Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Recent Events (December 2015)

Following are events I have recently participated in, and which I am listing here with links back to archived editions of radio shows and webcasts, blog posts about them, etc. Times are Central Standard Time, in keeping with where I live near San Antonio, Texas. 

December 10 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 42: Hacking, Cracking, & Data Jacking" (webcast). 

December 13 (Sunday), 7-8 p.m.: Paranormal Filler: Michael Varhola on Filler (radio show), with host Wes Forsythe. 

December 17 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live!: d-Infinity Play Krampusnacht" (webcast). 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Ethiopia Reading List

For a number of reasons I read very little purely for pleasure and most of what I am looking at any given time is vocational in some way and ties in with whatever I happen to be working on at the time. That is not to say that I do not enjoy those things, and often have a lot of selectivity with them, just that they tend to be fairly narrowly focused while I am involved in a particular project. Books I read or referred to before, during, or after my two-week trip to Ethiopia included: 

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. This historical novel looks at the history of Ethiopia in the 1950s through the 1970s through the experiences of a medical doctor in Addis Ababa and the staff of the hospital where he is born and eventually practices. My mother read this book in conjunction with her own trip to Ethiopia and gave me a copy of it as an early Christmas present so that I could avail myself of it as well. It is both a fascinating work of fiction and an insight into the troubled period of history that began with the demise of Emperor Haillie Selassie's regime and the rise of the repressive Soviet-backed Derg government. 

Ethiopia, the Bradt Travel Guide (Edition 6), by Phillip Briggs. Suffice it to say that this was a very useful general-purpose travel guide and that I got good use out of it. It did not have entries for a number of places that I stayed out, however, revealing a degree of apparent bias in what the author chose to cover or not. It also contained some commentary that I think was off the mark (e.g., that the food at the Blue Nile Resort in Bahir-Dar was not good, whereas I had an excellent meal there). 

A Guide to Lalibela

A Treasury of African Folklore, by Harold Courlander. 

A History of Ethiopia in Pictures. Several of the vendors in Axum were peddling this book and my guide recommended I pick up a copy. He negotiated a price for me of 300 birr ($15) and said it tends to cost about 450 birr; probably paid too much for it in any case but am glad to support the Ethiopian economy in my small way. It is, in any event, a fun and useful title with lots of great information and black-and-white illustrations and has become the current bathroom book in my home office. 

The Blue Nile, by Alan Moorehead. 

Culture Smart! Ethiopia, by Sarah Howard. My brother loaned me this book but pretty much de-recommended it in favor of the much more substantial Bradt travel guide mentioned above. It did, however, include some useful information on social mores that I did not stumble across in the other book. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

An Exercise in Resolve, Month 11

November started off rainy and markedly cooler than the previous month. I finally increased the weight of what I routinely carried, which represented a key step forward, going from a "light" load of up to 10 pounds to a "medium" load of 10-20 pounds. I also sporadically supplement my routine with a few pushups, situps, chinups, or bench presses, but the walk is definitely my main exercise and that is why carrying gear is key. And, now that I am carrying a day pack again, I am able to carry my walking stick on the walk up to the mailbox and often have a couple pounds of mail in the pack for the balance of the walk. Entries in quotes are taken from my Twitter posts. 

November 1 (Sunday): Walked 0.6 miles with a light, c. 9-pound load. 
November 2 (Monday): "Got in a two-mile walk with a light load. Perfect walking weather, sunny, bright, and cloudless but also cool here in Texas Hill Country!" 
November 3 (Tuesday): Walked c. 0.75 miles. Added a day pack and increased equipment load to c. 15 pounds and intended to walk two miles but tried to help someone catch their dogs and, in the process, dragged my trailing foot over a cactus and ended up with about 20 spines of various sizes in my foot, ankle and leg  including one so deep in my big toe that I had to take off my shoe and pull hard to get out. 
November 4 (Wednesday):  Walked 1.5 miles at twilight with a medium, 15+ pound load. 
November 5 (Thursday): "Got in a 1.5-mile twilight walk with a 15.3-pound load! Unseasonably warm today here in Texas Hill Country but cooled off a bit in the evening." 
November 6 (Friday): "Got in a two-mile late afternoon walk with 15+ pounds of gear! Has been raining and was damp and very cool here in Texas Hill Country." 
November 7 (Saturday): No walk; was part of an author panel at Bulverde/Spring Branch Library and got back too late.
November 8 (Sunday): No walk but mowed the lawn for a full hour. 
November 9 (Monday): "Got in a two-mile late afternoon walk with 20+ pounds of gear; was overdue increasing load and glad to have done it twice so far this month!" 
November 10 (Tuesday): Did a brief, 0.6-mile walk with 20+ pounds of gear. 
November 11-14: Getting ready for three weeks on the road and certainly walked to some extent during this period and know that I did some prolonged mowing sessions on probably a couple of the days. 
November 15: "Brief, 1.2-mile walk with 17-plus pounds of gear. Wore boots instead of sneakers to make sure they were in good shape for my upcoming Africa trip." 
November 16-22: Traveled to and spent six days in the Washington, D.C., area. Did not try to observe a regular exercise routine but got decent walks or workouts in a number of days; e.g., one day hauled 100 pounds of luggage crosstown on the Metro from Silver Spring, Maryland, to Alexandria, Virginia, and on Friday, November 21, walked a mile-and-a-half from my daughter's house to the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station and then probably a similar distance around D.C. with my friend Paul Knorr. 
November 23-30: Spent last week of November in Ethiopia! Did not try to maintain a regular exercise routine but stayed active and got some substantial workouts in some days. Most significant was a 15-mile roundtrip hike involving a 1,000-foot ascent, from the city of Lalibela to a mountaintop monastery during Day 5 of my Ethiopian Adventure (shown below is a picture of me during this excursion). 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Recent Events (November 2015)

Following are events I have recently participated in, and which I am listing here with links back to archived editions of radio shows and webcasts, blog posts about them, etc. 

November 5 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 39: Under the Sea" (webcast). 

November 7 (Saturday), 3 - 4:30 p.m.: "Local Authors Panel as Part of NaNoWriMo," Bulverde/Spring Branch Library, Bulverde, Texas. 

November 12 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 40: We, Robots" (webcast). 

November 19 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 41" (webcast). 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Exercise in Resolve, Month 10

October started off with perfect walking weather, bright and sunny but also cool and breezy much of the time! We hit every extreme after that, from a triple-digit heat index early in the month to driving rainstorms toward the end. Entries on the daily list below in quotes are taken from my pertinent personal Twitter posts and several of the italicized entries mid-month are for days when I know I walked but did not annotate the distance (and in retrospect it all runs together). 

October 1 (Thursday): Walked 0.6 miles with a light load. 
October 2 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles with a light load
October 3 (Saturday): Walked two miles with a light load
October 4 (Sunday): No walk but mowed a section of the lawn. 
October 5 (Monday): Walked 0.6 miles. 
October 6 (Tuesday): "Walked 2.5 miles with a light load. Bright and sunny but not too hot here in Texas Hill Country and very pleasant for some outdoor exercise!" Also mowed the lawn for about 20 minutes and swept the upper patio and so ended up being pretty beat! 
October 7 (Wednesday):  No walk; was on the road to Wimberley to do a presentation at the library on my new San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country
October 8 (Thursday): Walked just 0.6 miles with a light load; got immersed in Skirmisher personnel issues and did not make it out until just before dinner. 
October 9 (Friday): Walked about 1.5 miles around downtown San Antonio, to and from our hotel to the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center, then dinner, and then drinks. 
October 10 (Saturday): Did not walk too much but loaded things into and then out of the convention center and made three trips between it and the parking lot.  
October 11 (Sunday): Walked 1.2 miles with a light load. 
October 12 (Monday): "2.2-mile mid-afternoon walk with a light load. Wondered why I was dragging until I learned we had a 100 degree heat index here in Texas Hill Country!" 
October 13 (Tuesday): No walk; was on the road and then passed out until after dark when I got back. 
October 14 (Wednesday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 15 (Thursday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 16 (Friday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 17 (Saturday): "Managed to get in a two-mile twilight walk with a light load. Has finally cooled down a bit here in Texas Hill Country!" 
October 18 (Sunday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 19 (Monday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 20 (Tuesday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 21 (Wednesday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 22 (Thursday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 23 (Friday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 24 (Saturday): Had to skip a planned hike to the Devil's Hollow with visiting Brendan Cass due to heavy rain, but managed to get in a c. 1.5 night hike together to the local haunted 19th century Bremer Cemetery during a lull in the weather. (A time lapse image by Brendan of me standing by an ominous tree in the graveyard appears below.)
October 25 (Sunday): Got in a quick 1.2-mile twilight walk with a light load. Cold and damp after yesterday's storm and feeling like fall here in Texas Hill Country!" 
October 26 (Monday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 27 (Tuesday): Walked between 0.6 and 2+ miles with a light load. 
October 28 (Wednesday): No walk, on account of spending first half of the day cleaning the house, picking up Diane at the airport in the afternoon, and stopping for dinner on the way home and not getting back until after dark. 
October 29 (Thursday): No walk, on account of being on the road, getting Hepatitis B and rabies vaccinations, and needing to get ready for my weekly "d-Infinity Live!" show. 
October 30 (Friday): Walked just 0.6 miles, to and from the mailbox, and did not go further on account of rain. 
October 31 (Saturday): Walked two miles with a light load. Wanted to end the month on a strong note! 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Recent Events (October 2015)

Following are events I have recently participated in, and which I am listing here with links back to archived editions of radio shows and webcasts, blog posts about them, etc. 

October 29 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 39: d-Infinity Plays: One Starry Night (Call of Cthulhu)" (webcast and role-playing game session). 

October 24 (Saturday), 7 - 9 p.m.: "The Paranormal View: Author Michael O. Varhola" (radio show). The Paranormal View is a very relaxed, round table style talk show that focuses on bringing together experts, enthusiasts, and listeners with varied viewpoints. Instead of focusing strictly on ghostly phenomena, hosts Henry Foister, Geoffrey Gould, Barbara Duncan, and Kat Klockow, strive to provide listeners with topics that cover all areas of the paranormal, including ghosts, UFOs, cryptozoology, psychic phenomena, and more. 

October 22 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 38: We Are Werewolves!" (webcast). 

October 10 (Saturday), 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.: Fantom Fest, Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center, San Antonio, Texas. 

October 15 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 37: Playtesting" (webcast). 

October 8 (Thursday), 8 - 9 p.m.: "d-Infinity Live! Series 4, Episode 36: Mars" (webcast). 

October 7 (Wednesday), noon - 1 p.m.: "Lunch & Learn: Ghosthunting in the Hill Country," Wimberley Village Library, Wimberley, Texas. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TravelBlogue: 'An Excursion Into Egypt'

In October 2006, my wife Diane and I made a port of call in Alexandria, Egypt, while on a 12-day cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel from Athens, Greece, to Istanbul, Turkey. Ours was the first cruise since the terrorist attacks in September 2001 that was allowed to make overnight excursions to Cairo and we made a whirlwind trip from Alexandria to Cairo and nearby Saqqara, Memphis, and Giza. Check out my new photo essay on "An Excursion Into Egypt" on my TravelBlogue

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An Exercise in Resolve, Month 9

Started off the month well with a new route that includes walking up to the mailbox, down to the end of the cul de sac, and then past the house far enough to bring myself up to an even 2 miles even by the time I am done. In general I carry a light load consisting of my shoulder bag, containing a camera and other gear and weighing about 6.5 pounds, and a 1.6-pound walking stick (although I usually don't carry the stick up the mailbox so that my hands will be free for anything I pick up there). Managed to make relevant Twitter posts some days and have included those here, minus any hashtags they might have contained. 

September 1 (Tuesday): "Two-mile twilight walk w. a light load; another breezy evening here in Texas Hill Country. Saw a herd of c. 20 deer on the lot behind mine."
September 2 (Wednesday): "Late afternoon 2-mile walk between teleconferences; running on a little more than 3 hours sleep and kept a sluggish pace."
September 3 (Thursday): No walk; got lazy and disorganized and ran out of time while trying to get ready for my weekly show. 
September 4 (Friday): Walked 0.6 to 2 miles with a light load (know I walked but did not log and do not remember how far). 
September 5 (Saturday): Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load
September 6 (Sunday): Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load
September 7 (Monday): Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load. 
September 8 (Tuesday): Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load
September 9 (Wednesday):  Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load
September 10 (Thursday): Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load
September 11 (Friday): Walked 0.3 miles up to the mailbox; started raining halfway there and was a torrent by the time I got there. Diane drove up and rescued me before I had to walk back in it. 
September 12 (Saturday): Got in a 2-mile mid-afternoon walk. Bright and cloudless but probably only in the mid-80s. 
September 13 (Sunday): Mowed lawn for about 30 minutes instead of taking a walk. 
September 14 (Monday): "Two-mile sunset walk with a light load ... Relatively cool here in Texas Hill Country and was able to keep a decent pace!" 
September 15 (Tuesday): Walked 1.2 miles with a light load (on top of a visit to Costco, which always involves a bit of walking in itself). 
September 16 (Wednesday): "Walked two miles with a light load in between late afternoon rain showers! Cloudy but bright and about 90° here in Texas Hill Country." 
September 17 (Thursday): Walked 0.6 miles with a light load and then spent about 20 minutes mowing the lawn. 
September 18 (Friday): Late afternoon two-mile walk with a light load; in the 90s here in Texas Hill Country but briefly had a cool breeze and some cloud cover.
September 19 (Saturday): Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load
September 20 (Sunday): No walk; was feeling lazy and unorganized and just failed to get one in. 
September 21 (Monday): Walked between 0.6 and 2 miles with a light load
September 22 (Tuesday):  No walk; was out doing errands during the day. 
September 23 (Wednesday): Was on the road early in the day, and managed to get a little walking in as a result, and then got in a late afternoon 1.2-mile walk when I got back. 
September 24 (Thursday): Felt kind of off most of the day but stuck it out and got in a two-mile walk -- figured it would not be an auspicious start for the next year of my life to blow it off on my birthday! 
September 25 (Friday): Walked just 0.6 miles up to the mailbox; torrential rain hit when I was going to walk and by the time it was done I could not go further before nightfall and did not fell like walking in the dark. 
September 26 (Saturday): Walked two miles with a light load. Was warm and I had eaten sort of a sub-standard lunch and so I was pretty played out by the time I got back and glad to eat dinner right away.  
September 27 (Sunday): No walk! And no good excuse; was just working through on things and did not make good enough use of my time. 
September 28 (Monday): Walked 0.6 miles with a light load.  
September 29 (Tuesday): "Managed to get in 2.5 miles w. a light load ahead of hitting a 100-degree heat index here in Texas Hill Country! Longest walk this month." 
September 30 (Wednesday): Walked two miles with a light load (with a break in between going to the mailbox and finishing the rest of it). Pretty hot for September but glad to have finished the month on a strong note! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

TravelBlogue: 'Two Days in Athens'

While working on an article for d-Infinity Online magazine ("Monsters Among Us"), I tracked down the pictures I had taken during the trip my wife Diane and I took to the Mediterranean in 2006. Our first stop ahead of boarding a cruise ship for 12 nights was Athens, where we spent a couple of days, September 26-27, exploring the historic heart of the city. Check out our "Two Days in Athens" on my TravelBlogue

Friday, July 10, 2015

Top Twitter Fails

For the past several months I have been building a presence on Twitter and learning how to effectively use it as a tool for promoting my various projects, notably those with Skirmisher Publishing LLC, the d-Infinity game franchise, and the America's Haunted Road Trip series of travel guides. One thing that continues to strike me in the course of these efforts is how poorly a great many organizations manage their Twitter presences, even though it is clear that they want to use it as a tool. 

Following are the first of numerous common "fails" by Twitter users -- labeled as such primarily because they impeded growth or simply do not ultimately accomplish anything useful. Note that I am posting these for the benefit or individuals, businesses, and other entities that have a message they want to get out to an audience. If you don't care whether people follow you on Twitter, whether you can reach them about what you are doing, etc., then the following information does not apply to you, because it is kind of irrelevant to the world at large whether you are on Twitter or not. 

* Talking about things that are "coming soon"! It is hard enough to get people to genuinely pay attention to what you are doing and to get out the word about your existing products, projects, etc. Promises about things that do not yet exist, especially if they appear in your bio, look justifiably weak and just make the people who include them look silly — and this is all the truer if the promises are about something like a crowdfunding project! No one will ever say, "Oh, wow, these guys are going to have a Kickstarter 'soon'! That really makes me want to keep coming back and seeing this message again and again." 

* Misspellings in your bio. This is not particularly important in personal accounts but can be the kiss of death in professional or business ones. No one is going to buy anything from you if you can't spell, especially as this will raise the suspicion that you are running a scam and don't really have a real business at all.
* No Bio. Don't forego including a bio! Bots and other spurious users often do not have one and this is the kind of thing that can make people opt not to follow you and make it difficult to tell whether or not they should. A lot of accounts with no bios will also have no tweets, and this is indicative both of bots and of people who have set up accounts and then promptly abandoned them. 

* Failing to promote your own interests. It is amazing how many people indicate some economic motive for being on Twitter but will not actually take the most rudimentary steps to serve their own interests. If someone claims to be a "freelance fantasy artist" but does not follow back a fantasy game publisher, then you can be pretty sure that they are really much more likely to be a Starbucks barista. And a Twitter account that has something as blatant as a Kickstarter project associated with it that does not immediately follow back every legitimate follower is simply poorly run -- and if they can't even run a Twitter account properly, how can they be trusted to manage the project for which they want your money? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A War of Many Names (Life In Civil War America)

Was chatting recently with my friend Pierce Tomas about some of the different labels that have been applied to what is officially called the U.S. Civil War. That prompted me to recall the following item, "A War of Many Names," which I wrote first for my Everyday Life During the Civil War and which currently appears in its successor, Life In Civil War America

"Few wars have been referred to in quite so many ways as this one, and its various names reflect a wide range of attitudes toward the conflict. The official name given to it by the victorious Federal government is, of course, the Civil War, a term that came into use in 1861. In the Southern states, however, the terms used in 1861 included the Revolution, the Second War for Independence, and the War of Secession.

A variety of other names came into use during the war and in the decades following it, most of which reveal partiality to one side or the other, a tone of reconciliation, humor or an emphasis on some aspect of the conflict. These include the Great Fratricide, the War of Northern Aggression, the War for Constitutional Liberty, the War Between the States, the War Between the North and the South, the War for Southern Independence, the Second American Revolution, the War for States’ Rights, Mr. Lincoln’s War, the Southern Rebellion, the War for Southern Rights, the War of the Southern Planters, the War of the Rebellion, the War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance, the Brothers’ War, the Great Rebellion, the War for Nationality, the War for Southern Nationality, the War Against Slavery, the Civil War Between the States, the War of the Sixties, the War Against Northern Aggression, the Yankee Invasion, the War for Separation, the War for Abolition, the War for Union, the Confederate War, the War of the Southrons, the War for Southern Freedom, the War of the North and the South, the Lost Cause, the Late Unpleasantness, the late Friction, the Late Ruction, the Schism, the Uncivil War and, especially in the South in the years since it ended, simply as the War. 

Overseas, the conflict was given still other names. For example, contemporary German writers refer to it as the North American War." 

Hopefully I have included some names for the Civil War that you had not yet heard before — and if you know of any that I have missed please add to the list by posting a comment here! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Wine Tasting: Vallebelbo Moscato d'Asti

Vallebelbo's Moscato d'Asti is a deliciously sweet Italian white wine that prominently features flavors of fig and honey and has some trace bubbliness, which gives it a somewhat festive feeling. 

I am not sure where the bottle I found in my refrigerator came from and it did not have a year on it, something that is not altogether uncommon with white wines, which are generally intended to be consumed sooner rather than later. 

I enjoyed this vintage as an aperitif but think it is perhaps a little too full-bodied for these purposes and would be best suited as a desert wine. It would pair nicely with any sort of fruit, especially dried pineapple, but I would not by any means drink it with most entrees (although people who like sweet wines with their meals might enjoy it in this way). 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

An Exercise in Resolve, Month 2

Was pleased to have achieved my goal of exercising outside every day, rain or shine, every day but one in January! For me that means walking a distance of from at least 0.6 miles on my worst days (i.e., just up to the mailbox and back) to as much as 3.25 miles on my best day, and generally with some sort of a load that might include a walking stick, messenger bag, and/or backpack and has thus far weighed up to 23.5 pounds total. February has, unfortunately, been a very stressful month and everything has been much more of a struggle. For the most part, however, I have largely managed to match the frequency if not the intensity of my walks. 

February 1 (Sunday): Walked 2.5 miles but, as my hips were hurting and I wanted a break for them, left the backpack behind and carried only about 8 pounds. Diane carried her daypack but was unhappy with how it felt. 
February 2 (Monday): Walked 2.5 miles with full load of c. 22 pounds. Diane switched over to a full-sized pack and was pleased with how it felt. 
February 3 (Tuesday): Pretty cold and wet and pushed off the walk until fairly late and then just knocked out a minimum walk of 0.6 miles to mailbox with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 4 (Wednesday): Cool and gloomy but good weather for walking and got in a 2.5-mile walk with about 22 pounds. 
February 5 (Thursday): Walked our regular 2.5-mile route with about 22 pounds. 
February 6 (Friday): Were on the road, did not get home until after dark, and did not get our walk in! (But did get some incidental walking in the course of our errands.) 
February 7 (Saturday): Walked up to mailbox, 0.6 miles, with about 6.5 pounds. 
February 8 (Sunday): Walked c. 1.5 miles, about a third of it through woods and over rough ground, with about 8 pounds of weight. 
February 9 (Monday): Walked 1.8 miles with about 8 pounds of weight. Warm and sunny! 
February 10 (Tuesday): Another beautiful day! Walked 0.6 miles with about 6.5 pounds. 
February 11 (Wednesday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 12 (Thursday): Walked 1.8 miles with c. 7 pounds. 
February 13 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles with c. 22 pounds. 
February 14 (Saturday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6.5 pounds. 
February 15 (Sunday): Walked at least 1.2 miles with at least c. 8 pounds. 
February 16 (Monday): 
February 17 (Tuesday): 
February 18 (Wednesday): 
February 19 (Thursday): Walked 2.5 miles with c. 9 pounds. 
February 20 (Friday): No walk. 
February 21 (Saturday): Walked 0.6 miles with c. 6 pounds. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wine Tasting: Oak Grove Vineyard Zinfandel 2010 Reserve

As far as I am concerned, there is no variety of wine that is generally better suited to pair with a steak than a red zinfandel, and the Oak Grove Vineyard Zinfandel 2010 Reserve is a very nice exemplar of the type. This pleasing, medium-bodied vintage has a velvety texture, rich color, an almost gummy viscosity, aromas and flavors that distinctly feature fresh plum, and hints of pepper. 

"Our winemaking staff takes pride in searching out the finest grapes from California's cool coastal regions," Oak Grove says. "Anything off the grill, from sausage to fish, will make this wine shine." 

We enjoyed a bottle of this red zinfandel as an ideal accompaniment to a dinner of marinated sirloin and rice followed by a nice piece of blue cheese (and I am looking forward to trying it again with a ribeye, which I think it would complement nicely). 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Wine Tasting: Barón de Barbón Cosecha 2010

As its name implies, the Barón de Barbón Cosecha 2010 is nicely dry and somewhat tart medium-bodied Spanish red wine vinted from 100% Tempranillo grapes. It has an aroma suggestive of berries and vanilla, dark plum coloration, a pleasing viscosity, and a 13.5% alcohol content. 

This wine from the Rioja region of Spain is well suited as an accompaniment to food, whether appetizers or a main meal, and seems to be most palatable a few degrees below room temperature and after being allowed to breath a little while, which helps to broaden its flavor palate. 

We enjoyed this vintage initially with beef bulgogi and rice and then had a second glass with sweet chocolate. It paired quite nicely with the former item, and I think it would be perfect with a steak or any other savory meat dish, but was less satisfying when forced into a desert role. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wine Tasting: The Blonde Bombshell California White Wine

Contained in a bottle that is distinguished on the outside by some fun and hip label art, the Blonde Bombshell California white wine within it is notable for full-bodied flavor that is fruity but not sweet and which has floral hints of melon and honey. On an intellectual level I was a little put off by not being able to find a year or grape type listed anywhere on the bottle but, admittedly, this did not affect my actual enjoyment of this wine at all. 

"Give in to her allure and enjoy her with Asian Curry or any other spicy infused offerings," serving guidance on the back label from vintner Total Beverage Solution of Rutherford, California, reads. "You may even be tempted to bask in her charming glow alone, chilled, but not too cold." 

We enjoyed Blonde Bombshell first with our dinner of broiled steelhead trout, horseradish mashed potatoes, and peas with mushrooms, and then again for desert with some dried pineapple (which, if you have never tried it with white wine before, I highly recommend). 

An Exercise in Resolve

New Year's Resolutions tend to get a bad rap these days and be dismissed as somewhat anachronistic and not having much value. Suffice it to say, however, that I think there is something to be said for using them as a device for getting on track with habits we know or have decided are a good idea. 
     In 2013 I compiled a list of more than a dozen resolutions and, relative to that number, enjoyed only moderate success with them overall. In 2014 I did not write down any at all, but did implement at least one positive behavior pattern. This year I mentally resolved to a short list of less than a half-dozen items, to include taking more steps toward becoming a semi-vegetarian, striving to quickly remove myself from toxic situations, imposing more organization and structure on my work routine, learning Greek, and exercising outside every day. While I have thus far not given up on any of these and achieved some success with a couple of them, it is the one related to physical activity with which I have been most diligent. 
     Hiking and adventure travel are things I have always enjoyed and want to continue for the foreseeable future. I was in OK shape at the beginning of the year but spend a lot of time sitting on my butt, including all the time that I am working, and sometimes several days or even a week or two will slip by without me getting out, exercising, and getting some fresh air and sunshine (or whatever the weather has to offer). So, resolving to start and stick with a hiking regimen, and not make excuses because of things like inclement weather that are factors when in the field, is especially important to me. 
     Following is what I have accomplished in the first month of 2015, to include distances covered and increasing amounts of weight carried. In about half the cases where I say "at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox" I actually went 1.2 miles instead but did not record a distance for that day and, being unsure which route I took, prefer to understate rather than overstate what I accomplished. 

January 1 (Thursday): Walked 1.2 miles (i.e., to end of the Mystic Shores Parkway cul-de-sac and back). 
January 2 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles. 
January 3 (Saturday)Walked (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox). 
January 4 (Sunday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 15.2-pound load (i.e., Macaw Lane cul-de-sac, Mystic Shores Parkway cul-de-sac, mailbox, and back, w. 1.6-pound walking stick, 6.4-pound shoulder pouch, 7.2-pound backpack). 
January 5 (Monday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 17.8-pound load (i.e., 9.8-pound backpack). 
January 6 (Tuesday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 18-pound load (i.e., 10-pound backpack). Wore Limner hiking boots and got a blister on instep of left foot. 
January 7 (Wednesday)Walked w. 18-pound load (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox). 
January 8 (Thursday): Walked 1.2 miles w. 18-pound load; freezing and darkening by the time I got home and made it out. 
January 9 (Friday): Walked 2.5 miles w. 18-pound load; below freezing and windy. 
January 10 (Saturday)Walked w. 18-pound load (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox).  
January 11 (Sunday)Walked 1.2 miles w. 18-pound load
January 12 (Monday)Walked w. 18-pound load (at least 0.6 miles roundtrip to mailbox).  
January 13 (Tuesday)Walked 2.5 miles w. 20.2-pound load (i.e., 12.2-pound backpack). 
January 14 (Wednesday)Walked 1.2 miles w. 18-pound load (i.e., to Macaw Lane cul-de-sac and mailbox)
January 15 (Thursday): NO WALK (due to exigent circumstances; i.e., two visits to a pet hospital and ones to two emergency rooms). 
January 16 (Friday): Walked 1.2 miles, 20.2 pounds. 
January 17 (Saturday): Walked 2.5 miles, 20.2 pounds. 
January 18 (Sunday): Walked c. 2.5 miles, 8 pounds (i.e., observed a "day of rest" and carried only my pouch and walking stick and left the backpack behind). 
January 19 (Monday): Walked 3.25 miles, 20.2 pounds (i.e., 0.75 miles south on Mystic Parkway and back, down to Mystic Shores Parkway cul-de-sac and back, and up to the mailbox and back). Got a cramp in my left calf (and both were tight and achy next day). 
January 20 (Tuesday): Walked 2.5 miles with 8 pounds; left backpack behind because of cramping in both calves, which loosened up toward end. Bright, sunny, breezy, and very warm for January (i.e., c. 80 degrees). 
January 21 (Wednesday): Walked 1.8 miles (first 2/3 w. 8 pounds and last 1/3 w/out stick and just 6.4 pounds). 
January 22 (Thursday): Walked 1.8 miles (first 2/3 w. 20.2 pounds and last 1/3 w/out stick and just 18.6 pounds). Cold and rainy and also wore Gore-Tex jacket. 
January 23 (Friday): Walked 2.5 miles with 20.2 pounds. Cold and windy to start but warmed up toward end. Not feeling weight in the pack and ready to increase incrementally. 
January 24 (Saturday): Walked 2.5 miles with 20.2 pounds. Cool but sunny. Getting no resistance from the pack and need to increase load. 
January 25 (Sunday): Increased both weight and distance and walked 3.1 miles with 25.5-pound load! Perfect conditions for walking and did regular route plus an extra walk down to the Macaw Lane cul-de-sac at the end. 
January 26 (Monday): Walked 2.5 miles with 23.5 pounds. Beautiful 70 degree day.  
January 27 (Tuesday): Walked 2.5 miles with 23.5 pounds. Beautiful, cloudless day but at 86 degrees unseasonably warm even for south Texas in January. 
January 28 (Wednesday): Walked 2.5 miles with about 9 pounds; feeling a little achy from yesterday and decided to leave the backpack behind, ironically in that Diane started carrying one today. Another beautiful day and we went out around 12:45 and before it got too hot. 
January 29 (Thursday): Walked 2.5 miles with c. 23 pounds. 
January 30 (Friday): Walked 2.5 miles with 22.7 pounds. Reweighed gear and found that, for whatever reasons, the weight was not exactly what I thought it had been, indicating that I probably need to verify this every few days. 
January 31 (Saturday): Cold and raining steadily and I have been achy but broke out the Gore-Tex and walked 0.6 miles up to the mailbox and back. Did not want to end the first month of the year without at least getting in a token walk! 

My goal is to eventually add longer walks as much as once a week and at least once a month, and to gradually increase my load to a regular training weight of 30 pounds and a periodic weight of as much as 50 or 60 pounds. There are certainly people who do a lot more than this, and it is a shadow of what I regularly did when I was an Army infantryman, but I am not competing with anyone but myself and if I can stick with this regimen it will help me to accomplish a number of planned expeditions — to include a 10-day hike up the Northumberland coast of England this summer and a c. 45-day hike along the Camino de Santiago in spring 2016. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wine Tasting: Principe Strozzi 2010 Chianti

Found this Principe Strozzi 2010 Chianti to be somewhat more complex than other red wines of its ilk and suspect this was a product of it being a five-year-old moderately-aged vintage. It has a light body and is tartly dry with a slightly bitter finish that features hints of sour apple. I was surprised to discover that it has a relatively high alcohol content of 13.5%, as it is not at all hot on the tongue. 

"Our family has left its mark not only on the history of Tuscany, but also on that of Italy and Europe," writes Prince Girolamo Strozzi in what is an especially interesting history of his vineyard's pedigree. "The Strozzi were powerful bankers, statesmen, business leaders, and great rivals of the Medici family. The great politician and philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli began his career as private secretary to our family, but our most famous ancestor is Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, also known as 'Mona Lisa.' Our estate boasts over 1,000 years of history (it was established in 994) and has been owned by my family since the 15th century. It is now managed by my wife, our two daughters, and me." 

We enjoyed this wine with homemade pasta topped with tomato and sausage sauce and, suffice it to say, they paired perfectly, as one might well expect for a good chianti and an Italian dish. It would also pair nicely with any sort of appropriate cheese, particularly a parmesan or gorgonzola. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wine Tasting: MSH Cellars 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

MSH Cellars 2013 Sauvignon Blanc is a pleasant, light-bodied white wine with a straw coloration and slightly tangy flavor that features hints of pear. 

Initially, this wine presented to me as a decent accompaniment for appropriate food items but to not have enough character to stand on it own, and I adequately enjoyed my first glass of it with my dinner. While I do not generally recommend allowing white wines to breath, however, I ended up leaving this one uncorked after opening it and was quite pleased with how much flavor had emerged by the time I had a second glass. (We probably also did not properly chill this wine to start with and our subsequent glasses of it were notably cooler, and perhaps this helped to achieve its optimum taste). 

"Napa farmers have joined together to provide wine lovers a great value from Napa Valley," the label states, indicating this wine is the product of a regional collaboration and implying that it might be a blend. "Grapes are reserved from the same vineyards that supply many of Napa Valley's most respected wineries." 

MSH Cellars does not provide any pairing guidance or much background about its wines on their bottles and, if they have a website, it is remarkably difficult to find. I can say, however, that its 2013 Sauvignon Blanc was an ideal accompaniment to the broiled salmon, garlicky rice with pine nuts, and broccoli that we enjoyed it with.