The Joys of Home Ownership

Being a homeowner at Lake Tahoe is an exercise in quirkiness, frustration and required inventiveness.  Beyond all the zoning regulations required for something as seemingly simple as tree removal, there’s the inherent silliness of home construction.  For many middle-class folks, buying an older (read: built before 1999) home is the only option available.  And homes built circa 1950-89 aren’t really built for winter.  Single pane windows, little or no insulation, baseboard heating (if at all), drafty construction, not to mention oddly designed kitchens meant more for weekend visitors than full time residents.  These were a generation of homes built for summer visitors, and making it a truly year-round home requires sometimes considerable effort.

While we were lucky when we found our house – it had double pane windows! a new roof! – we knew that we would have to invest in some upgrades if only to allow wintertime temps to get above 55 F.  Over the past few years these upgrades have included a clean burning wood stove, new heavier curtains and blinds, and the great ‘Insulate the walls from within’ project, where we lost a bit of floor space by adding insulation to all the external walls of the bricked ground floor.

Alas, even with all that effort, we were still losing enough heat that we still couldn’t maintain the house at a temp above 62 degrees.  Luckily, a friend of ours needed a client/victim for a home efficiency study, and we offered up our quirky home.  Thanks to professional evaluation, we learned that much of the heat was escaping through our afterthought, uninsulated mudroom. The solution? Add  a door between the mudroom and kitchen.

Simple enough, but you must understand that nothing is simple here.  The door frame was a combination of wonky (think Alice in Wonderland on a mild scale) and masonry, which is apparently a tough combination for the hardiest of DIY folks.  N, to his credit, saw this, like all the other home projects, as an engineering challenge.  We opted for a custom made door, which had it been cut to our measurements initially, would have been fine.  Alas, the door manager at the local hardware store was not only dyslexic but stupid, and we ended up the first time with a door that didn’t fit.

Cue to this month, a year later.  N was able to speak with the store managers and get a new door ordered, and spent the past weekend measuring and drilling, with little help from me, Mz. Stickyfingers.  It’s up, and while there’s no finishing trim, its effects are already being noticed, both by us (house is staying warm downstairs!) and the dog (confused).  And as an added bonus, we no longer have to worry about the dog getting into the trash in the mudroom.

We’re hoping that this door minimizes any immediate need to insulate the floors (another leaky part of the house), as that would be a monumental task compared to these other projects.  And time will tell whether we’re saving money on our energy bills.

Green Pollen, Warm Weather = Allergy Hell

The tree pollen has landed.  Literally.  Within the past few days, every pine tree in the region appears to be dropping its pollen simultaneously, leaving cars, driveways and sleeping dogs covered in a pale green film.  If a breeze kicks up it means green clouds in the street, which is fun to watch if you’re in the confines of a car or house with closed window.  Less so if you’re riding your bike through it.

On top of this pollen, a heat wave of sorts has hit South Lake Tahoe, with temps well into the 80s.  With few homes in the area with air conditioning, this means that keeping the windows closed to keep the pollen out is simply not an option.   Pollen vs. heat – it’s really a case of the lesser of two evils.  So I keep the windows open and accept that I’m miserable and can’t breathe.

Yesterday I tried to beat the ridiculous heat and left the house early to ride uphill. While I felt pretty feeble and slow on the climb, I did have the satisfaction of passing 2 guys (one my age) on the ride down.  Admittedly they appeared to be more of the roadie types (local road cycling club spandex tops, obvious discomfort on the sandy bits), but still – I passed them and made them eat my dust!!

I may suck horribly riding uphill, but my downhill skills have to be improving. Think of the possibilities once the pollen goes away!


Getting Smoked by Ski Instructors

So with the regular mountain biking I’ve been doing, I was feeling pretty good about my ability to keep up with others.  Until this evening.  I was invited to ride up Roundabout, a beginner trail at Heavenly with a neighbor and some of her friends to see the sunset.  It’s a standing Friday night ride, and everyone rides at their own pace up the sandy fireroad to the top of Heavenly’s Groove chair.  It’s a little over 1,700 feet of climbing from the Heavenly parking lot within a few painfully long miles.  The views at the top are stunning.  But the slog to get to it is akin to carrying stones up steep, sandy hills with every step forward resulting in two steps back.  And it didn’t help that every single person in tonight’s ride is a ski instructor (at Heavenly, natch), which gives them magical powers riding up this grunt of a hill – I swear none of the broke a sweat and they were all singing the entire way up.  I was dead last within 15 seconds, and I was definitely one of the youngest riders.

Truth be told the views on the climb up are breathtaking too, with more of Lake Tahoe visible around every switchback.  The problem for me was that I was sweating so hard that I was essentially blinded for most of it.  To top it off, I realized 3/4 of the way up that my hamstrings were screaming because I’d not extended my seat all the way – which for non-cyclists, is a sure way to crippling yourself.

The views at the top were lovely, and the descent was a fast fireroad of sand and hard switchbacks (yes, I was last on the downhill too.  Call it a well-honed sense of self preservation, and a long-standing love affair with my brakes).  But I realized that I am a singletrack aficionado, and while I’d climb that same elevation in a heartbeat on well-cut singletrack, I’m not so sure I’ll ride Roundabout again anytime soon.

But that might just be my sour grapes talking, seeing how I got smoked by a posse of ski instructors tonight.

Small Town Living – Culture Meets Guinness

I work next door to South Lake Tahoe’s only health food store, and over the years I’ve become friendly acquaintances with a number of people there, including Mike the baker and his wife Peggy.  I always knew that they were outdoorsy folks, as we’ve chatted about skiing, mountain biking and the all-encompassing weather.  What I didn’t know was that Peggy is a classically trained musician who plays in a string quartet both locally and in Reno.  Mike mentioned she was playing locally this week, so last night we headed to the Rockwater, an Irish pub, to listen to classical music. While it seems incongruous, the owner is the cellist in the string quartet, and handily has a small stage in the bar area to accommodate their performance.

I’m not such a fan of greasy pub food, but the interesting wine list and the hand-pulled Guinness made up for the culinary disappointment.

Interestingly enough, the pub owner’s cello (circa late 1700’s) came from his father, who was a professional cellist in the UK who played back up on a few Beatles albums. Not something I’d ever expect in South Lake Tahoe, but those are the tidbits that make living in a small(ish) town so entertaining.

“Green” Recreation

While gas prices have dropped substantially in the past few weeks, I’m still embracing the mindset of minimizing driving wherever possible, especially for non-necessary (read: fun) things.  N too.  Thus we’ve begun to look at mountain bike trails that don’t require us to drive to a trailhead, which is a seeming contradiction of terms, but was something we used to do more regularly.

Lucky for us, there’s an enormous network of access trails that lead to some of the rides we used to drive to.  So it’s very easy for us to do a 3+ hour ride from our house, with minimal time on the pavement.  Like this weekend’s adventure.  N even did it on his single speed 29er hardtail, which still means he’s waiting for me, but now he actually *needs* to catch his breath.  But he’s still core enough to ride a log.  And jump whatever other rocks are in or near the trail.

My sense of self-preservation is stronger than his.  And my balance far worse.

While I’m hoping that the snow comes soon enough to make these lower-elevation trails unrideable, I think we’ll have a few more weeks of access.

La Vie Est Belle

Despite rapidly rising gas prices, IT band issues that now prevent me from riding my bike and some family concerns that have had me on the edge this week, my life is so much better now that La Baguette has opened near my office.  The owner, who used to run a fabulous brewery/restaurant up the road, is from Grenoble, so I knew that he’d know how to make a proper pain au raisin.  The first bite brought back memories of summer in Chamonix, and immediately put a smile on my face.

He’s got a pretty decent assortment of patisserie, including the traditional croissants, turnovers and such, but also brioche, the typical ‘pizza’ (read: focaccia) I remember picking up at my local boulangerie, and a number of quiche and tartlets.

I’m already planning my next trip – this afternoon.

Farmer’s Market Fun

The local farmer’s market began last week and I finally made it there this morning.  While the bounty of heirloom tomatoes (a big ‘feh’ to salmonella fears) hasn’t yet arrived, I did score some gorgeous cherries.  This market has always had a decidedly keeping it real flavor, with primarily local fruit and vegetable vendors, though the odd cheese seller and baker has made an appearance.  This year it seems the market’s taking it up a notch.  There’s a fishmonger, the crepe stand, a hot dog vendor (at 8 am?), soap, Indian food and pottery.   Something for everyone?

Tahoe Earth Day

While my environmentally earnest days of driving halfway across the country to march are looong gone, I do try to minimize my personal impact wherever possible.  With the local Earth Day festival slated for today, I decided to combine a bit of spring cleaning with it, as they were offering a clothing swap there, whose proceeds would benefit Tahoe Youth & Family Services, a local organization whose goal is to help – wait for it – youths and families at risk.

I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or what, but this year’s event was blustery and cold – just like last year’s event.  I had the dog with me, and she was so overwhelmed by stimuli – things to sniff, people who wanted to pet her and dogs she really wanted to say hi to – that I didn’t spend much time there.  Plus I don’t really fit into these hippie gatherings anymore.  Too blonde (though my hairdresser does use some vegan natural stuff on me due to her allergies), too snarky, hackey-sack phobic and the whole Phish-like jam band scene fatigues me.

So we tried for a walk at Fallen Leaf Lake, but the nu-cu-lear winds were so strong that walking along the lake was very difficult.  Dog didn’t seem to mind forgoing that for the quiet warmth of the car.  Perhaps she’s not so dumb after all?

Small Town Shopping Options

South Lake Tahoe is not really a truly small town, in that it’s a bona fide city and all, but sometimes the shopping options make it feel very rural.  Yet, for all our lack of a Trader Joe’s or a decent big-box discount store (our K-Mart doesn’t count), we do have a number of off-beat shops that you might be hard pressed to find in a big city.

Take CC’s Pirate Treasures, for example,a store focusing primarily on – you guessed it – pirate paraphernalia.  A friend of ours was commenting on the business model behind this – outside of Halloween and Talk Like a Pirate Day, when would you really find yourself needing pirate accessories?  However, this place continues to exist, and it’s not unusual to see its owner tooling around in a bright yellow hummer…which may partly account for the store’s hardy survival in a town not known for small business longevity.