Saturday, September 03, 2016

A Bigger Kitten :: Two Hundred Forty Eight

Our small wonder has grown so much since last May, when he came to live in the Bird House with us. At this check-up, we learned he gained 3 pounds in a month! Now he's 5 lbs and 8 oz. We sure are enjoying being those people who have all those cats! And we love that Neo Cairo Nepenthes got a clean bill of health... he's purrrfect!

With Infinity More Monkeys, a picture a day.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Coast Starlight Home

We saw the tower, like a beacon, or lighthouse... You're doing it right, it assured us, as our metro crossed the N Steel Bridge over the Willamette River. It was a welcome sight. And bittersweet, too.

Leaving Portland, leaving Oregon. The time came so soon, we hardly felt ready for our adventure to end. Fortunately, when enjoying the pleasure of traveling by train, the adventure doesn't end too abruptly. We still had more sights to see, more trip to enjoy.

I love train stations, old depots. It's a truly romantic sentiment, enhanced through watching old movies, and period dramas, to see these places, and the trains that come through them, as ideal modes of travel with a certain promise of quaint, sedate luxury, idyllic conveyance. And delightfully, you will meet other aficionados, riding the rails, in sleeper cars, at the shared dining tables, and the happy conversations that ensue confirm the belief... train travel is special.

You can almost set your watch back... do we still wear watches? The pace is gentle, perhaps confoundedly slow if timely arrival at your destination is your sole objective. These are not Europe's trains, famed for their punctuality. I am ok with that. For the purpose of this journey, we are here for the ride, for our state of mind to be to meet each moment for what it is, not for what we expect, or require of it. That is a luxury, I know.

Ordering tea. We wrote post cards from here, walked them to the postal box, then found our way to the Metropolitan Lounge, where the comforts and genial service of train travel begins.

Back on board, full of anticipation for the familiar things we enjoyed when we rode up from California, and excited for whatever new sights and experiences were in store for us.

Since the Coast Starlight leaves Portland at 2:25 pm, I figured we would miss lunch, hence the big breakfast... no regrets there! But, the dining car attendant announced last call for lunch, so we decided to go in. Sitting in the dining car is a treat for more than just the meal. It's a chance to enjoy the views from multiple windows, and to meet people. People riding on trains tend to be sociable, engaging. Maria and I had come to see sharing the dining table as a highlight of riding trains. "I didn't know I would enjoy that part, because I was nervous about sitting across from strangers, but meeting new people has become one of my favorite parts. That really surprises me. There are interesting conversations, and we keep meeting really nice people."

We enjoyed a light lunch, and our last views of Portland, Oregon.

Even when we came through the Columbia River Gorge, our only glimpse of Mt Hood was faint, obscured by a mostly overcast sky. And not once during the rest of our time in Portland did we enjoy that classic image of Mt Hood crowning the suburban landscape. Then we saw it, faintly, distantly, as we left. It reminded us of the list, and our wish to return.

From Albany, south, we were retracing steps. I cried at the Albany stop. Emotions overcoming me, wanting to get off the train, to see Grandma, one more time. Oregon is too far from the Bird House. It's a terrible truth.

In Eugene there's time to step off the train and walk, or twirl.

Eugene, Oregon... It'd been almost twelve years since the last time we stood here.

Sacramento, California. August 17, 2016.

You know you are on good terms when you can agree to share the bed in a roomette!

Breakfast in Martinez, and Oakland, and all down the East Bay.

South Bay, San Francisco.

She came to me for crochet help, and I felt a bit chagrinned, but happy to try. It was darts she was wanting to add to her tunic, and she couldn't recall the term. That much, at least, I could help her with. Her crochet project was really lovely, and while we sat examining the stitches together, discussing the ways a dart might work, she hit upon the solution by trial and error, then gave me a thankful hug for being her sounding board and attentive companion. That was the easiest kind of helpful I've been in quite some time, very gratifying, too. All the way to Los Angeles we exchanged happy smiles, like old friends with an affable, sympathetic past.

The girl in the tree in San Jose.

The girl on the train with a book.

This, I admit, was hard to take. I love my California. This is part of some of my favorite places in my favorite state, but after a week in Oregon, the greener, coastal, river valley bits of Oregon... it was hard to see the drought tormented hills, the dying trees, parched scenery of California. I felt like my heart and mind were betraying my affection for this place. When I saw the first eucalyptus tree, as we swung toward the coast, I was literally crestfallen. The disappointment was keen. I have never had an ill word, a critical feeling about most any tree, but gosh... those scrappy, dry, weed-like, eucalyptus trees, the ones that tip and crash in any storm, the ones that explode in fires? For the first time in my life, I couldn't see the good in them, and felt low and dismayed by the sight. I sighed, and wished I could feel more akin, more generous, to the scenes coming closer to home.

San Luis Obispo, California.

At a point north of Pismo Beach, the Coast Starlight comes to the Pacific Ocean. It is a welcome sight, and a unique one, because the train rides rails through the private Vandenberg Air Force Base, and right along the coast.

We rode through here while sitting in the lounge car, with our new train friends, Tracey and Albert.

SpaceX! It's there, honest! We laughed about the secrets and mysteries of Vandenberg being well guarded, even by the mist that suddenly shrouded the view, just as I snapped the picture!

And that same mist, like a wall, ended abruptly. And our view of the Pacific was utterly transformed. (Boat House Road... Google Maps is amazing!)

Somewhere south of Lompoc, west of Santa Barbara.

Dinner with Tracey and Albert. Riding, happily, through Santa Barbara.

By Simi Valley, Maria and I had a car all to ourselves!

We felt giddy about seeing the boys. We felt so close... but sometimes, on a long trip, the closer you get, the slower things seem to go. There are a lot of stops between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, then we had another train to catch, with an hour wait before we boarded. Geoff and the boys promised to meet us at our stop, with Cairo, too.

We would be home after midnight. It'd been a thirty hour journey, a nine day adventure, fun, and memorable. It's been over two weeks since the end of our adventure. We still feel thankful, practically nostalgic, for our visit to Oregon. We miss our family there. We feel a kind of melancholy, because Geoff and the boys weren't with us, because this time in our lives is ushering in big changes, too. But that is the nature of things, right? Changes, missing what we had, where we've been. So, we must remember to look forward, to make plans, to be grateful for what's been and to make way for what lies ahead, for more joy. Maybe it will help if I take life like a train ride, and meet each moment for what it is, and not so insistently for what I expect of it.

Ground Cherries Are Here :: Two Hundred Forty Seven

My mom has been trying to introduce us to ground cherries, but we haven't had success with the timing. We came close during our visit to Oregon, and she's even growing the plant in her garden, so I got my first glimpse of them. If I'd never heard of them, I am not sure what I would have made of the two boxes I saw in the market last night. They were labeled "Golden Berries," but I recognized that tomatillo resemblance, and took a chance. Maria tried one for breakfast. The outer layer is almost husk-like. Peel back the papery petals, and inside is something that looks like gold cherry tomato. It's firm, and a bit sticky. Maria likens the flavor to a guava variety, and I agree. It's got loads of tiny seeds. She packed more into her lunch!

With Infinity More Monkeys, a picture a day.

From our own garden we are enjoying a new round of apples, this time from the Fuji tree, and plenty of lilikoi, or passionfruit! Maybe we need to add another fruit to the lineup and plant the seeds from the Physalis.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Please Slow Down :: Leaving Portland

Our outings, taking in all the Portland sights, led to some restful nights, and drowsy mornings. Our Airbnb host, Steve, made our mornings even cozier. While Maria slept, I reviewed our plan for leaving Portland. The Coast Starlight would leave PDX Union Station at 2:25 pm, and a Trimet could get us to the station in less than half an hour. I padded our schedule, to allow for delays, to get us to the station early. And with all of this calculated, and our bags mostly packed, we would still have a leisurely morning for another outing.

Our stay in Portland still felt fresh and inviting, neither of us was too eager to leave. In fact, we kept finding new reasons to stay, to ponder the advantages of sending for our things, the chickens, goats, and guys. We kept sighing, wishfully, over big trees, green canopies, the hints of the season to come, like fallen leaves, and changing colors. We were enjoying the subtle respite from the heat wave, the cool mornings. And how to describe the friendly nature of Portlanders? Noteworthy, yes. Warm and familiar, yes, those too. On our walks, the people who were out exchanged smiles, greetings, in an easy, open manner. No one seemed too busy, too distracted, no one made an excuse to be remote or distant. Sometimes, closer to home, we were even asked, "Are you new here?" in a welcome to the neighborhood tone. It gave one the impulse to say, "Yes, quite new. We've just arrived, and we'll be your friends and neighbors." One wouldn't be surprised to be invited to a cookout, or the next block party. Sweet, friendly, Portland. How can we leave you?

Our last day passes. I can confirm for you, learning to use the public transportation in Portland, Oregon, is easy, quick, efficient, and worthwhile. I do not consider myself to be a particularly daring-adventure-risk-taker with tech savvy tendencies, so be encouraged and assured by my endorsement. I used a credit card at this kiosk... piece of cake! I added the Trimet app to my phone... easy as pie! And I planned our trips with my phone map, and the Tri-met app together... easy-peasy lemon squeezy!

Breakfast at La Provence. Do I even have to explain why? I don't think so.

The food here is delicious... to the palate, and the eyes.

I wanted pictures of each pastry and confection, which are little works of art. So pretty!

"Pick anything you like," I offered Maria.

And she did! She ordered something too pretty to eat.

So, we took pictures of it. We turned the plate and took note of the details, the visual allure. Maria dabbed a finger in the cocoa powder. Our waitress, impressed, with this daring breakfast statement, asked "Is there some reason for this special breakfast?" Cake for breakfast... that is an indulgence, but then I knew the answer, and replied, wistfully, "Yes, it's our last morning in Portland!" She felt our tragedy keenly, nodded empathetically, agreeing, "That is a very good reason for a special breakfast." Then she asked about our time here, what we'd seen. She's lived here all her life, and is particularly fond of the wilderness side of Portland, Hood River Valley, Columbia River Gorge. She asked if we would return, and we couldn't suppress our eagerness to do just that!

I love the Day Breaker, this time with hash browns, but do try the butternut squash. It's delicious. Maria wanted their Provençal Potatoes, and my croissant!

The waitress, her name is Nataly, reappeared with a handwritten note, both sides are filled in. It lists all the places we must see when we return with William, Alex, Bambi, Max, and Geoff... wilderness places, hikes, and views. Another waitress peered at the list, and emphasized that Austin Hot Springs is her favorite, better than Bagby, that she was glad Nataly included both. A third waitress saw the long note, and nodded approvingly, "Oh," she said, "I see you got the list! Very good. I keep meaning to make one, too." And she asked if I'd mind if she took a picture of ours.

How to describe the friendly nature of Portlanders? Noteworthy, yes. Warm and familiar, yes, those too. Breakfast was leisurely, delicious, and enjoyed in the merry company of engaging, generous, and fun Portlanders.

We loved the whole experience!

And of course, there was still that sweet indulgence to dig into!

Bon appétit!

Our Petite Provence, in Portland, Oregon, adieu.

We walked, some more, to bid more of Portland a fond farewell.

Whether looking up, or down, I seemed to find agreeable views, in all directions. Did anyone notice the moss in my hand? I couldn't stop collecting forest bits, and Maria teased me about how much we could possibly carry home, and that it was a lucky thing that there is no 'TSA' on trains!

By now, it was clear that there was hardly anything I wouldn't take a picture of. Cracked sidewalks, mossy crevices... surely a genuine fairy home! Berries I don't know the names of, flowers, fences, blue houses, brick houses, old and inviting homes, with deep porches, and gabled windows. This is more than mere attraction... I have a crush, an intense infatuation, beyond brief or fleeting. I began to strongly suspect that going home was going to take a period of adjustment. I wondered how I would, if I should, explain my affair of the heart with Portland, Oregon, to Geoff. It sounds quaint, possibly daft, written here, but the feelings are real, the affection persists.


No amount of luggage juggling could help us with this dilemma!

Or this one, either! Steve, we love you, and we'd love to bring you home with us.

Even with added books, yarn, fabric, and forest bits, we managed to pack it all... the added Trader Joe's bag was a big help.

Ahead, the next and last stage of our journey. We were sad for what we were leaving behind, but fortunately, there was a lot to look forward to, as well.