Love and loss on Valentine’s Day

by Beth Shepherd
( February 14th, 2015 )

Love and loss on Valentine's DayIn memory of my sister Caren: April 15, 1962-February 14, 2013

My sister died on Valentine’s Day. Not that there is a good day to die, but when loss falls near a holiday or any other noteworthy day in your life, it’s hard to separate public celebrations from private grieving.

Here are a few ideas to refashion a holiday, and include the remembrance of someone you loved and lost:

  • Write a letter

  • Light a candle

  • Tell someone about them

  • Donate money in their name

  • Volunteer at a charity they would have liked

  • Do something you loved to do together on that day

  • Tell a funny story about them

  • Create an online tribute or chat about them online

  • Say a prayer

  • Do a few acts of kindness

  • Set aside time private time to grieve

  • Listen to music they liked

  • Plant something—when Big Papa’s cat Cleo died, we buried her in the garden and planted Bleeding Heart around her

  • Cook or bake something they enjoyed or you enjoyed together—I make Moosewood Mushroom Barley Soup every year on the anniversary of my friend Dee’s death

As for me, it is a surreal feeling to go from having one sibling, to none. Even though Caren had cancer twice as a child, and a lifetime of health challenges, she always managed to pull through. Part of me was convinced she always would. But this time, she didn’t.

On this Valentine’s Day, to commemorate my sister, I’d like to share my favorite version of her favorite song.

Take the road less traveled, Beth

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Love is in the air

by Beth Shepherd
( February 11th, 2015 )

Love is in the air everywhere I look around
Love is in the air every sight and every sound

~Tom Jones, Love is in the Air

Birds in love

‘Tis the season when it’s not just Hallmark searching for love. My bird friends have also begun their early spring mating rituals. House wrens are tweeting their courtship serenades, ducks are building their nests, finches are pondering a selection of birdhouses, and male hummingbirds are showing off their flights of fancy as they climb up to 130 feet into the air, dive to the ground and then swoop back into the stratosphere. Here are a few photographs I’ve taken when I’ve been lucky enough to capture bird pairs. Love is in the air.

Two ducks


Flickers at the feeder


Male and female crossbills


Eagles nesting


Mallards upside down

Take the road less traveled, Beth

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Armenian brandy

by Beth Shepherd
( February 5th, 2015 )

In my opinion, unless you’re a teetotaler, you can’t visit Armenia without bringing home a bottle of brandy. I’ve written posts about using our ArArAt brandy to make Brandied Cherries, and commented that it was our beverage of choice when we’ve celebrated adoption milestones (before we adopted and since).

On our last trip in 2012, I was so committed to bringing a bottle back that I frantically repacked our carry-on bag at Heathrow Airport so we could check through one more bag with our duty-free 20-year ArArAt brandy inside. Otherwise our precious cargo would have wound up in the in the dumpster rather than at our home. Who knew? Even duty free wasn’t safe (if it wasn’t EU).

Armenian Brandy

But—until now—I haven’t written much about the brandy itself. Armenian brandy is made from white grapes and spring water according to a traditional method. Depending on how long it’s aged and where the grapes and spring water are sourced, every brandy has its own distinct color, aroma and flavor. When making Armenian brandy, only endemic grape varietals are used, such as Voskehat, Garan Dmak, and Kangun.

I also want to point out that while all cognac is brandy, all brandies are not cognac. Legally, a brandy cannot be called ‘cognac,’ unless it was produced in the Cognac region of France. However, in 1900 Armenian brandy won the legal right to be labeled cognac after it won the Grand-prix award at the Universal Expo of Paris. Although calling Armenian brandy cognac is no longer legal (and ceased to be the case after WWII), you will still hear hear Armenian brandy being referred to as cognac in Armenia, Russia and other former Soviet Union countries.

The roots of the Yerevan Brandy Company, where ArArAt brandy is made, go back to 1887 when Nerses Tairian, a merchant who built the first wine and brandy factory in Armenia. In 1899 the company was acquired by a Russian industrial company “Shustov and Sons.” At the beginning of the 20th century “Shustov and Sons” acquired the status of Armenian brandy supplier to the court of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II.

Ararat Prazdnichny from Armenia

The first bottle we brought home was ArArAt 15 year Prazdnichny made by the Yerevan Brandy Company. It was delicious. Unfortunately, it was so good that it is now gone, and I’m not sure they even make this particular brandy anymore because it isn’t listed on their website.

Ararat Vaspurakan brandy from Armenia

Next we brought home another ArArAt, also aged 15 years, but called Vaspurakan, which is Armenian for “noble country.” This brandy, as described on the company’s website: Intense amber color with a tinge of “old gold”. Bright, elegant and complex aroma with shades of spices, oak bark and dried fruit. At the end one can feel tinges of balm. Rich, complex, complete, astonishingly mild and rounded taste. Light sharpness at the end is smoothed by clearly expressed sweet notes. Long and noble aftertaste.

I heartily agree with their description. We have really enjoyed it but, as you can see, we have a only a few shots remaining. So sad.

Yerevan Brandy Company Vaspurakan

Our sole remaining bottle is Ararat Nairi, aged 20 years. The Nairi people inhabited the Kingdom of Urartu that stretched along the shores of Lake Van, which is now the largest lake in Turkey.  According to ArArAt, this brandy is: Beautiful deep dark amber color. Pleasing glow and spotless transparency. Harmonious, silky, complex and refined texture. Balsamic fragrance and transition to cedar tones. Rich and complex taste with a pleasant long-lasting aftertaste. Refined combination of fried bread and cloves is counterbalanced by tinges of cinnamon and honey. 

Nairi sounds divine. I can’t wait to try it, except that it is our very last bottle of Armenian brandy.

Ararat 20 year Nairi brandy

One thing I’ve never done is take a tour of the Yerevan Brandy Company, and I’d really like to. I am also interested in broadening my Armenian brandy horizons by trying Amenian brandy made by other companies—Yerevan Brandy Company isn’t the only maker of brandy in Armenia.. With that in mind, and our supply dwindling, maybe it’s time to go back and get more.

Take the road less traveled, Beth

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