Reunion in Bishop

In April of 2017 my two brothers and I gathered together with our families to memorialized my father. We made a commitment to gather as a family on a regular basis. In 2020 we set our sights on Bishop in the Eastern Sierra and booked accommodations at the East Side Guest House and Bivy. Then COVID-19 struck and we scrapped our plans. With the pandemic easing up this year we decided to make another go at gathering. Family started arriving on Saturday evening April 24 with people coming from Washington, Texas, Hawaii and Massachusetts. My wife and I and our lovely Aunt Sue, being the hosts, arrived the day before to give us time to stock the larder with groceries. East Side Guest House is an an ideal location in the Eastern Sierra to set up a base camp for outdoor adventures. The facility has private rooms, a duck pond and a view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a common room for cooking and meeting.

We had the barbeque going as guest arrived. Joann and Sue had prepared skewers of Shish kebab which we put on the grill as family arrived.

April 25. The Alabama Hills and Independence

The day started with Lemon Ricotta Waffles. I had arranged ahead of time to have a couple of waffle irons available, and with plenty of family chipping in, we were serving waffles at 8 am. Waffles with whipped cream, butter, syrup and berries and lots of other goodies.

After breakfast we set up a sandwich station. Line up and make a lunch. Then we piled into cars for the drive to the Alabama Hills.

There is much to see on the drive south from Bishop. Some of our party made a visit to the Manzanar National Historic Site, one of the sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. A few of us stopped at the Mary DeDecker Native Plant Garden and the Eastern California Museum in Independence. The museum has an amazing collection of native American basketry and the garden was looking very nice with many plants in bloom. We also took advantage of the delicious ice cream at the Eastern Sierra Ice Cream Company.

April 26. Big Pine Lakes

Monday morning everybody was on there own for breakfast. Take your pick of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, raisin bran, other packaged cereals, apples, oranges and bananas. And if that isn’t enough you can walk next door to Schat’s Bakery for espresso and pastries. Then we again set up the sandwich station.

There were several in our group that were anxious to get into the High Sierra. Despite the fact that the trails are usually snowed in this time of year, it looked like we might be able to get to one or two lakes in the Big Pine Lake Basin. We piled into our cars and drove to the the trail head at the end of Glacier Lodge Road.

My wife and I made it as far as First Lake at 10,000 feet. My two brothers and clan made it to Fourth Lake at 11,000 feet. We did find a few patches of snow on the trail, but nothing that required technical gear. First Lake still had some ice. The higher lakes were still frozen over. We logged 9.5 miles on our hike to and from First Lake. You can see a map on my GaiaGPS account. Those that went higher logged 12 miles or so.

April 27. Pleasant Valley Reservoir

With family members ranging in age from 3 1/2 to 84, we opted to do an outing close to Bishop to accommodate those that were not inclined to tackle a strenuous High Sierra hike. We found a nice level paved hike along Pleasant Valley Reservoir. This proved to be a lovely hike with opportunities to look for wildflowers and birds.

Those that were more adventuresome drove up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and reported a lovely outing. Tuesday evening marked out last day together and we had a birthday to celebrate.

The next morning we said our goodbyes and began our drive back over the mountains.

There is so much to see in the Eastern Sierra and I was sad to leave, but since we have family there, we manage to visit several times a year. The East Side Guest House and Bivy was a delightful place to host our reunion. The large community room, while being shared with other guests, proved to be a great place to gather, to chat and look a family photos. And talking about photos you can view more photos online.

Giving Thanks

This is a day when we stop and give thanks.

We have a tradition here in America of getting together with family for a feast we call Thanksgiving. More people travel at this time of year than any other time to be with family. This year, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc on our lives, traveling is a challenge.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. It is a time to give thanks and to share the blessings of the harvest, although for some it also signifies the conquest of Native Americans by colonists.

For our family, Thanksgiving is about family and counting our many blessings. This year we decided to celebrate early with a get-together on November 21, a few days ahead of the official holiday. With the challenges we faced this year there was much discussion about how we might manage the risks of COVID-19. We decided that an outdoor event in Aunt Sue’s backyard would be appropriate, taking precautions to wear masks when we weren’t eating, and to designate one person to be the server. We used a counter top roaster to cook the turkey; when it came time to transport it, we simply put the whole roaster in the trunk of the car for the drive to San Jose.

Our daughter and her family joined us with a homemade apple pie. Our son and his family had been staying with us the previous week, so we considered them to be in our social bubble. When it came time to carve the turkey, Sue pulled out a set of carving knives with elk antler handles that go back three generations.

Our spread of food included turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish (a recipe from my mother), kale and feta cheese salad, pomegranate and persimmon salad (from Sue’s garden), squash, rolls, and homemade apple pie for desert. Yum!

And, of course, Aunt Sue had to indulge the dogs with a bit of turkey.

After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves on the delicious food, it was time for a walk. On our walk we passed a frog that seemed to wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving.

I wish you well on this day. And amidst the many challenges you may face, I hope that you can take a moment to find something for which you, too, can give thanks.

Taking Grandpa for a Walk

Here’s my grandson Micah taking me on a walk. June 4, despite the continuing stay-at-home order here in Alameda County, we left town and drove the 80 miles to Mount Hermon for a family visit. My last opportunity to visit with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson was at Christmas.

We’ve managed to keep our distance for a few months, and we were a bit anxious about how a visit would go, showing up with our face masks and keeping at a distance. One of our family pastimes is walking. I asked Micah if he wanted to go on a walk. On previous visits he was a bit shy about interacting with Grandpa. This time he came over to me, grabbed my finger, and led me out to the front gate. My heart melted when he touched me. Such a sweet encounter. There is nothing like the power of touch, and something that’s lost in our social distancing experiences. By lunch time the masks came off, and we were feeling like a family again.

Have Your Kayak and Eat It Too

Treve with cake to celebrate his 70th birthday.

On Saturday, March 14, we hosted a party to celebrate my 70th birthday. The cake was noteworthy. We commissioned the cake through our local Lavender Bakery & Café on Solano Avenue. They not only created a work of art but also delivered it to our door. Since kayaking is my go-to sport at the moment, I wanted to have a cake with a kayaking theme. Chocolate cake with layers of vanilla butter cream filling and fresh raspberries, not to mention the fondant frosting – a work of art.

We had about 30 people at our home, which was quite a turnout given the advice to practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 health risk. We were quite ambivalent about hosting the party; now, as of March 17, we have a “Stay at Home” order in place so we’re staying close to home. The guidelines say that getting outdoors is an “essential” activity, so we’ll be getting out in our kayak, bicycling and walking the dog at a distance from others, but no group activities.

Take care of yourselves wherever you are; reach out to friends and stay connected.

Remnants of Fall Color

Willows and tree in Big Pine

We’re taking an extended weekend to play grandpa and grandma in Big Pine, a town of about 1800 people in the Eastern Sierra, elevation 4000 feet. Home to our son, his wife, and our granddaughter Annabelle. It’s a 310-mile drive and the shortest route takes us through Yosemite National Park on Highway 120. The highway closes in winter for snow but, this being a very dry year, the snow has yet to come. We arrived at 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 16, just as darkness was setting in. After the seven-hour drive we were happy to pull the truck into the driveway and pop up the top on our Four Wheel Camper. Then it was dinner time. We had a very pleasant meal and, following some family time, we turned in for a quiet and peaceful night’s sleep.

Sunday morning we awoke to a bright, sunny day and after breakfast we ventured out for a walk on the desert in shirt-sleeve weather. Five of us and two dogs. Our walk took us out the front door, down the street to open land managed by Los Angeles Water and Power; a great place to walk dogs off leash and to enjoy the view of the mountains to the east and west.

Talking about walking, our granddaughter Annabelle was a trooper at testing out her new skill of walking. She did manage to take a spill, planting her face on the trail, and getting her lip a bit bloody. It wasn’t long though before she was back in good spirits. After the walk it was time to check the chicken coop, and sure enough, we found four eggs.

I did not expect to see much fall color on this trip. We did see some color in the black oaks driving over the mountains, and in the willows and rabbit bush on the desert.

Birthday Weekend

So much has happened in the past few weeks that I’m going to have to back up to July 25. That’s the day we climbed in our truck-camper and headed to Markleeville for an extended weekend of camping and birthday celebration. The main event was our Granddaughter Annabelle’s first birthday.

Birthday Girl Annabelle is in the middle

We made it a five day weekend, leaving our place on July 25 and driving to Markleeville, a small town on the Eastern Sierra located at 5500 feet elevation. It’s about a 200 mile drive, taking us about four hours with a quick stop for a picnic lunch on the way. Our destination was the Markleevile Campground, a US Forest Service Campground with 10 sites. A lovely location with a stream running through it and a very attentive and helpful camp host.

Having settled into camp it was birthday time. July 25 is Joann’s birthday so we broke out the cake and celebrated.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday our campsites filled up. By Saturday evening we had 24 people, five dogs and one parrot. These folks are all seasoned campers and quite adept at entertaining and feeding a crowd.

We had pork shoulder cooked in a dutch oven on Friday evening. It’s a mystery to me what seasonings went into those ovens, but the resulting pulled pork was beyond compare and it made delicious tacos. Sunday morning was a Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strada and Sunday evening was Chicken Cordon Bleu on Sunday evening.

And of course no camping experience is complete without Smores. So the evening found us toasting marshmallows on a campfire and making a sandwich of the hot toasty marshmallows with chocolate and graham crackers.

In addition to family fun in camp, we did manage to get in some hiking, take in a blue grass concert at an event in town and visit Grover Hotsprings. To see more photos click here.

Merry Christmas from the Alabama Hills

Merry Christmas from the Alabama Hills.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas. We are camped in the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierra with what appears to be an annual ritual. We were here last year. This year we represent three generations of Johnsons, the the newest addition, Annabelle, being five months old. We arrived the afternoon of Christmas Eve, set up camp, got the camp fire going along with the coals for the Dutch Oven. Dinner was Chicken Cordon Bleu, with wine to wash it down.

We were surprised by a rain storm passing through in the middle of the night, but we were snug in our beds when the sound of rain on the roof woke us. We woke to find that water that had collected in the camp chairs had frozen solid. Even so we took our time getting the campfire and Dutch Oven coals going, being torn between the photo opportunities of the early morning light and the anticipation of breakfast. Breakfast was quiche cooked in the Dutch Oven. After breakfast we poked around the hills and rocks, A cold wind was starting to find it’s way through our jackets, so we broke camp and headed back to Big Pine.

The Alabama Hills are located in the Eastern Sierra, just west of the town of Lone Pine. The Alabama Hills is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as the BLM Alabama Hills Recreation Area. There is no fee for camping and there are also not much available for services. No picnic tables, no outhouses, no water. It is also dog friendly; our two dogs were happy to wander around camp off leash. I’m always surprised to see how many people camp here over the Christmas holiday, but that said there is no shortage of spaces to camp. Last year we picked a spot that was exposed and had had a view of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain peak in the lower 48 states. This year, with the prediction of wind we found a more protected spot with an outcrop of rocks to block the north wind.

This is a popular spot for photographers who wish to photograph the classic morning light on Mount Whitney, Lone Pine Peak and the adjacent Sierra Nevada Mountains. The granite outcroppings also provide endless opportunities for photography. This is also a popular filming location, especially Westerns. Since the 1920s, 150 movies and a dozen or so television shows have been filmed here. There are also dozens of natural arches, with one of the more popular arches being Mobius Arch. The location is also noted it’s dark skies which makes it poplular for astronomy and astro-photography. Not far the North on Highway 395 is the Manzanar National Historic Site, another location worth a visit.

Block Party Spans Two Cities

We didn’t have to travel far for today’s adventures; just had to step out the front door.

A beautiful day for a neighborhood block party. Our party spanned one block. But that one block spans two cities, Albany and El Cerrito, and two counties, Alameda and Contra Costa. Needless to say we had a fire truck from Albany on the South end of the street and a fire truck from El Cerrito on the North end. Great food, live accordion music, a jumping gym for the kids and great company. It’s great to get to know the neighbors. More photos of the event here.

 

It’s All About Family

Following two family reunions, back to back, one a small event with seven people, the second a huge event with 95 people, I found myself reflecting on family.

Our road trip started out three weeks ago with a visit to our son and daughter-in-law in Big Pine, California. They will soon be adding another member to the family. Then on to Salt Lake City where we participated in a shower to honor our daughter and her husband, expecting their first baby. Two grandchildren to be joining the family in the next two months. Then on to Rancho Jacoma near Santa Fe where we joined my brothers for a reunion with spouses and a great aunt. We spent five days, eating together, hiking, and reminiscing about family. We stayed in the Butterfly House, with four bedrooms, enough to accommodate our group. My brother Arlen proved his culinary skills, creating gourmet meals for dinner. Our first evening together he cooked salmon which was exquisite. What was missing from our gathering was the younger generation, nieces and nephews. We’ll just have to hope we can get them all together at a future event.

Then on to Phoenix where we joined the Sundt Family reunion. With 95 people the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort was an appropriate venue. Dinner was catered at the nearby Rawhide facility. Duke Sundt, the family story teller took to the stage to tell stories and to serenade us.

The next day following breakfast, my wife Joann presented a tribute to her mother who was part of the Sundt clan and who had passed away recently. Joann also took on the job of maintaining the scrap book for her tribe. No small task. The scrap book is huge, and this is only one of the scrap books representing one of the 12 tribes of Sundts.

My experience of the Sundts is big hats, big belt buckles and big hearts. I always feel like I belong when we gather.

Santa Fe Road Trip: Day Four

We’re spending the night at Diamond Campground, near Springville, Utah. Our destination is Santa Fe. We have a week to get there. So we’ll be wandering the southwest for the next few days. No WiFi here so I’m writing a short post on my iPhone. More to follow when I can sit still long enough to edit photos on the laptop. Our travels so far have brought us over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via highway 120 through Yosemite and down the east side of the Sierra to Big Pine, where our son and daughter-in-law are expecting in July. Our first grandchild. From there it was on to Great Basin National Park, and then on to Salt Lake City where we celebrated the anticipated birth of our second grandchild, due in August.

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