Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
A road trip! A little one anyway. We left Fresno, bound for the deep snows of the High Sierras, looking forward to the change of scenery and, of course, a chance to visit with grandkids. True to our traveling preference, we started with breakfast. This little side-of-the-road cafe in Madeira Ranchos has become a regular stop for us when we travel north. No particular reason, except convenience and friendliness. (The food isn't even all that good.)
From breakfast, it was another drive through the farms and orchards of the San Joaquin Valley. Winter is ending down in the valley, so the fruit trees are starting to bloom and the bee boxes are decorating the orchards. We have become accustomed to the annual pace of agriculture and scenes like this are reminders of passing seasons. (And reminders that we need to be doing more than just looking at nut and fruit trees.)
Marianne drove up the valley and around Sacramento, up to our next meal stop: The Auburn Alehouse, a trendy pub in the cute town of Auburn. The place was filled with locals plus the Sierra-bound travelers, filling up before Interstate 80 climbs into snow country. The Alehouse was convenient, friendly, and served good food. A recommendation.
After lunch we headed east and up. We had been listening to the weather for this area for days now, and I'll admit it was intimidating. Interstate 80 had been closed for days by several feet of snow and had just reopened that morning. This winter, the snows have set records throughout the Sierra Nevadas, averaging more than 150% of normal for the season - and heavy snow was still in the forecast.
In fact, our highway drive was painless. The roadway was wet but bare. Passing the snow blower clearing the shoulder gave us a sense for how deep the snow really was. (We had seen news stories from a couple days before showing this snow depth from shoulder to shoulder!)
The real challenge came in the last hundred feet: the driveway to Gabby and Mamal's rented house. It was curved, up hill, and had several inches of unplowed snow over ice. Two attempts by our big red Jeep did not succeed. At all. After digging the car free, I settled for street-side parking and started moving luggage up the slippery path.
Inside, we quickly settled in to our weekend "B and B", a wonderful three-bedroom house with plenty of room for all seven of us (counting Charli, the dog). Gabby and the family have rented this for the ski season and, this year, they have been rewarded with tens of feet of snow. All we had to do at this point was wait for their arrival. Mamal flew up that evening and Gabby and the kids drove up Friday, after school.
On Friday morning, a plow arrived for the driveway nice and early and managed to removed much of the snow and some of the ice. I can imagine the snow plow guys have paid for their equipment this year.
Right after that, I drove Mamal over to Martis Camp ski lodge, where he caught the ski lift up and over to Northstar proper. On the drive back, I snapped a picture of a few of the Martis houses, the average of which must cost a zillion dollars. The larger 10,000- and 15,000-square-foot homes are well above that. A life to aspire to, I guess.
Back at our B&B, Marianne settled in to doing not much. We made three separate trips to the Safeway supermarket in order to have all the fixings for Ava's birthday party. (Side note: this smallish Safeway is reportedly the highest-grossing store in the chain. I know it was crowded each time WE were there.)
The real activity started when Gabby, Ava, Sam and Charli arrived. It was easy to see that the family is completely at home at this weekend place, and we all quickly settled in to fun routines. Ava challenged me to thumb-sized shuffleboard, while Gigi and Gabby chatted. Sam shuttled between the two groups, trying not to miss anything. Fun.
Gabby went back to the ski lodge for Mamal and, on his return, there was another round of hugs and greetings. (Even from Charli.) Friends Adrienne and Tony also arrived to share the cocktail hour. (No pictures. I think I was too busy opening wine bottles - and chatting.)
Adrienne and Tony left for their dinner and the rest of us dug into Gigi's cooking. Again, no pictures, because I was busy - eating.
Finally, it was time for Ava's birthday party. She will be ten-years-old on Wednesday, but one can always have an extra party or two.
After all the celebration, it was time for kids to get in pajamas and make the rounds of good-night hugs. Since it was HER birthday celebration, she managed to make this special too, at least with the dramatic performance she did for Gigi. Don't ask me what the ceremony was about!
Saturday started with a new coating of snow. Up early, I wandered around crunching on the new crust.
Back home, the kids (and parents) had to get going early so they could make it to the ski team practice by 8:30. This barely gave Gigi time to fill them with Hungarian crepes, but that is a requirement for our stays.
While the family left for Northstar, Marianne and I did almost nothing. She got to read and review art lessons, with much more time than we usually have at home. For me, it was pictures and diaries. Mostly it was a quiet no-TV day! Especially, no TV news.
Eventually we felt we HAD to do something outdoorsy and went for a neighborhood walk. By now, rains had converted the crunchy snow to mush, but with feet and feet of snow on the ground, the scenery was still thoroughly covered. The local houses are pretty amazing. Good-sized, Big, and Huge. Even their icicles are big.
The next event of the day was our trip over to Martis Camp ski lodge to see Gabby, Mamal, Ava, and Sam return from their day of skiing. Marianne and I settled into the lodge bar, ordered drinks, and waited. It would take our returning skiers over an hour to head down toward us, but I enjoyed taking pictures of the other folks brave enough to ski in the drizzle. This guy in the red coat was on a particularly tricky looking cross between a skate board and a ski board. Fun, I guess.
Our team came back over the top of the hill in front of us. The kids had been in ski team practice all day while Mamal and Gabby enjoyed their full day on the many Northstar runs.
Marianne was the first to spot the family, Mamal and Sam in the lead. Gabby was some distance behind, with Ava sprawled out. A passing skier stopped to see if they needed help, but Gabby reassured him that Ava was just tired after a full day of skiing. Just resting.
In just a minute, Mamal zipped past us with Sam a few feet behind. Good style!
Eventually, two more heads popped up and made their way past the viewing stand. A successful day on the slopes.
The family joined us at the lodge for beer (mom and dad) and french fries (Sam). The kids were almost falling asleep as we sat there.
A couple of hours later, we all met with Adrienne and Tony for dinner at Moody's Bistro. The place was jammed on Saturday night and way more noisy than we might have wanted. Nevertheless our group had fun, even the two young ones. Even exhausted from a day of skiing, there were no melt downs. I think they are moving on from little kid behaviors. (I should have taken group pictures, of course, but my quieter day had blanked my intentions.)
After dinner and a short stop at the ice cream store, dad's suggestion, we all headed home and collapsed. No late Saturday partying for our group.
Sunday started early again, especially for Mamal. His taxi came at 6:30, since he had booked an early morning flight from Reno back to San Jose. Tough start.
By now, the skies were dripping, so Gabby made the executive decision for the kids to skip ski team practice and we all headed to breakfast at Marty's Cafe instead. Fun.
Then it was back to the house to pack and fill the two cars for the return drives, us to Fresno and the family to Monte Sereno. We both suffered heavy Sunday traffic from Truckee up and through Donner Pass, although Gabby had a trick or two to bypass some of the mess. She's such a local.
We had an OK, six-hour drive home to Fresno, including Starbucks and fuel stops. By the time we were home, the skies were dry and we were ready to start again.
No plans for more activity, except Marianne's Art Hop show on Thursday and a week in Seattle in April. Stay tuned to see if we think of something else.
John and Marianne.