Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year 2010 (and 7 good things from 2009)

I don't know about you, but I'll be hugely relieved when 2009 goes out the door. Let's review the low points of the year, shall we?
-The worst stock market decline since the 1930s (okay, it was sheer panic).
-The end of a decade where the $1000 you put into an S&P Index fund in Jan. 2000 turned into $900 by Dec. 2009 (so much for Buy and Hold).
-Congressional wrangling over a Health Care bill that's turning into something nobody likes (and a view into the legislative process that has been truly frightening).
-Yet another goofball that managed to smuggle a bomb onto a plane (up next--airport strip searches).

Okay, now I'm depressed. So let's focus on the positive.
+Barack Obama was inaugurated.
+The stock market did turn around (and I think it's heading higher).
+Unemployment has slowed.
+Michelle O. planted the first organic garden at the White House.
+Climate change got some serious attention
+Dick Cheney didn't shoot anyone (as far as we know).
++And on a personal note, my 88-year-old Mom survived both back surgery and pneumonia (and let's hope I got HER longevity genes).

So on New Year's Eve, I'll be ready try this festive champagne cocktail (the recipe came from my friends at Sonoma's own Korbel Champagne Cellars).

Stars-and-Stripes (shown above)
1 part Korbel Brut
1 part Cranberry Juice

Salut, everybody. And if you have an equally yummy champagne cocktail recipe, please share it in a comment!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

California whale watching tours on the north coast

Some flukey things to plan ahead for: weekend whale talks start January 2 at MacKerricher State Park, near Ft. Bragg on the Mendocino coast. Trained docents will spout off about the annual gray whale migration and about other marine mammals seen along the coast every Saturday and Sunday at 11 AM, January 2--March 21.

March 6 - 7, and March 19, 20 and 21 marks the Mendocino and Fort Bragg Whale Festival. The activities focus on three top whale viewing points: MacKerricher State Park north of Fort Bragg, Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, and the Ford House Visitor Center at Mendocino Headlands State Park. For more about art and crafts, food tasting and events, click here.

Details: The talk/walk starts at the MacKerricher Visitor Center and then proceeds to the whale skeleton before caravanning to Laguna Point for whale watching. MacKerricher State Park is located approximately three miles north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1.Turn at the MacKerricher State Park sign, and park near the entrance station and visitor center. For more, click here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade begins

It's older than the Macy's T-Day Parade and the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. Charting a 14-mile route through Newport Harbor, the 101st Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade kicks off on Wednesday, December 16 at 6:30PM and runs nightly until Sunday, December 20th. It is said to be the longest-running holiday boat parade and no doubt is one of the biggest, with more than 100 vessels "decked out" in holiday finery.

You'll see everything from canoes and kayaks to million dollar yachts wend their way throughout the scenic harbor. The show is free and viewing areas are available on public beaches on Balboa Peninsula, at the Fun Zone, and on Balboa Island. And several restaurants and watering holes along the waterfront offer prime viewing (reservations advised). (And while you're in SoCal, don't forget about the great winter birdwatching, which I wrote about last winter.)

For free, kid-friendly fun, you can't beat this wonderful Southern California tradition.

Details: For more info on the parade, including viewing spots, click here. For lodging and dining info, click on the Newport Beach tourism website.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lake Tahoe's newest hotel: really Ritzy

The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe, opened its doors this weekend, in time for the holiday season (and skiing) at Northstar-at-Tahoe. It's the biggest hotel/resort news in the Tahoe Basin, having taken three years and some $300 million.

Tucked into a wooded hillside, The Ritz-Carlton Highlands' grandeur is, from a distance, fairly well-disguised. Still, it is hard to hide the fact that this is the area's first five star-caliber hotel, featuring 170-rooms, 23 private rsidences, a top-flight restaurant, and a vast spa.

Just how 'ritzy' is this place? Well, to start with, all the rooms have a fireplace. And there's a mountain concierge and ski valet, with ski-in and ski-out access; and an inter-mountain gondola connecting to the Village-at-Northstar. There's the luxe Highlands Spa that's bigger than all the houses on my block, and boasts a lap pool, fire pit, yoga and spin studios. And that top-flight restaurant? It's called Manzanita and is helmed by San Francisco chef Tracy Des Jardins. Too rich for your blood? Consider the great deals in spring and fall, when prices drop by half; or swing by for drinks or a meal at Manzanita. All we can say is, it's about time, Tahoe.

Details: In Truckee, at 13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court; 200 miles east of San Francisco and 98 miles from Sacramento. Rooms from $355 in winter (from $175 in spring and fall); 800/241-3333 or click here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas at Yosemite

Winter just may be my fave season at Yosemite National Park. If you're into lots of action, there's plenty of variety in winter sports (click here for current conditions). I've written about skating at the Curry Village ice rink (one of California's most dramatic outdoor ice skating venues). Take a spin on the ice, or sit by the fire pit and wolf down toasty s'mores. Head up to Badger Pass for downhill skiing, siding down a tubing hill, or joining guided snowshoe hikes into the forest. There are easy valley hikes to take (watch for the tracks of last night's animal visitors in the snow).

And if you're into less action, then there is the Ahwahnee Hotel. In the famously formal dining room, plunk yourself down at a window looking up at Half Dome dusted in snow and partake of a grand meal. Or just lounge by the most massive fireplace this side of a European castle. Time your visit right and you can hone your food-and-wine knowledge at the outstanding Chefs Holidays and Vintners Holidays (see my earlier story on those dinners), shown at left; the best parts: meeting the chefs and then enjoying a 5-course wine-paired dinner. Or if you're really into the holidays, enjoy the festive pageant of music and food that marks the Bracebridge Dinner (easier to get tickets to, now that they've expanded the schedule).

Details: For ice rink conditions, 209/372-8319. For road and weather conditions, call the automated National Park Service info line at 209/372-0200. Chefs Holidays and Vintners Holidays start in January; for schedule, click here. The Bracebridge runs Dec. 13-25 on vario;us days; for details, click here. For lodging options, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ahwahnee Hotel, courtesy Kenny Karst, DNC

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Free skiing at Snow Valley

Just heard about a great package including free skiing in the 'Southland Alps', just 90 minutes from Los Angeles. Stay at The Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa on their Mid-Week Ski Value Package and you ski for free at the Snow Valley Resort, high in the San Bernardino National Forest. Overall, it’s a savings of more than 30 percent and is available all winter long.

Details: Mid-Week Ski Value Package: two adult lift tickets at nearby Snow Valley Ski Resort; two apr├Ęs-ski hot toddies or hot chocolates; two $25 certificates for the hotel’s Spa of the Pines; room, tax and parking. There are no blackout dates/no minimum stay; valid Sunday – Thursday. Cost: $219/night (a $323 value). Book 800/800-6792 or click here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The seven days of swine flu

(Sung to the tune of A Partridge in a Pear Tree...)
On the first day of Swine Flu, H1N1 gave me: Chills, Shakes and Fever-all three!

On the second day of Swine Flu, H1N1 gave me: 2 bleary eyes aaand Chills, Shakes and Fever-all three!

On the third day of Swine Flu, H1N1 gave me: 3 achy joints, 2 bleary eyes aaand Chills, Shakes and Fever-all three.

On the fourth day of Swine Flu, H1N1 gave me: 4 doctor’s calls, 3 achy joints, 2 bleary eyes aaand Chills, Shakes and Fever-all three

On the fifth day Swine Flu, H1N1 gave me: 5 gobs of phle-eem, 4 doctor’s calls, 3 achy joints, 2 bleary eyes aaand Chills, Shakes and Fever-all three.

On the sixth day of Swine Flu, H1N1 gave me: 6 hours of coughing, 5 gobs of phle-eem, 4 doctor’s calls, 3 achy joints, 2 bleary eyes aaand Chills, Shakes and Fever-all three.

On the seventh day of Swine Flu, H1N1 left me! I got 7 hours of sleeping, 6 hours no coughing, 5 full deep breaths, 4 loads of laundry done, 3 square meals, 2 clear eyes, and a lifetime swine flu bug immunity!!
(Thanks Tamiflu and Advil!)

And how are you? What has your experience with this bug been like-leave a comment!
I'll be back to traveling and blogging shortly. Thanks for your kind calls and emails. And stay safe out there!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Napa Valley Wine Train rolls with BRAVO

Imagine trying to whip up an award-winning meal on board a moving train. Well, it happens on The Napa Valley Wine Train on TV tonight. As part of Bravo's season finale for its popular TOP CHEF reality show, the finale of TOP CHEF's season (airing tonight at 10/9c) takes place in California's lovely Napa Valley.

If you've been there, you know that Napa is a magical setting for a vacation. Well, it's a pretty inspired setting for Bravo's TV culinary contest, too. The show's first Quickfire Challenge happens on the Napa Valley Wine Train as it travels the Valley floor on a rainy harvest afternoon. Watch it tonight on TV, or tomorrow online.

Details: Online at For details on lodging and dining options in the Napa Valley, click here; want more info, click here.

COPYRIGHT Lora Finnegan 2008-2009

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