Lick Observatory is a University of California observatory nearby us on the mountains above San Jose.
After Thanksgiving we tried to drive out to the observatory. Despite countermeasures, carsickness killed the trip about a fifth of the way there. After Christmas we tried again, but instead of driving the mountain road all the way from Livermore we drove the highway route around in to San Jose and then up the shorter mountain road. This time we made it.
Corinne was a demon in the visitor's center and had to be taken outside. She did manage to stay quiet on the Lick Refractor tour for about 10 minutes before she had to be taken out.
The Lick Refractor is mostly a historical relic. They use it for tours, public viewing nights, and training students.
This is the same road at the top and bottom of the picture. The biker went across the bottom just a minute or so before taking that switch back. That's the kind of driving you have to do to visit the observatory.
The haze was settled in to the valleys and I thought the way the ridges stacked up looked pretty neat, but I don't think my pictures do it justice.
Heather had a Holiday Concert for school on the 18th. She had a blast. The program was all 4 kindergarten classes at her school so the multi-purpose room was packed. Luckily she's a head taller than most of the other kids in her class so I was still able to get a couple pictures of her through the crowd.
Then it was quickly in to Christmas Eve with our own little "program." Heather read us "Santa from Cincinnati":
After the program the girls opened their presents for each other:
Corinne fell asleep clutching the trowel from the garden tool set. Heather woke up at no-one-knows-but-possibly-2-something and colored in about 3 feet of her 10-foot space coloring roll.
After bed Santa arrived bringing a fully edible dig site for Heather:
And in the very early morning we snapped an obligatory don't-move-yet shot:
You'll notice it is still dark outside. Heather had been up possibly since as early as 2-something, but no later than 4. Corinne was up starting at 4:30. We held them off until 6:30, but couldn't keep them contained any longer.
Corinne got a chair in her favorite color:
Heather was a super helper handing out gifts from under the tree.
Corinne is enamored of this plane.
Jess is pleased with her yarn bowl:
After a brief break for some much-needed breakfast, the sun had risen, and the unwrapping was complete. Now, nap time.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.