A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Long Lost Family

How Genealogy saved the day!

sunny 82 °F

This will be a fairly short entry. I didn't want to upload a lot of pic's of folks since I hadn't asked them all if they minded, but will include a couple for reference sake (without names).

My maternal grandfather (Gramps to us kids) was married three times. His first wife died in the 1918 flu epidemic leaving him with an infant daughter. Six years later he married my grandmother and had three more surviving children, including my mother. When she was in college, that marriage broke up and he married again and had three surviving sons. There were some 'issues' between his second and third families, but we visited them occasionally and I had met my half uncles when I was a kid. My mom stayed in touch with her step mom a bit, and I guess the families kept track of each other through the moms. However when Gramp's third wife passed away (Gramps is long gone), the rest of us lost track of each other.

Mom and I tried to track them down a few times, but were unsuccessful. Likewise, they had tried to locate us unsuccessfully. Then the magic of technology stepped in. A couple of years ago, I posted a request for information on Phil Fox on one of the bulletin boards on Ancestry.com. A few months (or years, I didn't keep track) I got a poke from someone saying - sure, Phil Fox was his father! I immediately recognized the poke as coming from one of my uncles from the third wife.

We exchanged a little more information off and on, and finally one of my uncles was able to come up and meet us once when I was visiting my brother in CA (my uncle was still in CA as well). This was such a treat, not only were we able to reconnect with a long lost relative, he also brought a box full of pictures including a couple of pictures of Gramps as a little boy and the wedding picture of him with his first wife!

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(Gramps is the boy on the left, he was in a play of some sort at the Virginia City, NV Opera House)

So now that we've gotten back in touch, I couldn't let a trip to CA like this go by without visiting my uncle again! When I let him know we'd be in town, he scheduled a nice lunch at his community clubhouse so we could meet his family also. I also let my brother know, and he and his wife (& grandson) also joined us. My brother is quite a bit younger then I and didn't realize he had this whole, extended family out there! Anyway, here's the clubhouse where we had the big get together. It was quite lovely.

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The first thing of course, was Mom getting together with her siblings.

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Later she was sitting with a couple of them and they started clowning around (so typical), so of course I had to bring out the camera (again, so typical):

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Some of the CA folks were smart enough to bring their swimsuits:

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Mom and I weren't quite that together, although I think my uncle had mentioned that they had a pool. Although we didn't have our swim suits, Mom wasn't to be shut out completely.

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And my brother and his grandson were also a little better prepared.

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All in all, a very successful reconnection. I am SO glad we were able to finally locate each other and get to know our relatives better. Hopefully we can stay in touch a little better going forward...

Posted by jl98584 21:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Family Visits Train Town (& goes boating)

My brother & his family came down to visit, and we all went for a ride on a 1/4 scale train!

sunny 76 °F

My brother and his family life just east of Lake Oroville, east of Chico. This is about a 3+ hour drive from the Napa Valley, but they were very nice about coming down to visit us while we were there. My brother has a boat in the Napa Valley Marina, so Saturday morning we drove the RV down to spend time with them (they stayed on the boat and we stayed in the RV, but otherwise had plenty of time to visit). I should say he had a boat, he may have sold it over the past week!

Anyway, we met them for lunch first - which includes my brother, his wife, my neice and great nephew (his dad, my nephew, couldn't make it this trip). I'm not sure why, but for some reason we rarely all have our eye's open or are otherwise smiling nicely for group photo's in my family!

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After lunch, we headed off to Sonoma to visit a place I'd learned about from a tourist brochure. I'd never heard of this place before, but it really was quite fantastic, and once I'd mentioned it to my brother we were all pretty excited to go pay it a visit. This is currently a small, amusement park based on a 1/4 scale working railroad. However it was built as a hobby (labor of love?), it's just that the builders family now operates it so the general public can also enjoy it. The place is "Train Town" and it is very close to downtown Sonoma, CA. It covers 10 acres and includes 4 miles of 15" track, that's pretty surprising in itself, but maybe when it was built Sonoma was much smaller?

The first thing we did of course was ride the train! Even my (almost) 86 year old mother got in the act.

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Besides just having fun riding on a 1/4 scale model train, the terrain they built is fantastic. The track runs past waterfalls, over railroad bridges, ponds, creeks, through tunnels and there are scale model features located throughout the ride. Sometimes the only thing that gives it away as a scale model is that the tree's are real and look overly large next to the 1/4 scale features.

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In addition, near the front of the park are a model tower and an outstanding (& working) roundhouse! (Since they have multiple working engines they can pull the RR cars with...)

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Also, while we were riding through the forest, past ponds and such, we saw the back side of a very realistic looking town.

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The detail in this place was absolutely amazing. But the best was yet to come. The train came back through the town and stopped! (I suppose this is actually the place named "Train Town"?). It is all built to 1/4 scale.

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Each building in the town has things in it appropriate for that building. Here are just a couple of examples.

School:

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General Store:

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And Even a Jail! (Perhaps my neice & great nephew really belong there also? - Just Kidding, of course there was a bit of a line for these photo ops)

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I must not fail to mention the petting zoo, since if you are ever so fortunate to visit this place you'll want to be sure to bring plenty of quarters for the food dispensor (which I failed to do, but fortunately my great nephew found food somewhere - or someone else found a quarter or two for him.)

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It's probably safe to say everyone had a good time,

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It was hard to leave the town, but we wanted to ride the train some more (and the ride is supposed to last only 20 minutes), so we all reboarded the train and headed back to the rest of the park.

We skipped most of the other rides (there are only a few), but my nephew wanted to ride the Carousel and my neice graciously offered to go with him. He is almost 3 and was a little scared to ride by himself, so she tried to ride with him. That wasn't allowed however, so for the actual ride she stood next to his horse - but this picture came out better then those, so...

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This was the first time my great nephew had seen a train - how exciting is that! But we weren't done yet, he had never seen a boat before either. Since my brother and his family were going to stay on their boat for the night, after train town we headed back to the Napa Valley Marina. Of couse, my brother was very proud of his boat - although he admited he is a little behind on the brightwork... (aren't all boat owners, always?)

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It was still relatively early (there was still daylight afterall), so my brother suggested we should take a short spin around the harbor. Mom stayed in the RV, which was fine, but the rest of us enjoyed the jaunt - my great nephew seemed to really take to the water.

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That finally just about killed it for us old folks, so we all went to bed designing model train layouts with sailboat crossings?

Posted by jl98584 22:10 Archived in USA Tagged town Comments (0)

Napa Valley Wine Tasting

Mom was resting Friday, so I went wine tasting...

sunny 76 °F

Thursday we went on a wild goose chase to the Sonoma Valley. I wanted to try to find some more artwork from my great aunt, who had lived in Glen Ellen for many years. I tried the Sonoma Art History Museum, the Sonoma Depot (historical society) and Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa - and came away empty handed at all three. I've never seen county museums with so little info about county history (not just my aunt either)! But we had a good time at a cheese tasting factory, ate at a cool bakery in downtown Sonoma, and had a really nice visit with my Uncle Al (prior to Sunday's big bash).

This weekend my brother and his family are coming down to spend some time with us, so Mom spent Friday in the RV park resting up. During the week, we'd driven by a couple of wineries with really cool buildings so I thought I'd focus on those two on my off day Friday (Mom is NOT a wine drinker and doesn't even approve of wine or drinking really, so we pretty much agreed that these were not trips she wanted to take part in).

First, I went to Castle di Amorosa, or Castello di Amoroso in Calistoga (only a couple of miles from the RV park). This was the pet project of one of Napa Valley's wine makers, Dariou Sattui, who is as fascinated with medieval Italian architecture as he is with the wine business - so he decided to combine the two. He initially thought he'd build an 8,000 sq. ft Tuscan Villa, but somehow his plan expanded to 121,000 sq ft! It opened to the public in 2007, but so many people are already touring it that they give tours every 10 minutes.

Here is the entrance from the street:

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This lies up on a hillside and has outstanding views of the valley.

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Even with such outstanding views of the Napa Valley, you probably couldn't take your eyes off the castle turret however. So as you approach the castle, this is what you see:

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To enter the villa, you first have to cross an actual draw bridge! The owner tried to make everything as authentic as possible, importing stone and bricks from France and Italy. He also hired iron workers to make the same types of door hinges and fasteners as would have been used circa 1100-1300 (the era the villa represents).

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The entrance takes you into a courtyard, where a small room is used to organize the tours. The courtyard is also used for many public functions, including concerts (although none were taking place when I was there).

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Our tour started in the Chapel, although as usual I wasn't paying much attention to my camera settings so didn't use the flash as much as I should have. A great deal of attention was paid to the murals by the builders, a special artist was brought in to make them as authentic as possible (they certainly look very old).

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There is also a Great Hall (of course, as no self respecting medieval villa would be without one). Castillo di Amorosa was preparing for some sort of function in the Great Hall, so the tables were being set while we were there. The most impressive feature of the Great Hall has to be the murals however.

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We went through the courtyard again, where we learned that Castillo di Amorosa has been used in a couple of movies. Since this is a fairly new site, I expect there will be more to come.

Then we went downstairs to the torture chamber. There are a few authentic artifacts (including this iron lady), but most of the objects here are reproductions.

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Finally, we toured the wine tunnels and started some wine tasting.

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This is where they offer you the option to purchase wine, which I did some. Then I toured around the grounds a bit more taking more pictures. I was impress with the efforts they made to make it as authentic as possible, even including farm animals and old carts around.

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And of course, a couple more pictures of the castle!

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Since most of the castle is off limit to folks just wandering around, I eventually did need to leave. (Also, I wanted to visit one more winery this afternoon!) So I decided to head back to the RV and stash my haul (the wine's I'd bought after the tour). Mom and I shared a nice lunch, when she insisted on taking my picture by the roses along the fence of the RV park.

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As is recommended in most of the tourist brochures, I called the next winery to schedule a tour and got on the 3:30 PM tour. Since I had some time to kill, I decided to check out Calistoga a bit more. One of the places I stopped (just because it looked interesting) was Vermeil Wines.

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There is also a nice mural on the back side of the building that they use on their postcards. The cards were pretty pricey (for postcards), So I just took a picture of it instead. However, given the trouble I've been having with the camera, maybe I should have bought the postcard.

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I hadn't made the connection from the name, but once inside found that Vermeil Wines is the namesake of Dick Vermeil, an NFL superbowl coach. It turns out that his family is from Napa and he has some background/connections to the wine making industry, so this is a little more then just a famous person lending their name to a business venture. In any event, it was interesting seeing all the football stuff, including his superbowl trophy (which is probably the closest I'll ever get to one!)

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I also liked their wines, so picked up a couple of bottles...

Finally I made it to the Beringer Brothers Winery in St. Helena, about 7 miles south of Calistoga. I had seen a cool, victorian style house from the Highway several times so figured this would be a good winery to tour. (It turns out however that the house isn't really much of a feature of the tour - it is used mostly for the gift store as far as the general public is concerned).

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The tour actually begins in the Old Stone Building, which originally housed the winery operations in the late 1800's.

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Inside were some very decorative wine barrels, probably just for the tourists.

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Then we went straight to the tunnels. The Beringer Brothers had used tunnels to make wine back in Germany because it maintains a good (cool & even) temperature and humidity for the wine. They hand dug the original tunnels for the winery, but new ones have since been dug using concrete and steel reinforcement. The tour guide explained how the oak barrels are used in the wine making process. Both this tour and the Castillo di Amorosa tour were very informative, but quite different.

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Off to the side of some tunnels are storage rooms that kept some of the oldest (family) wine. One of these was used for the movie "A Walk In the Clouds", which I've seen.

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The end of the tour here also included wine tasting, but again I failed to use the flash and all of my pictures of that were out of focus. This is unfortunate, since here the focus was on pairing - why certain wines are paired with different foods. When we went into the tasting room (which was also in the big house by the way), each place setting had a small plate with bites of three diffent foods: a piece of bread, a piece of cheese, and a piece of chocolate. There were several empty glasses by each plate. The tour guide poured a little of the first wine and had us taste it, then eat the bread, then taste the wine again. He did the same thing with different wines for the cheese and the chocolate last. It was very interesting how the food affected the perception of the wines flavor! At the conclusion of all this, of course he offered us a price list from which we could order wines if we wanted.

So then we were left to our own devices to explore the grounds or the gift shop. While it was hard to enjoy the victorian character of the house furnished as a gift shop, at least I photographed a couple of the windows:

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And, I do have to admit that the grounds were very nice. They clearly spend a lot of time and effort on the gardens and it shows.

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Posted by jl98584 10:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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