To the Desert

To the Desert
To the Desert

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

01-17-2023 Desert Days

When I first started writing this post yesterday our little corner of desert in the Northwest corner of the Coachella Valley was engulfed in low black clouds.  The rain came in bursts, carried on the strong winds that have battered the valley during the last couple of days.  By the time I got back to finishing this present tense paragraph, the clouds broke, the winds died down, and brilliant sunshine broke through the darkness.  By the time I begin the next paragraph, the skies may go dark again.  That is how quickly it happens in the desert. 

Unlike rain at home during the winter which comes and stays, here we get breaks now and then.  We have experienced many types of weather traveling in the desert, but long-lasting, socked-in dark gray doesn't happen very often.  Another little benefit of desert rain is that it is usually a little bit warmer than Oregon rain.  Maybe, as it is this morning, only 10 degrees warmer, but that ten degrees can raise to 30 degrees, and here we go again, the brilliant sun is breaking through the sky again, blinding me a bit as it reflects off the windows of the MoHo.  It makes it a bit hard to write as I usually do, writing in the present, describing the present moment before I step back into the past to talk about our time here.  The present moment just keeps changing.

This is our last day at Catalina Spa and RV Resort at Desert Hot Springs.  It has been a full week now, with one extra day as a gift for our early arrival last week.  I went down to the office this morning to book two full weeks for next January.  One week isn't nearly enough.  Eight mornings that start with a leisurely swim in a warm pool under the moonlight that turns to sunrise aren't nearly enough.

There is much to do in this desert valley.  There are literally dozens of amazing hikes in the Coachella Valley. In the past, much of our entertainment included many of these hikes at various locations throughout the area.  We are still walking, but partly because of the cool rainy windy weather the hikes this year took a back seat to swimming, and daily walks in our local desert spot right behind the park.  This little piece of the desert can be delightful for Mattie, where she often can run off leash when there aren't many other dogs around.  It is a favorite spot for dog walking for park residents, and sometimes dog owners aren't particularly careful to leash their dogs when another dog is nearby.  The walks are fun for us, and for Mattie, but require a bit of diligence to avoid confrontations.  Dogs get territorial when on a leash and Mattie is no exception.

Something that adds to our desert visit this time is sharing much of it with friends Jimmy and Nickie Wilkinson.  Without any planning on the part of either of us, we managed to book our time at Catalina for an overlapping week.  Their rig is just a few doors south of ours, which makes for easy running back and forth for incidentals, and yet Nickie and I still text each other to keep track of what is happening and when.  Nickie and Jimmy have e-bikes, and I was excited to see them, knowing full well that my leg strength and balancing abilities wouldn't let me even think about mounting one of them.  It was fun to watch Nickie ride around though, and hear their stories.

The pool is warm and lovely even on cloudy mornings

In the midst of writing this blog, I will head over to the lower clubhouse for a game of hand and foot with them, a game the three of us love and Mo had no interest in doing.  On Tuesday, Mo and I decided to go to the theater in Cathedral Valley that we love, but the only thing of interest that was playing was the Avatar sequel, a movie that Mo doesn't care to see.  I drove alone with Nickie and Jimmy following me across the desert to the southern side where my favorite movie theater of all time exists.  We saw the Avatar movie, which Jimmy loved.  By the time I got out of the theater, I was bug-eyed with color and flashing images of wondrous stuff.  My ears were bleeding with the shouts of battles and wars and a ton of other stuff.  The movie was long, and I was ready for it to be over.  The animation was incredibly creative and wondrous, but the movie somehow didn't move me the way the first one did.  I was glad Mo didn't go because she would have given up before it ran for fifteen minutes. 

Our favorite theater is Mary Pickford is d'Place, a gorgeous venue with many screens, very huge, very comfortable recliners, a screen at least twice as big as our theater at home, and wine, beer and food available in addition to the typical popcorn and sodas.  Mo didn’t completely miss out because we found a good movie later in the week.

Sue and Mo in our favorite theater.  Check out the relaxed lady behind us

Yesterday in the rain Mo and I traveled once again across the valley to the theater to see Tom Hanks in "A Man Called Otto".  We had barely settled into our comfy seat in the front row when Jimmy and Nickie arrived to settle in as well.  A great choice for a rainy day and truly a very enjoyable movie that all four of us loved.

On Thursday, the four of us crossed the valley to Palm Springs for the weekly Palm Springs Street Festival.  Lovers of tradition, Mo and I shared our favorite streetside Mexican restaurant with our friends for a delightful dinner.  I think the food is good, but the company and watching the happy people on the streets make it seem even more wonderful.

After dinner we walked the streets a bit, enjoying the art and creativity that a fair like this brings out in people.  I saw another favorite shop/gallery that I love, filled with gorgeous expensive stuff and also gorgeous inexpensive stuff.  I bought a painted gecko for an exterior wall at home and Nickie fell in love with something equally colorful for their walls. A photo of my gecko will have to wait until we return home and I find a place to hang her and take her photo.

Mo and I planned to read sitting in our outside chairs, and the second day we were here, with the sun shining we optimistically put out the awning and added the colorful chili pepper lights that we bought in 2007 in Bourne Texas when we first bought the MoHo.  They still worked, almost.  Mo had to fiddle with one of the strings to get it going again, but after 15 years I would say that is pretty darn good.

The sun and rain came and went, but it was never really warm enough to actually sit outside in our chairs to read, but we did manage a few minutes enjoying the views of the snow on the mountains before returning to the cozy MoHo.

I have a hard time remembering how we passed the time, with only a few highlights coming through the simple pleasures of morning swims and daily walks with the dog, evening suppers in the MoHo with home-cooked food except for that one night, and long nights of sleep sometimes as much as 9 full uninterrupted hours.

The nearly block-long G Scale model train near the entrance of the Living Desert is delightful

Last Wednesday, after we were here just a couple of days, the weather was predicted to be sunny and almost warm, with a high of 65 here in Desert Hot Springs and a truly remarkable 70F across the valley in Palm Desert.  The wonderful Living Desert Zoo and Gardens are located in Palm Desert.  We first visited in 2015 right after the birth of a baby giraffe.  This zoo is much more than a zoo, and as one of the docents explained to us, in the last few years they have moved from an entertainment venue toward a true conservation effort.

There are fewer "shows" and more space for habitats for breeding pairs of animals to live and help maintain populations that are dwindling in the wild.  I know some people despise zoos, but all zoos are not created equal and the work of this particular zoo, in addition to the San Diego Zoo and others is stellar.

Sue, Mo, Jimmy, and Nickie enjoying the Living Desert

We went with our friends, traveling in two cars because they have a Smart Car and the Tracker is our traveling extra space, not easy to empty enough for two more passengers.  The zoo wasn't crowded when we arrived around 10:30 and the entry fee for seniors of $27.95 was perfectly worth every penny.

Nia the black rhino is quite photogenic

Mo and I headed immediately toward the giraffes, but along the way we enjoyed a new habitat created for a young pair of black rhinos, an endangered species mainly due to poaching in their native continent of Africa.  The young female was very photogenic, posing for portraits.  The male, Jaali, wasn't as visible but we did see him climbing a hill in the enclosure before we were entranced by the visible female.  The docent said they will eventually have "many dating opportunities" and they hope for some offspring to help with the worldwide population of these animals.

Naked mole rats snuggling together in their complex tunnel system

We laughed as we watched her crunch on branches and twigs, but she also gets squash and watermelon, her favorite.  The habitat is created in such a way that it is shared with waterbucks, springboks, pelicans, and many other birds in addition to some very strange naked mole rats.  This way the habitat approaches something closer to what the rhinos might experience in the wild.

Continuing along the paved pathways we, at last, came to the savannah which is the home for the giraffes.  They are very popular here with a feeding station where people can buy lettuce and feed the curious and always hungry for treats giraffes.  I think that giraffe faces are one of the most endearing in the world of animals and have so many photos of those faces that it is hard to choose which ones to share here. 

Our favorite photos have always been the ones in 2015 when the giraffes were on the other side of the hills with only their tall necks and faces showing.  Makes me smile every time I look at them.  I can only imagine what it must be like to see these magnificent, graceful animals in the wild.  Another species that is threatened more by loss of habitat than by poaching, but the loss is every bit as tragic.

Just beyond the giraffe savannah is another habitat for the warthogs.  There are seven girls with their mom and dad in this group of warthogs.  Such strange-looking creatures, and yet as we watched the caregivers attempting to vaccinate them in a chute and then petting their very bumpy noses, it was easy to see that they were also kinda sweet.  They loved the scratching.

Next to the warthogs was a breeding pair of leopards.  Huge and muscled, these great cats are impressive hunters, with warthogs being one of their main prey animals.  The keeper said they liked to watch "warthog tv" through the windows of their enclosure next to the warthogs.  Really? The warthogs were perfectly calm, no doubt knowing they had no threat from the nearby leopard.

We continued wandering the park through the African Continent section to our most favorite of all, the meerkats.  They remind us so much of Mattie, with similar faces, and their ability to stand upright and look all around.  Mattie does this all the time, balancing on her bottom on just about any surface without a bit of trouble.  We love to watch the meerkats and laugh.  They are so adorable.

The three cheetah sisters were sleeping in the sun, faces obscured by the grasses that made their bed. 

They weren’t as active as they were on our last visit where the keepers showed us how fast they could run, encouraged by food treats.  As the docent said, no more “shows’', and more emphasis on species protection and restoration.

I loved the African Painted Dogs, great hunters who work in groups and have up to 90 percent success when they hunt.  I thought they were beautiful, Nickie not so much.

Beyond the African Continent toward the north end of the park is the North American Continent section, with animals that we are familiar with in a different way.  We watched the Bighorn Sheep gracefully tiptoe over the steep rocky slopes in their habitat and saw pronghorn antelope.  I noticed that both the sheep and the antelope were subspecies that are localized to Southern California and Mexico, but they looked very similar to the animals that we find in the desert mountains of Eastern Oregon and Nevada.

We walked the paths from eagles and snakes and the big American cats, including a lovely puma/couger/mountain lion/catamount depending on which part of the country you are from.  All the same animal.  Wolves and coyotes were lazing in the sun, and defied any sort of deccent photograph. 

Returning toward the entry gate the habitat gardens are filled with plants from the different deserts of the Americas, and the cactus gardens are spectacular.  Down a deeply shaded pathway is the enclosure for one of the most incredible cats in all the world, the jaguar. 

At first I didn't see her walking along the high ridge inside her enclosure, but I watched in awe as the great muscled cat meandered down the rocks and toward us at the thick glass window.  These cats even swim the Amazon River.  Maybe you will see one in the wild on your Amazon trip, Nickie?!

After four hours of meandering, the four of us were ready for a bit to eat, and Jimmy and Nickie found a table at the Kooabora Restaurant near the exit of the park.  Lunch was surprisingly yummy, with thick sub-type sandwiches and a chocolate muffin.

Me with the only coyote that wasn’t sleeping

Following a Lamborghini and who knows what else on Date Palm Drive

As we drove home back across the valley we laughed at all the fancy cars that surrounded our twenty year old Tracker. 

Another end to another wonderful day.  Clouds make for great sunsets.

I am finishing this blog post a day after I began, and once again the skies are a brilliant blue.  It is still quite chilly, and the high winds make the 50F temps feel a lot colder than it is.  We slept well again last night, and woke to the strong winds and a clear sky.  Another morning swim, our last of the season was accompanied by breezes that almost pushed us across the pool.  It was a chilly damp walk back to the MoHo when we finished.

Twilight at the main office of Catalina Spa and RV Resort

Next year we will stay for two weeks, and yesterday I made the reservation.  Georgia in the office was very helpful with choosing the best sites.  While the park retains the prerogative of moving you from your first choice, if you pick a few favorites they will do everything they can to accommodate you. Georgia warned me from a site I had chosen and pointed me to one more level and closer to the pool.  Nice.  After three years away we had forgotten how quickly a week in the desert can go by.  Two weeks may not be enough next January, but it will definitely be better than a single week with the morning swims in the perfect pool.

Today we will travel just 90 minutes or so toward the east and a bit south to Anza Borrego State Park.  We met Kathie three years ago on a day trip to the park and I texted her to inquire if there were spaces available.  Due to the bad weather in California, we were lucky to reserve a nice full hookup space in the state park campground. 

I am looking forward to our time there.  The weather may be chilly and the winds still strong, but the skies are blue and Kathie said there are a few flowers already blooming.  It has been a great week in a park we love with friends we care about and plenty to keep busy enough and happy.  Such a treasure, such a life, so lucky we are to be able to travel like this.  Onward.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

01-14-2023 Eight Hundred and Forty Nine Miles and Twenty Degrees

Interstate 5 north of Mt Shasta

We left home on Saturday morning, the 7th of January, in a rainstorm.  We actually hesitated a bit, procrastinating our leaving time a bit more than half an hour trying to decide if we really wanted to tackle the storms that raged throughout California.  It was a bit scary to contemplate just how difficult our trip might be, but it was even more difficult to contemplate unpacking all the food I had put away the previous day in the MoHo.

We had planned our trip for a couple of months, making reservations last October for a week at Catalina Spa and RV Resort at a time of year when we often enjoy temperatures in the 80s and brilliant sunny skies.  In fairness, we have also experienced temps in the 50s and raging floods at the same time of year.  No matter when you go, this time of year, anything can happen. I have to return to the blog records to actually come up with the number of times we have visited Catalina in the last 15 years or so since we started RVing.  This is our ninth trip to this sweet little spot in the desert on the broad slope northeast of Palm Springs up against the mountains.

The morning we left Grants Pass the weather forecasts were scary.  We knew that the snow had yet to close the pass over the nearby Siskiyous, but Mount Shasta, a bit more south and not even as high as Siskiyou Pass had a few inches of snow predicted for the time when we would be traveling through.  Should we go?  Should we wait?  The weather predictors were all making the same noises, it was only going to get worse.  Time to go.

Only a few more miles before this snow on Interstate 5 turns to rain

Flashing signs for high wind warnings greeted us at the California border as we approached Yreka.  By the time we reached Weed where the winds were supposed to be dying down, the snow began, and the winds kept blowing.  It was a bit of a tense drive, but as is often the case, once we passed the exit toward McCloud to the east on Highway 89 and started down the highest part of the pass toward Dunsmuir, the snow began to lessen.  It was replaced with heavy rain.  Anyone familiar with driving an interstate in the rain is also familiar with that slushy goop that gets thrown on the windshield with every passing truck, blinding everything for what seems like a very long few minutes.  By the time we reached Redding, there was no more snow and very little rain, but the winds never let up. 

Hard to get photos while driving along the interstate near the Consumnes River

We arrived safely in Lodi, settling into our site at Flag City RV Park just before the rains started up again.  We had some lovely plans for Lodi, after discovering the great wine-tasting venues in the area last winter.  We reserved two days at Flag City with a plan to relax a bit, take it easy, and spend the next day checking out a new winery and revisiting a favorite.  Supper was easy, with bbq ribs brought from home and expectations of a relaxing evening.

By nine we were awakened by a howling raging noise.  The winds in this part of Central California were blowing at a steady 40 plus mph and gusts in the 60s.  We brought in the slide, hoping to spare any possible damage to our slide cover, and slipped into an uneasy sleep, wakened often by intense rocking and deafening noise.  It literally felt like the rig was going to blow right over sitting in place in the RV park.

I woke at 4 or so, wondering why our little heater wasn't working, and discovered that there was no power to the rig, and no power to the park. I turned on the furnace which works just fine on our house batteries and propane and turned on the computer to see what was going on.  There were lots of weather warnings and notifications that hundreds of thousands of people in the area around Sacramento and the Bay Area were without power.  Maybe staying in Lodi wasn't such a good idea.  I also read that while the winds toward the south on Interstate 5 were predicted to be strong on Sunday, at least the next huge round of storms wasn't to come in until Monday.  We decided to pack up and get outta there as quickly as we could.

The host at Flag City was sitting in a cold office with no lights and a phone rapidly losing power when I asked if we could cancel our reservation for the second night and get a refund.  He said sure, but it would have to wait until there was some power to do the transaction.  No problem, we packed up and headed into the strong winds coming from the south toward Bakersfield.

Flooding along Interstate 5 South of Patterson

I have very few photos of these first few days of our trip.  I usually drive in the mornings, and that seemed to be when the worst of the winds buffeted us along the way.  My arms were sore from trying to hold the wheel and by the time Mo took over for her shift, I had no interest in trying to take photos. 

Northbound Traffic on I-5 near Lost Hills.  We were happy to be traveling south

We called Orange Grove RV Park east of Bakersfield along Highway 58, and they did have a space for us so I made a reservation over the phone.  I asked if they had power, and sure enough, they did. Oh goodie, we can pick some fresh ripe oranges. By the time we reached Highway 58 traveling east, the flashing signs over the highway were in large print with exclamation points.  "High Winds, Dangerous Weather, Do Not Travel". Once again I checked all my various weather apps and came to the conclusion that we needed to get over the pass on Highway 58 at Tehachapi before Tuesday.  We couldn't wait because it was going to get worse, with snow and ice in the forecast.

I managed to check the internet and found the one RV campground still open in Tehachapi had a space for us, so we made another reservation and I called Orange Grove and canceled the one I had made only a couple of hours earlier.  They were great, and I had my refund within minutes.

Mountain Valley RV Park Tehachapi California

The rains held off just long enough for us to settle in at Mountain Valley RV Park before dark and take Mattie for a nice little walk.  She is such a great travel dog, riding quietly all day without complaining. Once again we had an easy pre-cooked supper brought from home before settling in to wait out whatever the night might bring in the way of weather.

By the next morning, the skies were cloudy but there was no sign of rain or snow, and the winds were a very reasonable 13 mph.  After fueling the previous day at Bakersfield Costco, we had enough fuel to get us all the way to our destination in Desert Hot Springs.  Once again I was driving, and Mo took a few photos, but in a moving vehicle, it is impossible to capture the wild open beauty of Highway 247 between Barstow and the Lucerne Valley.

Highway 247south from Barstow

Desert playas are fascinating landscapes near Lucerne Valley

It is all so very familiar and feels so welcoming as we approach Yucca Valley, rolling down the steep grade into town among the huge granite boulders.  The suburban sprawl of Yucca Valley was a bit of a shock after our three-year absence, but the traffic was bearable, and we followed the familiar turns toward Indian Canyon Road, Dillon Road, and finally the home run into Catalina Spa. 

It's funny, the world is big, and we can go anywhere, but there is something also very comforting about returning like migrating creatures to a familiar spot.  Birds return to the same locations year after year, so we can too.  I like adventure, but familiarity after the basic adventure of traveling through historic Atmospheric Rivers, Bomb Cyclones, power outages, flooding, and record-breaking winds was enough for us.

Site 29 in the “lower park” for 30 amp rigs

We were grateful for an easy arrival, and an easy setup except for the problem that never seems to change at this park.  The sites are most often NOT level.  We backed into our spot without a bit of problem, but leveling the rig was a lot of work.  Our levelers worked fine but even with the rear levelers fully extended, it wasn't enough to get the back end of the rig up high enough.  We moved around and juggled and with the help of some yellow blocks managed to get level enough to survive, but definitely not optimum.

When I talked to the park site manager, Christina, about this problem, she said that the biggest issue they are having at the park is getting adequate help.  "No one wants to work" is the familiar refrain.  My guess is, it isn't that they don't want to work, they just don't want to do low-paying labor jobs.  So after our three-year absence, the sites are still sandy and often uneven, although the roads have been freshly paved and the sites at the "upper park" for the 50 amp rigs have nice new asphalt walkways.  But the area where one is to park a rig is still bumpy sand.  Seemed quite strange to us.

“Are we there yet, Mom?”

We drove 845 miles and three days to gain 20 degrees in daily high temperatures and a gorgeous 95-degree swimming pool.  An uneven site is a small price to pay for such delight.

We love getting into the pool early enough to watch the sunrise from the water

Friday, December 30, 2022

12-30-2022 Remembering December

It is 3AM and the words that I need to bring this year to a close in my journal of life are tumbling around in my mind, refusing to gather into reasonable order. It seems that I haven’t written anything since we returned in October from the Cross Country 2022 journey, but of course, that isn’t really true. I wrote and wrote and finally finished the stories and blogged our mid-October return on the last day of November. Just one month ago. “The Holidays” begin at the end of October with Halloween and race along in a jumble of family gatherings, cooking, and for me, a big part of the Holiday season is decorating.

We are ready for a wedding and Mattie is a witness

Happy Mom Happy Bride

This week between Christmas and New Year feels like I am caught in a space in time. I am ready to move forward toward the new year and yet not quite ready to take down the Christmas tree. The twinkling lights greeting me in the early mornings are so cheerful, and let me forget that it is very dark and very chilly and very wet in the outside world. For me, memories are reinforced by the photos I take and store and label and review. I recently wondered, as I lay awake in bed in the early morning hours trying to compose this post in my mind, if any of my memories of people from long ago are memories of them in actuality, or simply memories of the photos I took of them. It is the photo memories that come to mind when I think of some of the truly deeply loved people in my life who have passed.

We found a cute Christmas decoration for Mo’s workshop. 

My friend Maryruth always marvels at my memory of the dates and years when things happened. I know that isn’t any great memory ability, but simply that I am putting all those photos into chronological order and storing them in so many versions online and off that I hope will never lose them. Is it a way to stave off the loss of memory of old age? If I write enough and take enough photos, the memories won’t fade and the people and places I loved will always be alive. So I write, and I photograph, and sometimes I share the photos and the thoughts on a blog, or on Facebook. But the driving force for this blog has nothing to do with sharing, it has to do with my own ability to remember, and a fear of approaching the eighth decade of my life and facing my own mortality and that of others near to me who have left the planet or are in the process of leaving.

My friend Sandy surrounded by her sisters and Lorrie and Kathy from our long ago women’s group in Northern Idaho

A sweet friend from long ago is in the process of passing with grace and dignity. She is in hospice many hundreds of miles distant, and I will not see her before she goes. Her impact on my life, beginning in 1988, was life-altering in ways I never really understood. After an intense friendship, we grew apart by years and miles and changing life priorities and values. But her approaching death is always on my mind in the early mornings when I wake and can’t sleep.  I know that I need to write about October, November, and December before those memories fade into the past with so many others.

Can I do my simple process of beginning with “now” and going backward in time? It is the only way to corral the words and the experiences of the last two and a half months. Christmas was so special this year, and shared with just a few and yet incredibly precious.

Robert and Melody on Christmas Eve

My daughter Melody has been with Robert for seven years now, and their relationship is a sweet one, they are solid and best friends. Melody wasn’t sure Robert would ever want to marry, but she had come to accept the fact that it might never happen and was OK with it. They bought a home, and they traveled to Mexico, to Italy, to the desert to camp on the ground and search for rocks. Then a surprise. She told me they were going to marry before Christmas and could they say their vows at our home. So Christmas became a surprise preparation for a wedding ceremony, attended by me and by Mo and by my eldest daughter Deborah who lives close enough to be part of Christmas with us.

After the ceremony, a Happy Couple

It was a simple ceremony, quiet and lovely, with only the two of them in front of the fireplace saying their vows as we watched. Melody’s words were elegant and thoughtful and reflective of her deep personality. Robert’s words were simple and perfect; I had no clue that he took them from a song. Robert has a crazy sense of humor, and he chose the perfect words that also happened to be from a song from the ’80s that has been used for something called “rick-rolling”. I had no clue what that was, but Melody burst into laughter and said, “Have I been Rick-Rolled at my own wedding??”

“I am never going to give you up, never going to let you down, never going to leave you and desert you.”

What could be more perfect? I can’t explain rick-rolling but if you aren’t part of that generation X you can look it up on the internet and get a deeper sense of the humor of the moment.

The wedding cake surprise with the topper stolen from my Christmas Village

When Melody first told us, Mo said,” We need a wedding cake!” How to find a bakery willing to do a small cake just five days before Christmas? With some searching and some phone calls, one baker called to say she was booked until late January but could maybe fit in a small cake if it wasn’t too complex. Done. It was fun to surprise the kids with the cake after their vows. The champagne toasts all around were sweet and they did the traditional cake cutting and feeding each other. It was a perfect wedding and my mama’s heart is so deeply happy that this youngest daughter of mine has not only found love but companionship and friendship and someone who is truly her partner in life and living.

A view of a happy bride and some of the goodies before supper

Mattie patiently waiting for popcorn

After the ceremony, it wasn’t long before we were all settled into pajamas after eating our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder and laughing together while we watched a sweet and silly Hallmark Christmas movie.

Deborah sound asleep on Christmas morning

With Melody and Robert in the guest room, Deborah decided to skip the offer of the MoHo for her nighttime privacy and chose to sleep on the sofa with quilts and a pillow in the light of the Christmas tree. It warms a mama’s heart to see a child sleeping on Christmas at home, even when that child is going to celebrate her 60th birthday before the end of January. Memories. Where oh where does it all go? The lament of almost anyone who has lived this long.

My precious daughter Deborah on Christmas morning

This morning, as I walk the quiet halls toward the living room and wait for the timer to turn on the Christmas tree lights I know that all that decorating that I do will need to be undone. I began a bit early this week, taking down a few of the outside lights, and putting away a few of the inside treasures. I started decorating right after Thanksgiving, taking my time and enjoying the process. I have enjoyed the lights and the treasures around me for more than a month now. There is one more day left in the year.

The Christmas ham went in the oven at 6am

Still, the memories are coming as I write. Christmas Day, with fabulous snack food created by Deborah to add to the yearly ham purchase that provides delight for the day and for many months to come from the frozen leftovers.

We all get excited when something fits

A Christmas puzzle on the table pushed aside the placemats so that we could all play with it. It was a fun way to spend the day, with another Christmas movie and taking time to watch a recording of the original Avatar movie for afternoon entertainment before we went back to the puzzle. Simple things. Simple Christmas. Simple sweet memories of family.

Maryruth and Gerald joined us in the afternoon to help with eating.  Deborah made a fancy crab dip in french bread that was a hit with the crab lovers in the group.

A phone call with the middle daughter and her husband who lives far away in the deep snowy country of Northern Washington. Phone time is punctuated with more sweet memories of our recent time together in October.

Great-Grandkids Theron, Tearany, and Orion

Videos of the great-grandkids shared by their mom, opening the annual Christmas jammies from Grandma Sue. My now 15-year-old great-grandson said specifically when I saw him last fall that he still wanted his Christmas jammies. He now wears men’s sizes. Memories, as I watch those videos of the kids opening presents, come of Christmas mornings decades in the past when I watched the delight of my own kids opening their presents. More words tumble around in my mind with memories as I try to write about December.

Kristin knows all the ins and outs of shopping at Trader Joes

Early in the month, I spent a sweet day with my friend Kristin, who offered to drive us to Medford for a girl shopping and lunch day. It was simply a little extra treat that she drove her new Tesla. No way to describe that car except when she hit the gas my head hit the headrest. I have no clue that an EV could have that kind of get up and go getting out of the way of oncoming traffic when needed. She let the car drive itself for a bit on the freeway.

Fast charging at Target in Medford

The car took a complete charge while we shopped at Target and has a driving distance of 400 miles between charges. The future is here no matter how we might resist.

Kristin’s bookcase is spectacular

On December 10th, the Grants Pass Book Club repeated a Christmas party at Kristin’s, and it is now a tradition. Eight of us laughed, ate great food, and exchanged wrapped books with only hints as to what might be inside showing on the wrapping paper.

A very challenging Dowdle puzzle

Mo and I fed our puzzle addition with three different Christmas puzzles throughout the month, enjoying almost every minute. Some puzzles are very frustrating, however, and we tore our hair out trying to get the blues to match up in this one.

The fudge is a favorite but the cranberry pinwheels are a close second

I started making cookies late in the month. Simple cookies with chocolate, cranberries, nuts, and peanut butter in various combinations. Of course, Fantasy Fudge is also a tradition that I celebrate. During Covid, it was almost impossible to find the special marshmallow crème ingredient that makes this fudge so creamy smooth, but this year it was everywhere, at double the price from years past. Yes, inflation is real, and I come home from the grocery store often in shock at some minor item that has actually doubled in price. On a happier note, this week with Christmas behind us, I was surprised to see many prices dropping back to something that might be considered reasonable. Oh please. Wouldn’t it be nice if inflation slowed a bit and let my federal pension and social security COLA raises keep up with all the extra costs of fuel and utilities and food? There go the words again, wandering around in my head as I try to write about December.

Maryruth and Gerald are great hosts

On December 22nd, my friend Maryruth had an appetizer party with a fabulous prosecco Christmas punch and 11 people from the neighborhood to share. It was a fun time, made more so for us because Maryruth also invited Connie and Jim, (Connie and Jim are book club friends who met Maryruth and Gerald at my home last summer). Mo and I aren’t particularly fond of parties with people we don’t know so the addition of mutual friends made the evening truly delightful.

The view from site A23 at Harris Beach State Park

Once again, as we seem to do every year in December, Mo and I traveled to the coast for three magnificent days at Harris Beach in the MoHo.  We snagged site A23, with a view of the ocean. In addition to beach walking time, we planned the trip to be sure that we could visit the magnificent Festival of Lights at Azalea park.  This year Maryruth and Gerald joined us in the coastal city, staying at the Beachside hotel with a perfect ocean view.  Their son Terry and his girlfriend drove north from California to spend time with Maryruth and enjoyed the show as well.

The lights were wonderful as always, with an addition this year of another million lights, bringing the total to more than 3 million lights lovingly strung by hundreds of volunteers.

The light show was great, but the best part of the trip was the incredible weather.  Mornings were close to freezing every day and the temperatures never rose above the mid-forties during the day but it was sunny!  No fog marred the morning views over the ocean, and by the time we walked the beach around 11 every day the skies were brilliant and there was no wind to interfere with our leisurely time on the beach with Mattie.

Mattie loves the beach

One of her favorite things is climbing the rocks to a high point.  I think I have at least half a dozen photos of Mattie over the years on this very same rock posing for my camera. 

Mo and I have another tradition with Maryruth and Gerald viewing the Christmas lights around Grants Pass topping it off with hot chocolate from Dutch Brothers. We live in the home city of the original Dutch Brothers which used to be a local Oregon thing, but somehow now is a huge company worth billions. Everything seems to be in billions and trillions these days.

The weather has been wet, with atmospheric rivers sending wild waves of wind and water over Oregon. Our light-viewing tradition was postponed until after Christmas and sadly the big wind event must have encouraged folks to take down some lights. We decided that we would be sure to see the town lights before Christmas next year. The local newspaper prints a map of the best houses for light viewing. I was thrilled when I saw a little red light marker at our house. We made the newspaper of houses not to miss when touring the lights. I did notice cars going by slowly now and then but not enough to be intrusive. After all, we are on a slightly remote almost but not quite in the country road. Still, it was satisfying to see that we made the map. Like the blog, I do the decorating for myself, but I still enjoy sharing it with other people. I would decorate if no one but me ever saw the house and I would write if no one but me read the blog.

Sunshine and green grass in late December

Mo and I shared one magic day of brilliant sunshine and blue skies as the month came to a close. The storm brought crazy winds to Oregon that wreaked havoc on so many areas of the state. Many people in the Grants Pass area lost power but we only had one tiny blink and somehow escaped that particular bit of difficulty. We did have a lot of flying debris from our ancient trees. The Douglas-fir is especially susceptible to dropping branches in high winds.

The lower pasture stays green until June

A few were several inches in diameter and we later realized that the banging noises that we heard at 3 am during the worst of the storm were those branches hitting our roof. When we woke again the next morning, the skies cleared, and we could see debris scattered around the property. In addition, the fabric shelter succumbed to the wind and Mo had to remove the winter cover to prepare for adding a new one.

We decided that it would be smart to let the oak leaves remain in areas of the gravel driveways to kill the annual grasses that sprout every year. I have learned that I can’t mulch gardens with our oak leaves. The first year we lived here I used them in the flower beds and it was three years before I could get anything to grow well. The leaves work great under trees or shrubs, but not in soil flower beds. Once we left a pile of leaves on some grass in the pasture and discovered it only takes a few days for that pile of leaves to kill the grass. Why not let those leaves kill the grass in the driveway and skip the evil weed killer?! I’ll let you know next spring how our plan worked out.

The Doug fir on the left and the ponderosa on the right are more than 150 years old.

While Mo worked on the fabric shed, I spent a few hours raking up leaves and debris and basking in the incredible sunlight and the Technicolor green of the winter grasses that love the rains. I treasured every minute of those more than ten thousand steps outside in deep winter. The news was filled with stories of the storms throughout the country. We escaped unscathed with the extra treat of one gorgeous sunny day between storms.

Now, hopefully, this crazy word salad of memories has been expelled, and I can close out December and get back to writing about October and November.