an afternoon! ZZZZZZzzzzzzzz……..


Jim decided that he wanted to reschedule the bottling so it looks like we will get to blend a bottle a Barbera after all!  We had dinner with our very dear friends and airbnb hosts Todd and Susan at Diavola, our fave restaurant in Sonoma Valley.  We also visited and bought wine at White Oak Winery.  Clark came to visit and since he is in the wine business, I wanted him to taste the wines and tell me that I was right; these are damn good wines.  Clark agreed!  Of course we bought a case.

On Sunday, we drove to Sausalito to visit Clark, Paul (on the house boat) and Mark (SF retired principle trombonist).  We stayed at the Acqua Inn, the same place we stayed last spring.  It is a wonderful hotel.  Here is a shot of the two of us along the water right outside our room:


That picture was right side up when I copy/pasted it.  Bah.

Clark took us on a walk to Cascade Falls which is in the Mill Valley, the town where he resides.  This little canyon is full of redwood trees, a stream (this time of year) that runs down through it, private homes and public spaces.  Here are some pics of this wonderful 2 hour walk, starting with a photo looking straight up between the trees:








Finally, we went to see Eric, our band director friend at UOP in Stockton.  Klinkerbrick Winery has a fabulous Albarino and we wanted to be sure to pick up a few.  Since they are releasing their 2016 Albarino in a couple of weeks, they were selling the $15 2015 vintage for half price!  Sign me up!  We bought 2 cases.  Down the street was another winery that was built around an organ.  The organ is from San Francisco and performances are given each month at the winery.  All performances are digitally recorded, so we listened to the recording of Toccata and Fugue by Bach, performed in 1991.  The pipes are built in to the walls of the tasting room.  The wines?  Well, they had a really good Port.  Eric bought a bottle.


Notice that some of the pipes were obtained from an organ in Provo, no less.



Tuesday, we made the 11 hour trek back to Logan.  All in all, a fab trip.  It was really nice visiting or should I say, re-visiting, all of our haunts from our 5 week residency in California last spring.

Ok, one more shot of trees, and then a road named after me near Santa Rosa on 101.



Next up:  Nutcracker ballet performances over US Thanksgiving weekend.  If anything else happens between now and then, I will blog once more!


Tony Grove!

Have I ever mentioned to you that we live in a beautiful part of the country?  Well, we do.  And every season brings stunning pictures of nature.  We live in Northern Utah, and one of the nation’s scenic highways is Logan Canyon, right outside our back door.  This canyon leads from Logan, Utah to Bear Lake, Utah and the scenery along the river in Logan Canyon is stunning.  One of the prettiest places along the route is called Tony Grove.  Tony Grove is a glacier lake located 7 miles above the canyon at an elevation of 8000 feet.  (Last winter, TG had over 15 feet of snow)  We try to visit Tony Grove a couple times a year, particularly in the spring and the fall.  Since most people think I am retired already, we decided to drive up on a Thursday afternoon.

Tony Grove gets its name from the late 1800’s.  A few times each year, the wealthy of Northern Utah, or, the “tony” set, would carriage their way the 20 plus miles up the canyon, and 7 miles up the mountain, to spend the weekend on the glacier lake (really just a big pond).  I imagine our 35 minute drive took about all day by horse and buggy.  Here are some really beautiful shots of the area, including one not so beautiful shot of me:





Some snow already!







Did I mention that this is range land as well?  Fall means rustling up the dogies for the winter transfer.  We were heading down the mountain, and apparently 50 or so head of cattle were using the road as well.  Smart people stop, wait several minutes, try not to piss them off, and snap a few pictures.  The cowboys don’t take much notice of you either:



Well, I blogged that you wouldn’t hear from me again until our wine bottling trip in mid October.  But when one gets to see such beautiful settings, one must snap pictures and send off a blog for all to see.  Oh, wait.  One last thing.  Remember the picture of the family of owls that my father-in-law took in the Okanagan?  Well, right outside the condo, they have had several sighting of eagles as well.  Last weekend, Dad nails it again.  The proof is in the picture!


Cows and eagles.  Who could ask for anything more?  Ciao!!


Autumn Aloft!

It has been awhile since my last post, so I thought I would update all of you with the goings on in Utah.  Coming off of sabbatical, Liz and I have gotten back into the swing of things.  I am in my 4th week of the semester at USU, and Liz is on her regular schedule of 2 days a week at the law office.

The end of the summer saw the end of opera season and several weekends spent in Park City.  Since much of the Utah valleys were covered with smoke (mostly from fires in Montana and the Pacific Northwest), it was nice to escape to the condo in Park City where the temps were cooler and the smoke non existent.  Park City has worked very diligently to become a summer destination as well as a winter/ski destination.  There are endless mountain bike races, running races and special events.  Outdoor and mostly free concerts occur every weekend and we have a weekly Sunday street party called Parksilly in downtown.  Last weekend, however, was Autumn Aloft, an annual hot air balloon launch to kick off the Fall season.  At this event, 24 hot air balloons take off from 40 Fields, a large collection of fields located behind the high school.

Our good friends Rick and Tere (also from Logan) have a home in Park Meadows, right across the street from 40 Fields.  We received a text from them:  “Hey are you going to be in PC this weekend?  If so, come over to the balloon launch and hang out with us”.  So, last Saturday, at 7:30am we drove to their place, drank Mimosa’s,  and walked across the street to Autumn Aloft.  It was 35 degrees but the sun poked up over the horizon and quickly warmed things up.  Needless to say, watching 24 balloons inflate and head into the sky is quite the spectacle!Balloons.jpg





It was remarkable to witness the balloon pilots maneuver the balloons around the area.  With 24 total, it took over an hour and a half to inflate and launch them.  So balloons that launched early in the hour, hovered around the area, occasionally touching down, and waited until all 24 were aloft.  Then they headed off into the sky.  I would guess that nearly 1000 people were on hand to enjoy the annual launching of balloons.

This morning, we awoke to a major rainstorm, our first one in well over a month.  At 43 degrees here in Logan, you can guess that we had a dusting of snow on the peaks.  This is one of the earliest dustings in quite some time – September 19.  More significant is the fact that the snow from last season did not melt off the same peaks until the end of July!  So, we were snow free for only about 7 weeks total!  Of course, the current dusting will melt, and we won’t see much snow before Halloween.  Here is a shot of the dusting on the Wellsville’s:



Liz and I will be attending a couple of fund raising dinners (one will feature Rickard’s wines) here in Logan over the next two weeks.  We will then be performing in Fiddler on the Roof at our very own Ellen Eccles Theater.  In mid-October, we head to our annual wine bottling at Rickards Winery in Sonoma County.  I will blog from that trip and it will include 3 nights in Cloverdale (Susan and Todd), one night in Sausalito (Clark and Paul) and a night in Lodi (Eric and Pat).  A sort of reunion of our California trip last spring!  Until then…Cheers!




……and 32 years later!

32 years ago, I began my music teaching career (age 24) at San Pedro High School in San Pedro, California.  It was 1985 and I had just completed my Master’s Degree at USC.  Later that school year, Liz and I married in Los Angeles.  Professionally, I was torn between teaching and performing.  High School music teaching demands 12 hour days.  I would leave for school at about 6am, and arrive for marching band practice (before school) at 6:30.  I often didn’t get home much before 6 or 7pm.  At the same time, I was practicing daily and playing professional symphony gigs all over the Los Angeles area.  Needless to say, between football game half time shows, concerts, competitions with the marching and concert bands and then gigging at night with various orchestras, I was nothing short of exhausted.  I put my all into the band program at Pedro, but only lasted that one year.  (I next took a job at Luther Burbank Jr. High in Burbank, California and subsequently went back for my Doctoral degree so that I would be qualified to teach University level students. This type of teaching position would be much more compatible with a performing career.)

Before I arrived, San Pedro High had 3 tumultuous years of bad band directing.  In the end, the band director was fired for pilfering $$ from the band program.  I came in and took over a band of 17 students.  The attrition over the previous 3 years had been devastating.  (By the end of the year, we were 45 strong!)  The core 17 players in the band were incredibly devoted to the program and we all became very close.  I had no idea, at the time, how devastated the students would be when I decided to leave.

About 3 years ago, I received a phone call from Colin, a saxophone player from my time at San Pedro.  He was getting married, and about 10 of the students were with him.  They were waiting for the ceremony to start, and decided to see if they could find me.  The call lasted about 30 minutes and I was able to chat with all 10 of the students.  They told me that 1985 was their best year of high school and that every time they got together, they relived the memories of all of the things we had done as a band.  (Anyone who doubts the power of teaching and teachers is clueless about our profession!)

Earlier last week, one of the students emailed me (Mike, trumpet player, age 47) and told me he would be in Salt Lake City for the weekend.  Was I close enough, and if so, could we get together?  Liz and I were planning to be in Park City, so indeed we would be able to meet for lunch.  3 hours later, I was able to get caught up on Mike’s life and the lives of the students that I hadn’t seen in 32 years.  I brought with me, two photo albums from the year at San Pedro, and decided that Mike should have them.  The first two pictures are from one of the photo albums.  Kenney and Jose hoisted me up on their shoulders when it was announced that the marching band had made it into the finals of the LA Marching Band Championships (competition).  It had been many years since the band had advanced to the finals.  The pics that follow are from our lunch together.20707948_10210052239002638_6242006998922125419_n.jpg




Mike is a longshoremen in the LA Harbor and commutes in from the Lake Elsinore area.  He would like to get out of California altogether and is considering the Mountain West to relocate.  Since work is many days on/many days off, he is considering flying in to his job for each stint of work.  Incidentally, he decided to cross off Salt Lake City as a relocation possibility.  It is too much like LA!!  Yes, and it will only get worse ie traffic and smog.

As I head back to work after my sabbatical (Aug 28), I reflect on the impact I have had on so many students over my 32 year career.  It has been rewarding to say the least.  Knowing that I have made a difference in all of these lives makes it all worth it.

Annual Hootch Tasting……

6 Years ago, we started a hootch tasting with musicians from the opera orchestra.  We each bought a bottle of hootch, brought out a few dozen glasses and compared various spirits.  So far, we have tasted Single Malt Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Tequila and the complete line up of Park City’s High West Distillery Spirits.  This year, I decided to switch to wine tasting.

There were about 13 of us to taste this past Sunday, and we tasted 9 different Pinot Noir wines from various regions including California, Oregon, France, Canada, and New Zealand.  I will save you the trouble:  117 glasses on the counter (thank goodness for Liz’s 20 year catering career!).  I asked that everyone spend at least $30 for their bottle of Pinot.  Although you can find drinkable Pinot for less, usually it just isn’t very good. (Disclaimer:  We had one $18 bottle of New Zealand’s Oyster Bay Pinot, and it wasn’t too bad!)  Everyone brought food so that we wouldn’t get overly sloshed.  Each person had about a 1.5 ounce pour – so the equivalent of about 3 glasses of wine over a 3.5 hour period of time.  Here are the wines:

Calera Pinot Noir 2014 from Central Coast California – First trombonist and First cellist

Boen Pinot Noir 2015 from Russian River Valley California – Violin section player

Champ de Reves Pinot Noir 2013 from Anderson Valley California – Principal Oboe

Meyer Reimer Pinot Noir 2015 from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia – Todd and Liz!

Domain Eden Pinot Noir 2014 from Santa Cruz California – Principal Flute

Cedar Creek Pinot Noir Platinum Block 4 2014 from Okanagan, British Columbia – Second Oboe (her sister lives on Victoria Island and brought the Cedar Creek – what a pleasant surprise!)

Cristom Mount Jefferson Pinot Noir 2014 from Willamette Valley Oregon – Second Oboe

Oyster Bay Pinot Noir 2014 Marlboro, New Zealand – Principal Viola

Bourgogne Frederic Magnien 2014 from Burgundy, France – Principal Viola (she brought 2!)

A few tasting notes:

The Boen was very earthly, “dirty” in flavor.  The Oyster Bay was peppery and slightly spicy.  The French was the lightest of the nine Pinot’s.  The Calera was the sweetest in flavor.  The most balanced Pinot (robust at the nose (smell), palate (taste) and savor (after swallowing) was the Willamette Valley Cristom Pinot.  The Meyer was appreciated by all.  The top 3, after polling all of the wino’s, were Anderson Valley Champ de Reves, Willamette Valley Cristom, and Okanagan’s Cedar Creek.  I would agree with the polls.  These were by far the best 3 that we tasted.  Although some had the 3 in different order, all agreed that these 3 were the stand outs.  Here are a couple of photos with the complete line up.




The third pic is me waxing eloquently about the evening’s line up.  Meghan (Principal Viola) is on the left.  A great time was had by all.  Everyone really looks forward to this annual event and this year’s gathering did not disappoint.  Next year, we decided we would try high end sipping Rum.  Cognac is probably in our future as well.  But good Pinot is a beautiful thing:  it goes well with most foods and is a nice red wine to drink during the hot Utah summers.  Cheers!


6th Annual Backyard Bash!!

When I turned 50, I decided to throw a big backyard party, complete with live music, food, and adult beverages.  We had about 50 people show up that first year.  In subsequent years, I have enlisted the online service Evite, and invited more and more of our friends here in Logan, Utah.  I have hired most of the bands from around Northern Utah that I care to listen to.  This year, our 6th, turned out to be the biggest year yet:  about 185 friends decided to make the scene!  We had friends and family from LA, Mill Valley California, Nashville TN, Denver CO and from all over Utah.  We always start with an hour of open mic jazz which I lead.  Then the headliner band or bands take it from there.  This year, we had the blues rock band Blue Blazers perform.  The band is led by Bob Parsons, who is head of special collections at Merrill Library at Utah State University.  (He is the guitar player/singer in the pic.)








Some video of the music is posted on Liz’s Facebook page.  I am unable to upload video on this version of WordPress.  The weather was perfect; high 80’s with a bit of a breeze.  A good time was had by all and several folks stated that this is always the best summer party of the year.  Cheers!


Summer Begins!

We have been home exactly one month.  First order of business was to get the yard in shape and the sprinklers up and running.  No problems there, just lots of weeding and the like.  Next, we needed to get re-acquainted with our Park City condo.  It has been 5 years since we bought the place, and back then, we immediately set out to update and refurbish the condo.  This included all new bathroom and light fixtures, light fixtures through out the condo, tiling the front bathroom tub/shower and painting the entire place.  About one month in, our friends Laurie and Joel came to visit and we hired Joel to bring the entire condo up to code. (This guy can build/fix anything!)  After that initial updating and upgrading, I knew that it would be about 5 years before we would start picking away at other projects.  So, this past month, we re-tiled the back bathroom floor, recarpeted the place and purchased a new gas burning stove.  We still have the original counter top (from the 1970’s), so my hope is to replace that this Fall.

While “supervising” all of the new work being done, we squeezed in bike rides and hikes.  We have only seen two moose in the past 5 years, up close and personal, but last week made 3.  We were hiking along the trail at PCMR and there she was lounging in the shade.  She was about 50 feet away and lingering is not advised.


Let’s try that again:

IMG_2578 (1).jpg

Here are two views from up on the mountain, at about 8500 feet:



Summer time means music.  So, time to get back into playing shape with flute and trombone.  First up is Summerfest Artfaire in Logan, Utah.  My jazz sextet, Citrus and Sage, performed on Friday, June 16.  We call tunes from the stage and pretty much improvise the entire performance.



Leaping Lulu performed on Saturday afternoon.  They were kind enough to let me “sit in” on percussion.  One of the Celtic drums of choice is the Cajon, which I am sitting on and playing.  Of course Liz is taking care of melodies on flute and piccolo.  There was a great crowd on Saturday and we were able to sell a bunch of their CD’s.  Leaping Lulu will play a wedding on July 4 and Bountiful Handcart Days later in July.


Opera rehearsals started yesterday.  The season ends on August 9, so the next 8 weeks will be extremely busy.  The shows, which run in repertory, are Madame Butterfly, Rex, Seussical, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pirates of Penzance, and Music Man.  So, lots of sitting in the pit in the dark on 90+ degree days.  I will try and post some pics once the performances are under way.

Our second to last stop on our Spring trip this past March-May was in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.  Record snow pack and spring rain swelled Lake Okanagan beyond flood levels.  The condo resort is right on the lake in the village of Summerland, but is built up in elevation a few feet from the water’s edge.  Last we heard, the dock was pretty much ruined.  Sand bags line the shoreline where ever structures are threatened.  Based on news reports, heavy damage included the town of Peachland, Kelowna, Naramata and some shore line properties in Summerland.  Here are a couple of pictures to give you and idea.  Keep in mind that the dock is usually sitting about 2 feet above the water (not a floating dock).



To the left of the concrete, there is supposed to be a small beach.  Last we heard, the lake crested at 29 inches over the maximum full level.  The last time it was even close to this level was 1997.  On a lighter note, we heard that the baby owls had flown the nest.  Here is another picture of them, albeit from when we were there in early May.



So, that is the latest update.  We have been lucky to have mild May and June weather, even chilly at times.  Snow still caps the local mountains here, but that really isn’t that unusual.  I will blog again in mid July, right after the Backyard Bash on July 16 (backyard concert and picnic at Chez Fallis).  Til then!