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Wedding Weekend

June 19-24, 2015
Written June 20+

Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
At our age, it has been awhile since we attended a wedding, but this weekend would be different.  Megan, friend Barbara's daughter, was getting married and we were honored with an invitation.  The event would be held up in mountain farm country, in Grass Valley. It all sounded wonderful and festive.

We decided to add to the Saturday festivities with a nice Friday dinner in Sacramento and a short wine country tour on Monday and Tuesday.  THAT part of the trip was prompted by a need to pick up a new coffee table at a factory near Napa.
Index to a complicated diary!
Friday.  - Gallery Scouting
- Sacramento Mini-Tour
- Dinner at Ella's
Saturday. - Megan and Anders Wedding
Sunday. - Lake Brunch
- Bike Race
Monday.- Valley Drive
- Kolkka Table Tour
- Swiss Hotel and Sonoma Dining
Tuesday.- Old Sonoma Buildings
- Vallejo's House
- Vallejo's Ranch
- Tuesday Market on the Square

However, before it all, Marianne had to meet with Rachel at M Street Gallery to organize her August participation in Art Hop.  They briefly considered the largest display room, but then backed off to a smaller one.  Nonetheless, there are over fifty feet of walls that will need to be covered.  Marianne needs to get busy!
After completing the business meeting, it was off to Sacramento.  We had added an extra day, specifically to try a nice dinner at our neighbor Vern's son's restaurant. Besides, I had not been to Sacramento in decades and the same was true for Marianne.  The three hour drive from Fresno was uneventful, just more miles of farms, orchards, vineyards, and farm equipment stores.  The Valley really is the fruit-, nut-, and veggie-basket of the country and this trip north expanded on our earlier south, west, and east drives.  Of course, this may change as water becomes ever more scarce.

After settling in at the hotel, we had some time for a little bit of touring.  Our goal was simply to see the capitol building, but along the way we visited the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, founded in 1850 and, I assume, the reason this place is called "Sacramento".  This colorful church could hold its own against those of Europe!
From Blessed Sacrament, it was over to the capitol grounds.  A couple of the grassy fields have been left unwatered, the new California style.  However, most of the grounds have hundred-year-old trees, and even the government is wise enough to not starve these old plantings of the water that makes California possible.
Now we were getting hungry.  We had heard lots of good things about the three (or four?) Selland restaurants.  The top of the series, The Kitchen, sounds wonderful, with a multi-course, pres-fixe, in-the-kitchen culinary experience, but we opted for the more traditional Ella Dining Room and Bar.  (Named after neighbor Vern's great-granddaughter!)

We started with a happy hour snack, an ornate cheese plate, accompanied with one margarita.  (We need to get M. off the meds, so she can join me in a drink.)  After a quick cleanup break back at the hotel, we returned for a halibut and pork chop dinner.  Marianne's fish was excellent, but the server's recommended chop was a little too fatty for my taste.  Nevertheless, the service and ambiance was first class and we discussed the lack of such a place back in Fresno. I suppose it's the difference between serving a city with customers coming from the farm industry versus one populated by government lobbyists!

Saturday morning we drove up to Grass Valley.  We killed a couple of hours before our hotel room was available by shopping "downtown".  Seems like a nice small Sierra foothills town.  (More interesting than the "Gold Country" towns we had visited a few weeks before.)

d150620_04_bus.jpgd150620_06_off.jpgOur school bus ride was scheduled for 2pm.  While waiting, we ran across John and Helen McKay, acquaintances from decades ago in Brazil.  We got first choice of (small) bus seats, and then toured Grass Valley as we picked up other wedding guests.  The ride out to Smartsville (really, that's the name) was a fun preparation for the festivities.

Megan and Anders' wedding itself was spectacular and the reception was equally special.  It certainly deserves a diary page all to itself, so here's a jump to THEIR page:

d150621_02_picnic.jpgd150621_04_friends.jpgOn Sunday morning, I posted pictures from the wedding, and then we headed out to Lake Wildwood for a morning brunch with the wedding families.  All the younger folks, including the bride, look none the worse for the wear of the day before.  Our older crowd was just thankful for a quiet, peaceful, breakfast buffet by the lake.  Barbara, mother-of-the-bride and nominally our contemporary, still had the energy of the "kids", while she enjoyed the "let down" from week and months of wedding planning and execution.  Well done Barbara (and Megan, and Mike, and all the other family and crew that worked so hard and successfully)!!.

We faded early from the brunch party and headed back to the hotel to make Fresno calls to settle home affairs.  All seemed good at home, so we were cleared for the post-wedding part of our trip.

We worked in a trip to neighboring Nevada City, for little or no purpose than to just see a bit more of the surrounding Sierra foothill towns.  When we got there, we found downtown blocked off for the 55th running of the Nevada City Bicycle Classic.  OK, we resolved to be bike fans. 

It was a great opportunity for me to try to take action sports shots, something I have almost zero experience in but for which my camera (a Canon 7DII) has reportedly great capability.  I think I demonstrated that photography is more person and less equipment, but I enjoyed trying.  Another 50 or 100 opportunities and I'll grow into the camera.
The first race was (I think) a "junior" race of 16-18 year olds.  Tough young men.
We also saw the start of a 90 minute professional race.  Even tougher.
The best job we saw was drone pilot.  Safe.

On Monday, we left the Sierra foothills and headed to wine country ... for a table.  Here's the story.  A couple of months ago, we were babysitting Ava and Sam and we took them shopping, or rather we took them to Kolkka, a furniture and home store that Marianne had wanted to go to.  The kids were great, tolerating adult stuff (as long as we worked in a treat or two), and Marianne found a new coffee table, or at least a catalog picture of the table.  We would have to order it and arrange delivery.

Stephanie, the very gracious owner, took us up on our offer to go pick up the table ourselves.  We made the offer because the Kolkka factory is near Napa, and who could pass up an excuse for a visit to the the heart of California wine country. That's why we found ourselves driving west, from the Sierras, through even more California farmland, and over hills to the vineyard valleys.

Much of the drive passed through farmland that resembled our Fresno area, except the farms were more prosperous and the rivers actually had water in them. Probably a connection. We made a brief stop at the Charter Family Fruit Stand for some of the best peaches we have had this season.  From there, it was up into the golden and green hills of Bear Creek Valley, site of a large fire some years ago, something we hope will not be repeated this  dry year.
 For the next 90 minutes, we drove past one fancy winery after another.  Some of the names we recognized, but most we did not.  Many had tasting "rooms" that looked like French chateaus, big ones.  We did not stop for a number of reasons, including our table schedule, Marianne's current limits, and the $20 to $35 tasting fee these places charge.  I do remember the old days when one could taste wine for little or nothing, but that was before the vintners needed to pay for expensive tasting palaces.

The Kolkka factory turned out to be a wonderful experience.  Fernando, the factory manager, showed us the whole operation, from bare metal input to furniture-out-the-door.  Everything is custom made and Fernando's enthusiasm for his craft and crew was infectious.  Stephanie had given permission for pictures, so I'll tell the story visually.
Fernando said the landscaping had to be installed before the locals would let the factory be built.  Very California.
We were led from the end of the factory where bare metal forms arrive, through cutting, welding, painting, and packing.
John Kolkka and Fernando also have an acre of Merlot grapes for their own use and we were given a tour of the "winery" - and three unlabeled bottles. (2006 and 2009 Merlot plus a 2009 Pinot from a friend's grapes)
But, what we came for was a table, and that's what we finally picked up.
We'd like to thank the Kolkkas and, especially Fernando, for the tour.  Now, our new table has a "back story".

Next we headed back to Sonoma, passed more vineyards.  We stayed in The Swiss Hotel, an old five-room hotel, bar, and restaurant, right on the town square.  Since we had driven through lunch time and were getting hungry, we unpacked quickly and headed out for a 4 o'clock "kaffe und kuchen".  After that, dinner seemed less needed, so we stopped at the cheese store for something to add to our valley fruit purchase and we spread out on the hotel balcony.
Swiss Hotel - Four Generations in the same family. 
Kaffe Kuchen after check-in.
The other hotel guests joined us from time to time.  The Ippolito family were on their quest to visit all 1,103 California Historic Landmarks and young Libi gave us a card showing the project website: libiscaliforniaadventure.blogspot.com.  Looks fun!

Tuesday started without plans.  Before and after our hotel-provided "continental" breakfast, we wandered through downtown Sonoma and ended up focusing on the local history.  The town dates from the Spanish times, even before the gold rush that settled much of inland California. Over the next almost-200 years, it seems Sonoma  managed to keep a mix of old and new and the area around the eight-acre city center square is ringed with a mix of buildings that reflect the history.
The old Blue Wing Inn is vacant.  Anyone for a reconstruction project?  (NOT us.)
From the old colonial soldier's barracks to an early 20th Century theater, the center is worth some wandering time.
Picking up on a theme of a few diaries ago, we visited Mission San Francisco Solano, the last of 23 US California missions. It was established in 1823 and is now a California State Park.  Our $3 ticket to the mission included admission to other local attractions, hence our history-focus-day.
From the mission, we walked about twenty minutes over to the home of Mariano Vallejo, probably the most famous of local historical figures.  Vallejo was the son of the Spanish commandant of the Monterey Presidio and followed his father's example into the Spanish army.  After the successful Mexican revolution, he served as an officer in the Mexican Army and was assigned to Sonoma.  When California broke with Mexico, Vallejo switched allegiance and served as an officer on the winning side. 

Vallejo's home and headquarters was a house he had ordered as a kit in 1850.  Knowing the value of heavy, adobe walls, he had the kit's walls built to encase adobe walls, making the house comfortable, even in Sonoma heat.  (Nowadays, we call this "passive cooling and heating".  Not so new.) The State Park display is furnished as it might have been in the 19th Century.  We were struck with how livable the house seemed - a tribute either to Vallejo's taste or to the Park Service's decorating skill.
The living room, dining room, and office.
Upstairs, we tried to imagine how the family 0f 16 REALLY settled in these spaces.
The basis of Vallejo's wealth was his land holdings, dating from the 1834 land grant he obtained as a Spanish officer.  He ran his 67,000 acre (almost 100 square mile) ranch from "El Palacio", now known simply as The Petaluma Adobe.  From here he became the largest wine producer in California, as well as a major sheep, cattle, and horse supplier.  However, while militarily he managed to pick the winning sides in the two California revolutions, his land holdings were questioned and he had to sell his ranch house in 1857 and never regained the wealth and influence he had enjoyed under Spanish rule.
El Palacio, or The Ranch, or currently "The Petaluma Adobe"
Inside were shops and storerooms, as well as a few rooms where family and personal servants lived.  In the summer, the ranch was home to 600 to 800 people, most living in a camp down the hill from the main house.  The verandas' views remain largely as they were 150 years ago.
The "front yard" is still bordered by a cactus hedgerow installed in the 19th Century.  Reportedly, this served both as a prickly fence and as a food source.
Today, it gave me a chance for more flower pictures.
By the end of the day, we had to admit we knew more about California history than before, despite the fact that both of us had gone to school in California - an advantage of the in-person visits espoused by our young friend Libi.

Along with some knowledge, we had acquired a good appetite.  The dinner at the Swiss Hotel was remarkably good, with pasta dishes for both of us that had quite original and flavorful sauces.  After dinner, we joined the crowds across the street at the Sonoma Tuesday Farmers' Market.
Music and organic veggies.  Very California.
We limited ourselves to a small bag of homemade chocolate, although we were tempted by these healthy-I'm-sure burgers.  Next time.

And that was that.  The four-hour drive home was completely uneventful, and now we are back home in Fresno, experiencing the 107F heat, almost 30F more than we had enjoyed in Sonoma.  I think I'm ready to go back!

John and Marianne


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