The Guilty Party

Monday, October 14, 2013

Southern Arizona Wine Trip

This past weekend we climbed in the car and headed south to wine country. We have checked out the wine country just north of us, in and around Cottonwood, Arizona, but had never been to the high country southern region around Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia. It is a beautiful area, worth visiting just for the scenery and the photo opportunities, but we were impressed with the wines we discovered and people we met. The place hasn't exactly established the complete visitor package as far as fancy tasting rooms, accommodations and dining is concerned so don't head down their thinking you are going to Napa. But there is a real excitement in experiencing an area on the brink of really establishing itself. There has been some national and international recognition so far, but this still feels just a bit like an undiscovered gem. And that's pretty cool.

Arizona Hops and Vines is the newest vineyard and winery in the area and, as their name indicates, beer is part of the business plan. We first heard about this place and the two sisters who own and operate it in an article in the Arizona Republic that highlighted the fact that setting up a combination wine and beer business was a real challenge due to some outdated laws on the books. It was nice to find out from Megan, one of the owners, that as of about a month ago that the way had been cleared for them to proceed with their combination endeavor. We purchased a bottle of their "Instagador" white and will be back to see how they are doing. Like just about every small, or even not so small winery we have ever visited, Hops and Vines is the result of a dream made reality through a lot of very hard work. According to their website, this quote by Jack Kerouac served as an inspiration to Megan's sister Shannon. We wish them well.

Our next stop was at Callaghan Vineyards. These folks have been around for over twenty years. The facilities are modest, but the wine was excellent and Lisa Barkley, the very knowledgeable lady who served us, was friendly and helpful. I was very much interested in locally sourced grapes and Callaghan's, having been around for a while, was an excellent place to find true Arizona wines. We very much liked their "Lisa", a white blend named after, you guessed it, the very Lisa assisting us, but ended up with a bottle of their "Backlot", a blend of Mourvedre and Syrah. Looking forward to enjoying it.

Our son Tristan just had to have a bottle of Callaghan's Port dessert wine.

The next winery we visited was Flying Leap Vineyards. Formerly Canelo Hills, the change of ownership from Tim and Joan Mueller to partners Mark Beres and Marc Moeller happened less than an year ago. Whatever the Muellers were doing before and whatever Messrs. Beres and Moeller are doing now, it works. Mark Beres greeted us at the door, we were fortunate to arrive before the weekend crowds and so got to have a seat around the table in their tasting room.  Rolf Sasse, the Tasting Room Manager, was very helpful and informative as well as just plain old fun to chat with. And the wine? Well, this ended being the place where we wanted a case of just about everything they poured, but budget being what it is, we purchased a bottle of the Grenache and Tristan got a bottle of the Graciano. And first thing when we got back home we signed up on the their website for their wine club.

Our last stop was at Kief-Joshua Vineyards. The tasting room here was the most impressive of the four places we visited and there was more of a crowd, which has its good points as well as bad. Good in that it means the place is doing well and one hopes there are solid reasons for that; bad because it makes the experience a bit less personal and relaxing. The hospitality was excellent, the wines quite good and it was nice to be able to go out back and enjoy the beautiful October weather. Here are a few shots from in and around Kief-Joshua.

I will end this entry with just few photos from the Patagonia Festival, specifically of the Grams & Krieger band. While the ladies were checking out the jewelry and crafts booths I was drawn across the grounds to the sound of slide guitar and soulful singing. If there is anything I like more than discovering wonderful new wines it is discovering wonderful music. Grams and Krieger have been a part of the Arizona music scene for quite a while, but they were new to me. With them was singer/songwriter Nancy McCallion, who knows her way around a song, no doubt.

I picked up a copy of "Grams & Krieger 5", their latest CD. Good stuff. Their take on "Lucky Old Sun" is spot-on.

Danny Krieger is one fine guitar player.

Well, it's time to water the plants and then head off to the day job. Have a great week!

Friday, October 11, 2013

"It's something when you stay at a thing"

The one magazine I read consistently, usually cover to cover, is Smithsonian, produced by a branch of the same organization that runs all those Smithsonian museums and galleries that dot the landscape around Washington DC, as well as the American Indian Museum Heye Center and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Center Museum in New York City. Sadly, all of these facilities, as well as its research centers and the National Zoo are, as of the time I am writing this, closed due to the government shutdown. Thank you very much to the responsible parties.

Back to the reason for this post. I try very hard not to be a pack rat when it comes to my magazines. So when I come across something, some nugget of wisdom or really interesting piece of information I want to keep, it is a challenge to figure out just how I can do so without creating clutter and yet making it easily accessible. For these paragraphs, taken from an interview with Al Pacino by Ron Rosenbaum that appears in the September, 2013 issue, I have chosen to keep them as out in the open and accessible as can be, which means I'm going to copy them to this blog. I hope Messrs. Pacino and Rosenbaum do not mind. In this interview concluding extended quote, Mr. Pacino is relating the time he saw Buddy Rich perform as the opening act for Frank Sinatra.

"I thought oh, Buddy Rich the drummer. Well that's interesting. We're gonna have to get through this and then we'll see Sinatra. Well, Buddy Rich starts drumming and pretty soon you think, is there more than one drum set up there? Is there also a piano and a violin and a cello? He's sitting at this drum and it's all coming out of his drumsticks. And pretty soon you're mesmerized.

"And he keeps going and it's like he's got 60 sticks there and all this noise, and these sounds. And then he just starts reducing them, and reducing them, and pretty soon he's just hitting the cowbell with two sticks. Then you see him hitting these wooden things and then suddenly he's hitting his two wooden sticks together and then pretty soon he takes the sticks up and we're all like this [miming being on the edge of his seat, leaning forward]. And he just separates the sticks. And only silence is playing.

"The entire audience is up, stood up, including me, screaming! Screaming! Screaming! It's as if he had us hypnotized and it was over and he leaves and the audience is stunned, we're just sitting there and we're exhausted and Sinatra comes out and he looks at us and he says. 'Buddy Rich,' he says. 'Interesting, huh--When you stay at a thing.'"

"You related to that?"

"I'm still looking for those sticks to separate. Silence. You know it was profound when he said that. 'It's something when you stay at a thing.'"

A few years ago Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, made famous the ten thousand hour theory, which he borrowed from the research done about forty years earlier by Herbert Simon and William Chase in a paper they did for the magazine American Scientist. Essentially it says that talent needs to be combined with preparation and practice, lots and lots of preparation and practice, in order for genius to shine, for true, lasting success to be the result. It's one of those "who needs a degree and a grant to figure that one out?" sort of conclusions, but it's always good when it's stated in a way that resonates, that has a chance of staying with you. For many people, "The 10,000 Hour Rule" is what resonates.

Me, I like "It's something when you stay at a thing." 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Mountains and Fjords are Grand, But It's the People

My wife and I resolved some time ago to do whatever we can to See The World. Our ambitions are most likely well beyond our means, but simply the fact that we have made this pledge to ourselves will, we are sure, make a difference, help us find ways to do as much as is possible.

This year, to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary, we went on our first cruise, taking the Sapphire Princess from Vancouver to Whittier. From the ship or on the shore excursions we saw temperate rain forests of constantly regenerating life, beautiful lakes, glaciers, wildlife we had never seen outside a zoo or aquarium before, waterfall after waterfall, stunning seascapes of silver-green water dotted with white-blue-black floating ice. At Whittier we hopped on a glass topped train car for the ten hour journey to the lodge Princess operates just outside the northern edge and official entrance to Denali National Park. After a couple of days there, including a tour that took us over sixty miles into the the interior of this vast wilderness preserve, we hopped on a bus to spend a day and a night at their lodge to the south of Denali. During this time we found ourselves absolutely entranced with the sight, or sometimes just the possibility of the sight, of the highest spot in North America. Denali in person, even from forty miles away, is, in the truest sense of words, awe inspiring.

So if I may, I would like to share a few of the memories we took away from this trip of a lifetime.

Amidst all of Nature's Grandeur, it was impossible for us not to be impressed with, and want to know so much more about, the people who make these huge floating resorts work. The work they do is demanding, the option to have an off day does not exist, they are away from their families for months at a time and they are dealing with people who have paid a pretty good sum of money to leave everything to someone else and that someone else is them. Their patience, courtesy, level of expertise at their jobs and simply their extraordinary work ethic impressed us tremendously. We had the opportunity to speak with a few of them about themselves and their lives outside of the cruise ship and found warm, intelligent, perceptive people we would have greatly enjoyed sitting across from at the dinner table sharing entertaining and enlightening conversations.

One example would be the gentleman on the left side of this photo. Giuseppe was our waiter at Sabatini's, one of the "extra cost" dining rooms aboard the ship, where we had our anniversary dinner. He shared a bit of his life with us during the evening. In his fifties, he is back working on a cruise ship after over twenty years of owning his own business in the little Italian town of Bari. The bad economy did to his business what it has done to many small businesses throughout the world, his age made it difficult to find decent work close to home, so in spite of the fact that he has great work experience, speaks four languages and from what we could tell in our short time with him, would be an asset to any firm he found that his best option was to renew his association with the cruise industry, in spite of the fact that it keeps him away from his wife and family for months at a time. All of this was conveyed matter of factly, with no trace of bitterness or anger, simply an "It is what it is" sort of strength and gracious determination. His abilities as a waiter were absolutely top notch and his commentary on both the political situation in his beloved Italy as well as the mental state of its drivers "We're all crazy!" was both entertaining and eye opening. Our table was right by a good sized window and when I commented on the lovely, late evening view, he said "Yes, it is like music." We wish him much music in his life and can't thank him enough for sharing a bit of that life with us.

A few more Pretty Pictures.

Not bad, eh?

Lastly, I would like to say a word in praise of shared tables. Whenever we went down (or up, rather) to breakfast or lunch, we were asked at the door if we would like to share a table. Our answer was always a quick and definite "Yes, please." One of the things we discovered over the years in our stays at bed and breakfast establishments is that a real highlight of any day can be the people you meet at a shared meal. Of course, you may be stuck with bores who dominate the airwaves with endless anecdotes and opinions of little interest or nose in the marmalade recluses who barely nod in acknowledgement of any greeting or attempted introduction. But often as not people are interesting and life is about at its best when one is in the company of interesting people.

One lunch, we were seated with two other couples, a retired school principal and his wife from Minnesota by way of North Dakota and a lanky, bright eyed, bushy browed gentleman in his eighties who introduced himself as Conrad and a woman who I assumed was either his wife or at least his significant other, although I may have been mistaken, it is possible they were simply friends traveling together. There was much discussion that centered around the Catholic church, a subject dear to the retire principal and the woman with the older gentleman, but although it was occasionally entertaining, there wasn't much Anne or I could contribute, at least not without revealing ourselves as less than fans of organized religion and its famous consistency in creating both intended and collateral damage. With Anne being a teacher and with the retired principal, the topic of education got a bit of exercise and during the course of that we found out that the older gentleman, a quiet fellow, was himself a retired professor of literature and poetry. Irish poetry, in particular, was a specialty. This piqued my interest, so I asked him if he had a favorite Irish poet. Yes, William Butler Yeats. The woman with him offered up that Conrad had a regular radio spot on the local public station in which he read poetry. Very cool. A sort of regional version of Garrison Keillor's "A Writer's Almanac" and we were sharing a table with its host. And then, rather unexpectedly, Conrad asked if we would like to hear a poem?

He did not need to ask twice.

And so, from memory, and with only the slightest hesitation about halfway through, there in the International Dining Room of the Sapphire Princess in the waters off the coast of Alaska, Conrad recited, with great effect, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by W.B. Yeats.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
Wile I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Pretty cool, don't you think? We did, as our applause, I hope demonstrated. A few neighboring diners seemed to have listened in and they showed their appreciation too.

A few minutes later, Conrad excused himself quietly "for just a moment, I'm sure". Once again the various delightful foibles and idiosyncrasies of the Jesuits, Franciscans and Benedictines dominated the table. Then back came Conrad, to share that he was scheduled to perform in the ship's talent show and must excuse himself . We had heard earlier that no more than half a dozen people had signed up for this activity and we hadn't seen a reason to circle what thought surely would be a brief parade of adolescents lip syncing to Justin Bieber tunes. But if Conrad was going to recite poetry, step out of our way, we want good seats!

It turned out that the six entrants had been self-whittled down to just two, and by the time we got there, one of them had already performed. But up next was Conrad. Having just made what he thought was a delightful discovery Ketchikan Library (I think that is what he gave as his source), he brought to the microphone a poem called "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and delivered a true performance that I don't think anyone in the audience saw coming. It was a delight.

I have since Googled Conrad, using simply "Conrad Poetry" as my search, and found more about this interesting, poetry loving octogenarian. He doesn't seem to have a Facebook page, so I can't "Like" him, but I do want to thank him for contributing such a wonderful memory to a memorable trip. Here is an article written about him a couple of years ago.

"Conrad Balliet not only reads poetry..."

And thanks to Giuseppe and Ignacio (our waiter in the Santa Fe Dining Room, without whom we would have been lost our first day, a true professional) and Paul (the head waiter at Sabatini's who graciously arranged a special vegetarian risotto dinner for Anne), and Victoria (who directed the Princess Pop Choir with such good humor) and all of our excursion guides and drivers who shared their knowledge and expertise. The landscapes and seascapes were awesome, but it was the people who, often unexpectedly, brought that additional dimension to our trip that only reinforced our commitment to See The World.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

We will continue our little sashay around the UK with a stop in Whitby, a small town on the North Sea famous for three things as far as I can tell. Whitby Abbey (see in all its Black and White glory above), Whitby jet, a semi-precious stone of the deepest black hue that comes from fossilized monkey puzzle tree, and the fact that Bram Stoker chose this location as Dracula's landing point when he comes to England. The Ninety Nine Steps leading up the bluff to the abbey are known to all fans of the Count.

The Abbey House is situated to the south-west of the abbey church. The Cholmley family purchased the abbey and surrounding land around 1540 after ol' King Henry the Eight did that Suppression of the Monasteries thing (you remember, he had a bit of a falling out with the Roman Catholic Church over his perceived need to change out wives on a regular basis and his need to replenish the royal coffers with the riches to be had by taking over Church property throughout the country.) Anyway, the Cholmely's owned the place for almost five hundred years. The statue you see here is called The Whitby Gladiator and is a reproduction of a sculpture Sir Hugh Cholmely had cast as a copy of the Borghese Gladiator. That one disappeared some time in the 18th century. It's pretty darned big so I'm not sure how it could have just wandered away with nobody noticing, but the English Heritage folks decided it was more practical to make a new one rather than go looking for the old one, so in 2009 they hoisted this fellow into place.

We'll do a few more pics from in and around the abbey and then a few I took in Whitby.

Keep yer eyes open! It's a beautiful world!

Till next time.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


A few of the photos I took in York. Pretty town. You can walk around the old wall that used to protect the town and look down into peoples' backyards. They don't seem to mind. We stayed at the Dean Court Hotel, part of the Best Western organization. Nice accommodations, a pretty good breakfast (especially for England) and right across the street from the magnificent York Minster.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


A few days ago I posted a photograph on my "Alan's Bookshelf" Facebook page. That page, which was originally called "Alan Hutcheson, Writer" was meant to help me promote my novel. From everything I could tell, it helped not one little bit. So I changed the emphasis of the page to excerpts from really good, or even great books. Not just a phrase or sentence, no bumper sticker sized quotes, but decent, if still bite sized chunks of what I consider to be wonderful writing. The response was tepid. So I figured, what the heck, I'll just use the page to create a photo inventory of the books in the house. Who cared if nobody cared? Surprisingly, a few more folks showed up for that show. Not many more, but still.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a photograph I had taken over a year ago at the Mesa Festival of Creativity. It got more views by far than any literary post and a few thumbs up. A few days ago I followed that with some shots I had taken when we were on our Trip of a Lifetime to the UK and Ireland. All sorts of people found that interesting. Well, I have pondered a bit on just what this all means and have come to the conclusion that People Like Pretty Pictures. They like them more than Well Chosen and Arranged Words. So, since I am having no little bit of fun with my Adobe Lightroom software and there are literally thousands of photos in need of proper cataloging and a bit of tweaking, and since "Sketches by Plumboz" has been rather dormant for a while, here is where I will post my photos.

No master plan other than presenting pictures I have taken that I like and that I hope you will like. If there happens to be a story behind them I might present it, briefly. But as of now, Sketches by Plumboz is all about pretty pictures.

Today, we have photos taken at Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

A Bit About Me

My photo
I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.