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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!

James and I often say that “every day is Christmas with us” because we give each other whatever we want whenever we want. We don’t wait for holidays to spread good cheer, spend quality time with family and friends or give gifts.

We hope that all of you are having a wonderful holiday season!

So here we are, enconsed in our little Airstream travel trailer, parked on a large stretch of concrete overlooking the Pacific Ocean on this December 25th.

James reminded me this morning that this is our ELEVENTH Christmas spent together. Truly, his presence in my life is the best present that I receive each year.

The ocean is very choppy this afternoon because of a storm which swept through this morning. Spatters of rain turned to a downpour and the winds buffeted our little silver lozenge at nearly hurricane force. Then it passed, and all day it has been sunny, very windy and a brisk beachside 47 degrees.

This is the first time since Thanksgiving weekend that this RV resort is so crowded. The row of spaces closest to the ocean were mostly occupied earlier today; usually they’re empty because they’re very expensive. The two RVs immediately opposite our site which had blocked our view of the ocean are now gone, hooray.

We had originally planned to spend Christmas with my family in Sacramento, but we’re totally exhausted from our recent near-disaster experience getting stuck in the snow in The Woods on my one day off per week, on Monday. We just aren’t up to driving through heavy holiday traffic today, so we’re staying put. (The family totally understands.)

Besides, I have two shows tomorrow and I would be very tired after such a trip. No need to add stress to an already demanding week of shows.

This six-week run of “Phantom” in San Francisco has been intense, but good in many ways. It’s been nice to be regularly employed, and to make new connections with local musicians here.

We’ve also enjoyed living in our Airstream on more of a full-time basis again, getting back into the rhythm of the show routine which is so very familiar after many years of doing it.

James takes total care of me while I play eight shows a week. I wouldn’t want to do this relentless schedule without his loving, supportive presence. James makes it possible for me to perform this job night after night, week after week. It’s a demanding work routine, and his help is invaluable.

In addition to all the homemaking duties he performs to make our lives run like clockwork, he drives me to and from the train station in Colma, only a ten-minute trip from Pacifica. Then the commute is generally 15 minutes to the Civic Center stop in San Francisco, which dumps me directly at the front of the Orpheum Theatre.

Generally the trains are dependable, although I was delayed BIG-time three Sundays ago, when track maintenance and some other mysterious event (police were dashing by the our train windows, looking in, at one station) turned a 15-minute trip into nearly an hour! I made it to my chair in the theatre pit a bare two minutes before the show started.

That commuting day was very stressful, so I’ve been leaving “home” fifteen minutes earlier to give myself a bit more of a time-buffer. I’d much rather arrive early at the theatre than late.

Such is life in the Big City.  So many people depend on services like transportation and electricity, so it’s much more dramatic when they’re not available.

We have made the eight-hour round trip back to our place in The Woods twice during this run; the first time was at the beginning of this month when I wrote my most recent blog post.

The second time was this past Monday. It turned out to be “The Day off from Hell”! Nothing turned out the way we planned.

There was a heavy snowstorm in the Sierras the previous week. Even nearby Nevada City, at slightly less than 2500 feet elevation, received six inches of the white stuff.

Our nearest neighbor Darren told us that at least a foot of snow fell in our meadow, but the steep dirt roads leading to our property were reasonably clear. He was able to get his 4-wheel drive truck up the hill without chains.

We had forgotten to take our chains back to the Bay area after our previous visit in early December (dumb!) so we hoped that we’d be able to get our little car up the hill without them.

No way! We spun out about halfway up the first steep hill leading out from town.

We needed to retrieve our chains from the barn, so we backed the car down to the campground on the main street to see our friend Rich, who had an ATV — an all-terrain vehicle which can negotiate snowy roads.

James rode on the back of Rich’s ATV briefly last summer, but had never driven one. And I’d never even been on one.

Rich showed James how to shift the gears and operate the accelerator (on the right handlebar) and I clambered onto the tiny extension just behind the main seat. With a few little jerks, fits and starts, we were off!

It started snowing as I clung to James for dear life as we buzzed up the snowy, steep hill from town. We quickly passed the point at which the car had not gotten any further, and flew on.

We reached the crest of the hill and went through the gate, then it was downhill the remaining half a mile to our place. We both whooped and hollered with excitement (and on my part, a bit of fear) as we zoomed along in the gathering dusk.

There were a few moments when the ATV slipped and slid a little on the slippery road, but basically it held fast as we flew down through the winter wonderland to our barn like birds.

We got the chains and had an equally exciting mile’s ride back up and down the hills to the campground.

We thanked Rich for lending us his ATV, and then drove the car slowly to the beginning of the road leading up the hill which was still paved, and put on the chains.

This took quite a while in the heavy snowfall and in the dark. Also, it had been a year since James had put on the chains last, so it required some time to refresh his memory.

At last, we were underway up the hill, which had never looked so steep to me as it did at that moment. I held my breath as we approached the slippery section where the car had stopped previously, then let it out with a gust of relief as we successfully passed the trouble spot.

As we approached the short driveway leading to our barn, we decided to back up the car just far enough to clear the road, as it might be difficult to drive out again in the heavy snow.

It was completely dark by this time, and James didn’t see the low bush of pampas grass (which the previous owner had planted, years ago — definitely NOT an indigenous plant!)  which was partly buried in the snow behind us.

Crunch! We backed into the bush and dislodged the right lower portion of the bumper; the clips snapped off. James told me that this part of the bumper is called the “ground effects”.

It doesn’t appear to be damaged and all that (hopefully) needs to be replaced are the clips.

Well, at least we were home, finally!

We made several trips trudging through the snow to the barn with our belongings, including a couple of barrels of kerosene for our heater. We haven’t put in last year’s new wood stove yet, and have been using the kerosene heater supplemented by a small electric space heater on the few occasions of cold weather this season. Up until a week ago, it was a very mild winter in The Woods — unlike last year when we started burning wood in late October.

When we departed The Woods a few weeks ago after our first day off, James left the water trickling so we had running water for the toilet (still no working sink in the bathroom or summer kitchen, but this will happen eventually).

We pulled out our laptops and got online. I had to laugh when I thought of what a juxtaposition of elements is present here — we live in a shack in the middle of the woods with satellite internet access!

For dinner, James boiled water in a pot on our little propane stove, and threw in a frozen bag of cream chipped beef. This is affectionately known as “S**t on a Shingle”. He put some bread slices in the toaster oven and we soon had a very nice meal, eaten in bed snuggled under the covers while watching a DVD.

Overnight, it snowed a couple of inches. We got up early on Tuesday to give ourselves what we thought was plenty of time to get to James’ dental appointment near Nevada City.

Since our car had made it home fine with the chains, we didn’t think that there would be a problem getting OUT.

This was not to be.

We got in the car at 9:20, cranked it up and slowly crept up the driveway. Before the first big curve — where the grade rises — we got stuck.

James spun the front wheels in an attempt to gain traction, and ended up dislodging the chain on the right wheel. Part of the link assembly flew into the snow; it took a few minutes to find, and then a considerable amount of time to reattach it properly and then put the chains back on.

The clock was ticking. We didn’t have much time to make the dental appointment.

Chains back on. We got stuck again approaching that curve, so I retrieved the snow shovels from the barn and cleared out tracks at the steepest part.

James managed to get past this successfully, driving up the left fork of the road instead of the steeper right, then turned around to get a running start to make the right fork.

Success. Then the steepest part of hill remained. This was just before the smaller dirt road joins the larger dirt road leading down to town.

No matter what we tried, we just couldn’t get past this section, which was steep and extremely slushy now from the additional snowfall, along with slightly higher temperatures in late morning.

We walked back the quarter-mile to the barn and called our neighbor Buck, who’s also the town’s Postmaster. He agreed to come tow us out with his 4-wheel drive truck after the mail had arrived and been sorted; he could spare a few moments from the Post Office in order to help us.

Since our laptops were still in the car, we decided to play dominoes while waiting for Buck to call.

James notified the dentist that we wouldn’t be able to make his appointment, but managed to get it re-scheduled for later in the afternoon.

Over an hour went by and then the phone finally rang; Buck said that the mail still hadn’t come in because the county road was still icy, so he had to stay at the Post Office to wait for it to come in.

So then I recommended that we call Don, who owns and operates the town’s campground (where we lived temporarily in the summer of  ’07 while we got our place ready for habitation) to see if he could help us.

Don immediately agreed — hooray!

James had to call and cancel his rescheduled dental appointment; too much time had passed by then and we just couldn’t make it.

We closed up the house again and trudged back up the slushy hill to our marooned car in the middle of the road, to meet Don.

At the top of the hill where the two dirt roads join, we saw a truck towing another truck up the hill. They had come down the road, hoping to check on their place located further down the hill than our barn, only to discover our car blocking the way. The one truck which had come down the hill tried backing up and got stuck.

Luckily the truck behind them was able to tow them out.

Don arrived at just that moment with HIS truck to help us. The other trucks managed to get out of the way and Don backed down the hill towards our car.

It seemed strange to us that Don didn’t put on his chains beforehand, but since the other 4-wheel drive truck had been able to get out without them (barely), he assumed that he could, too.

Well, he promptly got stuck himself.

So we spent the next 45 minutes trying to dig and push Don out, unsuccessfully. More time was spent putting on the chains, then he was finally able to gain some traction up the hill!

He backed up towards our car and we linked together several long sections of heavy chain. Then it took a while to find a spot under the front of our car to attach the chain to.

At last we were all linked up and ready to go! Don’s truck made it up the hill and he successfully pulled our car out.

WHEW!

We detached from Don’s truck, thanking him profusely for his help.

From there, it was a relatively easy matter for us to make it up the gently sloping hill to the gate, then steeply downhill to town.

We stopped at the Post Office at the bottom of the hill, where the mail had finally arrived at 2 p.m. (several hours late) and picked up our mail which had accumulated over the past three weeks.

It was now 2:30 and we had to drive back to San Francisco in time for my 8:00 show.

This might have seemed like plenty of time to make the nearly four-hour drive, but the highways between Nevada City and San Francisco tend to be crowded during late afternoon rush-hour. Plus, there would be especially heavy traffic two days before Christmas.

Well, we got all of that, and more!

We were delayed several times near Sacramento, then again as we approached the densely populated Bay Area.

It was 5:30 when we realized that we would never make it back to where our trailer is parked in Pacifica, south of San Francisco, with enough time for me to change into my black pit clothes, then take the train back up to the City to the theatre for the show.

I needed to find a department store to buy new black clothes, then James would drop me off at an outlying train station to get to San Francisco. This would provide me with an extra hour of time.

We remembered that there was a Marshall’s in Walnut Creek, so we struggled through the holiday shopping traffic to get to the store, found a suitable pair of black dress pants and a collared shirt, waited fifteen minutes in the checkout line and then James got me to the Lafayette train station.

Twisting and turning in the passenger seat, I changed into the black clothes as James drove.

I caught the 6:20 train into the City, and arrived at the Orpheum Theatre by 7:05 — an hour before the show started. I wouldn’t have made it in time had I tried to go “home” first.

WHEW again. What a day.

Needless to say, both James and I were exhausted. We still are.

During one of our highway-as-parking-lot-moments near Sacramento, James made the wonderful suggestion that we beg off our family visit on Christmas Day, and just stay put in our trailer parked in Pacifica instead. Neither of us wanted to travel after our recent disaster — especially with double show days immediately before and after the 25th.

Great idea!

I was thankful that James took the initiative to email my sister-in-law in Sacramento to tell her about our adventure and that we wouldn’t be there for the holiday.

My family understands completely, and the “funny” thing is, they had just returned from visiting some of her relatives who live in Pacifica (quite near where we’re currently parked at the beach) and it had taken them nearly four hours to drive back to Sacramento. This is normally a two-hour trip. It was the same day that we were driving in the opposite direction to get me to the show.

I think that it was easier for them to understand our wishes to stay put, now, after having had this experience being stuck in heavy traffic themselves!

So here we are. James has been cooking a ham in the oven all afternoon as I’ve been writing this post, he’s made stuffing per my request, and cocktail hour is quickly approaching.

We’re having a lovely day here by ourselves in our little silver cocoon parked by the beach.

Happy Holidaze, All! And the happiest of New Years.

On Saturday afternoon, ominous black clouds filled the sky over the Nevada County Fairgrounds where James and I are staying in our Airstream trailer.

We are currently being hosted by the Fairgrounds management; the summer music festival is going on right here. It’s a much more convenient commute than from our place in The Woods. In fact, it takes me all of seven minutes to walk from our campsite to the concert hall.

Seeing the dark clouds made us hope for rain, which is so desperately needed all over California.

It didn’t precipitate in our immediate area, but other areas reported some brief moisture.

There was a great deal of lightning; over 3000 strikes were reported throughout Northern California which resulted in 602 wildfires.

One of these fires is burning only a mile-and-a-half from our house. We had no idea about any of this until D. called on the backstage telephone yesterday as I was about to play a concert. D. agreed to drive over from Nevada City to notify James at the trailer, since our cell phone was turned off.

They drove up to The Woods to scope things out. D. went up the hill a mile to our neighbors who are situated closest to the fire, while James stayed at our house and gathered together our musical instruments, important papers and computer equipment and put them in the truck.

Needless to say, I was somewhat preoccupied during the concert, wondering how things were going up the hill.

We finally got in touch after the concert and I had returned to the trailer and turned on the phone. James told me that the area was extremely smoky, although the fire had not crossed Scotchman’s Creek just below the neighbors’. The wind had just shifted and was coming in from the southwest, so the fire would be heading away from our neighborhood.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Several hours later, I met James and D. at D&L’s house in Nevada City to help unload the harps and trunks. We were grateful that they were willing to take care of our instruments. We transferred the trunks into the Scion where they will remain until the fire danger has passed.

Today we’ve been in touch with the neighbor as well as L., who told us that the fire is not spreading further, but is smouldering out. Hooray! The winds are light and are not expected to pick up much, so the fire should stay confined to the ground — rather than igniting the tops of the trees, which would be very bad.

Our neighbor will let us know immediately if there is a change for the worse.

On another note: the music festival is going well, although the pace of rehearsals and concerts is very hectic. I can’t believe how much playing I’m doing! And this is immediately after performing sixteen shows in a row of Phantom.

It feels very good to play and it is wonderful to see my old musical colleagues again, but I wish I had more time off to rest. Today is the first free day I’ve had since June 2nd.

Today won’t really be free, however, because I need to practice a brand-new piece of music which we are performing tomorrow night. It’s a trio for violin, horn and piano, and is extremely difficult. Virtuosic parts for all, in fact. The composer worked with us the other day and will do so again for our final rehearsal tomorrow afternoon; then we perform the concert a few hours later.

Between practice-sessions, I am listening to a MIDI file of the piece while following the score, and am writing down cues in my horn part so hopefully I won’t get lost!

We are staying inside the trailer today because the air is very smoky, even thirty miles away from the scene of the mountain fires.

For the past ten days, James has been suffering acutely from a sinus infection, brought on by allergies to cottonwood and other things blooming around here. He’s been so ill that he spends most of the time lying down. He was starting to feel better yesterday but then the smoke aggravated his sinus condition. He finally went to the clinic today and has begun taking antibiotics.

It always distresses me when James is sick — it doesn’t happen very often but really zaps him when it does.

Last year at this time, I was the one who was sick (with bronchitis) which lasted for over two months.

Our global environment seems less and less hospitable than it used to be.

Here is a video of bringing the Airstream down from The Woods to the Nevada County Fairgrounds last Wednesday. In all the excitement, I forgot to take footage of our actual arrival at the campground, so I’ll take pictures of our current location next time.

Rupert rode with me in the Scion and was pretty good, although he vocalized his usual displeasure of traveling in the car.

Summer weather arrived a month early, as though a switch suddenly flicked on. This happened a couple days ago and the high temperatures are expected to continue through the weekend.

It is not often that the West Coast has the highest temperatures in the country; Arizona, Texas, Florida and parts of the Midwest usually have us beat.

A ridge of high pressure hangs over the Pacific coast, creating unusual heat for this time of year. As a rule, we do not experience this kind of weather until late June or July.

It reached 91˚ In The Woods yesterday. We were tempted to jump in the river, except that the water is still very cold this early in the season. James joked that we should buy wet-suits!

Our bodies are trying to adjust to this abrupt turn of events. We’re used to sleeping with lots of blankets, which are now way too heavy at night. I suggested that we pack away the flannel sheets we’ve used since last Fall, but James thinks it will cool off again. He’s probably right.

He reminded me that when we first arrived here last June, it SNOWED on the upper highway, and there was sleet in our little valley. So this heat-wave is probably a false summer, and we hope that it is temporary.

James brought out his sarong and retired his sweats. He put away his heavy clogs, took off his socks and donned flip-flops. He took off his shirt.

I quickly followed suit. Although I was rather awkward wearing a sarong last summer, my reservations seem to have disappeared this year. It truly is more comfortable, and the best way to deal with the heat — especially since we don’t have air-conditioning.

I may even come to feel at ease wearing a sarong around people when they visit us, but I am NOT quite ready to parade in a skirt on the streets of “Big Town”!

If someone were to come along this way and see us in this get-up, they would probably think that we belong to some sort of far-out religious order. Perhaps that assessment is accurate — James and I are sort of in an “monastery of two”.

We could probably walk around naked on this land if we wanted to (and have, briefly, on occasion), but we don’t want to scare the summer people. Much.

So a sarong feels perfect here.

We used them as window coverings all winter. Now that we’ve taken them down to wear, the early morning light filters into the Music Room and urges us out of bed.

This is a very good thing, because the early morning is the coolest and most pleasant time to be awake and productive in the summer.

We got up shortly after six today (early for us former “theatre people”!) and James suggested that I bring the video camera out to an area of the Woods which he calls “The Secret Garden”. A great variety of spring flowers are popping up, almost overnight.

I don’t know that much about flowers, but could identify buttercups, mountain daisies, several kinds of lupine (lots of that!) two varieties of Indian paintbrush, star tulips (very rare here) and bluebells.

When the large and small kinds of Indian paintbrush arrived a few days ago, I took the following pictures:

Mountain flowers have a subtle, economical beauty; they’re often tiny. The visual impact doesn’t hit you over the head like a field of tulips would; you have to look closely to appreciate the mountain flowers’ charms. They are here for a fleeting moment, then soon disappear and are replaced by new varieties.

The blankets of lupine in the meadow are a bit more dramatic. You’ll see them towards the end of the video. We think they’re gorgeous.

Our little part of The Woods is located in a bowl-shaped valley, ringed by mountains on all sides.

Whenever we descend the six miles of county road down to town, it feels like going back to the womb, enveloped by comfort and warmth.

The county road begins at the top of the ridge at 4500 feet, then wends its way down in a corkscrew fashion through many hair-pin turns to the Yuba River and to town, at 2600 feet.

That’s quite a drop in elevation.

James uses the term “micro-climate” to describe our environment, and it is true. These mountains often protect this area from the ice and snow which hits the surrounding geography, as is happening with today’s storm.

“Hey, look at this!” James said a few minutes ago. I went over to his computer which showed a radar weather map of our current weather conditions.

You can actually SEE the bowl which encompasses our immediate area, which is colored green to indicate rain. It is surrounded by pink, which is ice.

This is where we live! Pretty amazing.

After our recorder adventure in Nevada City on Wednesday, we stayed at home to rest yesterday.

We knew that snow was expected today but thought that we could get our grocery shopping finished back down in “Big Town” before the first of two storms hit.

We left The Woods at 10:30 this morning. It was raining as we headed up the county road to the state highway, then changed to snow as we neared the summit at 4500 ft.

The road conditions into Nevada City were fine, although as we passed Five Mile House (aptly named since it’s five miles outside of town) we noticed that the highway department had set up a chain restriction checkpoint in the opposite direction, heading towards Reno.

This was still in place several hours later when we came back up after our errands. It was snowing a little harder then, but only a dusting of accumulation was on the ground.

The road looked fine to James and me; we really didn’t need chains, especially since the turn-off to our town was well before the elevation truly climbed.

I suggested asking the officer if we could pass the checkpoint without chains since we were local residents, but James figured that the road would get more snowy as we neared our turn-off, and the chains might be necessary.

He installed them on both front wheels with increasing skill and speed; he’s already done this on several occasions this winter.

There was a hand-printed sign at the side of the road which stated: “Buy and install chains $50. Install chains $30. $15 to remove”. Wow, what a racket!

One young woman in a large SUV needed chains. The highway worker busily installed them on the vehicle’s huge tires; he had a large pair of heavy-duty shears which he used to cut the chain links to fit the wheels. James remarked later that these $50 chains were probably cheap and wouldn’t last more than one trip.

We clacked and clanked along the nearly snow-free highway at 25 mph. The groves of pine trees flanking the road were dusted with snow — so pretty. It looked like spun sugar.

Gradually a line of cars accumulated behind our slower-moving vehicle. It seemed to take forever to reach the turn-out to let the cars pass.

At such a slow speed, I pretended that it was 1910 and that we were rattling along in our Model T, which would have been a rather brisk pace in those days. This fantasy kept me entertained and less impatient.

Other than one short stretch of roadway that had a hint of snow, chains really weren’t needed. Both James and I thought it was “overkill”, but then again, it was better to be safe than sorry.

We also knew that Five Mile House was the only wide spot in the road which could be utilized for chain installation and removal, so today’s excursion was really just a minor inconvenience.

As we turned onto our county road, we recognized the owner of the General Store approaching the intersection in his truck, ready to enter the highway. We asked him how the road was down the hill, and he said that there were a couple of slippery spots.

So we decided to keep the chains on for a while, but as the elevation dropped quickly, the road was suddenly free of snow. We pulled off to the side and removed the chains, and shortly thereafter, the snow flurries abruptly changed to rain. Not a snowflake to be seen in town.

It’s fascinating to see how quickly the weather changes according to the elevation. A few hundred feet along the road can be the difference between rain and snow.

Once home, we unloaded our groceries with a sigh of relief. A bigger storm is forecast to blow through here tomorrow afternoon. It’s projected to be not quite as severe as the one Northern California experienced on January 4th (when our power was out for eight days) but there will probably be strong winds, lots of rain, and snow in the upper elevations.

It’s great that we don’t have to be anywhere until next Wednesday, our second rehearsal with the recorder group. We do so enjoy being at home, just the two of us.

For over two weeks now, the sun has shone brilliantly and unfailingly here in Northern California. Ever since the last snowstorm earlier this month, in fact.

The blanket of white recedes a bit more each day, as temperatures reach 60+ degrees when the sun is at its peak.

The meadow shows half-bare ground now. It’s interesting to see just where the sun shines the most and where it shines the least — very easy to determine with the snow patterns.

I’m somewhat surprised that the blanket of snow on the south/southeast side of the barn is nearly unbroken; that area must get less sun than I thought.

Cat Rupert picks his way gingerly around the remaining snowdrifts, which is funny to watch. He spends more and more time outdoors each day.

James and I have gotten into the habit of eating our lunch on the back patio, which he calls the “Sky Deck” because of the excellent view of the meadow, the mountains in the background, all framed by that glorious big sky.

It was quite warm on the Sky Deck yesterday. After eating, we removed our shirts and soaked up the sun for half an hour. We’ve been doing that for a week and think that our dispositions have improved as a result of getting more vitamin D lately. It also seems to be boosting our energy levels.

The sun doesn’t dip behind the mountain until 4 p.m. now; during the height of winter it disappeared by 1:45.

But is winter really over? I don’t think so.

In California in the first part of February, we often experience what residents call “false Spring” or “faux Spring”. This often happens after severe storms at the end of January. Suddenly, the sun comes out and STAYS out, day after day. Temperatures rise, along with hopes for winter to be over.

If the period of sunshine and warmth is protracted enough, buds appear on the bare trees and daffodils arrive early.

But Mother Nature can play tricks by suddenly bringing on a freeze, perhaps accompanied by snow. Back to winter for another month, maybe as long as six weeks.

According to the weather forecast, we’re about to experience colder weather this week. Today is the first day it’s been overcast, and snow is predicted on Thursday.

James and I took a walk around the area yesterday afternoon, noting that all the snow is gone under the stands of evergreens. As we wandered along the trails, whiffs of pine needles assailed my nostrils. Occasionally we encountered pockets of warm air, as though we were entering a “hot spot”.

But it doesn’t feel like Spring just yet. I ain’t got the fever, so to speak.

Tell that to the meat-bees and stink-bugs which are already making an appearance! Please go away and come back some other day.

But you raucous yet beautiful bluejays — you can stay! It’s nice to see y’all again.

Our most recent snowfall was last Sunday. The weather has given us a break with sunny skies and slightly warmer daytime temperatures ever since, for which we’re very thankful. The forecast calls for continued clearing over the next few days.

Our “weekend warrior” neighbors C., D. and five-year-old son Carson got stuck in their 4-wheel drive truck on the little dirt road leading from our house on Sunday afternoon, while leaving for their regular house in the SF bay area. It had snowed (very wet and slushy) off and on all that day.

Husband D. tried going up the snowy, muddy path too fast and ended up spinning out, creating deep ruts in which his truck became mired.

His wife C. and Carson walked down to our place to ask for our help. Poor gal! — she was so distraught; truly in an altered state, totally freaked out, even on the verge of tears.

My heart went out to her; I’ve experienced this kind of over-reaction to disturbing events myself in the past. In calm voices, James and I tried to reassure C. that they would get out successfully.

James walked up the road to lend his assistance, while I stayed behind to tend the fire.

He encouraged D. to back up and try going up the hill again, avoiding the worst of the ruts which D. had created, and finally did manage to get the truck out!

Our other neighbors R. and L. were also on hand to help — L. has a Bobcat with a front-end loader (his regular plow attachment was broken) which he used to plow the snowy roads. Thank god for L.!

His wife R. was very helpful also; she had strips of tar-roofing material with sandpaper on one side to help the tires gain traction in the worst spots.

R. suggested that we get OUR car out of that mess at the same time as well, since we needed to leave for the Central Valley the next day. She and D. helped me push our little Scion (with chains) over the bad ruts and James got it safely up the hill.

Whew. What a quagmire!

I was a funny sight on Monday, trudging up the muddy, slippery road through the woods with my classic French horn “snail” case in one hand, and knapsack in the other. James carried our bag of shoes, since we were wearing our Mukluk snow boots. We just had to get off the hill for my first rehearsal with the Modesto Symphony that evening!

This was my first time playing with the orchestra and I didn’t want to cancel because of snow; they might not call me again.

We walked a half-mile to where James had parked the car. This is almost as good a story as the all-too-familiar one about having to walk six miles through the snow to school.

Well, not quite as good, but it’ll do.

After the evening rehearsal in Modesto, we drove up to my brother’s house in Sacramento to stay overnight, and then came back to The Woods on Tuesday morning.

We decided to park the car in the same place at the top of the hill, because the roads were still quite slippery yesterday.

This afternoon, we walked up the hill to the car with my suit-bag containing my concert “uniform” (white tie and tails, to put in the car in preparation for tomorrow’s return to Modesto for the remaining rehearsals and two concerts Thurs-Sat.) to check on the ruts and overall condition of the road.

The road is a bit better today; the ruts have dried out a little and the mud has frozen over somewhat, so we drove the car back down to our place and feel confident that we can get back out in the morning.

It’s amazing how much easier it was to walk up the hill this afternoon, in contrast to our snowy, muddy trek on Sunday.

We’re very glad that we were able to bring the car to the barn today, so that we won’t have to carry our big, heavy cat Rupert in his bulky carrier-cage (along with my horn and a bigger bag with our clothes for three days, since we’ll be staying in Sacramento) a half-mile up the hill tomorrow!

Our neighbor R., who is somewhat of a local activist, suggested to us that we form a “road association” with the other neighbors to solve these issues with our little dirt roads — we could add drainage pipes, some support for the edges and gravel on the worst sections. This is an EXCELLENT idea to which we agreed wholeheartedly.

There are finally enough “cool” people living in this general area now, who can implement these ideas effectively.

I look forward to living the “other” part of my life, my professional symphonic one, over the next few days.

But then it will be a distinct relief to get back up the hill to our little Slice of Heaven In The Woods on Sunday!

Earlier this week, a series of storms swept over Northern California which resulted in heavy snow accumulations in the Sierras. We got about a foot of it here In The Woods over several days.

This is on top of the few inches remaining from the earlier storms a few weeks ago.

The locals say that this is an ‘unusually heavy winter’. James and I laugh at this, because it seems that wherever we have traveled over the past few years, the weather has been “un-yooo-sual”. Either very hot or cold.

We don’t mind the snow as long as we don’t have to DRIVE in it.

The white stuff is really quite beautiful in the woods — unspoiled by cars and footprints, except for the tracks made by deer and by us.

It is especially gorgeous on the trees. James and I took a few pictures of the evergreens festooned with snow, a very fleeting beauty because it falls off the pine needles as soon as the sun hits them and the temperature rises.

Here’s a shot of various snowy trees to the side of the barn:

This is a big tree in the meadow:

 

James and I like to call these trees “The Three Sisters”, even though more show in the background. We can see them out the Music Room window:

 

Remember the liquid amber, featured earlier in the Fall? Here it is in its winter glory:

 

During a break in the second storm on Thursday, I took some shots of the “snow curtains” hanging from the Music Room windows:

 

This is a great shot from inside, looking out:

 

…and looking at the Bunkhouse:

 

James took this shot of the icicles:

I also took a video of the two main storm events. The first was on Tuesday the 29th; then we had a break on Wednesday. We managed to get down to “Big Town” for supplies — thank god for chains! Then the last storm was on Thursday — only yesterday, but it seems longer ago than that.

I had a devil of a time editing nine minutes of video footage to just under four. Thank goodness for James’ help today! I finally asked him for assistance. He’s an excellent editor because he’s a visual artist and has a good eye for film — screen shots, transitions, pacing, all of that. I couldn’t have done it nearly as well without him.

We both learned a lot from playing around with this snow video. Enjoy!

The day after my last handwritten entry was Thursday, Jan. 10th. We woke up to find that the power was still out.

We turned on the radio and heard the following news: that there were still little pockets of settlements in Nevada County without power, especially in the Sierras where it was difficult for PG&E crews to repair the lines. Yep, that’s us.

For the first time all week, our actual TOWN was mentioned by name as one of the last spots to get power restored — projected for Saturday.

SATURDAY??? A total of eight days without power, except for that brief respite on Day #2.

James and I had hoped that the electricity would be back on by Friday at the latest; we could have held out at our place In The Woods until then — but just barely.

The trailer batteries were nearly dead by Thursday morning, which we could tell by the very dim interior lights. This meant that we soon wouldn’t be able to pump water out of the tanks.

Wood and heating was not a problem, at least, after James had figured out how to split the logs “the old-fashioned way”. But the water situation was critical, and we couldn’t imagine being without it for two more days.

Besides, we hadn’t showered in nearly a week, and our food supply was running short.

On Wednesday, I chatted with my sister-in-law in Sacramento and mentioned the possibility of needing to come down and stay with the family if the power wasn’t on soon. So she wasn’t surprised when I called the next day to say we were about to pay them a visit.

We just didn’t think we could make it until Saturday afternoon. Rats!

James said he felt like we were “giving up” and I knew exactly what he meant. For five days we had hung in there and dealt successfully with the power outage, and expected to make it until it was back on. All week, the local news reports had led us to believe this, but the repairs were slower than anticipated. We weren’t surprised; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

We were definitely in an altered state-of-mind as we threw a few things together (including a big bag of dirty laundry!) and loaded them into the snow-bound car parked in front of the barn.

James put the cable chains on the front wheels and I swept off at least a foot of snow off the car.

Oh boy, we were going to have us some FUN getting out of the driveway and up the snowy little road, around a serious curve, followed by a section with a huge rut which was difficult in the best of conditions, then onto a slightly larger dirt road leading down to town! But once we gained this road, we would be home-free.

With cat Rupert sitting rather calmly in my lap, we set out.

I’m proud of James’ driving. He first learned how to negotiate the backwoods trails of central Florida in a jeep when he was only eight years old! So he handled our bumpy, rutted, snowy and now muddy little roads (more like trails) with expert aplomb.

We were amazed at the amount of snow along the main road on the way to Nevada City. Then suddenly it vanished just above town, at about 3000 feet elevation.

This is interesting, because our place is at approximately 2700 feet. But since we’re in our own little “micro-climate” nestled in a canyon by the river, we got quite a bit of snow.

We made a brief stop at In&Out Burger in Auburn and then we arrived at my childhood home in Sacramento, now occupied by my brother and his family, by late Thursday afternoon.

Not only did it feel STRANGE to be in civilization again — after being totally immersed in our rustic woods lifestyle — it was a shock to see bright lights and hear the hum of electric appliances and the blaring of the television.

The two grizzled, smelly mountain men coming down the hill to the Big City!

When James toted the huge sack of dirty laundry into the service porch, my brother remarked, “Who’s the dead body?”

James and I usually stay in the bungalow (called “Yonder House”) which my parents had occupied during their last years behind the main house in which I grew up.

This place is so airtight that when the doors or windows are opened and closed, there’s a “vapor-lock” sucking sound. It’s like the USS Enterprise on Star Trek.

Talk about being diametrically opposed to our usual living space in the leaky, not-quite-completely insulated Music Room out In The Woods! There, we can see cracks of daylight through small gaps in the boards at one end of the room near the ceiling, with tendrils of insulation hanging down.

Our floor is concrete, while Yonder House has mostly wall-to-wall carpeting.

A large television is in an imposing console on one wall of the livingroom. We haven’t owned a TV since 2002, although we fall into its dubious charms whenever we have access to one.

There are two bathrooms with shower stalls. One of the first things we did after bringing in our stuff and greeting the family was to take warm showers. Ahhhh!

Then I felt a bit more normal; the shock of being back in civilization was starting to fade a bit.

This was helped along by a much-deserved cocktail. Or two.

James and I always seem to find ourselves regaling the family with our stories of living In The Woods. Hopefully they are not bored; they don’t appear to be whenever we sit down at the round kitchen table to describe our lives up here.

We sure had a lot to tell them this time.

We’ve finally gotten them to understand that winter is NOT the time to come visit us. They haven’t seen our little “slice of heaven” yet. James jokes that when they finally do experience it, they’ll say that we’re even more crazy than they already think we are!

James and I enjoyed several pleasant days with the family. We were very lucky to see my niece and her friend on college break, who just happened to be staying at the house for a few days before flying off to Boston.

We attended my nephew’s district honor band concert on Saturday afternoon (he plays string bass), which was quite enjoyable. The kids played impressively; the guest conductor got a lot out of them. It was an amazing performance.

On Friday and Saturday we ran errands and pumped money into the local Sacramento economy; new tires for the car; new (real!) chains which are much easier to deal with than cables; a stylish and functional Hoover vacuum which matches our decor (very important!) and a wonderfully quiet GENERATOR for those future power outage moments!

We would have been fine up In The Woods if we’d had a generator.

We came back up the hill on Sunday afternoon, after stopping at the grocery store in Nevada City to stock up.

The power was ON at home – thank god!

We learned a great deal over this challenging week, and will be much better-prepared the next time the electricity goes out.

OH! Here’s the video I promised you. I took it on Wednesday, Jan. 9th which was Day #5 of the power outage. It’s funny that I didn’t mention it even once; I just focused on enjoying the beautiful snowy scenes all around us.

It really was gorgeous.