sea level: 7000+ ft

We had the crazy idea to travel the breadth of California this week.

We live in the middle of the state. On Sunday we drove 1 hour and 31 minutes to San Francisco (sea level: 0 ft) on the far west side of the state, then on Tuesday we drove 1 hour and 53 minutes to Lake Tahoe (sea level: 7,000 ft) on the far east side of the state. It was a fabulous choice of ‘themes’ for this week of vacation. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous scenery going in both directions.

There is absolutely no way to do any of it justice. And yet, I have multiple blog posts with an excess of pictures trying to at least give some idea. Feel free to blow through them quickly (or blow them off entirely.) I get it…looking at family vacation slides has never been high on anyone’s list. 😉

A co-worker of Scott’s told him we must eat breakfast at Smokey’s Kitchen in Truckee, California. So we got up early and made our way to the cute town of Truckee. This is a town we will definitely revisit – to shop at the shops and also to attend their big Thursday night farmers market/flea market event they host down the center street of town.

I love jadeite!

Obviously I took this picture through a shop window, but we really liked this wood etching showing the differing depths of Lake Tahoe. Very clever idea.

In every town – we find a coffeeshop and a bookstore. *all the heart eyes*

And since we are at Donner’s Pass – how about having a little fun with it at their expense, huh?!

(Actually, many things are named after the Donner Party in this region. But as far as I can understand the situation, this was a party of pioneers that took ‘a new route they’d heard about’, got lost, waited 4 months for help to arrive and noshed on the members that didn’t make it. None of that sounds worth of name-memorializing to me. *shoulder shrug*)

We stayed in Carnelian Bay on the northwest corner of Lake Tahoe. Homes were gently tucked into forests and forests of pine trees. Our Airbnb was a log cabin-type home that had a separate section/entrance for guests. We slept with the windows open and woke up to the sun peeking through the pines that filled our room with Christmas tree aroma. It was delicious! (This was our morning view out our window…)

You will never, ever convince me that the bottom of Lake Tahoe is not painted blue and turquoise – like a backyard swimming pool. The color…….. I’m not even going to try to adequately describe it. It is simply magnificent. Every marketing material photo I’ve seen of Lake Tahoe makes me assume there was some photoshopping done to it. That’s cool. It’s the way things are done. But everywhere we looked, all we saw was ‘photoshopped’ reality. It’s a place you must see to believe.

so. many. pine. trees!

The water is unbelievably clear. In some of these pictures you can see the rocks at the bottom of the lake. The camera didn’t capture just how far out you could see to the bottom. The turquoise shores turned into a dark blue center, the deeper it got.

Scott took some video…

We spent significant time along the northeastern shoreline. Personally, I think it was my favorite spot to see the lake. Most people talk about Emerald Bay (below) at the south end of the lake – and while it was beautiful, there were SO. MANY. PEOPLE. crowding around, taking pictures, etc, it was less enjoyable. We were practically on our own up north.

If you squint your eyes and use your imagination, you can see the Vikingsholm Castle on the island, built in 1928 after Lora Knight purchased the island for $250,000. Two hundred workers were hired to hand hew the timber, carve intricate designs, and for the interior walls they hand planned the wood. Much of the materials used (such as the timber and granite rock) came from the Tahoe Basin. There are sections of the Vikingsholm Castle that contain no nails, pegs, or spikes. The castle was heated with six fireplaces – all in a Scandinavian style.

Let me get this straight –  your own island in the middle of a beautiful lake and acres and acres of pines, in a castle with giant fireplaces and decorated in Scandinavian style??! Am I awake? Is this heaven? Please don’t wake me.

Later that evening we were lucky to catch the sun setting as we walked around Tahoe City after dinner. It was an amazing memory.

We quickly ran out of ways to say, ‘That’s SO amazing!’ As always, I am happy we were experiencing this beauty together.

(more about our trip in the final post: A Viewmaster Vacation)

Semi-Stay-Vacation

Scott took a week of vacation this month and instead of packing it with the many activities we’ve done on vacations so far this year, we decided to have a more ‘quiet’ vacation week this time.

We decided to travel the breadth of Northern California. We live in the middle of this area, so we are spending a day on the west coast side, coming home, regrouping, then spending a couple of days exploring around Lake Tahoe on the east side – completely new territory for us! We’re very excited to make our Trial Run trip to Tahoe. It will be our first pancake. Our trial-and-error adventure so that next time, we’ll be even more prepared to know what to do and what not to do. We’re staying at an Airbnb in Carnelian Bay at the northwestern edge of the lake. I can’t wait to share it with you all!

But for today, some Pacific Ocean wandering along the Bay then over to Berkeley to reconnect with our hippie vibe. We love hanging out in Berkeley! I have a quick hook-up with an online friend in Oakland and then we’ll head back home – undoubtedly filled with more information about the Bay Area then what we’ve learned so far. In our other trips into San Francisco we’ve concentrated on all the touristy things to see. This time we hope to hit some more out-of-the-way places to experience the area in a whole different way.

It will be a fun adventure together. No pressures. No timelines. Just plenty of pictures and plenty of reconnection. We’ve needed the time together and are looking forward to being away from all the normal routines for rebooting and revamping our ways of communication and connection.

I hope you’ll enjoy discovering things along with us! Many more pictures to come, I’m sure…

Sideways to Napa – part two

(continued from Part One)

If we saw nothing else but the  countryside along the way, the daytrip would have been worth it (two hours our house.) The grass is a brilliant, neon green right now.

The below picture is a blurry snapshot from the car window as we sped past. But with all the luscious grapes being grown, I’d pick the cactus any day over the eventual wine! 🙂

Working the steep hills with huge, brimmed hats on vs palatial homes sitting up above. It was an interesting contrast.

This bookstore was a dream. Copperfield’s Books. I left with a long list of books to add to my To Buy list. I’m so glad to be connected to Copperfield’s now.

Calistoga was more shop-friendly. Antique shops and knick-knacks. Nearby there is a geyser park and there are natural hot springs mineral spas all around this area of California. To recap: massages, spas, antiques, books and wine. It’s a total package!

I don’t know why but I fell head over heels in love with this adorable travel lodge. It was so cute and neat as a pin. Mid-century greatness. Calistoga Motor Lodge

Matching bicycles for the guests to get around town… So adorable.

Sometimes we feel very lucky when we accidentally fall into a good daytrip. And other times, it seems like God is directing our path… -ha!

Such a beautiful place for a wine tasting, no??

We happened upon Bale Grist Mill – a historic mill built in 1846 by Edward Turner Bale.

This fully restored water-powered grist mill still grinds grain.  Visitors can watch the original set of French Buhr millstones in action when the miller grinds grain into Bale Mill flours and meals. In the late 1800s, Napa Valley farmers brought their grain to the mill where it was placed into the boot of an elevator to be mechanically transported upstairs to be cleaned and sifted by various types of equipment – a technical wonder for the Pioneers. The slow turning of the old grind stones gives the fresh meal a special quality for making cornbread, yellowbread, shortening bread and spoon bread.

I was equally fascinated by the plants growing on the stone wall out front. If I’m not mistaken, I believe those are pilea growing out front (unless their nasturtium – but that’s not the bloom for a nasturtium.)

Notice the telephone pole below. Then the size of the pine tree next to it. Scott noticed it first – we definitely drove away from palm trees and into the huge, straight pines of the Pacific Northwest.

We took a different way home than the way we came (doubling our adventure.) The way home was perfectly encapsulated in the sign below. VERY curvy. Not dangerously, but it kept us on our toes as we wound down and up and down again, around the lake on the other side of the mountain, Lake Berryessa.

Each time we go through a rocky pass, I wish my daughter-in-law, Ryann, was in the car. She’s a geologist and could explain their formations.

What a day. What a day. What a day. We have gone south, west and north now. Our next destination is to go east to Lake Tahoe (we’re waiting for the snow to die down some first.) We have a lot of family coming at the end of May and that’s on the agenda – as is discovering new things at the spots we’ve already visited briefly.

There are ups and downs about being in a new area of the country. But the endless adventures and explorations are certainly a plus. We live in the middle of many different kinds of landscape and culture. Just like all the movies and lore that has gone before it, Napa Valley was a dream-like place filled with wealth and breath-taking scenery. It’s hard to believe some of these places truly exist.

Come visit us soon and we’ll go exploring again together!

Sideways to Napa – part one

It was definitely one of our weirdest decisions. The electrician came in the morning to look at an outlet that wasn’t working properly. We worked on some house projects then did a bit of clean up in the yard. Then – about 1pm we decided it was actually a really nice day for a drive. Where should we go?? How about Napa.

In the car. Google Maps engaged. To Do list left at home. And off we went…

It was a bit of an odd time to go to wine country. The vines haven’t really started growing yet. But because of that, it was interesting to see the old, gnarled trunks – and wonder how many years they have been producing fresh new vines and grapes for our eventual enjoyment.

We were headed to Calistoga, California. I read in my handy-dandy California guide book (that has post-it tabs sticking out all over it) that Calistoga is a quaint little town to visit. So that’s what we plugged into our GPS.

On our way to Calistoga, however, we saw a sign for a Visitor’s Center and wondered if it would give us any additional information. So Scott scooted over some highway lanes and exited…

…into HEAVEN!

We literally had no idea what exit we had pulled off on.

Yountville, California. First of all, for any fellow Chef Geeks out there, this is MECCA for fine dining. If you’re a fan of Chef’s Table on Netflix, you might recognize The French Laundry. Chef Thomas Keller is a renowned chef who has been named Best Chef in America and has two restaurants with 3-star Michelin ratings. (The only American chef with that distinction.) Plus his bakery has a 1-star rating.

I think we drove for quite a few blocks with my hand over my mouth, gasping. When we finally stopped and got out, I almost felt disrespectful taking a picture of this famous restaurant. Many renowned chefs have spent time here, learning under Chef Keller’s instruction then gone on to open their own fine dining restaurants. (Sidenote: after we got back home I googled to see if there were any prices online…knowing there most likely wouldn’t be. But I found multiple sites that simply stated that a meal for two would run no less than $300 a person.)

Full disclosure: one of the reasons I remember the restaurant from Chef’s Table is that I loved the font of the restaurant title. I guess I’m an even bigger Font Geek than a Chef Geek. -ha!

The sun was SOOOOOO high and bright so taking pictures was a challenge.

But speaking of cool fonts…how about this F O R T Y  F I V E  T E N?! And the amazing white wisteria!

It was fascinating to see sleek, modern wineries as well as old and elegant wineries, all mixed in together. Each were competing for wine tastings and ambiance. One after another after another.

This luxury hotel was jaw-dropping. Wide open art galleries, pristine waitstaff, elegance coming and going. Vintage House – and those black window trimmings…oh my heart.

The wisteria. The phlox. The cherry blossoms. The dogwoods. Everywhere in California – it’s simply been amazing to see spring on the west coast. It is impossible to describe the brilliance and magnitude.

Scott and I were fascinated with these two men…

The man and the baker carrying out bags of bagettes to his car. What’s the story?! I was so curious. Their difference in stature certainly stood out on the cozy sidewalks of this fascinating town.

We weren’t dressed properly for the $300/per meal (…and by ‘dressed correctly’ I mean a checkbook with $600 of disposable loot) but we did have the flakiest, butteriest, delicious’est Michelin-star croissant I’ve ever had at Bouchon Bakery.

Yountville wasn’t necessarily a ‘walk and shop’ type of town. It was filled with luxury everything: hotels, spas, wineries, restaurants. There was a Marketplace area we walked through with a few shops, chocolatiers, cigars and of course – wines.

If you look closely, you can see the bubble above Scott’s head as he counts zeros…

I liked this t-shirt…!

(Is this heaven?!) This side of heaven or the other side – I will be a Vespa owner.

This was a large courtyard that I’m sure is used for events and tastings.

Even the town’s fan-leaf palms didn’t dare have brown-tipped leaves (as are common in all other fan-leaf palms!)

The design of this hotel and spa took my breath away as we drove by on our way into town. As we walked by, we went over to read it’s history…….I shouldn’t have been surprised…

My old alma-mater: USGBC. To receive a LEED Platinum is very difficult. But to do it as a hotel is almost unheard of. It is very difficult for a business like a hotel to prove environmentally sound procedures. Think of the laundry and toiletries alone. So for Bardessono to have achieved the top LEED level is incredible. One of only two hotels in America to have been awarded a Platinum level. Impressive!

And right across the street was this old French Country Inn. Everything about it looked like a cottage tucked away in a the French countryside. Like I said, the old with the new. It was a heady combination and provided lots of visual stimulation overload.

Scott liked this sign in their window stating that in case of an earthquake, this building was not safe to be in.

But at least it’s not a Midwest tornado that we would have to go through this door to the basement. Yikes!

Yountville’s Town Hall…

There were tourists walking all over town – in their linens and flowy skirts. It was like being on a movie set. But along with the tourists were plenty of residents. People out walking their dogs and working in their yards.

Another constant throughout the city (due to the time that we were there…around 4:30pm) were wait staff. Men and women in starched black and white attire. They were getting out of their cars and heading into work. Most of the restaurants were only open for dinner so they were arriving to work to start a busy night. I would like to believe their tips are substantial.

After our jaw-dropping walk through Yountville, we went back to our car to keep driving to our original destination: Calastoga.

(on to the Part Two post…)

Terra Cotta Dreamin’

Possibly it’s due to the overexposed sun here in California that has led me to fall in love with a very California, desert-color scheme.

Earth tones:
Greens. Grays. Terra cotta. Cinnamon. Mustard. Mauve. Teals. Blues
Soothing. Grounding. Natural.

Imagine looking at a desert scene. Starting at the ground level with it’s bluish-gray sage mixed with the tans and grays of the sand and rock. Moving up you would find the greens of the foliage plastered against the mustard yellows of a terra cotta-cinnamon sunset that bursts a few streaks of pinkish-mauve into the sky, before turning into the various teals and blues of the setting day.

Now grant it, it’s not a huge leap to ‘earth tones’ from ‘natural whites’. But I see the earthy tones making their way into our home more and more since living out west.

I’m not really a ‘southwestern girl’ when it comes to decor, but I do appreciate the natural elements of linen and leather, hand-thrown pottery, hand-woven textiles, wicker and wood. Those natural items feel more intentional and less fad-driven.

I recently grabbed some very unstaged pictures around the house, of the earthen tones that are finding their way into our rooms. The space heater is out – for the chilly mornings still. Things are as they are in our everyday life. I think that’s the part of this sensation taking me over: a willingness to embrace more of what is, and less of what should be. Maybe it’s California. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s just part of the evolution of life – but in the great scheme of things…there’s very little that needs to be worried over and we waste a lot of time doing it.

I’d rather spend more of my brain space on thinking about the things for which I have to be grateful. It’s a retraining of the mind.

The days are getting brighter and warmer around here – making the occasional rainy day a direct insult. What do you mean I can’t go outside today?!

Most of my plants have new leaves, still tightly curled but peeking out now and again to see if the atmosphere is right for their unveiling. Scott and I have had more than just a few lunches and talks out on the patio and the birds have been devouring their bird food in the feeder.

I have been daydreaming more and more about a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. And more and more I want to learn the history of the northwest. We are surrounded by beautiful land and sea. Now that the rains are letting up, I look forward to more and more exploring.

The first desert pictures are images found on Pinterest. The below image is from The Joshua Tree House at Saguaro National Park…and the inspiration behind my desert dreams of late.

grateful for a week of vacation…

Scott went back to work today after being off for a week. I am thankful for the week of vacation. I am thankful to be back to a routine. You know the feeling, right?

We all have different kinds of friends in life. It adds the spice to living. When we announced we were moving to California, almost to a person our friends said, ‘We can’t wait to come visit you there!’ It’s something you say, no? It just seems like the appropriate thing to lessen the upcoming distance in your friendship.

But not our friend, Rachel. As soon as we found a house here in California, she sent me a text with her available dates and asked, ‘When can I come?’ (big grin) For any enneagram followers, Rachel is an 8. She waits for no man! She strikes out and gets what she wants. A weekend trip to the west coast was what she wanted.

And we were more than happy to oblige!

Therefore, our week of vacation was spent preparing for Rachel’s arrival, the daytrips we took with her, and then spending some quiet evenings alone after she left – vegging and relaxing. It was the perfect week!

It was great having Rachel here. She is a bundle of sunshine and energy. But we were also glad to have a representation of Kansas City walking around in our California home. It was a nice connection to our home town and our first out-of-town guest.

We picked her up from the airport and drove to San Francisco – defying the rain to stop our plans. We ate seafood on the boardwalk and shopped at an adorable Marketplace on the pier that was filled with artisan cheese shops, meat and fish markets and everything in between. All local shops. Scott and I both want to head back there soon with a cooler in the trunk to buy some freshly caught fish and make – what I’m sure will be – the most amazing charcuterie board ever! We always look forward to going back to San Francisco. There’s so much to see and do. And there’s nothing quite like the smell of ocean air all around you.

I told Rachel my goal for the weekend was for her to be able to go home and say, ‘We saw the ocean and then the next day, we saw the mountains.’ That’s the greatest thing about where we live – we are a short drive to both extremes.

On Day 2 we drove to Calaveras Big Tree State Park to gawk at the enormous sequoia trees. For me and Scott, it was our first time seeing snow for the year. It was chilly but certainly not unbearable. Besides, the enormity of the sequoias and the immense height of the pines kept your mind off any cold. It was a beautiful, picturesque drive. We stopped to take the occasional picture (but never enough for me!) and even popped into a local donut shop in a small town along the way. After seeing the trees (and eating our picnic lunch in the middle of the park…but inside the warm car!), we stopped in a few antique shops in towns we passed on our way up the foothills. It was the perfect little daytrip.


(Scott is standing on the stump of a giant sequoia. For reference, Scott is 6’3″!)

We arrived back home in mid-afternoon as the Kansas City Chiefs were playing their play-off game against the Indianapolis Colts. We recorded the game so we could watch it a little later than the start time. We sped through the commercials and eventually caught up to the end of the game to watch with the rest of the world as the Chiefs decidedly, 31-13. We are now gearing up for the game on Sunday against the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. All fingers and toes are crossed.

On Day 3 – and sadly the last day Rachel was here – we drove around our nearby town of Folsom. We spend a lot of time in Folsom as well as attend church there. We wanted to show her our little historic church where we attend as well as some area shops. We did a little shopping, grabbed some lunch, then drove by the Folsom Prison (made famous by Johnny Cash) before driving to the airport in Sacramento for her return flight home. It was a jam-packed weekend and it felt invigorating and adventuresome.

For the remaining days of his vacation, Scott and I worked on a few projects around the house and did the normal running around town for this and that. But mostly, we took it easy. We watched some favorite movies and we watched some new ones. We played card games (complete with thick banter and bullying) and Scott made some wood projects in his workshop (which I will blog about soon.) I worked on my California Adventures album (also, an upcoming blog post.)

Scott and I are good at doing hard things together and doing slothful things together… we are a good team and you know what? I really miss him when he’s gone back to work after being off for a week…

We continue to enjoy our life out here on the west coast. It’s also a lot of fun when others come and enjoy it with us. Thanks for a great visit, Rachel!

San-Fran-Giving

Since Scott has to work on Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated a few days earlier by taking a day trip to San Francisco. It’s what I like to call a Scouting Trip – checking out all the sites we want to visit when friends and family come to town. It’s about a two-hour drive so an easy jog over to the bay. It was a perfect day (except a little bit of smokey haze from the fires.)

It’s hard to not think about earthquakes when crossing the many bridges in and out of San Francisco. Still, they are breathtakingly beautiful.

Seeing this couple sitting at the Bay’s edge made me think of the song, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’. I so badly wanted to know their love story…their life experiences. They were perfectly content to sit at the water’s edge and enjoy the weather, the people and the excited energy all around them.

We drove to the piers and walked around. While others saw seagulls and ships and tug boats and islands, I saw…

“Whoa!, look at these cool boards!!”

And Scott said…

“Those are awesome chains!”

We are a dorky couple.

Is this not a classic picture?! The water was literally feet in front of them. Ships and beauty was everywhere. And not one of them was seeing it.

Meanwhile we were all being side-eyed big time!

Fisherman’s Wharf was so wonderfully touristy. I loved it all!!

My last supper would definitely include crab. I am a big fan! And clam chowder? Gimme it alllll.

The Alcatraz Tour is definitely on our list of things to do in the near future. Looking at it, I couldn’t help but hear my son say he doesn’t buy the idea that no one could swim the distance to escape. He’s convinced it’s a definite possibility! 🙂

Total respect, cyclists. I might be able to swim to my escape from Alcatraz but there’s no way I could bike up these steep hills either!

I love, love, love, love brightly painted front doors. And even though we didn’t seek out the Painted Ladies homes (made even more famous in the Full House tv show) we did see beautifully painted homes along the waterfront. I wonder if their monthly mortgage payment is over $1000?? (hahahahahahahahahhahahaaaa)

And then we made it to the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s so amazing to stand at the base of such an iconic landmark of America.

The haze was a lens we saw everything through. But it was still mesmerizing. (I only took 6 zillion photos.)

At times, my camera had trouble focusing on anything because all it saw was haze. While some haziness is typical for San Francisco, the wildfire smoke wasn’t helping.

As the sun set, it was time for us to cross this beauty and head back home.

One of the biggest lessons we learned on our San Francisco Scouting Trip was to squeeze the day between rush hour traffic. Poor Scott – he drove bumper to bumper for hours. I’m sure some of it was Thanksgiving traffic as well but it made me wonder how many people must live and work between San Francisco and Sacramento. It took us almost double the time to get home than our quick trip out. That’s okay; it just meant more time in the car together. Music to listen to and reflections to be made.

This car made it worthwhile too. We saw it around Berkeley so I was hoping it was an English Lit professor making his way home after a trying day of lectures and student conferences.

Come visit us soon! We have a few ideas of where we can go explore together.