Maternity Henna for Our Second Born

Maternity photo with older sister

Four years ago today, I published a post about my wife getting a henna design on her pregnant belly. She was seven-and-a-half months along, and we didn’t know the gender of the child. The baby was a mystery, a hidden identity that we couldn’t formulate until his/her birth. So the design that our artist, the talented Amy Haderer-Swagman, created on that day embodied some of that mystery. It centered on a gallant, masculine peacock within an expanding, feminine sunflower. On March 7, our little girl was born, and everything about our life has been better since.

In two weeks or so, we’re going to welcome our second born — another little mystery, an anonymous kicker and roller who keeps Hailey up at night, but delights her with little motions. Varenna will be a big sister, and life will get doubly good. To celebrate, Hailey had another henna design commissioned for her pregnant belly, and this time, Amy created an unfathomable masterpiece.

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Top Towns to Visit on the Middle Mosel River

Ürzig and Ürziger Würtzgarten, Germany

To wrap up on the Mosel River in Germany, I thought I’d cheat and just compile a quick guide to the places worth visiting in between the major attractions of Cochem, Burg Eltz and Bernkastel-Keus. All of these places were within easy reach of each other, especially if you base camp it at Senhalser Höfe in Senhals. And since most of them have a famous wine associated with them, I thought I’d throw in some suggested riesling pairings as well.

Ürzig & the Ürziger Würtzgarten

Why go there: Only a handful of villages along the Mosel can even challenge the beauty of Ürzig. The justly famous Ürziger Würtzgarten vineyard — with its severe pitch and unusual red-clay soil — serves as a dramatic backdrop to the north of town. With the vineyard and its cozy buildings tucked together, I could have spent a full day photographing Ürzig and its surroundings.

Suggested pairing: Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Ürziger Würtzgarten Riesling 2012. Of all the wines I sampled along the Mosel, this one was the best example of minerality in a riesling. Continue reading

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A Cruise Tour on the Mosel River: Cochem to Beilstein

Boat touring the Mosel River near Beilstein, Germany

Along with the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone, the Mosel sees a ton of cruise traffic. The sheer volume of boats slipping in and out of the docks along Cochem’s waterfront surprised me. Along with the simple cross-the-river ferries operated by the local municipalities, there were day-trip cruises as well as multi-day mega-liners — long pearly-white craft that were crammed with hotel rooms and sapped of personality. They’re stiffness made them resemble floating logs. They looked about as much fun. Continue reading

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A Visit to Burg Eltz, Germany

Burg Eltz, Germany

Just beyond Treis-Karden and Müden we turned at a sign indicating Burg Eltz, one of the most famous castles in the world, which was hailed by PBS’ boy wonder Rick Steeves as his “favorite castle in Europe.” Comprised of three households (four after the 1500s), the massive, eight-story castle has managed to remain intact with minimal damage from fires and wars since the 11th century. In fact, it is still owned by descendants of one of these families, some 33 generations later. Continue reading

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Bernkastel-Keus: The Prettiest Place on the Mosel River

Bernkastel Doctor, Bernkastel-Keus, Germany

Wandering the streets of Bernkastel-Keus, its hard not to feel like you are on a treasure hunt. For one, there’s the countless storefront window displays, many of them showing off wine bottles of nearby producers, their labels bedecked with Gothic script and a stodginess that paradoxically counters the happy and saccharine flavors of the Riesling inside. There’s also the half-timbered buildings, many of them leaning as though they’re about to fold over like a house of cards. And then, there are those glimpses — usually over a roofline or between two buildings — of the Bernkasteler Doctor, one of the most prized vineyards in all of Europe, stretching up the hill side like a dwarf emerald forest.

Cyclists, Bernkastel Doctor vineyard, Bernkastel-Keus, Germany

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Visiting Cochem, Germany

Cochem, Germany at dusk on Mosel River

We started our first day in Germany slowly. My daughter clearly needed to sleep in from the jet lag, and so did my wife. So my mom and I opted to cross the river to Bakerei Stenz and load up on goodies for breakfast. By 10:30am, we were alert, satiated and ready for a little exploration, and with zero hesitation, we headed north, down the river to the city of Cochem. For months, I had been trolling Flickr, seeking inspiration and locales for how to shoot the area. Images of this city — with its Imperial castle vaulting skyward, looming over a quaint city like a domineering bully — seemed to make up 50% of the search results, apparently for good reason. Continue reading

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Where to Stay on the Mosel River: Senhals, Germany

Church and vineyards, Senheim, Germany, Mosel River Valley

In early October, I was lucky enough to visit the Mosel River Valley in Germany with my mother, my wife and my daughter — the three women of my life — and savor its wine, history, architecture and seemingly unending scenic beauty.

We had modest ambitions: maybe visit the Romantic Rhein for a day, spend some time in the ancient city of Trier … we even debated on whether we should dabble our toes in Luxembourg. But visiting this serpentine river valley covered in vineyards proved to be another matter. We hardly went anywhere. We didn’t feel compelled to. Continue reading

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Visiting the Anderson Valley, California

Knez Winery wine tasting, Boonville, CA

It’s rather amusing to tell people where you are headed: I’m taking a short vacation to Boonville, California. All they hear is “boonies,” and while they chuckle, it occurs to you that they’re not far off.

Tucked away in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, Boonville is absolutely rural, with the nearest significant town 20 miles away. I didn’t think this was possible in California, but apparently it is. To get there, you drive north out of San Francisco, through Sonoma County on Highway 101, and just past Cloverdale, you find your way onto a road that can only be described as serpentine. Highway 128′s twists and turns border on the ridiculous, as it weaves its way through oak, grassy hills, brittle fields and — ultimately — vineyards. Rolling into town, its nothing extraordinary. A county fairgrounds on the left, a Victorian home here and there, storefronts, old trucks. You might wonder: what’s the point? Seems pleasant, but of all the places one can go …

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Tasting Alexander Valley Wines in Sonoma

Alexander Valley Vineyards wine barrel, Sonoma County, California

Apparently I am at that stage in life where its time to fall in love with wine. It’s a precursor to middle age, I am guessing.

But before you start painting a picture of me based on the usual assumptions of a stereotypical midlife crisis — balding means time to grow a ponytail! — let me first state that I am only 34 years old. Also let me state what this new obsession is not about:

  • The prestige of wine,
  • Wine as a status symbol,
  • Wine as a vehicle for alcohol-based escapism,
  • Wine as an excuse to bullshit someone with phrases like “seared stones” and “velvety mouthfeel,”
  • Wine as sexual displacement.

You may laugh about this last one, but if you’ve ever read the garbage that passes for modern wine writing, you’ll have come across plenty of bury-your-face-in-your-hands tasting-note descriptions that liken a cabernet to Angelina Jolie. Continue reading

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Muir Woods NM + the Presidio in the Rain

Muir Woods National Monument, California

Last month, Hailey and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. Milestones are a funny thing: its just a number, another day, yes, but if there is one thing to be proud of — to truly celebrate, unlike a birthday or Valentine’s Day — it’s success in marriage. We toasted by visiting the Anderson Valley, an unheralded region of redwoods, vineyards and orchards in Northern California’s Mendocino County. It was a short trip, just three nights, but it was our first taste of what traveling around California is like: hectic, expensive and stressful in the urban areas; blissful, relaxing and delicious in the rural ones.

Before we got there, we made some diversions on day one. Here’s how it looked:

Sunday

The Presidio’s Picnic Off the Grid

Our flight was delayed into San Francisco, renting the car took over an hour, and I provided bad directions in getting to the Presidio. Not the best start to a trip, but all was better once I had a colossal lamb burger. Continue reading

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