November 18, 2002

GREETINGS FROM FLORIDA where I am enjoying a week's vacation visiting my sister-in-law, Mindy. She and her husband, Lad, live in Jacksonville, and Mindy is a partner in a gallery at Neptune Beach. I get the best of both worlds when I come here, since I can stay at the beach and still get lots of time with my in-laws.

Mindy and Lad are two of the most artistically talented people I know. She creates the most phenomenal bird sculptures from gourds, hand dremeling every vein on each feather, and has had her work featured on television and in numerous highly respected shows. There are folks all over the country on waiting lists for her work. Lad carves driftwood, turtle shells, tree stumps and more into fantasy fish, elves, crabs, alligators and anything else that catches his whimsy. Their home is like something out of a storybook, too…filled with art, crafts, plants and Lad's many collections of antique tools, miniature horses, and Japanese netsuke.

They are also quite talented practical jokers. My favorite story of their high jinx involves an elderly neighbor named Freddie, of whom they are both very fond. This dear lady, who turns 90 this week, has always adored magnolias. One year near their neighbor's birthday, Mindy and Lad happened to find some especially real-looking artificial magnolias in a gift shop, and decided to surprise her with them.

Long after dark on the night before Freddie's birthday, they quietly sneaked over to her house with a ladder and placed three of the faux flowers high in the magnolia tree in her yard. Much to Mindy and Lad's chagrine, Freddie did not realize the magnolias were fake - indeed, it being November, when such blossoms are far from in season, she proclaimed their appearance a miracle. Her sister had recently passed away, and the sweet soul decided the flowers were a message from her dear, departed sibling!

Freddie even went so far as to call the minister from the church she, Mindy, and Lad attend, insisting he come over right away to witness her miracle. "We just didn't know what to do," Mindy recalls. "It would have broken her heart to tell her the magnolias weren't real at that point." It took a while for the well-meaning pranksters to get the artificial flowers down from the tree, but to their knowledge, Freddie never discovered the deception. "We told the minister the truth," Mindy says, "but we couldn't bring ourselves to tell Freddie."

Just as well, if you ask me. I say if someone has the heart to believe such a thing as the Miracle of the Magnolias, why deprive them of that experience? It's difficult enough in our complicated and sometimes cruel world to believe in magic, don't you think?

HOLIDAY HAPPENINGS, PART ONE: There are numerous holiday events coming up in and around Sunol and I'll add more as I get the details. Here's one to mark on your calendars for starters: Kilkare Woods residents Fran and Lanny Replogle are the owners of Fenestra Winery in Livermore and invite the public to their annual holiday wine tasting on November 23 and 24 from noon to 5 p.m.

Winemaker Lanny will be introducing two new Fenestra wines, a 2000 Estate Livermore Valley Mourvedre and a 2000 Santa Lucia Highlands Merlot. Lanny says the Mourvedre as the first of its kind made from estate grapes and describes this unique red wine as having "lots of fruit and deep color, with a rich, lingering finish."

There will be Thanksgiving food tasting, wine tasting, gift items, and the ambiance of the renovated 113-year-old winery. Fenestra will be introducing scrumptious Belgium chocolate truffles filled with the winery's 1998 Port. All Fenestra wines currently released will be available for tasting and there is no charge for this event.
Fenestra Winery is located at 83 Vallecitos Road, six miles from the Livermore Route 84 exit off I-680. For information, call 925-862-2292 or e-mail fenwine@aol.com.

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