Thursday, March 19, 2020

Covid-19: Life in the Hot Zone

March 14, 2020: One of the first school closures in the country for Covid-19.
January 19, 2020 marks when the first coronavirus victim was identified in the US in Snohomish Washington State about a 3 1/2 drive from "home." WA State raised the alarm early about the true nature of the pandemic. Still, it didn't take long to spread to the Portland metro area. Last week, nearly all schools on both sides of the Columbia river closed until late April. 
These are in scarce supply, Fortunately, most of the stores now keep sanitizers
at registers for customer use. Photo credit Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.
Social distancing and hygiene recommendations increased in volume, detail, and frequency. Hand sanitizers and wipes quickly disappeared off the shelves before stores took the initiative to request limitations. Why toilet paper and paper towels also became the items to hoard is beyond me. Do people get coronavirus up their a--? Not that I've heard! Australia, aka "Oz" seems to have cornered the market on #toiletpaperapocalypse.
Currently not feeling 100 percent. Photo credit Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.
Even free stuff can cause anxiety. Is it safe?
We're not sure whether we are infected. Is Wayne's cold just a cold? An allergy? Coronavirus? Is my very low-grade nausea nerves? Or coronavirus? We don't know. The other night Wayne told me he calmed me down from a nightmare; that I was shuddering. That's a first for me. I consider myself not that anxiety-driven, but perhaps my subconscious doesn't buy it.

We're both generally healthy. We're being careful. Little to no social contact. Definitely no touching besides with each other. I'm reasonably sure even if what we have is Covid-19 we will be done with it within another week or so. Generally, healthy folks are believed to shake it within two weeks. We have no fever. We're isolated enough we don't see a good reason to jump through lots of hoops to stress an inadequate testing system.
Random Numbers Pie on Alberta Steet, Portland. One day before the shutdown.
The numbers already thinned out.

Restaurant business dropped sharply.

This is the norm for many restaurants.
Now, except for take-out, for the most part, restaurants are shuttered. Tonight we were grateful to eat a meal from our friendly neighborhood taco truck.
Those restaurants not closing temporarily or indefinitely are offering take-out.

Today we headed back to our boat, less than one week into what would have been a five-week house-sit. We understand the pandemic is driving folks home to hunker. For the most part, other house-sits have dried up. 

The homeowners at our housesit generously offered to extend our stay at their place even after their return. We are genuinely touched by their kindness, though we are too fond of our private space.

We consider ourselves among the lucky. We can go back to our boat. Our needs are simple. Our bills are few. There's even six rolls of toilet paper aboard. We don't have a huge amount of food aboard because our storage space is limited and we brought food from the boat to our housesits. There are plenty of grocery stores nearby. Maybe we won't get our first choice for everything but cruising taught us to hone our adaptability skills.
A sidewalk mandala in the Sabin neighborhood where we just finished our house-sit.
If there is only one lesson to learn from this pandemic (besides not hogging up all the toilet paper), it's how much we are interconnected. Even separated, we're all in this together. Most of us will survive. Our lives will change in ways we didn't imagine. In the years ahead, what will we say when we look back at this period?

I'm not yet sure how I will be able to help beyond doing my part to do no harm. Maybe it's simply acknowledging this is happening, then encouraging the importance of living our lives beyond it.
Yesterday: perfect weather for kayaking with a friend. Thanks, Keith!
Prayer for a Pandemic
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those who are most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working at home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin of money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country
Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically
Warp our arms around each other.
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
--author unknown (posted to share outside a home in Portland's Sabin neighborhood)
Carol Mackey daphne. One of my all-time favorite scents of spring.
Coronavirus does not erase the beauty of springtime. Getting outside is still perfectly acceptable and even healthy. Reaching out to others, even digitally, is still connecting. Focusing on something other than the coronavirus is important, too.
Coronavirus or not, Darby had his priorities! We could learn something from him.
My next post will not be on the coronavirus! If you must focus on the coronavirus beyond what you need to know to stay safe, please make your addition to this social distancing playlist (and thanks Deb Blakewood for finding an earlier version of this floating on the internet).

Meanwhile, take care.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Neither snow nor rain . . .

Even the gnomes were cold outside. Inside: toasty and welcoming. Whew!
The words "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" isn't just a credo for American mail deliverers. 
Sweet welcome! Thank you Tom & Susanne, you rock!
As a Trusted Housesitter, we know the appointed times that doggies need their walkies. 
One of my special dubious talents: moving in the snow! We weren't expecting this!
But we knew we were expected. Darby begins his training -- of us!
Enough snow for this -- briefly!
Yes, Darby does like the snow. Good thing!
Forsythia in the snow (on Darby's walk).

Post-snowy-walk tub spray-down.  Clearly, not Darby's favorite part.

Petting time. Life is good.
Location Location
How much is that doggie in the window?
This morning we started our next house-sit, a Trusted Housesitters* gig in NorthEast Portland Oregon. Provided coronavirus doesn't cut Darby's owner's trip short, we're here until April 20th.

*my affiliate link and a 25% membership discount to Trusted House-sitters, those house-sits we're doing other than for friends.

Yes, I'm still playing catch-up on our sunscape road trip from February; there's still more to come.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Do you love waterfalls and spring flowers? Clark County Washington's prettiest spot . . .

Lucia Falls, in Yacolt, Washington; early springtime afternoon, March 10, 2020.
On those rare Pacific Northwest springtime days when the sun does shine--carpe diem!

As coronavirus dominates the airwaves, getting out in the wide-open spaces of the great outdoors is a healthy way to escape the worry, do no harm and feed your soul. 

Lucia Falls, Moulton Falls and Sunset Falls . . .This easy hiking sweet trio of waterfalls within a stone's throw of each other is one of Clark County's most beautiful spots. Dougan Falls, in the hills above Washougal ranks a close second IMHO.

No hand sanitizer required.

East Fork Lewis River view from Hartwick Road Bridge near between Lucia and Moulton Falls trailheads.
Lucia Falls, Yacolt Washington.
Downstream of Lucia Falls.
The violets smelled heavenly!
Sunset Falls, Yacolt, Washington.
Upstream of Sunset Falls, Yacolt, Washington.
White violets; less vibrant than their indigo siblings though every bit as fragrant.
We waited and waited for this butterfly to spread its wings to no avail. Camera shy!

Location Location
Easy walking trails throughout the trio of waterfalls:  Lucia, Moulton and Sunset Falls.
This is our last morning house-sitting at a friend's in Vancouver Washington. We're off to our next house-sit, a Trusted Housesitters* gig in NorthEast Portland Oregon.

*my affiliate link and a 25% membership discount to Trusted House-sitters, those house-sits we're doing other than for friends.

Yes, I'm still playing catch-up on our sunscape road trip from February; there's still more to come.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

How Ancient Are California's Redwoods?

Timeline on an almost 2,000-year-old redwood tree stump outside the Humbolt State Park visitor center
on California's Avenue of the Giants.
No one knows exactly how old the biggest coast redwoods are, because nobody has ever drilled into one of them to count its annual growth rings. Botanists think that the oldest redwoods may be somewhere between two thousand and three thousand years old. They seem to be roughly the age of the Parthenon.--Richard Preston, "Climbing the Redwoods: A scientist explores a lost world over Northern California," The New Yorker, February 14, 2005

According to Richard Preston's article, the massive slice of redwood life outside Humbolt State Park's visitor center achieved a respectable long life. A seedling in 920 AD, this ancient heaved its final sigh sometime around 1928. 

It's staggering to realize this redwood's birth preceded Leif Ericsson's New World visit, in 1,000 AD, well before Columbus. Other tree ring markers depict other key historical milestones, giving visitors a visceral sense of this particular giant redwood's girth and lifespan.

The prize for the oldest tree, however, goes to a 9.550-year-old Norway spruce in Sweden, though a purist might disagree. The roots come from older stock, but its trunk is a youngster.

When it comes to "who's the oldest of them all?" the redwoods older California cousins in the White Mountains, the bristlecone pines, beat them out. The oldest bristlecone was recently carbon-dated at over 5,000 years old.
Avenue of the Giants' Immortal redwood tree.
Still, those redwoods are tough. The Immortal tree, also on the Avenue of the Giants, drives that point home with a bit of kitsch. 

The Immortal Tree reminds me of the old missing dog classified ad joke
'Lost dog. 3 legs, blind in one eye,missing right ear, tail broken, recently castrated. Answers to the name of "Lucky."'
Sign spells out the stats of the Immortal Tree in Redcrest California.
In the case of the Immortal tree, lightening cut its crown by 50 feet. The tree also survived loggers, forest fires and massive flooding.

Tough as these ancient giants are, sadly, they are no match for man. 

Once over 2 million acres of redwoods spanned the US West Coast. Now only five percent of the original old-growth coast redwood forest remains. A tree whose history traces back 200 million years, almost completely obliterated in less than 200 years.

Visit them while you still can.

Location Location
This is a recent retrospective from our sunscape February 16-28 2020. We've since returned to the Portland-Vancouver Washington area for a series of house-sits*. We've been doing them since mid-November as house-sitting gets us off the boat (which is moored nearby) and out from under the gloom of covered moorage during the already darkest days of winter. 

Meanwhile, we're still sussing out what, when and where our next adventures will be. 

*my affiliate link and a 25% membership discount to Trusted House-sitters, those house-sits we're doing other than for friends.

Monday, March 9, 2020

How We Get Cheap Hotel Rates: 10 Tips

yes it's possible to save this much money when you know how to find cheap hotel rates
Our max price for a room is usually $100; though we typically pay a lot less.
Photo by 
Alexander Mils on Unsplash
Do You Skip Vacations Because Hotels Cost Too Much? 
Before I continue on with more posts on the highlights of our last sun-seeking road trip, for you armchair travelers or wanna be more frugal travelers, we've learned a thing or two about saving money on our travel . . . Our last trip was 2 weeks and 2800 miles long, a heckuva lotta fun and cost us less than $1200 for everything.

If money is the main issue keeping you from traveling, then our budget travel tips on how to find cheap hotel rates might interest you.
It's a good idea to search in private mode by putting "p" then hitting TAB before searching.
Some places will raise their prices when they can tell you're shopping around.
1. Pull Out Your Maps
Let's say you have two weeks for your road trip with some miles to cover. In our case, our trip totaled 2800 miles over two weeks. We knew 

  • where we were starting from.
  • the furthest point before we were going to turn around and head back.
  • a few of the stops we wanted to make along the way, such as the series of California redwood parks in Northern California. 
  • about how far we wanted to drive before resting our weary heads. In our case, over 300 miles is a long day of driving and doesn't allow for the time we want for exploring. We also prefer to avoid driving after dark, though we will if we have to. 
This Google Maps location-sensitive motel search showed us the best rates in our area,
which motels they were and how they were rated.
We zoomed in for more detail. Usually, this will give us the address and phone number to call.
Because the address wasn't given, I pulled this from a Google search on the name.
This is from a booking agency, not the motel. I try to avoid booking agencies and would be more inclined to drive to the motel than call the booking agency.
2. Planning: Location Location Location
  • staying in the poshest place is your preference, this tip is not for you. 
  • being the closest to a major tourist attraction is critical, again, you need to be willing to pay the price for this. 
  • on the other hand, your goal is to grab some zzzs and give your wallet a rest too, then learn to love the wallflower spots. 
Mid-sized to smaller towns are more likely to offer better rates than the main draws. For example, if Boise, Idaho is the major metro near where you might want to stop for the day, look at the nearest small to midsized towns outside of it, like Meridian. Good chance there's a significant difference in prices and a shorter hop off and on the freeway if all you're doing is stopping for the night. In this endeavor, Google Maps is our go-to resource. We will often do this by considering where we'll have wifi close to our destination, pulling over, checking our options and making some query calls. I try to avoid going through booking agencies as they sometimes tack on extra fees. Instead, I try to call the individual hotels first for availability and to see if they will match the Google Maps price if I book directly with them.
Sunscapes don't have to bust your budget.
Photo by 
Katie Harp on Unsplash
3. Flexibility is Key
Flexibility we find one of the keys to getting the best hotel price. Flexibility means we don't care 
But . . .
I will not stay in any room that I can tell was used to smoke in
Photo by 
Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash
4. Know Your Non-Negotiables
As low as our standards may sometimes sink, there are some non-negotiables which we rarely break. 
  • I will never stay in a room that stinks, whether it's from cigarette smoke, pot, mildew or anything else. That is inviolate. 
  • I will refuse to stay in any room that is a smoking room and nothing will get back to the front desk with key in hand any faster than a nonsmoking room that I can smell smoke residue in. 
  • The room should be quiet, clean, safe and able to screen out exterior light for a good sleep (though we've settled for less on any of these on rare occasion). 
  • There is also a definite limit how far out our way we're willing to go for a room whose only purpose is to sleep.
You are not going to get this without paying for it (i.e, not in a budget motel).
Something drinkable and a decent bite, however, is worth a few extra bucks.
Photo by 
Austin Wade on Unsplash
5. Consider the Value of ExtrasIf there's a small difference in room rates, does the higher one include complimentary breakfast? 
  • If the breakfast consists of more than a bad cup of coffee with powdered creamer and cold cereal, is that enough to be worth it? Maybe yes. 
  • While we don't ask whether there is a microwave, coffeemaker,  refrigerator/freezer or table, we appreciate those rooms that offer them. Many of our meals in the room and on the road come from a grocery store. After a long day on the road, it's nice to be able to kick back and throw something in the microwave for dinner, refrigerate our perishables and ice a water bottle overnight to keep them cold for the next day's in our car's icebox. 
  • Bonus points go to rooms with comfortable chairs or couches and fast wifi.
Part of the ugliest motel room we've ever stayed in.
6. Ratings, Worth a Look
If all other criteria are close enough to not offer much of a difference,  the prices are close, the location equidistant from your goal, ratings are worth looking at. If there's a lot of ratings and a hotel is rated spectacularly bad, with comments about surly services and Volkswagon Beetle sized roaches, then even if it's by far the cheapest, we will give it a miss. However after Yelp chastised me for using photos of a room I stayed in to illustrate a point about the room decor in my review, I take ratings with at least a little grain of salt.
Discounts:  it doesn't hurt to ask. Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
7. Ask About Discounts
Even if the rate is already good, it doesn't hurt to ask if there are any additional discounts. Senior, military, AAA are a few that may be offered. If you don't get any, the only thing you're risking is mildly offending the proprietor. It's likely you're not the first or the last person to ask; the question is to be expected, so don't feel bad about asking. 
The Chimney Tree on the Avenue of the Giants.
One of the fun free stops recommended by Sonia at the Redwood Inn, Crescent City California.
8. Bonus: Affordable Hotel Offer Affordable Travel Tips
Asking the front desk folks what to do based on your interests can help you find cool spots you would've missed and make wiser choices on where you do stop when there's more choices than time. We've found this especially useful for deciding which trails to take and which visitor centers to check out and which grocery stores are best for a meal we can eat in our room. 
We paid ~$60 for this classic hotel in Memphis May 2019. We happily gave them an excellent review.
9. Share the Love (Or Shout the Warning)
It's nice to share the best and worst with other travelers. It's good travel karma to do your part to reward the best proprietors and help them keep their business healthy while helping travelers make better choices. When I've found particularly outstanding service, I've asked where the proprietor would most like their review, then reviewed it there. Otherwise, Google Maps, Trip Advisor, and Yelp  (even if they did chastise me) are some good options. While you're at it, feel free to share this post! Your frugal traveler tips are welcome, too! Please share in comments.
One of our road trip sun club budget stays in New Zealand, at Rotata, a thermal resort.
10. Other Options
Hotels are not our only options for cheap sleeps. We are blessed with generous friends, relatives and hosts (and we generally try offer some hospitality in return by taking them out, cooking them a meal or by doing something else that they appreciate), hostels (especially internationally),  AirBnB, camping and even "sun clubs" are great options. For advance planning, there's also house-sitting, which is what we're doing now that we're back from our road trip.
A recent Portland area house-sit with Trusted House-sitters.
Location Location
This is a recent retrospective from our sunscape February 16-28 2020. We've since returned to the Portland-Vancouver Washington area for a series of house-sits*. We've been doing them since mid-November as house-sitting gets us off the boat (which is moored nearby) and out from under the gloom of covered moorage during the already darkest days of winter. It also cleared the way for tackling some boat projects that don't meld well with living aboard. 

Meanwhile, we're still sussing out what, when and where our next adventures will be. More on that as it evolves.

*my affiliate link and a 25% membership discount to Trusted House-sitters, those house-sits we're doing other than for friends.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Putting Us in Our Place: Avenue of the Giants

California redwood titan, Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Definite neck-stretcher.
California redwoods hold a special place in our hearts. 
Wayne, dwarfed on the trail. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Not long after we met, we made a point of stopping on our first long road trip together to pull into a forest, breathe deeply of its essence, envelop ourselves in the serene silence, and kiss.
Steam rises from the road, warmed by the February sunshine. The woods, ever thirsty, drink in the mist.
For both Wayne and I, the woods, but especially California redwoods, harken childhood memories of awe. From toddlers to teens, we walked, camped, hiked and backpacked in them. Between my junior and senior high school year, I spent a summer working in Northern California's woods with Youth Conservation Corps (YCC). We did trail maintenance, cleared a log-jammed stream, weeded in a blister rust seedling study planting and ducked falling trees while working alongside foresters toppling the big trees while we thinned the thickets so the youngsters remaining could thrive with sufficient light.
I wonder, ss the center tree saying to the one on its left, "Hey, skinny!"
In its first fifty years of life, a coast redwood can grow from a seed into a tree that's a hundred feet tall.--Richard Preston, "Climbing the Redwoods: A scientist explores a lost world over Northern California,"
The New Yorker, February 14, 2005

Posing at Prarie Creek's aptly name Big Tree. Even in
panorama, you can't see the top. It's 286 feet, with
a diameter of 24 feet, a circumference of
75 feet and an estimated age of 1500 years.
Over fifty years ago, my mom, a New York native, naively planted a redwood in our suburban backyard in San Jose. I can't imagine it's still there, though wonder what happened to it. 
When walking in the redwoods, one must assume the position,
tilting our crown, to gaze upon theirs.
Most of us remember nearly everything back then as so much bigger than us, disappointingly shrunken when revisited again viewed through the jaded prism of our adult perspective. 
Wayne, nearly six feet tall. offers some scale for this mighty giant,
laid in eternal rest whilst it feeds the grove with its decay.
Yet when it comes to these ancient redwoods, despite our decades, their sentient grandeur impresses us even more now. Our lives represent less than a fly compared to their tenure. We also understand how precious and rare they are. 
The corkscrew tree. These trees do the slow dance together.
Botanists judge the size of a tree by the amount of wood it contains, not by its height. By that measure, the largest species of tree is the giant sequoia, a type of cypress that is closely related to the coast redwood. The biggest living giant sequoia trees have fatter and more massive trunks than the coast redwoods. But the coast redwood is the tallest species of tree on earth.
This tree is swathed in lichen as thick as some fur coats.

Extremely large coast redwoods are referred to as redwood giants. The very biggest are called titans. Currently, about a hundred and twenty coast redwoods are known to be more than three hundred and fifty feet tall. Eighty percent of them live in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, along the Eel River, in Humboldt County, in Northern California.--Richard Preston, "Climbing the Redwoods: A scientist explores a lost world over Northern California," The New Yorker, February 14, 2005
Bettles or worms get artistic on the surface of this felled redwood.
We stopped and took all-too-short wanders through trails in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State ParkDel Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Humbolt Redwoods State Park.
It's core completely burned out,
this redwood still lives.
Even though our goal this trip was to seek the sun, we spent three days savoring California's sun-hogging yet magnificent redwoods. We were still reluctant to leave them.
Humbolt Redwood Park, Founder's Grove.
Location Location
Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Our first stop.
This is a recent retrospective of our trip from Portland Oregon to Chula Vista California and back. This particular section focuses on California's Redwood State Parks, from just above Crescent City California to Humbolt State Park, February 16-18, 2020.

We are currently back in the Portland metro area.