Wednesday, December 30, 2015

'Twas the season . . .

In the days before Christmas, rains finally come to parched California. We welcome pitter patters and we welcome a deluge, such as this one four days before Christmas when I go to the Little City Down the Hill for essentials not available in Our Little Town, not the least of which are Gift Cards in great variety, my go-to Christmas gift when I forget to shop in advance.

I've hit several stores already when I stop for my guilty pleasure, a Famous Star, no cheese, a chocolate malt, no whipped cream, and that's with the senior discount. I choose my table, get out my Kindle for a read, and my lunch arrives tout suite. It's glorious.

My Rick Steve's backpack that I'm using as a purse is soaked by the time I go into Safeway for a few food items and the gift cards. Back when the big flap was happening about Starbucks' serving coffee in only red cups, I'd intended to give Starbucks gift cards to everyone on my list, but the moment passed. I stand in front of the vast Safeway gift cards rack and ponder. Home Depot? Bed Bath and Beyond? There are Starbucks cards ... do they drink Starbucks, or only Peet's or McDonalds? Macy's? Orchard Supply? Do they have one nearby? The gift card stand has expanded to three sides of the end of an aisle. I'm struck motionless in indecision after wandering around it several times.

I buy what I would buy for myself, for each and every one, an Amazon gift card. You can buy everything from Amazon and have it delivered to your door.

I arrive home dripping water from my person and purse, and wrangling plastic bags. I leave the 20# bag of cat food in the car until the rain recedes. I can now mail the final Christmas cards in which I will enclose an Amazon card.

I wrap a couple of catnip-infused toys in tissue paper for the cats to engage themselves while I wrap my Amazon cards. They ignore the little red packets for a long time, but Jean-Luc finally discovers one and deposits it for me to see.

He picks up the strange little flat bird, takes it to the water tower for a drink, then begins tossing it in the air and catching it, which is too fast for my camera.

Then Christmas is upon us. In our busy world, plans for gathering the family together take on a rather fluid nature. Our big plan is to go to Christmas Brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. "Dating from 1927, this historic, landmark hotel is set on a valley floor with views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls. It's 1.5 miles from Yosemite Village." 

I live where I do for Yosemite. My love affair with Yosemite goes back to my childhood when our family camped here and at many other national parks in California. My first husband and I camped here with our children. Back when my second husband was still alive, we camped with our RV in the Valley for our annual allowed stay of 30 days, I continued taking the RV up there for a few years after he died, but that got too difficult for me, so Sister-in-Law and I took advantage of some great sales on accommodations at the Ahwahnee (not nearly as favorable now), stayed in rustic cabins in Curry Village, and now watch for two-fers at Yosemite Lodge for sisters-in-law outings.

We take available Christmas brunch reservations a few weeks in advance, not knowing our exact count.  The one uncontrollable factor in our plan is a series of snow storms headed for the Sierras. There are a couple of storms early in the week, but we're watch the one that's due the day before Christmas and into Christmas Eve. Christmas day promises to be clear, but we wonder whether the roads will be plowed before we head out in the morning? 

There are only three roads in. The north and south routes favored by our two main groups, climb to over 6,000 feet before dropping down to the Valley at 4,000 feet. The central entrance follows the Merced River from the Valley making it more accessible after storms. A 6:30 a.m. road check finds weather clear, but chains, or 4-wheel drive with snow tires and carrying chains, are required for all routes. 

We -- Sister, Brother-in-Law and I -- head out on the northern route in a 4WD truck and chains in a box.

Just outside of Our Little Town

View from Rim-of-the-World
Fire-killed trees stretch into the near ground

Snow caps fire-denuded mountains which
form the Tuolumne Canyon

We stop at the gate to the Park to show our pass,
confirm that we have four-wheel drive and chains,
 and get our activities newspaper.

The entrance is at 4875 feet and we head upward
 to the road's summit amongst deeper snow.

The road has been plowed, but that doesn't mean we're riding on dry pavement. Coming down the other side of the summit it's dicier. You don't want to put the vehicle into a slide by doing anything sudden. Drive on, slow and steady, with mountains twice bared by fires in the past several years sloping down to a valley on the right, then between the granite-walls of the Merced River. Ice and water. Photos from a moving car don't quite get it.

The valley floor widens. We stop along the road . . .

... and on the other side, the meadow stretches across the valley, with the river now on our left, along with a view of Yosemite Falls. It's the one that looks like a triple flair at about the 2/5-ths mark from the left.

We arrive at the Ahwahnee at about 10:30 and find easy parking, since hotel guests are checking out. Our reservation is for 11:15. We wonder whether we're first, then I spot a large Christmas tree walking toward us. It's my Boy. I believe I see the hand of his new wife in his Christmas attire.

(To tell you the truth, my first thought is that he's dressed as some kind of dragon or dinosaur, and wonder why he spreads his arms out like that in front of the Christmas tree. Then I notice the garland and the ornaments. Ahhh...)

He and Wife and Wife's Mom, and his Daughter and Daughter's Significant Other arrive from my daughter's house in Fresno by way of the central entrance to Yosemite without incident.

Not too much later, the rest of the crew from Daughter's house arrive, via the southern route into the Valley. They fill two cars and the road is fine.

Our numbers for lunch are sixteen. We have two tables, side by side, of 10 and six. That number has varied from between 15 and 19. It takes an actual headcount to determine the final, since none of our mental counts and finger counts work out twice to the same number. We enter the dining room and I capture a flash of sunlight over the South Rim of the Valley, looking like a whole sun this side of the trees.

View out the window

I'm a small eater. I can't do justice to a big buffet, so I ask to order off the menu. This is Daughter's buffet selection for the starter. Everyone's looks somewhat similar.

I'm waiting to be served while they're off after another course.

Here it is. Ta dah!

Pan Seared Golden Trout Amandine*
Lemon, Butter, Herbed Rice Pilaf, Seasonal Vegetables

My dessert:

Ahwahnee Cheesecake Graham Cracker Crust &
Boysenberry Topping

It's over now

It's time for photos of the family. I miss what prompted this, but Granddaughter and her Boyfriend assume this pose and I catch a quick snapshot. Did you read their blog, "Wandernauts," about their trip around the world? It had a photo blog along with it. They are both fabulous photographers.

C'est moi, with my daughter and her children.

I thought this was the entire crew, but count only 14 here. Missing are my daughter's daughters, but you can see them above.

With the big meal over, Sister, BIL and I decide it's time to head for home. We'll have a light supper after all arrive and open presents at Sister's house. Some of our group have never been to Yosemite, and there are also walking enthusiasts. They'll be along later.

What a beautiful day. Is that a person out there in snowy weather military gear?  Or someone in a white snowsuit? After the fact, I zoom in on the photo. Just a snowy tree!

I think this huge rocky wall looks like it's covered with giants' ancient inscriptions.

A final look backward at the Valley as we get to the west end. As the car backs out, I fumble in my pocket for my phone/camera. It's missing. I look on the ground ahead of the car where we were parked and there's the phone. A little boy is staring at it. I wave to him and he brings me the phone.

Whew! Wouldn't want to spoil a beautiful day.

We start up the grade on the north side of the river. We go through the three tunnels. We're almost up to the trees. Cars ahead of us are stopped and we pull in behind them. It looks like there may be an accident up ahead, so we settle in for a wait until it's cleared. A ranger comes down the hill, stopping at each car for a little conversation. His little conversation is that five or six cars have slipped off the road during this afternoon and we must put chains on. We are experienced at driving in snow here, but the ranger could not be persuaded. We have chains, but BIL is not really up for wrangling chains. We will have to go back to the Valley and take the middle road out.

(I'm getting all the madder thinking about this. We, each one of us, have driven through gnarly winter storms to Yosemite for 25 years and have never put chains on. This is just lame.)

We turn around. It is a very long trip back home. We see son and party passing us on the way up the hill and are able to warn him by phone. He gets up to the same point and they turn him around, too.

Back we go along the Merced River exit. It's shady and cool down there. It's as slippery, if not more so, than the road we were on. There are miles of incoming cars being stopped to chain up. We can only guess they are on their way to the Bracebridge Dinner to be incoming at this time of day. 

I don't look at the time. I guess it takes two or more hours longer than the way we were headed. Daughter's group is already at Sister's house by the time we finally arrive there. They left the Valley hours later than we did and met no rangers on the north route. Son's group arrives even later.

Here we are, after supper, waiting for someone to step forward as Santa to distribute presents.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Homage to Old Pilots - Hôtel le Grand Balcon, Toulouse

"A legendary hotel for more than a century 
A 4 star establishment of charm and excellence in Place du Capitole Le Grand Balcon, designed by Jean-Phillippe Nuel, offers a perfect harmony between fashion and tradition."  
From the hotel brochure

tel le Grand Balcon, Toulouse
We are delivered to our hotel on arrival day to an entry off the street to the left in this picture. I don't see this what seems it should be the entrance for a couple of days, and the Club Med sign misdirects my thoughts. The streets angle off in so many directions from the hotel and the Place du Capitole that I am perpetually lost. On the occasions that I venture out on my own, I pay close attention to my route so I can get home, but in a group, I rely on whomever claims to know the way to the hotel. On this segment of the trip, our group consists of our leader, two other women traveling alone, including me, and one couple. We have all previously traveled with each other so we are not strangers.

The reception desk consists of two of these polished cylinders, offset from each other, with laptops on each. How very digitized it is in this century-old hotel.

In my post flight stupor, before my overnight nap, I stand in line here, waiting to check into the Grand Balcon, studying the reflection of the floor tiles in the curved surface of the reception desk.

There's a cocktail lounge to the right of reception. Portraits of three pilots, among them Antoine Saint-Exupéry, probably best known in the US as the author of Le Petit Prince, hang along the wall in the lounge. The pilots flew between Toulouse, France, and Barcelona, Spain, for what became the first civilian international airmail service, founded in December, 1918. It expanded into the first transcontinental civilian airmail service a couple of months later, flying into Casablanca, Morocco. The pilots were habitués of the hotel.

The breakfast room is to the left of reception, the view here from the interior of the room.

I cannot find exactly where I read  it. I looked online for something about the hotel before the trip. There I'd seen photos of the interiors of the rooms, where a mood of flight is suggested. So my room decor isn't a total surprise. Here, read the text which accompanies a photo of Saint Exupéry's room and get a notion of the intended ambiance. Even my room had most of the amenities listed.

I use this particular picture of my room for the pale gold of the lights. Otherwise this would seem to be a black-and-white photo.

I'm on the "first" floor, European style, "second" floor in American. I have no balcony, but I can open the windows.

There's my flat screen TV, and beyond it a sitting area with a small table to work at, my Nespresso machine, and the hotel information folder. I never turn my TV on here, unusual, as I ordinarily seek out a news station in English.

My bathroom is huge and there is no enclosure around the shower. It finally dawns on me that this is a handicapped room, a go-anywhere set-up that will accommodate a wheelchair. This is my traditional in-a-bathroom-mirror photo. There is an abstract painting on the wall behind me, lending a splash of color to the decor.

My shower has a window onto the sitting area, shielded from view only by a filmy curtain with the cloud motif. It wasn't even pulled closed when I arrived. I suppose there are those who like a view out to the street while they shower.

I just like this pic with the lights reflected on the TV screen. The lights appear whiter during the dark of night outside the windows.

There is pedestrian movement throughout the night , , ,

. . . some moving faster than others.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

'Tis the season . . . for Fall Quilt Camp

It's on my calendar for Spring and Fall. It's my quilt guild's twice-yearly camp. It's practically the only time I see guild members since the nighttime drive to the Little City Down the Hill for its regular evening meetings became scary. Cataracts were the initial problem. Those were fixed (although one of them needs a touch-up), but the prospect of anything at all happening that would close the shortcut road up the hill and force me onto the "main" road after dark strikes terror in my heart.

There was a forest fire in September in the area of the camp. The camp was evacuated, along with two other nearby facilities. News reports sounded touch and go. One residence and some outbuildings were the only structures lost in the fire. It's a long drive up to camp, and I kept wondering when I'd see signs of fire damage. Then I hit it and it had come soooo close to camp. I took a walk for pictures near the end of camp. They are posted toward the end of this blog.

This is the first time at quilt camp that I had specific quilting goals and met them. None of these projects is finished, like some of the ladies did, but I'm tickled with my progress, so I'm showing my own stuff first.

This first quilt is a kit I bought at Patchwork Europe in France a year ago. I thought it was a French pattern, but it's German, with Google-translated instructions. The translation is puzzling. I had cut all strips for this part of the quilt top at an earlier camp and pieced 13 of the 30 blocks. I finished piecing the other 17 blocks this time. Here they are on my quilt wall at home. They may still be rearranged. I have at least six or seven photos in other arrangements. Then there will be borders. The instructions for those are completely incomprehensible.

The second quilt is from Australian quilter Jenny Bowker's seminar on Shimmering Quilts. I machine quilted all the verticals, horizontals and diagonals to stabilize the quilt to try my hand at fancy machine quilting at home where I can swear aloud.

The third quilt is a Keepsake Quilting kit, Heat Wave. There are 34 blocks and I pieced them all this time. I can't even remember how I managed to cut and sort them at an earlier camp. It was like shuffling decks of colored cards.

Our group this session is smaller than usual. I thought I was arriving late, but people trickle in for most of the first day. There are no Leopard Ladies. We announced two years ago that they'd achieved their goal, the Worldwide Leopard Revival, but I don't think that accounts for their absence this time. And our masseuse has a hand injury that precludes her fans' massages. Of all things, she gets to quilt this time.

This Christmas-y Log Cabin was hanging when I arrived, so there was no ta-da when I was around.

An 88th birthday cake is presented to Jeri, still making beautiful quilts. I love her subtle color choices. In fact, there are a couple of other 88-year olds and an 87 at camp. It gives me hope. And such good cake.

This is Ann's precision work, a combination of machine piecing and exquisite hand appliqué. She has several more blocks to go.

           (^ not Ann)

Jeri is working on a Christmas placemat. I love the sheep under construction.

She's making a tote bag with lots of pockets, outside and in. Love the color combos.

This little quilt top is lying alone on the cutting mat. I don't know who belongs to it.

One-hundred-year old hand pieced blocks are being united here. It's very sweet.

Quilts at rest for the night.

Debbi produces community quilts right and left, very creative ones.

This beauty is all hand appliquéd.

After and before. Lots of pieces involved in this quilt.

Someone noted a similarity between Julia's quilt pattern and mine. At first I didn't see it, but on closer look, this reverses the relationship between the square and the frame, but is conceptually similar. She has Flying Geese and Yo-Yos for the borders.

Bedtime at quilt camp: There is usually a contingent that stays up sewing late into the night. This time, most of us are off to bed before midnight. This is my walk along the deck to my room. The lights burn all night, so I have to close the curtains. But I like to have natural light coming into my room while waking up. (I love that in my bedroom at home. I finally figure out that I can open the camp's curtains in the morning when my alarm goes off and do my waking up looking at the trees. I'm happy to have my very packable slippers from Le Grand Balcon hotel in Toulouse. Someone accused me of stealing them. Would you want to be served previously used slippers in a nice hotel? I rest my case.

Linda is assembling these appliquéd quilt blocks, but I may have overheard her say the individual blocks were a group project.

Julia also finished quilting a dinosaur quilt. You can see a sample of the quilting on the brown insert. The prehistoric, um, rhinoceros (?) will be a label on the back, as he was too big to fit in the blocks on the front.

Some quilters just whip their completed quilt tops out for the ta-da and whirl around to display it quicker than I can pick up my phone camera, let alone the regular camera which is slower to put into action. Sorry, ladies. The fully opened version of the quilt is blurred. I'm sad, because I love the fabric and block (another block with a frame that looks like a shadow).

Far and near. This block, inset at the front, made completely with triangles and rectangles, creates an overall wavy look. Click picture to enlarge the far off view of that quilt on the back wall.

Charleen finishes the border. It took longer than she expected. The bottom view is "almost done." The border, still to go. I would never have thought of using these colors, but they look so refined and delicate that it's very charming.

Linda is doing this appliqué herself, I believe. There's still more to go.

Debbi has completed a top she is entering in a Courthouse Steps competition. It's sideways her in the completed version, because that's how tall she is. I've included the partially complete version in the lower photo so you can see it right-side-up.

The Oak Fire aftermath

This is an intersection at camp, with the road on the left leading down to the dining room, more housing areas, and lots of facilities for group sports and other activities. The road up the hill to the right goes to the housing and workrooms we use.

Just turning around from the previous view, this is what you see. The white slash at the bottom is the sun reflecting off water in the ditch that carries water down the hill. It is also referred to as a canal. Those low trees and bushes are singed. That close to camp, just through one stand of trees. That's how close the fire came.

I walk along the road. The spots are glare off my lens, not smoke. You an see a longer stretch of the ditch, flowing downward.

You know I don't walk very far, so you know how shortly the stark landscape comes into view.

The ditch once more, and charred trunks of trees which have been felled. I don't know whether they're too far gone to salvage for lumber. Kinda looks like they might be. There are stacks of logs scattered in the area that are cut to mill length. I presume they're for salvage.

New life emerging

*     *     *     *     *

2015 Fall Quilt Camp Group Portrait

R.I.P. Gloria Silva 
(white shirt, front row center)
Gloria passed away shortly after Quilt Camp.
She had not been feeling well at camp.