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.


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