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Home and Away

August 7-17, 2016
Written August 12+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

OK, what to say?  I've gotten used to diaries with not much happening and, right now, I want to continue.  In the 18 years I have been doing these web pages, the purpose, style, frequency, and level of detail have all ebbed and flowed.  Pictures have always been a big part, often bigger than the text, but that was easier when we had truly interesting scenes in front of the camera.  (There is a famous guide to good photography that says: "Stand in front of interesting things.")  Nowadays, I am standing in front of simpler things.  Oh well, we get what we get.
Last week the weather had cooled enough to have one of the Cambridge neighborhood porch gatherings. These events have pretty strict protocols: start at 5pm; end by 7pm; meet only when below about 95F; and never plan.  At least I think that last guideline exists since we never know at 4:55pm what is happening.
The other guidance is to bring visiting kids and grandkids for show-and-tell and this meeting's contribution came from Craig and Ellen Middleton.  Craig could not have been a prouder grandfather.  Fun to see.
This gathering also featured another summer guest: a scarab beetle.  These bugs do no specific harm, except scare the ladies as they zoom past heads.  Fortunately, Kent our neighborhood bug doctor, was around to grab the invader from mid-air and put him (her?) in one of the sample bottles he keeps around.  Never ask to look in his refrigerator.

Speaking of refrigerators, our old harvest gold fridge has been making noises, so we embarked on a simple replacement.  Of course, as old houses often demonstrate, nothing is too simple.  New fridges would not fit under the existing cabinets nor within the spacing allowed by the sidewalls.  And the floor tile had never been finished.  The consequence was that a straight-forward replacement forced cabinet work, wall-trim removal and repair, new floor tile, plus new electricity and water.
We called in Catron Contracting to do the high-skill work of a new power circuit and water piping. Young Ben Catron showed up with his truck, tool pouch, and confidence.  I still don't know what the bill will be, but it was worth it!
d160805_06_done.jpgd160805_08_tile.jpgMeanwhile, the lower-skill work of trim removal, cabinet adjustment, tile installation, plaster, paint and clean-up fell on my head.  Each task was NBD ("no big deal"), but all together it was enough stress to remind me: NO MORE REMODELS.

d160812_10_delivery.jpgd160812_12_tight.jpg Yesterday, the new fridge arrived and the old one left.  The hole for the fridge was big enough (yeah!), the floor flat enough (yeah2!), and correct power and water (never a doubt.)  The only hitch was a problem with setting the fridge back as far as we wanted.  Set back, the doors hit the arches around the small space.  In principle, the problem is no-big-deal and can be solved with more wall-carving, plaster, and paint, but my no-more-remodels rule will apply even to this final task, NBD or not.
Speaking of remodels, I also need a record of work done on our "other" house: Mamo's.  She has been worried about the deteriorating patio carpet for several weeks now.  Initially, she wanted to simply glue something over the top, but we convinced her that would not be very long-lasting or pretty.  Consequently, we moved the project from a do-it-yourself task to a contracted one.   Good for me, since the work removing the old material made me tired just watching it.  I don't mind hard work, but prefer to watch it than do it.
Our not-too-exciting week ended with a tour of the backyard.  Colors are not what they can be in Spring, but even struggling roses seem to tell a story, even as they fade in a single hot afternoon.

d160814_01_path.jpgSunday (14th) was more interesting.  We headed over to the coast for a couple of days because the high temperature in Fresno was forecast to be 106F, but only 68F at our Cambria destination.  That's almost 40F cooler, for just a two-and-a-half hour drive.  My kind of air conditioning.

d160814_02_pistree.jpgd160814_04_nuts.jpgThe drive over was through miles and miles of farms.  There was plenty of the normal San Joaquin Valley vineyards and fruit and nut trees.  We pulled over to see exactly what the nut trees were: pistachios.  We also saw buffalo - not a normal California ranch but California does everything one place or another.d160814_08_buffalo.jpg
Later, we passed into San Benito county through huge, flat, vegetable farms, complete with a crop-dusting helicopter.  Those pilots are crazy.
After the farms, we passed through Coalinga, a Valley town we'd both heard of, but one I don't think we'd ever seen before.  The SJ Valley towns tend to blend, but Coalinga is bigger than most and seemed a pleasant little farm-country oasis.  We stopped at the local museum, but were unable to see anything other than the outside of a gas station with historically low prices (14.9-cents-per-gallon for regular!)

d160814_19_sign.jpgd160814_20_deploying.jpgThe other Coaling attraction this week has been a fire base for the 7,000 acre Mineral Fire.  The fire had closed Highway 198 earlier this week and that would have cut us off from our National Park destination, but when we stopped by the fire base, we saw that the crews were in the process of moving to their homes or next challenges. 
We were impressed by the organization of this week-long battle base, with sleeping trailers, camping space, toi-tois, feeding stations, and acres of parking for fire trucks.d160814_26_myshirt.jpg
(I also bought a hoodie sweatshirt to remember our "part" in the fire.)

West of Coalinga, we stopped at a burned area, just for some pictures.  The twisted, blackened scrub trees show the destruction, but the green sprouts show that fire is a normal process out here in the chaparral.
d160814_40_chimneyfire.jpgd160814_42_bigger.jpgAs we moved south toward Paso Robles, a new tower of smoke arose on the west.  This was the brand-new Chimney Fire (4,300 acres and only 10% contained as of Monday morning.)  This fire had reportedly closed Coast Highway 1, fortunately north of our Cambria destination.

Between the San Joaquin Valley orchards and the Monterey and San Benito vegetable fields, we drove up Highway 25, past miles and miles of dry grassland ranches.  This is a part of California, sandwiched between busy interior and coastal valleys, that few see. Our goal for this quiet part of the ride was  Pinnacles National Park, a relatively new National Park with entrances from the busy Monterey side or this quiet Eastern entrance.
Pinnacles was made a National Monument in 1908, but a National Park only in 2013.  The park is named after the jagged rocks that form half of the remnants of an ancient volcano crater.  The crater itself has been split by the Chalone Creek Fault and the other half  is now 200 miles south, as the land slides north along the San Andreas Fault system.
The pictures above were from view points along the road, but the best experience is reported to be via hikes up through the spires themselves.  In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps carved paths and tunnels that make spectacular trails 80 years later.  For our visit, however, we had high temperatures (106F), limited time, and limited skills, so we made do with views from a distance.
Nonetheless, pictures of nearby weeds and moss can be fun too.

After all this, we arrived at the Cambria Pines Lodge and settled in for the night.  This is our second stay, so it seemed like coming back to a friend's house.  This friend's house offers us a large guest suite and dinners (with wine) for a reasonable price, as long as we snag a special coupon that the hotel runs in the Fresno Bee from time to time.  A great deal.

Sunday dinner was excellent, as the dinners usually are, and the "free" wine bottle welcome. Wine choices include a Cabernet, a Chardonnay, and a White Zin.  The Cab is more than adequate.  The Zin, less.  Without after-dinner chores, as we always seem to have at home, it was a nice evening of TV-watching, photo reviewing, and Marianne's Zentangle drawing. This was the start of the not-much-planned weekend - just as we hoped.

Monday started no more active than Sunday's finish had been.  I started breakfast coffee, newspaper reading, and diary drafting at 7am.  Marianne joined me an hour or so later and we both stayed until they almost kicked us out at 11:00.  I know, you may think this is a waste off time, but it's the way we (don't) roll when traveling at our own pace.

d160815_02_path.jpgI was feeling guilty about lack of exercise, so I resolved to walk into town.  The sign on the trail to town said it was closed, but it SEEMED OK, so I took the 257 steps down the forest trail, hoping there was an easy way out, and there was.  Phew.  I did not want to make the climb back up quite yet.
The town of Cambria is smallish (6,000 people), old (160-years old, ancient for California), and extremely friendly.  My first stop was The Gutherie-Bianchini House, a small museum run by the local historical society.  The house was built in 1869, thrived for almost a century, and ran down for 30 or 40 years before the historical society got ownership and started a rebuilding effort. 
I learned the time line and a whole lot more from the volunteer docents.  We chatted about the difficulty of old-house remodeling and I mentioned our last project.  (I love dropping the "300-year-old-house" detail.)  In any event, we covered old houses, small towns, and the reputed perfection of Cambria.  (Pronounced "Cam - bria", as in "Camelot".)  Nice stop.
Marianne came down with the car and we toured a few art galleries (her specialty) and one lunch restaurant (a shared responsibility).  A nice nothing-special couple of hours.  On the way home to the Pines Lodge, we stopped at the neighboring Cambrian Nursery and discovered the largest garden plants and decorations shop we had ever visited. 

d160815_24_path.jpgThere were three or four buildings with all sorts of indoor plants and decorations as well as dozens of outdoor scenes, from stone ants to Alice In Wonderland's garden cottage.  It was wonderful!
We can't go to a place like this without discovering home projects.  Marianne now wants a multi-colored fence, and new "stelle" (post) projects.  I think we may need a trompe l'oeil on the garage wall and a wine-barrel tasting table in our "wine cellar".  Always something.
d160815_40_lodge.jpgd160815_41_gardenshed.jpgBy now, I still needed some walking, so I settled for a tour of the Lodge grounds and I ran across yet another garden extravaganza.  For some reason, the hotel has a cute stone-walled greenhouse surrounded by a wide variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables.  The garden was a combination of organized and gone-wild plantings.  I go nuts with flower pictures, so here's what I saw:
d160815_64_sign.jpgOf course, there is more to the Cambria Pines Lodge than this hidden garden, so here are some more shots.  The stone walls on the right are in preparation for kiosks in the Cambria Christmas Market.  I can tell we will be back.

d160815_70_happy.jpgMonday ended with a repeat of Sunday: good dinner, adequate (free) wine, early bedtime.  Too bad we can't do this again and again.  Or, maybe we can, just not THIS week.

d160816_02_chimneysmoke.jpg On Tuesday, we had a reasonable breakfast and were on our way home by mid-morning.  We left Cambria at 55F and gained about 15 degrees per hour for the next three hours. We crossed some of the most barren parts of the state too, so it was not a drive I'd recommend to tourists.  Our drive was further complicated early on by smoke from the Chimney Fire, a threat we could see and smell.

After all this it was good to be home.  Our next attraction is just around the corner: Sean, Ryan, and parents are arriving Thursday.  We will, of course, take notes.

John and Marianne


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