Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas 2009

Over the river and through the wood, To grandfather's house we go;
The horse knows the way To carry the sleigh,
Through the white and drifted snow. (Lydia M. Child)

…well, almost. Our holiday road trip
did take us over the Columbia River and through the Cascade woodlands, but then we continued over the mountains and into the high desert of Central OR.

Light traffic and nearly bare pavement made for easy going on the long six-hour drive. I amused myself by reading the camera manual and playing with some new settings. Surprisingly noisy hail tapped on the windshield on I-26 east of Portland but the road remained clear as we gained elevation on the Mt. Hood Hwy. It was such a treat to have the snow piled on the highway shoulders and not in the traffic lanes.

Donna's house glowed with candles, Christmas lights and holiday treasures. Tree lights sparkled in the living room and radiated warmth out into the frosty yard… a welcoming Holiday Festival of Lights.

Clear blue skies greeted us the next morning, bringing a brilliant clarity to the mountain peaks in the distance. But the best treat was a pair of deer that roamed the yard, nibbling on the underbrush and settling down in a sunny patch of sunshine. 

Fog moved in later in the week and coated lawns, bushes and trees with an icy white frosting. Then the whole city looked festive, decorated with sparkling ice crystals.  
An Open House on Christmas Eve is a long-standing family tradition. A day full of chatter and cooking prep quickly slid into an evening of sociable conversation and dining on the tasty Mexican buffet. 

Three generations mixed happily at this event, greeting old friends (and some of us met new friends).

Our nephew Lane, and his nephew Coen.

Our niece Slone, and her niece Whitney

Sleeping in was NOT an option on Christmas morning  (though some in the crowd were more lively than others). Santa had visited, the kids were sure they had heard sleigh bells and hooves. Santa's plate of cookies, set out just for him, was empty! Now there were stockings to be examined and piles of gifts under the tree waiting to be distributed. Everyone smiled for ages, watching the kids’ growing delight with each new package. Empty boxes, wrapping paper and ribbon soon littered the living room furniture and floor... but the smiles continued.  

Darbi, Peter, Bentley and Slone - before the coffee kicked in.

Coen, Britt, Whitney and Ron wonder "what's in this package?"

There's always some adjustment necessary.

Naps (for some unnamed family members) followed a big Christmas morning breakfast, and then it was time to think about Christmas dinner. Turkey and dressing and ham... oh, my! The youngest cook-in-training is an experienced assistant with the traditional green bean casserole - and yes, he did taste-test the French fried onions with gusto.

We lingered in Bend for a few days, and then it was time to head back over the mountains, through the woods, across the river and north to Seattle.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Amtrak Adventure

My journey began with a flight from SeaTac into Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, followed by a pickup by niece Hilary, and an overnight at Mom's - what a fun three-generation gabfest. The next morning the train passed the same airport on the rail trip back to Seattle.

The lounge car was our comfortable home-away-from-compartment for much of the 35-hour trip. We visited with other passengers, gazed at the scenery, read and chatted, and enjoyed an afternoon wine and cheese tasting. (Oh yes! Already a favorite, Rogue Creamery Blue remains a tasting standout.)

Clear blue skies and calm blue water made for scenic Pacific Coast viewing. We saw few boats, fewer surfers and an occasional otter. Photos out the window proved challenging... just when focused for distance a tree would flash by! Oops.

California's tourism bureau's description of green and golden leaned heavily to the dry and golden side for miles of inland travel. Starkly beautiful, with interesting textures and shadows.

Oil fields were active, slowly pumping away. But where are the tall derricks shown in all those old movies? you know, the ones with the gushers when they first struck oil.

The Salinas Curves provided a view of the end cars of our train and then the engines. Now that's pretty curvy.

Can you tell we're in the Pacific Northwest? Oregon, to be precise? Could the greenery and raindrops on the windows be a clue? IF I had looked out the window at 5:04 am I might have seen Dunsmuir, CA and the Mt. Shasta area, but NOPE, it was dark outside and my eyes were still scrunched shut.

The Coast Starlight run from Los Angeles to Seattle was comfortable and on-schedule, meals were reasonably tasty, service staff were helpful and attentive, and the scenery was ever-changing and captivating. Sleeping car accommodations were clean and comfortable, if not spacious. The only challenge was getting any restful sleep with the unpredictable jerking and lurching motion, accompanied by the intermittent squeaking and the screeching of metal wheels on metal tracks. Were the rails smoother and quieter during the day, or did it just seem that way?

This is a wonderful route to drive, with so many tempting side trips for exploration, but train travel is a relaxing second-best way to view some of the same highlights. I'm ready for another scenic trip by rail - IF the sleep challenge can be mastered.