Sunday in the Mountains

Sunday, December 2, 2001
Gorgeous Big Bear on a Winter's Day with 
Billowing Clouds Overhead


I made it!  I got up to watch CBS: Sunday Morning, just in time to watch George Harrison's retrospective, so beautifully done.  The cool Beatle's essence was touchingly captured.

After a Sunday breakfast in the aerie (our upstairs bedroom's sitting room), I soaked my thirsty body in a tubful of bubbles, enriched with Hawaiian pa`akai (sea salt).  Outside, the sky was filled with scattered clouds. "Perfect conditions for photography," I thought.  No harsh sunlight. No overcast skies. And nowhere as cold as yesterday.  

Fortified and dressed in light winter garb, I headed for our  backyard woods with O and Freddy B.  Delighting in snow, they are true winter dogs. Only after a vigorous backyard romp, happy dances around me, and wild chases of woodland friends did they allow me to become The Photographer.

As you can see, I could really use a squeaky mouse to get their attention.  

Last week, we had made vague plans to do the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce-sponsored "A Big Bear Bed & Breakfast (B&B) Experience," benefiting local non-profit organizaions. We are always on the lookout for accommodations for our overflow guests, as well as office retreat locales.  We had thoroughly enjoyed "the experience" five years ago with Cia and Doni, but, until I stumbled upon an article on it in the local rag, the Big Bear Grizzly, I had all but forgot about this yearly event.  

Today, with the sun shining warmly through the clouds, it was a perfect day for the tour. We picked up tickets -- pamphlets with directions, recipes and blurbs on the featured B&Bs -- in the village at the Chamber of Commerce.  Deciding to do it our way, we chose to have a laid-back, quality experience, rather than a hectic one of trying to see as many of the 13 listings as possible. 

Perusing the list, we chose to revisit two of our favorites from last time:  Truffles B&B (DH's favorite) and Apples B&B Inn (my favorite).  To our short list, we added the historical Knickerbocker Mansion Country Inn, the quaint Victorian cottage, Carolyn's Cottage, and the lakeside B&B, Stealaway Bay.  

Just as we were about to leave, I overheard a lady in the next room saying how she thought that the Alpenhorn B& B was extra-special. The Alpenhorn B&B was quickly added to our list, and straightaway, we headed out to it, only to learn from the hospitable innkeeper, Chuck, that the tour did not start until 1:00 pm.  It was only 11:30 am. 


Although he was busy with preparations for the tour, as well as checking out guests, Chuck was outstandingly gracious to us, enthusiastically giving us a preview tour. We promised to return for the full tour.

Big Bear does not lack for diversions, and we used our time to shop for holiday decorations, as we are hosting the office Christmas party as well as our family's New Year's Day get-together.  

We stopped to visit our friends, Abe-san and Kay, as well as have a quick sushi lunch at Sushi Ichiban.  I had my favorites: sake (salmon), mirugai (giant clam), and salmon skin temaki (hand roll) with hot green tea; DH has the same with the additions of  hirame (halibut) and tako (octopus).  They make the best sushi in all of Southern California.

Abe-San & Kay at Sushi Ichiban, Big Bear Lake, CA

Then we were off to begin our B&B experience.  We were warmly greeted at each of the five B&Bs.  Gaily and extravagantly decked out for Christmas, every B&B was definitely in the holiday spirit.  In turn, so were we.

We were invited to enjoy an array of refreshments: split pea soup at Truffles; cookies and hot cider at Carolyn's; tiers of cookies and candy at Apples; (much welcomed) freshly brewed coffee, vegetable plate with spinach dip, and crackers with dip at Alpenhorn; and cookies and hot drinks at the Knickerbocker's conference center and on the deck at Stealaway Bay's.  

At each stop, Chamber Maids (volunteer members of an auxiliary of the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce) placed scrumptious cookies, baked by the B&Bs and individually wrapped in cellophane bags and topped with bright ribbons -- and their recipes -- into our treat bags. We felt like yuletide "trick or treaters."

I just had an Alpenhorn Lemon Square (click here for the recipe), and oh, is it YUMMY.

 A burst of sunshine on a winter's day.

While most listened to spiels on each B&B's amenities and interior decorating, DH and I concentrated on architectural details and layouts.  We are definitely more into B&B "hardware" -- stoves, flooring, gingerbread, decks, window placements and views out of them, and physical layouts -- than the "software" --  fluffy down comforters and thick terry towels.  

Without exception, every B&B was top-notch, and guests visiting any of them are assured excellent accommodations.  Here are my impressions, off the top of my head (you may wish to click on the links for more details at their respective websites): 

Truffles B&B Besides their delicious, rib-sticking split-pea soup, we appreciated the spaciousness of its gathering room with its unique fireplace in a conversation pit, immaculate cleanliness, warm decorating touches, turn down service with See's truffles (what else?), well-stocked book library, gorgeous house dog (a huge retriever), and the engaging warmth of the innkeeper, Lori Minor.  

It has a quiet, soothing spirit.

Carolyn's Cottage:  We particularly enjoyed Bob's (the  innkeeper's) pointing out the details of this cozy Victorian B&B, including the inlaid beams, as well as the telling of its history, including the naming of it after his wife's sister, Carolyn, who lost her life at an early age, and thus, a room named Angel's Nest, filled with angels. 

 It has a quaint, intimate spirit.

Apples B&B & Conference Center: The live music was beautifully elegant, and innkeeper Jim McLean generously shared details of his huge, well-designed kitchen with us, while wife Barbara scurried about filling the tiers of treats in the Great Room. We admired the beautifully appointed rooms with its touches of whimsy -- bears with pots of honey on each bed. 

It has an elegant, polished spirit.

Knickerbocker Mansion Country Inn Ten years ago, we visited this historical landmark built in the early 1920s by Bill Knickerbocker, Big Bear Lake's first damkeeper. In 1991, the log mansion's B&B was hobbling along on a shoestring budget. It was abandoned for two years, until the new owners, Thomas Bicanic, a former German chef at La Patina, and his partner, Stanley R. Miller, sound engineer for singer Neil Diamond, came along and rescued it by lovingly restoring to its original rustic elegance and glory.  

It has an old-time, rustic spirit and a resident (benevolent) ghost, the late Mrs. Knickerbocker, who is said to still rock in her rocking chair next to the main floor's window, no doubt fully approving of her beloved home's restoration.

Stealaway Bay (no website): A room with a view.  It's here. I love baths, and I would especially love to spend oh, an hour or so in their jacuzzi tub, set in from of an octagonal window with a sweeping view of the lake. This is the only B&B on the lake, and its views are nothing short of stunning.  

It has a breezy, open spirit. 

And the winner for our favorite B&B is:

Alpenhorn B&B:  Independently, DH and I picked this B&B as our favorite.

You may come as strangers to Alpenhorn B&B, but you will leave as friends; we experienced this, first-hand. We had come unexpectedly as strangers in the morning, and when we returned in the afternoon, we truly felt that we were meeting up with friends, when Chuck warmly greeted us (again) and Robbie smiled at us from the kitchen.

The Alpenhorn was our favorite for many reasons, among them: The best presentation of refreshments, elegantly and generously served.  Elegant, immaculate, and spacious rooms, with the finest of amenities (fragrant Aveda toiletries). Lovely, well-designed bathrooms.  Private balconies, perfect for that private massage.  After-dinner liqueurs, chocolates and treats.  Welcoming, open kitchen.  Central, two-sided fireplace.  Original artwork.  Beautiful, expansive grounds with a stream bed running alongside it.  Many, many special touches, reflecting a keen attention to detail.  

Most of all, we were captivated by the genuine friendliness, personal warmth, and gracious hospitality of its innkeepers, Chuck and Robbie Slemaker. Robbie, with the radiant smile. Chuck, with the gentle ebullience. 

They have put their hearts and souls into their new "baby" -- this AAA Four Diamond B&B.  Their love for it -- and their guests -- is evident everywhere. 

Alpenhorn Bread & Breakfast, Big Bear, in the evening
Read about the Alpenhorn in a recent LA Times article 

It has a loving, welcoming spirit.


"Life is a Gift."

Author Unknown

P.S.  If you would like to share a portion of yourself with words, in response to this journal entry, you may do it here.  

 "The only gift is a portion of thyself..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson


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This web journal was created on a September Morn, 
September 29, 2001
September Morn 2001