Thursday, August 28, 2013

My mother's 92nd birthday approaches. A trip is planned but obstacles abound. Will the cabin burn in the Rim fire? The four stray kittens in the front yard are suddenly ill. We have removed all the family furniture and valuables from our cabin in MiWuk Village, the kitties are boarded at the vets, Amanda will stay at the house again, Jena will stop by. Bless their hearts. Off to Willits we go despite the fact it is Labor Day weekend. We never ever travel on holidays, and rarely on weekends, but this birthday we simply can't miss.

Breakfast stop was at Toni's as usual, and what a delight to find dear friend Paula has started working there, Jane was working, so was Sabrina. Susan and Bill, then Laurie and her daughter came in for breakfast and it was old home week. There were sur pi singly not too many crazies on the road, and we made the Flying J in Stockton in record time, and Granzellas in Williams ay 2:45. How deep is Clear Lake anyway? (Later research reveals only 69 feet!)

We checked into the Baechtel Creek Inn, our standard place, at 3pm, the fastest trip to Willits in history, 5 hours including two fifteen minute stops. If ever you are in Willits and looking for a hotel, stay at the Baechtel if it is not booked solid. In all our travels there is not one hotel that comes closer to fulfilling our perfect room list than this establishment. You can find our perfect room list HERE.

Sissy Susana and her beau Tom came over to 'our' house, then we headed for their favorite Mexican restaurant, Jara's. Heavenly food. Susana is surrounded by people she knows, she speaks Spanish like a native, so we are smiling and nodding, and laughing. Thank you, Armondo, for such attentive service! A late night up talking and catching up, followed by light sleep in a strange bed, and Friday breakfast at our standard fare, Gribaldo's. The food is always good (hash browns are cooked in butter!) but the service and attitude, as usual, is lacking. Asking the server for the gravy we ordered feels like an imposition. It was amusing to listen to the local bar fly's motel story, kinda sorta. (We had a good laugh, Susana used that phrase and David wants to know if that was a 'family thing'.)

We picked up Susana at her driveway, and we are off to Wagonet Ranch on Sherwood Road to search for John and find the Frost Cemetery on the ranch. Sure enough, there is what remains, several unmarked and now sunken grave areas that give you the creeps, only four in tact stones. Poison oak puts a damper on tromping through the woods for long, but a jeep ride through his property with John, his dog Sally made up for it easily. Flash back thirty odd years to the Stony Acres Ranch in Sonoma mountains, dad and Rocky in his jeep, we are off on the same rough, overgrown logging roads.

Back to the hotel to change out of poison oak clothes, shopping for a electric water kettle (we fell in love with these in England) and then down to Ukiah to visit a fragile, thin Mumsey. Leaving Willits was crazy, the infamous bottleneck south of town extended for literally miles instead of the usual one. Lots and lots of controversy about that, these are the times I am glad I don't live in Willits to experience the heartbreak of what Caltrans is doing to their beloved Little Lake Valley. Returning to Willits and back through that bottleneck made me want to make a sign at the merging lanes: "Every other car, what is so hard, people??"

In town errands include the usual stop at the toy store, The Goods Shoppe. Mother started the tradition years ago by sending the strangest, oddest but purely fun gifts she would find at this store. We try to carry on the tradition, and the clerks like XXXX make it easy. Dinner at Susana's cabin in the woods was wonderful. Tom's fresh garden vegetables made a delicious meal, steaks from the local organic store made David hum happily. Seeing niece Sandy and grand niece Alison was equally grand.

Saturday brought breakfast at Ardella's, further along Highway 101. We need to return, but it wasn't a fantastic experience. Three tries to get our drinks to us (she would walk by, mutter "hot tea, coke no lemon" but never return with them) and then she brought us coffee, David's coke finally arrived, with lemon. Honey came on another return trip. The second time she walked up with her book and pen poised, I went through a Twilight Zone moment as I said, "Gilded Lily omelet, haven't we already done this?" She cocked her head and thought for a minute, looked at David and said, "Corned beef?" Oh dear. She did comp our meal, which was unnecessary, David paid it in full in a tip, but it leaves a doubt on a return. Garlic cream cheese does work, by the way. Just ask that they leave out the spinach, which was mostly difficult stems.

Errands include stop by the museum (no Frost Cemetery headstones were taken there, rats) and balloons for the birthday celebration, and, of course, fudge. Willits fudge is famous and fabulous. They have been selling this stuff in the Rexall down the street from Mother's Dollhouse Bed & Breakfast since time began. Susana broke the news to us that Rexall has changed hands, they no longer sell fudge, and my heart stopped. Then she grinned and said the fudge has moved to the mall. Whew. The mall used to be four stores, it is all now one big huge fun place based on animal care but includes everything imaginable for a home and then some. There was this ginormous round mesh drying rack with a dozen or more individual zippered compartments. I am thinking this is way too light for fruit. Sweaters? David asked the clerk who looked at him gently and said, This is Mendocino County." Duh. Fudge for us, Jena, Amanda, Doc and Christie, $50. Yikes, but worth every calorie.

Susana urged us to visit the Roselina rare books store if it was open, which it was not on the way for fudge, BUT it was open on our return. After drooling over the incredible furniture and stained glass lamps, I spy a stained glass parrot night light. He now sits on his bronze tree limb base next to my bed. Lovely, lovely. Off with Tom and Susana to Ukiah, a stop for flowers at Safeway and food at the Ruen Tong Thai restaurant, Sandy and beau Louis, daughter Alison meet us at Mom's, lunch is wonderful, it is comforting to see how much Mom's caregiver, Leita, loves Mom. Present opening, Mom is looking tired, but Alison throws a plastic orange to Louis and the game is afoot. Laughter and throws overflow until the 'ball' lands in the kitty litter, and the entire room groans. Even Mom caught and threw the ball, smiling her sly little gentle grin. Poor Louis was not warned about Sandy's weird family, but he survived, I think.

We toured Tom's acreage in Willits, then off to his 'normal' house, he too, has far too much on his plate. A late dinner for the travelers at the Broiler in Redwood Valley, our favorite steak house, but only salad for me, ribs for David. We have to remember to bring a glass jar with us next trip. They sell the salad dressing, but only if you have your own container and they recommend glass. Crash and burn, then Sunday morning brings pack and fly home, hopefully, ahead of the holiday traffic of Sunday.

We took a different route home through Hopland and Cloverdale. Hopland included a very disappointing stop for lunch at the Bluebird Cafe, but a sensational stop at Cali Kind where tie dye skirts, dresses and scarves went home with me. It was grand driving through the wine valley, then we saw the long line of stopped traffic coming in the other direction. How do people put up with this willingly? Oakville Grocery was wonderful, a small version of Whole Foods. If you are traveling and want a less boring snack, this is the place. Meringue goodies, watermelon, tapenade, lemon curd, cream soda and root beer. I want to go back and take a picture of the "Mee Lane" sign. Opus One was, well, interesting, as what appeared to be a huge, blank billboard atop the treeless, dry hills north east of Napa.

Mother sent us a tiny container of fairy dust many years back, along with her classic newspaper article stating what it was, how it was collected. Wild Fennel flower. Anyone who knows about fennel knows how tiny a fennel flower is, and it can't be your classic garden variety, Bronze Fennel. Through out the trip, we were watching for fennel that hopefully was near a spot we could pull off the highway. We had a meager collection I was so proud of, until we hit Napa. There, behind a Black Bear Diner was a fennel forest. Jack pot!!!

Further down the road, I spied a few parachutes falling out of the sky, urged David to stop so he could see them just as the last one landed, but lo and behold, there are five more, five more, and five more. What a delight to watch them start to terribly teensy, float gently through the wild winds, past the stunning display of clouds, and gracefully land at the Yacht Club, some in the water, some on the levy, a few hundred feet away.

At seven, we opted for the Red Lobster in Modesto instead of waiting until we got home. An hour wait had us searching for the Outback where we ate right away and made it home after eight, tired, but very happy to be back with our puppies and in our own little bed.

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