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Over the past month, James and I have lived at the beach in Pacifica, the central valley in Sacramento, back at our home in the mountains, and NOW, in the completely different vibe of LA-LA land.

Backtracking…

The Beach
We spent the first day of 2009 with my cousin S. She lives in a quaint fisherman’s cottage, a stone’s-throw from Half Moon Bay.

It was a gorgeous noon, sunny and mild. We walked along the water along with many other beach wanderers and enjoyed the springlike weather, and laughed at S.’s two dogs frolicking with the crowd and other canines.

Here’s a shot of a little Australian boy who was perfect for the camera:

I’ve very much enjoyed reconnecting with my cousin, who I hadn’t seen in thirty years.

We had been very close as kids, since S. lived in San Francisco and I was in Sacramento, and our families would get together several times a year.

In high school I moved to the East coast and I didn’t see S. again until after I’d graduated, when I visited the West coast. Then we went off to our respective music conservatories (Cincinnati, Baltimore) during our college years.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen S. since she was in Baltimore, at the end of 1978. I was in the city for an audition with the orchestra, and stayed with my cousin and her college roommates in a big, rambling house that they rented. (I was playing in the Nashville Symphony at the time.)

Working in the San Francisco bay area for six weeks during the holidays provided me with a chance to connect with a few friends and relatives that I hadn’t seen in years. But the show schedule is always relentless and it was challenging to set aside little chunks of free time to see people.

I’m glad that S. and I found time to visit on two occasions during my sojourn in the Bay area. I look forward to having her come visit us in the Woods when the weather warms up.

Here are some shots taken during our stay at the San Francisco RV resort in Pacifica:

I faced away from the beach as I took this picture on the night of a Full Moon:

The view towards the ocean:

Early on in our visit, I had James take this shot of Ringo and me:

Rupert trying out his new scratching post:

It was challenging to practice horn in the small space of the trailer. I used a mute to dampen the sound.

Whenever James and I walked a few blocks to the grocery store with Ringo, I stayed outside with the dog while James went inside to shop. I sat on a nearby bench and watched the passerby, many of whom smiled at Ringo and often stopped to chat. Having a dog is a good way to meet people!

I finished the very successful Phantom run in San Francisco on January 4th, then had a rehearsal with the Modesto Symphony (in the central valley) the next evening. James and I made the two-hour drive there and back the same day, arriving back in Pacifica at midnight.

We decided to stay at the beach a couple more days, to allow the road conditions to further improve at home in the Woods. We didn’t want to repeat the disaster of getting stuck as we had on our previous visit! Every mild day that passed would increase our chances of being able to get our trailer back up the hill and parked in front of our barn.

The Valley
We left the beach on the 7th and went to Sacramento (on the way home) to see our family. We had regretted missing them at Christmas and looked forward to spending time with my brother, his wife and my niece and nephew. The latter was home from music school in Boston and I was anxious to hear about his first months there. He’s maturing so quickly!

Originally we had planned to spend only a few days in Sacramento, staying in our Airstream parked in the family driveway, and then venture on up the hill for home.

But a drive up to the Woods for a brief exploratory visit that weekend convinced us to wait another few days, as that last steep dirt road to our place (where we had gotten stuck just before Christmas) was still covered with ice and snow. Nearly a foot of snow continued to blanket the meadow and area around the barn, which doesn’t get much sun this time of year. It would be very difficult to back the trailer over that slippery mess. It was best to wait a few more days.

So it was fine to go back down to the valley to hang out with the family, and had a lovely visit. There were many excellent meals alternately prepared by my sister-in-law and James, while my brother is a master at the barbeque grill.

My niece and nephew, home from college on break, had a steady stream of their friends in and out of the house. The place was very much enlivened by their presence and we all enjoyed each other’s company, an extended family. There were several meals in which we managed to fit ten people around the huge round table in the diningroom. What fun!

James and I both preferred staying in our Airstream in the driveway rather than in the guest house as we usually do when we visit the family in Sacramento, because it’s our own familiar, intimate space. It also minimized the hectic atmosphere in the main house, at least a little bit.

My father designed and built this adobe brick house in 1952, and it is amazing that it continues to be the family home.

The weather in Sacramento was unseasonably sunny and warm for January. The standard winter day there usually entails fog and cool temperatures. We were very thankful that the weather was so nice while we were there, although the region desperately needs rain.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country suffered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Living in California can feel like being on another planet, in more ways than one! (Especially in the southern portion of the state, which I’ll get to in a moment.)

The Woods
We finally took our leave of the family in Sacramento on the 18th, and towed the Airstream back up to our home in the Woods. There were a few slippery sections on the steep dirt road where it was shady, but not enough to pose a serious problem.

However, there was still quite a bit of ice and snow in front of the barn where we wanted to park the trailer.

The truck’s wheels spun on the ice as we tried to back up the rig to level it properly. We spent the next hour-and-a-half trying to move it a few inches. We finally thought of putting tire doormats under the truck’s back wheels, which helped.

A neighbor happened to pass by and he suggested that we put a series of boards under the trailer wheels rather than try to back it up on the large metal chocks, which we usually use to level the trailer on uneven ground.

This worked! The trailer was finally level, on a combination of snow, ice and mud.

Besplattered with mud from head to toe, we thanked the neighbor and James filled the Airstream’s water tank directly from the well so that we could have running water inside. He needed to replace the pipes by the pump and by the faucet in the barn that had burst in our absence.

It was so nice to be home!

The peace and quiet. The lovely views of evergreens and mountains.

Temperatures were mild all last week and the snow and ice gradually receded, helped along by much-needed rain for several days. The trailer needed to be leveled again as the ice melted.

Here is a shot of the snow behind the barn, near the meadow. This area doesn’t get much sunshine during the winter as the sun dips behind the mountain in early afternoon. As you can see, there was still plenty of snow even a month after the storm:

It was quite different to live in the trailer rather than in the Music Room as we had done last year. The Airstream is so much easier to heat! James had basically spent three months last winter tending the woodstove, so we wanted to see what it was like to spend the winter in the trailer this time. As we had lived in it full-time since before Thanksgiving anyway, it was a very familiar, comfortable feeling to be in that small, cozy space.

We still need to install the new woodstove in the Music Room. Meanwhile, we are using a combination of kerosene heater and small portable electric heater, which warms up the large room quite adequately during my horn practicing sessions.

I needed to keep in strong playing shape for my upcoming stint on Principal horn in Phantom in Los Angeles this week. I prefer playing the horn in the Music Room rather than in the small confines of the trailer. Brass instruments like a lot of space!

It was also nice to play my three harps again. I had to devote quite a bit of time tuning them, as the cold temperatures had changed the strings’ pitch, and a couple of strings had snapped.

It always amazes me how musical instruments feel “dead” when they haven’t been played in a while, and how they magically come alive when they are played.

Of course, our dog Ringo loves the Woods. The wolf part in him definitely comes out as we walk the trails. It was nice not to have to pick up his poop as we did at the RV park at the beach, and he was much more calm not having to sniff the traces of numerous other dogs.

The week went by in a pleasant blur. Neither of us wanted to leave our beautiful slice of heaven on Sunday, but duty called! We needed to get to Los Angeles for my week of Phantom.

We woke up on Sunday morning to find three inches of new snow on the ground! And it was still snowing heavily at 9:30 a.m.

We had intended to leave the Woods in late afternoon, but decided to get the heck out of there immediately, before the roads became difficult to navigate.

So we threw a minimum of things together and packed them into the car, along with the dog and cat, and managed to escape just in time.

It amazed me that only twenty miles down the hill, there was no snow whatsoever in Nevada City.

We spent the day at my brother’s house in Sacramento, and stayed overnight. Although the kids are back at college, one of my nephew’s friends is staying in the guest-house and the five of us had an enjoyable dinner together at the Big house.

We left Sacramento at 10 a.m. on Monday morning.

LA-LA land
The weather on our drive down the state was beautiful — sunny and cool. Interstate 5 is often a very boring road to travel, but it is considerably faster than State highway 99.

We arrived at the huge, sprawling apartment complex at Toluca Lake (in the Hollywood Hills) in late afternoon. Traffic was zippy and aggressive but not too horrible on Highway 101 going towards L.A. at 4 p.m. I imagine that it got worse not long after.

We’re staying in a one-bedroom corporate apartment which is completely furnished. It feels HUGE to us! We would have preferred a studio but they were all taken.

This complex was built in the ’70s and has seen better days, although it is certainly tolerable for one week. Our apartment is on the end of the building and has nice wrap-around windows in the corner of the livingroom.

At the front desk, I had to sign an affidavit accepting the fact that the walls contain lead. “Don’t be licking the walls,” the clerk quipped.

There are twenty-six large buildings nestled in these hills, from A to Z. We are in building Q. No comment!  😉

Parking is at a premium. The tiny, narrow spaces fill up completely in the late afternoon after work. When James picked me up from the theatre at 10:45 p.m., we had to park in another lot further away from our building.

After we had brought our possessions into the apartment and made a cup of tea, we ventured out to a nearby Vons grocery store (in Hollywood) for supplies.

What a trip that store was.

Lots of trendy, packaged foods. Young women wearing black jeans and t-shirts with gold sequins, spelling “PINK” on their butts. Older women in power black suits with lots of gold jewelry and major attitude. People racing their shopping carts with great urgency down the narrow aisles, as if they were speeding in their cars down the congested highways.

Everyone on cell phones.

I imagined that there would be a wide selection of health foods since Southern California has such an emphasis on keeping fit. There was indeed a wide array of juice drinks in attractive bottles, but not many natural juices. There was no bulk food health section. Almost everything is packaged in eye-catching and glitzy ways.

The produce was adequate but not inspired. The aisles were very narrow and the attitudinal women racing here and there got on my nerves.

All of a sudden, all the commercials and TV programs make much more sense, watched in this setting of L.A. It’s like a light bulb has gone off in my head. Most of the commercials here are different than the ones shown further north. I have never seen so many weight loss, home fitness “systems” and weight-reduction surgery ads as I have here!

My first Phantom show of the week was on Tuesday night at the Pantages Theatre, on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

It dates from 1930. You can read its history here

The orchestra pit is twelve feet below stage level, so most of its occupants are invisible to the audience. I was amazed at how informal the musicians can be in such a setting, unseen by the public.

Several players have tables next to their music stands, where they surf the Net on laptop computers. Others are busy online with their PDAs. There is quiet laughing, joking and talking while the show is in progress, when the musicians aren’t playing.

This behavior would not be allowed amongst the traveling musicians on the road. But this is a different kind of situation, with mostly local musicians who play regularly in that particular venue. Most pits are visible from the audience, but the one at Pantages is not.

The locals have been very welcoming and complimentary to me, which I appreciate. I will enjoy the week, but am greatly looking forward to spending more time at home. At last!