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New Year's - On The Road

December 28, 2016 to January 5, 2017
Written January 2+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

This is the diary of our 2017 New Year's activities, plus and minus a few days.  The original plan had been pretty basic: quiet evening at home and then a four-hour drive up to Lake Tahoe to visit with Gabby, Ava, and Sam, as they enjoy a skiing break.  Stay a few days and drive back.  Nothing too difficult.

d161230_06_charleyann.jpgd161230_04_zoe.jpgd161229_02_settlein.jpgWell, the first complication came at the suggestion that we start by taking over Gabby's house for three days and welcome the New Year down in cosmopolitan Los Gatos - Monte Sereno.  Staying at her house is always nice, even when it comes with dog sitting duties.  Senior citizen Zoe requires virtually no care at all and even year-old Charlie Ann has, barely, made it past the uncontrolled puppy stage.

d161229_04_nosch.jpgLos Gatos probably has a hundred restaurants and we are always up for a new one or a repeat of a favorite.  Our first dinner on this trip was "Nasch", a relatively new Austrian place that serves small specialties that we were dying to judge against our old Bavarian haunts.  The pretzel with stinky cheese was a good start, although Marianne said the orange cheese spread wasn't quite up to her standards.  Our mixed salads (gemischter salat) were pretty authentic.  We each ordered a different sausage as a main course and they were ok, enough.  When the head waiter came by and asked how we liked the dishes, I asked if he really wanted an answer and he said "Sure".  (This was proof he was not a German-trained waiter.  Over there, waiters always ask the question but never, never expect or want an answer.)  Well, we tried to give him a balanced review, just in case it mattered and he gave us free deserts.  We would have returned without any bribes, but it all worked out.

d161230_02_fabcystar.jpgMy next fancy "dining" was at a Starbucks where I have spent time in many, many, mornings on Los Gatos visits.  This time, it was completely remodeled as a "Roastery" Starbucks, serving coffee prepared in a half-dozen different ways, with prices up to $12 per cup.  I was offered a free upgrade from my normal $2.65 cup and I had to admit it was a bit better.  However, it also cost twice as much, so "a bit" seemed not enough for me.  I can't even imagine the $12 versions.

d161231_02_mnewyreve.jpgd161231_04_johnnye.jpgFor New Year's Eve itself, we avoided the various hazards of late celebrations:  drunk drivers and falling asleep at the wheel being our leading excuses for staying home.  So, that's what we did. We managed to watch midnight arrive, in New York.  Good enough and our normal tradition.
Besides, we had an early start planned for the first day of 2017.

d170101_02_packed.jpgd170101_04_loadcharley.jpgWe needed to be on the road about 8:00 to avoid the arriving Sierra Nevada winter storm, or so I thought. We have traveled a fair amount and you would think we could handle a week of traveling with just a carry-on or two, but with car travel, we have lost all excuses for leaving anything behind.  It is hard to believe we have traveled for months in a little car with limited space, but now we fill our big red SUV, no matter the length of the trip.  This time, we added a dog.  Yes, Charlie Ann would join us on the four-hour trip.

d170101_80_greeting.jpgd170101_05_charleycar.jpg The trip was uneventful.  The notorious San Francisco Bay Area traffic was easy since it was both a Sunday and a holiday.  Charlie did just fine, with a single break.  The weather did arrive while we were heading into the mountains and brought drizzle, cooling, and fog.  We had about 45 minutes of that before we made it over Donner Pass and hit the blue skies Gabby had been promising.  On that side, we had a warm greeting, especially for Charlie on her first birthday.

Gabby and Mamal have split the winter rental of  a very nice two-bedroom house just outside of Truckee California.  It is a very deluxe "guest house" to an as-yet-unbuilt main house in Martis Camp, a resort development where they have bought a lot of their own for future use.  Some of the homes in Martis Camp are truly unbelievable, ski and summer lodges for the 1% or even the 1% of the 1%.

While the promised winter storm had not yet arrived, there was enough snow already on the ground for Ava and Sam to test out their new sleds. After an hour of this activity, they were ready for more, but supervision was already getting too cold.

Gabby also tested Charlie Ann's tolerance of the white stuff and the dog passed with flying colors.

After sledding, we headed out on a tour of Martis Camp.  First, we stopped at the main lodge.  This lodge includes several very nice dining areas as well as very impressive country club facilities including saunas, gyms, and golf, in the summer.

Ava and Sam's favorite part of Mardis Camp is "The Barn", a child-centered clubhouse with all kinds of activities from basketball to Pac Man.
The evening sky was still clear, despite the snow forecast.  Part of me liked this snow-free weather, but the heavy snow in the forecast had everyone in the skiing areas pretty excited.   I was wondering exactly how we non-skiers would handle the stuff.
Snow did arrive overnight, setting the theme for the day.

Monday's plan was all about snow. 

d170102_02_sam.jpgd170102_04_family.jpgd170102_06_toshuttle.jpgThe first order of business was for Gabby, Ava, and Sam to get geared up for the slopes.  They called the shuttle and were whisked over to the lifts, happy and excited.

Meanwhile, we had started to clear the driveway so I could take the red Jeep out for my first snow driving in many years.  I'll admit I was a bit apprehensive, especially since our hand-clearing of the sloping drive was not complete at all.
In fact, the car did just fine and the driver gradually relaxed, although I don't think we want to drive for hours in this stuff.  I do have to say the area is beautiful in the white blanket, even if I was too busy driving to take photographs.  There will be time for pictures later.
Gabby had made last minute arrangements for a snow plow to show up and complete the job we had started.  Thank goodness.  The professional and his big blower made it look like we could survive and even escape if necessary.
Meanwhile, up on the slopes, the skiers were making their way through falling snow.  Reportedly, they skied run after run, with both Sam and Ava begging for more.  At ages 7 and 5, these two are completely comfortable in conditions that might discourage the rest of us.  Certainly me!
d170102_22_shovel.jpgWhen they made it back, they were caked in snow, but happy.  Sam even had energy and enthusiasm to shovel the walkway!  His idea.  I have no idea where this energy comes from.

d170102_26_games.jpgBack inside, Gabby made tacos for the hungry crew and Gigi played a game or two before showers.  After cleanup, there was a bit of reading and then the two kids dropped into bed - at 6:00 pm.  They have energy, but it doesn't last forever!

The grown ups also slowed down in the evening and headed to bed relatively early.  Some of us may not have been skiing, but something wore us out.

It snowed all night and by early Tuesday morning, anything Sam had accomplished on the front entrance was covered in a soft blanket.  The fire pit was not usable - or findable almost.  Out by the cars, there was about two feet of new stuff.  The plow has been ordered, just so we can go out to breakfast.

So, the only thing we could do was play in the snow.  Pictures speak to the fun we had!

d170103_20_rescue.jpgd170103_22_cleardrive.jpgEventually, long after we'd had to feed the hungry kids and adults an at-home breakfast, we were rescued by the snow plow.  The driveway wasn't bare, but plenty clear for Gabby to drive her big, black "bus" up and onto main roads.

Down in Truckee, the snow wasn't deep at all, but the main highway was almost stopped, so traffic on the smaller road we used was pretty backed up too.  A sign of things to come for when we would leave the next day?
Lunch was at "Marg's", a casual place that served us pretty good grub.  Maybe it helped to be "starving", as Sam is fond of claiming.

After lunch, we were back at Martis Camp and the kid's favorite destination: The Barn.  Night arrives early this time of year, but the darkness made the place even more inviting.  Inside, I settled in by the fireplace to read newspapers, Gabby played a little b-ball with Sam, and Gigi shared some art lessons with Ava.
When it was time to head back to the house for dinner, the lighted walk was magical.  This part of snowy evenings can not be beat.

After dinner, there still seemed to be energy in our crew, so it was back outside for snowman building.  Marianne claimed she had never built a snowman before, so she demonstrated that it is never too late to learn.  Ava also learned that winter classic: snow angels.

Back in the warm house, it was time for PJ's, hot chocolate, and an Ava-organized art contest.  She has a wonderful imagination and gave instructions to everyone and then judged the four entries.  Marianne came in first, probably because her picture said "I love Ava".  Bribery of sorts, but everything was fun.

We had planned to return on Wednesday, but the Tuesday evening "severe weather warning" had me questioning.  They called for two to four feet of snow over Donner Pass and gusts from 60 to 100 mph. 

After a fitful night's sleep, we woke to plenty of new snow, but the pass warning had improved to just one to two feet snow and severe gusts.  We discussed the relative merits of waiting one more day, but Thursday was forecast to be colder and the prospect of ice over the top of snow just didn't seem good.  We decided we would leave, just as soon as the snow plow made the driveway doable.

d170104_07_game1.jpgd170104_09_game.jpgAva came up with a coloring contest to fill in the time.  As I recall, Sam was declared the winner, but Ava could not say exactly why his art was chosen.  Made him happy though!

I didn't take part, because I was still worried and grumpy at the prospect of hours on the snowy roads.  My bad.

I did spend the waiting time packing the car and shoveling around the edges where the plow could not go.   Gabby and the kids got geared up for playing in the snow and I took my last family picture.  My favorite I think

d170104_20_startroad.jpgd170104_22_wait.jpgDown in Truckee, the road had been cleared by a snow blower much bigger than the one that clears driveways.  Interstate 80, however, was at a complete stop because there was a chain control station on the western edge of town.  Signs were warning all vehicles to have chains mounted, except four-wheel-drive cars with snow tires. Like our red Jeep.  A half-hour later, at the chain control, highway patrol further limited traffic by taking all heavy trucks off the road, chains or not.  This must be serious, despite the fact that all we were seeing was rain.

Truckee is about 5,800 feet in elevation and, 10 miles away, Donner Pass is about 7,500 feet.  Just out of Truckee, the snow closed in and, to get there, we drove for an hour through the worst snow I have ever had the bad fortune to navigate.  Windy.  White-out.  Snow drifts.  But, no trucks and pretty cautious drivers all in all.  No problems to the summit.  Just after the summit however, the big chunk of snow that had been on our roof slid forward, first stopping the windshield wipers and then blocking almost all of the forward visibility.  S---.  Fortunately, there was a chain removal area right there and I eased over and stopped without hitting anything.

From there, it was pretty uneventful.  Snow continued for another couple of hours, before turning to rain.  We stopped for comfort food, burgers and fries, in Auburn and continued for three or four more night time hours to Fresno. 

Wednesday had been a long day.

d170104_92_homework.jpgd170104_92_rainathome.jpgBack home, everything was fine.  The house was cold, but intact.  The back yard was wet and covered in leaves, but the rain gauge registered less than an inch, despite filling for an entire week.  The contrast with rain or snow totals a relatively short distance north or east was remarkable.  The upcoming week has almost five inches of rain in the Fresno forecast and several feet of new snow for the Sierras.  I'm glad we are home.

John and Marianne

On Thursday, Ava, Sam, and the family had wonderful skiing.  Mamal's Wednesday evening flight had been canceled, but he lucked out with a Thursday morning hop from San Jose to Reno instead and joined the group in Northstar.

All's well that ends well.


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