How to Dry Out in Style

After several kind invitations to please think about coming earlier than planned due to the non-stop rainstorms we’d been camping in, we finally decided to take my sister-in-law’s parents up on the offer.  We were planning to stay for three nights, but with the weather and the fun we were having (and their amazing hospitality), three quickly turned into six.  While we did get out twice for some sightseeing, once in Portland and once in the gorgeous areas east of Portland, we spent most of the time hanging out, playing, eating, and talking.  We left feeling amazingly thankful for their generosity and having had a really great time getting to know them better.  They are no longer just my sister-in-law’s parents, they’re family.  Thank you so much, Roger and Mary, for a wonderful, warm, and dry week with you.  We cannot express just how much that time lifted our spirits.

Mary, Van, and Roger - fast friends!

Mary, Van, and Roger – fast friends!

Hours of Entertainment

Hours of Entertainment

Especially When You Do This!

Especially When You Do This!

Helping Mary with her Grading

Helping Mary with her Grading

There was just one downside to our visit.  According to Roger and Mary, they have a beautiful view of Mount Hood from their living room window.  Problem was, we never saw it!  We think we believe them, but we can’t be entirely sure…  Guess we’ll just have to visit at some point in the future!  By the way, the last picture below is from their beautiful garden.  The broccoli was particularly photogenic, but Van can vouch for the fact that the corn was excellent.

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Fur Trappers, Mexican Food, and Waterfalls: Welcome to the Willamette Valley

Making Friends in Portland

Making Friends in Portland

Van has turned in to a ham.  You take out the camera and he immediately starts making his “smiley” face, which in reality is a cross between a smile and a grimace.  In fact, you don’t even need to take out the camera for him to start posing with that camera-ready grin on his face.  When we were exploring a beautiful rose garden in Portland, Oregon, he pranced around the bushes and hedges, posing every few minutes and directing me to take out the camera.  One hand on hip, the other resting on a bush or touching a flower, and a smile plastered on his mug.  But he’s a twenty-first century boy.  His favorite part is running up to you after you’ve shot off a few photos so that he can see the photos you just captured.  Instant gratification, indeed.

Instead of tons of photos of the gorgeous Willamette Valley, we have tons of Van.  You’ll just have to take my word for it that the Willamette Valley is absolutely one of the most beautiful spots in this great country.  Were it not for the mild winters, it would definitely be on our short list.  We loved, loved, loved it!

Van the Ham

Van the Ham

Our first discovery was the amazing Mexican food to be had in Woodburn, Oregon.  Apparently the town is known for having outlet shopping (we saw the shops from afar), but much, much better than that is the main street a few miles to the east that is chock full of Mexican restaurants and grocers.  Seriously excellent and authentic food.  If you’re looking for Tex-Mex, this is not the place.  It was so good we ate it two nights in a row.  If you find yourself anywhere near Woodburn, you owe it to yourself to check out Luis’s Tacqueria or one of the other gems that line the main street.

Then we realized that our nifty museum memberships could get us in to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum for free.  Along with a personal tour of a B-17!  We spent a long, fun day checking out all of the planes (including the Spruce Goose) and catching up on the history of the space program.  Alan didn’t need any catching up, but it was a great refresher for me.

When we weren’t eating yummy food or touring planes, we spent our time outdoors amidst beautiful farmland and waterfalls.  We camped for several nights at Champoeg State Park where we were entranced by the disc golf players and their professional looking gear.  No casual players here!  But even better was the small museum and historical farm.  Van couldn’t get enough of the smell of the hops.  Future homebrewer?  A mother can dream…

Van Testing the Hops

Van Testing the Hops

At the Rogue Brewery Hop Farm

At the Rogue Brewery Hop Farm

But the best part of Champoeg was the fur trapper rendezvous that we happened upon. Actually, Van was personally invited by two fur trappers in traditional French-Canadian trapper clothes the night before (must have been the smile he flashed them).  We walked two miles to get there, some of it through some pouring rain, but it was well worth it.  We had an up close and personal look at fur trapping, homemade birch bark canoes, dutch oven cooking over an open flame, and guns used by the fur trappers.  We spent a long time speaking with each of the folks at the rendezvous and came away with a much greater appreciation for this part of our history.

Once we said our goodbyes (only temporarily) to the Willamette Valley, we headed up to the Columbia River Gorge for a few days of exploring.  It rained – a lot – which means we didn’t take very many photos.  But we did see the gorgeous Multnomah Falls in an uncharacteristic break in the rain.  We also spent a cozy afternoon wandering around the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood and taking a detailed tour from the resident park ranger.  My favorite was curling up in front of the roaring fireplace to dry ourselves out.  But oh how I longed to stay at the lodge and write in my journal at a desk tucked into a nook in the main room.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

We left the area thinking that the Willamette Valley would make a wonderful home. Unfortunately, not for us.  Finding a place that felt so right but for its mild winters reinforced to me just how important snow (and lots of it) is to us.   The mild winters knocked it off of our short list, but if you’re one of the more sane among us, perhaps it should be on yours.

Lessons Learned v.4

Van Enjoying One of His Many Meals out in the San Fran Area - thanks Jess for the great dinner and the pic!

Van Enjoying One of His Many Meals out in the San Fran Area – thanks Jess for the great dinner and the pic!

In my last post we were leaving Washington, which feels like ages ago.  Probably because it was.  We spent three weeks in Oregon and two weeks in California since we saw Mt. St. Helens.  We’ve had some ups and downs along the way – the most significant down being when Alan sprained his ankle – but we’re still trucking along.  One of the big ups was a jam-packed week full of seeing friends.  We had plans with different people every day for six days straight!  It was a bit of a whirlwind (and part of the reason I haven’t had time to post anything on here), but so refreshing to see wonderful friends in the San Francisco area.  We’re now headed further south, but I thought that it was about time for another “Lessons Learned” post.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in my head lately as we think about our transition to a more stationary life, and hence the lessons keep piling up.

1. I would rather spend time with someone who thinks deeply about issues and disagrees with me on every point than someone who follows a set script of ideas and agrees with me on everything.  I’ve thought this before, but never with such intensity.  In finding a place to live, I realize that I was focused on finding a place with a community of like-minded souls.  But really, I should just be looking for a place where people care and connect and think, regardless of whether they’re like-minded or not.  Besides, it’s not like my views fit some mold, and they differ plenty from Alan’s.  That’s part of what we love about each other.  We push each other to think deeply about things from many angles.  I’d love to live somewhere where I’d have the opportunity to do that with people of all stripes.  This is increasingly important as our politicians become more polarized from one another.

2. Full moon + fog = A very bright night.  Since we’ve been in the San Francisco area for the past week or so, we’ve experienced the morning (and overnight) fog.  Our visit happened to coincide with the full moon.  If you get lost in the woods at night without a flashlight, wish for a full moon and fog.  It lights up the sky like no other.  It creates a great effect, but also tends to make little boys restless sleepers.  Oh well!

3. After living on the road for so long, washing dishes with a faucet and hot water feels similar to a spa experience.  No joke!  I could have washed dishes in our portable “sink” with cold water, as we’ve been doing for months.  But there was an outdoor sink with hot water just down the dirt road.  I made that walk – several trips for each meal – just to feel the hot water over my hands as I scrubbed each dish.  Well worth the walk!

4. California is expensive.  Not sure what else to add here, but this state has been making our bank account balance fall faster than any other state.  I’m not  sure there’s even been a close second on this trip.  As an example, state parks campsites have been averaging $35 a night!  Insanity!  Needless to say, we’ve been enjoying our first private campgrounds with more amenities for a similar price.

5. The colors of the Pacific Ocean are brilliant.  I grew up with the ocean – the Atlantic is my ocean, and always will be.  But the colors of the Pacific are amazing.  The blues, the greens, only once did I think the color looked similar to the blue-gray I’m used to on the East Coast.  I could look at the Pacific for hours.

6. Letting a two-and-a-half year old hold sticks (or pinecones, or acorns, or…you name it) near your car is a bad idea.  Lesson learned the hard way (check out the nifty scratch on the side of our car), but luckily before he had his way with someone else’s car.

7. When packing to camp, take half as many clothes and twice as many socks and underwear as you think you’ll need.  We’ve become experts at wearing things over and over, making the spans between laundry visits that much longer.  Whereas we used to do laundry when we were running low on clothes, we economize our clothes so well now that we only have to do laundry when we’re low on socks and underwear – the true necessities.

8. 45 degrees at night is not too cold to camp with a toddler.  Neither is 35, for that matter.  25, that’s another story.  I’ve had a few people (including a park ranger) tell me that 45 degrees is too cold at night for camping.  25, I agree, although we’ve done it.  But 45?  No problem!  As long as you bring the right clothes, 45 can be downright toasty!  Alan and I are notorious for keeping our thermostat pretty low in the winter.  I’m wondering what effect this trip will have on our thermostat once we return to living in a house.

9. A home is one of the most wonderful things in the world.  If you’re reading this and you live in a home, be it an apartment, a house, a cabin, or even a home on wheels, take a look around you and realize how lucky you are.  I am craving a home and all that comes with it.  Warmth, protection, a place to prepare meals and lay your head at night, a nearby community of people who care about you, a plot of land to cultivate, a furry friend (Hickory, to be specific) to curl up with, and family.  I have the last of these covered, but I am so looking forward to the rest.  When we finally do have a home, I hope that I never forget to feel grateful for all that we have.

On that note, I am so, so grateful right now for the time that I’ve had with Alan and Van on this trip thus far, the time we’ve had with friends and family, and the opportunities to see and do new things every day.  There can be days when it’s tiring or hard, but most of the time, it’s amazing.  And I feel so lucky to be able to share this journey with my two favorite people.  Even as I begin to long for a home, I am so thankful to have the opportunity to live one of my dreams every single day.  Here’s to hoping that we all have many more days of living our own dreams, whatever they may be.

The Conclusion to our Tour of Washington, With a Brief Foray into British Columbia

From Seattle, we headed north again so we could visit our neighbor to the north.  Before driving all the way to Canada, we stopped for two nights just outside of Bellingham, easily one of my favorite towns in Washington.  We spent a lazy day walking along the water, checking out the downtown, and watching Van play with lots of children on a playground.  In addition to being a great town in a beautiful location, it’s within close driving distance of this:

North Cascades, Washington

North Cascades, Washington

If Bellingham received more snow and sun, it may have made my short list.  But one thing we’ve realized is how important snow is to both of us.  Not just snow that you can drive to, but snow that falls right outside your front door.  And lots of it!

From Bellingham, we headed north to Vancouver.  We set up home at the most beautiful campsite of our trip.  The site was small, squished next to a number of other campers, and required that we walk all of our belongings in a fair distance, but the views more than made up for that.  We camped right beside the beach of a magnificent fjord.  Breathtaking.

Views from Porteau Cove Provincial Park, BC

Views from Porteau Cove Provincial Park, BC

This view was just steps from our campsite, as you can see below.

Our Campsite in Porteau Cove Provincial Park, BC

Our Campsite in Porteau Cove Provincial Park, BC

I could have spent hours, no, make it days, just sitting along the shore on one of the many drift logs and watching the water.

Porteau Cove Provincial Park, BC

Porteau Cove Provincial Park, BC

But, we came here to see Vancouver, so off we went.  We parked in Stanley Park beside a very nice neighborhood and took off for a long walk around town.  The first few hours of our walk left us marvelling at how nice this city is.  Beautiful gardens, nice shops and restaurants, lots of friendly people walking around town.  The only time I took out my camera was in Gastown, a historic (and hence, touristy) part of town with cobblestone streets and smaller buildings, so I don’t have much to show from our day in the city.

Gastown, Vancouver, BC

Gastown, Vancouver, BC

From Gastown, we decided to head to Chinatown, excited to partake in some delicious food that the city is known for.  We didn’t realize that the couple of block stretch between Gastown and Chinatown is not a great place for tourists, especially tourists with little children in tow.  I have never, in all my life, seen anything like it.  We later learned that this is the most poverty-stricken zip code in Canada and has the highest concentration of drug usage in North America.  None of that is surprising after we saw it.  There were junkies (and tons and tons of them) everywhere.  And there didn’t seem to be too many other people around.  Just us, and maybe a stray other person or two.  It was very disconcerting and threw us into a hasty retreat to the nicer areas of the city we had been in earlier in the day.  But to get there, we wound up running into a few other unsavory situations (a blatant drug deal about three feet in front of Van’s face being one of several things we encountered).  Ah, city life…

We spent much of the rest of the day enjoying Stanley Park and checking out some of the other neighborhoods in the city, but nothing to match the excitement of earlier in the day!  Reluctant to leave our beautiful campsite, but with no option to stay given that it was fully reserved for the weekend, we headed south for a long day of driving through much Seattle-area traffic to Mount St. Helens.  While we didn’t camp at Mount St. Helens (we camped about forty miles away), we spent a beautifully foggy day exploring the area.  Once we drove up in elevation, the fog settled in the valleys and we had a beautiful view of the volcano.  A fitting conclusion to our month in Washington. 

Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens

 

Golden Friends in the Emerald City

Me and Elizabeth at Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

Me and Elizabeth at Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

One of the best parts of this adventure is having the opportunity to spend time with friends and family who live in far-flung locations around this country.  We are lucky enough to have several friends in the Pacific Northwest who have graciously welcomed us into our homes, making this portion of our trip even more fun and relaxing.  Breaking our habit of only staying with Smithies or family, we spent a long weekend with our friend Elizabeth who lives in Seattle.

The Seattle Skyline from Gasworks Park

The Seattle Skyline from Gas Works Park

Elizabeth and I met as classmates in an environmental clinic while students at Georgetown Law.  We spent the entire semester sitting at a small table, not much larger than a desk for one, with two other people (four people total!) while we worked on representing a long-standing clinic client in their water rights lawsuits.  There is absolutely no one better to share such close quarters with, and I feel eternally grateful that she and I wound up working on the same project that semester.  After sharing such close quarters all those years ago, it felt natural to move right into her home for a long weekend.  In addition to being a fantastic friend, Elizabeth also holds the honor of being the human companion of the world’s best dog.  Seriously.  All the dog owners out there reading this may argue with me and tell me your dog is the best, but I’d challenge all of you – and win.  Radar is seriously the best dog ever.  And Van agrees!

Two Boys in Heaven

Two Boys in Heaven

While Elizabeth was busy bringing home the bacon for that cute pup, Van, Alan, and I struck out for the bus to the Pacific Science Center.  Once again, we got great use out of our membership to The Boonshoft Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  Free entrance to the Pacific Science Center and a full day of fun for the little guy (and us).  This was a fantastically large and well-done museum.  It took the promise of riding the bus again to get Van to leave voluntarily.  Speaking of the bus, even though I’m generally not a city person, i do love me some public transportation.  I always have.  Taking the bus made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve ridden the bus or the metro, which used to be a regular occurrence during our days in the DC area.  We soaked it all in while visiting the most urban-feeling city of our travels thus far.

Once we had Elizabeth to ourselves, we spent some time exploring an Asian grocer, checking out her neighborhood, eating Pho, spending hours catching up, and falling asleep in this beautiful hammock.

Home to a relaxing couple of hours

Home to my Saturday afternoon nap

We were also lucky enough to secure an invitation to dinner at another friend’s house, who also happened to be a classmate at Georgetown.  She and her family were so kind to welcome us all into their gorgeous modernist home.  Her boys were immediately welcoming to Van, and we had a great time chatting about our various travels (including their recent camping adventure in Yellowstone).  It was so great to spend time with friends and see familiar and lovely faces on our journey.  Thanks, Kymberly, Aaron, Lucas, and Jack!

Before our weekend was over, Elizabeth’s boyfriend Bobby rolled into town and Van was immediately infatuated.  As background, Van named our recently deceased van, Bobby.  He likes the name, yes, but this infatuation was about much more than the name.  He did spend several days after we left Seattle asking for Bobby (and Radar, who he continues to ask for – sorry Elizabeth)!  We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to see Bobby again as we continue to roll down the west coast.

Bobby and Van Hiking to Snow Lake

Bobby and Van Hiking to Snow Lake

The six of us (Elizabeth, Bobby, Radar, Alan, Van, and me) struck out on a gorgeous Sunday morning for a beautiful but crowded hike in the Central Cascades.  We decided to hike up to Snow Lake, and apparently many other folks had the same fine idea on the first Sunday after Labor Day.  It was beautiful, seriously beautiful!

Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

Snow Lake in the Central Cascades, Washington

Views from the Hike to Snow Lake, Washington

Views from the Hike to Snow Lake, Washington

Enjoying the Water

Enjoying the Water

Thank you Elizabeth, Radar, and Bobby for a wonderful, relaxing, and fun weekend.  See you in San Francisco?!?!