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Vacation in Mendocino County

March 2-6, 2015
Written March 4+

Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Do retirees get vacations?  I'm not sure what we would be "vacating" from.  No matter, we will call this Monday to Friday trip north into Mendocino County a vacation.  Our northernmost goal is a visit to Ukiah, my Mom and Dad's final resting place.  The rest of the trip is less somber.

We left Ava and Sam Monday morning as they headed off to school. Our drive would take us up through San Francisco, alongside a whole bunch of Silicon Valley commuters. This is a part of work life that I certainly do not miss! Nevertheless, the drive was uneventful and very little changed from when my mom and dad and I used to go this same route, five decades ago.  Traffic was no better back then, but the trip across the Golden Gate Bridge remains as spectacular as ever.

Our first stop was at Equis Partners, our financial-retirement advisers in Novato, just north of the Gate.  Money management during retirement is completely different from our working period.  It has been surprisingly difficult to get a handle on the shift from saving enough for retirement to spending "correctly" to meet personal goals.  Katie and Phil at Equis sometimes help us more with discovering our personal goals than  investing.  We appreciate the help and, on this visit, one message they gave us was that we could spend more than we have been feeling comfortable doing.  We promised to work on it.

d150302_02_lucia.jpgOur next stop was Healdsburg, where we stopped for lunch based on the small town's reputation as a weekend getaway for Bay Area folks.  It was indeed charming, with lots of shops and restaurants.  We managed to avoid shop purchases, but did have a wonderful Brazilian-Portuguese meal at Cafe Lucia.  We even managed to spend more on lunch than we normally would, implementing our financial promise to Katie and Phil right away.  This may not be too hard.

d150302_04_mandd.jpgWe reached Ukiah by about 4:00 and had time to fulfill my main goal: visit my Mom and Dad's final memorial.  It had been 16 years since I had visited the Ebersole Mortuary where they share a niche.  Moments like this are melancholy at best, and I considered how separate my adult life had been from my parents, including after their passing.  Mostly, this was inevitable, with the moving I have done as well as moves mom and dad had to do over the years.  Many Americans have this rootlessness, and maybe we all regret it at times.

d150302_06_fancy.jpgLooking around the rest of Ukiah revealed that the town had not changed much over the decades.  It seemed a bit more prosperous, with the little post-war cottages showing signs of renovations, but downtown was little altered.  We found the book store still thriving and a few other shops that carry over from as far back as the 70s and 80s when I first visited Ukiah.  The town community appears to remain a mixture of farmers, loggers, hippies, and escapees from the busier parts of California.  At the end of the day, our dining experience was limited to "room service" in the Best Western.

One goal we had was to see if Schat's Bakery was still in business for breakfast.  The Schat family had started their German-style bakery back when Marianne and I would come up to visit mom, over 20 years ago.  Their bread and goodies had been good enough to fare favorably in our memory, even while we enjoyed a decade of real Bavarian baking. We discovered that Schat's was in business, prosperous, and still making baked goods that reminded us of a part of our ex-pat life that we often miss.

d150303_01_route.jpgFull, we left for the hour-and-a-half drive to Mendocino.  We took Highway 128, the southern route, in order to visit other parts of my local past.  Over fifty years ago, my parents and I first came to the small town of Boonville in order to visit mom's dad, my grandfather and namesake, Jon Christianson.  He had been a wanderer whom I had seen as a child less than a handful of times. His wanderings ended with his last job in the forest industry of Anderson Valley, where we found him and re-established a connection of sorts.  After he was gone, Mom and Dad bought a few acres of mountain land and installed a small trailer.  That served as a weekend getaway until it was expanded and became their first retirement home.

The drive from Ukiah to Boonville is a twisty two-lane road over rugged hills and ridges.  The inland forests are of gnarled tamarack oak, but, near Boonville, second-growth redwood forests line highway.  Boonville itself was little changed.  The Boonville Hotel was freshly painted and is reportedly prospering, something earlier owners had failed to accomplish.  The rest of town looked the same as I remembered from decades ago, although there were a few more businesses.  Much of the newer prosperity comes from the growth of the wine industry, introduced to Anderson Valley less than 30 years ago.  Now there are 20 vineyards and even more wineries, taking the place of the old apple and peach orchards.
West from Boonville, we stopped briefly in Philo, Grandpa Jon's last residence, to look for changes.  There were none.  The sawmill he worked at was still there, still cutting wood from the local forests.  A century ago, Philo had a half-dozen mills, but the logging industry stripped the hills of the old growth redwood and then disappeared.  Only the remnants, like Jon, were left behind.

d150303_10_navarro.jpgWe stopped at the nearby Navarro General store to find the location of the local graveyard and were directed back toward Boonville, on the old highway.  (I remember when it was THE highway!)  Along the left, on a high field above the road, we found the cemetery where Jon was buried, alongside other locals, from the 1880s through 2015.  We looked among the mid-1960s grave sites for headstones with his name, but found none.  I did find one headstone simply marked "Father", and I figured I could claim that one for Jon Christianson.
Not far past Navarro, we came to Pepper wood Pottery and decided to see what we might see.  It was a wonderful stop.  Owner Doug Johnson has been making ceramics for over forty years and has developed both amazing skills and an amazing setting.  His "crystal" ceramics proved too good to pass by.  We simply remembered Katie and Phil's advice to spend on what we want, and we did.

Pottery for our tastes and some for the local farmers.  (Mendocino is one of the leading marijuana producing areas of the country.)
Doug annually fires up his huge kiln devoted to "salt ceramics", based on old German practices we had seen years ago.
Doug's personal wine cellar was a hidden work of art, made to house his home-made wines of course.

Eventually, we hit the Pacific Ocean and turned right, north to the village of Mendocino. The village was originally a major shipping point for wood products from the local forests.  Nowadays, tourism is the primary industry.  We started with Trillium, a restaurant with three lodging rooms, an arrangement called a "Gasthaus" in our old life and our favorite place to make a home-away-from-home. It was wonderful.   
- Mendocino -- hotel, shops, gardens, headlands
Trillium and Room 3
A project we will NOT take on!
The attraction here is the Mendocino Headlands and the ocean beyond.  My pictures don't do it justice, but I had fun trying.
That little puff is a whale spout, or so the lady next to me said. 
I spent almost an hour, waiting for sunset off the Headlands, otherwise known as Glenn Campbell's  "Western Mendocino County line". Mediocre pictures, wonderful wait.

d150304_02_breakfast.jpgOn Wednesday  I spent a half day writing this diary.  Marianne drew "Zentangles" next to me.   At noon, we hadn't left the breakfast table and simply decided to order lunch.  This made our fourth meal at Trillium, mostly because of our inertia, but the food and setting are very nice as well.

After lunch, we debated a trip into nearby Fort Bragg, but settled for a short walk around the village instead.  This definitely is a lazy stay.  Just to make sure we got in our history education, we stopped by the Ford House, the town museum. The docent reviewed a diorama of 1890 Mendocino, when it was still a booming lumber center.  He noted that San Francisco was built twice from the lumber off the nearby hills, once after the Gold Rush and once after the 1906 earthquake.  My favorite display were prints taken from Carlton Watkins 18-inch by 24-inch glass plates in the late 1800s. Watkins documented the logging industry at the time, dragging his equipment in two wagons, drawn by nine mules.  Digital is so much easier, but the detail in negatives that size was amazing.
After a required nap, it was back to wandering the little village.  More pictures, just more memories of a charming coastal village.
I could look at the ocean all day long.
Many Mendocino houses are surrounded by wonderful gardens, a bit wild, but colorful.
A nice day, even if we didn't do much at all.

On Thursday, we headed home, one day early because I had managed to break a tooth the day before.  Hopefully, we will see some attractions, but it has been a successful trip already.

Best regards,

John and Marianne


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