Give them a point

We all have organizations we support, either with monetary donations, physical labor, or spreading the word.

It’s so easy for us to post a link to a worthy cause on social media that sometimes we forget these organizations need more than recognition. We have become complacent people who accept a few clicks as “doing our part”. In Texas, most of the organizations I would volunteer with would end up having outdoor events in the summer. In particular Rocky Top Therapy (now Victory Therapy Center) was grueling in the summer months. Walking along side a horse with your arms supporting a rider’s weight (sometimes), in 95 degree heat, in ropers, jeans, dusty sand…you get the picture. It’s not glamorous…volunteering rarely is, but that’s not “the point” is it? The point of volunteering is to support a cause you believe in… one that is worthy of your time and that you want to see succeed. Sometimes the experience can be disappointing but that doesn’t make your contribution any less valuable.

In our short time here in Oregon I have already volunteered a few times for a variety of organizations: GPANW (Greyhound Pet Adoption North West), Sycamore Lane Therapy (Hippotherapy, rider therapy etc..), and just this past weekend Oregon Special Olympics. Ginger has also been involved with Portland Dress for Success. So a few weeks back I sent G an email and said “I want to work the Special Olympics coming up in Newberg…you want in?”. She agreed to accompany me, albeit hesitant because she didn’t know anything about bocce ball (which is what we would be monitoring).

I’ll be honest; I was scarred (physically and mentally) from my last bocce ball match. Ok…so maybe not mentally, but definitely physically. Growing up full blooded Italian…it’s a requirement that you know how to play bocce…it’s also a requirement to argue, yell, celebrate, bitch, moan, and gloat. So on some such occasion my brother (Jeff) and I were playing a match and we got into a “spirited” discussion over a point….

Side note: I don’t know why I picked on Jeff…he is my oldest sibling and the biggest. Maybe it’s the whole jail mentality….when you go in- pick a fight with the biggest baddest mofo in there and show everyone you’re not afraid to scrap. I’ve always been that way with Jeff, I love him with every ounce of my being but for some reason we’ve (well I) just always been that way. Eventually he has to put me in my place and order is returned. Anyway back to the story…

So we are in this discussion over a point…and next thing I know I instigate him. Honestly I don’t remember much. I remember I started it…he picked me up…kicked his tree trunk like legs out and dropped every bit of his 250lb frame on top of me. At the time I was a fit, lean bicycle rider and had no business taking on a defensive lineman. Bottom line, I broke my clavicle…I say “I” broke it because I started it. Jeff felt awful, but I never once harbored ill will towards him…because I deserved it…I’m sorry he was the one who did it, because his heart is as big as Texas and I know he felt bad(again he shouldn’t have). So to say we take bocce ball seriously, is a slight understatement.

So this past Saturday I would be walking on to a bocce ball court with flashbacks. I was sure that it would bring back those arguments between my father, brothers, sister, aunts, uncles, and family dogs. I could play them back in my head…my grandmother telling my father “OH BULLSHIT JOE… I DIDN’T KNOW I RAISED A CHEATER”, then following it up with some sort of bad word in Italian…and everyone breaking out into laughter. I snapped out of it pretty quick, because I realized we were there to help. Yes, we were there to be the judges…but we were there as a third party and obviously they do not take this competition as seriously as the “Bleggi court of death and humiliation”.

After a brief volunteer orientation, we headed out to our first match. The teams were evenly matched and it was a fun close game. We noticed this one team was very supportive and positive. We were fortunate enough to have them back on our court for their second match. The second match did not start very well for me as the coach of the second team decided to tell me how to work a coin flip. This coach was clearly not in the spirit of the games, correcting everything we did, correcting everything her athletes did, and complaining at every turn. Ginger and I found ourselves trying to make up for her attitude towards her own athletes by supporting them and cheering them.

Then a moment that brought a tear to my eye… As I was handing the pallino to the team which we officiated earlier, the most positive member took the ball from my hand and said these exact words: “They’re trying really hard…give them a point”. She was speaking about the team with the sourpuss for a coach. They were shellacking the other team and she felt sorry for them, but I also got the feeling she was sensitive to the energy their coach was putting on them. As I walked back to the scorer’s table to tell Ginger the score of that end, she said “that was sweet”.  Ginger had just heard the request to reward the other team with a point. I was choking back tears because this is why you volunteer. This very moment is such a reward to me. There’s no hidden agenda…no ulterior motive…no expectation of reciprocity… just honest care for their fellow human being. I’ve been very fortunate in my volunteering to have many of these experiences. I’ve cried, I’ve smiled, and I’ve remembered. I want to hold on to those moments.

The game ended with a crushing score of twelve to one. That one point was earned.

“The Thermals” intake

The past few weeks in Oregon have been crazy busy. Whether we were running round Mount Hood, stopping at fruit stands to sample the latest dried cherry, hazelnut butter, and dried blueberries spread OR seeing trained cats ring bells for freshly cooked chicken breasts….it’s been an amazing couple of weeks.

We have decided to keep a calendar on our wall to schedule our “together” events and our individual happenings. I’m fully aware how shameful it is that a tech guy doesn’t keep a public google calendar or somesuch..but the calendar is only as accurate as the people who use it. I assure you Ginger would not use a cloud calendar…sorry honey…it’s just like that. I have found myself asking more often: “What do we have the week of…”.

This past weekend was one of those weekends that was packed. Friday night we both went to see the amazing “Acro-cats”. The show was fun and worth the ticket. Ginger and I found our jaws hurting from all the laughing and smiling. It was a great opening to the weekend. Saturday we spent running around which would lead into the evening where we would go our separate ways. Ginger was volunteering at “Dress for Success, Oregon”, and I was headed to a concert.

The concert was a Portland band named “The Thermals”. Now if you haven’t heard of them and you’re a fan of not so hardcore punk alternative genre…then they are right up your alley. Check them out at the end of this post. (go to the 25:00 mark to check out their song to get people going)

The concert was at a club named Branx PDX. Upon arrival, I walked by a door approximately 20 yards off the road without any signage. Luckily there was a guy outside smoking who verified my inquisition. I made my way inside and the guy at the door stamped my arms and said “it’s much better upstairs”. So I made my way up there only to learn the little bastard took me for a fool. His intention was to get me to buy a drink at the bar upstairs and to drive some customers that way. Good on ya jackass. Well the joke is on you….I really don’t drink anymore, so I just awkwardly stood around and attempted to engage others with cigarettes outside on their balcony. Anyway I ended up getting a coke, nothing was happening upstairs so I started to make my way back down. As I passed a woman on the stairs she stopped me and said “you can’t take that past this point”. I said “it’s just a coke”….”it doesn’t matter you’ll have to leave it here or toss it” she replied. Yeah okay…let me just leave my open cup drink out in the open for you people to slip me the date rape drug while I’m not looking. No thanks. So I just set it down and walked by. As I passed the jackass who told me to go upstairs, I showed him my branded wrists and he acknowledged. I watched the opening band from the back of the room. After their set was done I headed to the bar, downstairs this time, for another coke (I was getting lit tonight…hahah). After the bartender handed my cup o’ syrup sans soda water, I started to make my way to the front of the stage where I came across a tall bouncer who took his job waaayyyy tooooo seriously. This is where I began to reminisce of the old Dallas music scene. He looked over casually and said “no drinks past this point”. WTF!!!! I just bought this to replace the one I wasn’t allowed to bring past the ten foot barrier..screw this…it was syrup anyway. He repeated it slower to me as I gave him the scathing “I hate your skinny hipster jean, full beard, captain hat wearing face you son of a bitch” look. He acknowledged my disdain with a smirk…so I looked him in the eye and tossed my 9/10ths full cup in the trash next to him, in hopes he’d get splashed…and then walked by with an equal (if not better) smirk.

I was now a few feet from the stage and looking at the t-shirts. As I stood there looking at the choices, suddenly a light came up in to my face and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Kathy Foster…the bassist for the band I was about to see. She was trying to spot her product better and by accident hit me in the face with 60 watts. I smiled at her after I made my purchase, and rather than ask for a picture with her…I just nodded and smiled.

After a few minutes of setup, they came out and acknowledged their loyal local following. The crowd was full of energy that I had not felt in a long time. Everyone from teenagers to sixty somethings was in attendance. As they started to play, I noticed a tension there. I didn’t pick up on it right away…but as the band busted into “Pillar of Salt” I finally was able to put my finger on it. The crowd wanted to dance…and dance they did. Call it “Slam” call it “mosh”…whatever word you use, just know it was glorious. I had not seen a pit like that in so long. Everyone in Dallas is too goddamn busy looking at their phones, texting their friends, and social media’ing to live in the moment. Well this WAS the moment. The moment I realized the real music scene is alive and well in the underground. Past the unmarked door…through the douchebag bouncers…with the bands who put in the sweat work. Clearly this band was hard working, I hope it is paying off for them (in whatever form of payment they seek). This fan fully appreciated what they were doing and I’m excited to finally see a real music scene again. Bravo PDX…Bravo.

 

Want to celebrate in Portland? You better have a parade!

FACT! We have attended more parades in Portland than we have in our entire lives.

It seems as though every big celebration in Portland has a parade associated. Last fall when we visited, we attended the Macy’s Christmas parade and fell in love with the city. There have been several parades in the past few weeks. One of which I really wanted to attend but couldn’t….It was the “Starlight parade” which celebrates the Portland Rose festival (May 23-June 8) at night. So the floats are lit up and travel down mostly dark streets, and they televise it because it’s a big deal. Portland does an amazing job at coordinating the events. From the police to organizing street vendors, they do a far better job than what either of us are used to with events of this size.

This past weekend we attended the “Grand Floral Parade” which is the crown jewel of the magnificent two week rose festival. The parade is a little odd because prior to the actual event they have a “Grand Floral Walk” where participants just walk the parade route. Occasionally someone would cheer the walkers and they would respond by hamming it up. The vibe was set from the get go…it was a fun crowd. It was a gorgeous 70 degrees and sunny. After the wait for the parade to arrive, the choked up feeling Ginger and I felt back in December returned to us both. I think it was a combination of reminiscing and recognition that we have these celebrations in our backyard.  As the parade marched we found ourselves clapping along with the marching bands and cheering the peace corps as well as the other varieties of groups, businesses, or civic leaders. Alaska Air even had a large contingency of flight attendants and a fairly elaborate choreography which included travel bags, pirates, and a beautiful float. I was amazed that a town this size could put on such a world class celebration…..and everyone was loving it! No riots….no scandals….just fun. For all you fellow band nerds, you’ll be happy to know that the very BEST marching band in the parade was a group called “One more time around again”. They were an enormous conglomerate (500 active members) of ex college and high school band members ranging from 18 to 80’s in age. Of course their soul, rhythm, and performance was second to none. They got the crowd pumped up big time. I could go on to describe how wonderful all the floats and people were but you get the point…I will leave the parade part of this blog with two things: Alpaca with a fez and Poop Squatch! Serious awesomeness.

After the parade we grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor selling locally sourced links from a company that’s been around since the 1920’s…Do I need to say it? Really? Okay…AWESOME dog! Best I ever had in fact.

We made our way down to Tom McCall park (which is where all events end up in Portland) to watch the dragon boat races. Again the event was well organized and orchestrated. Four boats would be out on the water while four more were on the dock loading up. When the one race was done the next four would leave in perfect time so the other four could dock and allow the next 80 rowers enough time to get into their boats. Many races were blowouts, but as the day progressed the competition got a little more tight and the races started to get more exciting. The crowd on the river banks cheered louder and louder as the boats got closer to each other at the finish. The teams were warming up with their yell chants and dances, there was no blocking out the electric atmosphere. Many teams had funny names like “no teacher left behind” and “draggin’ bones”. All took it seriously but were clearly having fun…how could they not?

I was amazed at how pedestrian friendly the city was (yet again). We walked from the parade route to the waterfront….then up to a small strip center to grab a cone of ice cream…only to return to the banks to watch more racing. As we sat watching the racers in the glorious sunlight, I felt like celebrating the city. HEY a PARADE!

Look! Alpaca with a fez!

Look! Alpaca with a fez!

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awww nuts!

In my last blog post I mentioned the numerous fruit, vegetable, and berry stands on my commute. A few weeks ago I stopped in to a grocery store near my office in McMinnville to pick up a few snacks. In addition to the locally grown strawberries I picked up a  few generic items as well. One item in particular caught my eye in the bulk section. The tag on the barrel said “locally grown walnuts”…the price…??? $3.99 a pound. Yeah, you read that right. A full LB of freshly shelled locally grown walnuts.

I’ve stated it before…and I have no problem stating it again. The produce in Oregon is amazing! The reason? Well first off the farmers care if their product is quality because that’s how they make their living (shocking concept to some of you I know). We’ve become so far removed from our food source that we come to expect the grocery stores to be responsible for picking our produce for us. By the time it makes it into our shopping baskets, it has passed through a gauntlet of handlers, inspectors, grocer buyers, then finally the stockers’ hands. Do you think that happens overnight? HELL no! It takes time. The whole time the product is aging and fast. For example…the strawberry season is in full swing right now. Hood strawberries are the flavor of the month…in a few weeks another variety will be available. I stopped and picked up a few pints. Normally we’d have to eat them in a matter of days(if purchased in a grocery store), but up here they are bright red when we buy them…a week later they are still as sweet and healthy as the day I purchased. What gives? Of course!!! The time to market is shortened.

Why are the farms up here so successful…why are they so plentiful? Well there are laws in place to… 1. help the farmers and 2. to ensure farmland stays farmland. Not Starbucks, Old Navys, Targets or Wal-Marts (in fact Portland recently ran Wal-Mart out of town). What a novel concept! People need food…farmers need land to grow food and if we want the farmers to sell their food they must be treated fairly. The CEO of the company I work for explained to me that the area holds farmers in the highest regards and makes sure they have what they need. All of Oregon is apparently like this. The farmers treat the consumer fairly by not gouging the hell out of them and then using the excuse of “well we grew it with our own hands”.

I remember as a kid going to the real farmers’ market in downtown Dallas and coming home with produce much the same as what we are finding here. My father and mother would speak directly to the farmers and ask them “where did you grow this?”. If the farmer engaged my parents…then they would buy their produce because a farmer’s word was his bond. The last time I went to the downtown Dallas farmers’ market, I remember employing the same technique. Only the response I got from the “farmer” was shrugged shoulders and an “I don’t know” response. That happened repeatedly. What I came to realize is that there were food distributors just across the street…and the people in the market were merely resellers. Now it’s fair to say I didn’t go to each one of them and ask them…but those that I did had the 1000 yard stare. Shame on you Dallas for ruining what should have remained a success…instead you stuck your nose in it time and time again…ultimately destroying the farmers’ outlet. Luckily some smaller markets have started gaining traction in the DFW area.

Now this is where the “wow” factor comes in. Whether you hate reading this blog…or are intrigued by my giddy childlike wonder at all the “new” things up here, I promise this will amaze you too.

I stopped at the same farm store as I did last week to get some freshly roasted and locally grown hazelnuts. I was also going to pick up some of the latest walnut crop. I picked up a variety of prepared hazelnuts…roasted, dry roasted, honey roasted. Then I moved to the walnuts. They only had one variety “raw”. I picked up a 2lb bag and a smaller one to send to someone that I promised. I took them to the counter and the woman exclaimed “oh shoot, I need to call her”. I asked what she meant and she replied the lady across the street that I buy these from. Now I had seen the walnut farm before and wanted to visit, so I asked her why she needed to call them. She said that I just bought the last bag and she needed more. The lead time was a little long because…………….wait for it……………..the owner of the farm shells them by hand. What the what? I asked like by hand by hand? She replied yes 1×1. She held up the bag and pointed something out I hadn’t noticed before…how absofrickinglutely perfect the nuts were. There wasn’t a single discolored, scaley, gnarly nut in the bunch.

Yeah…I thought the same thing…that’s nuts!

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In Oregon…even our commutes are awesome.

Ok…so I know I haven’t blogged in a while but cut me some slack. I’ve been working!

Yes that’s correct, I’m back to the real world. A few weeks ago I was offered a position with a company in McMinnville, which is just on the edge of what I considered to be a reasonable commute. This past monday I started the job as well as the long drive of about 45 minutes each way.

I was thinking about all of my commutes over the past 20 years and I laughed. What an absolute nightmarish joke they were. If you live in Texas and you have a commute…don’t fool yourself..it sucks. There’s nothing worse than getting on one of the straight flat freeways at 75 MPH and white knuckling the shit out of the steering wheel hoping “today isn’t the day I die”. If you don’t have a commute like that in Texas – congratulations; However, the most exciting part of YOUR commute is the new shopping center with the Taco Bell and Starbucks flanked strip mall. Don’t lie…you know that’s true.  And traffic? forget about it.

The first day commute is always stressful because you’re not comfortable with the route. I got up at a reasonable time to NOT put me at the office before anyone arrives, but to take my time and pay attention to traffic flow, turns, and the surroundings.

What I found was similar to the way I’ve been living for the past few months – rubbernecking. I couldn’t stop looking around…even though I’ve driven the road a few times already. The light here is crazy different minute to minute. The scenery you just saw in the flat cloudy light becomes much deeper and colorful when the sun breaks through. The field depths, the foliage, and the vines seem to reach out and grab you.

Of course by “vines” I mean grapevines…and by “grapevines” I mean WINE! My commute takes me through the heart of wine country, so the road (2 lane country highway) is flanked on either side by wineries. So you can imagine in the morning light how beautiful the wineries are against the rolling hills.

In the evening I’m headed back towards Portland which means more views! Where there aren’t wineries there are hazelnut and walnut orchards for acres…and fruit/vegetable/honey stands. Everywhere you see an orchard, there are bee hives. So those stands sell their goods on the side of the road, only a few feet from where it was actually produced (reminds me of Pennsylvania).

Right now we have some amazing strawberries so I decided I had to stop at one of these stands. I wandered their shelves picking out salted roasted hazelnuts (which were processed and roasted in the room a few feet away), walnuts, and blueberry flower honey. The prices were more reasonable than anywhere we’ve ever been (including anywhere in TX) and the quality was second to none (as you can imagine). I’ve never tasted such a strong flavor of walnuts…amazing.

As I’m walking to my car with the haul I look up over the hazelnut trees…and there’s mount Hood! Snow capped still – wispy clouds surrounding the summit, I stood and smiled(on a good day I can see multiple snow capped mountains). As I smiled I got a little teary. Trying to appreciate everything that we have worked so hard for over the last few years. I stood and took it all in…the occasional smell of strawberries….interrupted rudely by the douglas fir trees across the street.

This morning I started down the same commute I’ve had all week…and several hot air balloons were floating slowly over some of the wineries. I laughed because I didn’t think a commute this long could ever be THIS enjoyable.

I had serious concerns that when I started my job, I would stop appreciating Oregon. What I’ve found is that even in the mundane…there are things to be appreciated. I can honestly say I never thought I would sit at a stop sign in a small sleepy town in Oregon while coming home from a long day at work and say to myself “this is awesome”.

 

“Hey…you made it”

Last weekend we made a big push to see more sights before Ginger started her job. We had heard that Cape Lookout offered an excellent vantage point to view whales off the coast. So we saddled up and made the hour trek we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple months to the Pacific ocean. It was a pleasant drive (as usual) with the standard winding mountain road flanked by enormous trees with the occasional break for overlooks.

With the stress of job searches winding down and the beginning of employment ramping up, our adrenaline was high.

The day would begin at the Tillamook cheese factory. Ginger and I had always been huge fans of their cheese, so forgive us for not realizing they also made ice cream. As we wandered the self guided tour, there were assembly line workers awkwardly looking up at us…but the occasional smile and wave from the floor made us more comfortable watching people work. Ha! There’s only so many vats of milk and hairnets one can endure so we made our way to the tasting room and the gift shop….and ultimately the cafe. As we giggled at all the crapery one could buy, we both knew how this was going to end – easily a pants size larger. I found myself craving the cheeses they only sell locally. It reminds me of the old myth (which actually isn’t a myth at all) that Guinness keeps the top notch beer for themselves and ships the rest out. Tillamook has several versions of cheese they keep only in the Pacific northwest…unfair? Tough get over it. Anyway, after our purchases (and believe me at 16 dollars worth, we did good to escape with that little) we stopped at the ice cream bar. Now if you know Ginger you know that her indecision when her brain becomes overwhelmed with so many choices can get in between you and your enjoyment of a delicious dessert. I’ve learned over the years that “all bets are off” as far as chivalry is concerned when dessert is in question. Delayed gratification is an excellent concept for young people to learn, I am not young and I’ve had my fair share of delays in my life…so get the hell out of the way and let me order my cone, woman!

After enjoying the excellent waffle cone of my typical “rocky road”, we made our way to the coast. As usual we found ourselves “ooo’ing” at the natural beauty that Oregon has to offer. I had a brief Skype chat from the beach with some previous co-workers and friends, so it gave me the opportunity to catch up with them in a clear mindset. It was great to see and talk with them.

We headed down to the beach and while the air temp was a beautiful 70 degrees I assure you the snow runoff river that flowed into the ocean was slightly lower. We walked along the beach in our bare feet hoping to catch a glimpse of a grey whale or an orca. We decided to move vantage points, so we made our way to Cape Meares. A charming lighthouse tour got our excitement up, because the guides were talking about hearing whales before seeing them. While waiting in the gift shop I struck up a conversation with a woman who was telling me about a “sure fire” location to see whales. Once again knowing who to talk to pays off in Oregon. She said on the way to Yaquina Head bay there’s a spot known as Depoe bay that offers the best refuge for whales and it’s almost certain we’ll see them. It’s about 40 miles south of where we were. Note: for those of you in Texas with one million routes of 75mph+ roads…this does not mean a 30 minute drive. In Oregon 40 miles along the coast or through a forest means .75 miles of 55mph – 2.25 miles of 45mph – 1.5 miles of 40mph – 10 miles of 25mph – and 25.5 miles of 35mph. This will get you to your destination anywhere between 50 minutes and 3.5 hours so plan accordingly.

We sat for a break over Cape Meares and watched seals frolic in the ocean. We looked up and saw another bald eagle giving a very typical landing pose on the tallest available tree. Wings pointed up, it used the tips to flick at the wind lightly as it came to rest on a branch that slowly swayed upon receiving its weight. We are becoming quite good at bird watching and have realized the best method is to wait for them to come to you. As we sat there I looked over and saw an enormous shadowy figure flying to us. Normally in Texas that’s either a red tail hawk or a vulture, so my brain was trying to make out the shape. I was speechless as I tried to mutter something…”I think….I think….uh…I think…uhhhhhhh” I was slapping Ginger’s leg trying to get her attention. Right as I did – she looked and watched the largest bird either of us had ever seen soar about 20 feet over our heads. It was a golden eagle, our first one in the wild. We were in complete shock and right then and there we made a pact to never take any of this for granted. I’m confident neither of us ever will…as proof by us taking pictures of turkey vultures on the ground no more than 100 feet from our front door in Texas. We’ve always appreciated nature and what it has to offer so I’m positive we will continue to appreciate what we are given.

Giddy and high from nature’s blessing, we hopped in the car for a varied speed and timed journey to Depoe bay. We went through some great small towns and each one prompted Ginger’s standard response of “look how cute this town is”…and my conditioned response of “yeah we’ll need to book a weekend here”. The fact we can hit the coast in such a short drive is a luxury we’ve never had. We arrived in the bay shortly after the whale watching center closed so we circled back to find a place to park. Where better than next to a giant fiberglass whale sculpture, surely that means something right? RIGHT. While parking Ginger said…”what the hell…look…look…look that’s got to be a whale”. She was right. Against the backdrop of the setting sun we watched a whale spout, breach, and go back down. We got our binoculars out approached the seawall and watched for 20 minutes as the whales poked their heads up as if to say “Hey…you made it”. A phrase I muttered in a goofy voice that had Ginger and I rolling in laughter after an accomplished mission.

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Cape Meares lighthouse

Disappointment…Anything but

“Cape Disappointment” is located just across the Oregon border in Washington. We made a road trip last week to attempt to whale watch from the shores but arrived slightly after the ideal time. Like most things in the Pacific northwest, it didn’t really matter because of all the other amenities the area offered.

The spectacular views of the ocean were breathtaking to say the least. We started the day looking over a beautiful shore with enormous douglas firs seemingly growing out of rocks. We watched enormous waves crash miles of beach and stood quiet for 30 minutes to listen to the engulfing sound. Neither of us had ever seen such a wide beach before, but no spouts…at this point who cared?

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We made our way over to the “Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center” to tie all of the sights together with history. It’s a small museum but certainly not lacking in information. We wandered aimlessly picking displays to read and educate ourselves about area history as much as possible. One quote from Lewis Clark (November 18, 1805) in particular caught my attention: “Men appear much satisfied with their trip beholding with estonishment the high waves dashing against the rocks and this emence ocian”. I can only imagine what these men went through on their two year journey (really it was longer if you count supply gathering in Pittsburgh etc…). Of course it’s hard not to look at the quote and reminisce about our own journey. While not nearly as long and dangerous, it was every bit as frightening to Ginger and I. I say “was” because we have finally realized that we’ve accomplished a great deal in the last few months. This journey of  ours has been a test on many levels that neither of us expected.

After the interpretive center we made our way back over the border to Oregon and stopped in Astoria for lunch. Of course as we have been attempting to become Oregonians, we’ve had to discover certain secrets for ourselves (and bribed some locals and friends for the real skinny). I’ve talked about food numerous times (I’m Italian…I’m allowed) so it should come as no surprise I’m going to mention our lunch spot. What WILL come as surprise to those of you that know me is that I had fish at lunch. I had been craving fish and chips and we decided on a little place that had apparently been a staple in the area for a while. Score! As we waited in line a native struck up a conversation with us which would continue on a picnic bench under a tree with him and his wife (after we both received our food). This place had been there a while and it was a mother and daughter run business…where the mother cooks and the daughter does almost everything else. They use Albacore tuna that they catch fresh in the bay for the fish. It was as excellent as you can imagine…The best part you ask? The boat! You wouldn’t know it was a restaurant if the line wasn’t so long….because people line up on the bow port side of the boat and move at slower than snail’s pace.

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A fun wood carving adorned the boat’s bow.

The nice couple we met told us of a sight we needed to see while in Astoria, known as the “Astoria Column”. Another secret unlocked…at this point we need start “leveling up” like in a video game to keep track of the discoveries. The column was completed in 1926 and sits on Coxcomb Hill. The column itself is 125 feet (164 steps to the top) combine that with the elevation of 600 feet of the hill and you have a marvelous view of the Pacific ocean bays, and the mouth of the Columbia river. It was a chilly day but we managed to climb to the top of the column and take in the magnificent beauty from 725 feet above sea level. Awe inspiring to say the least.

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Looking at how far we’ve come in three months, it’s hard not to be proud. As hard as it was for Ginger and I to leave friends and family, we both knew it would not be hard to leave Texas. After seeing so much in such little time in Oregon, we know the right choice was made. The concentration of natural beauty that surrounds us in Oregon is astronomical and something that a Texan can’t comprehend. No matter how many pictures we post…no matter how many trips we take…it isn’t enough. It doesn’t even scrape the surface of what we’ve seen thus far, and that’s only in eight weeks (unemployed mind you). Couple all that with the emotional as well as physical uprooting, it’s been quite the trip. And if we “appear much satisfied”…well it’s because we are.

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I’m how old?

We were all young at some point…at least I think I was. What most of you probably don’t know is that I was a sweet innocent boy early in life. Contrary to most of you thinking I was born evil…I have documented proof that I was a good kid at some point. I’m fairly certain catholic school taught me how to be evil.

I attended catholic school for three years from seventh to ninth grade. Those years were fantastic and I would have loved to continue (and who knows…maybe I would have stayed catholic…or maybe not). My first year at St. Paul the Apostle in Richardson, TX was fantastic. Everyone was so friendly to this stranger who was coming to a new school and invading their class that had been together since practically first grade. One guy in particular was very similar to me. He grew up in a culturally embraced household similar to my Italian ruled family. We were also both smaller kids compared to some others and we loved the more eclectic music. We were listening to that crap long before it was culturally acceptable…so suck it society…(sorry I had a flashback).  He introduced me to some great music that I still listen to today.

At the end of my third year in catholic school, my mother got very sick and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma cancer. A fourth year in catholic school would have been too much for my family so I went back to public school. This was the first time in my life I missed my friends. No facebook, no email, no texting to make it easier for me. I had lost touch with most of them, but never forgot them and the great times we had together.

When the decision was made this past fall to move to Portland, I discovered that the friend I mentioned above had been living here for a few years. Small world! I had been looking forward to catching up with him. Last week I finally had that opportunity. As he strolled up towards burnside, I recognized him straight away. We gave each other a welcome hug and simply picked up where we left off over 25 years ago.

He was as cool now as ever. Portland cool. Not pretentious, hipster, vegan, or any other stereotype you want to place…just damn cool. He was telling me about the area and reaffirming quite a bit that I had already heard. So for us to be able to compare notes at this point of my relocation was comforting. We shared quite a few laughs over a beer while sitting outside in the gorgeous weather. We talked about the ride to adulthood that we both took and laughed while we looked back at our respective paths. What a ride it has been so far…

meandjavier

Me and Javier circa 1986. Riding a bus to San Antonio for a missions tour. Damn cool.

 

Clicking In

I grew up riding my bicycles on the flat open plains of a Dallas suburb named Plano. I remember my first bicycle was an old 70’s schwinn 10 speed that was way too big for me. It was a hand-me down from one of my brothers. I remember wrenching on the bike, pretending like I knew what I was doing. I spent probably thirty dollars on reflective tape from k-mart to wrap the entire frame. For a day or two it was the coolest bike on the street. I quickly learned that surfaces MUST be clean before applying adhesive style products. In the early to late 90’s I started riding like it was my religion. I was joining every group I could find from mountain, road, and even to BMX. I stopped riding with the groups because  I was clocking around five to six hundred miles a week and it was eating me out of house and home. I started riding with a couple co-workers and one in particular helped bring back that childlike joy of riding, which helped me turn it back into a fun recreation with friends and not an exhausting chore with yell leaders (Ricardo, love you brother from another mother). I look forward to being able to ride with him again soon…given that he’s a mere three hours away now that we’ve relocated to Portland.

In the meantime, I’ve found another recreational group to ride with here in the gorgeous scenery of north Oregon. A few weeks ago I went on a ride with a few of them to a town named “Boring”. It was a very interesting ride because of the odd micro-climates we went through. One minute it was a gorgeous sunny day and the next I was freezing my butt off with a rain coat providing my only protection. This was probably my third ride since arriving a little over six weeks ago but that didn’t stop a woman from barking at me “share the trail”. Note to self: People around here like a little more space between your bike and themselves. I wasn’t that close…but I get it…sorry lady.

However, this past weekend I went on another ride with the same group to a town named “Buxton” (or thereabouts)  and I found that same childlike exuberance again! Upon arriving I rode down to the trailhead to find a familiar face (and fellow Texas transplant) waiting with a group I had not met just yet. He introduced me to a few of the riders and I instantly had a good feeling about this group. Everyone on the ride Saturday was super nice and had the “no man left behind” attitude, which is very important. A lot of the groups I had ridden with before had no problem dropping you if you didn’t keep up and that used to really upset me. This group was different, it was clear from the get-go that they were looking out for you as evidence by one of the riders having a flat at the start. Everyone pitched in with a variety of tools, supplies(since her bike was a little older), and skills to get her back in the saddle. As we rode the slightly inclined trail we all were chatting with each other. Another fellow transplant from Austin, Texas and I had a great conversation about life, work, and the state we escaped. We were laughing and sharing stories about the superior quality of life I was just beginning to appreciate up here. It was as if I was making up for lost time with old friends. Everyone was extremely kind and welcoming without judgement, another concept foreign to me having lived in Dallas almost my whole life.

Some of you who read this blog may not know what “clipless” pedals are on a bicycle. Clipless pedals enable you to cycle more efficiently by having cleats on the bottom of your shoes that snap in to the pedal like a ski binding. This bond between shoe and pedal enables you to make a more even stroke by not only keeping your foot connected to the bike, but also “pull” the pedal on the upstroke creating a more even circle of pressure while pedaling. When you step on to the pedal they make a “snap” or “click” noise signifying that you are locked in and ready to ride. So among riders it’s called either “clicking in” or “clipping in”(for us older riders). When I hear that sound I’m like a dog when it hears the leash come off the wall. I’m ready for the adventure ahead hanging my head in the wind, my figurative tongue flapping in the wind taking in all the surrounding scenery, smells, and sounds.

After the ride we all went to a local joint for lunch and drinks. We sat outside in the gorgeous 70 degree sunny weather sharing more stories while I was trying not to put off any of my new friends with my lack of Oregon knowledge. One of the women in the pack even complimented my beard which, as you probably know, was not received all that well in Texas. She also agreed to a picture for my beard’s facebook page which was newly formed so that I could show all my family and friends that I’m okay being myself out here. So once we finished lunch I said “okay, you agreed to a picture time to make good”.  I held up the phone, turned on the “selfie-mode”…and CLICK!

Just one of the awesome people on the ride Saturday. Thanks to everyone for making it my best Saturday thus far in Oregon!

Feel free to like my beard’s page, it will appreciate it.

https://www.facebook.com/phillsbeard

 

What was that?

I think spring is most likely an Oregonian’s favorite season and we arrived just in time. The weather has once again turned gorgeous this past week. We’ve visited the coast again, witnessed the tulip festival, and discovered a gorgeous (yet another) park close to our home. We explored the park twice already because it’s only four miles away.

Last week we saw the inevitable gigantic hail stone pictures coming out of Texas. We were glad to hear all our friends and family were okay. It certainly served as a reminder of one of the reasons we left Texas. That’s not to say Oregon doesn’t have its own set of challenges.

You’ve seen rock and mudslides on the news…nothing to balk at for sure. This week brought a very interesting natural event that we knew was coming (eventually). We were watching our normal Sunday night lineup of programs when we felt the apartment lift then sway and rumble a little. I didn’t have to ask but I found myself saying it anyway….”What was that?”. Probably a much cleaner version of events that actually occurred, but you get the idea. We had received a sheet from the complex on what to do in the event of an earthquake. It’s not too far from what you should do in a tornado. Within minutes I found that the USGS reported that the earthquake was 3.3 magnitude and about 10 miles from us. I’m thankful this happened for a couple reasons. 1) it was relatively small 2) it wasn’t that far away. It gives me an idea of what to expect from now on…and how to judge the severity. I’ve spoken with a few people in Texas that basically said “nope, I’ll take the tornados on the surface of the sun thank you very much”. Not us…while Ginger will miss the storms and lightning…I won’t. After the last tornado and hail storm we went through took out our roof, I knew I didn’t want to be in tornado alley any longer.

The idea of a severe earthquake scares the crap out of us, but what are you going to do? You have to pick your poison. No place is without faults, it just so happens in Oregon they lie beneath the surface a few meters.