Friday, April 7, 2023

Elizabeth and I were on our seemingly annual trip to California. This time, it was a gift for her 18th birthday. Years ago, I thought we'd be flying to Astrakhan, Russia, for this birthday, but things are a little dicey there now. Besides, you need a sponsor to be granted a visa. About a year ago, knowing the current situation would not allow a visit any time soon, I emailed the adoption agency we used in 2007 to see if they could be a sponsor. They never got back to me other than to say "Has anyone helped you with this yet?"

We arrived in Sacramento around 5:45 Friday evening. Picking up the rental car from Alamo (avoiding Avis/Budget after last year's trip), we went straight to Doug's house. Elizabeth would be spending the night there with Natalia to go skiing the next day. The girls almost immediately went shopping for… whatever. I stayed and chatted with Doug and family a while. Everybody's fine — thanks for asking — but I had a roughly 3-hour drive ahead of me and had to hit the road.

I arrived at the rental home around 11:30PM and went almost immediately to sleep.


The wi-fi here doesn't work for my laptop (Linux), but does for the iPhone. I wonder if the Windows virtual machine on this thing would work? Probably ought to try it in case I have to dial into the office. Never mind. The phone was detecting the wi-fi nickname, but Linux, behind the times as usual, was finding the actual network name. I didn't discover that until reading the back of the physical router. </end-of-nerdspeak&gt

The rental house I'm in now is called Casa Blanca, a little white house in downtown Redding "mere steps away from all the action" or whatever their tagline is. It's also a block from where a group of homeless gather. I was afraid this so-called "action" and/or homeless people might spill over to my house, but it didn't… until the next night.

I was going to stay at Flawless Faith — people like to give their rental homes names — a cottage in the backyard of another house a few miles south of here. It was great the one night I was there, and I would still be there but for the lack of hot water in the shower. I took a cold shower in the morning but was not going to put up with that. For one, you pay good money for a rental, you expect modern conveniences like hot water. Secondly and most important, my daughter would be joining me the next day. Girls like long, hot showers.

Texting back and forth between Flawless Faith's owner/manager, she blamed the plumber, saying it was plumbed backwards. "Try turning the knob toward 'cold' instead of 'hot,'" she said. Geez.

After a great breakfast with Matt and Jeannie at Kenny's Kitchen in Cottonwood, we all went back to the rental to try again. Matt started taking off his clothes for the shower and Jeannie had to stop him. "Put your clothes back on right now, mister!" she said with clenched teeth. Just kidding. Her teeth weren&#39t clenched. 🙂

I turned on the shower and waited a couple minutes while using the "commode," as they call it back in Nashville. The water never got hot, even after flushing, which is a surefire way to make a running shower too hot.

At Casa Blanca, there was a problem with the front door keypad. It was the same brand and type as Flawless Faith, but the latter one worked. This manager told me over the phone the hidden key was under one of the plants on the front porch. Brilliant! What's to stop a neighbor or passerby from noticing or simply guessing that, making their own copy, and breaking in?

Later, on my way out the door for a run to the grocery store, I couldn't lock it behind me, even with the key. I informed the property manager, who texted back, "What on Earth! This is truly awful!" As if she didn't know. Didn't she just tell me to be on the lookout for the hide-a-key?

Her solution was for me to unlock the padlocked side gate, lock the front door from the inside, go out the back door which could be locked behind me, then lock the side gate.

"Wow," is all Tara could say… via text because she stayed home this trip.

"This is how hotels stay in business," I said. "These amateurs are no competition."

"Going to the store," I texted the property manager back, "hoping nobody walks in." And, from that point forward, I did the "side gate dance."

Natalia and Elizabeth went skiing Saturday, as mentioned, and spent that night at the former's apartment in Chico. They were supposed to go to Kirkwood. Those were the passes I purchased ahead of time to save $50. My mistake was to tell Elizabeth they might be transferable to Heavenly Valley in an emergency. With all the recent snow, I thought there was a chance one resort or the other would be inaccessible and, with both locations owned by the same company, maybe they'd be nice. They were not. The roads were clear and the girls went to Heavenly where they were surprised they — I — had to pay extra. There went my online savings, but that's water under the bridge. Money out of the wallet. They apparently had a great time skiing — best conditions, ever, they said — and we all met up at Jeannie's on Easter Sunday.

Thomas, Heather and Finnegan were there, too. When I hugged Heather, she seemed surprised. Not expecting me to be nice? I don't know. Elizabeth, at my request, had bought me a hat — some hunter's cammo ball cap — from a gas station between Chico and Cottonwood. I never would've chosen that for myself, but needed it for protection against the sun. Matt was letting me use his favorite cowboy hat — a stylish black one made for people with big heads — but I don't like to borrow people's things. I've got half a dozen ball caps at home, but forgot to bring one. Forgot my sunglasses, too. Who doesn't bring sunglasses to California? I've obviously lost a step or two.

When Heather and Thomas arrived, I was not wearing my new cap. Later, when I was, she asked Thomas, "Who's that guy over there in the hat?"

"That's Bill!" Thomas just laughed and told me the hat gave me a whole new look.

Tiffany and Skyla have a new puppy, a black-and-white German short-haired pointer named Harlow. I guess she's a replacement for Shayden who is currently at Air Force boot camp in Texas? Finnegan calls the puppy Winston Jr. He has a knack for creative names, and has grown about a foot since I last saw him.

After a lot of horseback riding, picture-taking, everyone making sandwiches and getting caught up with each other, Natalia returned home, and I brought Elizabeth and Skyla back with me to this rental home. It was too late for dinner for me. I try not to eat within two hours of bedtime, but the girls were hungry so we stopped at some Chinese restaurant. It was the only place open on Easter Sunday.

I ordered chicken with mushrooms. Skyla ordered chicken with something else. Elizabeth alone ordered enough for three people, and barely ate any of it. I should know by now not to order anything for myself, just finish whatever she doesn't eat. As I paid the check while the girls had their dinners boxed up to go, the woman at the register said, "Your daughters are beautiful. Are they twins?" Skyla is Tiffany's daughter, Jeannie's granddaughter, and a redhead like me and Jeannie. Elizabeth is blonde. They don't look alike to anyone but this woman.

"Thank you, no," I said.

Finally back at Casa Blanca, I immediately went inside to use the bathroom. It's what you do when you're old. That left Elizabeth and Skyla alone at the car to unload and fend for themselves a minute. Apparently, that was too much to ask. Elizabeth ran in and yelled through the bathroom door, "Dad! Keys! Now! There's homeless people out there!"

She wanted to lock the car. Miraculously, she and Skyla survived the homeless people.


We visited the Redwood Forest (officially Redwood National and State Parks) today. It's a 3-1/2 hour drive from Redding, but Elizabeth and Skyla kept each other company. My first task this morning was to wake the girls up, always a daunting task.

In the kitchen earlier, I had a dizzy moment and felt a little nauseous. I had just finished my last cup of coffee, and attributed it to too much caffeine. The episode passed quickly, the girls were up, and we drove several hours through the mountains, through Weaverville and a couple other mountain towns before reaching Arcata and Eureka along the coast.

My nausea was getting progressively worse when we stopped at the information center along Highway 101. An elderly gentleman rang up the souvenir t-shirt I picked out, then pulled out a map and marked the best places to go. Best for a lightweight like me, anyway. And he was right, those trees are amazing to stand next to. They're just so huge… and old.

Elizabeth bought a jacket for herself and a hoodie for Skyla. That was nice. She's good with money, but not afraid to spend it, either. "I don't mind spending money at a place like this," she said, "because I know it goes toward supporting the park." I was thinking the same thing as I paid for my $32 t-shirt.

In the Redwoods after getting out and hitting the trail, I had to go back to the car, lower the seat, and lie down. I texted the girls to tell them where I was — they had gone on ahead without me — but there was no cellular signal. I tried to take a nap, but it's hard to sleep when you've left two teenage girls on their own, hiking an unfamiliar trail, strangers all around, and no signal. I lay there as long as possible before getting out to go look for them. People would be pissed if I lost the girls.

A few hours later, after skipping dinner, I still had some discomfort but was pretty much back to normal by the time we returned to Redding. I was able to keep my cereal and coffee down the next morning, but I suggest you avoid that Chinese restaurant next to the discount grocery store on Eureka Way in Redding.

Back at the house, I would have put a load in the clothes washer, but the laundry room was padlocked. I texted the woman about that, and she said, "Unfortunately, the laundry room is not part of that rental… as clearly stated in the rental agreement."

Maybe it's just me, but if someone is staying several nights somewhere, they probably want to wash their clothes at some point. Most of us don't pack more than we have to, on the assumption we'll have access to a washer and dryer. As Tara said, you rent a B&B instead of a hotel to get all the comforts of home.


I just got back from a walk along Riverside Drive down to the river. You can see a snow-capped mountain just a few miles to the west. Beautiful. Kept an eye out for roving bands of homeless people, but there were none. It was very nice. From the house, you walk a couple blocks, past the CalTrans building, underneath the railroad bridge, and down to the river. Jeannie said Riverside Drive used to allow cars but is now blocked off for walking and biking only.

A mallard swooped in and landed just to my left. Maybe a mama protecting its nest. I heard geese up ahead around the corner. Gotta watch out for those. They'll charge you. On a small rise of sand in the river stood an egret. There's probably a word for that small rise, too small to be called an island, but that word escapes me as happens more and more these days. Those geese were flying away, honking, by this point. I walked under the bridge along the paved trail and uphill back to the house. Along the way was a community garden. Some greenery, but nothing visibly sprouting or bearing fruit yet. All in all, a nice little walk while the girls slept. Don't worry, Elizabeth — if/when you read this later — I locked the doors behind me. The Side Gate Dance, though that should no longer be necessary since they were fixing the locks the day we checked out.

Did I mention I found the girls? Yeah, it was touch-and-go there for a while on that one-mile trail in the Redwoods, thirty yards from the road. I was meticulously retracing my steps when Elizabeth appeared and said, "You looking for us?"

We picked up Skyla's best friend, Jocelyn, on our way back to Jeannie's. There was more horseback riding, but it had to wait until after Harmony Haven's volunteers left. Volunteers and customers come first. Well, second, after the horses.

Elizabeth, Skyla, Jocelyn and I returned to Redding for a bit of vintage clothing shopping — I stayed in the car — before hanging out back at the rental house. Jeannie and Tiffany came knocking later to pick up the girls for their meeting at a rodeo organization. Elizabeth joined them, leaving me all alone. Luckily, I enjoy solitude. Always have. I guess that comes from growing up as one of seven children. You value your "me" time.

I stayed at the house, doing nothing, still recovering from that Chinese food, I guess. Don't ever eat at… oh, right, I said that. I found a baseball game on one of the streaming channels. They have a projector instead of a TV here which projects onto the living room wall. It makes for a huge display, and the homeowners don't have to worry about anyone breaking in and stealing the TV. Pretty smart, actually. Someone will still break in — with that spare key they probably made — but there's nothing other than the projector to steal. I guess they could steal the old — strictly decorative? — acoustic guitar on the wall of the front bedroom.

Skyla spent one last night with us. She and Elizabeth were talking about watching some horror movie when I closed my bedroom door to continue this memoir.


Our return flight was not until 2:20. Even though the airport was a good three hours away, we had time to drop Skyla off at her house instead of Tiffany and Thomas's business which would have been faster. We said goodbye to Jeannie again — Matt had gone into town or something — and, most importantly, Elizabeth said goodbye to Kitten, pronounced Kitt-en, who she rescued from the mean streets of Redding or Cottonwood the year prior. Such an adorable, loving cat, and Elizabeth's not allergic to her as she is to our own cat, Sunny.

I'll skip over the usual aggravation of airports — air travel, in general — except to say don't fly Frontier Airlines unless you're prepared to be nickel-and-dimed to death. "You want to choose your own seats? That's extra. You've got a carry-on? Extra. In-flight entertainment? Nope. Not even jacks to power your electronic device. Snacks and drink? Not without paying for it. The seats don't even recline. Oh, you want a pilot? That'll be extra." Joking about that last one, of course. In fact, on our final flight we had a spare pilot. After we landed in Denver, the captain of that flight disappeared down the aisle somewhere behind us, never to be seen again. He might have parachuted out over Nebraska, but I never heard the exterior doors open, and I listen for that sort of thing.

Just prior to landing in Nashville, an older gentleman in front of us got up to use the front lavatory — there are way too many bathroom references in this story, but why do they call it a lavatory instead of restroom or bathroom? — and had to stand by the cockpit to wait his turn. That's not the exciting part. The next thing I know, he's collapsing into the arms of the young Black male flight attendant next to him. No, it was not romantic. The poor guy had fainted. A few seconds later, a young blonde man came up the aisle from behind me, appeared to introduce himself to the flight attendants now surrounding the older man, and proceeded to render aid. The first attendant had dragged the unconscious passenger to the side, out of view, so all I could see from my fifth row aisle seat was the young doctor (maybe an EMT, or maybe just spent the previous night at a Holiday Inn Express) tending to his patient. It wasn't long before the passenger was back on his feet, laughing, and saying, "That was weird. That's never happened before."

One of the other flight attendants gave the passenger a bottle of Sprite and what looked like a bag of Oreos, free of charge, after he returned to his seat, embarrassed. As the hero medic returned past me toward his own seat, I said, "Well done, man." I don't know if he heard me over the cabin noise but, in the absence of applause from the crowd, I felt the need to acknowledge his good deed.

Elizabeth drove us home from the airport, happy to be the driver not the passenger as she had been throughout the trip. She's a take-charge kind of girl, which should serve her well in life, so long as she's nice about it. We got home around 1 AM. It took forever to get our baggage, wait for a shuttle to our parking lot, then simply get out of that lot because the guy in front of us couldn't figure out how to work the "automatic" payment/gate system. I suggested we get out from behind him and use the other lane, but that guy wasn't having any better luck. Once it was our turn, it took Elizabeth five seconds to get us through the gate. Go figure.

When we got home, we inadvertently woke up Tara. Since she was up, we told her all about our trip. She seemed sleepy for some reason but hung on our every word, happy to have us back home.


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