Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.


Grape Stomping and a Visit to Napa

This weekend, we made a much anticipated trip up to Napa Valley for some traditional wine making, the old world style. A number of wineries in the area have grape stomping this time of year, but it was easy for us to decide which one to go to; Grigch Hills. I wrote about my visit with my Dad (HERE) back in March and how much I fell in love with this Croatian winery. Did I mention there wine is really good too? Like really, really good! Great wine always helps, but the story and the heritage (at least for me) really make it special.

This was Landon's first trip here and although I wouldn't normally recommend taking a kid to a winery, the grape stomping is for people of all ages. I thought it might be a good way to teach him a little bit about wine, the process, and show him a little Croatian history. First things first, we had to get our feet dirty.

He didn't necessarily love the squishy grapes in between his toes. Much of it was pretty well mushed when we got in. Had it been mostly large grapes that squished under us, he might have gotten more into it. Still, he played along for a bit.

It was still fun, we stomped around for a bit getting it all in between our toes and making sure it was ready for wine. Who's thirsty? I tried to explain about how the man that started this winery came from the same place our family came from, but I don't think much of it sank in. I figure if 5% of the things I tell him go through, then it's an accomplishment. 

Adam bowed out last minute on the stomping, but it was ok because he snapped these pictures of us while we did it. We also got to make t-shirts with our wine soaked footprints on them to take home. 

When we were done, I went inside for a wine tasting while the boys stayed outside and enjoyed the grounds. 

After I was finished, I met the guys back outside and we watched the winery in action processing their current harvest.

I tried to explain the process to Landon, but all he really wanted to was eat the grapes. These little ones are so much sweeter than what we normally get at the grocery. He kept calling them blueberries despite correcting him 100 times or more. Luckily, there was no shortage of grapes.

Grigch Hills doesn't have the most stunning vineyard as it spreads across 5 separate properties, but they do have a nice size vineyard in the rear. I took Landon back there to show him the grapes growing and to try and explain how the process starts. Surprisingly enough, there were still plenty of grapes on the vine.

Once again, his main concern was trying and picking some grapes to eat. We decided it was time to get some lunch so we headed back into Napa to a place I've been wanting to try called the Oxbow Market. It is a smaller version of the ferry building in San Francisco, with shops, eateries and fresh produce markets. As much as I've fallen for the Ferry Building, I knew I would enjoy Oxbow. As we headed up into the building, I saw one of my former customers; A restaurant called Ca' Momi. 

Just a few months ago, I had imported some Italian sodas for them and it was through working with this company that I had first heard about the Oxbow Market. I had completely forgotten that they were here, but once we saw them I knew this was our spot for lunch. As much as I love North Beach, I think Ca' Momi is the most authentic Italian food outside of Italy. The food was amazing, but we have no pictures to prove it. We were too busy enjoying it to stop and take a photo.

I did however manage to take a picture of my goods on the menu. It was seriously a cool moment for me. Getting to actually see, purchase, and taste products that I helped bring in from another country. I've seen products at a customer warehouse and for awhile I worked on Nikon so I probably inadvertently saw my goods multiple times, but this was different. We ordered two Italian sodas on the advice of the waiter. Adam's Elderflower was even better than my Limonata, but both were refreshing and delicious. I was just left wondering why I'm only discovering these drinks now after all the time I've spent in Italy.

And my only regret about lunch was not ordering dessert. We passed their dessert case as we headed out of the restaurant and inside the market.

The market is small, but jam-packed. I just love places like this. This is the type of place I can spend all day with friends eating, shopping, strolling around, and eating some more.

As we made a full loop around the first market building, Landon decided to throw a fit over some apple juice. I really wish someone could give me the exact day and time that he would realize pouting and whining will never get him his way. If I knew when it was going to end, at least I could have a real day to look forward to. Until then, we took it as our cue to leave and instead of sharing in some treats, we all got back into the car empty handed.  As I said, I could have spent all day here with friends, but obviously not with a four year old. Yeah, sometimes being Mom sucks, there I said it.

I had planned going to at least one other winery, so we headed back up the road and within minutes Landon was asleep. We figured a nap was probably very well needed and we hoped he'd be good for one more winery. As we drove the 45 minutes North, the hills became more pronounced and the valleys tightened until we were driving through some beautiful areas. Adam's camera broke earlier this month in Kentucky and is currently being repaired so since all we have right now is our phones, we didn't bother to pull over, but hopefully sometime we can make the drive again so Adam can get some pictures. The drive through Napa with the hills and the vineyards really is pretty and that is exactly what lead me to our next winery, Sterling Vineyards. I also knew there would be a 'wow' factor that Landon would love.

And I was right, he thought the gondolas were the coolest thing! In order to get to this winery, you take a short 4 minute gondola right up to the winery. This short ride, gave us the first of many beautiful views.

And once we got the top, we filled up my two wine glasses (the tasting came with the ride but Adam doesn't drink), we made our way out to the patio where the views got even better.

Another winery on our list, Castello di Amorosa, sat just in the middle of the clearing halfway up the hill. If Adam had his camera, this would have been the perfect place to take a great picture, but instead we just enjoyed the scenery and the wine. To be truly honest though, the wine wasn't good, at all. As I mentioned earlier, I had Adam's glass as well which meant getting 12 samples from all six of the stations left me pouring out a little from the station prior. Good thing I had already some amazing wine at Grigch Hills or I may have been sorely disappointed,  True wine enthusiasts should skip Sterling Vineyards. People wanting to see wine country in a different way and people with children, should most definitely make this a stop along the way. 

Landon's fun didn't end with the gondola ride. At the top, he was given a kids box which included a water bottle he could wear around his neck, a snack, and some coloring pads. Pure genius on their part and a great way to help deal with kids at a winery.

He also loved being able to walk around their huge complex and see the process unfolding before him. He required we watch all the videos at the various stations and actually really seemed to want to be involved in the education here.

They may have not had the best wine, or even good wine, but it was still worth the visit. Especially as interesting as they made it for kids, intentional or not. I would have loved to take Landon on a tour, but a four year old only listens to a tour for about two minutes. Yet the entire time we spent here, he was interested and intrigued. When we sat to enjoy the view, he busted out his box and, overall, it was a great visit for all of us. Too bad their wine just wasn't up to par. When it was finally time to leave, I drug these two winos back down the gondola and to the car. It's hard being the only responsible one in the family.

We drove home via my favorite route, the one that leads us across the Golden Gate bridge. Though it cost us $6.25 and I've seen this bridge hundreds of times now, it never fails to make my heart flutter a bit when it first comes into view.

As we got closer to home, we hit Ocean beach just as the sun was setting and witnessed yet another beautiful site.

There is nothing more perfect to the end of a wonderful day than a beautiful sunset. As much as I sometimes wish a day would never end, with an ending so beautiful, it's a hard thing to resist.


Ten Ways To Get Your Kid To Enjoy Hiking

Ever since Landon was 2 years old, we've made an effort to get him outdoors and hiking. We've always wanted for him to be active and enjoy the outdoors, but our main motivation was wanting to be outdoors ourselves. When you have a young child and want to hike you have only three options-leave them with someone else, wear them, or make them do it. Leaving the child isn't always possible and for us we didn't want to wear out child so we knew, early on, we'd just have to teach him to hike too.

We took Landon on his first hike at 2.5 years old. I was short, maybe a mile overall, but we never once carried him. We've always, from the beginning, made him hike on his own no matter how long it takes. Our first hike was down to a creek in Otter Creek, Kentucky. He had a blast playing in the water and it was the start of a great family activity for all of us.

When we moved to Nashville, TN it really expanded our opportunities to be outside and enjoy nature. There was a great state park about 10 minutes from our house and we spent many weekends venturing out in the state to new places. When we started out, it was just to get him outside to play and the goal was to get a little more distance under his feet each time. I remember at Burgess Falls State Park, before he was three, people were already commenting on how good he did walking the trails at his age. More importantly, he always enjoyed it.

As we continued to visit more places and venture out on longer and longer hikes, we learned a lot by trail and error. Not every hike was a success or even enjoyable and while we still don't have it all figured out, I have more than a few people surprised that we take our 4 year old out on hikes with us. Thinking about it recently, I realized that we've learned a few things and maybe these can help someone else venture out with their young ones too.

1.) ALWAYS bring food AND water. This is, hands down, the most important lesson we've learned and boy did we ever learn it the hard way. Even after we knew better, there were times we'd be lazy and not bring anything with us. It has always proved to be a mistake. I don't care if the kid just ate a weeks worth of food or the temperature is cool and you're only going on a short hike. Nothing is worse than being on a trail with a hungry or thirsty child and not being able to do anything about it.  Just remember, hiking is a lot of exercise, especially for those little legs. They will work up an appetite quickly and I don't know about your kid, but ours get hangry (just like his Mom). Last year for Christmas we bought Landon this Camelbak. It was the best thing we ever did. Not only does he love having his own backpack, but now he can access his own water whenever he wants it and carries his own snacks. Sure it was a little big at first, but he's grown into it well and will able to use it for many more years.

2.) Make sure they are well rested. The only thing as bad as a hangry kid, is a tired one. If your kid is tired or at all worn out, you will know it as soon as you get them walking. Literally, within a few hundred feet, you'll have no more doubts and their exhaustion will ruin the hike for everyone. They will complain and whine and bellyache constantly (trust us, we know). It was especially important when he was younger, but even now we try and plan long walks first thing in the morning when he's gotten a full nights sleep. Even just playing at home for a few hours before a hike makes a difference in his energy level. And just like adults, kids have their good and bad days. We've taken Landon out before and realized right away that despite our best planning, he just didn't have the energy for hiking that day. It's ok. The key is to try and get them when their energy is at the highest level and then you'll be struggling instead of them.

3.) Realize that their attitude is the most important thing. Distance isn't nearly as important as how they act. Are they complaining? Or are they being positive and enjoying themselves? Like I said earlier, kids will have good days and bad days. Not only that, but sometimes they just won't want to keep going. They will be tired, their legs will hurt, they will be hot, etc etc. Let's face it, hiking more than a short distance isn't innately enjoyable for a kid so it matters how they handle themselves. Last weekend, when we headed out on a short hike to the top of Mt. Tam, Landon, out of the clear blue, made sure to tell us he wasn't going to complain, that he wasn't going to stop all the time, and that he was going to get to the top. It was a steep, but very short hike and I was much more proud of him when we reached the top without incident than I would have been had he gone 5 miles but whined the whole time. A good attitude when they are young, will help enforce good feelings toward hiking as they get older and make them more apt to grow a real fondness for it.

4.) Don't hesitate to motivate them with rewards. How can you foster a good attitude? Positive reinforcement both verbally and with rewards. We often motivate him to keep going by giving him goals. Even if they're simple things like, 'keep walking without complaining and when we get to the top we can have a snack'. One time in particular, on a very poorly planned hike in Muir Woods, he was struggling the entire time. The first mile uphill was great, but then he started to breakdown. A lot of it was my fault because I hadn't brought anything with us, but he also had a horrible attitude. At about mile 3, I started to coax him by telling him I would let him have an entire bag of chips and Apple juice at the cafe at the end of the hike. He wasn't necessarily happy to finish the last 2 miles, but he did it. I must have mentioned those damn chips 100 times and now whenever we go to Muir he thinks he is going to get chips (that's a separate issue), but it worked. Since we were in the middle of a trail, I had no other choice as I knew we had to keep going and I realized that sometimes it isn't necessarily a bad thing. That day, while on the trail, a couple stopped me and asked how old he was. They were shocked to learn that he was only 3 as they told us they were just saying their 7 year old wouldn't be able to hike the trail we were on. I bet they could with the right motivation! And yes, this picture is at the end of said hike. Boy was he happy!

5.) Discuss your plans with them ahead of time and get them excited. We've learned that kid's time is very different so a week is forever and a few days is actually tomorrow and in a few hours means right now. We like to plan out our hikes as much in advance as possible, but we usually don't talk to Landon about it until its a day or two out at the most. Usually we tell him we a little about where we are going, what we will do/see, and maybe something he will like there (for our's, it is rocks). It gets him excited, but also prepares him. We found that kids don't always like surprises as much as you would think. If he wakes up Saturday morning thinking he is going to get to play Legos all morning, but later finds out we are headed out to hike, this disappointment may very well set the mood the entire day. Instead, if we talk it up and get some excitement in his head, it will likely spill over to the actual hike. Telling him he gets to go climb on big rocks all day tomorrow puts a big grin on his face and makes for a better experience for all of us.

6.) Keep them involved in the hike and their surroundings, even if it means making up a story about the place. A long, quite hike may seem ideal and peaceful for an adult, but would be so very boring for a kid. On the other hand, kids don't need much to be entertained. Their imaginations are endless and the best way to keep them engaged and not focused on that pain in their legs is to tell them a story. It can be a real story about the area the landscape or the history of the park. Or, it can be just letting their and/or your imagination guide you. It doesn't matter, but making it fun for a kid will actually make it fun for the adults too. As adults, sometimes the most enjoyable thing we can do is stop being so serious and start acting more like a kid ourselves. Landon enjoys stories of places we go so much that sometimes he even asks me to take his picture somewhere so he can remember the place. Make-believe or not, if we go somewhere outdoors and a 4 year old appreciates it enough to want to remember it, I'd say that's a win. 

7.) Never worry about time or distance. There's been times when two miles has taken us an hour and a half and we had hoped and planned to hike much more in a day than we actually ended up being able to do. But, as we've gotten out more and more, we've stopped worrying about the time or even the distance and focus instead on enjoying our time together outside. Even if that means sometimes having to turn around before we finish. We try always stop and give Landon plenty of time to rest, relax, or even play. Since Adam likes taking pictures, the two usually coincide together nicely, but there are also times when the pace is even slower than we would like. It can be disappointing, but it can also be wonderful. Just sitting on a bench together enjoying a few minutes doing nothing, can be even more of an accomplishment than hiking 6 miles. 

8.) Let them bring a toy under one condition; they have to pack it the entire time. As much as I always want Landon to put down the toys and "enjoy the great outdoors" sometimes it doesn't keep his attention all day. Since he has a backpack, we usually allow him to bring a toy or book just as long as he knows he has to carry it the entire time. There's been times when he's pulled out a coloring book while Adam takes pictures and it's kept him from wanting to jump around an unsafe area. It's also allowed us to stop and enjoy something that is of no interest to him like watching a pod of Orcas of the coast. As much as I wish he would appreciate all these small wonderful moments, I've come to realize it just isn't going to happen. A much needed break and short fight scene with Batman might be all they need to get back up and keep going. And it might even allow you a few short minutes of peace and quiet so that you can enjoy nature the adult way.

9.) Make it more than exercise. Make it a learning experience. Kids are sponges. Not only are they learning constantly, but unlike jaded adults they absolutely love it. We've learned to take every opportunity we can to teach him while we hike. If possible, we try and learn about the place we are going ahead of time and tie in the history. Many parks have signs at trail heads with information and we always read them aloud to him. So often, this starts a conversation that continues onto the trail. At three years old, after visiting Arches National park he learned all about how the rocks were formed. He was so enthralled with it that he would talk about it constantly and it is something that he still remembers to this day-"wind, water, ice" he repeated over and over. Sometimes the learning experiences are not grand and can be as simple as stopping and reading the trail signs. Whatever it is, make it double the opportunity and teach them a thing or two. It has two benefits as they learn and enjoy it more.

10.) Try new places, find out what they enjoy and what gets them interested in being outdoors. Go some place new and see if draws them in. As I said earlier, Landon loves all things rocky so any hike with lots of rocks to climb on is an automatic win for us. On the other hand, as much we love coastal hikes they tend to keep his attention at lot less. When he enjoys a hike, his breaks usually consist of him climbing about and all over the place. He is so much more excited and has so much more energy that its ok if he doesn't sit still and rest his legs. Even on more "boring" hikes, he's been able to find things that draw his attention. On one particular hike, we came to a particularly beautiful overlook where many people had made rock cairns. Right away, he got to work building his own and was so disappointed when it was time to leave. He kept asking when we would be able to come back and do the hike again so we could make it back to his cairn.

I'm not sure if Landon will grow up and become a great explorer. When he gets older, he may decide to never again set foot on an open trail. For now, we are trying to show just what a beautiful world we live in. A world that he can spending his entire life exploring and never see it all. That is more diverse than all shows on cable tv. More creative and imaginative than the best video games. So far, he loves it. When we talk about camping or hiking, he gets all excited. He even loves REI as much as we do. I'm excited to see how he grows and what he accomplishes as he gets older. Future climber? Maybe.

Hiking with a child isn't always fun, but it can be. It isn't always easy, but it is full of rewards. I have no doubt that as much as he is learning and getting from all the neat places we see and go, we are getting that much more. I hope the things we've learned through our good days and our bad, help other people with young kids who want to go out and explore. I don't believe you should ever stop pursing your own goals and hobbies just because you have kids. All you need to do is make a few adjustments and bring them along for the ride.