Cabin in the Woods

Last weekend we spent a few nights in a cabin in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  We drove up on Thursday (Heather had no school on Friday) and stayed until Sunday.

Our confirmation email said to arrive by 5pm.  We pulled up about 4:45pm to find the entrance kiosk closed up and the park just about empty.  As we considered what to do next we saw a park employee locking up the visitor center so I quickly went over to her to see if she could help us.  She didn't have access to the kiosk where the cabin keys are kept, but stuck with us to help us out.

She went to check around the kiosk to see if the person who was supposed to still be there had left any information available and sent us to go look for the park ranger.  We never found the ranger, but ran across another employee closing up for the day who also joined our party.  He tried to raise the ranger on the radio without any success.  The girls danced about in the rain and we ate apple-cider donuts we had picked up on the way while both employees tried to come up with a good next step.

Diane, the first employee we had found, decided to take us up to the cabin to see if it had been left unlocked for us which would have been the standard procedure for late check-ins.

The cabin was not unlocked.

Diane's cell phone didn't get any signal out there, but mine had enough to make a spotty call.  So I let Diane use it to start calling numbers in her contact list to figure out who she could get to show up who would be able to get us in to the cabin.

While she did that we poked around the area.  Next to the cabin was a storage shed.  With nothing better to do I checked the door on the storage shed and found it unlocked.  It was full of firewood, repair materials, and cleaning supplies.  The cleaning supplies made me suspicious that it just might be possible there would be cabin keys around for whomever would do the cleaning.

Looking around on shelves, along wall studs, and behind electrical cords I hit the jackpot and found a ring of keys.  One labeled for each cabin--except ours.  But!  There was 1 unlabeled key!  Up the steps to the cabin door, key in the lock, and woohoo--the key turned--and we were in.

Diane apologized profusely throughout this process for the inconvenience (though accommodations was not her responsibility).

We brought in all of our stuff, turned the heat up, and then took off to town to grab a quick dinner.  I think it had been about an hour and a half from when we arrived until we managed to get in to the cabin.  There are 4 cabins together there that used to be used for rangers to live in (I believe).  They could use a little work, but they're decent overall.  Larger than we expected, big enough you could live an extended period of time there fairly comfortably.  It had 2 bedrooms (one with 2 twin beds, the other with a queen bed), a living area, a kitchen, a mudroom, and a bunch of closet space.

The cabin living room with wood stove (there's also a wall heater)

The next day we went back to the park entrance to get our actual key and saw Diane again.  We had been the talk of the park that morning when the employees arrived.  I got the impression that the employee who was supposed to be at the kiosk had left early without permission and was now in a fair bit of trouble for leaving us in the lurch.

Anyway, that's the end of the drama regarding accessing the cabin.  The ranger eventually stopped by to also apologize for our trouble and that he hadn't been available to help.

Breakfast in the cabin

On Friday we drove down to the South Grove and hiked about a mile in before turning around to hike back out--without ever having reached any of the sequoias.  At the beginning the trail crossed over a creek and I stopped to take some pictures.

We cooked dinner in the cabin and then had a campfire for s'mores.

On Saturday we headed out to Moaning Cavern.  Heather does not like caves.  They make her very anxious.  Moaning Cavern involves climbing down 235 steps (and back up, of course).  Many of the steps are around this ~100-year-old spiral staircase:

I carried Corinne all the way down and almost all the way back up.  After we finished climbing the spiral staircase she wanted to get down, so I let her climb up the remaining wood steps herself.

After the cavern we grabbed lunch at a local pizza place, which I thought was pretty good.  Then we headed off to find the Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium.  Along the way we ran across a glass-blowing shop with lots of neat, but very expensive art pieces.  We did not buy anything, but the girls enjoyed feeding the two chickens that live in the shop.  The dog took one look at us when we came in and wisely disappeared.

After dark that night I sent Heather out into the field with a flashlight to play with long shutter times on the camera:

On Sunday we packed up and walked the North Grove trail to actually see some sequoias before heading home.

I enjoyed the quiet of the cabin (as quiet as you can get with the 2 nutters jabbering constantly anyway).  There's no TV, no Internet, no phone, and just about no people.  It was nice.

House Painting, Doors, & Lights Finally Done

Our goal, way back in Spring, was to replace the exterior doors on the house (and finally get rid of the door-knocker with the previous owner's name on it).  That snowballed in to also replacing the exterior lights and getting the house painted.  It took months longer than planned, but it's finally done.

Before:

After (recall that the roof was replaced a few years ago, which is why it has changed color between pictures as well):

I really wanted to get the paint removed from the chimney to get the plain brick back, but that's apparently a task no one is willing to do, so it got painted with the new color too.

The front door before:

Front door after:

And the garage door that took forever to get right:

I was going to spend the time to type out the incredibly long, frustrating story of this process, but I don't feel like going over the entire thing again.  So here's the short version.

We ordered the doors in May.  They were installed in July.  Then we had them stained / painted and I discovered the garage door was manufactured wrong (the lock block was missing, so where the hardware attaches was just fiberglass over foam).  So then we needed to wait another 5 weeks for a replacement to be made.  7 weeks later the new door is ready and someone from the manufacturer came and swapped the slab and moved the window from the old door to the new door.  Then we needed the original installer to come back because the door was hitting the frame and the deadbolt wasn't lined up properly.  After several visits from the installer, it's done.

The house got painted and the doors got stained which went mostly smoothly.  But when I went to install the new lights I discovered that none of the lights on the front of the house were installed on junction boxes, so we had to get 4 of those installed.  But it got done and the lights got installed (and look awesome!).

I'm leaving out a lot of annoyances involving the door trim, the sweep on the garage door, and myriad other things that took much more effort than should have been necessary to get right.  It's finally done.

Unfortunately, we had to take down the wisteria.  It was rotten through the core with borers living inside so it was going to die soon anyway.  This way we got it down and got the rotten support structure down so the remaining wood could be repainted.  We'll see if it starts growing again in the Spring (which it might, but not likely).  Then we'll decide what to do about with it.

Heather's 6th Birthday

Heather had a birthday party this weekend, so now we can comprehensively capture the entirety of her 6th birthday.

Her birthday was on a Saturday this year so we had the whole day to celebrate.  Heather wanted something special for birthday breakfast, like muffins, so we started the morning with muffins (and donuts).

After lunch Heather engaged in the requisite treasure hunt.  When all the clues were found, she had to assemble a map found on their backs.

Which led her to a trove of presents.

Back inside to open presents:

And after dinner at Heather's pick of the 1st Street Ale House, it was back home for cake.

This weekend she had a party with painting, a pinata, donuts-on-a-string, cupcake decorating, and general lunacy.

This is Corinne's "camera face."  If she sees you trying to take a picture, this is the face you're going to get.

The Civic Takes a Turn

Back in July I wrote about my Honda Civic being 10 years old and going strong with no major issues.  That apparently was a catalyst for trouble.

In September my cruise-control switch assembly failed.  I use the cruise control constantly, so that was annoying.  I found the part on Amazon and managed to replace it myself with only a little trouble.  I stripped (about 80%) one of the mounting bolts that holds the airbag assembly to the steering wheel and only barely managed to get it removed.  So I popped over to the dealer (in the van) to get a replacement bolt.  And I was back in business.  Total cost ~$50 and a Saturday morning.  Not too bad.

But, over the past couple of months I started having trouble starting the car, but only occasionally.  Then it started happening more often.  Then I realized it seemed to have the most trouble trying to restart when the engine was already hot.  Once it was running it was great, so I figured it probably wasn't the battery or alternator.  I could hear the fuel pump running, so I figured that made it less likely to be the culprit.  My guess was on the starter.  The first shop I took it to that had good reviews wanted $65 just to diagnose if it was the alternator or not.  So I took it to a parts store and they tested the battery and alternator for me and said they were fine.  They also said the starter was fine.  But they were wrong.

Over the weekend I was talking with Jess to figure when this week would be least inconvenient to drop it at the shop (a different shop, recommended by a co-worker) to be diagnosed and fixed.  A discussion which became moot when I tried to go to work Monday morning and it wouldn't start at all.  So then I had to pay for a tow truck to take it to the shop ($90).  The shop called today to say it needs a starter  for $403.  Ouch.  The price is mostly labor because it's apparently a complete pain to get at the starter.

Here's hoping that's all it needs for another few years.