Monday, December 7, 2015

Yes, we have enough!

We have traveled some very familiar roads this past month. Even as the month ended up with the Thanksgiving weekend where we were pleased to have house guests joining us for the annual turkey fest, Margo and I could always hear the highway calling. A popular expression between the two of us, having spent so many years traversing the west, when having spent a full month at home was an anomaly, so this month included a return trip to where it all started for us. San Jose, California, and Silicon Valley.

As the picture above depicts, we spent the better part of a week at the San Jose Fairmont, an upscale hotel well suited for small to medium events and this one was very familiar. In our days as volunteers supporting the International Tandem User Group (ITUG) we had been fortunate to enjoy the two primary penthouse suits – the Presidential Suite as well as the even bigger, International Suite. Unfortunately, this time it was just a regular room, but with Margo once again volunteering to help out the organization running the event, the room proved to be pretty good.

My only remark concerning this hotel is that the original building is in need of repairs and a general “sprucing up” as it’s beginning to show its age and the overall wear and tear on the premises wasn’t hard to miss. The opportunity to spend several days in one place, meeting with colleagues we have worked with for many decades was a pleasant break even as it signaled the official end to fall – winter was definitely beginning to make its presence felt. 

In the days before we left for San Jose we had a couple of days of snow and for the first time, with the leaves well and truly gone, we were given a graphic reminded of why so many folks enjoy the Colorado lifestyle on offer along the front ranges. The Rockies consist of waves of mountains, the front ranges barely making it to 10,000 feet, behind them is the continental divide where the numerous 14,000 feet peaks can be readily seen – our home faces Long’s Peak, one of the more majestic peaks that is 14, 256 feet high that you can just make out to the left of the photo above. Occupying the center of the picture is the equally recognizable Twin Peaks. 

The visage of our home changes dramatically with the first snowfall. Throughout the summer, the trees in front of the house, now having grown to 30 feet or more, cover the porches and front entrance making it a little difficult to take in the true form of our home. But with the leaves gone and the distinct whiteness of winter flanking the ocher and stone structure of our home, it now stands out in stark relief against this backdrop of winter. If you scroll back to the posts of January through March of this year, you will see numerous photos taken from our home in winter and it’s a reminder to both Margo and me that there are many months to come before we see the return of spring.

However, we never dwell on what’s to come and for now, enjoying the first snowfall has been a treat and in typical Colorado style, where humidity never pushes higher than 10%, even now there is little reminder of this snowfall remaining. A couple of icy patches beneath overhanging branches on some side streets, but that’s about it. We put new tires on the Jeep SRT and that has made a big difference and with our Mini Roadster being front wheel drive, and on those tough mornings when the snow lays deep on the driveway, we have options!

The trip to San Jose though did throw a couple of curve balls our way. Electing to take the northern route over the Rockies and then down through the Sierras, we ran into a typical Wyoming winter’s day – wind-driven snow pushing across Interstate 80 where the gusts were topping 50 mph. Nothing we couldn’t handle, mind you, but definitely necessitating a hands-on approach along with higher levels of concentration. The trip between Laramie, WY, and Rawlins, WY, proved to be painfully slow, but it was just the beginning.

In the days before we took to the road I had removed the new snow chains from their bag to check how easily they could be installed on the Jeep. Installing chains on an all-wheel drive Jeep to ensure traction really did mean we were just a whisker away from the highway being closed – if a regular Jeep with good tire tread depth couldn’t make it unaided then nothing could. However, I wanted to be sure, but no matter how many times I tried to install the chains, I couldn’t complete the task; did someone say chains for this width and diameter wheel now standard on a Jeep SRT would be heavy? They were, and I struggled and busted my knuckles before I gave up.

Continuing our trip through Wyoming and into Utah, we were able to pick up the pace and the run down Nevada was uneventful. However, on the Sunday morning as we left Sparks, Nevada, a small township just outside Reno, NV, even though the skies were clear blue, by the time we crossed into California at Truckee we knew we were in trouble. Police and California Department of Transportation (CDoT) were manning checkpoints only a mile or so to the west of Truckee and all vehicles were being stopped and their road worthiness checked – a winter storm had swept in from the Pacific North West and snow was falling fast and furiously. Whether it was the Colorado plates on the Jeep, the new tires, or the visible emergency gear we were carrying that the inspector noticed, we were waved on through and given thumbs up.

Not so fortunate were a couple of young ladies in a Kia Soul just ahead of us. “Around you go and find yourselves a hotel for the day,” I overhead one inspector shouting over loud objections coming from the vehicles occupants. “You aren’t going anywhere in that car today.” As for me, “keep the gearing high and watch the summits – there have been five major pile ups ahead of you so just keep it to 30 mph, max!” Three hours later we had traversed the 30 miles between Truckee and Auburn where we just had to stop for the mandatory Starbucks Latte – we carry water all the time and we must have consumed more than a couple of bottles so being hydrated, as we needed to be, the Starbucks restrooms were just as much a priority. As Margo was keen to note, “Enough of this snow, already!”

Yes, we came across more than one wreck on the mountain with one a multicar pile up and on one occasion there was a distinct yell from Margo who was watching the mirrors with me. A minivan driver had lost control right behind us and was swerving violently across all three lanes. Not prepared to increase my own speed as it was a steep downhill grade, I watched the violence unfolding as I hoped for the best. By some miracle or another, the driver regained control and promptly dropped the speed to a crawl. Didn’t see this car again so we hope it made it. Our curiosity was raised, however when we came across two articulated mountain commuter buses in a ditch apparently one following the other right off the road. 

As for the return trip at the end of the week, it was blue skies all the way from California to Wyoming but once again, we hit trouble in Wyoming’s high country. This time, the stretch of Interstate 80 we had traversed on the way to San Jose was closed to all traffic – there were white-out conditions coupled with stretches of ice that had led to one accident after the other. But we had built an extra day into our itinerary so having checked into a hotel before midday, we simply took in the sights of Rawlins. Apart from there being a reasonable Thai restaurant downtown, let me tell you, there’s nothing much to see in Rawlins and the blowing winds appear to never let up!

Our time on track over these past eight years has taught us so much. Clearly, always staying hydrated no matter the temperatures is a very big lesson we learnt right out of the gate. Getting off cruise control in situations where traction is iffy is another big lesson we have learnt as well. But there’s much more – being attentive and watching everyone around you as well as always being alert about where to safely “exit the track” should an “off” be imminent.

Corners and indeed cornering itself are approached so much differently now even if it’s all based on slow in, fast out, as we talk each other through every turn with respect to whether it’s best approached with a late apex or a mid-tarmac entry until we sight an apex. And then of course, working back from an ideal line when we know to expect less than ideal traction . It’s not just snow on the road but the further down the mountain we drove to where the snow turned to heavy rains, we watched as different vehicles began to aquaplane, but we were ready for these and experienced no difficulties at all. 

We continue to turn up at our local fitness center no matter the conditions and have worked the 5:30 am daily start into our routine. I have business calls with my European clients on some mornings but I work this into our schedule even if it means moving forward the wake time on our alarm clock. The upside benefits though are well worth the bleary eyes that often accompany our walk to the garage as after almost a full year of walking on a treadmill and working with a couple of the appliances, Margo and I feel fitter than we ever have been – well, at least for the past decade or so. Both of us have shed 30 plus pounds and are managing to keep it off, but more importantly, we have grown to appreciate that we needed to change our diets just a tad and this we have done.

Mind you, there’s still an afternoon martini but we have back off the volume in each glass by a couple of ounces.  Steak? Well, of course – but now just once a week and we have complemented our meat intake with fish as our local supermarket has been providing us with terrific red snapper of late that I just love to grill. A two to three pound fish, stuffed with a mix of limes, parsley and cilantro and then drizzled with a squeeze of lemon is proving to be unavoidable whenever we see the right fish on offer. As for pasta then yes, there’s still a little in our diets but down in quantity and you know the breads we like? Gone; eliminated completely … when it comes to dough, enough is certainly enough!

The Holen-Buckle kitchen continues to play a starring role as far as lifestyle in concerned. Visitors have often remarked about the number of ovens we have and the size of the preparation space but when it comes time for the festive season, then it’s all fully utilized. As is the warming drawer – a lifesaver for us when there are multi-course meals to be served. Call us old-school or call us fussy but we do not like to ever serve meals that aren’t piping hot and should you be invited for dinner, you need to be punctual as we “respect the menu” and serve the main course when it’s ready. There’s little tolerance in our family for a lackadaisical approach to mealtimes – whenever, or indeed whatever, doesn’t cut it and is not part of our vocabulary! As for the pears in the foreground they made it in to a delightful spiced pear pie ...

On the upside are some of the best meals this side of Sydney (and Warsaw, for that matter) and nothing delights us more than entertaining family and friends and whether it’s a more formal gathering in our dining room or simply sampling pieces in the kitchen, we derive considerable pleasure from seeing folks really enjoying what Margo and I have prepared. Regular readers of posts to this blog will have seen the many pictures of different meals as they are prepared and I will continue to include a photo or two. With winter bearing down on us we have now pulled out the slow cooker and it’s been pulled into regular service of late as the picture below clearly demonstrates. 

With winter comes the start of other rituals. Walking into the garage only a week or so ago I had to pull out the battery trickle-chargers and plug in the coupes. No option now to take these cars out onto the highways although we still keep an eye to the sky watching for a break in the weather. All the same, it’s kind of sad to see them lying idle as they await warmer days. Have to keep monitoring tire pressures and I have a tank on hand that I use to top them up as temperatures dropping below zero centigrade do their damage.

It is a small price to pay for living in a place where four seasons are clearly on show. We both would love to live in a warmer climate all year round but then, there are some aspects of the seasons that are special for both of us. Even as we know it will not be long before spring returns, at this time, we are in no rush. We have grandchildren now that need to be entertained and we have tress to decorate and more feasts to prepare. And with that, we reassure each other with every change of season, we have enough. Yes, we’re good and with that, there’s just one more martini to shake! 

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