Merry Christmas from all of us! 2012

This is a new kind of Christmas holiday for us -- we're living in a new home in the Sierra Nevada foothills, in a new state with a climate that's 100% lopsided from what we're used to.  Now, happily, we're much closer to my son, Matt, and his fiance, Jen, (they live in Los Angeles), and her parents, Alice and Tom, who live 40 miles away in Roseville.  We have no tradition for this kind of Christmas, save for taking our small tree from its box and decorating it with familiar and beloved ornaments.  We have a (natural gas) fireplace now with a proper mantle, and Jimmy's hand-made Christmas trees fit in so perfectly on that mantle.  I like to stand on the brick hearth, warming my backside - oh, the fire feels so good!  This year we strung small white lights on the house eave, which gives our home a special lived-in and festive sparkle.  At least we think so.

Jimmy has been hoping for a White Christmas ever since we moved to Nevada City six months ago.  We've had snowy teasers the past few weeks, but he's hoping for the real deal on Dec 25th.  It's been raining and teeth-chattering chilly the last two days, but he has his fingers crossed that the temp will dip low enough to turn the rain into snow.

Christmas eve was spent at our house with Matt and Jen and Tom (minus Alice with a cold).  Jimmy wasn't feeling so hot himself, with cold symptoms beginning to harass him.  After our Truckee excursion, we shared gumbo and all the trimmings, and enjoyed the family being together (previous post).

 Matt and Jen next to our Christmas tree.


Early Christmas afternoon, Jimmy and I drove (in the pouring rain), to Roseville to spend the day with our kith and kin.  Dinner was to be prime rib.  Lunch was chips and dips and crackers, and bacon-wrapped, blue-cheese stuffed dates (yum!).  We watched some TV, sat by the fire, played with the dogs, and opened our gifts.  And here's Sophie (above) warming her own backside in front of their fire!  Today is also Jen's birthday, but we weren't going to celebrate that till it was OFFICIAL at 3:57 pm.  And all the while, rain continued to pour down.

 Jenny and Matt and Sophie.

Alice and Tom's beautiful tree.

Alice and Tom, and their laid-back dog, Charley.

Me in my new Smart-car cap, holding Maggie.

 Jimmy (poor guy, didn't feel good) showing off his NEW Smartie!

 The pièce de résistance!

Lovely table setting.  Women everywhere remark about how long it takes to prepare a delicious meal, and how quickly it's consumed!  Today was no exception.  

Oh, and at 3:57, we sang a round of Happy Birthday to Jen.

At 9:30 we left Roseville for the drive back up to our foothill home.  I'll spare you the minute details, but thanks to a series of texts from my across-the-street-friend, Fran, which began on the ride home, we learned that our home was mantled in snow!  The question was, would we be able to drive to it (we don't have chains - yet - or 4-wheel drive)?  The snow plow had cleared the road, leaving a snow berm at the drive entry, but it was judged to be slushy and okay to drive over.  We made it home, amazed at the sight of all that white stuff!  Long story short:  Jimmy - my Gulf Coast guy - got his wish!  Snow at our house on Christmas!

I took this when we got home at 10:30.  Poor ol' rose bush on the back deck, pretty much flattened this time.

 That isn't just ice on the bird bath!  That's a pile of snow!

More snow this morning (26th)!  Here's Jimmy clearing a path to our Prius.  Then a rain/snow mix made for a sloppy mess.

 Yours truly looking trendy (haha) in  her outdoor gear, shoveling snow.  Imagine that!

You should've seen Smartie shooting up the driveway to the road.  It was fun to watch.  We cleared a path for her most of the way, but I got out of the way when Jimmy drove her thru the slush!  We left her at the top of the driveway, right where you see her, in case of lots more snow.  Besides, once again, I forgot my new Christmas present camera at Alice & Tom's (getting to be a habit!) yesterday, plus a few other important items, so we agreed to meet Matt and Jen for lunch near the Roseville Galleria today.  Think traffic was bad near The Galleria the day after Christmas?  Egad.  Only a knucklehead would get anywhere near the place....

It's now 10 pm, and the ground looks the same as it did in the above pics.  Prob less slushy and more frozen.  The shoveling this morning was sort of an adventure (remember, we're newcomers) and now we're reconsidering our choice of cars up here in the snowy wilds!  We're learning.  But, don't forget about that motor home, sitting lonesome-like on the sidelines.  After the first of the year, it'll be time to get out of the snow, and point our cold, red noses south.  Then we'll spend time with out Southern family - kind of the best of both worlds!


Merry Christmas eve - in the snow on December 24th

The storm blew through yesterday.  Today dawned clear and sunny.  We checked the road conditions.  In early afternoon, the five us of piled into Tom's 4-wheel drive CRV and drove the 52 miles from Nevada City to Truckee:  Me and Jimmy, Matt and Jen, and Jen's dad, Tom (her mom, Alice stayed home nursing a head cold).  What follows is a pictorial essay of a most beautiful picture-postcard day.  

How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains.  John Muir   

Driving north on Hwy 20 toward Truckee, CA. 

With a photo-op stop along the way:  Matt and Jen!

 Not easy to read the sign!

I-80 near the Donner Pass Summit of 7,227'.

 Truckee exit.

After lunch @ Jax on the Trax, Jen poses with Frosty near the train station.

"Oh, the weather outside's delightful..."

Jimmy, Tom, Jen and Matt.

Me and Jimmy all bundled up.

Truckee depot (built in 1900) on the right.

The sun's behind the mountain now... temp is in the 20's... time to leave... head back down the mountain to our warm Nevada City home, and Jimmy's gumbo!

What a wonderful day!


Snow on the Solstice: December 21, 2012

The forecasters predicted snow or rain this weekend, depending on which one you listened to and, of course, where in the overall zone (and micro-climate) scheme of Northern California you were located.  We voted for snow, and we weren't disappointed.  My friend, Fran, who lives across the street usually alerts me when the first flakes fall -- I'll get a one-word text:  Snow!  Donning jacket and boots, I'll scoot out the door for a few photos, as I did this morning.  I took the picture below just after the snow began.   And then, a couple of hours later, I ventured out for more pics, just as the precip was changing to -- ugh, sleet/slush/or something other than snow.

We were nice and cozy inside -- the fireplace keeping our toes toasty, and the entire house, too, as we watched the flakes float to the ground from our windows.  Christmas music played on the Bose.  What a good day to cook!  I baked a cinnamon-sour cream streusel loaf, and spinach lasagna roll-ups.  Jimmy hunted down his gumbo pot and proceeded to make a double batch of his world-famous seafood gumbo.  I guarantee you this house smells good!  The roll-ups went into the freezer.  The gumbo?  Well, you guess!

 Flakes begin to fall on the Solstice (and everywhere else), tho initially it didn't stick.

 Before too long, we'd accumulated about an inch.

 Jimmy in the kitchen making yummy gumbo.  (Me and my umbrella reflected on the den window.)

 A white blanket smothers (I wish) the St John's Wort in our backyard.

 Nope, honey, we don't need the grill tonite.  Good thing!  Gumbo calls our names.

The amazing Red Rose of Christmas.

You would think roses like this one on the back deck wouldn't be blooming in December.  Wrong.  This must be a special Christmas rose for new people in the neighborhood, like us, who still marvel over magical roses and snow and Christmas.  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!


A (damp) Victorian Christmas -- Sunday, Dec 19th, 2012

We'd hoped for better weather, but t'was not to be on this Sunday.  Nevertheless, we'd made a date earlier in the week with Alice and Tom to spend the afternoon at Nevada City's 35th Victorian Christmas.  Each year the town’s picturesque downtown transforms into a genuine Christmas card come to life. It’s a magical setting of hilly streets outlined with twinkling white lights and authentic gas lamps, wandering minstrels and carolers dressed in Victorian attire, and a myriad of visitors sharing holiday cheer and good tidings.  Snow would've been prettier and possibly more hospitable, but we take what we get.  We got wet and we got cold!  That being said, we wandered up Broad Street, looking at the arts and crafts and Christmas treasures, and admiring the period costumes every vendor wore.

This annual, family tradition takes place three Wednesday evenings and two Sunday afternoons in December and features holiday activities for all ages:  carriage rides, live entertainment, savory yuletide treats and libations, and of course, Father Christmas!  Hot chocolate was a big hit on Broad Street this chilly, wet Sunday.  As usual, in spite of the weather, we had a great time.

Tom, me, Alice, and Jimmy ready to party in the street!

Carolers staying dry under the overhang.  Smart.

Father Christmas accompanied by proper Victorian ladies and the cutest little girl.

A very serious young musician - reminded me of Tiny Tim.

Inside the Methodist Church, two lovely ladies perched on Santa's knees

As the sky grew dark, we drove back to the house and put on our own feast -- no, not Victorian; something much better -- a wonderful Mexican dinner featuring homemade zucchini enchiladas (me) and homemade tamales (Alice).  Go girls!  We warmed up quite nicely!  Dinner was followed by a terrific movie on DVD.  Wonderful evening!


From the Sublime to ... blubber? Thursday, 12/6/12

Great big blobs of blubber!  When you're this close on the Central Coast, you HAVE to make a stop at the colony - The Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony, which is 4.4 miles north of Hearst Castle.  Last time we were here in April '09, the beach was full of molting seals; they were lined up like cord wood on the sands.  This time of year the pregnant females are arriving, with the first birth usually around Dec 20th.  Darn it - we're too early!  The beaches are crowded with seals from December thru February - more than 4,500 pups were born at the Piedras Blancas rookery in 2012.  That's a lot of blubbery babies!

Here's some valuable information for you, compliments of the E-Seal News:  Older males make the 5,000-mile trip to the Aleutian Islands twice a year, traveling along the continental shelf and feeding on bottom fish at about 2,000', tho dives to 5,000' have been recorded.  Females and juveniles go north and northwest, but usually not as far as males.  They feed on squid and fish.  While they're at sea, the seals spend most of their time deep under water.  They can stay down for over an hour and spend less than 15% of their time at the surface.  The seals fast while at the Piedras Blancas rookery, living off all that blubber.  See, I bet you learned something new....

  At a vista point near the Northern Elephant Seal colony.

Elephant seals sharing the sand with sea gulls and spent bull kelp washed ashore.  Before long, this entire beach will be jam-packed with seals.  Notice the boardwalk that was installed for visitors?   It also serves as protection for the seals.  Docents in blue jackets are always nearby to answer questions.  Even with our jackets on, a bone-chilling wind kept our visit short.

Female (left) and subadult male.  These guys are SO big.  Males can weigh between 3,300 and 5,100 pounds!

Look at the size of this thing!

A bellowing subadult male, exercising his roar.  See the female on the right, resting in the depression?

The noise these big tanks make is unbelievable!

A San Simeon beach, close to the campground.

And - lo and behold! - on the other side of Hwy 1, on Hearst property, were the zebras (using maximum zoom - they weren't real close).  They weren't hanging out with cattle this afternoon, tho we heard that's what they like to do.  I'd call that slumming....

Tomorrow (Friday) we head for home.  While we were away these past two weeks, we missed flooding rains that slammed Northern California (for which we are most grateful).  But, now it's time to go home and make sure all is well (it was). What a great two weeks we had! 


Touring Hearst Castle: Priceless! 12/5 - 12/7 2012

The Case Grande is the 60,645 square-foot centerpiece of Hearst Castle.  William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) formally named the estate "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill), but usually called it "the ranch."  It was designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947.

Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on Hwy 1, this architectural wonder was constructed atop a hill at an altitude of 1,600 feet in the Santa Lucia Range (which abuts the Pacific Ocean), providing really dramatic ocean vistas.  Hearst Castle was built on Rancho Piedra Blanca land that his father purchased in 1865. The ranch grew to 250,000 acres and 14 miles of coastline which Hearst inherited from his mother.

Casa Grande featured 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 19 sitting rooms set amid 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, airfield, and the world's largest private zoo.  Zebras and other exotic animals still roam the grounds.

In 1957, the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the State of California.  Jimmy and I took two tours:  The Grand Rooms tour in the morning and Upstairs Suites in the afternoon.  We took over 300 pictures on two cameras.  There are really no adequate adjectives to describe the breathtaking art and artifacts Hearst collected and are displayed in the Castle. 

Photo of the Castle from the Visitor Center FIVE MILES AWAY!
Natural gas buses transport visitors from the VC to the Castle.

From the gardens, overlooking the Ocean.

Close-up of one of the two bell towers.

Looking thru the orange orchard toward the Ocean.

Imitating art or oh my aching back?

Stunning artwork and statuary everywhere.

The immense dining room.

A view of Hearst's office.

Resting my weary feet, and looking at the cottage below.

 One of three beautiful cottages used by guests.  Casa del Monte.

The fairy princess is about to kiss a frog.  I wouldn't mind sitting on this patio, overlooking the winding road that leads back to Hwy 1, and the ocean.

Close-up of the princess.

One highlight of the estate is the outdoor Neptune Pool, located near the edge of the hilltop, which offers an expansive vista of the mountains, ocean and the main house. The Neptune Pool patio features an ancient Roman temple front, transported wholesale from Europe and reconstructed at the site.  Imagine!

 Jimmy in the temple!

I would love to swim in this pool... every day.

The Castle grew it's own food, cattle, poultry, etc.  

Let's say you're married and visiting the castle.  You probably would've been given a suite that includes two bedrooms, each with a closet and a bathroom, with a sitting room between the two. Bedroom #1 above.

I absolutely loved the religious artwork
(So did Hearst - the castle is full of iconic paintings such as this.)

Sitting room between the two bedrooms.  I don't know how many fireplaces were in the castle.  Hearst collected them, like he did with many other "things."

Bedroom #2 on the other side.  Notice the matching bathroom doors in each bedroom.

We spent all day at Hearst Castle. I packed a lunch.  Americans don't have to go to Europe to see priceless antiquities.  Just go to Hearst Castle and see for yourself.  What an amazing experience.