Category Archives: Travel

My Favorite California Lake

I have always been a lake guy. Lots of people prefer the ocean, but I’ll take a nice mountain lake any day. It’s in my blood, I suspect…

Once I had kids, I decided that it was my moral obligation to share this love of lakes with my family, so I started looking at California maps to find an appropriate lake within striking distance. Of course, I was well aware of Lake Tahoe, and had been there many times. And Lake Tahoe is incredibly beautiful, and has lots of fun stuff to do. But, my goodness, Tahoe is crowded, incredibly expensive… and has casinos. I envisioned a lake that had neither crowds nor casinos.

I got a big map of Northern California, and started looking for my lake. My gaze settled on Lake Almanor, a good sized, heart-shaped lake well north of the Tahoe madness, near Lassen National Park. As summer aAlmanorpproached, I talked Karen and the kids into taking a camping trip up that direction. We had a really nice time, and Karen started to swing towards my lake-oriented point of view. Lake Almanor was beautiful, nice for swimming and boating, with deer, grebes, big beautiful pine trees, and osprey everywhere.

After a few more camping trips, we rented a house a couple times, and started thinking about maybe getting a lake place of our own. Our requirements for a lake house were pretty simple. It needed to have a really good view of the lake (on the shore was out of the question, way out of the price range!), had to be usable year-round, and had to have good access to fun things to do. Above all, it had to be an inviting place for the family to spend time together.

Calm lake and puffy clouds.

Calm lake and puffy clouds.

Bill and Ines Haas, previous owners of 806 Lassen View.

Bill and Ines Haas, previous owners of 806 Lassen View.

We looked around for a while, and actually ended up buying a place. It was a little more than we were looking for, to be honest, but the view was spectacular and the retired couple that were selling the place were so sweet that we simply couldn’t resist! So, in September of 2003 we became the proud owners of 806 Lassen View Drive.

We’ve had lots of great times there over the years, as you can see from the few pictures I have posted below. Sad to say, with the boys growing up, it has been a couple years now since we have been there as a family. However, Karen and I still make it there when we can; it is still a wonderful place to visit on a long weekend, and the house itself is filled with great memories!

Sunset on the lake.

Sunset on the lake.

Winter provides epic toboggan runs!

Winter provides epic toboggan runs!

Fishing expedition. Didn't catch anything!

Fishing expedition. Didn’t catch anything!

A forlorn herding dog watching part of his flock.

A forlorn herding dog watching part of his flock.

Winter snowshoe expedition.

Winter snowshoe expedition.

Hors doerves on the porch, a nightly institution at the lake.

Sunset dinner on the porch, a nightly institution at the lake.

Winter wonderland.

Winter wonderland.

A dog and his boy.

A dog and his boy.

Lake Almanor, from a kayak's point of view.

Lake Almanor, from a kayak’s point of view.

A Moveable Feast

I think that Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. This holiday combines two things I treasure the most – family, and lots of good food – so, what’s not to like? Some people are way into Christmas, but I will take Thanksgiving any day, thankyouverymuch…

The most important thing about Thanksgiving is not where you are, but who you are with. The saddest Thanksgiving I spent recently was a few years ago in Nashville, where we were in the midst of a college-visit trip. Nashville is a cool place, but it just wasn’t Thanksgiving to me, sitting in a restaurant with Karen and Brian, trying to enjoy a hip bistro’s poor excuse of a nouveau-turkey dinner. We won’t be doing THAT again any time soon!

We are empty-nesters now, and both our boys are in school back on the East Coast, one in North Carolina and one in Connecticut. So, to make things easier for everyone, we decided to find some geographically suitable place to host Thanksgiving. After a little research and lots of time browsing VRBO.com, we settled on a lovely house named “Weaverton” in the countryside outside of Staunton, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

We must have been on to something, because lots of people decided to join us! Karen’s mom flew out with us from California, and Karen’s sister decided to drive up from Asheville, North Carolina. My own sister came down from Baltimore with her husband. And, of course, Tyler drove up from Winston-Salem, Brian journeyed down from New Haven, and his girlfriend Kelsey came down from Washington DC. A total of nine of us at the Thanksgiving table; not bad for an impromptu gathering in the wilds of Virginia!

Karen, Judy, and I flew from San Francisco to Dulles on Monday, and picked up Brian and Kelsey from the Metro late Tuesday morning after a short visit to Manassas battlefield. The day started out cloudy, but became progressively clearer as we approached Staunton. By the time we reached the house, we had a gorgeous day on our hands.

Both Tyler and Stacy had planned to drive up from North Carolina on Wednesday, but changed their plans due to the reports of a storm moving in. So by Tuesday night, there were seven of us huddled around the fire, listening to the rain beginning to fall. I woke up a few times in the night to the sound of the house being absolutely pelted by rain, but by the time I woke up in the morning, it was silent, and Weaverton had undergone a marvelous transformation!

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

I will have to say, there are few things cooler than being snowed in, with plenty of supplies, and with a huge fireplace with a roaring fire. Nothing much to do, except play epic games of Uno and Jenga, tromp around in the snow, watch the occasional basketball game, and start preparing for the next day’s feast.

Thanksgiving had it’s challenges. Everyone had a dish to prepare, and all in one oven. I did the turkey and stuffing, Karen did cranberry sauce, Brian and Kelsey did mashed potatoes and pecan pie, Stacy cooked sweet potatoes, Tyler prepared a green bean casserole, Lisa and Tim (who arrived Thursday morning), brought pumpkin and apple pies, and corn risotto. Judy’s job was to set and decorate the table. A few “firsts” were experienced, like opening a can of tomatoes with tin snips, and carving a sixteen pound turkey with a paring knife and a kitchen fork. In spite of the unlimited food and limited kitchen, however, everything came out perfectly, and on time. Chef Ramsey would have been proud!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

The rest of the weekend was filled with various adventures and misadventures, wine tasting, exploring, and of course plenty of football! All in all, a memorable Thanksgiving, and a beautiful place. I suspect we will be back!

Things are a little quiet around here…

Finally… getting back to writing something! Trust me, it is not that nothing has been going on… it is just that for some reason, I have simply not felt inspired. Might also be because, embarrassingly, I have not touched the boatbuilding project since May! Maybe I’ll do some catching up later. But for now, I’ll stick with more recent events…

The big news is, we just got back from taking Brian to college at Yale. He seems to be jumping right in, as I expected he would. He’s taking a pretty demanding workload, including the next level of calculus and a pretty advanced chemistry class. Living on the fifth floor of a dorm built in the 1920’s with no elevator and no air conditioning, so he is still adjusting to East Coast heat and humidity.

After dropping Brian off, we decided to console ourselves by spending several days at Lake George, up in the Adirondacks. It’s hard to imagine anything that could be a better consolation! We spent a few days with my Aunt Julie and a few days with my cousin Ginger, and took a one-day side trip to Vermont. A little kayaking, a little boating, a little driving around, some lovely meals, great weather… all this took our minds off the fact that we would be returning to an empty house.

We concluded our trip by heading down to Rhode Island for a couple days to visit with my dad, John Sr., and his wife Ann. Got to celebrate an 83rd birthday while we were there, and saw the sights of Bristol and Newport.

We are back home now, and getting used to the quiet house. Not so much of an adjustment, really, since once the boys got drivers licenses they were often out doing stuff. But, still, it can be a little eerie at times. But, to be honest, we are adjusting and enjoying it. After all, having the kids eventually grow up and move out is the idea, isn’t it?

Journey’s End – The Road Trip Concludes

Tuesday morning we hit the road promptly; we were headed to New Orleans, had a lot of miles to cover, and wanted to arrive at a reasonable hour. We still wanted to get a feel for the Texas countryside, however, so we kept to US and State highways rather than the interstates. While Tyler drove, I got on the web and booked a room in the French Quarter.

There’s really not too much to say about the drive. The distances were long, the highways lightly travelled. We found a great little BBQ place in Lufkin; really good brisket and sausages, and signed pictures on the wall ranging from Larry Hagman to Sarah Palin to pretty much the entire country music world. Super friendly, too… all in all a perfect respite!

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We continued driving, and arrived in New Orleans around seven or so. We drove into the French Quarter, and found our hotel. Checked in, cleaned up, and went out to walk around and check the place out. It was hot and humid, and the sweat started to flow pretty much right away.

The French Quarter was interesting; parts of it were charming and parts of it were not. I found that the amount of “charm” was inversely proportional to the proximity of Bourbon Street. The distant side streets had beautiful architecture, quaint shops, and friendly people. Bourbon Streen, on the other hand, reminded me of a cross between 1970’s Times Square and Circus Circus in Las Vegas. Mostly strip joints, packed with loud, drunk, overweight tourists stumbling around carrying cheesy plastic hurricane drinks. Nothing against any of those things per se, but I think it is a shame that the most famous site in such an iconic city is so debased in this way.

After our walking tour, we had dinner at Arnaud’s, which was a bit tourist-oriented (no surprise I suppose), and the food was good but not great. Walked around some more, and decided to call it a night. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel, took a walk around the Garden District, and got on the road.

Our destination for Wednesday was The Elms, an antebellum plantation house in Coosada, Alabama, just north of Montgomery. I have a boatload of cousins that live there, and we were stopping in for dinner and a night of accommodations. Not such an aggressive driving day, so we chose a backroads route through southern rural Mississippi and Alabama. Another day of stress-free, traffic-free, and truck-free driving on the rural highways, complete with another BBQ lunch!

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As always, our visit to The Elms was a beautiful time, lovely dinner with my aunt and uncle, my cousin Peter and his wife Janet (who so kindly hosted us!), as well as a half dozen other relations. We had a splendid dinner and breakfast and were lulled peacefully to sleep by the music made by the cicadas in the trees.

The destination for our final evening was Charleston, South Carolina. Again, we took the smaller roads, which was slow going at times due to construction, frequent towns, and inconveniently placed rivers and creeks. We arrived in Charleston in time for a late dinner. I had asked Karen to make a dinner reservation for us, as she had been looking at Charleston restaurants recently. She booked us a table at McCrady’s, a 200-year-old location with an excellent restaurant. As we had now officially made it from coast to coast, it was great to celebrate with a fantastic meal and delicious wines!

One of the things we celebrated during our dinner was the fact that we had made it coast-to-coast in a car with 125,000 miles on it, on tough roads with countless potholes, cattle guards, and railroad crossings, with no problems or breakdowns whatsoever. This all changed the next morning in the genteel and civilized confines of Charleston, when we awoke to a flat left-rear tire. So, instead of seeing the Charleston sights, we spent the morning watching Hoda and the Andy Griffith Show in the Firestone waiting room while the TT got a well-earned set of new tires.

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The repair work set us back a bit time-wise, and I had a flight to catch at Raleigh Durham airport in the evening, so we had to hop on I-26 and I-95 to make some tracks. Once we got comfortable with the travel time, we decided we had enough time to stop for one last picturesque Southern lunch, this time at Johnson’s Fish in Manning, South Carolina. After a tasty lunch of fried (and very bony) fish, hushpuppies, blackeyed peas, cabbage, rice with gravy, and sweet tea, we got back on the back roads for the final few hours up to RDU.

We got to the airport in ample time for me to make my flight, which would cover in six hours what we had taken eight days to drive. I hopped out at the curb and cleared my bags out of the car, and Tyler and I gave each other a big hug. With that, I walked off to catch my flight back to Karen and Brian in California, and Tyler drove off to his life as a graduate student, and beyond.

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Travel maps for the last part of the trip follow! Click to enlarge…

Greetings from Plano – The Road Trip Continues

We have traveled a long way since I last posted, let me get y’all caught up!

When I last wrote, we had just reached Grand Junction, Colorado, and the lovely El Palomino motel. We slept well at El Palomino, and had an adequate (and free!) breakfast. Then we were back on the road, headed East.

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Our first diversion was to Aspen. Interesting place, beautiful setting with beautiful people. We followed a Tesla into town, saw a guy running errands in his Ferarri, and other interesting examples of the affluent at play. The weather was OK, not great, and the town was packed with viditors for the big Food and Wine festival.

As it was getting to be time for lunch, we decided to grab something to eat and see some sights. We killed two birds with one stone by taking a gondola ride to the top of Aspen Mountain, and having lunch on the patio there. A bit chilly and breezy, but all in all a great stop.

From Aspen we headed up to Independence Pass, a very high (over 12,000 feet) crossing of the continental divide. We took a walk around, were duly impressed, then got back on the road to Leadville.

Leadville is one of the highest reasonable-sized towns in the USA at over 10,000 feet, and, believe it or not, Karen’s mom was born there. We decided to stop and snap a picture or two to send to her, grabbed a cookie and some coffee, and continued to Denver.

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Looking at the clock, we decided we had time for one more diversion, so we left the freeway at Silverthorne and went north to Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive through the park was pretty amazing, it goes through long stretches well above timberline, with steep drops into deep valleys. As Tyler is not a big fan of heights, he was most comfortable driving avout 15 feet from the edge, well into the oncoming lane! He gladly relinquished the wheel at the earliest convenient opportunity.

I spent the night at the home of some old friends, Carolyn and Cody Sutherland, in Niwot, Colorado. Tyler had dinner with us, then spent the night with his friend Zach, who graduated a year ahead of him at Wake Forest.

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We were on the road by 9AM, headed in the general direction of Santa Fe. While not the most direct route, we decided it would allow us to enjoy some more lovely mountain scenery before spending some quality time on the prairie. We went south to Colorado Springs, where we saw some of my old haunts there, including Garden of the Gods (which looked fairly humble a day after Utah!) and Manitou Springs. We drove by my old house in Chipita Park, then got back on 24 for the drive through South Park.

Our next stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, a really uniqu place where several miles of sand dunes have piled up against the mountains, completely devoid of vegetation and up to seven hundred feet in height. It was an interesting time to visit; the wind had come up to about forty miles an hour or so, and sand was swirling off the dunes. We wend for a short walk and were thoroughly sandblasted. Peapole were fleeing off of the dunes themselves, staggering through the wind and looking like the walking dead in a zombie movie as the came towards us in the dust and sand.

Taos is almost directly south of the sand dunes, so we decided to make a stop there. We were prey disappointed, actually. We both thought that it had the feel of a planned development rather than of an authentic place. We got our of the car in the plaza, took a quick picture, then got back on the road.

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Years ago, Karen and I had been through the area, and we ate lunch at a place in the small town of Chimayo. As I had fond memories of the place, and remembered it as being very authentic, we decided that would be our dinner stop. Rancho de Chimayo did not disappoint, and the margaritas and the food were delicious, and the atmosphere was a welcome relief from all the ersatz adobe of Taos.

As Taos was so disappointing, I was fully expected to experience the same feelings in Santa Fe, and was delighted to find this was not the case. Santa Fe was lively, charming, and authentic. We got a bargain on a room at the Hilton there, and took a walk around town before retiring for the night.

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Since we are both meeting friends in Dallas, we got on the road early on Monday, at 7:30 or so. Knowing that we had reached the end of the scenic portion of the trip, we decided it was time to put some serious mileage behind us, and hopped on 285 South, towards Roswell, and the long drive to the Lone Star State.

Not much to say about the drive, other than it was longer than we calculated. I had it in my mind that it was 570 miles, but I think that must have been as the crow flies. The shortes road route is more like 650 miles, and the route we selected was just over 700 miles.Seven hundred flat, straight miles!

 

We made it to Texas in plenty of time to meet with friends – Tyler with a friend from school, and me with John Little, a good rugby friend who is now a lawyer and bar owner. After a few beers and a delicious burger, it was time to head to Plano, and the opulence of the Fairfield Inn.

By the way, for those who are interested, here are maps of our route so far. Enjoy!