Monday, January 2, 2023

2023: Good Omen

Columbia Gorge, New Year's Eve day, taken with my phonecam
 from our car whizzing along I-84, just west of The Dalles.
Our plans were among the many foiled by the weather on Christmas weekend, 2022. In our neck of the woods, Interstate 84 closed for 60 miles that weekend, from Hood River to Troutdale. Even semi-truck drivers fled the freeway, dodging jackknifed rigs. Across the river on the Washington side, the twisty but nonetheless normally open highway 14 closed, too.
Home, a few days before Christmas (and more snow and ice).
What a difference a week makes!
The Granada Theater, The Dalles Oregon, pilfered from The Granada's Facebook page.
The Granada gets bigger draws, too, like Billy Bob Thorton, who comes to jam there with his band.
We'd planned to join the family in the Portland, Oregon area, but we were stuck, ice-bound in town. With studded snow tires, we could get around town. Plan B was an old-timey Christmas movie at the old-timey little gem of a theater in town, The Granada.
Lesser-known 1947 Christmas classic, "The Bishop's Wife."
Instead of my usual degenerative "Bad Santa" we stuck to something sweeter. The next night we did movie night and munchies with friends in town and watched "Scrooged," a more PG new holiday classic.
Downtown Tigard, just outside  Copper Mountain Ale Works 
New Year's eve weekend dawned with a clear blue sky in The Dalles. Warm weather de-iced the freeways from our home to the Portland area, so we did a double with our family, celebrating Christmas and the New Year too with good cheer and a nice meal at the local pub, courtesy of Wayne's folks.
Sweet VRBO spot on Lovejoy in Portland, Oregon.
While Portland is day-trippable from The Dalles, sometimes it's nice to spend more time there than driving there and back. Fortunately, our friends were able to host us at their place, which made for a more relaxing trip. 
Ahhh. VRBO, Portland, Oregon.
Of course, no New Year's is complete without cooking and sharing savory, smoky bowls of Hoppin' John, a good luck tradition (recipe and history links in last year's holiday post).
Hoppin' John over rice, topped with scallions. Yum!
I brought some Hoppin' John along for friends, family, and us and doled it out to neighbors and our house-sitter, too. Cranberry gingerbread, however, was the new and universal culinary fave this year, which disappeared before photos could be taken—all three times I've made them since Thanksgiving!
Oak leaves on the Eagle Creek Caves trail, The Dalles Oregon.
Less vibrant than fall, but still colorful.
Along the drive to Portland and back, Multnomah Falls and a series of seasonal waterfalls were going great guns. We weren't the only ones interested in checking out the easily accessible Multnomah Falls when the Columbia Highway was open on a rare beauty of a weekend day in January. We took a bye over a long car queue.
Eagle Creek Caves trail, The Dales, Oregon.
Back in The Dalles, my newfound Charlottle was game for a New Year's hike. The palette here is subtler most days from late fall until spring blossoms, but the beauty is there for an appreciative eye, focused more on line and texture than color.
Me, on Eagle Creek Caves trail, photo courtesy of Charlotte.
Come springtime, the area will nearly burst with colorful wildflowers. For winter, however, gloves, YakTrax in my pocket, just in case, and a hiking pole were useful precautionary gear. Mud was more of an issue than ice today. 

Location Location:
The Dalles, Oregon—now home—is a little over an hour's drive east of Portland Oregon. We still don't own a boat, though I anticipate acquiring (or at least renting or borrowing) another kayak when the weather warms.
Shiva, our bright-eyed furball. Best present ever, the gift that keeps giving.
While last year brought with it the stability of a place to call home near friends and family, with a couple of final family goodbyes, the year was bittersweet, too. We are grateful to friends and family, old and new.

In less than. a week I shift from an intensive full-time job to another intensive part-time job.  My goal is to use the extra time to return to writing and other creative and active endeavors. The job ends in June, and I'm looking forward to taking the summer off. Beyond that is a mystery.

Wishing you a most excellent 2023!

What are your plans?

Sunday, December 4, 2022


Thursday, the second snow dusting this winter on the distant hills. The Dalles, Oregon.

Earlier this week I chided myself for getting too sucked into work to take a moment and step outside to capture the first snow dusting of this winter on the Washinton hills across the river from us. Not many weeks ago part of my morning ritual was to muck around in the garden before starting work. 

Cropped view: Google fog plumes up over the Columbia River
with Washington's snowy hilltop in the background. The Dalles, Oregon.
 A few hours later, I grabbed my phone cam, only to find out I was too late. The snow was gone. The beauty around is so often ephemeral. The next time, I promised myself when beauty called, I would not delay. Promise kept; you can now enjoy the views, too.
Sunrise over The Dalles, viewed from our front yard.
This Friday morning, a glimmer of orange from the east caught my eye out our front living room window. Enjoy the view! Due to its hillside setting, ours is one of many of The Dalles' territorial viewpoints.

Before long, the view would become far less idyllic.

View later that day from our porch...
The downside to our awesome view is our steep driveway. 

Long before we bought our home and moved in, the driveway was already cracked and slick from an improper finish for a place that gets icy. That's one reason when we recently replaced our broken exterior water pipes from the main to our house, we opted to slice through our driveway to install them. It also allowed us to sidestep dealing with the gas lines running along the west side of our house, the side closest to the main.

I already fell once two weeks ago, after water from the rain froze, making the surface of our driveway too slippery to maintain a solid grip. Fortunately, thanks to my ample posterior padding, only my dignity was damaged.

Despite the expense—between what would have been five to six months of our cruising budget for everything—we decided to remove, regrade and replace our driveway.
Dust clouds from the contractors removing our current driveway.
It's a dirty job.

The noise wasn't an issue until the concrete saw went to work reducing the size of the concrete chunks that needed to be removed and neatening up the edge between the garage slab and our future drive. Its screechy whine reverberated across the garage floor, its noise easily penetrating the shared wall between it and my home office. I work at home as a caseworker and mediator, conducting mediation over Zoom. 

I was mid-mediation when the sawing ensued. I beat a hasty retreat to the opposite end of the house. Wayne hunkered in a snooze on his Lazyboy chair, recovering from a cold in his man cave; that left the bedroom for me. After that, my kindly neighbors Jim and Sharon graciously let me use their quiet den to complete my final and fourth mediation of the day.

And then...
The view outside our porch this morning.
What a difference a day makes!

Completing the driveway will have to wait until the snow melts and the temperatures are above freezing for 24 hours for the concrete to set properly. Currently, that looks about a week out.
The birds are taking snow baths today. Backyard view; The Dalles.
I picked a color I believed would look good with the pool in our backyard during the summer, and would also look bright and cheerful in the snow. Now it's experienced both. 
We're still sussing out where to keep these until we'll use them again in another five months or so.
As for you, wherever you are, whatever the weather, step outside and appreciate and perhaps capture the moment. Whether beauty or ugliness, it will be gone, sometimes in the blink of an eye.

Location Location
Home is now a home with a view of the Columbia River. We are not currently boating, but we can't exist too far from water.
Shiva is on my lap, "assisting" me with this morning's post.
She's much more of a lap kitty in cold weather.

Sunday, November 20, 2022


Yes, we do miss seeing the sunrise over an uncluttered horizon, and hanging out in the tropics when it's winter elsewhere. 

S/V Journey, under sail as the sun rises over our watery horizon.

Meanwhile, here in The Dalles, we went from summer to winter within two weeks. 

Our backyard, not that long ago, before we covered our pool for the season.
I picked up these flip-flops in New Zealand. They've seen better days but I'm not ready to let them go yet.

My goal was to get in some spring bulbs before the ground froze. I just barely made it, sinking in a couple hundred bulbs for some select spots—something to dream about for the next five months or so.

West of our front porch, early crocus and iris, and mid-spring hyacinths and tulips
which are now in the ground.
Spring awaits.

It's "warming up" to the mid-30s during the dim and relatively brief daylight hours—our salad days are less frequent. This is stew, mac 'n cheese, and bean soup weather. Yesterday, Wayne requested oatmeal-raisin or peanut butter cookies.

Gluten-free comfort food to brighten a dull wintery November day.
The beautiful dishes are courtesy of my friend, Connie Dorigan.

We entertain ourselves—and our comedic kitty Shiva by luring in the greater winter bird population of the area. Jays, robins, sparrows, goldfinch, doves and quail, to name the few I know. And then there's (still) the hummingbirds.

The emerald Anna hummingbirds stick around through the winter, when they're cold and hungry and most folks give up on their feeders until spring. We're bringing in our new, more robust feeder every eve so it doesn't freeze, and bringing it back out first light. We also added a heated feeder. The hummers buzz past my head when I bring the feeder out. They're so fast I can't see them. I hear and feel them.

Yes—some hummers hang out here through the winter.
Photo credit Harrison Haines on Pexels.

Our two "regular" bird feeders were getting emptied daily. We decided to encourage our feathered friends to get to know the rest of the 'hood by only refilling the feeders every other day. 

But these guys are the ones who inspired Wayne to move one of our feeders under the eves. Today we watched one launch itself off our frozen birdbath, onto the pole holding the remaining apparently still squirrel accessible bird feeder, then get jiggy with it.

This feeder will soon follow its mate under the eves, relegating the squirrels to the ground pickup crew—we hope. 

But if silly squirrel vids of humans failing to outwit the craft critters are your thing, here is the master

Location Location
The Dalles, Oregon. Where for now not only do we not own a boat, I don't even own a kayak—yet. We still haven't written off future adventures, either.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Fire, Water & Boat Skills Reprised (If It's Yellow, Let It Mellow...)


Our driveway, last weekend. The trench was hip-deep.
It started months ago when Wayne looked at the water bill for our new-to-us home.

Our water bill showed us using many thousands of gallons, when in the past, we've had to limit our water use to less than 200 gallons for over a month while living on a sailboat. 

The red handle in the upper right-hand corner is
what we used to turn on and off the main.
Cruising taught us to be water misers, even when you don't have to make it last for a month at sea crossing a 3,000+ mile expanse of open ocean. When you have to take your dinghy to shore with a bunch of 5-gallon containers to find water, carry it around back to your dinghy, dinghy back to the boat, then lift it above your head to get it aboard (and the boat is sometimes bucking) you become very aware of how precious water is. Five gallons, by the way, weighs nearly 42 pounds!

Wayne knew something was seriously wrong. We had to have a leak somewhere. 

It wasn't in or under the house.

Wayne contacted a plumber who brought along an excavating contractor to give us a quote to fix it. They quoted $12,000. That would be many many years of water bills though from an environmental standpoint, we didn't like the idea of wasting water. When I was a kid, I remember my dad ranting about getting a surcharge because we used too little water when limiting water was recommended during a drought.

But we also knew we were on borrowed time. 

These kinds of issues don't fix themselves; we know it would only get worse until we had no water at all. Wayne's research revealed that the type of pipes installed for our house generally lasts 50-70 years. Our home is a little over 60 years old.  We decided rather than finding the leak and repairing just that, it made more sense to replace the entire water line.

Then, two and a half weeks ago, a neighbor's house, two streets away, caught fire. The firefighters were on it. Wayne heard the fire truck surge for hours while pumping water, while they battled the flames. Our troubles are minimal compared to what happened to our neighbors. They survived. Their home did not.

Meanwhile, our pipes and our neighbors Matt and Cary's pipes went from bad to barely usable.

I estimate between the two of us we use water about 30 times a day. I suspect we are about average on that.

We turned off our main, turning it on only when we showered or ran the dishwasher or washing machine. 

Our at least once-daily task to complete our ablutions.
When using the toilet, we followed the adage: If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down.  We refilled the toilet tank with a 2-quart measuring cup filled from a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket in the tub, which we refilled whenever we took a shower.

We shared our shower with this; on tap for
replenishing the toilet after flushing.

Because 5-gallon buckets are unwieldy to pour from.

Our other neighbors, Lana, and Derrick, generously let us hook our garden hose up from her outdoor spigot to our kitchen, so we could wash pans and dishes. 

Our kitchen water supply—from our kind neighbors, Derrick and Lana.
We taped a pipe insulator sleeve into the window gap above the hose
because the weather got cold!
Julie, another local friend dropped off filtered water (hose water is not that tasty). 

Matt and Cary—our neighbors who fixed their own broken water pipe—agreed to fix ours. They're contractors who normally do their work out of town, but they forfeited their weekend off to help us.

To fix it took a rented concrete saw and a Bobcat excavator with a 1-foot bucket and a lot of careful digging (including relocating some of my just-planted plants; again, Julie helped out by digging the plants up for me when I didn't have time to do it myself). 

Rented concrete saw to slice across our driveway.

This Bobcat, used skillfully by our neighbors, made short work of a big job.
Matt and Cary cut across our cement driveway with the saw, and dug a trench from the main, across the driveway, into the middle of our lawn, to the edge of our house.  

Our "lawn"—which we deliberately let die over the summer. We plan to replace it with something else.

Cary and Matt laying our new water pipe.
After laying the pipe in the ground, our neighbors took the new line through our shallow crawl space and took care of the hookups into our existing water system. 

Then they filled everything back up and leveled out the mud pit that was formerly our dead summer lawn. Short term, we'll pack the concrete-less strip across our driveway with gravel, and re-assess this spring whether to just patch the concrete or re-do the entire driveway.

Our driveway's a bit worse for the wear.

We now have "normal" water on demand again. Our neighbors were happy with us paying a fraction of the former quote to fix it, and they did it just in time as we were expecting freezing weather. Now we don't have to worry about going from water at the main to no water.

It seemed we skipped from 80-degree temps to winter in the blink of an eye.
We are getting some fall color.
Hooray for kind and skilled neighbors and modern conveniences! Cruising taught me to appreciate the luxuries of modern conveniences (by living without them), like just how heavenly and precious a long hot shower is.

Location Location

Home is now in The Dalles Oregon. We don't own any boats, currently, not even a kayak—for now! Currently, we're exploring our new area. I still need to post the vintage towns we went through on our recent trip to The Painted Hills.

While my neighbors worked on our pipes, I spent the afternoon chasing rainbows.

Wayne declared no post is complete without an obligatory photo of our cat, Shiva, since we've decided the house is really for her pleasure.

Shiva, padlocked on the squirrel pigging out on bird seed.
The squirrel. We put the feeder down because he kept knocking it down.
The weird-looking blue tubes and green tarp form the winter cover for our pool.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Quirky Frontier Town—Mitchell—Gateway to Oregon's Painted Hills

The storefront wasn't. Mitchell, Oregon. I peeked—nothing inside but a big pile of dirt.

Floods, fires, booms, and busts. Through it all, the scrappy Eastern  Oregon town of Mitchell, circa 1893, population 130—give or take—perseveres. Trappers, traders, travelers, timber, ranchers, miners, and more found their way to this Eastern Oregon town. Mitchell glories in giving the perception they are a place where time stands still.

Our hotel proprietor, catching up on the town talk. His place is for sale, if you're interested.
Today Mitchell's best known as a "gateway;" it's the town closest to Oregon's spectacular Painted Hills, which is a mere 9 miles away. Cyclists, motorcyclists, hikers, sight-seers, and history buffs are drawn to Mitchell to take in the scene, grab a bite to eat, and find a place to overnight.

Little Pine Saloon & Tavern, from 1889.

The Painted Hills is not a day trip from most places. Bend, a two-hour drive, is the closest big city to the Painted Hills and four hours from Portland. Oregon.

The general store: something for everyone.

I bought fresh, locally-grown, dead-ripe plums and peaches from the general store, along with a ridiculous shark "hat" with "legs" made in China to send my niece and her baby. Expect to pay top dollar for most stuff here, so it's best to provision ahead, but nice to have a backup in town. The owner, Carla was pleasant; she and her husband fled Lebanon, OR to find a place they felt safer. They took over the general store a few years ago.

Posters with attitude. Mitchell Oregon.

If your bent is urban or liberal, tolerance is advised as Mitchell's the kind of town that doesn't worry too much if it offends your "foreign" attitude. Mitchell is yet one more stop that reminds me you don't have to leave the country to experience a different culture.

A taste of Wheeler County politics—conservative.
Wheeler county is definitely more in alignment with Idaho than Portland, OR.

Wayne thought this clunker was worth something. I'm skeptical.
Mitchell's lack of bright lights makes this dark sky country. At night, we stood in the middle of the street at night and see the Milky Way clearly. However, the town's not quite that sleepy. We had to dart out of the way several times as cars still came down the town's otherwise dark main street.

Mural, Mitchell, Oregon.

Colorful murals abound. Some pay homage to the present rural life, others to the past.

I would consider staying in Mitchell again, though some of the other small towns a little closer to home* caught our interest as well. But if we return to the Painted Hills, Mitchell is the most convenient place to stay.

*More on those stops, in the next post.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our furry little angel awaited our return.

Welcome home, Mom. Whatcha got for me? No, I don't know how the cat grass got toppled.
Location Location

Mitchell, Oregon. latitude 44° 33' 59" N / 120° 9' 12" W. Elevation: 2799.