Christmas Trees

This post was written during our month in Portland and should post while we are crossing the Pacific. We will be “live” again when we get back to having internet in Japan.

Those of you who actually know me have seen some of our Christmas trees over the years. I have always liked Christmas trees with lots of air in them (so you can see the ornaments better). When I was a child these were known in South Carolina as Balsam Firs.

The family I found on the innerwebs below is standing beside the tree I always wanted but my Mother said just wouldn’t do. She liked scotch pines as they were “full and pretty”. And they stuck your fingers and you couldn’t hang anything except little round ornaments.

When I was out on my own, I always got a NC fir tree but “full” trees were what Martha Stewart (the Joanna Gaines of her day) said everyone really wanted so I was know to sometimes trim branches off the tree to make it more airy. Actually Ms. Stewart gave me permission in one of her many television appearances to do this thing-why didn’t she just tell the folks to find trees without too many branches.

When Mike and I returned to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2006, we discovered that I wasn’t the only one who liked these trees. At the State Farmer’s Market each December, some of the tree growers would have “naturalized” trees like I wanted. Turns out that to make a tree full, they had to clip the tree every year. This would cause the branch to split into two and after a bunch of years you ended up with a “full” tree. But to get what Mike always refers to as “a happy free range tree” the grower basically leaves it alone.

So the title picture of this blog post is the 12′ tree we had the first year we were back in Raleigh. I had to stand on the 2nd floor balcony walkway to put the Star on and don’t even ask how many nights we spent on the lights! But it has enough air and will always be what I think a Christmas tree should be.

Of course that tall tree was natural and not popular so the growers charged more for it than for a “full” tree. Makes no sense except for supply and Damian’s I guess. Anyway, when we got to the Rockies I was flabbergasted by all the “Christmas” trees growing everywhere!

If I lived out west, we would never have to pay a grower, we would just be sure and have a saw in the trunk everyday after thanksgiving!

Just one more of our tree, the picture below was taken in 2009 and is of Niece Madison (she just started her senior year of high school) and Nephew Jack (he will be 14 in a couple of weeks) helping Uncle Clay light the candles on the tree. That’s right when you have a fresh tree (and a fire extinguisher nearby) you can on special occasions light it up with candles…at least for a few minutes.

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Flowers

This post was written during our month in Portland but should be automatically posted while we are crossing the Pacific. Hopefully it will keep you entertained while we have no internet and can’t post.

I have been amazed by the flowers we have seen both natural and cultivated since we left. The most amazing have been the Queen Anne’s Lace along side of all the highways and the Hydrangeas which seem to be everywhere this side of the Rockies. Below are some snaps I took.

Hope everyone is well-will be back “live” when we get to land!

Portland Week 3

During our third week we finalized our post Asia trip plans (more on that in a future post), spent several hours at the car dealership giving the Mazda some much needed 60,000 mile love and visited the nearby Columbia River Gorge.

We also explored a bit more around our neighborhood. Portland has a ton of food trucks that gather in what they call pods. Either in an empty lot or like the one around the corner from us, around an old filling station. We both enjoyed our lunch there. Another day we went back deep into the Alberta Arts District and had what turned out to be the best biscuits we’ve had outside of those in Virgina and the Carolinas (Texans just think they can make biscuits!). Mike and I shared a wedge salad and then spilt the two biscuits. Mine was chicken with apple butter and his was chicken with pimento cheese. They were both quite delicious.

You may recall our aborted attempt during the Arts Festival to have some of the gourmet ice cream. Since we had walked a mile for a biscuit, had to walk a mile back home and the Salt & Straw was across the street and without a line we figured we should ….just for our readers’ benefit. 😂. We got a flight to share. Left to right in the picture they are: Pear&BlueCheese, strawberry balsamic with pepper, vanilla and Carrot Cake. All were good, the pear and blue cheese wasn’t blue enough except when you got a whole piece of cheese and then it was too blue!

The Columbia River starts in Canada and one of its main tributaries is the Kootenay River (which we drove beside while in the Canadian Rockies) and flows into the Pacific near Astoria where we had lunch during our first visit to the Oregon coast. It’s hard to believe that we visited the origin and termination of this great river with a few weeks, that where we are staying is less than a mile from its banks and it’s even harder to believe how long it is!

The Gorge the Columbia cut through the Cascades west of here served as the primary way to move goods back and forth across the mountains. Today this 80 mile long cut is home to interstate and scenic highways and railroads. The river is also the border between Washington and Oregon.

We spent the day driving west along the river on scenic and historic highway 30. We crossed the river near The Dalles and returned to Portland down the Washington side of the River.

Our first stop was at Vista House where this post’s title picture was taken. This structure which sits above a hairpin turn of the highway serves as a visitor’s center and a great place for views up to the gorge as well as down river towards Portland Oregon and Vancouver Washington.

The Gorge has the highest concentration of plunge waterfalls in North America most of which are accessible from stops along the old highway. We stopped at all of them!

The fall below requires a hike of about a mile to reach which wouldn’t have been so bad but it was a really steep trail. But the end result was worth it!

Here was one of several switchbacks on the trail:

The highest fall in the Gorge is Multnomah where we had hoped to have lunch at the lodge. Unfortunately apparently so had everyone else. There was a line in both directions waiting to enter the parking lot which stopped traffic so while I stayed in the car in traffic, Mike went and saw the 600+ foot drop for both of us.

The last fall we stopped for was Horsetail. Like the others it was beautiful and I wanted to get in the pool at the bottom. But I was afeared I might not be able to clamber back up the rocks!

We stopped and had delicious fish and chips in Cascade Locks, a little town near the locks that keep the river navigable.

After lunch we continued to the Dalles. The change in scenery from a rainforest like setting of green green trees and ferns to a dryer more grassy and dry environment was pretty amazing. We had been told the Dalles was a picturesque old “western” town. We couldn’t seem to find that so we headed across the river to Washington and began our drive back to Portland. Just after crossing the river we finally saw Mt. Hood!

While we certainly enjoyed our drive up the Gorge, the ride back was very picturesque especially at the locations where Hood was in the background.

But the most amazing thing was when we reached a portion of the River Gorge where (according to Wikipedia) due to atmospheric pressure differences between the two sides of the Cascades, the winds howl and the kite surfers and wind boarders take full advantage. It was amazing to watch them riding the winds and waves.

We enjoyed our day trip and if you ever go, be sure to ride on both sides of the river!

Portland Week 2

Our second week in Portland was highlighted by a visit to another part of the Oregon coast (above), the summer festival in our neighborhood and a visit to another of Portland’s many farmer’s markets.

Our apartment says it’s the gateway to the Alberta Arts District. Gateway apparently means “somewhat close by”. While we are just a block from Alberta Street, we are at least 10 blocks to the artsy shops and restaurants that are the “district”. On the weekend after we arrived, they were having their annual summer festival so we strolled down on Saturday before lunch.

The street was closed for about 15 blocks and in addition to vendor and community booths there were bands and beer gardens at each end. It was a beautiful day so there was a big crowd.

We ended up having lunch at a local burger chain, Big Little Burgers. It was tasty but indeed was little-about the size of a White Castle! LOL

Attend lunch we walked to the end of the festival and back enjoying people watching and the nice day. I wanted to stop at “Salt & Straw” the local-ish gourmet ice cream place. Alas the line was out the door and down the sidewalk so we decided we would wait and do that one weekday.

Portland has a saying “Keep Portland Weird” and we saw lots of folks working towards that. As Mike has put it, being. Organic, Granola-y and Free Range here is a requirement. I think this sign on a shop window about sums it up:

Later in the week we returned to the coast to continue our drive south. This time we started at Cannon Beach and went all the way to Pacific City before heading back to Portland.

We enjoyed driving through the charming village of Cannon Beach and got our feet into the Pacific again.

Our next stop was at the Tillamook Creamery. This is a cooperative owned by local farmer’s that makes a sharp cheddar cheese that we first started buying years ago as we think it’s better than Cracker Barrel at a better price.

The Creamery has a new visitor center than includes a self guided tour where you look down at the operation from a second floor level, a food hall which sells cooked food and ice cream and of course a gift shop where you can purchase products as well as logo items.

We shared a bowl of razor clam chowder, a grilled cheese and a bowl of bacon-beer Mac n cheese for lunch…and I had a cider. All were good but of course the simple grilled cheese was voted best

After lunch we took the tour which ended with a cheese sample buffet!

Of course Tillamook has learned from Disney and the end of the tour the stairs down dump you into the Gift Shop.

After the tour, we took the advice above and shared a “flight” of ice cream. OMG, so so good. We had Oregon Strawberry, Marionberry (fancy hybrid blackberries) Pie, Washington Cherry and Oregon Huckleberry. The strawberry was my favorite as it reminded me of the home made my Mom used to make.

With full (very!) stomachs we headed out to drive further down the coast. There is a loop drive we hoped to take but unfortunately a portion of it was closed so we had to backtrack a bit. But as you can see from this post’s title picture and those below the scenery was just incredible.

At Pacific City we once again parked went to the water and got our feet wet.

We then returned reluctantly to Portland. Spending the day near the water had been great and we really wished we were staying closer to the creamery.. but for our waists it’s a good thing we aren’t!

We also visited the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. This one is in a neighborhood surrounding the old Hollywood Theater and was much more manageable (though no cheaper 😢) than the big one downtown. While all the products were beautiful, we just got some more delicious tomatoes and honey crisp apples to go with the Tillamook cheese we bought.

This market became “our” market and we have visited several times since.

Next up, our day trip to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood.

Portland Week 1

Portland is the City of Roses (sorry Pasadena!) and boy are there roses and other flowers galore. Walking around our neighborhood everyone has roses, sunflowers and hydrangea like crazy. I guess the relatively temperate climate and the abundance of rain are what the flowers like.

Several have asked how we decided to spend a month in Portland. As longtime readers will know, we have fully embraced the slow travel movement. We enjoy staying in a place for three or four weeks at a time as it lets us see what living in a place is like.

Given we had been spending no more than four or five nights anyplace for over a month (since we left Sarnia in June 26th), we decided we would be ready to be still for a bit. We have always wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest and I tried to get transferred to Heery’s Seattle office several times. Unfortunately when they wanted me, I had a project or family commitment that kept us back east and when I was available, they didn’t need me. So we thought staying in Seattle or/or Portland would be fun. Unfortunately, the Airbnbs available in Seattle were out of our price range (or located so suburban we weren’t really in Seattle). So rather than splitting our time between the two cities we ended up in Portland.

Finding an affordable place here with parking and air conditioning wasn’t easy either and we ended up using VRBO instead of our usual airbnb as we found a place that would rent for longer than 30 days which meant we didn’t have to pay the high tax that Portland has imposed on short term rentals.

Our Apartment here is liveable but sometimes you get what you pay for. It’s in an older building at the edge of one of the trendy districts. Some houses on this block are in dire need of a savior while some have found theirs and are now priced in the upper $600k for a 3/2 renates house. Our apartment is the upstairs unit of a house that has been subdivided into three apartments. Basement (thank goodness we aren’t there!) first floor and us. While it is air conditioned it isn’t exactly what I envisioned!

The poor thing does fine when it’s below 85° but when it’s above that it gets warm. Luckily there are several fans so we can move the cool(ish) air into the bedroom and kitchen. Anyway, enough about our accommodations-#FirstWorldProblems

After our usual first day activities of grocery shopping and laundry we did explore our neighborhood a bit. We found the all organic free range whole grain granola-y supermarket across the street too expensive so we ended up at Fred Myers (think Kroger) and found lots of good things so we could cook in. Poké bowls are our new go-to quick and easy dinner!

Later in the week we headed out to explore the Oregon Coast. It was about an hour and a half drive to Astoria which is a port near the mouth of the Columbia River. It is the site is the last bridge crossing to Washington state

We had a delicious lunch on the waterfront. We shared some chowder and I had pan fried oysters for the first time they were so much better than deep fried ones. (Mike had fish n’chips).

From Astoria we head south along the scenic beach road stopping several places along the way.

The first was in Sunset Beach where after 7710 miles (and 81 days) we finally made of fully across the country to the Pacific. Of course we had to get our feet in the (cold!) water.

We continued down the coast through the little vacation villages stopping several times to get onto the beach.

We noted how differently folks here dress when on the beach. Of course one of the reasons we had come on the day we did was to stay cool. 67° at the coast vs. 94° in Portland made for a much nicer day.

After continuing down the coast we turned east at Seaside and head back to “home”. It was a lovely day and the following week we went back to the southern section. More about that in my next post.

We went to Portland’s Saturday Farmer’s Market which is held downtown on the University of Portland’s campus. It is huge-both sides of a boulevard (so four rows of stands) for three or four blocks. Portland has a farmer’s market somewhere in town everyday (some days more than one) except Tuesday. In a later post I will share pictures about what has become “our” market. But we enjoyed this big one. Lots of veggies and fruit along with prepared food, organic everything including your CBD and other marijuana products. Each vendor had a beautiful display of their wares.

We bought some heirloom tomatoes and had ‘mater sandwiches (on white bread of course but no Dukes so had to use Best mayo instead) for supper! Yum. Not quite as good as those grown at Lois’ church but that might be because these cost big bucks rather than being free for the picking!

So that wraps up our first week in Portland. Be back tomorrow with week 2!

Levenworth

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

We drove from Kelowna through the border to Levenworth, Washington. While the US border guard wasn’t quite as awful as our previous experience, it reminded us again of how nice the Canadians were to visitors. We both remarked on how we missed the “Welcome Home” that one used to get whenever coming back to the USA.

The drive took us through fruit tree country so we bought some cherries and were please to see that Gaffney, SC isn’t the only one to have a big peach!

Leavenworth is a little town that (according to the rabbit hole Mike went down) fell on hard times and after a study by some economists decided to turn itself into a German alpine-esque Village. The plan seems to have worked, everything is themed like the Disney Imagineers have visited.

Even our overpriced hotel joined in

And best of all you could get a kaffe at MickyD’s!

We did enjoy a brat and a beer for dinner during our walk about the small town. They had a zillion types of mustard as well as quite tasty buttery pretzels.

The next morning we drove the part of the Cascade Loop from Levenworth to Seattle. This scenic Highway goes up and over the Cascades through Stevens Pass. It was a beautiful drive but I’m afraid we have become a bit jaded. After 6 major National Parks in less than that many weeks, we find ourselves going, “oh that’s a pretty waterfall, but not as impressive as….”. So we don’t have any pictures to share. If you find yourself needing to get from the east side of the Cascades to the west though, we highly recommend the drive.

The only pictures we took were of the large carvings of bears below since we have yet to see a live grizzly these will have to do.

After we reached Seattle we stopped near the University of Washington for Mike to try on (and then buy) some allbirds. These trendy shoes are made from wool (they have another model made from bamboo) and are reported to be the most comfortable shoe ever. We heard about them through the Senior Nomads, the couple who inspired us to undertake our adventure of the last two years. Debbie just reported she had to replace her old pair and stated how she lived hers.

Mike seems to agree with the assessment that they are very comfortable.

After a Costco stop we headed on to Portland and arrived about rush hour 😢 but eventually made it to our home for the next month or so.

More on our adventures in Portland to come…

Kelowna

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

After our stay in our less than fabulous motel room in Golden we were thrilled when we got to our very nice Airbnb in Kelowna. I spent most mornings sitting on the patio drinking coffee while enjoying the view of the mountains and sound of the water feature below.

Kelowna is the third largest metropolitan area in British Columbia and its primary industry is tourism. It sits in the valley around Lake Okanagan which is the big draw in the summer while skiing in the mountains is the main winter focus.

We spent a relaxing three nights here. After more than a week of eating out every meal, it was nice to fix something and eat it in front of the tv.

One beautiful day we went into town and had a nice Thai lunch on a patio overlooking a beautiful park across from the lake.

We then took a walk along the lake. This blog’s title picture was taken there of someone para-sailing. There was a beautiful park and a beach where lots of folks were enjoying the beautiful day.

There was a city sponsored floating bouncy water playground that was very popular even at what seemed a crazy price to us-$28 canadian a day so about $21us! Looked like everyone was having a great time.

On our last night in Kelowna, we connected with Dawn and John a couple who are going to be on our cruise to Japan. They invited us to join them for dinner at their friend’s Patricia and Peter’s who had two other friends, Vera and Doris staying with them. While we thought it would be strange since we hadn’t even met Dawn and John yet, it turned out to be a fun and entertaining evening. They continued to live up to the stereotype of friendly and welcoming Canadians. I hope someday we can reciprocate!

We left Kelowna headed to Levenworth, Washington (not the prison!) on the eastern side of the cascades which our friend Gail has recommended as a good stopping point before we took US Highway 2-a scenic road through the Cascades towards Seattle and on to Portland. More about that in the next post!