Thanksgiving at Friday Harbor

New friends and great food on a busy weekend.

Since I live so far from family, I’ve gotten into the habit of spending Thanksgiving with friends. Although I got four Thanksgiving invitations this year — thanks, everyone! — I accepted the one I got first, well over a month ago: to accompany my friend Bob to Friday Harbor for Thanksgiving at his friends’ home.

The Trip Out

Friday Harbor is on San Juan Island at the very northwest corner of Washington State. It’s so far north, in fact, that it’s north of the lower end of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Getting there requires a 3-hour drive to Anacortes followed by a 1+-hour ferry ride — and that’s if Route 2 through Stevens Pass is clear and open. If Stevens is closed, add another hour to get through Blewett and Snowqualmie passes on Route 97 and I-90. Back in August, when I spent a week with a friend out at Lopez Island, I’d elected to take the helicopter out to avoid the long drive. But in winter, that didn’t seem like a reasonable possibility given the usual low clouds over the Cascades and real possibility of bad weather so I didn’t even suggest it.

San Juan Island on Map
San Juan Island is the farthest west island on this map, which also shows the mainland to the east. The black line you can see in the left top and bottom of this image is the U.S.-Canada Border.

Penny and I packed up on Wednesday and spent the night at Bob’s house. We were making an early start to catch the 8:30 ferry out of Anacortes and Bob wanted to leave at 4 AM. It was my job to keep track of the conditions in the passes so we could pick an appropriate route. WADOT offers a wealth of information about its highways and passes on its Website, including up-to-the-minute pass information and webcams. Fortunately Stevens looked good so we headed out the most direct route in Bob’s pickup. Although I’d offered to take my 4WD pickup on the trip — its tires had less than 5,000 miles on them — Bob had prepped his 2WD pickup with a set up studded snow tires, just in case weather turned bad along the drive.

Penny and Bob’s dog, Skip, settled down in the back seat for the long drive. There was no one on the road. Well, no one going our direction, anyway. We did pass a few cars coming east on Route 2. The road was clear and dry and other than a few foggy areas, easy to drive. Crossing Stevens Pass was a non event and we headed down the west side, still in the dark. The days here are short this time of year and it wasn’t until we got near I-5 that it started getting light.

We stopped for coffee at one of Washington’s ubiquitous drive-up coffee stands — honestly, how do coffee-drinking people live without these? While I chatted with the girl at the window — who was working a 6:10 AM on Thanksgiving Day, mind you — Bob took the dogs for a quick walk. Before leaving, I thanked the girl for being there and gave her a big tip to really show my appreciation. The eggnog latte was good and hot.

We stopped at Safeway in Anacortes before getting on the ferry queue. We’d brought along the fixings for quiche — 15 eggs from my chickens, along with chopped ham and scallions from Bob’s fridge — but needed a pie crust, cheese, and half-and-half. I ran in to get all these things while Bob waited with the dogs. I also bought a small Poinsettia for our hosts. I hate going anywhere empty handed — not that we were going empty-handed. In addition to our quiche ingredients, I’d brought 2 bottles of wine, a bottle of local hard cider, and a jar of honey and Bob had brought 6 bottles of Martinelli’s sparkling cider in two flavors. We had a cooler and a box full of goodies in addition to our luggage.

Inside the Ferry
Inside the ferry to Friday Harbor.

The wait for the ferry wasn’t long, but we did have time to get out and stretch our legs with the dogs one more time. Then we loaded up with the rest of the cars, winding up in the middle of the main deck on the Elwha. We hung around in the truck for a while, then went upstairs to take in the view of the islands as we sailed past. By then, it was fully light out, but overcast. The ferry boat moved along at a good clip and I used Google Maps on my phone to identify the islands as we zipped past them.

Another Ferry
Our ferry boat wasn’t the only one on the water that gray morning.

Ferry View
A look back down the deck of the ferry.

Thanksgiving Day with Friends

The ferry was an express that stopped at Friday Harbor and Sidney, B.C. only. We got into Friday Harbor just before 10 AM. From there, it was a short drive to Liz and Brad’s house on 20 acres. I think they were surprised to see us so early. Liz was just putting in the turkey.

The Pond
The pond behind Liz and Brad’s house shortly after Penny chased away all the ducks.

Bob and Skip
Bob and Skip pose for a photo at American Camp. Skip seems more interested in what Penny is doing than the camera.

After quick introductions, we established that Bob was hungry and Liz and Brad had already eaten. So Bob and I headed back out to find some breakfast in town. We wound up at a bustling local market, which was just the kind of upscale small supermarket I love, and ate breakfast sandwiches on the tailgate of Bob’s truck. Then we drove around the island to kill some time. We wound up taking a walk out at a place called American Camp, the site of an almost-war back in the 1800s. It was a good opportunity for the dogs to run around. By that time, the sky had cleared and it was becoming a beautiful day. We got as far south as the lighthouse I’d flown over back in August before heading back to the house.

The Turkey
The turkey tasted as yummy as it looked here.

Back at Liz and Brad’s house, we relaxed while the turkey cooked. Liz and I popped open that bottle of hard cider and drank almost all of it before the other guests began arriving. And there were a lot of guests. Soon the house was crowded with adults and young people drinking cider and wine and munching on crab dip, salmon spread, and hummus, chatting and having a good time.

Party Time
I took a break to snap this photo, not realizing that only half the guests had arrived at this point.

Brad carved the turkey and Liz set up a buffet line at her kitchen island. Soon, 15 of us were sitting at a pair of tables put together on an angle to fit in the dining room. The food was great — as you’d expect a Thanksgiving dinner to be — and there was a ton of it. Fortunately, I was boxed into my seat so I couldn’t easily get up for seconds. I made up for that by trying both the homemade cheese cake and apple pie for dessert.

Cleanup went quickly with so many people helping and about half of us went into the living room to watch the football game. The local team, the Seattle Seahawks, were playing the San Francisco 49ers — the perfect game for a Washington crowd. The game had started about a half hour before and Brad had DVRed it so he could fast-forward through all the commercials. I settled down on the floor with Penny on my lap. But since I’d been up since 2:30 AM — thanks to Penny needing to take a pee at Bob’s house — I was exhausted and fell asleep. I missed most of the game but woke up at the end to find the Seahawks victorious again.

The guests left in small groups after that. Soon it was just Liz, Brad, Bob, and me. We cleaned up a bit more, then retired to sleeping quarters. Penny and I were staying in the “craft room,” which was where Liz does her quilting and Brad builds large scale radio controlled airplanes that he flies on a grass strip in his back yard. The walls of the room were covered with quilts and Brad’s photos of wildlife and airplanes.

Craft Room
One of Brad’s projects in the craft room.

Black Friday — without Shopping

I slept reasonably well, waking up only once to wonder where I was. Hearing noise outside my room, I put on my slippers to join Liz while Penny went looking for and eventually found Skip. Soon Liz and Bob and I were drinking coffee while I was whipping up two quiches — one with cheddar and the other with mozzarella. I was horrified to see that I’d bought fat-free half-and-half — I mean, what’s the point, right? — but that quiche turned out just as good as the one I made with Liz’s regular half-and-half. The three of us polished off a whole quiche. Brad missed out; he had to go to work.

Afterwards, we dressed and went out for a drive in Bob’s car. It was cloudy again and cool. Liz took us to see the lavender farm, which was closed, and a handful of parks. Then we drove up to the top of a ridge where some private developer had tried (and failed) to sell 20-acre parcels that were virtually unbuildable for $210K+ each. The land now belonged to the San Juan County Land Bank, which buys up land in the area to prevent development. In the future, it would be a park with trails. We drove through Roche Harbor, where I’d flown in by helicopter for dinner with my friend Don years ago, and then headed back to Friday Harbor.

Back in town, we met up with Liz’s son Chris, his wife Kelly, and their two kids at a local holiday market. There were about 30 artists and other vendors there, selling their wares. It was refreshing to attend one of these that wasn’t full of the same southwestern stuff I’d seen over and over in Arizona when I lived there. I bought a beeswax lip balm and some locally sun-dried sea salt. I was sorely tempted by some wall sculptures, but held back by my new rule: No buying anything for my home until it’s done.

Afterwards, we went with Chris and Kelly to a house Chris and his partner are refurbishing. (Chris is a carpenter.) Originally built in the 1940s, it’s a small place with a lawn that goes down to the harbor and has the added luxury of its own boat dock. With lots of trees on its end-of-road lot, it was a pleasant location. They’d gutted the house and rebuilt it from the inside out. Although they’d been working on it for about 16 months, they were still at least a few months from completion. I looked around and got some ideas for wood trim around my windows and flooring. The countertop material, PaperStone, was amazing and I will definitely check it out for my own kitchen countertops.

From there we went back to Roche Harbor to look at another house that Brad is overseeing the construction of. This was an upscale home, 3800 square feet, with vaulted ceilings, sweeping staircases, and lots of extras. Pretty amazing for a 2-bedroom home. The two projects — Chris’s and Brad’s — couldn’t be any more different. Here, I took mental notes on the great room’s ceiling, which was tongue-and-groove cedar planks, and bathroom tile work. I also liked the track lighting, which I’d already decided to use in my hallway, which would double as a photo gallery. The home’s owner was there, fiddling around with his computer and the various light switches that made up his smart home system. Although I plan to include some smart home accessories in my place, I don’t expect to do it to the extent that he did.

Loft Ladder
I shot this photo of the ladder to the loft in Chris’s house so I could remember some of its details. My home also has a loft — mostly for storage — and I’ve been thinking of how it could be easily reached from below.

We headed back to Liz’s house and took it easy for a while, just chatting in the kitchen over tea. Later, when Brad got home from work, we headed out to Chris’s house for a taco dinner. His family lives in an expanded cabin at the end of a long, steep dirt road. We arrived and departed after nightfall, so I didn’t get a chance to really see it. But it was cosy inside, with an eat-in kitchen, sunken living room, and wood-burning fireplace. After dinner, I got so comfortable on the sofa that I almost fell asleep again.

The Trip Home

We were up at 5 on Saturday, packing up for the trip home. Bob wanted to get on the 8 AM ferry and we’d been advised to get the car on line by 6:45 at the latest. We headed out there and got the first spot in lane 3, then walked up to The Hungry Clam, which was already almost full by then. Apparently, the place exists for ferry traffic meals. Liz and Brad joined us for a big farewell breakfast.

Outside, it was very cold and very windy. There were whitecaps on the harbor. We paid the bill just as the ferry rounded the corner and headed into the dock. We said our goodbyes with a lot of hugs and promises by Liz and Brad to come see us on “the dry side,” then hurried down to the truck. Poor Penny and Skip needed a lot of hugging and rubbing to warm up!

Because the second car in line 1 was empty and there was a truck in line 2, the ferry loaders waved us aboard as the second car on the boat. This positioned us right at the front — although they didn’t load us all the way to the line. (It later became apparent why they didn’t have us drive up closer to the edge.) Ahead of us, the water was more than a little choppy and the wind was mostly blowing right in. I got out to take a photo closer to the edge and thought I was going to get blown away.

Choppy Water
I got got right up to the pedestrian rope to take this shot. It was wicked windy and cold!

We stayed in the car for the whole trip, mostly so we could periodically start it and warm it back up for the dogs. I was glad we did. The water got progressively rougher as we got closer to Anacortes. About 30 minutes out, a loudspeaker warned of the rough ride ahead. The boat rolled in the waves and we could clearly hear waves breaking across its side. Occasionally, the front end would dip down just enough to send a wave of water onto the deck. One wave came so far into the boat that it splashed the hood of the truck. There was water sloshing around all over the deck. Several of the chocks the loaders had placed around the front tires of the cars at the head of the lines got loose and washed back and forth. I think a few might have gone overboard.


This minute-long video gives you an idea of what we experienced. A larger wave than these washed over the hood of our truck, which was at least 50 feet back from the bow. You can see Mount Baker in the distance throughout much of this video.

After hearing about so many ferry accidents overseas, I admit that I was more than a little nervous — especially when the captain kept cutting power to slow us down more and more. But then we got closer to Anacortes and the water calmed a bit. Soon we were pulling into the dock and the crew was moving the ramp into position. I was very glad when Bob steered us off the boat and onto dry land.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of our homeward bound adventure. All morning long, I’d been checking conditions in the passes. Stevens Pass, our preferred route, was reporting 24° with compact snow on the roadway and snow falling. Restrictions were “traction tires advised, oversized vehicles prohibited.” But things were worse at Snowqualmie: falling snow, areas of low visibility, and chains required. It looked as if Stevens would be our route.

All around us was fresh snow that had likely fallen overnight. It was beautiful to see — I don’t think they usually get much snow on the Seattle side of the mountains. There were a lot of cars on the road, too, but not enough to make what I’d consider “traffic.” We got on Route 2 eastbound and stopped at the Sultan Bakery for some baked goods to snack on along the way. One more stop at a park-and-ride nearby for the dogs to take a break. Then back on the road for our climb up into the mountains.

Soon it was snowing on us. The road looked remarkably as it had in the webcam photos I’d studied all morning on my phone: covered with snow with just patches of pavement showing through. Bob’s studded snow tires came in handy as we followed the other cars up the mountain. Snow fell all around us. I was glad Bob was driving. I absolutely detest highway driving in the snow.

Snow on Highway 2
Snow on Highway 2 on our way to Stevens pass and beyond.

We were both very surprised to see most of the cars turn into Stevens Pass ski resort, which I didn’t realize was open. The road was worse on the west side of the pass, but soon cleared up, although snow continued to fall past Coles Corner. By the time we got to Leavenworth, it was mostly sunny — a beautiful day with fresh snow on the ground and in trees. There was less snow in Wenatchee and, when Bob dropped me off at home, I estimated only about an inch of fresh stuff at my place.

I’d had a wonderful weekend away with Bob and his friends. Not only had I met some great new people, but I’d come away with a lot of new ideas for finishing my home. It was well worth the drive — and the adventure that had gone with it.

Julia’s Thanksgiving Cranberry Recipe

The real recipe; not the lazy-cook knockoff circulating among her family and friends.

My mother-in-law Julia may not have been the best all-around cook, but there were a few things that she made extraordinarily well. One of them was her Thanksgiving cranberries. For a kid who grew up with cranberries served out of a can — still shaped like the can, mind you — this was an amazing revelation that cured me of canned cranberries for good.

Thanksgiving 1996I first made Julia’s cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving dinner in 1996. This was an amazing meal served in my New Jersey home. Our Salvation Army-acquired dining table, expanded to its full length with the help of a homemade leaf fully five feet wide, made it possible for all 15 of us to sit together. Amazing timing with the help of a standard sized oven and the microwave I still own made it possible to serve the entire meal at the same time, fresh and hot. If there is such a thing as miracles, this was one of them. I’ll never be able to top that feat again.

Anyway, Julia gave me her cranberry recipe for that meal and I prepared the cranberries a day or two in advance to her specifications. It came out perfectly.

Recently, I obtained a copy of the recipe that was distributed to family and friends on the back of a card handed out at her funeral. I was shocked to see that it included canned cranberries. The recipe Julia shared with me didn’t have cranberries out of a can. It had fresh cranberries prepared on the stove — the way a real cook would prepare them.

Here, then, is the recipe Julia shared with me back in 1996. I’ll be making this for my friends to enjoy at Thanksgiving this year.

Ingredients:

  • Cranberries
    Julia’s real cranberry recipe started with fresh whole cranberries.

    2 12-oz bags fresh, whole cranberries

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 12-oz can crushed pineapple (packed in natural juice; do not drain)
  • 1 10-oz can Mandarin orange pieces (drained), crushed or chopped
  • 3 or 4 figs, fresh or dried, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, diced (optional for crunchiness; I usually omit it)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or orange juice

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the cranberries and place them in a pot.
  2. Add the water and one cup of the sugar and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Listen for the cranberries to “pop.” When about two thirds of them have popped, remove them from the heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Drain away the cooking water and place the cranberries in a large bowl.
  6. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and still well. Sugar should dissolve.
  7. Cool thoroughly.
  8. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  9. Cover and store in the refrigerator at least overnight so the flavors will meld.

Finished Cranberries
Here’s what my cranberries look like this year.

Serve with turkey (for Thanksgiving!) or pork (any time of the year).

If you’re looking for something different with your turkey this year, try homemade mango chutney. That’s also good with pork.

By the way, the other thing Julia made so perfectly was a New York style cheesecake. I dreaded when she made it in my kitchen because she made an enormous mess. But it was worth it: creamy, delicious, and just sweet enough — if you could convince her not to top it off with something silly like cherry pie filling.

I miss you more than I thought I would, Julia. Rest in peace.

A California Thanksgiving with Friends

Something different, something fun.

As Thanksgiving approached this year, I was faced with the prospect of not having anyone to spend it with for the first time in my life.

Past Thanksgivings

When I was a kid, it was a big family event that often involved my grandparents, aunt and uncle, and cousins. I can remember more than a few Thanksgiving dinners in the tiny dining room of our house in Cresskill, NJ. For at least part of that time, the dining room table was a pool table with a piece of plywood on top and a nice linen tablecloth on top of that. (Not quite Beverly Hillbillies.) I distinctly remember being able to fool around with the pool balls while siting at the table. Of course, my grandmother always insisted on taking photos of the table all set with my mom’s best china. And a closeup of the turkey before carving. I wonder where all those photos are today?

Later, after Mike and I began living together, we’d occasionally host Thanksgiving dinner at our Harrington Park, NJ house. It was a big deal for everyone to travel out our way — most of his family and even some of mine were in New York and had to deal with the horrendous traffic. But we tried hard to make it worth the drive. Thanksgiving 1996Thanksgiving 1996 was probably the best ever. By that point, we’d discovered the U.S. Southwest and were in love with it. I’d gotten a cookbook filled with southwest recipes and we decided to make the entire meal from it. I whipped up a fancy menu with funky fonts and southwest style borders and printed it out for our guests’ reference. Mike set up our dining room table to seat all 14 guests together. I don’t know quite how we pulled it off, but we managed to serve every single dish piping hot. It was the absolute best Thanksgiving dinner I ever had and I’m so proud to have been one of the two people who prepared it. I still occasionally make more than a few items from that menu. (I would have made some this year, but the cookbook was already packed.)

My FamilyLater, when we moved to Arizona, we didn’t spend many Thanksgivings with family — although I do recall my mom, stepdad, sister, brother, and sister in law coming out to stay with us for Thanksgiving 2004. That was the first — and I believe only — time that I got to use my good china for a big dinner. My mom had been buying me place settings over the years and I added a few right before they arrived so we had enough to go around. I don’t remember the dinner itself being that special, but I do recall the trip to Torrance, CA, that my sister, brother, and sister-in-law made a few days before to tour the Robinson Helicopter factory. Assembly LineOddly enough, that’s the day they put the shell of my helicopter on the assembly line. And, of course, the visit also gave us the opportunity to get a group photo outside, in front of our house.

Other Thanksgivings in our Wickenburg home included friends who weren’t fortunate enough to have someone else to spend Thanksgiving with. I remember one Thanksgiving when we invited a friend, his girlfriend, and his dad to join us for dinner. I think it was just the five of us, but our guest brought a dozen bottles of wine. No, we didn’t drink them all — but it sure was a fun meal.

Howard Mesa KitchenIn later years, once our camping shed at Howard Mesa was fully set up for simple living, we had Thanksgiving there at least once, in 2008. It was a bit of a challenge preparing a large meal in the tiny kitchen and we had to be sure to buy a turkey small enough to fit in the apartment-sized oven. I’d planned to make mango chutney (in addition to cranberries with Mike’s mom’s recipe) but had forgotten to bring the mangos. So I used the same recipe to make apple chutney with the apples we’d brought along. Not a bad substitution. It was a quiet Thanksgiving with just the two of us and our dog, Jack. The horses, Jake and Cherokee, roamed around outside. And the sunset was beautiful.
Howard Mesa Sunset

Dealing with the Prospect of Having Thanksgiving Alone

Although I’d hoped to have the divorce settled long before Thanksgiving so I could get on with my life, by October, I realized that was not going to happen. Apparently, my soon-to-be ex-husband and I had different ideas of what the word “fair” meant. So I slowed down on my high-speed packing and prepared to stay, probably through Christmas (and maybe as long as through March). And that’s when I realized that I might not have anyone to spend Thanksgiving with.

I was going to be like one of those unfortunate people that we’d taken in for Thanksgiving in the past.

All of my friends without family in the area were traveling. Some were skipping dinner altogether. As the day came closer and closer, it seemed more and more likely that I’d have Thanksgiving dinner alone — just me and Penny the Tiny Dog. At first, I was okay with that — after all, I’d lived mostly alone every summer for the past five years. And I’d spent plenty of time alone when my soon-to-be ex was spending weeks in New Jersey or weekdays in Phoenix. But for some reason, Thanksgiving was different.

I realized that it bugged me that I’d be alone on Thanksgiving for the first time in my entire life — especially after 29 consecutive years spending it with the man who would be spending his day with my replacement instead of me.

The emotional pain from that realization was fierce.

Meanwhile, I’d gotten two Thanksgiving invitations that required travel. One was to my brother’s house in New Jersey. I really didn’t want to take that long trip for such a short stay. The other was to my friends Rod and Liz’s house in Georgetown, CA. I gave the situation a lot of thought. And on the Monday before Thanksgiving, I finally decided and bought my round-trip tickets for Sacramento.

Flying Commercial with Penny the Tiny Dog

I’d planned a six-day trip, arriving on Wednesday before Thanksgiving and departing on Monday, after the holiday crowd had gone home. I decided to keep things simple and pack a big bag, which I would check. I’d carry Penny on board in her travel box.

Penny in a BoxPenny is an excellent flyer. Not only is she perfectly at ease in any seat — front or back — of the helicopter, but she doesn’t mind curling up for a nap in her travel box when its tucked away under the seat in front of me on an airliner.

I usually keep her on her leash until just before boarding time. We’ll walk through the terminal and she’ll wait patiently while I grab a latte. Then we’ll hang out by the gate until they start boarding. Everyone loves her — she’s cute and funny to watch, especially when she’s playing with her toys. When we’re ready to board, I’ll coax her — admittedly, sometimes forcefully — into her box and close the door. Then we get in line, board the plane, and I tuck her under the seat. I don’t usually even check on her in flight. She really does just curl up and go to sleep.

When we get off the plane, I carry her out in her box and then get her on her leash as soon as we’re clear of the crowds getting off the plane. Occasionally, after a long flight, she finds a place in the terminal to take a leak or a poop. You can’t really blame her — it’s not as if they have restrooms for dogs. (SEATAC has a pet area that is so stinky, even Penny wouldn’t go in.) I’m prepared for that eventuality with paper shop towels and poop bags, so it isn’t a huge deal. Arriving from Phoenix in Sacramento was accident-free. While waiting for my luggage, I took her outside to a grassy area where she was able to take care of business before my friends arrived to pick us up.

In case you’re wondering, the airlines do charge a fee for carry-on pets. Alaska Airlines charges $100 each way; US AIrways, which is what I took to Sacramento, charges $125 each way. The pet case counts as your carry-on bag, so unless you travel very light, you’ll likely have to spend another $25 to check your bag, too. I think this is outrageous. In fact, Penny’s return fare cost more than my seat on the plane for that flight. According to the check-in folks, I could buy a seat for her. I suspect that’s bullshit, but I’ll try on our next trip.

Although I prefer a mid-sized dog — I sorely miss my border collie, Charlie, and his border collie/Australian shepherd mix predecessor, Jack — I admit that it’s a lot easier to travel with a tiny dog. And she really does seem to like to travel with me. A real adventurer!

Our California Stay

The weather was just clearing out when I arrived — low clouds after some morning rain were burning off. The weather turned perfect and stayed that way straight through our departure on Monday.

My friends picked us up in their old but meticulously maintained Land Rover and whisked us away for a late breakfast. It was great to see them and we talked about all kinds of things. I brought them up to date on the divorce bullshit, even though I’d purposely neglected to read the latest correspondence from opposing counsel. (I didn’t want more bullshit to ruin my weekend and it turned out to be an excellent decision.) Then we climbed back into the car where Penny was waited and headed up to Georgetown, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Rod and Liz live in a great little house on a big piece of land south of Georgetown. Georgetown is a tiny town with even fewer services than Wickenburg, so they do most of their shopping and dining out in either Placerville or Auburn. Their area is quiet and the huge front lawn — which, by the way, is large enough to land a helicopter on — is shielded from the main road by a barrier of tall trees and a creek.

Zoe and PennyThey’d done a lot of work to their house since my last visit and the guest room was completely redone and very comfortable. I set up camp in there for me and Penny. Penny, in the meantime, got to meet their dogs: Emma (a pit bull), Bentley (a hound), and Zoe (a border collie). Of the three, Bentley is the oldest and wasn’t very interested in his tiny house guest. Emma wasn’t really, either. But Zoe and Penny soon became fast friends, sharing the few toys I’d brought along for Penny. Whenever we just hung around the house, they’d play together. In the evenings, when Zoe stretched out on her big bed, Penny would curl up beside her.

Red TreeAutumn was in full swing in the Georgetown area and trees were turning color everywhere. The best I saw, however, was right in my friend’s front yard: a small maple tree brilliant with shades of red and orange. Every morning, the sun would come through the other trees, sprinkling this little tree with splotches of golden light. Day after day, I pulled out my camera, attempting to capture the glorious colors. I think this shot came out the best.

We had Thanksgiving Dinner at Liz’s mom’s house. She lives in a 55+ park in Placerville. A friend of hers had made the stuffing and she’d started the turkey. When we arrived in the afternoon, Liz made a few other things and put the finishing touches on what had already been prepared or started. A friend of Liz’s mom, John, joined us and we had a nice dinner for five around her dining table with the four dogs lounging around the little house and Liz’s mom’s cat hiding out in a bedroom. The food was good and, as you might expect, I ate a lot more than I should have. (I fully expected to gain a few pounds during this trip because of the sheer quantity of food I ate and was pleasantly surprised when the scale at home on Tuesday morning registered roughly what it had a week before.)

We spent the next few days just getting out and around in the area.

On Friday, Rod and Liz needed to run some errands down in the Folsom area, so we took the Land Rover down. We had lunch at the excellent Sutter Street Grill in Folsom, which serves breakfast all day. I had a great omelet and took half home for the next day. We fetched Penny out of the car and walked around town. I bought a[nother] scarf — blue with fish on it — and let Liz treat me to some gelato. We made our way back to the car, past a skating rink full of kids. It was a great place, a great day. I felt really alive to be out and about in a new place with friends.

Rod and Liz

Maria and Penny

On Saturday, we went for a short hike close to their home. It was a nice spot, with several creeks coming together on their way to the American River. Although most of the leaves were gone, it was pleasant to be in the woods, especially after months in the Arizona desert. There was a little bridge across the creek and we took the opportunity to take photos of each other. Here’s Rod and Liz in one shot and me and Penny in the other.

On Saturday night, we were invited a burn party at a friend’s house. Let me explain. In this area, folks have lots of trees and brush. To get rid of this stuff, they burn it. They’re allowed to do this with a permit on certain days and under certain conditions. Unfortunately, our host discovered after inviting everyone that she wasn’t allowed to burn that day. But the party went on anyway, on the back patio of a wonderful little rental house she owns on the American River. There was a fireplace back there and we kept feeding it logs. Lots of food: shrimp cocktail, sausages, salads, dips, and chips. Our host was a part owner of a 100+ year old winery in either Napa or Sonoma valley (I can’t remember which) and served up the best cabernet and zinfandel (no, not the pink kind), making me feel a bit embarrassed about bringing along some of the white wine from Washington that my husband had left behind in our house. Later, when the fire was good and hot, we took turns roasting marshmallows. I was thrilled when our host offered me a bottle of her winery’s award-winning Zinfandel to take home. (I’m saving it to share it with someone special who will really appreciate it.)

Fire Good Roasting Marshmallows

Sutters Mill MapOn Sunday, Rod took us in his Volkswagen Thing for a more strenuous hike without the dogs. We started near the site of Sutter’s Mill — where the California Gold Rush began in 1849, in case you’re not familiar with this bit of history — and hiked up the trail in the Marshall Gold Discover State History Park. The trail was steep and Rod set a good, fast pace that had me huffing and puffing. Funny, but in my fat days, I never would have been able to keep up. On that day I worked up a good sweat but never really lagged behind. At the top of the mountain were some nice view points. We found a picnic area and stopped for a rest and a snack. That’s where I set up my camera and timer for a fun shot of our three heads between two tree boughs and a few more portraits.

Three Heads are Better than One Rod and Liz

Walnut TreeAfterward, we headed down to where Liz works, the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm. This interesting historic site is the location of the first Japanese settlement in the United States. It’s also where the first child to Japanese immigrants was born and the site of the first Japanese immigrant’s death. Today, the farm has trails, the gravesite, and other farm buildings more recent to the area. We walked among the black walnut trees, picking up and munching on walnuts that had fallen from the trees. I’d never had fresh walnuts before and really enjoyed the experience. We hiked past a big pond, followed by the farm dog who bugged Rod to throw sticks for him. We went as far as the gravesite before turning around and going back to the car. The moon had risen in the east and flocks of Canada Geese were flying.

Moon and Geese

We took it easy on Monday morning. I helped Liz clean up some debris from a tree removal job while Rod took his other Land Rover down to Placerville to get something checked on it. By the time he got back, I was packed up and ready to go. We made a leisurely trip down to Sacramento, stopping for lunch at the excellent Newcastle Produce for a sandwich and other treats. Liz bought a big bag of seedless mandarin oranges and gave me 8 of them to take home. (I shared three of them with my seat mates on the flight home.)

We said goodbye at the airport and I admit that I was very sad to go. It had been a great weekend with friends, doing lots of fun, new things.

My New Life: It’s All about Getting Out and Experiencing New Things

I feel, in a way, that I missed out on a lot of things over the past few years of my life.

Over the past few years, I was stuck in a rut with someone who either couldn’t or didn’t want to get out more. Although I felt that something wasn’t quite right during those years, I now realize that I felt sort of “trapped,” with most of my time spent either at the cavelike Phoenix condo or at our Wickenburg home. Day trips with my “life partner” were only possible on weekends, and even that was limited to places we had already been. He used all of his vacation time traveling back east to be with his family — people who never made me feel welcome or comfortable. More often than not, especially in the last year of our relationship, I felt as if my presence and desire to get out and do different things was an inconvenience to him.

He solved the problem for me, although the way he did it was neither kind nor honorable. That’s something his conscience needs to deal with — if he still has a conscience.

In the meantime, I’m making a special effort to get out more and do more things. The past three months have been among the most active in my entire life, with several trips out of state to visit friends as well as lots of day trips with new people.

But among all the things I’ve done recently, this Thanksgiving trip was the best. Many thanks for Rod and Liz for making me feel so welcome and keeping me busy!