I am one of seven sisters that was raised as a catholic and my parents wanted a large family. My brother came first and seven sisters later. I am smack in the middle and my parents were sure I was a boy, a brother for Tom and that I would be named John. Well it turns out I was a girl and my name is Joan after the Saint, Joan of Arc.

We celebrated the second to the youngest sister’s 60th Birthday up in Morro Bay and went zip lining in Santa Margarita to get in touch with our wild side. There was wine tasting afterwards at Ancient Peaks and I have to tell you, they had some spectacular wine. Apparently the soil holds oysters the size of soccer balls and this leads to an interesting mineral deposit that the grape vines love.

So all in all, I have a really cool bunch of sisters, and one sister in law to fill in the gap, and I am feeling nostalgic as it is 3 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It was a memorable get together because we are all aging gracefully and have gotten closer. I am really proud of all my competent, outstanding women that just happen to be sisters too! COW for short. Life has been challenging for all of us but we have fought the battles with integrity.

This morning we are heading to Vegas with Callie to meet up with our daughter. Another adventure is brewing!

A 7 Sister Reunion

As I have stated in my last post, I am attending a sister reunion in Morro Bay, California for 4 days and 3 nights. One sister couldn’t make it and a sister in law has stepped in to fill in the gap. Frances is a Canadian citizen and my brother, Tom’s wife. We are celebrating her birthday and my sister Janet’s.

I did the drive from Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, but split it up by going to visit my sister Gayle first. We then took one car up together, another sister Judy, drove up by herself from Riverside, and Janet and Jennifer came up from Santa Barbara. Jennifer lives in South Carolina but had flown in before Christmas to celebrate Christmas and New Years in California. We were all impacted by the storm that hit Montecito and the mudslides that followed.

Janet lives in Santa Barbara and was evacuated several times due to the Thomas Fire. She has had to listen to helicopters once again flying over her home because of the horrific mudslides that have taken 17 lives and destroyed over 100 houses. The 101 has been shut down for a 30 mile stretch and everyone trying to go north and south have had to detour over to the 5 and the 166.

Frances left Vancouver Island 3 days before by Amtrak, and what a nightmare that was for her. She ended up having to be taken off the train and put on one bus after another. It was all quite chaotic and unsettling. Amtrak was totally unprepared for this natural disaster, but in spite of the chaos, still managed to get her to SLO, almost on time.

To put a cheery spin on this disaster, we all made it safely to Morro Bay and had a fabulous first evening at Elizabeth’s house overlooking Morro Bay. How fortunate I am to have such beautiful and kind sisters and that we all made it safely to her house. The fire and ensuing mudslides are a reminder of the sanctity and fragility of life. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the incredible heroism of the first responders and emergency crews that are working tirelessly to save lives. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This will be a sister reunion to be remembered.

The Birthday girls!

Mountain Bluebirds

In the fall and winter, Anza- Borrego Desert State Park is visited by the mountain bluebird. This medium sized bird is an insect eater and comes down from higher elevations in the winter to escape the cold and to find food. We have a flock of at least 60 birds that pivot and swoop and enjoy my birdbath with almost total abandonment.

They are hunted by the sharp- shinned hawk, who is an extraordinary flier and is one of the fastest hawks that prey on songbirds. Because of this, there are always lookout bluebirds hanging out in Callie’s beloved olive tree just in case a hawk is spotted. If they sense danger, you can hear an alarm call go out and they scatter in all directions in an explosive blast of feathers and chirps!

I have placed the birdbath so that Callie can admire them from her perch on the windowsill, and so that hawks will not be able to make a clear cut pass over the bath. If a hawk were to hone in on these lovely birds, the lookout birds would see the hawk before it became a threat and send out an alarm call!

And as you can see, they love taking baths and because they are so boisterous in their wing flapping, I have had to fill the birdbath up every day or it is emptied quickly by all the splashing in the late afternoon.

Callie can just about taste these delicate morsels on the wing, and her tail twitches and jerks in anticipation of a meal, totally NOT within her reach!

Quiet by Day- Wild at Night

Oh the joy of a quiet day of solitude, and a good book to read. I stayed cuddled up with Callie under a white, handmade quilt from my deceased mother and read most of the afternoon. Callie took it upon herself to take advantage of it, and slept curled up by my side. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed it so much. There is nothing quite like a good book to read. All was perfect until night descended, and it was time for me to sleep. Since Callie had slept all day, she had insomnia during the night, and that translates into me not getting much sleep.

But she is such a sweetheart about waking me up, and asks ever so gently for attention. First there is a delicate tap of her paw on my face, and with just he slightest touch of one claw extended. Once she sees that my eyes are open, I get the chirp and a meow of “Hello, are you awake?” Her eyes are like soccers and she is cold, and only wants the warmth of my body, with some attention thrown in on the side. Because I toss and turn so much, caution is in order about finding a safe spot to curl up in. Of course this takes some time, and she paces back and forth and in a circle, before settling down by my side with a contented sigh.

Once she finds her sweet spot, she lets out with an explosive purr and little chirps of gratitude that make me smile. By now, I am wide awake and have eyes like saucers, but at least she is warm and happy, and starting to fall asleep. It is hard to stay mad at her though!*

Fortunately for me, I am retired now and only have to do whatever it is that I want to do for the rest of the day.

Callie is a cat that needs constant stimulation. She is not a couch potato and prefers a life of action. When we are on the road, she is entertained by all the activity and can look out the window on the dash. I also take her on frequent walks. She sleeps much better, and mostly through the night when we are on the road. Once we arrive back home to our desert house, the first 3 days or so are heavenly because we are all exhausted and need the rest. But after 3 days, Callie wants action again.

I will have to start dragging her out in the bike basket again. Riding in the basket is a mixture of both fear and excitement for her. The last time I took her out, I forgot to put her in her backpack first, and while not paying close enough attention, she jumped out and took off running. The backpack had provided just a little more support and comfort. and she was able to duck down into it if the scene whizzing by was too much for her. I didn’t handle the situation very well myself, and panicked, which only made the situation worse. Fortunately she ran up a nearby orange tree, and I was able to coax her back down. She was frightened, and so was I. The next time we go out on the bike, I will pay closer attention to her.

There is always some risk when walking a cat on a leash, backpacking, or riding in a basket on a bike. They certainly are not like dogs, and can pull out of a harness in seconds flat. There are some new designs out there that appear almost t-shirt like, and with a turtle neck that seem more confining.

Lately, I have been seeing more and more cats out there being walked, and it appears to be getting more popular. When I first started out with Callie several years ago, she was mobbed by the novelty of it all. In spite of the risks, cats like Callie need the stimulation, so it does my heart good to see other cats out there doing the same.

* I do have a portable heater churning away in the living room so that she can sleep out there by the warmth. Of course she prefers waking me up so that she can sleep with me though.

Are Cats getting Smarter!

Forgive me if I am wrong, but I believe that domesticated cats are getting much smarter than say, 62 years ago when I was a child. For instance, Callie taps me with her paw to get my undivided attention, meows and stares me in the eye before she starts chewing as if she is hungry. She is asking me to feed her. How obvious is that? It cracks me up every time she does it, and her actions are then positively reinforced. She doesn’t want leftovers, and asks so sweetly for fresh food on demand. If she wasn’t so damn cute, it would quickly escalate to nightmare status.

At least for now, I have trained her to jump down from the bed at night, where I have placed a dainty glass bowl of fresh kibble by my nightstand. That is a huge improvement. At one time earlier in our relationship, I was a slave to getting up several times at night in order to feed her frozen kibble. I know it sounds like I am a pushover, but Callie sure does know how to lay down the law! I mean charm….

Queen of the Dash

We made the epic journey back to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park yesterday after 2 long days of driving. On Friday we experienced heavy traffic due to the New Year’s holiday, and even the diamond lanes were congested because families were on the move.

Callie was the QUEEN of the dash and takes her position in front of me as soon as the RV motor starts up with a roar. Her desire to be a part of the action is so adorable. She is such a good sport about being on the road from morning to dusk, and takes it all in feline stride.

It feels good to be home, even if all the off roadies have kicked up so much dust and sand, that it looked like a major storm was blowing across the dry, desert sand. My sister Gayle and her family are camping at Ocotillo Wells over the weekend, so we are going to check out what kind of fun she is experiencing some time later today. She has 2 sons and a husband who love to off road. We are on opposite camps when it comes to enjoying the desert. Gayle is also introducing her 2 dogs, Murphy and Mazy to a life of camping, so it will be a treat for me to see how they are handling all the commotion too!*

Anza- Borrego Desert State Park is divided in two by the off roadies who want to roar over the sand in dune buggies at blinding speed; feeling the wind in their faces and the thrill of wide open terrain below their wheels, and those that admire the solitude and quiet of the desert, but try to have as little impact on all the plants and animals that call this place their home. Both groups must share this unique desert, and this weekend, what with mild temperatures, and it being a 3 day holiday, it has brought an unusual amount of human desert enthusiasts to my usually quiet, desert home.

* On a footnote- Michael and I were able to visit my sister and her family on Sunday, and we found them in Ocotillo Wells after searching for about an hour. The dust was so thick that you couldn’t see very far, but the smiles were huge on their faces, and it was obvious that they had had a fabulous time. Families everywhere were having fun in spite of it being a very different crowd than what I was use to. It was a good experience for me to see the other side of having “fun” in the desert!

A Bike Ride to 17 Mile Drive

You can’t go wrong biking along the pristine Pacific Coastline through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula in California. It is free to cyclists and a perfect way to spend an entire afternoon.

There is a long history to this area starting in 1602 where it was mapped by Spanish explorers. Pebble Beach was left to a widow by the name of Carmen Garcia Barreto Maria. It has changed ownership several times and was eventually purchased at auction for 12 cents an acre by David Jacks. Fast forward to the future, this beautiful coastline was acquired by the Cypress investor group in 1999, which was led by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer, and Peter Ueberroth.

Biking along the coast you come across such attractions as Cypress Point, Bird Rock, Point Joe, and Lone Cypress, an image that has been trademarked and cannot be photographed and the photographs used commercially. That bothers me to no end! You bike along both the coast and the golf course, and meander through neighborhoods that are obscenely wealthy. I try to look the other way and focus on the natural beauty of the place and not dwell on the disparity of the working class and the rich.

Michael, Fred and I headed out from the Monterey County Fairgrounds and took the bike trail all along the coast to the 17 Mile Drive. When we biked past the wharf, we turned out to the Coastguard pier to check on the sea lions that make so much noise with their barking and arguing for a prime spot in which to rest. The quiet harbor seals have claimed the sandy beach next to the Stanford Research Center, and they can be seen rolling along the shoreline as small waves toss them back and forth across the sand. These seals look so well fed that when they bask on rocks with their webbed feet up in the air for balance, they look blown up to capacity and can hardly move.

We stopped frequently at Pacific Grove and Asilomar to enjoy and appreciate the view. The coastline is rugged and there are jagged rocks with white sandy beaches. The wildlife is abundant and somewhat tame because of the wildlife reserve status. Who wouldn’t want to live there? We saw harbor seals basking, sea lions barking, a red tailed hawk sitting on a rock. And when it took to the sky, it was harassed by crows, (at least I think it was a red tailed hawk) even if it didn’t have the distinctive red tail, it may be going through a dark phase, correct me if I am wrong, lots of pelicans, cormorants, seagulls, whale plumes, and the list goes on.

It was a beautiful sunny day with a moderate temperature of only 63, and this at the end of December, and with no wind. We hung out all day and ended up eating a late lunch at The Fishwife which is close to the entranceway to 17 Mile Drive. The food was delicious enough, but not as good as The Sand Bar and Grill, but it did have the benefit of being less expensive too.

After 26 miles of biking for 6 hours on and off, we trudged back up the hill to the fairgrounds pretty wiped out and wind blown, exhausted but happy. Our cheeks were rosy and glowed with health from a day in sunshine and out in the elements. My eyes are fried though! I promised myself I would limit texting and photography today. So much for that promise!

And since I share this blog equally with the subject of travel and our princess cat- Callie, her life as a traveling cat couldn’t be finer. She sleeps a lot during the day, goes on several walks with her leash and harness, and rides on the dash when we hit the road. Her litter box fits neatly in the bathroom all the way in the back of the RV, and her food and water is placed on the shower bench for her enjoyment. This is really a perfect life for her and she adds so much to the overall enjoyment of our trip!

The coastguard pier provides a place for sea lions to rest.

The harbor seals are smaller and have found sanctuary at the Stanford Research Center

Stages of a Sunset

On Christmas evening, and after a lovely meal served by the City of Monterey Food Bank, Michael, Fred and I biked over to Monterey State Beach to watch the sunset tuck itself in for the night. It took some negotiating to find a spot where we could all sit and not have a building in the way, but once we did, we settled down and enjoyed a quiet moment.

There were not that many people at the beach, but the few that were, had plump little dogs panting after them and enjoying some free time out on the sand. The waves rolled in on a direct trajectory and would crash all at once in a long line that covered the entire stretch of the beach. A large flock of what looked like plovers wheeled and spun right over the water and reminded me of a swarm of flies. They flew in unison and would all land at once for just a second before flying off again.

The sunset was not colorful, but rather filled with silver and gray and unfolded softly. Heading back on our bikes in the fading light, and with me all dressed in black, was a little unnerving, but we managed to get back to the fairgrounds in one piece.

The True Meaning of Christmas

We are currently camped out once again at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, because unbeknownst to us, Christmas is a very popular time for RVing. We wanted to stay at New Brighton or Sea-cliff in the Santa Cruz area, but everything was filled up.

Callie loves it here and as I write, the murder of crows is cawing and cackling overhead high up in the oak trees, and Fred and Michael are listening to the Warriors game in his RV. During the game, Michael and I took a quick break and ran over to the “free Christmas meal” provided by the city of Monterey to those in need. Restaurants and local chefs team up to provide a hot meal on Christmas Day to those less fortunate. We were immediately humbled by the large turn out of both hungry people and those helping the hungry.

The Community Holiday Dinner meal was served in one of the large warehouses on the other side of the fairgrounds, and Michael and I practically ran over there because it was almost 2pm and that was when they would stop serving. The dinner was sponsored by the committee named after this event and the Food Bank for Monterey County. This special event has been hosted for 25 years and Thanksgiving for a whopping-35! We were told about the event from Ray, the host of the RV Park, because he has been going to it for years. We were met with raucous Christmas music being played live by 2 musicians dressed up in Santa Claus outfits, and about 100 people or more eating merrily, while others were being served by volunteers lined up to help.

Smoked turkey, a roll with butter, dressing, yams, broccoli, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, donuts, cupcakes, coffee and sodas were placed on long tables and served with enthusiastic and kind volunteers ready to pile up your plate with as much food as you wanted, and the food was absolutely free to those in need!

There were also tables filled with gently used clothing that people could pick through and select whatever they wanted to keep. Jackets and warm sweaters, shoes and socks, pants and shirts for both men and women. There were a fair amount of homeless people pushing their carts with all of their belongings in them, and opinionated dogs guarding the carts. Many of the homeless appeared to know one another and were talking and laughing amongst themselves.

We were served our holiday meal and fit right in with most of the crowd, but we were more fortunate in that we could leave a donation and didn’t need free clothes or food. I also tried to compliment as many of the volunteers that I came into contact with, and thanking them profusely for giving up their time over Christmas to help. This is what Christmas means to me, GIVING, and I was so happy to see this side of humanity being played out with dignity and respect toward the poor. Next year I want to be one of those helping to serve.

Pinnacles National Park Campground

Pinnacles National Monument was established in 1908 by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and it became a National Park in late 2012 when President Barak Obama passed legislation and signed it into law on January 10, 2013. It lies about 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and is considered part of California’s Coast Ranges.

The park is located near the San Andreas fault line, and the geology of this area has had a hand in creating the unique rock formations that the park protects. The movement of the Pacific Plate along the fault has split a section of rock away from the main body of the extinct volcano and moved it almost 200 miles to the northwest. The pinnacles are believed to be part of this ancient rock formation because of the unique breccias that are found at the Neenach Volcano. Seismic activity is frequent in the park and the Unites States Geological Survey maintains two seismometers.

The wildlife is abundant, with 13 species of bats, prairie falcons, California Condor, coyote, skunk, wild turkey, gray fox, quail and cougar. While camping there over night, a flock of at least 14 turkeys rummaged among the fallen acorns all around Fred’s RV. I didn’t see a tom, but watched as one large and seemingly older hen kept a close eye out for the rest of them, and she appeared to call all the shots. If she let out a gobble, they would all take off in unison at surprising speed. They look so prehistoric, and have long and powerful legs that can easily out run a human. The turkeys are also quite vocal and would talk to one another constantly as they popped their heads up in search of danger. Quail were active too, and we saw a gray fox, mule deer, and the incredible California Condor when we hiked up to the pinnacles!

The campsite itself was spacious and we got the senior discount of only $18.00 per RV. What a bargain! There are no sewer hook ups, but electricity is a must because of the extreme temperature variation. All the water faucets were frozen solid when we got up the next morning. Fred camped under a massive oak tree across from us, and while we watched the turkeys and quail rummage next to his RV, golden colored oak leaves fluttered down all around them. It was a beautiful site to behold, with the weak sunlight filtering through the old and gnarled branches, and the leaves dipping and circling delicately, before falling silently to the ground.

I loved Pinnacles National Park, and our hike to see the condors along Condor Gulch Trail was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We didn’t stay but one night though due to the cold. Apparently it is best to visit the park in the spring and fall.

Callie also thoroughly enjoyed watching the turkeys milling about, but only in the safety of our cozy RV dash and the front, look-out window. These birds were way to big for her to fantasize about capturing.