I’d like to thank my co-conspirators in this week’s edition: the creative flair of photographer Justine Belson, the comic stylings of her husband Nick Labedzki, and the unflagging willingness of my husband Keith to allow me the use of “his technology” to record the events of our life.
We are Truckee bound!
Thanks to the generous invitation of my best friend Bean and her mother Ramona, a.k.a “Grandma Mona”, whose lovely home (‘Scandiaholm’ to those in the know) has warmly been opened to me and my family for years. This year we’ve been asked to join them for the Thanksgiving holiday so we are lucky enough to be headed up to the snowy wonderland of Truckee, CA for the next 5 days.
And snowy it will be, because Northern California has just had it’s first real storm of the winter. A cold front swept through the valley and a harsh, driving rain pummeled Sacramento for several days. Which of course, meant a big dump up in the mountains. Time to pull out the snow gear.
We left town the day before the holiday. The drive up Interstate 80 was slow due to traffic and icy roads at the Summit. We’d bought new snow-chains and were all prepared to have to stop but the roads stayed icy, if slick, and there wasn’t ever chain control. The mothers, the ‘big kids’, and the carsick dog went in one van. The dads and the ‘little kids’ went in the other.
Bean and I had a fun ride up – as always. And the carsick pup, Busy, did really good and did not puke once. Usually he can’t travel more than two miles without yakking, poor thing. But Bean had given him this new herbal remedy for motion sickness. “Valerian, Chamomile, Tryptophan, and St. Johns Wort”, I read from the bottle of Happy Traveler. Hmmm, well it seemed to be working. I looked in the backseat where Busy lay with his head in the lap of his girl, Elvie. He was pretty blissed out and dozy but not at all about to barf. Good job Busy! Good job herbal remedy!
As we climbed higher into the foothills and then up further into the start of the Sierra range, we were already seeing snow at around 3000 feet. It was deeper than I had thought it would be and by the time we reached Boreal on the summit, we had traversed seasons and were truly in Winter. The temperature dropped to 25 degrees ( that’s -40 C. for our international readers), and as my son reminded me that was well below freezing. Brrrrr.
Descending down the mountain, I could see down to Donner Lake and the West End beach where we’d just celebrated our friend’s wedding this summer. Snow covered the sand reaching almost to the water and a ghostly mist of cold air hung over boat docks. It was just such a gasp! of gorgeousness.
As we got off at the Truckee exit, I spotted a carful of cute ski-dudes and couldn’t help but wonder aloud, “WHY don’t we live here?”.
It was 12 degrees (-110 C) when we arrived at the house and the sun was swiftly setting, but that didn’t stop the kids who were ready to get out in the snow and play right away. And so began the ritual that would be repeated numerous times over the next few days, something I began to call the “Kenny Bear” process.
You may remember the character of Kenny Bear from the Richard Scarry’s Best Word book ever series? Well anyway, for the benefit of his young readers Kenny Bear has to adorn a detailed inventory of warm wintery clothing, and is decked out in many many layers before he heads out into the frosty world.
My kids had to do the same. First the woolen underwear – top & bottom, the thick socks, doubled over with the cotton socks, the long sleeve shirt, then the sweater, the jeans over the long-johns ….and then the ski pants and jacket, hat or balaclava, waterproof gloves and snowboots. By this time of course,they are so bundled up that they can’t zip their own zippers and everyone needs help so it’s like a little snowman factory – line ‘em up, gear ‘em up, and shove ‘em out the door.
“They’d better stay out there awhile” we mothers would say, curling up on the couch with a chardonnay and Gourmet magazine. They did. They were outside sledding for over two hours straight one day, and by the time they’d appeared back at the door ready for the disrobing process to begin, an actual snowball had formed itself on the zipper of Lincoln’s jacket!
Thanksgiving morning I woke up early, like 5:30 a.m., thanks to the leaky diaper of our littlest boy. This is tricky because while we were staying in a big house with many rooms, there are people sleeping in all of them (16 of us in total). Trying to find a space to keep my kid quiet, I crept upstairs to the kitchen and gazed out of the huge picture window over-looking the mountains to watch the sun rise over the dreamy landscape. We saw fresh deer tracks in the powder, and the rays of sunlight from the climbing orange orb twinkled and sparkled on the snow like frost fairies.
Later in the day, when the rest of the household was up and the sun was high in the sky, the icicles on the eaves began dripping and I was sorry to see them go. The redwood decks were steaming as the temperature rose. It was time to shovel.
There was over three feet of snow on the top deck. Far from being daunting, it felt good to get out and work. It was quiet and satisfying, not to mention a great ab workout. Something inside me readjusted and my inner-dial clicked over to Contented.
The holiday meal itself was relaxed, delicious and lots of fun. We played “Who Am I?” at the table, guessing the name of the famous person or fictional character stuck to our backs with post-its. My powers of deduction were swift; I was Lady Gaga.
The next day’s adventure began early. Bean had a photo-shoot on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe and I tagged along as her assistant. She was doing portraits at a family reunion which was taking place at Shakespeare Ranch – a compound of 26 lake-side buildings privately owned by a Las Vegas liquor mogul. The drive over to Tahoe was gorgeous, blue skies and snow-capped boulders reaching down to the icy sands of the shore. We drove through the area of King’s Beach, past Sand Harbor, a beach we’d been swimming at a summer or two ago. At that time the sand had been so hot it scorched my feet. Now it was frozen and desolate with nothing on it but a lonely lifeguard tower standing sentry.
When we reached the ranch and drove in through the guard gate, another Rockwellian scene greeted us. There were lines of naked silver beech trees and white clapboard style homes with rolling lawns of virgin snow. I felt like we’d walked into a nostalgic postcard of classic Americana.
There was a huge old barn on the property, built in the 1800’s, which had been converted into an entertainment hall for the guests. It was replete with a gourmet kitchen, full bar, an arcade area of foosball and video games, and a plethora of flat-screen TV’s. Adorning the walls, along with eclectic woodsy décor, were photos of the ranch’s millionaire owner posing with celebrity friends such as Robin Williams and the Clintons. There were framed hand-written notes and thank-you’s from both George W. and George H. Bush and from Mohammed Ali. I started to feel swanky by virtue of association.
The shoot went well. The batteries died in the camera I was using halfway through the portraits so I faked it in the background, while Bean worked her magic. The family was 22 large but they all were amiable, handsome, and willing to stand in the snow for the perfect shot so I’m sure she got some great pictures! On our way out, we snapped a few of our own:
Heading back around the lake, we stopped for lunch and bloody mary’s at the randomly chosen The Log Cabin in Kings Beach. The food was good and the service friendly. On the way out I saw a framed sign by the front door: “as featured on Rachel Ray, 2009”. Well, alright.
We took the scenic route home. The views of the Lake Tahoe were truly spectacular. The clearest blue skies and snow-capped mountains stretched on for miles. It’s easy to understand why this place is a world renowned destination. I felt just then, as I did numerous times over this particular thanks-giving holiday, such immeasurable gratitude for getting to be here and to see this.
We had another fun evening that night. The kids made dinner for us all and called the dining room their restaurant, “The Hop on In”. They took our orders from handwritten menus, and I requested a “# 2: mixed yummyness” and a PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon). Bean’s girls did a great job taking orders and running the kitchen.
And you have to admit, not much is cuter than kids playing waitress…except maybe kids playing little diners.
Our evening was only marred when the little dog Busy ate something he shouldn’t have and became super floppy and out of it. There were some stressful moments while he was hustled off to the emergency vet, where he was given fluids and ultimately a clean bill of health.
There was a real silver lining to the experience however when Nick, inspired to make a get-well message for his family dog, created this little gem of animation: Thanksgiving with Busy. Basically a collage of all the goofy little sayings and croonings Nick has for his pets (Busy and cats, George and Striper)…..it’s a must see!!
The next day snow began to silently fall in the morning as another storm started to blow through the Sierras. The immeasurable quiet and peace of a day spent cozied up doing indoor activities was just what the doctor ordered. Ahhh …bliss, Truckee style.
Bean and her girls have a running joke, which we have taken up in our family: when are up here in this awesome place, we live by “Truckee Rules”. These laws are loose and anything goes under this regime. If the kids want to do something we would never normally allow, we just shrug and say okay, sure. After all, it’s Truckee rules.
Want to snowboard on the street?? Truckee rules! Take the dog for a long, unsupervised walk?? Truckee rules! Stay up ‘til midnight watching trashy cable TV?? (that’s for the grown-ups of course, it’s not a total free –for-all)…Truckee rules!
It’s a way of acknowledging that this is a very special place to be and that it has it’s own brand of fun and family. And while we are here, fortunate to be truly on vacation and having such a good time, let’s live it up….