Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Images








video
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays from La Cruz

We will be spending the holidays in Banderas Bay this year and want to wish all our friends and family a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2013. 

We've been here in La Cruz for about a month now after deciding to simply stay put and relax for a little while.  It's given me a chance to tackle some necessary boat projects and offered Millie and Colin time to adjust to life on the boat again.  Also, we have visitors coming after Christmas and didn't want to sail off and then have to rush back.

For many cruising boats, La Cruz is a popular destination for the holidays and new boats are sailing in each day.  If it weren't for the beaches and 85 degree weather I'd say it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.  The truth is it's hard to feel anything when lathered in sunscreen and dripping in sweat.  Most of the time we have to remind ourselves that the holidays are here.  Although, we did have a little cold spell this week which forced us to sleep under a sheet for the first time....brrrr!  Now it's beginning to feel like Christmas.

So, in an effort to further boost our holiday cheer and emphasize the whole gift-giving tradition we took the bus to Puerto Vallarta and bought a new dinghy.  There are a lot of things you can buy here in Mexico that are substantially cheaper than in the U.S. -- inflatable dinghies are not one of those things.  But, after applying yet another patch to our aging dink, we managed to justify the purchase of a new and ridiculously overpriced hard-bottom inflatable simply by calling it a Christmas gift to ourselves.  We felt we deserved it.  The next day we sold our old one to a guy who lost his while crossing the Sea of Cortez and was desperate for a replacement.  We gave him a great deal -- all in the Christmas spirit.
 
Onions in Mexico are lethal!
And so, next week, on Christmas Day, as our loved ones back in The States are sipping eggnog and feasting on gravy-soaked platters of turkey and ham before dozing off in front of the TV, we will, most likely, be spending the holiday at Philo's here in La Cruz, a popular hangout for sailors and North American ex-pats, sipping Pacifico and feasting on pork tacos.  Actually, Philo's usually serves a traditional Christmas dinner, but there will be cold Pacifico.  We're looking forward to it. 

Then, on the 27th, my brother Denny and his family are flying out to spend a week with us -- first in La Cruz and then a few days in Sayulita where we plan to bring in the new year.  We made a day trip to Sayulita on Monday and, through good fortune or just dumb luck, managed to book a cool little bungalow.  Most of the accommodations there are booked months in advance so we considered it a good omen for the new year.  Sayulita is a trendy little hippy hangout with great surfing.  It should be fun.

After the holidays and things return to normal here (relatively speaking, that is) we plan to sail north to Mazatlan.  There's a mechanic there who comes highly recommended.  I've been communicating with him through email about our engine situation and he seems willing and able to help.  The goal is to finally get this resolved by the end of January.  That's New Year's resolution numero uno.

Colin and his new friend Cora
In the meantime we'll be filling our time here in La Cruz with cruiser potlucks and beach parties, hanging out with new friends and watching Colin grow a little more each day.

Merry Christmas!
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Banderas Bay Blast

Yesterday we got out for some long-overdue recreational sailing.  For the past two months now I've been focused on boat projects here in La Cruz, talking to every mechanic in the area and trying to decide what to do about our oil-burning, overheating engine -- not exactly fun-in-the-sun Mexico cruising.

So, as the annual Banderas Bay Blast kicked off we had the opportunity to join in on some of the activity.  This is a 3-day rally where some of the boats here go out and race around the buoys for bragging rights and raise money for local charities.  It got started yesterday with a leisurely sail down to the Vallarta Yacht Club for brunch followed by racing today.  Anyone on a boat, racing or not, was invited to the brunch with a few of the big cats here in La Cruz offering rides.  So, we decided to relax and let someone else pull the lines for a day.  We managed to hitch a ride on Profligate, the 70-foot catamaran owned by Latitude-38 founder Richard Spindler.  There were more than enough people on the boat to work the sails so we just stayed out of the way and enjoyed the ride.

The nice thing about catamarans, other than the speed, is the comfortable non-heeling motion.  We're accustomed to the tilted deck of a monohull so it was a pleasant surprise to sit in a folding chair with a beer while sailing under an enormous spinnaker, doing 6 knots in about 10 knots of breeze.  And, a 70-foot cat provides a big safe area for Colin to run around in while mom and dad sip cold drinks...nice.

We got back to La Cruz around 4 in the afternoon, grabbed some fish tacos at the marina and went upstairs to the rooftop bar where the party got started with live music, food, and a lot of drinks.  We made a few new friends, enjoyed some free tequila, and remembered what it's like to have fun again.
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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Feliz Cumpleaños

Once again we celebrated Millie's birthday south of the border.  This one is a very special year and I was determined to make it a memorial occasion.  I had to make up for last year when we sailed in to Turtle Bay and it suddenly occurred to me that I'd forgotten her birthday.  Fortunately, this year we weren't on a passage and I had a little more time to plan something.  I had to make the most of it.

  
So, on Tuesday, as an early birthday surprise, we checked in to Villa Bella, a beautiful Mexican B&B on the hill above La Cruz, for two relaxing days away from the boat.  I booked the spacious honeymoon suite with a private patio overlooking the bay.  The owner, Elsa, and her staff were extremely friendly and accommodating, allowing us to check in early and providing roses and wine in the room.  Millie was thrilled.  We spent the rest of the afternoon playing with Colin in the pool and lounging on the patio.


Wednesday, the 28th, was Millie's big day and Colin had us up early.  We enjoyed breakfast by the pool and spent another relaxing afternoon before reservations at Frascati, an Italian restaurant in La Cruz, where our friends Marion and Theo on s/v Marionetto and Pat and Lynn on s/v Cricket joined us for dinner.  Elsa arranged for a very decadent chocolate cake which they brought out for dessert.  After the singing and the presents we strolled back up the hill to our private little retreat. 











Feliz cumpleaños, mamá.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pic of the Day

On a lighter note, here's a picture of Colin dressed like a pirate...

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Monday, November 12, 2012

When Will It End?

As with our initial cruising season, season number two is off to a shaky start. I finally left Barra following a very heated argument with our thoroughly incompetent mechanic, John Jones of Jonco Marine Repair. He refused to finish the break-in work after I had spent 5 days motoring around in circles a few miles out, telling me "do it yourself" (keep in mind that re-torquing head bolts is a non-trivial job requiring special tools). After nine months of restraint I finally blew a fuse on that remark and he hung-up. That ended a very long and frustrating experience with Jonco. Click the Lessons Learned tab for more on that sordid story.

I'm now back in the La Cruz anchorage, after 3 days of motor-sailing up the coast.  The good news is the engine is running strong.  The bad news is it's burning oil.  Hopefully, it just needs some more run time to seat the rings, but there's also a good chance it may be something more serious.  I'm trying not to worry too much about it at this point.  The plan is to pick up Millie and Colin at the end of the month and then sail north to Mazatlan where we'll have the engine checked out by Bob at Total Yacht Works who comes highly recommended.

I'm not quite sure why the cruising life has proved to be so difficult for us.  I've heard many stories of other boats that have gone through the same issues but, usually, the events occurred over many years or on many different boats.  We seem to have racked up all our mishaps at once. 

Let's recap the first year, shall we?  Please excuse the underlying tone of self-pity...

After many years of preparation we finally threw off the dock lines in early October of 2011 and sailed out of Alameda.  We made it all the way to Treasure Island, a few miles away, before being forced to wait out the first storm of the season at anchor in Clipper Cove.  Two days later we sailed out  the gate and had a mostly uneventful trip down the California coast until we got to San Diego, where the engine trouble began and we spent three weeks on repairs.

We enjoyed Thanksgiving in Ensenada waiting out weather again, and Christmas in San Jose del Cabo wrapped in fleece during one of the coldest years in Baja that anyone could remember. 

We could barely contain our excitement when we finally made the mainland coast of tropical Mexico.  This jubilance was quickly tempered by the theft of our friend's dinghy while we were all anchored in Matanchen Bay.  We considered ourselves lucky to still have a dinghy of our own.  This proved to be our only luck of the season.

By mid-January we made it to La Cruz, where we were soon slammed by a humpback whale in the anchorage.  After repairs to the steering system we continued our way south. 

Then, in February, the transmission failed as we approached Barra de Navidad and we were towed into the lagoon, where we spent many agonizing months trying to get our engine rebuilt.

In April our dinghy and outboard sank following a windy day of bouncing off the stern of the boat. 

By May we moved the boat to the marina as an early-season hurricane blew through Barra. 

In June we had a bee infestation in our mast and spent two days getting them out of the boat.  A few days later I managed to get a large chunk of the dock wedged firmly in the side of my foot which required a visit to the doctor in Barra to dig out the splinters. 

At that point we'd had enough -- we flew back to California.

And now, as before, our season begins under a cloud of apprehension.  We can only hope that, at some point, we'll leave these misfortunes in our wake and settle in to a comfortable cruising life.  When that will happen is anybody's guess.  Until then, stay tuned for more drama.
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Season Two

And so it begins.  I'm spending Halloween night this year back in the sweltering heat of Barra, preparing the boat for another season in Mexico -- a blissful, relaxing season of fair winds, new friends, and cold drinks with a lot less drama than the initial one.  It could happen.  The dreamer in me thinks so, anyway.  My practical side is, understandably, more sceptical and cautiously waits for evidence.

We'll see how it plays out soon enough.  Tomorrow I'll put the newly-rebuilt engine to it's first test when I motor out of the marina.  As part of the break-in process I need to run the engine under load for 25-50 hours before re-torquing head bolts and changing fluids.  If nothing bad occurs during that time then, theoretically, we should be good to go and I won't have to lose any more sleep worrying about mechanical failures.  That's the hope, anyway. 

So, that's what I'll be doing over the next week or so -- motoring around a few miles offshore during the day and anchoring somewhere at night.  I'll probably put a sail up and throw a lure out and try my best to ignore the noisy diesel down below.  Maybe I'll catch dinner.

In any event it will be lonely work as I'm single-handed at the moment and missing my crew.  Millie and Colin are currently in the Philippines visiting with family.  They flew out of SFO a few days before me to attend her brother's wedding.  Congratulations, Benny!  Sorry I couldn't make it.  Judging by the video, Colin's having a great time.  Apparently, he really likes the music.

video
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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Adios Summer

Fall is in the air here in central Oregon.  The evening temps have dropped dramatically over the past two weeks to the point where, for the first time in a year, I'm forced to wear long pants.  Tragic, I know.  Fortunately, we had the foresight to store our winter clothes at my brother's house.

The cooler weather and encroaching fall colors are not-so-subtle reminders that our summer is over and the time has come to return to Jean Marie and continue our cruising life.  The long list of house projects is finally winding down, we have new tenants moving in next month, and we're starting to pack things up here.

Next week we'll make the long drive down to the Bay Area to visit friends before Millie and Colin depart for the Philippines.  They fly out of SFO on October 23rd where they'll spend a month with family and attend the wedding of Millie's brother, Benny.  I'll fly back to Mexico to break-in the engine after the recent rebuild and then sail north to Banderas Bay.  I plan to pick them up at the airport in Puerto Vallarta later next month.  It will be a busy time for all of us and I'm looking forward to reuniting for the holidays and finding some time to finally relax.

Although it went by way too fast, we had a great summer and really enjoyed the months here in Oregon.  Now it's time to get back to warm weather, cold beers, and fresh tacos.  I can't wait to put my shorts back on.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy Halloween?

Old houses have a lot of character and, sometimes, include a few unwanted surprises.  A few nights ago Millie put Colin down to sleep and walked in to the bathroom for a shower only to find the biggest brown spider we've ever seen crawl across the tub.  This was particularly disturbing after running across a large Black Widow while cleaning out the exterior vents the day before.  So, the next morning we stumbled out of bed to make coffee and noticed a furry brown ball hanging from the kitchen blinds.  Hmmm...that wasn't there yesterday.  Somehow, a fruit bat managed to find his way in to the house and chose our blinds as a makeshift den for the night.  Luckily for us he was fast asleep.  Wearing leather gardening gloves, I plucked him off his perch and set him in the big maple out front.  It seems Halloween came early this year.

When we're not escorting insects and flying mammals out the door we've been very busy here working on home improvements before it's time to fly south for the winter.  Since returning from Mexico for my week-long-engine-installation excursion my days have been filled with back-breaking, sweat-soaked, labor-intensive house projects.  After a month of sanding, caulking, patching and primering I can finally say the house is painted.  And, it looks great.  I was planning to build a fence around the property this summer but as the weeks went by I knew I needed help.  So, I hired a local contractor to do the fencing and convinced my new neighbor to split the cost of the adjoining section -- an unexpected bonus.  This freed up my time to get the yard cleaned up and focus on a few other home repairs.  The work is almost done -- all we need now is renters.

Unfortunately, all this house work has really cut into our recreation time.  We didn't get a chance to explore central Oregon as much as we'd like.  Our plans for camping and biking and fishing and lake sailing seemed to evaporate in a cloud of sanding dust.  At this point I'm looking forward to getting back to the Mexico where I can procrastinate boat projects over a taco and a cold Pacifico.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We Have an Engine!

Yes, it's true.  The Barra gods have finally smiled upon us and, as of Monday, our beloved Jean Marie is fully functional once again.

After months of pleading and prodding I finally got the call I've been waiting for.  Our mechanic managed to track down the correct pistons and rings from a Perkins dealer in the UK.  He then found someone willing to bring the package in to Mexico, so the third engine rebuild could proceed.

As you'll recall, rebuild number one started way back in March, when I met a young captain of a large motor yacht who flew parts in for me on the owner's private jet.  I remember thinking how fortunate we were to find a quick and inexpensive method of delivery, and this surely meant we would be on our way soon.  What a foolish dream.  Rebuild number one resulted in oil squirting past the pistons while the motor ran in the shop.  This is what happens when you install the wrong set of rings, I quickly learned.

So, rebuild number two began in early May, after receiving delivery of a new ring set specifically designed for the piston we had (which was slightly different than the original piston).  I remember thinking "shouldn't we have checked this important little detail before beginning rebuild number one?".  I know that these older Perkins diesels have gone through a lot of changes in parts and part numbers over the years and the workshop manual lists many different combinations of piston and rings depending on the model and year of the block -- reason enough, for any competent mechanic, to spend a little more time investigating and, perhaps, double-checking the parts order.  I was hoping that my mechanic had done the necessary research and ordered the correct parts this time.  Another foolish dream.  To our incredible disappointment, rebuild number two produced the same results as rebuild number one.

By this time summer was upon us.  Most of the cruising boats had sailed away or were tied securely in the marina as everyone departed Mexico before the hurricane season.  I had lost all faith in our mechanic and insisted that he not do any more work on the engine until he talks to a Perkins professional.  I wanted the advice of someone who actually knows the working details of these engines.  I wanted him to crosscheck the serial number of the block with updated part numbers for piston and ring sets and discuss this with a Perkins dealer before placing an order.  Then I wanted him to double-check the order.

We soon found that not only did we have the wrong rings but, apparently, we also had the wrong pistons.  According to our mechanic, the pistons in the box we received did not match the specifications in the parts list.  So, the parts dealer he had been using in the US -- a guy who, on numerous occasions, had given questionable and inaccurate advice -- had sent us the wrong pistons.  That's the story I was told.  At this point I wasn't sure what to believe, I just wanted it fixed.  

But, I knew it wasn't going to happen soon, and it was already June.  It was time to get out of Barra.  So, while I flew my family back to California to escape the encroaching summer heat of tropical Mexico, our mechanic began a long, drawn-out process of procuring the correct parts from a different Perkins dealer for rebuild number three. 

The process also involved somehow obtaining a refund from the original dealer for bogus pistons installed in rebuild number one.  After all, I wasn't paying for more parts.  From my point of view, it's the job of a professional mechanic to manage his parts suppliers.  I shouldn't have to cover the additional cost of a dealer's incompetence.  This proved to further delay the process, as they refused to refund any money.  Eventually, a Perkins dealer in the UK stepped up and agreed to ship the correct pistons at no charge and we all learned some very painful but valuable lessons on shipping engine parts to Mexico.

Which brings us to present day.  Two weeks ago I got the call that rebuild number three went well and the engine was running great.  I immediately booked a flight to Mexico, flying from Bend to San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta and then taking a five-hour bus down to Barra, only to be greeted by the sweltering, oppressive heat of Jean Marie's cabin.  Her little 12-volt fans are no match for the tropical humidity of Mexico in the summer.  The only relief is the shower as even the slightest physical activity results in pools of dripping sweat.  I knew I had a lot of work to do.  This was not going to be fun.

I arrived late Wednesday.  On Thursday I went to the mechanics shop to check the engine -- as reported, it was running great.  We spent most of Friday muscling it back in to place on Jean Marie and by Saturday afternoon the engine and transmission were ready to go.  I spent Sunday finishing some work on the exhaust system and then, on Monday, we bled the fuel system and fired her up for the first time.  It brought a great sense of relief to finally hear the old Perkins purring away again -- music to the ears.

I wish I could say this chapter is closed now and we're moving forward.  Unfortunately, a rebuilt engine, like a new engine, requires a break-in period.  The Perkins workshop manual specifies 25-50 hours of run time followed by another visit from the mechanic to re-torque headbolts and adjust valves.  That means getting offshore and working the engine for a few days.  I was hoping to get this done while I'm here, but the endless train of tropical storms spinning up the coast has caused me to rethink that plan.

So, we'll finish the job in late October or November -- whenever we get back down here.  At this point I'm just happy to have a working engine again.  Although, I am looking forward to finally closing this chapter of our cruising lives and putting all the months of frustration behind us.  It would be easy to look back with anger and assign blame to the perceived guilty.  It'd be convenient to point the finger at Mexican workers and relaxed work ethics except that our mechanic is a white guy from Missouri.  In the end I think there were mistakes made by a few people that resulted in some very real inconveniences for us.  However, I don't believe any of it was intentional -- incompetent, perhaps, unprofessional, definitely.  We simply had the misfortune of breaking down in a small town with one English-speaking mechanic.  We'll just have to file this one under simple bad luck and look forward to next season.  Let's hope our luck has changed.

And, with my work complete here my thoughts go back to my family.  As I write this Jean Marie is, once again, all buttoned up and secured for the remaining weeks of the hurricane season.  I'll catch the early bus to PV on Thursday for my flight back to Bend.  Another long day of travel, but one I'm looking forward to.  It will be nice to see cooler temps and familiar faces -- two, in particular, have been on my mind lately.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Home Away From Home

Back in 2010 we sold our house in Alameda and moved on the boat to prepare for the voyage south.  We tried to sell the previous year but the the market crash of 2008 made the transaction much more difficult and painful than expected.  As anyone who's been through it will tell you, it's tough to be a seller in this market.  So, soon after closing the deal we decided to take advantage of the downturn and become buyers instead.

Central Oregon has seen a rapid growth spurt over the past decade but has since been hit hard by the housing crash with a large inventory of foreclosures around the time we sold our home. 

My brother, Denny, lives in Bend and suggested I take a look at some of the properties in the area.  The rental market seemed to be gaining momentum and Denny offered to manage the property while we're out of the country.  It seemed like a good idea.

And, Bend is a great area for outdoor activities with a real Lake Tahoe feel to the place.  We liked the idea of owning a home there.  Also, it would be comforting to know we have a place waiting for us if we happen to, God forbid, sink our current home.

So, we made a road trip to Bend in the summer of 2010 and did a little house hunting.  We soon found a 4-bedroom 2-bath fixer-upper in a nice neighborhood about a half-mile from the downtown area -- an older house with a large quarter-acre lot and mature maple and pine trees.  We decided to put an offer down and to our delight it was accepted.  We were homeowners once again. 

The house was built in the 1940's and hasn't been updated much since.  Fortunately, I have a family with a background in construction.  I quickly recruited help.  We went to work in the fall of 2010 to get the house ready for renters -- building a gabled front porch, pouring concrete patios, replacing siding, installing flooring, tiling a shower, updating lights, fixing various plumbing and electrical issues, and painting everything inside and out.  After a couple months of hard work, the house was looking great.

During the remodeling effort, we met two guys who lived across the street.  They worked as firefighters and landscapers, and were looking for a new place to rent soon as their current rental was another one of the foreclosures going on the market.  Over the next few weeks we got to know those guys well and even hired them to do some interior painting.  A month later they moved in.

Jake and Eric turned out to be great renters but after two years they decided it was time for a change.  So, last week they finished packing up and we moved in.  The transition didn't take long, considering we've been living out of duffel bags for months now. 

It was an unexpected event, though.  We planned to stay in Bend with Denny for a little while but when the guys gave us a 30-day notice in July we adjusted the plan.  The timing could not have been better.  Millie and Colin get to enjoy a little down time in our own home and I can work on a few maintenance projects around the house and build the fence I've been wanting around the property.  That should keep me busy until it's time to go sailing again.

So, we're dirt dwellers once again -- in a hip little mountain town far from the ocean.  Central Oregon has some of the best camping, fishing, and mountain biking in the country, with seven micro-breweries in Bend.  Not a terrible way to spend the summer.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Willamette Wine Tasting

Last week Millie and I celebrated our three-year anniversary.  Wow, that was quick.  The past year, in particular, was an especially busy one filled with adventure and drama but, admittedly, little romance.  So, in an effort to show my wife that I actually remember the date of our marriage and am capable of enjoying activities that do not involve boats, I booked a bed and breakfast in the Willamette Valley for a little romantic excursion and wine tasting road trip.

The Willamette Valley, stretching south from Portland to Eugene, is a fertile basin of rolling hills which holds the majority of Oregon's population and in recent decades has become a major wine producer.  The valley's cool climate is known for producing some of the best pinot noir in the world.  I was introduced to Oregon pinot a few years ago by our close friends in Oakland and have been a big fan of the wines since.  Fortunately, we're spending the summer in central Oregon -- only a few hours away by car -- offering a great opportunity to sample more Willamette wines.

And, what better way to enjoy wine country with your spouse than a bed and breakfast tucked away in the scenic vineyards.  It had the potential of a great romantic escape except for one small detail -- we were travelling with a 15-month-old child.

Not surprisingly, it's a little difficult to book a room at a bed and breakfast when you have a small child -- most are not willing or prepared to accommodate the excessive noise and mess that a toddler can produce.  This fact was a little frustrating although completely understandable.

However, with a little effort and a phone call to the proprietor, I managed to secure two nights at a little farm house in Aurora.  The Feller House hosts two guest rooms and since we booked mid-week and were the only guests at that time they were willing to accommodate Colin.  We hoped they wouldn't later regret the decision.

So, on Tuesday afternoon we departed Bend for a scenic drive west through the mountains.  We passed the quaint little town of Sisters and made a brief stop at beautiful Detroit Lake to walk along the dam and stretch our legs before finding our way to Aurora.

Barb and Arnie, the owners of the Feller Farm House greeted us as we turned up the driveway and gave us a tour of the house and the farm.  They opened a section of their property for neighbors to share in cooperative gardening and were hosting a weekly potluck that evening.  And, even though we had nothing to bring, we were invited to join them for dinner.  It was a nice introduction to the area, especially for Millie as this was her first stay at a bed and breakfast.  We found them to be very gracious and attentive hosts who made us feel at home as soon as we arrived.

And, soon it was time for breakfast -- Millie's favorite meal of the day.  We feasted on hazelnut waffles with fresh berries and real maple syrup.  It was a big hit.

I studied the wine country guides as I sipped the last of my coffee and we tried to come up with a general itinerary for the day.  We didn't really have a clue where to go so decided to just drive into Newberg and check out one of the local tasting rooms.  It turned out to be an unimpressive building in the downtown area so we changed course for the nearest winery with mid-week tasting hours.  This took us just out of town to Rex Hill winery.  They have a beautiful vineyard and tasting room with friendly staff who poured us a few of their pinots and then directed us to other wineries around Newberg. 

We made our way through rolling green vineyards to Vidon winery where Colin played on the pallet jack as we sampled pinots and talked grapes.  Then we found Arbor Brook winery where Colin rolled on the floor with toy trucks as we tasted a few more local pinots.  Mid-week seems the best time to go wine tasting.  We had each place all to ourselves and the people were friendly and attentive.  We had a great time and bought a few bottles to take back with us.

And, soon it was time for breakfast -- again.  Barb served us fresh fruit parfaits, egg souffle, and homemade blueberry scones.  Millie was impressed.  We both gave it a big thumbs up.

Overall, I would consider our little road trip to be a complete success.  We needed to get out of the house for a while and exploring Oregon's wine country turned out to be a great way to celebrate our anniversary.  I think I may be off the hook.  Until the holiday season, anyway.
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