The land of chocolate, cheese, horses, and buggies

To celebrate the end of my master’s program and my mom’s birthday (November 11), Mom and I went to Amish Country last Sunday and stayed through Wednesday morning. We only live two hours away from that area of Ohio, but neither of us had ever visited. We would occasionally pass through areas of Amish settlements on our way to somewhere else, so we’ve seen the Amish buggies on the roads. But never in the numbers we saw them on this trip. 

Now … a brief review of the places we visited.

Guggisberg Swiss Inn: I booked three nights at this inn just outside Charm, which is also the home of Doughty Glen Winery and Amish Country Riding Stables. Horses roam free on the property. The price was extremely reasonable and included a hearty breakfast each morning (eggs, hash browns, and sausage – sometimes pancakes – along with yogurt, cereal, toast, pastries, etc.) 

The grounds are beautiful, with views of rolling hills, farmland, and vineyards. One of the main attractions is the duck pond, and you can bring quarters to buy corn out of a dispenser to feed them. Mom and I were quite popular with the ducks … we had a lot of quarters! 

As quiet and relaxing as this bucolic setting is, there is much to see and do in the area. Here are some of our highlights (in no particular order): 

Guggisberg Cheese: Yes, this is owned by the same people who own the inn, and the cheese factory is just a stone’s throw away. Stop here to buy the Premium Swiss and/or Baby Swiss, which are both ranked best in the U.S. Of course, they also sell a variety of other cheeses, as well as things that go great with cheese. 

Hershberger’s Farm and Bakery: They have a petting zoo here, if you’re into that sort of thing. But mainly it’s a small market/bakery and a place to buy crafts, antiques, and gifts. We got there too early for the petting zoo, unfortunately. They also offer buggy rides for a fee. 

Coblentz Chocolates: We stopped in Walnut Creek, mainly because we were passing by there anyway on our way to Sugarcreek. The Der Dutchman restaurant is probably one of the main draws to Walnut Creek. It seems to always be packed. If you happen to stop in Walnut Creek, this is a great place to buy chocolates, fudge, and candies. It smells heavenly inside. 

Also in Walnut Creek: Carlisle Gifts (across the street from Der Dutchman and part of the group that runs the restaurant – a beautiful shop with a great selection of gifts). Rebecca’s Bistro is a great alternative for breakfast or lunch if you can’t deal with the crowds at Der Dutchman. It’s small, but quaint. I highly recommend the blackberry bacon grilled cheese.

I was curious about Sugarcreek, the “Little Switzerland” of Ohio – home of the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock. Naturally, this piqued my curiosity, since I lived in Germany for 4 years and I’ve seen some pretty large cuckoo clocks. It’s a fun little detour. Make sure to get there on the half hour or the hour. (There is ample on-street parking and a public lot just across the street.) 

You can see video of the clock here (I changed from vertical to horizontal mid-recording … we sat too close.)

We didn’t stay in Sugarcreek long. Some of the places were closed, and there were some shops we weren’t interested in seeing. But we did go into a shop near the cuckoo clock called Secret Garden. It’s a feast for the senses – almost overwhelmingly so. 

Breitenbach Wine Cellars: There are quite a few wineries in the area, but we found ourselves here. And I’m glad we did. We had unseasonably warm weather (mid-70s!) for November, and they have a very nice patio. After we did a tasting (so many wines to choose from!), we decided on the plum wine. We ordered a chilled bottle to drink there and purchased a cheese plate (local cheeses, of course). This was probably the highlight of my day, just relaxing on the patio with some lovely wine and cheese.  

All of the above were places we visited on the first full day, with the exception of Rebecca’s Bistro, which was a second-day stop. We ended the evening sharing a bottle of Doughty Glen’s White Catawba on the patio back at the inn.  

My aunt joined us on our second (and last) full day to celebrate Mom’s birthday. We concentrated on the nearby town of Berlin, since there are a huge number of shops there. We stopped at Sol’s in Berlin, which is Ohio’s largest craft mall. Just down the street from there is Sheiyah Market, where we spent quite a bit of time also. (We stopped at Buggy Brew Coffee Co. inside the market – great pumpkin spice iced coffee!) Berlin Village Antique Mall was also right there, so we browsed in there, too. 

After summer-like weather for our entire trip, it turned the morning we left. It was rainy and chilly. But we were up early and drove to nearby Miller’s Bakery so we could get there when they opened. OH. MY. GOD. Their cheese tarts! I got a cherry cheese tart. And I got a creamstick to take home for my husband. (Though I ate about a quarter of it. Sooooo goooood.) 

One last recommendation – if you’re in the mood for pizza while you’re in that area, order from East of Chicago. That was our dinner the night we arrived (mostly because it was one of only a few places open on Sunday in the area, and the Berlin location was a short drive from the inn). We each ordered a medium pizza and had enough leftover for dinner the next day.  

A woman in the great outdoors, part 3

Please read parts 1 and 2 before reading this.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 3

I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep in on Sunday morning. Breakfast was at 8. I made some coffee in my room to tide me over (powdered creamer, though, ugh) and grabbed my lens ball out of my camera bag to get some shots of the lake.

I took the same trail from the previous morning, and I saw three deer. One stopped to check me out for a bit.

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The morning buffet was fixings for breakfast burritos. This was the last meal included in our weekend, so I ate well. I had some time before my final session – nature photography – and it was held onsite. No bus to catch anywhere. I finished packing up my stuff and taking it out to the car so I could check out before my session started.

My session started at 10. The instructor went over some photography fundamentals with DSLR and cellphone cameras (since not all of us had camera gear). He said we would focus on aperture priority mode so we could get some close-up shots of flowers – at least as close to macro as we could get without a macro lens. And still get that nice blur/bokeh in the background.

When we were ready, we went outside photograph the flower beds and containers outside the lodge. I took two shots that were kind of neat. The rest weren’t very interesting.

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Since I have photography experience, the instructor focused most of his energy on some of the other participants. I was fine with that. I just loved seeing his photographs and getting inspired.

Things wrapped up at noon. But before I headed home, I stopped in Loudonville to see the Wolf Creek Grist Mill. All the times I’ve been in the area, and I never stopped there. It was worth a brief visit (and the $1 entry fee) for some nice landscape photos.

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I was sad when the weekend ended. I had the chance to experience some new things and challenge myself in an encouraging and relaxed environment. I hope I can go again next year, but understandably, priority is given to first-timers. Still, ODNR offers programs to OWOA alumni, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they offer.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 2

If you haven’t read part 1, click here.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 2

I am up on Saturday morning before dawn, as I am most mornings. Breakfast isn’t until 7:00, so I wander around the lodge grounds, hoping to catch the sunrise. From the terrace behind the lodge, I can see the harvest moon setting over Pleasant Hill Lake. I take the trail at the lodge back into the woods, to a different spot with a better view of where the sun is rising over the lake. By then, it’s just after 7:00.

 

Once the sun is up, I join the other early risers in the ballroom for our breakfast buffet. We have a bus to catch out to the marina at 8:30. I eat a good breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, pastries, potatoes. I need a lot of energy for two+ hours of kayaking. I have enough time once I’m finished to go back to my room and change into a swimsuit and some quick-dry shorts. And I needed to grab my life vest.

I was back in the ballroom before 8:00, when they had a presentation and gave out some door prizes. (I didn’t win anything.) It was a bit chilly when we left for the marina, but I didn’t exactly want to wear layers under a life vest. Once we got our brief instruction on kayaking and got out on the water, the exertion of paddling warmed me up. This was my first time in a kayak. I’ve always canoed in the past (and tried stand-up paddle boarding for the first time a week prior).

 

It was a beautiful morning. Even though it was a bit chilly at first and the paddle constantly dripped water all over me, I wasn’t really bothered by it much. The kayaking instructors pointed out things of interest. We saw two green herons, a kingfisher, several cormorants, an osprey, and countless seagulls. My shoulders started to ache after a while (and I have arthritis in my neck and chronically stiff shoulder muscles, which doesn’t help), but I took frequent breaks. It was a great time.

We had a little time to kill after we finished our session. I wandered around the marina to see what some of the other OWOA groups were doing. Some women were fly fishing on the beach. Others were stand-up paddle boarding. Others were learning jug fishing. The bus was waiting for us in the parking lot, so I finally just got on and waited to be taken back to the lodge.

It was lunchtime when I got back. They had boxed lunches sitting out on tables for us – a grab and go situation. I just took mine and went back to my room. It was noon and I had a couple hours until my next session, which was archery. So, I was able to eat and watch a bit of the Ohio State game against Indiana.

By the time 2:00 rolled around and the archery session was starting, my shoulders and back ached pretty significantly. And I was just so tired. I listened to the archery instructor and practiced the shooting position he taught us, but then it was time to actually do it. With the other women in the group watching.

I was the second person to go. My target was a foam deer. I hit it in the neck. The next arrow went into its heart. I basically only missed twice during my practice round. Once everyone had a turn, we were free to shoot at will. The instructor told us that we could come and go as we pleased, so I shot off maybe another 10 arrows (my practice round was better), and I just couldn’t keep going.

Thankfully, we were at the lodge for our archery session, so it was a short walk back to my room. I crashed hard for almost two hours. I guess I needed the sleep.

I woke up at 5:15 or so, and dinner was at 6. We had an Italian buffet at dinner, and more door prizes were given away. I WON!!! It’s a great prize, too – a $50 gift certificate for camping at either Charles Mill Park or Pleasant Hill Park (Pleasant Hill being the marina where I kayaked that morning). Looking forward to using it, though it probably won’t be until next spring or summer.

We capped off dinner with a sundae bar, then the evening activities began. The lodge had a community bonfire with games like giant Jenga and cornhole. Our group also had the option of participating in axe throwing, which was set up by the front entrance. We had to wear wristbands, since it was limited only to OWOA. (I didn’t axe throw – not with my shoulders aching the way they did – but I watched for a bit.)

It was a wonderful evening. We watched the sun set.

 

We roasted marshmallows over the fire, talking and laughing like old friends.

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I had only met these women the day before, but we were already bonding over this shared experience. Some ordered drinks from the bar. I had a bottle of wine in my room, so I just smuggled some out to the firepit. It was a great way to end day 2.

Continue to part 3.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 1

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Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 1

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a weekend program every year called Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure (OWOA). Women from all walks of life spend the weekend at a state park lodge learning outdoor skills. Activities include fishing, boating, shooting, archery, Dutch oven cooking, orienteering, geocaching … the list goes on and on.

I wanted to sign up last year – the first year I heard about it. I had a scheduling conflict, but at least it was on my radar.

This year, I was lucky enough to be on Facebook at almost the precise moment the ODNR posted that registration was now open for this event. Better yet, they were holding it at Mohican State Park, which is my favorite place in Ohio. For $320, you get a two-night stay at Mohican State Park Lodge and Resort (with all the amenities offered), five meals, snacks, a t-shirt, four activity sessions, a field trip to Malabar Farm State Park, and the use of equipment.

I couldn’t sign up fast enough. Take my money.

I eagerly anticipated this weekend for three whole months. Finally, it was time! Last Friday, I took the day off work and drove to the lodge, arriving late in the morning. Registration was quick and efficient. I signed in, got my swag bag (we got some free goodies courtesy of some of the sponsors), got fitted for a life vest, and got checked into my room. This was all before lunch, and the event didn’t start until 1 p.m.

I got lunch at the onsite restaurant and was ready and waiting in the ballroom for the opening presentation. It gave me a chance to meet some of the other participants and chat about our expectations for the weekend.

After the short ceremony, we all went to our activities. Mine was hiking, so I got in the passenger van taking us to Lyons Falls Trail. (The sign pictured below is actually incorrect. It is Lyons, not Lyon.)

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This is my favorite trail at Mohican, one I’ve walked many times. But this time we had a naturalist leading us, and she gave us all sorts of fascinating information about the geologic history of the area, as well as flora and fauna. We also hiked further on this trail than I ever had previously. It’s two miles to Big Lyons Falls (the first of two), and I always turned around at that point and hiked back.

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Not this time. Our group went on to Little Lyons Falls and then to Pleasant Hill Dam, which is at the three-mile point.

The driver met us at the dam, in case some of us wanted to go back. I could have kept hiking, but I was also eager to get the early bus out to Malabar Farm State Park. It was already going on 4 p.m., and the first bus for Malabar was scheduled for 5. It was also hot and humid, so I was drenched in sweat and in need of a shower.

So, I grabbed the ride back to the lodge at that point and freshened up.

At this point, I should say that I was expecting a roommate. I had her name, but at that point, I hadn’t met her yet. Nor was there any evidence that she had made it to the room.

Anyway, I grabbed a spot on the 5:00 coach to Malabar. A woman asked if she could sit next to me. We started chatting, and that’s when we realized we were supposed to be roommates. We were given keys to different rooms, so we each had rooms of our own. Sweet! I got to know her better than anyone else over the weekend, and she’s really cool. She also lives near me!

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I had never been to Malabar Farm before. It’s one of those places I wish I had visited sooner. It’s still a working farm (and it’s allegedly haunted), but its claim to fame is that it was home to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, and the wedding of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was held there in 1945. The grounds are beautiful, and the main house is a time capsule of 1940’s life. We had a barbecue buffet on the grounds before the tours started.

 

 

I was on the 8:00 bus back to the lodge, and I just hung out in my room for the rest of the night. A thunderstorm rolled in after 9:00, and it was nice to sit on the balcony (first floor, HAHA) and watch the storm.

That’s the end of day one. OWOA was off to a great start!

Continue on to part 2.

Island Weekend

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We just got back from a long weekend in Put-in-Bay. It was my husband’s first time visiting Lake Erie, and he loved it. I haven’t been to Put-in-Bay in more than 20 years, so it was nice to go back.

We decided to take the Casita and camp at South Bass Island State Park. In hindsight, it would have been easier and far less expensive to camp at East Harbor State Park (on the mainland) because the ferry can be expensive. Plus, we had to rent a golf cart for three days. But we had a great time regardless.

It was shortly after noon when we got to Port Clinton, where the ferry terminal is located. I knew we’d pass Cheese Haven, which was a place I always visited when I was in the area. But it wasn’t nearly as great as I remembered it. I remember there being a lot more samples. They only had some cheese dips to taste (one sample per customer), and I tried one marked “bacon” that evidently had ghost pepper in it. I prayed for death for probably a good 10 minutes until the burning stopped.

So yes, I’m probably done with Cheese Haven for life. We bought a couple cheeses and some fudge, but I have no desire to go back.

Surprisingly enough, there was not a long wait at the ferry terminal. A ferry was leaving just as we got there, but we got on the next one.

And then …

SURPRISE CELEBRITY ENCOUNTER.

Kid Rock performed the night before on Put-in-Bay at their annual Bay Bash. He apparently took the ferry we were about to get on. He walked past our truck (on the driver’s side), putting us between him and the line of walk-on passengers, many of whom clearly recognized him and started taking pictures. I couldn’t even believe it was him at first because why on Earth would he take the ferry? Put-in-Bay has an airport, or he could have taken a private boat. To see him get off the Miller Ferry was unexpected.

Anyway, I am not a fan of Kid Rock, but it’s now a story I can tell people.

So, the ferry ride was easy. We were the second vehicle to get off, and we found the campground easily. In no time, we were set up.

It was very woody and buggy. We are covered in the mosquito bites to prove it. (Yes, we have insect repellent. No, we didn’t use it. I don’t know why.)

Rather than bore you with the details, I’ll give some highlights:

  • Breakfast at Pasquale’s Café. We did this twice. Highly recommended.
  • Pizza at Frosty Bar. Yes, yes, yes!
  • Tasting at Put-in-Bay Winery.
  • Visit to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. We could see mainland Canada from the top. (I’ve visited at least twice before, but we have an America the Beautiful Pass, so it’s free and the views are great.)

It’s a party island basically (and we’re not partiers), so you have your pick of bars. We mostly took drives around the island in the golf cart to explore the natural beauty, people watch a little, and look at real estate. (We’re not buying, just curious.)

Oh, and if you go on a holiday weekend, RESERVE A GOLF CART IN ADVANCE! We did (you can reserve online), and everywhere was sold out. We saw many tourists walking around the island because they couldn’t get a golf cart. There are also bikes for rent, and mopeds, too, I think. We had someone ask us for a ride, in fact, but we had a two-seater, so we couldn’t help out.

Our island weekend is now over. We’re home and we have the dogs, and we are trying to ease back into our routine and get ready for the work week. Sad that it ended, but we’ll be back.

Tomatoes, Cheese, and Memories

It’s finally tomato season. This year, I’m growing a variety called Cherokee Purple, which become a deep rose color when ripe. They are glorious. Juicy and delicious. (They have also been resistant to pests and rot, unlike the Better Boys I grew for the past two summers.)

I’m eating a lot of tomato and cheese sandwiches. It’s one of my favorite ways to eat fresh tomatoes.

I usually only have the standard sandwich loaf for bread, but I think a sandwich like this probably needs some really good quality bread to be phenomenal. I love to use Cheddar cheese. And a grainy mustard preferably, though Dijon works in a pinch. And that’s it. Just layer a couple thick tomato slices and your cheese between slices of bread (one slice spread with mustard) and consume. Easy and delicious.

Every time I eat one of these sandwiches, I think of a camping trip I took in August 2006 with friends in England. We were staying at a campground in North Yorkshire, near Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby, etc. We had an RV and a tent set up on our site. I was staying in the tent. The RV belonged to the parents of a friend of my friends’, who was also with us. In fact, her parents were staying in it up until the day we arrived.

I remember it well. We showed up at the campsite, and immediately, her mum put on a kettle for tea. She made us sandwiches. She made me a cheese and tomato sandwich, and she kept calling me “Petal.”

Every time I eat a tomato and cheese sandwich, I can almost envision sitting in that little camper, drinking that cup of hot tea, and enjoying the mothering from this total stranger who called me “Petal” as she made me a sandwich.

My First Summer as a Grown-up

 

Twenty years ago at this time, I was in England, studying abroad for the summer in Bath. It was my first time outside the U.S. My flight from Columbus to St. Louis (and then to London) was the first time in my life I’d even flown on a plane. (TWA, and that airline hasn’t been around for how long now?)

A lifetime ago, and yet it also seems like only yesterday.

For me, this study abroad experience was an adventure of a lifetime. We visited London, Glastonbury Abbey, Stonehenge, Stratford-upon-Avon; saw Shakespeare plays at the Globe and Royal Shakespeare Theatre; spent a weekend in Dublin, Ireland. I had no idea that four years later, I’d move to Germany to live for four years – an even bigger adventure.

The trip was life-changing, as any study abroad trip should be. Not only because I was living and studying in a different country and experiencing another culture, but because I proved to myself that I could actually make my dreams come true. Until that point in time, I doubted myself constantly. I had poor self-esteem, and this went a long way toward changing that.

I was the one who applied for the program and somehow found the funds to pay for it, once I was accepted. I went through all the steps to get the travel arrangements made, get my international student ID card (which I still have), my passport, and all the other things required for this trip. I needed to prove to myself I was capable of making this happen. There was always that voice of doubt in my mind telling me this wouldn’t work out, that something would go wrong. I ignored it.

Another reason this trip was life-changing: My beloved Grandpa died less than two weeks after my arrival in England (that anniversary is coming in a couple days). I had to quickly shift gears and make arrangements to get home for the funeral and back to England afterwards to finish the program. I had a lot of help from my classmates, professors, and an English friend to get me through that time, and I am tremendously grateful, still, for their support.

(Aside: Tea really is a tremendous comfort in a time of sorrow, so the English definitely are on to something here.)

I came back after a week or so, incredibly sad, exhausted and with food poisoning. I spent nearly the entire flight from Cleveland to London so sick I wanted to die. (No hyperbole here – there are few things worse than having food poisoning on an international flight, I think.) And yet when I arrived at Gatwick in a weakened state (but no longer throwing up), I managed to find my way to the right train. I had enough presence of mind to switch trains at the right station. And I made it back to Bath. I got a cab at the train station and collapsed in a heap when I finally got back to my dorm.

The remainder of that summer helped me overcome my grief, probably more so than if I had stayed in Ohio. Grandpa was never far from my thoughts (I lit a candle for him in every cathedral we visited), but I was distracted enough by everything I was experiencing that it lessened my sadness significantly. He would have wanted me to enjoy it, so I did.

It was both the best and worst summer of my life up to that point. (That sounds a bit Dickensian, but it’s true.)

My takeaway from that experience was that I had way more mental fortitude than I ever gave myself credit for. I think that summer, 20 years ago, was the first time I felt like an actual grown-up.

Meet The Eggscape Pod!

We picked it up Monday morning in Texas and spent three days/two nights driving it back to Ohio.

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The first night was at Sunrise RV Park in Texarkana, Arkansas. It’s next to  a truck stop and literally right off the freeway, so it’s a great place to spend a night. We had full hook-up and it was a pull-through site.

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Our second night was at Spring Creek Campground in Clarksville, Tennessee.  We had electric and water, but no sewer (though there was a dump station). Also a pull-through site.

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We’ll be spending this weekend making mods to it. First official camping trip is next weekend!

California

I returned yesterday from a week in California – a vacation that was part solo adventuring, part family visit. My brother lives in Vacaville, near Sacramento. I flew in on Saturday the 16th and rented a car. (My layover was in Phoenix, and the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento took us over Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Luckily, I had a window seat.)

I didn’t go sightseeing every day I was there. It rained steadily for a couple of days, so I stayed in and streamed movies and TV (something I rarely do, so it was a luxury in and of itself). I went on a couple hikes with my brother and nieces at local parks. Our hike last Sunday at Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield (4 miles total) was pretty challenging, especially due to some pretty serious erosion of the trails from all the recent rain. But we soldiered through and awarded ourselves with ice cream from Fosters Freeze afterwards.

Mostly, I want to talk about my solo adventures, which took place Tuesday and Thursday.

Tuesday

On Tuesday morning, I drove to Suisun Marsh and visited Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. It’s a dream destination for birdwatchers and/or photographers. They also have a population of Tule Elk there, which are somewhat elusive, from my understanding. It was a happy accident that I was scanning the landscape through my camera’s zoom lens and spotted one. Unfortunately, it was too far away for my camera to get a decent shot. I took photos, but they’re not the best – only enough to prove that I saw one.

Here are a few other shots I took that day. (Note that I generally only do some cropping and maybe slight color correction. I rarely do heavy photo editing.)

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The driving tour of Grizzly Island took about two hours (with photo stops at almost every parking lot). It was lunchtime as I finished up my adventuring there, so I drove back into Suisun City to find something to eat. I ended up at Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue. I was lame and ordered the barbecue chicken bowl, which was basically just marinated chicken, vegetables, and rice. It was good but kind of boring. I bet I would have enjoyed it more if I had ordered something different. (They had Spam on their menu, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I don’t think there is any possible way to cook it that would make it taste good to me.)

Since I was in wine country (not Napa, which is nearby – been there, done that), I thought I should go to one of the less touristy wineries in Suisun Valley. Several of them were closed (on a Tuesday?), so I set my Google Map directions toward the first one I came across in Google that had Tuesday hours. It just so happened to be Wooden Valley Winery, which has excellent reviews. I was not disappointed. I thought the Riesling was particularly good, and I was informed that if I purchased a bottle for $16, the tasting fee ($15) would be waived. That’s a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned.

I also bought a glass of Riesling so I could relax on their beautiful patio and enjoy the perfect weather. I was given a free wine glass with their logo on it, which is actually one of those shatterproof stemless ones made out of plastic. That’s sort of perfect because I need a wine glass for our travel trailer anyway. (I collect wine glasses and I don’t have room for any more in my kitchen cabinets.)

So, if you happen to be in Suisun Valley and you want some wine, this place gets a big thumbs up from me. And I’m not a wine novice, for what it’s worth.

Thursday

I set my sights on the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden for Thursday. Gardens are a particular passion of mine, especially for photography. I’ve visited many public gardens across the U.S. and Europe. I was pleasantly surprised by my visit. This is one of the finest public gardens I’ve seen, full stop. And yes, it is California, but even so, I was amazed at everything that was blooming so early in the spring.

I’ll let my photos do most of the talking here. This place was unbelievable.

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Trust me, these photos don’t even do it justice.

This was my first trip out to California in six years, and I don’t want that much time to pass before going out there again. My nieces are growing so fast.

The Ghosts of Warwick Castle

Fright Nights – Warwick Castle (Warwick, England)
August 4-5, 2006
9 pm – 5 am

The small group participating in the ghost hunt met in the castle’s café. We were introduced to the Fright Nights team and got an explanation of what they do and what to expect.

After this brief introduction, we got a tour of Warwick Castle – the grounds, gate house, dungeon, and ghost tower – along with the historical background. At certain points, the guides paused to tell us that they felt spirits around, but most of the participants couldn’t see/feel/hear anything, except for one person in the group who had a very strong sense of the ghosts that were in each room.

After the initial orientation of the castle, we met back at our base of operations – the café. The tour leaders passed out ghost hunting equipment – various thermometers and electro-magnetic field detectors – and gave us a brief tutorial their use. Then we were allowed to go off on our own private tour of the castle.

Reluctant to fly solo, I paired up with another woman who was also on her own. We decided to explore the gate house, but our equipment detected nothing. The gate house was allegedly haunted by the spirits of soldiers who tried to invade the castle, as well as a witch and various other spirits.

Eventually, we reconvened at the café to meet up with our medium, Michael. We introduced ourselves to each other, and two men (a gay couple…this will be important later, which is why I’m mentioning it) struck up a conversation with me. I stuck with them the rest of the evening.

As a group, we went with Michael to tour the castle again. Immediately, he picked up the presence of ghosts: Roman soldiers marching in the courtyard; a man who had been trampled after being pushed to the ground; a drummer boy standing by a doorway who was sad because he lost his drum; a mother carrying a baby who stood outside the castle gates, begging to be let in.

Inside the dungeon, he saw the torture master, who didn’t want us there. On the ceiling hung an iron maiden. He saw a woman in it.

In the gate house, he saw various other ghosts. At one point, he saw a ghost named Guy, a member of the Knights Templar, standing next to me. The room was hot and stuffy, but my right side, where he allegedly stood, was freezing cold.

In various rooms, depending on how spirits had died in them, people complained of correlating body aches: terrible headaches if the person died of a stroke, stomachaches if a person died from being stabbed in the stomach, etc.

There was one room where the air kept getting sucked out of my lungs, and I gasped for breath – it happened to other people at the same time. We smelled random scents like lavender or mint, when there was nothing that should have caused those scents.

In the ghost tower, Michael picked up on a ghost in the first room named Brooke (last name), who told him that he’s Sir Greville’s servant. (Sir G once resided in the ghost tower.) Michael felt a heavy pressure in his body, which he said was due to the pervasive sadness in the room. Brooke was not just Sir G’s servant, but also his lover, and he stabbed Sir G. to death in a fit of passion before killing himself. Michael related all this to us as he communicated with Brooke. This account was consistent with the history of the castle, which Michael said he did not study prior to coming.

In Sir G’s bedroom, Michael described Sir G’s ghost and began to feel very uneasy. The other men in the room noted some odd sensations, but the women didn’t feel anything. We all stood in the dark, and we were advised to turn on our flashlight and run if we felt we were in imminent danger.

One of the men did – he suddenly panicked, turned on his flashlight, and ran down the stairs, followed by one of the paranormal experts. They were down there for several minutes (they picked up on another ghost at the bottom of the stairs), and those of us remaining in Sir G’s bedroom stood very still and quiet. We heard footsteps walking around in the middle of the room. The men downstairs also heard them.

We eventually went downstairs and into a very narrow room. The medium panicked. There was the presence of an elemental, or animal spirit, and several people picked up on it being a wolf or a dog. Michael, who has had contact with ghosts his entire life, told us that he had never felt more scared in his life, and we had to strongly convince him not to flee from the building.

At this point, I was still not convinced any of this was real. I didn’t feel this panicky/dangerous vibe that several other people were picking up on.

After this intense scene in the ghost tower, we headed back to the café, where we were split up into two teams. One team went with Michael to the gate house and dungeon. My team joined the two other guides to go into the ghost tower.

We started out on the first floor. One of the ladies in the group said she felt a very playful spirit in the room. We stood in a circle, holding hands. People claimed they could feel the presence of the ghost behind them as it walked around the room – it would lightly touch people. One of the guides said she felt the ghost was walking in a very comical manner. One lady in the room got a random fit of the giggles.

We went up one floor, back to Sir G’s bedroom. All flashlights off, and we stood in a circle holding hands. Suddenly, we hear hissing sounds coming from various parts of the room. Some people said the hissing was directly in their ears.

We heard screaming, and flashlights came on. Several women were shoved around very hard. They moved to another part of the circle.

Once we calmed down, we rejoined hands and the flashlights went out again. The guides were asking, “If you’re here, give us a sign. Make a noise. Touch someone. Let us know you’re here.” (They repeated this several times throughout the night.)

More pushing, screaming, flashlights coming on. Lights out again, holding hands again…

I heard a shout from one of the men in the group. It was one of the gay guys I was hanging out with, and he said someone was trying to pull up the back of his shirt. (Remember, Sir G. was in a homosexual relationship.) He explained that he was gay, so perhaps the ghost could sense that.

We settled back into our circle, lights out… A guide sat on Sir G’s bed. A woman claimed to see a bright flash of light moving onto the bed. The guide announced that Sir G. sat next to him.

We heard a sound coming from downstairs. The guide on the bed shouted, “We know you’re down there, come up and join us.” A minute later, he told us, “the elemental has joined me on the bed.”

Despite all this going on, I still hear/see/feel nothing. Just about everyone else in the room was panicky and scared, and I felt disappointed because I wasn’t experiencing anything.

After this, our group joined Michael in the gate house and dungeon. Michael should have gone to the ghost tower, but he refused to go.

We went to the dungeon first, which was, in my opinion, the creepiest room in the entire castle. All lights out. Instead of standing in a circle and holding hands, we sat around the room very quietly. I sat in a little alcove next to a trapdoor where they would throw some of the prisoners (the oubliette). I figured that surely I would feel something there, but I felt absolutely nothing. We sat in silence for a while, and the medium finally announced that nothing was there, so we moved on to the gate house.

Nothing seemed to be going on there either. In one of the rooms, Michael said that he saw ghosts moving in and out, but none of them stayed. We sat for a really long time. My legs fell asleep. One guy fell asleep and started snoring. Two women finally got up and left. I followed them out. We sat in the café for a bit, talking about how disappointing this was. Nothing we had seen had truly convinced us.

A short time later, everyone else joined us in the café. Michael arrived first, a minute or two before the others, and he was shaking and telling us he was absolutely terrified to go back in the ghost tower. The rest of the group joined us, and we went back into the ghost tower and stood in a circle, holding hands. All flashlights off, and the only light in the room was a tiny red dot coming from the tape recorder.

Michael was sitting apart from us in a corner. I got a very odd sensation at this moment – the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I got this hot flash. One of our guides announced that Michael was in a trance. As a transmedium, ghosts can enter his body and speak through him. We felt a whoosh of cold air, and Michael’s breathing became really shallow. He moaned.

The guides asked him questions, and slowly he started to talk. He said his name was Guy and he lived right after the Crusades in a place not far from the castle. He told us that he didn’t want us in the room, but he agreed to answer some questions on the condition that we promised to leave. He said that his wife lived in the castle. She was the daughter of an earl, and she jumped into the Avon River and drowned at the age of 25 because she was possessed by demons. He said he lived as a recluse until he died at age 50. We felt another burst of air as he was talked about his wife, and he said, “She’s here.” The guides confirmed that his wife entered the room. In a minute, we felt another rush of air and heard footsteps leaving the room. The spirits were gone. Michael was sputtering and choking on the floor and needed assistance.

A large chair was then placed in the middle of the room with a wine glass placed upside down on top of it. Three people volunteered to place their fingers lightly on the base of the glass (like an Ouija board). One of them asked questions:

“If there is a spirit in the room, please move the glass.”

The glass moved just a bit.

Through a series of other questions, we determined that the ghost moving the glass was once again, Sir G. More questions:

“Do you know there is an elemental in the room?”

The glass moved so hard and fast that it nearly crashed off the chair.

“Can you move the glass in the direction where the elemental is located?”

The glass moved toward the stairway, where this wolf/dog spirit was first encountered.

A series of other questions were asked, and then the wine glass stopped moving. After several minutes, we concluded that Sir G. was tired of playing with us and left.

The ghost hunt was at an end.

Back at the café, Michael was slumped in a chair, complaining that his body was burning. A woman touched his arm and said his skin was boiling hot. It looked like blisters/boils were popping up on his skin.

The last hour was perhaps the most convincing for me, but I’m still skeptical. Whether it was real or a bunch of smoke and mirrors, it was a very cool experience. I was happy to have access to the castle at night, which few people before me have ever had the chance to do.