Christmas at Sunset House

Christmas at Sunset House
Christmas at Sunset House

Monday, December 30, 2019

Christmastime 2019

It is cloudy and damp here today, but for just a short moment patches of blue sky appeared and the sun broke through.  The green brilliance of the winter saturated grass in the lower pasture surprised me.  We took the moment to walk Mattie down our side street, the quiet one that has no traffic.  The pavement was wet and slick with green moss that also picked up the green glow.  It was a lovely walk, with temperatures in the high 40’s.  Not warm, but certainly not cold with that sun energizing us.

December 26 2019 at Sunset House Grants Pass Oregon

Sometimes when the gray, foggy, damp inversions settle into our valley, I forget what it’s like when the sun comes out.  Surprisingly it happens every few days, for a few moments or a few hours, and then I breathe deep and am grateful that we no longer live in the snow. 

Family Christmas 2008 at Rocky Point Oregon

Even at Christmas, I don’t miss living in the snow.  Except for maybe a few hours on Christmas Day, when the family is around and we all reminisce about sweet days sledding down our road at the Rocky Point house at Christmas.

This year Mo and I had a quiet Christmas Eve, with our traditional clam chowder.  Family would be arriving early on Christmas Day, and I had plates of cookies, jars of my very excellent home made fudge, and a big beautiful butt half of a ham from our local butcher shop ready to go.

Daughter Melody and Robert would stay the night, but the grandkids would have to return to Eugene and Albany for their jobs on the morning after Christmas.  Daughter Deborah drove over from Shady Cove and her son Matthew walked across the street to join in the festivities.  It was a delightful day.

Grandson Axel, Grandson Xavier, Daughter Melody

Daughter Deborah and Grandson Matthew

Clockwise: Friend Oni, Grandson Axel, Grandson Xavier, Daughter Melody, Melody’s Robert, Grandson Matthew

Mo, Deborah and I had the honor of sitting at the old folk’s counter

I started decorating the house this year before Thanksgiving.  Somehow I never got tired of the lights and the snowmen.  I’m still not quite ready to let it all go, especially since the weather will continue in the mostly gray and damp pattern that has settled in for the next couple of weeks.  The lights always help me stay cheery inside and the timers turn on the trees before I get up in the morning and they don’t go off until after I settle into bed at night.  Makes me happy. 

On the day after Christmas, Robert left for a work assignment in Coos Bay and Melody settled in for a couple of days here with us.  We didn’t do much except relax and enjoy each other’s company.  It is so rare that I get one on one time with any of my kids.  I always treasure it. Such a different experience than time with all the family together.  Each is precious.

Mo and I aren’t heading south until the end of January so I have an entire month to take down the lights, the trees, and to carefully pack away all the keepsakes that make Christmas such a sweet time. There are no longer any young children around to stare with wonder at the Christmas tree, but the delight of family time, good food, and sharing gifts is always wonderful.

One evening before Christmas I invited our friends Maryruth and Gerald over for an appetizer supper that turned out to be great fun.  I made lots of goodies to share and afterward we toured the town looking at the lights. We had a great time. 

Then last night Maryruth and Gerald invited us to their home for a fantastic prime rib dinner.  Maryruth is a great cook and she put together a gorgeous meal, complete with artistic appetizers and a fresh crab salad to begin the meal before we enjoyed the main course. 

As I said, we didn’t do much when Melody was here except visit, but on Friday night Mo and I took Melody to our favorite little vineyard for music and pizza.  Melody said that every time she sees us going there on a Facebook post, she is always a little bit jealous.  It was fun, we got a little silly, and enjoyed the lights and music.

As I settle in to the thought of a new decade approaching, I am so appreciative of all the good that is in my life.  I followed a favorite blogger Nina Fussing’s (Wheeling It) post about reviewing the decades, thinking about the themes, the patterns of growth that each one represents.  I started writing but as I reviewed my life, I realized that it will remain part of my own private story, to share with family and friends up close.  I couldn’t tell a partial story, it feels somehow dishonest, but some of the truths are way more complex than what I can reveal in a light hearted post that goes out to the world. So much there, so much change.  I am so grateful for where I have been and I am especially grateful for where I am now. 

Welcome to the Roaring 20s!!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

12-04 to 12-08-2019 A December Getaway

When December rolls around, Mo and I usually get a craving to be at the ocean.  When the memories come up and I check the calendar, almost every year during December we manage a drive to the coast.  We had a stroke of luck that made the decision about when to go very easy.  Daughter Melody called me one day last September, practically breaking my eardrum through the phone….”Mom, Mom, I am getting tickets for the four of us to Mannheim Steamroller.”  The show in Eugene was scheduled for December 4th, a perfect day for us to drive north to go to the show with Melody and Robert, and then head west for the coast the next morning.

The “farmhouse” at Hauser Lake where our family played the Mannheim Steamroller records every Christmas Eve

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music has been part of my family history with Melody since her dad and I bought a new Christmas album every year to be opened and played on Christmas Eve. Melody has great memories of those times at the farmhouse at Hauser Lake in Northern Idaho. We only had a 2 1/2 acre farm but it was enough for her to have a horse.  The house was tiny, with only wood heat, and built in 1886.  Good memories!

Traveling north to Eugene on Interstate 5 can be surprisingly tense, but this time the traffic wasn't bad and there was no snow or rain to interfere. Fog settled into the valleys but for about an hour before we got to Eugene it was clear.

In the past, when traveling through Eugene, we have often camped for free at the Valley River Center.  It was a wonderful place to stay and we always enjoyed being right by the river with access to the River Walk.  Sadly the city of Eugene has passed strict laws about overnighting in parking lots, and the mall had to discontinue their practice of letting folks check in for free for up to 2 nights in 30 days. 

We decided that staying at the Armitage RV Park was the most convenient location for us. Arriving at check in time around 2, we found that most of the sites were reserved. Glad we made a reservation! A nice supper of leftovers in the Moho was perfect for us. I was tickled that I remembered to tuck in our little laundry room Christmas tree.  With a heavy roly poly base and no decorations that can fall off, it was perfect for the MoHo dining table.

We helped Mattie settle in to spend the evening on the pillows before we left for Melody's house across town. Visiting with Melody and Robert a bit while they ate their supper was nice and then all of us piled into their car for the short trip downtown to the Hult Center for the Performing Arts for an evening of wonderful Christmas music.

The Hult Center is a beautiful venue, and the show was sold out. Mo wasn't familiar with the band or their music, and I was delighted that she enjoyed it thoroughly. The concert was beautiful, great fun, and brought Melody and I to tears a couple of times with happy memories evoked by the music. After the show we said goodbye to the kids and drove through the fog back across town to Mattie and the MoHo.

Day 2 December 5 Thursday

We woke early so we could have a bit of breakfast and coffee and be at Phil and Joanne Hartwig's home by 7:45 AM. Phil had to go to work by nine so we wanted at least an hour to visit. It is great seeing both of them.  We have been friends since 1977 when Phil and I worked together in soil survey. The visit was wonderful, and Joanne's home was all sparkly and decorated for Christmas.

Sue and Joanne in 2019

Sue and Joanne in 1988

Back on the road by 9, we headed west toward the coast with no big plans for where me might stay. I thought of Shore Acres and the famous light show and suggested that we try for a site at Sunset Bay State Park on the Cape Arago Highway south from Coos Bay. If there hadn't been an opening, we could retrace our steps and go back to the Casino in Coos Bay if necessary.

There was plenty of space in the park, and we settled in easily by 2PM. It was the second time we would use our new big heavy surge protector. Both Armitage Park and the state park had iffy looking pedestals, so we were happy for that extra layer of protection for the electrical components of the MoHo.

The rain came and went, but we still managed a nice little walk down along the bay on the beach. Mattie got to climb rocks, her favorite thing. We then decided that an early dinner would be perfect before we drove the 1.5 mile south for the early opening of the Christmas Light Show.

I checked the blog and decided based on our own recommendations from our previous visit in 2014 that the High Tide Cafe would be our best bet for supper. It was even better than we remembered, with an award winning clam chowder that truly was the best either of us could remember eating.

My supper was some excellent shrimp with a sweet hot sauce, and Mo had cod fish and chips that were excellent as well.  We loved looking at the late afternoon light on South Slough through the restaurant windows.

The view of South Slough where Mo and I had tried to kayak back in 2014

In the fall the winds are more quiet, and if it had been warmer and if we had the kayaks with us it would have been a perfect place to paddle. When we visited in 2014 it was springtime and the winds were so strong that we never did find a place to paddle the Slough. Thoroughly happy with our supper choice we returned along the highway to the MoHo, dressed warmly for the chilly evening, preparing for our walkabout at the light show.

The Shore Acres Holiday Light Show has been an event since the early 80's with many people volunteering to make it the spectacular show that it now is. Our State Park receipt gave us free access to the show and we breezed through the entry kiosk with a wave.

A community tradition was born in 1987 when the Friends of Shore Acres decided to “string a few lights” to help celebrate the holidays. That first season, 6,000 miniature lights, one Christmas tree, and the decorated Garden House drew 9,000 visitors.

Now, at least 325,000 lights (mostly LED), 30 large landscape lights, dozens of small landscape lights, 30 large holiday trees, dozens of lighted sculptures, and a beautifully decorated Garden House draw – on average – 50,000 to 70,000 visitors each season. Numbers vary with the weather. Inside the Garden House, scrolls of names are a tribute to business supporters, members and the more than 1,500 volunteers who make it happen.

We have visited the Shore Acres gardens in the daylight in the summer but this was a completely different experience. With 350,000 lights in the gardens and along the paths it is like a Christmas fairy tale. The historic Garden House was lit beautifully and hot cider was offered with cookies as folks came in from the cold to warm up a bit.

The reflections of lights on the ponds were beautiful. The pathways were easy to follow, and there were quite a few folks wandering about enjoying the display. The one thing that seemed to be missing to us was music. There was nothing coming from a speaker anywhere to add to the Christmas spirit.

We thoroughly enjoyed the show. I took photos with the phone and with the camera on hand held night shot and got a few images that at least can remind us of how beautiful it was.

Day 3 December 6 Friday

We took our time leaving Sunset Bay, knowing that technically we weren't supposed to check in to our reserved site at Harris Beach until 4PM. Leaving at noon we took our time driving the coastal highway in the rain, stopping for a sweet little visit in Bandon.  There I succumbed to my favorite clothing shop and purchased a couple of sweet items.

 

We also spent some delicious time wandering the aisles of a the great bookstore before ambling down the street in the rain to the Coastal Mist chocolate shop.

Remember the surge protector?  Mo hooked up the rig at our site at Harris Beach and then asked me to plug in the surge protector.  UhOh.  Famous mistake familiar to RVr’s, we left it behind at the last campsite.  Darn! 

Wondrously, the skies were open enough that we could take a walk on the beach with Mattie before settling in for the evening. Rain had been predicted for our entire trip so walking the beach in decent weather was a huge plus. We ate supper at home, knowing that the following night would be our big dinner celebration at O'Holleran's, a famous steak house in Brookings. I slept incredibly well with the wild winds rocking the MoHo and the sound of the crashing waves on the rocks below the cliffs of the park.

Day 4 December 7 Saturday 

The next morning was quiet and beautiful with some open skies and again no rain predicted until later in the day. We had time to hike down the South Beach trail, and with my two sticks, I managed to get both up and down the trail without too much difficulty. Definitely need the sticks for balance. The downhill is a bit rough, but uphill isn't much of a problem.

We took our time walking in the sands and letting Mattie play as we soaked up the intensity of the very high seas generated by the storm.

That evening it began to rain, and it was hard to make the decision to go to the light show in the rain. We decided to first fortify ourselves with dinner rather than getting all wet at the show and then going to eat. It was a good decision since the bar was filled and all the bar tables and restaurant tables were reserved.

We were lucky enough to get two seats at the bar and had a fabulous dinner. I haven't had a steak that good since we were in Reno years ago. Rib Eye with Blue Cheese. Mo had a New York that was excellent as well. It is sometimes hard to get a good steak and we were in the mood for it. Great dinner in a very festive environment. The bar is all decorated top to bottom with lights and garlands, and the atmosphere is so much fun. We met a man sitting next to us who is from Grants Pass, and turned out that he also is a geologist. Every Christmas when we come to this bar for our ritual Irish Coffee after the light show, we meet someone interesting.

It was pouring hard when we drove to Azalea Park for the show. The Nature’s Coastal Holiday web site answered my messenger question almost immediately, saying they had to remain open even in the rain for all the out of town people who had come to see the show.


For only $2.00 we walked into a wonderland of more than two million lights...yes 2,000,000 LED's lighting the shrubs and pathways, with Christmas music piped throughout the park to accompany the happy cries of little kids and old grandmas in their wheelchairs. I forgot my sticks this time, but the ground wasn't too rough and I managed. Thank goodness Mo doesn't mind me grabbing her arm now and then to balance myself!

Even with raincoats and umbrellas, we were soaked when we returned but very happy that we had walked the show. With all the rain, it was hard to take photos without getting the phone all wet, but we have lots of images from our previous visits to Azalea Park for the Christmas lights.

That night as we slept the rain let up a bit and the ocean didn't sound so incredibly loud. I slept well again, all cozied up in the MoHo with warm blankets and the little heater coming on as needed. It wasn't near as cold as the previous night had been. When we woke, the skies had cleared and I had time to take Mattie for a walk to the edge of the cliffs overlooking Harris Beach for one last look.

It was a perfect little trip to ring in the holidays with beautiful music, some family hugs, and two fabulous light shows. On another amazing Christmas note, the day we returned home I received a phone call from Janet at Sunset Bay State Park.  She had found our surge protector and all she needed was our mailing address.  In a few more days we had that big yellow boy back safe and sound.  Sure nice that we didn’t have to buy another one!  We have a note in the rig that says, “antenna up”.  We are now adding “surge protector” and “blue water filter”.  We left one of those behind one time as well, but never got it back.  At least they are less than 20 bucks to replace, unlike the surge protector.  All is well that ends well!

Friday, October 18, 2019

10-18-2019 The Acoma Pueblo, Last Days of the Balloon Festival, and a 4 day run home

October 10 Thursday

Keep in mind that in addition to all the extras we enjoyed at the Fiesta, every single morning we were enthralled anew with the excitement of the Dawn Patrol, the early morning glow, and the balloons rising gently as the sun rose over the Sandia Mountains.

Thursday was an especially beautiful day, with the “Special Shapes Rodeo” event.  We were on the field by 6am, along with 90,000 or so other people, on a morning that wasn’t quite as cold as predicted, but still chilly.

The morning air is absolutely electric with all the excitement, and we enjoyed hot chocolate and some yummy donuts while waiting for the show to begin. No need to go overboard with those huge breakfast burritos again.

Wandering around the field as the balloons begin to fill is fascinating.We loved watching them up close, hearing the whoosh of the burners, and the excitement of the pilots as they prepare to fly.  Sadly, this was the second morning of our visit that the weather didn’t cooperate and there was too much wind for the balloons to lift.  Still, they were filled and standing in the field, blowing around and sometimes even “kissing”.  It was a great experience and we didn’t mind that the balloons didn’t take off so we could enjoy them up close.

We returned to the tent in time for a hot breakfast with plenty of time to board the Red Bus at 11 AM for the trip west to the famous El Pinto Restaurant and the Acoma Pueblo.

The grounds of El Pinto are beautiful. What was once a working ranch is now a huge restaurant capable of seating several hundred people at once.  We had a buffet lunch with lots of choices. There were some rellenos and enchiladas that make my mouth water as I remember those flavors of New Mexico.

We spent time relaxing in the  shady patio after lunch before we once again boarded the bus for the 90 minute ride west along I-40 toward the Acoma Pueblo.  There are many pueblos in the Albuquerque area; some quite lovely, some a bit touristy, and some completely inaccessible except on feast days. 

The Acoma Pueblo is off the beaten track several miles south of the highway surrounded by colorful canyons and mesas.  The Pueblo is actually located high on a mesa although the village where most people actually live is on the flatland at the base of the historic pueblo.

We stopped at the visitor center and boarded a shuttle that took us up the hill for a tour of the Pueblo.  It was almost completely empty except for a few Indians (don’t forget New Mexico Native Americans like to be called Indians) peddling their arts.  The pottery was gorgeous with beautiful detailed designs filled with meanings about the earth, the rain, and the clouds.  Not being a collector with buckets of money, I opted for a very small flat pot made by an artist who talked about living down below in “town” but coming up to his studio to work.  He liked the quietness of the place with no electricity or running water.

We were surprised to see cars tucked into small spots on the crooked dirt roads and a few TV antennas poking up from the adobe walls.  In spite of the incongruity of some of the modern day intrusions, the pueblo felt quiet and beautifully ancient. 

Once back at the visitor center, I perused the maps of the routes of the people who native historians say came from Chaco to settle at Acoma.  Once again, the thought that the Anasazi disappeared was discounted as a construct of the white man historians.  The Pueblo people call them their ancestors and claim that they are directly descended from the Anasazi.

Of all the sights that we enjoyed near Albuquerque, I think this was my favorite because it was out in the middle of nowhere and so very quiet.

October 11 Friday

We had another quiet morning accompanied by the balloons rising over the MoHo.  We had arranged to meet with Mary Ann and Gail in the afternoon for a visit and a meal.  When Mary Ann asked what we might be interesting in doing I said without hesitation, “Something without people!”  We met at their lovely home and they took us on a drive up the Turquoise Trail to the back side of the summit of the mountain we had visited before by tram.  What a gorgeous drive!

They then took us to a back road on the east side of the mountains,where we found a sweet little walking trail that gave us beautiful skies, silence, and the fragrance of a pinyon and ponderosa forest.  After waiting patiently in the MoHo for many days while we left with our group, Mattie loved being out walking as much as we did.

Dinner was at their home with a delicious curried vegetable soup and bread.  They gifted us with a lovely good luck chili ristra and sent us on our way early enough to beat the night traffic to the balloon field. We so enjoyed the quiet time and the wonderful break from the busy-ness of our time with Adventure Caravans.

October 12 and 13, Saturday and Sunday

The last day of the Fiesta passed in a blur without much to mark it as any different as the previous days.  We saw the dawn glow, the Mass Ascension, had breakfast in the tent, and spent the rest of the day cleaning and packing the MoHo preparing for our exit from the field the following morning.

We enjoyed the farewell dinner in the tent with our fellow travelers, exchanged photos and addresses with Laura and Elsie, and said goodbye to other folks we had met during the ten days at the Fiesta.

We knew that we had to be off the field by 10 AM and had no reservations or plans for where we might spend the night on Sunday.  We decided to return to the beautiful Sandia Resort and Casino and take advantage of the open free parking in the huge lot overlooking the Rio Grande Valley. 

I wanted very much to return to the incredibly good buffet that we had enjoyed there during the previous week.  A quiet day, a delicious afternoon supper, and a short time with the slots was just enough.  Watching the full moon rise that night over the mountains was spectacular.  By Monday morning we were ready to roll in earnest.

We headed north toward Farmington knowing we could easily camp at the Homestead RV Park even without a reservation.  We had visited Chaco Culture in 2014 and knew that the road west included 21 miles of rough dirt road to reach the park.  Still, knowing we probably wouldn’t return to New Mexico any time soon, we decided to park the MoHo at the highway and venture west in the Tracker.

There is no easy description of that road that covers the intensity of the washboards and the ruts.  Somewhere way out there, a crazy racket emanated from the underpinnings of the Tracker and we thought maybe we might be stranded.  After a bit it subsided, never to go completely away.  The brakes were doing goofy things but lucky for us, they held up until we got back to Grants Pass.

Chaco was as wonderful as we remembered and while we didn’t hike the same paths we enjoyed the visitor center and drove the scenic loop route among the ruins.  It was good to be there again even though it was only for a short afternoon.

Our night at Homestead was uneventful and our goal the next day was to reach Capitol Reef National Park and possibly boondock just west of Fruita where we had seen a group of people boondocked on our way south two weeks previously. 

We took our time along Highway 95, enthralled with the canyons, the river, the cliffs, and stopped for a short visit to Natural Bridges National Monument just off Highway 95.  We drove the loop, admired the arches from above, and I remembered my hikes into the depths of those canyons many years before.  The trails were icy and the air was cold so I didn’t mind skipping the hikes that we didn’t have time to do.

Our goal was to get home as quickly as possible since the snows were threatening to close the roads on our route over the Sierra Nevada mountains north of Reno.  As we approached the eastern boundary of Capitol Reef, I saw several rigs parked at the Fremont River Crossing that leads to Cathedral Valley.  It only took a minute for us to decide to try to boondock there and sure enough there was plenty of room for us in spite of the half dozen or so rigs scattered about near the crossing.

Once again the night was gorgeous with clear skies, a beautiful moon and intense quiet.  The next morning we left early and followed the same route west that we had taken on our way to Albuquerque, traveling through Utah and Nevada on highway 50, camping again at the Border RV Park.  On our return route, we knew that we didn’t have to settle for WalMart in Fallon, Nevada and chose to park at the Texaco in Fallon. 

What we didn’t know until I went into the store to be sure it was ok to park was that the station belonged to the local tribes,and if we hadn’t checked in the tribal police would have made us move.  There were only a couple of other rigs in the lot that came and went during the night and I was grateful I didn’t have to worry about being bothered by someone banging on our door.

The next morning we checked the weather, saw that the snow was holding off for another few hours, and made a fast beeline for Susanville. We crossed the mountains on Highway 44 and Highway 89 and then we headed north on I-5 near Mt Shasta.  We arrived home just a few hours before the snows came to the mountains behind us. 

Whew.  Even as I review the photos, after three weeks out and ten days having a wonderful time in Albuquerque, the 4 day trip home is still a bit of a blur in my mind.  Anyone who has read this blog for long will no doubt recognize that horse running to the barn way we have of going home after a trip.  It was a truly wonderful trip, a great experience, and we were so very happy to be home again and settle in for the fall.