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July, Family and Friends
July 7-19, 2016Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Written July 9+
A new diary of life-in-Fresno. For our own record, but others can see how exciting it is here in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.
The summer weather has turned unusually perfect, highs in the 90s and lows below 70. We do weaken and turn on the air conditioning in the afternoon and evening, but outdoor activities are possible most of the day and morning and evening on the patio is great. I probably should not jinx the weather, but I do hope it stays this way. (Kind of like you winter-climate folks in December, hoping no more ice and snow arrives. Fat chance.)
For this period, our first "event" was a Wednesday luncheon Marianne put on for her mom and her two friends Heidi and Marcelle. The three have know each other for over 50 years, but had not had an occasion to gather in quite awhile, so Marianne offered to put together a fancy luncheon, something she enjoys doing.
The gathering started out on the patio, an unusual summer pleasure due to not-so-hot weather. The activities inside and out focussed on conversation, as everyone worked to catch up. After some time apart, it seems the same for friends of any vintage: chatting matters most. (Marianne's wonderful cooking and table setting matter too, of course.)
Thursday and Friday were spent doing the usual: chores, exercise, reading (or, for Marianne, painting),and television. Tragically, tv viewing was focussed again on a mass killing, this time of five Dallas policemen. They had been providing protection of street demonstrations organized by "Black Lives Matter" in light of two killings BY police elsewhere, earlier in the week. More violence. More guns. More fear. (Coincidentally, the week also saw two police-involved shootings locally, bringing closer the thorny problem of policing in times of increased personal weaponry.)
Enough discouragement. One chore we had was grocery shopping, pretty unexciting. However, we are discovering that Fresno summers have some pretty great farmers' markets, each with its own sense and flavors. We regularly hit the Wednesday market out at the Kaiser Hospital entrance courtyard. There, the emphasis is healthy food of course. On Saturday morning, we often go to the "Vineyard Market", specializing in organic fruits, vegetables, and honey. On this Friday, we dropped by the Manchester Mall Farmers Market, the closest one to our house, but one we generally just drive past. My sense is that this is the most authentic for our local farmer community: mostly Mexican specialties, plus a scattering of Southeast Asian. We do have to remember to add this to our regular list.
We finished Friday with an evening beer and hand-crafted pizza at Gazebo Gardens, a local nursery that becomes a beer garden and food truck parking lot on the weekends. We chatted with Jeff from "Ampersand", our nearby ice-creamery. His "food truck" is bicycle-driven. We wish everyone well as they make living here a bit better.
On Saturday, Marianne and I went for a drive into the mountains scouting cooling-off destinations for the 100F days we know will hit us again. The Sierra Nevada's run all along the east of the San Joaquin Valley, of course, but finding places to go isn't as easy as it would seem.
Places north of Yosemite and south of Sequoia National Parks seem too far away for a quick get-away. At this time of year, Yosemite is too crowded to be attractive and Sequoia is getting there. It's between these two NPs that Fresno folks go to cool off, often at or near one of the artificial hydroelectric lakes built in the mountain valleys many decades ago. We had visited Bass Lake before, as well as Millerton Lake, but we had never gone past Millerton up to Shaver and Huntington Lakes, so that was our new destination.
Actually, we had been close to Shaver Lake a number of times for gatherings of the local Hungarians. Balint, the group leader, has a wonderful "cabin" that overlooks the mountains in the area, but today we went past his street, to the cute little village of Shaver Lake and the lake itself. Apparently, the lake is much improved due to last winter's snow, the best in a half-dozen years. The harbor and the lake were filled with pontoon boats, speed boats, fishing boats, canoes, and jet-skis. It all looked fun except I had to think that falling in the snow-melt water would have been anything but pleasant.
About 18 miles past Shaver, we stopped at China Peak Ski Lodge to check if the lodge, open weekends-only in the summer, could accommodate us next week when we have guests. They did have a couple of rooms available, so we signed up. We probably should have looked more carefully, but what the heck. After that, we headed over to the day lodge for chicken-sandwich lunch, looking up at the barren ski slopes. Pleasant place for a light lunch, but I do wonder what we will do for a whole day next weekend.
Huntington Lake is across a small valley from the China Peak ski area. The road into the valley revealed a picture-perfect scene, with high mountain backgrounds and dozens of little boats zipping in the fresh breeze. Even from a distance, it looked exciting. (Remember, the penalty for falling in can be hypothermia.)
Up close, the lake is almost all campsites and rustic cabins. I suppose this area is only accessible about half the year, since the pass coming in is almost 8,000 feet elevation, and that discourages more substantial construction and settlement. But, if you are a camping type (we aren't), Huntington Lake looks like the place to go.
Sunday started with breakfast out with Mamo. We went to her favorite breakfast spot and were treated to live piano music and a particularly enthusiastic patron who enjoyed singing along. I think most of the diners admired her chutzpa, if not her specific song renditions. It was all good and added to our family discussion and memories.
After that, it was back to Mamo's house to watch the European "soccer" championship. I was rooting for little Portugal and, in the second overtime, they managed to win with the single goal of the game.
From there, it was off to a neighborhood pizza barbecue. Neighbors Jon and Susan set up their pizza oven and everyone enjoyed the food, the drinks, and, most of all, the chance to get together and talk. A very nice neighborhood.
On Monday, it was barely noon and Mamo had already returned home after a morning ambulance ride to the emergency department to get a bleeding nose repaired. Marianne stayed with her at the hospital and drove her home after the excitement. Then on to normal life (exercise and chores). If it's not one thing, it's something else.
On Tuesday morning, grandson Rich and his mom and dad arrived from Colorado. We greeted them at Fresno International Airport (aka: FAT), about the easiest airport we have ever used. I'm sure the town fathers would like it to be busier, but for now we will enjoy the lack of lines and crowds.
After settling in at home, we went to visit Mamo and use her cooling pool. She loves guests and we enjoy her (and her pool). In fact, we might need to make daily visits since Fresno weather is headed toward triple digits again.
After the pool it was off to Chinese dinner.
As a sort of post-script, Brian suggested we stop at Fresno Ideaworks to compare how Fresno does their "makerspace" compared to Brian's Tinkermill back in Longmont. Ideaworks member Matt was nice enough to give us a tour of their 12,000 square-foot space.
All in all, a very busy first day!
Day Two of the visit was much more uneventful: mostly watching a fence get repaired. "Jeremy", the gardener at Mamo's neighbor, had peered over and asked if we wanted to cooperate with repair of the old, falling-down fence between the properties. Spur-of-the-moment I said "sure" and thus found my task for the day laid out: supervise and (very) occasionally help. At least the job did get done with 99% of the work done by others, a good deal in the 95F sun.
Thursday (the 14th) had been chosen by the local power company as a "SmartDay", so we would essentially be chased out of the house between 2 and 7pm for fear of using much of the very expensive power. The good news is that this forced us to a pretty full schedule: Cat Haven; Kings' Canyon National Park; swimming; and dinner out with Mamo. We even manged an extra stop or two and ended glad we were forced out of the house.
We headed straight east from Fresno, out the Kings' Canyon Highway. This route has become a tradition for all our visitors, mostly because it leads out to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, both great attractions. Also traditional is a stop at the "famous" Centerville Fruit Station. I think it has been in place for decades and remains a source of good, healthy snack food, especially this time of year with all the fresh peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots.
But today, our first serious destination would be at Cat Haven, to see their educational collection of big cats and small. I had first gone here a couple of months ago (link) and discovered an attraction that promises to become standard, at least for kids and cat-loving visitors.
The entrance to Kings' Canyon and Sequoia National Parks is about 20 minutes past Cat Haven and, General Grant, the closest Giant Sequoia is about 15 minutes past that. This makes it our favorite example of the giants. (A secret: we often don't try to see any of the other "Generals" because the grandeur of the giant sequoia's fades after the first couple of examples. If, however, you want to see more, we can do that too.
A new stop for us was Hume Lake, another twenty minutes or so past General Grant. It is primarily a Christian youth camp and was swarming with scores of enthusiastic campers. We worked in a lunch of hamburgers and ice cream, two of our favorite food groups.
After almost the entire day on the tourist trail, we all relaxed back around Mamo's pool. It had gotten to 104F during the day, so there was still plenty of "warm" left over for the late-afternoon swim.
Friday, was another SmartDay and another trip to the mountains, this time in the northeast direction, north of Sequoia, south of Yosemite, to China Peak Ski Resort.
We passed through the resort gate about mid-day and were told that, in no circumstances, could we check in before 3pm. (Seemed strange to me, considering that the lodge is only open Friday and Saturday so there were no rooms that had not already been cleaned.)
We chose to kill time with a half-mile hike along Big Creek to Indian Pool. (Short on imagination in naming here.) The walk was great, if a bit challenging in dressy sandals. Real shoes next time. Jen and Rich were brave enough to swim in the melt-fed swimming hole while Brian supervised from a warm rock, and Marianne sketched the scene, and I made photo records. To each their own.
After 3pm check in, we discovered that China Peak had absolutely nothing open for two more hours, no matter how thirsty and hungry we were. Our solution was to head over to the small village of Lakeshore (near the shore of Lake Huntington) and the Lakeshore Resort Restaurant. Finally, something we would recommend, maybe because we were now darn thirsty and hungry.
Back at China Peak, activity was picking up. The band Renegade Toys Band was fired up and playing covers of 60s and 70s rock, our kind of music, although their enthusiasm may have run ahead of their talent. We enjoyed it and the mountain valley setting may have helped.
On Saturday, I again joined Brian on his one-hour morning walk. We chose the bare snow run up from the lodge and were challenged with more elevation change than we normally find in flat-as-a-table Fresno. My fitbit gave me credit for 26 floors of stairs! It was a nice way to see the mountain sunrise.
The rest o Saturday was uneventful, as far as I remember as I am writing a few days later. Without pictures to remind me, that's about the limit of my memory span.
At Rich's request, the Sunday excursion was to Castle Air Museum. We had visited on his last trip, but he wanted to see it all again and that was ok with most of us. Castle was one of the main B-52 bases during the Cold War, but military operation stopped long ago and a museum was opened in 1981. Today, over 70 restored vintage aircraft are on display.
We started with a tour of a presidential "VC-9", a military version of the DC-9 that was used in six administrations from 1975 through 2005. Castle has restored it to the condition is was in during the Clinton administration, although it was reportedly the favorite of Nancy Regan and occasionally referred to as "Nancy's plane". President Regan flew on the larger Boeing 707 that had also served for decades and is now on display at the Regan Library in Simi Valley. (A future destination?)
The tour was given by "Larry" a retired pilot volunteer who showed us all the details he could and told many stories of this particular aircraft. No pictures were allowed inside, and the VC-9 was far more humble than the giant B-747 currently carrying the presidential seal. Nevertheless, it was much nicer than MY last flight. (Interior pictures here.)
After half a day in the hot sunshine, we headed to Mamo's for a quick swim and back home for BBQ.
Afterwards, we figured we had gotten so much exercise that we "needed" some Ampersand ice cream, the best frozen treat in the San Joaquin Valley, in our opinion, and just three blocks away. Unfortunately, dozens of other people were already there, celebrating National Ice Cream Day, so we passed. That was just as well because the store apparently sold out long before the line stopped growing. Glad to see the local shop prospering.
On Monday we decided to throw in one more excursion to the week-long visit - to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. I bought an annual membership last time, so this nearby excusion was both cheap and convenient. And a pretty good zoo.
We started with the Winged Wonders Bird Show, maybe the best part of the whole zoo, in my opinion. While I had seen it all before, the antics of the birds were still pretty amazing. The pictures below show some of the highlights.
That brought us to Tuesday and the end of the family visit. With a mid-day flight, we had the luxury of a relaxed morning before Rich and Brian and Jen were dropped off at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport, a nice, modern, little airport with hardly a line in sight.
I suppose there will be another July diary, but I have no idea what it might cover. Our calendars are free, but the daytime temperatures are creeping back above 100F, so we made need something imaginative.
John and Marianne
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