We made it to Santa Barbara and the Los Padres National Forest where we spent a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. The campground was located about 15 miles outside of Santa Barbara, up a steep hill with a beautiful view of the ocean, and then seven miles into the foothills of the Los Padres Forest. Very remote. Besides Santa Barbara, the towns of Buellton and Solvang were about 20 miles in the other direction and where we did make several forays to.

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We were remote and it was cold – hard frosts in the morning with temperatures of around 28º to 30º in the early dawn hours. We have some friends we met way back in Washington during the summer who are homeschooling their children on the road and who sort of made the same path that we did heading south to get out of the rain and cold with little success. They too were in Santa Barbara and Steve pulled by in his motorhome one evening saying that he had run out of propane due to constantly running the heater and using the stove a lot. It sort of creeps up on you, and although you do have gauges in the motorhome that indicate several levels of different uses, you really don’t pay that much attention to them. Well, a lesson learned is that during the winter when its cold and your heater runs almost all night long it doesn’t take long for the propane to run dry. It happened to us two days later right in the middle of cooking dinner and made for a very chilly night in the coach with our only source of heat, minimal as it was, coming from the fireplace. The next day involved a trip to Home Depot for a portable heater and a refill at the propane station. Still, the motorhome is a metal shell and doesn’t maintain heat too well but does retain cold very well. South. South is where I yearned to go!

Neighbor Bob from Rancho Santa Margarita came up for a couple of days, ensconced himself in a cabin, actually really a tiny home, so the night cold didn’t bother him – as usual we had a good time with him making a trip into Solvang and Buellton and a trip into Santa Barbara as well. He enjoyed it, but I’m sure the weather did nothing to make him lean towards buying a teardrop trailer which we have been pushing him to do. Not even this one.

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Jan’s nieces, Annya and Allyson and Allyson’s daughter Charley came up for a couple of nights and as always we had a great time with them. Jan spent the first day picking them up in Santa Barbara, Annya flying in on time from Charlotte North Carolina and Allyson delayed two hours on the Amtrak out of LA. Go figure. We spent the next day in Buellton and Solvang with a stop at the Ostrich farm in Buellton,

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and a walk through Solvang, a Danish town, beautifully decorated for Christmas.

No stop in the area is complete without dropping in at Paula’s Pancake House

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where Jan had this the two times we were there.

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A drive along the coast (Rincon Beach) and a view from above Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands.

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And the rains came again – a welcome occurrence for the locals who have been in a drought for the last seven years or so,

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but not so much for us. We tried to dodge the stuff but it followed us like a bad penny, to Orange County, Palm Springs and then on to Julian where the biggest insult was rain, then sleet then snow for a week.

We did make a couple of trips to San Diego where the sky was blue and the temperatures were delightful and where we found The French Gourmet, a little french bistro in Pacific Beach.

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Michel Malecort, the owner, not only has this delightful little place but also does a lot of catering. When Jan and I decided to get married a couple of years ago, rather on the spur of the moment, I called around to several caterers in the area telling them we needed food for about 15 people and we needed it in four days…hah! In July???!!! In San Diego???!!! Maybe in 2016 we can fit you in. Well I persevered and found Michel who was only too eager and willing to rustle up a bunch of appetizers and a small wedding cake. And it was good!

If you are ever in the area drop in on The French Gourmet. Well worth your time. Neighbor Bob met us there and was quite taken aback when I ordered a half dozen escargots.

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And we ended the year with the Mini Cooper taking a injury when a warning light came on saying there was a drivetrain malfunction and to get thee to the closest dealer. Very fortunately we were 10 miles from a dealer in Ontario CA who hooked us up with a loaner…as of this writing, a mere eight weeks later they still have the car and we are in Texas waiting on delivery. Stay tuned.

We have had a tradition every Christmas Eve for the last five or six years to have a cheese fondue dinner with Jan’s nieces and nephew Jeremy and their kids, replete with a bûche de Noël, a violently decadent chocolate log that has no place at a table after eating copious amounts of melted cheese.

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So, there are many fondue recipes out there that include all kinds of vegetables, fruits, chocolate, but we have always done the traditional Swiss fondue. My sister Martha has a friend in France, Sylvia, an ex-pat Dutch woman who owns the Hotel Domaine Testelin in Baigts where we had our home, and who is a great cook and a great conversationalist and also has a slight variation on the traditional way of preparing Swiss fondue. Enjoy!

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