Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Tree Hunt

Mark starts into the forest to find our Christmas tree.
November 29, 2015

This morning Sarah, Chris, Mark, Chris's mom Brenda, and I made the 45-minute drive in Brenda's truck into the area of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest where we would track and hunt down our wily prey: the elusive Christmas tree in its natural habitat!

Beautiful scenery all around us.

The snow wasn't as deep as we'd been warned it might be. It was only about 3-4 inches near the road, deeper as you hiked into the trees where it was probably closer to a foot deep, but not too bad. I've waded through hip-deep snow, which leaves you feeling like you've run a marathon (not that I'd know anything about that...), so this was doable.

The further we hiked in, the deeper the snow became.

Even the temperature was bearable, as long as you were bundled up in a heavy jacket with gloves. It was 33 degrees and sunny when we started into the woods at 10:00, but there was also a biting wind. All around me the trees were groaning and creaking as they rocked in the wind. I tried to capture the sound in the video below, but not as clearly as I'd hoped.

Wind in the Woods

I spy my tree in the distance, just right of the group of aspens.

The others went to the right, parallel to the road, but I headed straight in. I told Mark you have to go in deep to find the best trees, where fewer people have ventured, but I guess he didn't believe me. If it weren't for my bad knee, I'd have hiked in a mile or more, but each step was painful and so I didn't dare go as far as I'd have liked. Footing in deep snow is treacherous, because you don't really know what's underneath. I would put my foot down, thinking I was stable, and then it would crunch downward six or eight inches, twisting my knee just enough to hurt. It was slow going.

Mark cuts down my chosen tree.

Eventually, everyone started wondering where I was and Mark started worrying that I got stuck alone somewhere with a wrenched knee, so he started back to where he'd last seen me. I heard him yell something from way off, so I yelled back, "Hey!" Then he found my tracks and followed them right to me.

Mark and our tree. I hope I picked a good one.

And so we "bagged' our Christmas tree for this year. Chris and Sarah had found their tree, and Brenda did, as well, so we hauled our three trees back to the road. Mark and I ended up with a different type of pine than the others. I like theirs better, actually, with fuller needles and stronger branches, although they had to settle for trees with bigger bare spots than ours. Ours will need some work, but I guess we'll see how it looks after we get it trimmed and decorated. Maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised...

Looking back from the road after we hiked out.

In the end, we spent about one and a half hours in the forest, searching and cutting and hauling. It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun, especially with family and friends. It's cheaper, too. For a $15 permit and some gas, we got a tree that would have cost nearly $50 at Walmart.

The tree hunters with their prey! Chris, Sarah, Mark, and Mary.

On our way back to the road, I told Sarah this will probably be my last Christmas Tree Hunt. Even if the doctors finally diagnose and fix my knee, there will always be something else at my age to slow me down. I'll be 62 next Christmas, and it just gets a little bit harder every year.

Chris, Sarah, and Brenda with their trees.

By next Christmas my baby will have graduated high school and moved on. Maybe then, with an empty nest, it will be time to buy myself a fake, pre-lighted tree, just tall enough to sit on a table and just strong enough to hold a few favorite ornaments.

Loading three trees into the back of Brenda's pickup.

I will miss the fun of stalking my own Christmas tree, but I have plenty of memories over the years to cherish. As it's been said, everything in its season. And I'm so grateful for the many beautiful Christmas seasons I've shared these traditions with the people I love.

Sunrise Ski Resort, owned and operated by White Mountain Apache Tribe,
is located on the other side of the highway from where we found our trees.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Giving Thanks Together

Not exactly a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting...
Sarah, Chris, Mark, Jake, and Dylan surround the family table.
November 27, 2015

Tonight, at last, we were all able to be together at the same time and give thanks while enjoying our bounteous feast. There was plenty of merriment around the table when Dylan got us all started telling what we were most grateful for this year. Jake held the salt shaker to his chest, wiped away an imaginary tear, and said, "I'd like to thank the academy..." before going on to speak of his blessings. Then Mark started right off with, "I'm thankful to not be in prison..." Amongst the laughter and kidding around, there was deep gratitude expressed for all God has given us.

Mark eclipses Chris's face with his turkey drumstick.

Above all else, I am grateful for my so-very-not-traditional family and the love and laughter we share and the hardships we face together. We are far from perfect, but the bonds are real. I truly can't imagine my life without each of these goofballs. The only thing that could have made the evening sweeter would have been if Jacob and Danielle had walked through the door to join us.

Our feast included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, rolls,
and low-carb green bean casserole (which was quite good, actually).
And yes, after 4 weeks of eating right, I cheated. I cheated badly.

I indulged in mashed potatoes, as planned, but I also had a bit of corn and two rolls. Worse yet, I finished up the night with two slices of pie: one chocolate silk pie (not the low-carb pie I'd intended to make) and the other my personal favorite, razzleberry pie. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to curl up in my bed and fall into a carbohydrate coma. Good-night!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

No-Feast Thanksgiving Day

Mary helps Dylan string Christmas lights around the living room.
November 26, 2015

As has happened every year since my children began working in retail, our Thanksgiving feast has been rescheduled. Last year we had to wait until Sunday, but this year we're only pushing it back one day. I'm the only person who's not working the whole weekend (one of the perks of being a teacher). At least two of the people in my family are working each of the next four days, and none of them on schedules that match up. Not even close.

Tomorrow, in fact, four of the six of us are working, all on different shifts. However, since everyone will be off at or before 6:00, we'll have our Thanksgiving dinner around 6:30 tomorrow (Friday) night. It just means I won't have much help with the cooking, but at least we'll have a few hours to be together. That's what counts most.

I was only using my middle finger because my other fingers were holding onto a tack!

So tonight it will be simple meatloaf and salad for dinner. Meanwhile, we spent a few hours doing pre-Christmas-tree preparation. Dylan put on some Christmas music for us, and then he cleaned his bedroom, Jake cleaned the front bathroom, I cleaned my bedroom, and Dylan hung Christmas tree lights around the living room. That's an old family tradition from when our kids were small and Mark would string musical lights around the room.

We no longer have those musical lights, but last year Dylan bought new lights and resurrected the old tradition he remembered with fondness. Now that his dad is back with us, he would have happily helped Dylan, but Mark was one who had to work all day today. (And then Dylan works 5:30 to midnight tonight for Black Friday. Even though it's still Thursday...)

Almost halfway done!

With the rest of the house tidied up, on Saturday I'll do a deep-clean of the living room and kitchen, after which I'll bring out the Christmas decorations. Then we'll be ready to go out in the forest on Sunday morning to find and cut this year's Christmas tree. Again, it was the only morning we could go because it was the only morning of the weekend Mark could get off. 

Jake took this shot while I was making breakfast. It's okay, I guess,
but it reminds me of the old Rod Stewart song, "Maggie May":
"The morning sun when it's on your face really shows your age..."

And so, after tomorrow's Thanksgiving feast, we officially enter the Christmas season. It sure did sneak up on us this year. But for today, we hope you're enjoying a Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, fun, and an attitude of gratitude. We are thankful for each of you! Happy holidays to everyone!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Armstrong Redwoods

Dylan, Mark, Chris, and Sarah at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
Saturday, October 10, 2015

The day before we left Northern California, we enjoyed one final day of sightseeing. I really wanted my family to see the giant redwoods of the area. The most awesome of those redwood forests are, of course, located in the more distant northern parts of the state, as well as Oregon and Washington. We didn't have time to travel so far, though, so I found a redwood forest not too far from Windsor where we could still see some fine examples of the mighty redwood tree.

My original plan was to picnic and hike at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve on Friday, but we were all still worn out from our long beach drive on Thursday, so we put it off for a day. On Saturday we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the condo and didn't leave the resort until about 11:00. Then we headed south to the next town, Santa Rosa (where the mission office where Jacob served his mission is located). 

Inside Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa, California.
Subway is directly ahead, at the end, where my family was buying lunch.

I thought we'd pick up something for our picnic lunch along our way to the redwood forest, so we stopped at the Whole Foods Market at Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa. It has a very nice takeout buffet that's horribly overpriced, so we went looking for another, cheaper option. We decided to grab sandwiches at a Subway, which turned out to also be located at Coddingtown Mall, so we went back and I sent the family in to order sandwiches while I found a place to park.

I should have waited in the car. Instead, I went in to find my family, but I never made it all the way to Subway because, along the way, I found a See's Candies instead. See's Candies is a part of my culture. When I was a baby, my mom worked at a See's Candies and she was very partial to it. Often, throughout my childhood and youth, she would bring home those little white boxes filled with chocolates and toffees and brittles and lollipops. A box of See's Candies was always one of Mom's favorite gifts to receive.

So many delectable choices!

With all those pleasant childhood memories flooding in, I couldn't resist. I waited for my family inside See's, and after they joined me I spent almost $30 on chocolate goodies! That included a box of sugar-free dark chocolate walnut turtles to enjoy after I returned home to Arizona and started eating healthy again. Which I did a few weeks later... Meanwhile, I gained almost 8 lbs. during our 12 days of vacation... Groan...

The view from our picnic table.

We left Santa Rosa just after 12:30 and headed west to the tiny town of Guerneville, about a half-hour drive. At the north end of town in Guerneville is the entrance to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. It was packed. To drive into the park costs $8.00 per vehicle, but if you park outside and hike in, it's free. The lot outside the entrance was overflowing and cars were parking along the highway all the way back into town. Because of my knee, I had already decided to drive inside to limit the amount of walking I'd have to do beyond our planned hike, but I was beginning to worry that we wouldn't get in.

The parking and picnic area.

Fortunately, there were fewer people who were willing to pay to drive in, so the man at the entrance gate reassured us that we'd find plenty of parking inside. Although there were many other vehicles and fellow picnickers inside the forest, too, we drove right to the picnic area and quickly found room to park and a selection of tables at which to enjoy our Subway sandwiches. 

Mark and Mary inside a redwood near the picnic area.

Once we entered the park, it was like we'd passed through a time machine and into some long-past Jurassic period. The air was warm and moist, we were surrounded by towering trees, and the ground was covered with thick ferns, moss-covered stones, and fallen logs. Most striking to everyone in our group, though, was the sense of stillness. The air was quiet and the largeness around us seemed to swallow up all sound, even our voices. It made me feel small. Not insignificant, but as if I were in the presence of incomprehensible greatness. I wonder if this is a tiny taste of how it would feel to meet God.

Chris and Sarah inside the same redwood near the picnic area.

After eating, we began by exploring the area around the parking lot and picnic tables. Even there, we found much to see that was unique. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until we were in Santa Rosa that I'd left my memory card in my laptop at the resort, so I wasn't able to use my camera. I had to settle for my cell phone camera, so these photos of the redwoods aren't quite the quality I would have liked. Still, I hope they capture some of the beauty and the feel of the place.

Fife Creek's dry stream bed.

Dylan jumps down into Fife Creek's dry bed.

Fallen logs on a hillside.

Fallen logs and Dylan.

The sun shining through the trees was inspiringly lovely.

Fife Creek: I can imagine this place with flowing waters in the spring,
at least when California is not in a serious state of drought.

Four redwoods that grew together into one trunk.

After we'd fully explored the parking area, we drove down to the place where we wanted to start our hike. This time the few parking spaces available were taken, so Sarah, Chris, and I got out of the car. Dylan and Mark drove back to the main parking area, and we all agreed to meet up on the footpath by the Icicle Tree. Then, as soon as the guys drove away, the three of us proceeded to take the wrong path and lose ourselves! 

We were lost, but it was still beautiful.

Off the path was rugged...

...but the path itself wasn't all that smooth! Steeply down, then steeply up.

Mary and Sarah with the park's oldest tree.
Remember, as always, you can click any picture to enlarge it.

After we'd hiked for about 15 minutes, we realized we weren't going in the right direction, so we turned around and hiked another 15 minutes back to where Dylan and Mark had left us. There they were, waiting and wondering where we'd disappeared to. They'd already passed the Icicle Tree and the Colonel Armstrong Tree on their way back, so they were able to show us the correct trail.

The Colonel Armstrong Tree, 1,400 years old.
That means it was a seedling around 600 A.D.

Looking up at the Colonel Armstrong Tree. 
308 feet tall, but not quite the tallest in the park.

Chris, Dylan, Mark, and Sarah take a break at the Colonel Armstrong Tree.

Dylan and Mark pose for Sarah's camera.

Chris, Dylan, and Mark stop to check out something on Dylan's phone.
I don't recall what it was . There was no phone or Internet reception here.
Maybe it was a photo he took? Look at the size of that trunk over their heads!

Scenery along the path.

Mark and Dylan cross a bridge over Fife Creek.

After we'd hiked for about 20 more minutes (including stops along the way), we came to the Icicle Tree. This is a redwood that is covered with burls, which are like tumors that grow on different trees (not just redwoods) for some inexplicable reason. Many people value burls for a variety of reasons. Often they are collected and used in artwork, furniture, and architecture. Some are quite huge, weighing tons. 

Finally, we come to the Icicle Tree.

We saw a lot of burls on trees along our hike, but the ones on the Icicle Tree are unusual in form. Most burls are like huge knots, but this tree used to be covered with many narrow, downward-pointing burls, making it look like it was covered in brown icicles. Unfortunately, vandals have cut or broken off and carried away many of the burls over the years, but it's still an interesting specimen. There are a couple of those specific burls left, enough to help me imagine what it used to look like.

The Icicle Tree with hanging burls.

The Icicle Tree with one dangling burl visible.

Another tree on our path.

Too gorgeous for words!

When we came to the end of our path, Mark and Dylan went back for the car and Dylan drove back down to pick us up. We headed toward the entrance, with just one stop left to make.

We made one last stop to see the park's tallest tree, at 310 feet.
The Parson Jones Tree only beats the height of the Colonel Armstrong Tree by two feet,
but the Colonel Armstrong Tree beats the age of the Parson Jones Tree by 100 years!

The Parson Jones Tree

Looking up 310 feet to the top of the Parson Jones Tree.

After 3 hours in the forest of redwoods, we turned back toward the resort in Windsor for our last night. At noon the next day, Sunday, we checked out and started our journey home. As always, there were the mixed feelings of wishing it didn't have to end and looking forward to our own beds. But what an awesome vacation it was!

We return to the resort for one final night.
10 Oct 2015