Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Day After Christmas

It's the day after Christmas. All the packages have been opened. Way too many sweets have been eaten and there are still way too many leftovers. I don't really have time for much of a blog post. Our Little Princesses are still visiting along with their parents. But I'm taking a quick moment to share this very sweet scene that I captured with Grandad and 2-year-old Junie this morning.

I thought it was just precious. I hope you're enjoying your holidays.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Coastal Christmas Tree

I can't believe that it's December 23rd already and I haven't posted since we got back from vacation around the middle of November. I have been crazy busy with sewing and alterations along with substitute teaching. I love all of it, and we can certainly use the money, but I really miss writing and hearing from all of you.

Last Friday was an early-release day so we got out of school at noon. After that, I picked up my very good friend, Janna, for lunch and our annual git exchange. I took this opportunity to photograph Janna's beautiful Christmas tree. She did her tree with the same theme last year and I was hoping she would do it again this year.

The white tree features a beach theme with white lights and blue garland. This year she painted and added the beach picture to accent the wall behind the tree. I think it's a nice touch.

All of the ornaments on the tree are in keeping with the beach theme. There are sandcastles, mermaids, octopi, crabs, ships, starfish, and many other beautiful ornaments. The tree topper is a big blue starfish. The most interesting ornament on the tree is a doll that was a gift from one of Janna's friends. Her friend, who is now very advanced in age, owned the doll since her childhood. A close-up look shows how delicate and fragile it is. Even though she's made of plastic, the doll looks to be held together with old elastic thread.

I fell in love with Janna's tree last year and I like it even more now. I hope you've enjoyed seeing it.

Our Little Princesses will arrive before noon tomorrow and I still have much to get done. There are gifts to wrap and beds to make. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas surrounded by those you love the most.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Learn the Address

I'm a day late with this post, but I just heard about this project today. Filmmaker Ken Burns has challenged all Americans to commit the Gettysburg Address to memory. It's a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. You can even go to Learn the Address and upload a video of yourself reciting or reading the Address.

My favorite thing is the mash-up of all of our living presidents and some celebrities reciting the address.

I grew up in the days when rote learning was the standard. I can still recite many of the things I learned in school. I know the Preamble to the Constitution, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, the Concord Hymn, Hiawatha, the books of the Bible, and a few others. But I can only remember about half of the Gettysburg Address.

I'm making a pledge right now. I will memorize the entire Gettysburg Address and post it on the web site. Will you take the pledge too?

And, while we're at it, how about we ask all athletes who represent the USA at the Olympics to memorize the words to The Star Spangled Banner. I don't think that's unreasonable.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Here Come the Flower Girls

Our Little Princesses were recently flower girls for the first time. I must admit, we were all a little bit apprehensive about this experience.

The weekend that we returned from our vacation, they traveled to the Dallas area where they, along with their cousin Aubrey, were flower girls in their Aunt Catherine's wedding. I thought it was very brave of Catherine to have her three nieces, ages 2, 3, and 4 as flower girls.

Over the years, I have personally witnessed a variety of flower girl mishaps. I recall one who lifted her dress over her head during the ceremony, one who stage whispered to her mom during the ceremony "I need to pee," and one who would drop a flower petal then turn around, pick it up and put it back in the basket. At the end of the aisle, she turned to her mom and said loudly, "See, Mommy, I do too pick up my things." At Katy's wedding, one of the flower girls sat in the church and pulled all the petals from her daisies.

We were not concerned about Ezra's ability or willingness to be a flower girl. At 4 years old, she is the "girliest" of girls. She prefers to wear dresses and likes them very pink and very frilly. The more ruffles, lace, and glitter, the better for her. When her mom took her along with her to David's Bridal to pick up their shoes, Ezra was completely captivated. Katy said that she opened her arms wide and, with her eyes sparkling with delight, said something like "Mommy, this is the most beautiful place. Just look at all these beautiful dresses." Here she is gazing through the door at her beautiful Aunt Catherine. Can't you just feel her enchantment. This girl was just born to be a flower girl.

On the other hand, at two years old, June is what I would describe as rough and tumble. If you give her a choice of pants or a dress, most of the time she will choose the pants. And, let's be honest, you just never know what any two year old will do. Put them in front of an audience of strangers and a meltdown is a real possibility. Add the variables of a long car trip, staying in a new place, and being off of her usual schedule, and it goes from a possibility to a likelihood. But according to all reports, she did beautifully and I think they all had a wonderful time.

Aubrey, Ezra, and June as flower girls.

I was relieved to hear that all went well. Katy said that she and her sister-in-law tag-teamed during the service with one of them at the back sending the girls down the aisle and one at the front to catch them at the end of the aisle. I'm so happy that Our Little Princesses got to have this experience and I'm so glad it turned out okay.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Oregon Vacation Day 7 - Disappointment, Sunshine, and Celebration

The last day of our vacation we woke to the rain which we had now become accustomed to. The television weather guys had forecast the passage of a cool front accompanied by a line of rain. We had no plans for this day of our vacation because early snow in the mountains and passes had forced us to scrap plans for a day hiking at Crater Lake and a visit to Government Camp and Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. Cars without chains were being stopped and turned around just past Welches where we were staying.

I'm not going to lie, I was very disappointed that we didn't get to go to Crater Lake. But I recognize that we are "flat landers." We don't drive in snow and ice and we don't drive in, over, or around mountains. The rental car we were in didn't have chains and, even if it would have had chains, we would not have tried it.

We decided to just take it easy at the condo, take advantage of the washer and dryer so we would come home with clean clothes, and make a trip into Troutdale for a visit to the Columbia Gorge Outlet Malls. Since we would be traveling the next day, on our 38th wedding anniversary, we would end the day by celebrating with a nice dinner.

As we lounged in our pajamas that morning, we had a lovely view of the front passing.

It was still raining a couple of hours later, after lunch, when we decided to go to the outlet mall. As we drove out of Welches, we were delighted to see the sun coming through the clouds. By the time we got to the outlet mall, it was a full-out sunny day. But, with the sunshine, came the cold. The temperature dropped quickly and we had to get our coats out of the car.  We bought cute little, lightweight, fake fur jackets for Our Little Princesses. Grandad and I both bought a few things at the outlet stores.

We headed back to Welches for dinner where we decided to go back to The Rendezvous for our anniversary dinner. Since it was a Thursday night, business was very slow and we were seated in the bar area. We were the only customers right up until we were almost finished with our dinner. We were lucky enough to have the same waitress we had earlier in the week. She was very friendly and we enjoyed chatting with her throughout our dinner. I commented to her about how nice it was to finally see some sunshine. She seemed shocked and asked where we had seen sunshine. When I told her just a few miles up the highway at the outlet mall, she reported that it had rained all day long in Welches.

I ordered the fondue as my meal. It was delicious. Among the dipping items were slices of a pink pearl apple. Neither of us had ever heard of nor seen a pink pearl apple before. The flesh of the apple is a dark pink. In the dimly lit restaurant, I actually thought I was biting into a carrot. I was pleasantly surprised. You can see a photo here. I've looked all over for a source to buy these apples, but I haven't had any luck. Apparently, they have a very short season and are sold in a very limited area.I will try again next October.

Grandad had the wild salmon fish and chips which came with a homemade remoulade sauce. It was really good, not your usual fish and chips.

We took our dessert to go, because we were too full to enjoy it immediately after dinner. We split a slice of cheesecake, which had a base layer of candied pecans and was topped with dark chocolate. Oh my goodness, it was so good. I can't even begin to tell you how good it was.

We packed our bags and settled in for our final night in Oregon.

Our trip home on Friday was mostly uneventful. But, what Grandad thought was a non-stop flight from Portland to San Antonio was actually a flight from Portland to San Antonio via Albuquerque and Dallas. No plane changes, just one long time on the plane. We grabbed some snacks in the airport in Portland and made it all the way home. Katy picked us up at the airport and had dinner waiting. Red beans and rice really hit the spot.

Our vacation was wonderful. It was the first time we've ever been to the Pacific Northwest. I hope we get to go back some day. I still want to see Crater Lake. I'm thinking we might be able to combine that with a trip to northern California in a few years.

We spent the night in San Antonio with Katy and Travis. On Saturday, Katy, Travis and the princesses headed out early for Dallas. Both of the princesses were flower girls in a wedding on Sunday. Before we left San Antonio, Patrick and I met two of my sisters for lunch to celebrate both of their birthdays. Then we drove the two hours home.  It was so wonderful to sleep in our own bed. We rested up on Sunday and went back to work on Monday.

On a side note, after my conversation with the waitress about rain, I did a little research. Welches, Oregon has an annual rainfall of more than 68 inches. Corpus Christi, Texas, where we live, has an annual rainfall of less than 32 inches. That is quite a contrast. Welches has almost ten inches more rain per year than Portland, Oregon. The lesson I learned is that I should check the weather for our destination more carefully.The first week of November is not particularly rainy in Portland, but it is almost always rainy in Welches. A fact I could have learned from the internet when I researched our destination.

Also, I could have gotten a clue when we arrived because every single thing outdoors was covered with moss and lichen. It truly is a rainforest. This is the roof of our garage, the roof of our condo, and a tree limb. You can see what I mean.

Look at me, I'm a grandmother and I'm still learning.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Oregon Vacation Day 6 - Columbia River Gorge

On Wednesday it was raining yet again. We decided to take the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Drive anyway. This turned out to be my absolute favorite day of our vacation.

We picked up the historic highway 30 at Gresham and traveled east which was uphill to Crown Point. Construction on this highway started in 1913 and finished around 1922. When you think about that and look at how the highway is engineered to create as little disruption of the landscape as possible, it was an amazing feat of engineering.

The drive up to Crown Point takes you past orchards and vegetable farms. I haven't mentioned it before, but I was very surprised by how much farming takes place in Oregon. I knew that grapes, apples and evergreen trees grew here, but I had no idea how many vegetables are grown here, especially this late in the season. We also learned that Oregon is the grass seed capital of the world. I had no idea it was so verdant and green this late in the year. I guess all that rain is good for something. It was interesting to see farms with rows of vegetables interspersed with rows of Christmas trees or willow trees.

The last part of the trip to Crown Point is again very steep with a sharp drop off on one side of the highway. Once we could stop, I took over the driving for the day. This time I did not let Grandad drive again that until we were safely out of the mountains. Vista House sits atop Crown Point and boasts a breathtaking view of the Columbia River Gorge. It was built in 1916, at the same time as the highway to provide a rest stop for travelers. I thought it was interesting that the architect was Edgar Lazarus, brother of Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Vista House was not open while we were there so we didn't get to go inside, and, as you can see, the views in every direction were limited by clouds and rain. There was, however, a very nice park ranger there who gave us lots of helpful advice and directions. I did not get a good photo of Vista House from the bottom of the gorge, but it's really striking to see how high this point is. There is an excellent photo that will give you a great perspective of where the Vista House sits. I highly recommend that you click here and go see it.

Next, we continued down the highway which took us down the mountain, still on the Historic Columbia River Highway. The highway winds down the side of the mountain into a fifteen mile long area that contains some of the most spectacular waterfalls that you will see anywhere. The entire gorge contains some 77 waterfalls. Many of them are visible from the highway.

Our first stop was Latourell Falls which plunges 249 feet down the cliff-side. It is accessible by car, and you can hike to the top. We hiked about halfway up to the first overlook. It wasn't a hard climb at all. We imposed on a stranger who was hiking down the trail and he took a really nice photo of the two of us.My husband thought the cliff had been defaced with paint, but a little research explains that the large patch of yellow is actually lichen. I also learned that that patch of lichen makes this one of the most popular waterfalls for professional photographers.

Next down the highway is Bridal Veil Falls. It's a 2/3 mile round trip down a mostly paved trail down to the falls. Because of his arthritic knees and his fear of heights, Grandad elected not to make the climb down to see these falls. I went by myself. Part of the trail is paved and part of it has steps, so it's a fairly easy hike, although in places the incline is steep. I did question the wisdom of making this hike alone, but there was a young couple near me on the trail. I was pretty sure they would have helped if I'd needed it. It's definitely worth the hike. Bridal Veil Falls is a two-tiered fall with a total height of 112 feet. The tallest drop is 78 feet. You can hear this waterfall for a long time before you can see it.

The next falls were Wahkeena Falls. These falls are especially beautiful because they have both falls and cascades that fall in tiers down the side of the mountain. It's easily accessible from the highway and there is also a scenic overlook where you can see the gorge below.

Last stop for us on the Columbia River Gorge Historic Highway was Multnomah Falls. This is the most impressive of all the falls we saw. It's total drop is 611 feet. The top falls drop 542 feet and the bottom falls is 69 feet. At the base of the first falls is the Benson Bridge. You can walk up an inclined path and cross the bridge. More adventurous hikers can go beyond the bridge up a very steep path to the top of the falls. Grandad climbed the stairs to the viewing area at the base of the falls. I made the hike up to the bridge. It's not a hard hike, but it is fairly open on the side. If you have a fear of heights, this climb is probably not for you.

And this stop is the site of my absolute favorite photo from our trip.

That's me standing on Benson Bridge looking down. This photo was taken with Grandad's Samsung Galaxy S-3 telephone. I love the depth of this picture. I think it's beautiful.

By the time I finished the short hike up and back down, it was time for lunch so we stopped at the nearby Multnomah Falls Lodge for lunch. It's a beautiful old lodge built right at the base of the falls. There's a beautiful view of the falls from the cozy dining room. For some reason, I did not take a photo of the lodge. I did, however take some food photos. I had the roasted turkey sandwich with Washington grown cranberry sauce, cream cheese and arugula. It was very good. Grandad had the meatloaf sandwich on a cheddar brioche roll with onion catsup. I tasted both of them. Mine was good, but that meatloaf sandwich was awesome. I also loved the beautiful china it was served on. I was disappointed that they didn't have split pea soup the day we were there. I've been told it's the best split pea soup anywhere.

By the time we finished our late lunch, the light rain had turned to downpour. Our next stop would have been the Bonneville Lock and Dam, but it was still raining when we got there. We were wet, cold, and tired so we headed back to the condo.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oregon Vacation Day 5 - Portland's Pearl & Books

Tuesday was another rainy day. We decided to head back to Portland for a trip to the world's largest independently owned book store, Powell's City of Books. Powell's sells both new and used books. The store is in two buildings that cover one entire city block and part of another with more than a million books. It's huge! I could wander the shelves and stacks for days and days and never be bored. It's so big that I was afraid that Patrick and I would lose each other. They even have an app you can download that will give you turn-by-turn directions to any book.

We were there for a couple of hours and bought some new story books for Our Little Princesses. We could have stayed longer and bought more books, but the reality of carrying books back in our luggage kept my usually voracious appetite for books in check.

When we left Powell's, we went in search of The Nuvrei Patisserie which is known for its macarons. When we got there, they were already out of macarons. I was very disappointed. So instead of macarons, we walked around a while and chose Noodles and Things for a late lunch. We shared an order of pot stickers and an order of lettuce wraps. The food was delicious.

The Pearl District of Portland is an amazing mix of old and new. It represents urban renewal at its best. This was once an industrial district but now is a beautiful mix of living spaces, tourist spaces, shopping, dining, and cultural experiences. It is full of upscale shopping and hidden spaces. My second favorite stop, after Powell's Books, was Penzey's Spices, an entire shop of spices, herbs, and seasonings from around the world. I would love to live in an area like the Pearl District.

Next we had to find our car which was harder than it should have been. In the future, we should definitely make note of where we park our rental car. We had to go back to Powell's to get our bearings. By then it was 4 o'clock and we were committed to getting out of downtown Portland before rush hour. The traffic there is crazy. We saw on the news this week that Portland has the eighth worst traffic congestion in the nation. I would agree that it's pretty bad.

We did accomplish our mission and made it out of Portland before the gridlock set in. Tomorrow, we'll drive the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway.

Oregon Vacation Day 4 - Winding Roads, Goonies, and Shipwrecks

On Monday, We decided to head back to the Pacific coast along a different route and with a different destination in mind. We were headed for Astoria, the northernmost town on the Oregon coast. It sits near the mouth of the Columbia River. Our drive took us north of Portland into Washington, near Mount Saint Helens and then back into Oregon across the Lewis and Clark Bridge.

We enjoyed seeing some of the industry located along the river. The logging operation was really interesting, probably because we don't have logging in South Texas. Heck, we don't hardly have trees. The Lewis & Clark Bridge was under construction and there was quite a bit of traffic backed up to cross from both directions. I will also note that, even though we traveled near Mount Saint Helens, we did not see it because, once again there was a heavy cloud cover and rain. In fact, the reason we chose today for our drive to Astoria was because there was supposed to be less rain out in that direction.

From there on the map it looks like a fairly straight drive on US 30 to Astoria. What is not evident on the map is that US 30 goes in, over, and around the Cascades. It's a scenic drive that can only be described as hugging the side of the mountain.

Now, you should know that we are from the coastal plains of South Texas. We're used to driving on long, flat highways. The standing joke in Texas is that we've got miles and miles of miles and miles. I should also tell you that my husband suffers from acrophobia.
Acrophobia (akrəˈfōbēə) An extreme or irrational fear of heights.
Since we did not realize that this was such a high and winding road, he was driving. The nature of the highway was such that there was no place to pull off and change drivers. It would have been possible to stop at one of the scenic overlooks and change drivers, but that would have required him driving onto a parking lot that hung over the side of the mountain. It's likely that would have been more catastrophic than just talking him through the actual drive. I can't tell you how much I wanted to level my camera and snap a photo of him gripping the wheel like it was trying to get away and sweating profusely. As soon as we got to a little town that had a place we could stop safely, I took over the driving duties and he was able to relax and NOT look out the window.  So, once I started driving, there are no photos of the drive. Taking a picture would have required looking out the window.

Astoria has several attractions that we wanted to see. We are HUGE fans of the movie Goonies which was filmed in Astoria. So, naturally, we started at the Oregon Film Museum.

The Oregon Film Museum is located in the former Clatsop County Jail. Goonies fans may recognize this building as the site of the jailbreak scene at the beginning of the movie. I have to say I was a little disappointed in this museum. It really has very little memorabilia on display. It's main features are cut outs of the Goonies. They have the costume worn by Jonathan Ke Quan as the character Data.

We did enjoy the opportunity to have our mug shots taken. My friend and fellow grandma blogger, Grandma Kc who blogs at AmaraLand, asked about our height difference yesterday. She wondered if I was extremely short or Grandad was very tall. The answer is yes to both. I'm less than 5'1" and Grandad is 6'5". That's a height difference of 16 inches. Here we are trying to look serious for our mug shots.

By the time we finished at the museum, it was mid-afternoon and we were ready for some lunch. The attendant at the museum recommended The Wet Dog Cafe and Astoria Brewing Company which sits right on the waterfront. No seriously, you actually drive out onto a dock and park. The view was stunning. Astoria is a deep-water port and it is seriously busy. We could see seven ships anchored offshore.

We ordered lunch. I had half of a roast beef sandwich and a cup of the most delicious sun-dried tomato and blue cheese soup. Patrick had the build your own quesadilla with chicken and Italian sausage. Then we split an individual Marion berry Cobbler which came with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on the side. Delicious! We had never tasted Marion berries before. The waitress described it as if a blueberry and a raspberry had a baby. She was right. It was soooo good!

I really wanted to see the Astoria Column which sits above the city on Coxcomb Hill and provides beautiful panoramic views of the Pacific Coast and the Columbia River.We could see it from the waterfront. I volunteered to drive up, but Grandad thought it didn't look too high so he wanted to drive. MISTAKE! It's way higher than it looks and, again, the road has a steep drop off on one side all the way up. When we got to the top, I took over the driving for the rest of the day with no argument from Grandad.

Here's what the Astoria Column web site says about the view from the top:
Majestic views of the countryside surrounding Astoria are the great Pacific Ocean to the west and the mighty Columbia River to the north. Snow-capped volcanoes of the Cascade Range rise to the east and Saddle Mountain reaches to the sky on the southern horizon.
As you can see, the view was slightly different on the day we were there. We were actually inside the clouds and could see very little. I didn't even bother to climb to the top of the column. I would not have been able to see anything. But, I did take a photo of the winding staircase inside. We stopped at the gift shop and ran into a couple from Ohio who are staying at the same condominium where we are staying, a trip of 135 miles each direction. The four of us were the only visitors at the top of the hill while we were there.

Next on the agenda was a trip to see the wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park. The four-masted ship ran aground in heavy southeast wind in September of 1906. The impact was so hard that three of her masts snapped off on impact. She's been a tourist attraction ever since. As we drove across Young's Bay, the drizzle turned to driving rain. By the time we got to the beach where the Peter Iredale sets, the parking lot was covered in mud and a walk across the sand dunes to the wreck was out of the question.

I love the story of the shipwreck and the subsequent rescue of her crew from the Oregon History Project. Not a soul was lost.
After he was helped ashore, the red-bearded Captain Lawrence, stood stiffly at attention, saluted his ship, and said “May God bless you and may your bones bleach in these sands.” He then turned and addressed his men with a bottle of whisky in his hand. “Boys,” he said, “have a drink.”
Once we abandoned our attempt to reach the shipwreck, we headed back to Welches and our warm, dry condo. The drive through the mountains on Highway 26 was rainy and foggy. But Highway 26 is a much better, although less scenic, drive. We were both happy to get back to the condo that night.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Oregon Vacation Day 3 - Brunch and Roses in the Rain

On Sunday, we were up early. The two hour time difference compounded by the "fall back" time change has really caused big problems for my sleep patterns. Note to self - never, never, never schedule a vacation during the time change. Since we were up early, we headed in to Portland to meet some family for brunch.

Even though she's younger than our kids, Cielle is Grandad's first cousin. Her mom and Grandad's Mom are sisters. Cielle is recently married to Jerome and they live in Portland. Getting to spend a little time with  them was an unexpected bonus for our trip. They live in the Hollywood District of Portland and we had them choose a place for brunch. They met us at The Screen Door, one of Portland's most popular brunch sites.

To paraphrase Paul Gerald, The Breakfast Guy, who blogs at Breakfast in Bridgetown, in Portland they don't go to church, they go to brunch and The Screen Door is considered the holy of holies. The wait for a table is more than an hour, but we didn't mind. The wait gave us time to chat with Cielle and Jerome, which was the main thing we wanted to do anyway. Cielle is a grad student working on her certification as an K-12 art teacher. Jerome is following in his father's footsteps as an appliance repairman.

The food was wonderful. In the photo is the pimento cheese and bacon grilled cheese sandwich which was served with two eggs and seasoned fried potatoes. It was the best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever tasted. Both Cielle and Jerome had fried chicken with waffles. I wish I had taken a photo of the stack of food they got, but I didn't. Take a minute and click over the The Breakfast Guy's review of The Screen Door. Then scroll down the page and look at the chicken and waffles. They looked just like that ... three chicken breasts with sweet potato waffles, served with maple syrup. We lingered over brunch and enjoyed the company as well as some hot apple cider with spiced rum. They gave us some advice about things we should see and do while we're in the area.

After lunch we drove up to Washington Park to take a look at the International Rose Test Garden. It had been drizzling all day, but by the time we got to Washington Park the drizzle had progressed to full out rain. In the spirit of Oregonians, we were not deterred. Grabbing our umbrella which was furnished by our condominium, we ventured out into the gardens. The rose gardens are spectacular, acres and acres of rose bushes of every type in various stages of bloom. But the weather got progressively worse with wind, rain, and temperatures in the mid 40s. We only lasted about 20 minutes before we headed back to the car. But we did see some beautiful blossoms and I feel inspired to plant some new additions to my rose bed this winter.

This Texas girl is definitely not used to this much rain. We've been in a huge drought for several years now. Rain is an event in South Texas. We've been told that Oregonians can identify the tourists by their umbrellas. The locals just ignore the rain and go right on with life. We've seen people skateboarding, walking, and bicycling in the ever-present rain. The rain continues, and we're just getting on with our vacation. 

On the agenda for tomorrow is a trip to Astoria for a visit to the Oregon Film Museum.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Oregon Vacation Day 2 - Trees, Cheese, and Beaches

On Saturday, we woke up to drizzly rain and temperatures in the forties. After checking the weather forecast, we decided to just do what the locals do, just get on with our plans. As we drove away from Welches, near the base of Mount Hood, the weather warmed slightly and the rain became patchy.

We found a Starbucks about fifteen miles down the road in Sandy, Oregon. After we fortified ourselves with coffee, we started our drive to Tillamook. Our drive took us through Portland and then out Highway 6 right through the Tillamook State Forest. This is a 364,000 acre forest located between Portland and the Pacific coast. About an hour west of Portland, we stopped at the Tillamook Forest Center, honestly, to use the bathroom. But it was a real treat. This is a beautiful visitors center with hands on educational exhibits perfect for kids and adults. Grandad was very excited to see that the exhibit includes a forest fire lookout tower that you can climb.

The exhibits teach about this forest from the time when it was inhabited by Native Americans up until today. This entire forest was destroyed by a series of forest fires in the 1930s and 1940s. More than 550 square miles were blackened by the fires. The loss of this timberland had a tremendous economic impact on the entire state. The State of Oregon undertook the largest reforestation project in history. In the 1950s and 1960s the forest was replanted by hand using volunteers, paid workers, and prisoners. More than 72 million saplings were planted. The site where the Tillamook Forest Center sits today was entirely planted by schoolchildren.

My favorite part of the exhibit was a place where people who helped plant the forest, most of them as children, can write down their memories. They are collecting and compiling those memories as part of the exhibit.

A walk through the TFC and out the back door takes you to a suspension bridge across the Wilson River which leads to a series of hiking trails and camp sites. We considered the 3.4 miles round trip hike to University Falls, but took a shorter hike instead. That turned out to be a good thing, because just after we returned to the Forest Center building the light rain turned to hail. We spent a little while in the gift shop waiting for the storm to pass.

Next stop Tillamook Cheese Factory.

Ever since we decided to visit Oregon, Grandad has been excited about visiting the Tillamook Cheese Factory. There are few things in this world that Grandad loves more than cheese. You may remember that last year when we went to New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, a stop at Cabot Cheese was among the highlights of the trip. I've teased him since then that he ate so many samples they probably forwarded his photo to all other cheese factories with a warning to keep an eye out for him.

The good news is, we didn't get kicked out for over-sampling. There really isn't much to see. It's a self-guided tour with a small sampling table at the end. The tour takes you upstairs to a viewing gallery located above the factory floor. They were not making cheese while we were there, but they had one line open where they were cutting and packaging cheese. They have an impressive company store with lots of different cheeses. My favorite was the Garlic Chili Pepper Cheddar. We left with several varieties to eat this week.

They also have a cafe and ice cream counter. We had a late lunch of beef barley soup with ice cream for dessert. I also picked up a couple of Christmas gifts in the gift shop.

We left Tillamook and drove to the coast in search of one of Oregon's lighthouses. The weather had warmed into the upper 50s and it was still raining off and on. It's only a short drive from Tillamook to the coast. We were delighted to arrive at Cape Mears and Symons State Scenic Viewpoint. We pulled off the road into a parking lot to take pictures. Some other beach visitors encouraged us to walk down the beach and go through a short tunnel to a hidden beach. We were intrigued enough to give it a try. About half of the tunnel is paved, after that it's rough going with rocks and standing water. It ends with a steep rocky path that you have to climb down. That's where we stopped. But, we could see the back side of the rocks, so we stood there and snapped some photos before turning around. We were struck by the differences between this rocky coastline and the sandy coast of Texas.

We drove on up the coast a little bit to find the Cape Meares light house.

It was almost sunset when we got there, but we decided to walk down the path anyway. When you approach the lighthouse from the path, you are at the same level with the light because the lighthouse is actually built down the side of the coast. The path winds all the way down so you can stand at the base of the lighthouse. Another couple kindly took a photo of us. After snapping a few pictures, we headed back up the trail. We got pretty soaked by the time we got back to the car which made for a pretty cold drive back to Welches, about two and half hours away.

Tomorrow, we'll spend a day in Portland and have lunch with Grandad's cousin, Cielle, and her husband, Jerome. We can't wait to see them. They're both Texas kids who are living in Portland. I think they miss being close to family.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Oregon Vacation Day 1 - Travel and Time

We have arrived in Oregon safe and sound. Our trip was long and uneventful. Thank God.

We were on the ground, changing planes in Denver, when we heard about the shooting at LAX. We were not able to get any details at that time. When we arrived in Portland, there were three local news stations trying to interview arriving passengers. But none of us knew anything about what was going on, so they weren't having any luck getting an interview.

It was cold in Denver, we could see a few snowflakes falling, but it wasn't cold enough for the snow to stick.

We drove out of Portland toward Mount Hood, less than an hour away. This was our view from the highway.

We are ensconced in a lovely condominium in the shadow of this beautiful mountain. Today it was in the upper 50s and mostly sunny. They are expecting a winter storm tonight which will last the next few days with high gusty winds and a wintery mix of precipitation including snow at the higher altitudes. The locals tell us that we shouldn't have any trouble driving back towards Portland and over to the coast because the weather is expected to stay above freezing. If it's too bad, we'll just cuddle up in front of our wood-burning stove and watch movies over the weekend.

Speaking of the locals, we took the advice of the front desk clerk and went to dinner at a local place called The Rendezvous. It was great! I started with the soup of the day which was a harvest squash soup. It tasted like Thanksgiving in a bowl. I had Grilled Trout Almondine which was served over jasmine rice with a delicious mix of root vegetables on the side. Patrick had grilled local salmon in a white wine sauce with chanterelle mushrooms and the same mixed root vegetables and jasmine rice.

The food was outstanding, but the people there were what made it so special. We arrived at 5 o'clock local time and we were the first customers of the evening. Everyone went out of their way to be friendly, to recommend the best dishes, and to give us tourist advice. Even the chef was out in the dining room checking on customers. After we settled our bill and went out to the car, the host came running out and tapped on my window. He just wanted to be sure and thank us for coming in and to wish us a great vacation. How nice is that? I think were going to go back for dessert and coffee one evening. It should be wonderful.

I'm having a little trouble staying awake tonight. The local time is 9:35, but in Texas it's 11:35. I'm afraid it's going to get even worse tomorrow night when the time changes back to standard time and the clocks "fall back" an hour.

I'm not sure what's on tap for tomorrow. We had planned to drive to the coast, but we'll have to see what the weather is like before we make a final decision. If it's rainy and cold, it might be a good day to visit the Tillamook Cheese Factory or we may just hunker down and cuddle up.

I'll let you know what we decide.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Here I Am

I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted on my blog. Since school started in August, I have worked at least four days almost every week. In addition, I've been sewing and doing alterations like crazy. I actually had to start a list on my big chalkboard so I can keep up with what belongs to who and the order I need to get them done in.

I sewed almost 14 hours straight yesterday trying to get caught up. I still have four items to sew, but they'll have to wait a couple of weeks. We leave on vacation tomorrow. First, we'll travel to San Antonio which means we'll be there for Halloween with Our Little Princesses. On Friday morning we leave for a week in Oregon.

We'll be staying in a condo in Welches, Oregon, out near Mount Hood. Our trip will include a couple of days in Portland, a day at Crater Lake, a day on the Oregon coast, and a day in the Columbia River Gorge. I've also left a day open so we can just look around and decide on anything else we want to do or see.

I'm planning to blog along the way, hopefully every evening. It helps me keep my memories organized and makes it easier for me to put together my photo album after the trip.

I hope you check back during the next week and follow along on our trip. I'd also love to hear from you if you're familiar with Oregon and have any recommendations for things we should see and do.

Watch out for the ghoulies and ghosties tomorrow and have a scary Halloween.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grandparents Day

Ezra's school does a program for Grandparents Day every year. She's in pre-k4 this year and we had the opportunity to attend for the first time. It was short and sweet with each grade level performing for about two minutes.

After the program we got to visit her classroom and meet her teacher and classmates. Granddad and I were joined by one of her other grandmothers "Omi."

After the program, we took her with us to spend the day. It was a special treat to spend the day with her while baby sister, June stayed at day care. We didn't really do anything special. Katy met us at Starbucks for morning coffee, then we went to the grocery story to stock up for the weekend. After that we just spent the day together at home.

Monday, August 19, 2013

When the Grands Come to Stay

When I first started having Our Little Princesses every summer for Grams Camp, our girls were babies. Now that they are 2 and 4 years old, it requires a little more planning and preparation.

We are very fortunate that Our Little Princesses live only two hours away and visit often. We love having them any time. We especially enjoy having them come to stay while their mom and dad take a much deserved break from parenting.

I starting calling it Grams Camp so the girls would think it was something special. At first it was just something cute. But as they get older, I am putting more planning into it to make it more of an outing for the girls. I want it to be something they anticipate with excitement every year and I want to make memories for them that will last a lifetime. I think next year I'm going to actually mail them invitations to Grams Camp.

With every visit from them I've learned a few things I want to share with you.

1. Make sure your house is ready for the grands, whatever their age. Since it's just been Grandad and me in our house we've gotten lax about keeping a lot of things secure. When it's just the two of us, we don't have to worry about keeping medicine out of reach of small children or making sure the cleaning supplies are locked away. When our kids were little we had safety latches on all the cabinets, but we thought they were a pain in the butt, so we eventually took them out. I'm embarrassed to tell you that we have had two very close calls where one of the girls put things in their mouths that we should not have left within their reach. We were very lucky that both items turned out to be harmless. You do not want to make a similar mistake.

I have a step-stool that I keep in the bathroom the girls use so they can reach the sink when they need to wash their hands or brush their teeth. After they left this time, I discovered that they had pulled the stool up to the cabinet where I keep my daily medicines. Fortunately, they were on a shelf that was still just out of their reach, but I was still very disturbed that apparently they had tried.

Before the Princesses visit again we will be installing safety latches on our cabinets. Installing safety latches is a little bit troublesome for us, because Granddad has arthritis which sometimes makes small latches difficult and painful. So we'll be installing latches that can be disengaged when the girls are not here. I looked around on the internet and found these.

2. Consider sleeping arrangements. Our Little Princesses share a bedroom at home, but they have separate beds. Neither of our rooms have twin beds. We have two spare bedrooms, one has a futon which makes a double bed and the other has an old double bed which is too high off of the floor to be safe for a toddler. I was afraid she would fall out of bed and get hurt. Up until recently, Princess J was still sleeping in our Pack 'n Play so this has not been a problem. We would just put Princess E on the futon and Princess J right next to her in the Pack 'n Play. This time we moved Our Littlest Princess to the futon and Princess E into the other room on the "big bed."

I went to our local Dollar Tree and bought two pool noodles. When we made the bed the pool noodles were placed along the sides of the bed, under the sheet to form a "bumper" around the bed. It worked like a charm. You can see how it's done here.

3. Establish your own bedtime routine. Find out what their bedtime routine is and incorporate something similar at your house. Our routine is something like this. Dinner is a 7, after dinner, the girls get their baths. They're still little enough to bathe together, so we take our time and let them play. Once both the girls are bathed, shampooed, and in their pajamas, we let them watch television or play for a little while. Then give everyone goodnight kisses, read a book, and put them to bed. Alternatively, sometimes after bath time, we buckle them into their car seats and take a drive over "the rainbow bridge." We don't do this very often now, because it doesn't get dark until almost 9 o'clock. That means the girls usually fall asleep before we actually get to the bridge which is about a 15 minute drive.

Buckled in and ready for a bedtime drive
4. Be prepared to change your own routine. In the summertime especially, my routine is not to get up early. I'm rarely out of bed before 8 a.m. and I'm not one to hit the ground running. I usually stumble to the coffee pot then watch the Today Show while I drink my first cup of coffee. Needless to say, that doesn't work out when the girls are here. They do sleep much later at my house because their bedrooms are dark. But, once they're up, they're up. And I have to be up too. One of my favorite moments of this year's Grams Camp was having Princess J come crawl in bed with me in the mornings before her sister woke up. It was precious to have a little cuddle time with her in the quiet of the morning.

5. Stock up on snacks. As a general rule, I don't keep many snacks in the house because I don't want to eat them. But when the Princesses are coming, I stock up on cookies, goldfish, fruit snacks, cheese crackers, graham crackers and other snacks I know they will eat. I also put snacks out of sight because when they see it, they want it. There is always a bowl of fresh fruit in my dining room window. I do have to be careful not to leave it where they can reach it because they have been known to take one bite out of every apple in the bowl. I also learned this time that it's a good idea to limit their sugar intake. By the end of the day one day, they were running through the house like wild things. Along with that they were bickering and pulling hair. The next day, I made sure they were busier and had less sugar. It worked miraculously.

6. Plan menus around the grands. My kids never really stayed at their grandparents for extended visits, so our rule was when you're at grandma's house you can eat anything you want. At my mother-in-law's house, that always meant sugary cereal instead of meals. But, since the girls often stay for several days, I try to plan meals I know they will eat. Macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with meatballs are always a hit. They always ask Granddad to make his special pancakes for breakfast at least once while they're here.

Lunch at their own table

6. Include the grands in your regular activities as much as possible. During our recent Grams Camp the Princesses helped make breakfast muffins one morning. At two, our littlest princess is big enough to help set the table with supervision and instruction. She loves doing it and it makes her feel like such a big girl. And Princess E has helped me make the beds since she was little. Okay, maybe helped is a bit of an exaggeration, but she is enthusiastic and it's a lot of fun. And both of the girls tried their hand at sweeping my kitchen.

7. Check your toy stash for safety. If, like us, you have a toy box or basket for your grands, you need to go through them between visits and check to make sure nothing is broken. Remove anything they've outgrown. And, if necessary, add a couple of new items.

8. Give them a place to play and make sure they have some unstructured play time. We've made one of the spare rooms into the girls' room. Their toys are stored there and there is a table with crayons, coloring books, paper, and story books. When they visit, I move their table and stools into the living room so they can play where I can keep an eye on them. I let them have plenty of time just to play and I like to play with them when I have time. We color together, we read books, and I try to let them take the lead on what we will do.

9. Plan some activities they will enjoy. If your weather permits, take them on an outing to a park. When they're here in the summer, it's just too hot in South Texas for outdoor play in the daytime. So, we plan our outdoor outings for late afternoon and early evenings. We also discovered that our local mall has an indoor play area. Sometimes we go just to play instead of shop. We've also found some excellent deals on outings for children on our local Groupon and Living Social sites. Our girls really love the Texas State Aquarium. The Aquarium participates in the AZA Reciprocal Admissions Program and since they have a family membership at the San Antonio Zoo, they get half off admission to the Aquarium. Many zoos and aquariums participate in the reciprocal programs, so you should always call ahead and ask for details.

10. Be prepared to deal with separation anxiety. We've had some problems with Our Littlest Princess crying for her daddy in the past. This time we decided to be honest with them and deal with it up-front. Mommy and daddy came in and said goodbye while the girls were in the bathtub. The girls were so pleasantly distracted that they just gave them kisses and waved bye-bye. There was no more mention of where they were until the little one asked for her daddy two days later. We told her where he was and when he would be back and she was fine.
Distracted while Mom and Dad leave

11. Divide and conquer. On the day when they were wild and crazy, as soon as Granddad got home from work I had him blow up the wading pool and take them outside while I made dinner. Once dinner was under control, I poured us both a glass of wine and we sat outside while they splashed for a while. Then we came inside, had dinner, got them ready for bed, and took them for a drive. They were out for the night within about five minutes.

12. Be sure you enjoy them . Let them crawl into your bed early in the morning for cuddles. Hold them in your lap and rock them to your heart's content. Read to them. Pass on your family traditions to them. Show them your own wedding pictures and show them their parents' wedding pictures. Our Princess E wanted to know what my mother's hair looked like so I dug out my photos and showed her what her great grandmother looked like as a young woman.

Happy to be going home

Tell them how special they are to you. Make memories together. Then kiss them goodbye and send them home with their parents. Be thankful you had a great visit with your beautiful grands. Then pour yourself a glass of wine and put your feet up ... you will have earned the rest.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Grams Camp 2013 - Bonus Day

We were expecting Friday to be the last day of Grams Camp. Katy and Travis came in on Friday evening and had planned to leave on Saturday morning because Princess E had a dance class around noon on Saturday.  But as we ate breakfast that morning, Katy asked if we had any plans for the day. We didn't. Then she asked how we would feel about going to the Texas State Aquarium. Naturally, we would go anywhere with them. It was a bonus that we all got in for half price because they have a family membership to the San Antonio Zoo.

We started out by visiting my new favorite lunch place in Corpus Christi, Hester's at the Art Museum of South Texas. The view is nothing short of spectacular and the food is outstanding. The windows look out over the ship channel. You can see the Texas State Aquarium and the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay.

After lunch we headed across the Harbor Bridge (known by our Princesses as the Rainbow Bridge) to North Beach and the Texas State Aquarium.

The aquarium was extremely crowded. It was the kickoff of Shark Week and it was Stingray Day at Stingray Lagoon. We first looked at all the interior tanks. The girls especially enjoyed the touch tanks where Mom and Dad helped them get an up close look at anemones and hermit crabs. The also really liked the seahorse tank that allowed them to get underneath in a bubble for an up-close look. The shark hat that Princess E is wearing was part of the Shark Week promotion.

After our trip through the aquarium, we headed outside to Dolphin Bay. It was an extremely hot day with temperatures in the upper 90s. The wait for a seat in the theater was more than half an hour. Even then, most of us ended up standing at the back of the bleachers. But both of the girls enjoyed the show.

Next up was the bird show at the Hawn Wild Flight Theater. The show features hawks, owls, falcons and parrots with a very strong message about conservation. The Texas State Aquarium is very involved in rehabilitating and releasing injured animals and the show at this theater features a variety of animals. It's a very small venue and even though you are not allowed to interact directly with the animals, they are very close and you can get a really good look at them. The wait for this show was only about 15 minutes. It was just enough time for the girls to enjoy a sherbet push up pop.

As soon as that show was over, we headed over to the HEB Splash Park. It is definitely the girls favorite part of a visit to the aquarium. We always have to save it for last because, once the girls get to the splash park, they are not interested in anything else.

One part of the waterpark is a big bucket that is suspended right over the middle of the park. It slowly fills with water, then when it's full, it dumps the entire bucket on whoever is standing right underneath it. Our Littlest Princess got caught right on the edge of it pretty early during their play time. After that she steered clear of that part of the splash park. But, Princess E started working up her courage a little at a time and eventually went and stood in the splash zone to get soaked several times. I was very proud of her. You can see in this little cell phone video how excited she was. That's her in the pink swimsuit. You will notice that it's mostly the older kids who play in this area.

We stayed until the aquarium closed, then went directly to the nearest Whataburger for dinner. The girls were so tired they were falling asleep as soon as they got in the car. We put them directly to bed.

It was awesome to get a bonus day for Grams Camp. I'll be back in a few days with one more Grams Camp post. I want to highlight some of the things I learned in my second year of Grams Camp. Not only will I be sharing some tips for planning a visit from your grands, it will help me remember what I need to remember for next year.