Friday, March 29, 2013

A postcard from Astoria, Oregon

March 8-20, 2013
Corvallis & Astoria, Oregon
astoria bridge with freightliner
Spanning the mighty Columbia River, the Astoria-Megler Bridge stretches 4 miles from Astoria, Oregon, to Point Ellice, Washington. The bridge contains the longest continuous three-span through-truss in the world
Note: I am trying to catch up on blog posts after taking a ten day hiatus from our RV campground in Florida.  About three weeks ago,  I took advantage of mileage points with Alaska airlines and booked a trip to Oregon to visit my sons. We had been in Fort Myers at the same campground for two months (a record for us) and it seemed a good time to take advantage of a solo getaway before Vic and I start the slow trek back to the west coast in April. 
After twenty months of spending 24-7 together and only a few nights of sleeping in a bed other than the motorhome, it felt incredibly strange to leave The Big EZ and be out on my own. This sentence sounds strange even as I type it as I was single for almost ten years before marrying Vic and I have a fierce independent streak. So aside from this trip being an opportunity to spend with my kids, it was healthy for Vic and me to have a chance to be apart. A friend of mine once called it a time to gain some altitude on your life—and that was literally true flying across the United States—but more figuratively true as a time to reflect on our full-time lifestyle and think about retirement plans that we may pursue in the future.
I flew in to the Portland airport on what may have been one of the prettiest March days I could recall in Oregon. Instead of a rainy overcast day, the skies were clear blue and the lushness of early spring could be seen everywhere.
willamette valley green fields

I had made arrangements to stay with a dear friend in her home which is like a bed and breakfast right near downtown Corvallis. (Thank you for a being a great host Sue Lyn!) One of the first things I did after arriving was take a walk to the downtown area on this remarkably beautiful day (with a high of 68) to check out the sights.

corvallis courthouse

The county courthouse has always been one of the best architectural landmarks in town and it looked just as good as ever on this spring day.  The crocuses were on the wane and daffodils were pushing up everywhere.


In honor of my friend's birthday and for having me as a guest in her home, I took her out to dinner at one of the finer restaurants in Corvallis, Luc, where we dined on roasted beet and goat cheese salad, crab and fennel salad, and homemade gnocchi with rabbit.  A splurge of a meal, but well worth it. It was great to have time to reconnect and toast to Sue Lyn's 70th birthday!

Feeling a fair amount of jet lag as well as the three hour time difference, I decided to have a lazy day before going out to Sweet Home, about a 45-minute drive, to see my youngest son Jesse. It felt a little weird to be in town and not call all of my friends and make arrangements to see them, but my biggest priority was to spend time with Jesse and later in the week go to see my son Brooks in Astoria, about a three-hour drive north.

During the first part of my week in the valley, Jesse and I spent lots of time together just hanging out and having a few meals in some new spots near his place in Sweet Home. We also checked out a few RV parks in the area. The nicest one by far is part of the Mallard Creek Golf Course in Lebanon. Vic and I don’t golf, but Jesse is an avid golfer so he thought their “stay and play” packages that included unlimited golf for two people were quite reasonable at $300-$400 a week. Almost makes me want to take up golf.

One of the best parts of my stay in Oregon was that Jesse was able to take time off to travel with me to Astoria to see my oldest son Brooks.  We realized that the three of us had not spent time alone together in probably fifteen years—way too long! Astoria is best known as a world class destination for salmon fishing on the Columbia River and its tributaries. Brooks has a state job working for Fish and Wildlife monitoring gill net fishing in the area.

I booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express right on the Columbia River near downtown Astoria.  What a view we had from our room. Usually I don’t like to hang out in hotel rooms, but with a gas fireplace, an amazing view, and lots of hot tea options to make right in the room, we didn't mind spending time here catching up on our lives. 

brooks jesse and bridge

We did plenty of other things together as we were lucky to catch Brooks at the beginning of his days off.  The first night I wanted to have a special meal together. Brooks chose the Bridgewater Bistro, a great restaurant just a couple blocks west of our hotel. The chef happens to be Brooks’ roommate and the food was some of the best I have had in a long time. This guy has some serious talent and creativity. I had what they call a Mayan Salad—with red quinoa, roasted beets and yams, avocado, corn-black bean relish, and a honey lime dressing. Jesse had the amazing pan roasted Willapa Bay oysters with homemade creole remoulade and Brooks had one of the specials, Osso Busco, with polenta—major comfort food—and it was off the charts. We passed on dessert, but the waitress brought us a passionfruit sorbet to share because she wanted us to try it. What a great way to start our time together. 

boys at goonie house

The next day we took a tour of Astoria and high on the list of things to do was visit one of Astoria's most famous landmarks: The Goonies House!  My kids have seen this 1985 cult movie countless times. As soon as we arrived, they started their comical impersonations of the characters while quoting some of their favorite lines. Why don`t we just spread chocolate all over the floor and let Chunk eat his way through? First you gotta do the truffle shuffle.  Goonies never say die! Heeyyyyy Yooooouuu Guyyyyyys!

It was fun to see them get into the memories of being so enamored with this movie when they were kids. For me, the truth is I hardly remember it. I was teaching school, grading papers, and shuttling these guys around to all their sports events, so TV or movie watching was pretty low on the list.  We thought about renting the DVD while we were there but they both agreed it was a better memory as it was. There were, however, many more conversations about the other Goonie set locations as we continued to explore the town. 

Next up was checking out The Astoria Column. The column, a 125 ft. structure, is a notable landmark that sits on a bluff above Astoria. Vic and I visited this area last August and I did a post on it then, but it was fun to see it for a second time.  You can climb the column’s 164 stairs to a viewing area at the top which looks out on a 360 degree view of the bar where the Columbia River meets the Pacific,  the snow-capped  volcanoes of the Cascade Range to the east, and the peaks of Saddle Mountain (Brooks’ favorite elk hunting grounds) overlooking Youngs River to the south. (We did climb the 164 steps and my legs were sore the next day, but I didn't admit this to my kids.)


The outside of the column is painted with scenes that begin with the history of this area before man arrived.  As the column rises, the scenes trace the history of the first encounters with white men leading up to Lewis and Clark and beyond.

column view of columbia river

This is the most amazing view from the bluff as you can see the Pacific Ocean way to the left and the picturesque bridge spanning the Columbia River.

youngs river

Here is the view of Saddle Mountain to the far left and Youngs River, but something went weird with my camera (only had my droid phone with me) because the clouds were not black and smokey looking.

From The Column off we went to show Jesse Long Beach, Washington about a twenty minute ride after crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge. It was an unusually pretty day to check out what they claim is the world’s longest beach. The surprising thing is they allow people to drive their cars on the beach—not an idea I favor especially since this is a well-known clam digging beach. This area is also known for some of the best tasting farmed oysters I have ever eaten from Willapa Bay. They are supposedly from one of the cleanest estuaries in the United States. I found Willapa Bay oysters in the fish section of a Sweetbay grocery store in Florida so they must have quite an oyster industry in this area.

After a brisk walk on the beach, we found a cute little seafood cafe called Castaways where we had outrageously good clam chowder and another Northwest favorite, razor clams.  A good way to end our afternoon on Long Beach together.

Sadly, our last day together came way too soon. We decided we had time to check out Fort Clatsop National Historic Park, the place where Lewis and Clark wintered from Dec. 1805 to March 1806. Lewis and Clark chose this spot because it was high ground for staying relatively dry in the winter, had large herds of elk and deer, and close access to the ocean for making salt to cure their meat.  The actual forts on the grounds are all replicas some of which were just reconstructed again due to a fire in 2005.  The museum inside is very well done showing illustrated sections of the journals describing the expedition in this area along with their various tools, hunting and fishing gear, clothing, and cooking utensils.  We especially enjoyed walking the trails outside imagining these were the very woods where they hunted and fished.

boys at clatsop landing2
brooks and mama3

After visiting Fort Clatsop, Brooks wanted to show us one of his favorite fishing holes just below Youngs River Falls, about a twenty minute drive from Fort Clatsop. The falls were first discovered by some members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Today the 65 ft. falls have become fairly popular as they have been featured in television commercials and a few movies: Free Willy 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, and Benji the Hunted.

After viewing the falls, we chose a funky little Mexican restaurant, La Cabana de Raya, in Astoria with a nice view of Youngs Bay for a late lunch before our departure. The food was excellent with homemade tortillas, fresh ceviche made from local sole, and authentic sauces prepared from scratch. Pretty surprising little find.   We asked the waitress to take a photo of us with my smart phone—not the best—but still one I will cherish for the memory of this special time together.

brooks pam and jesse

It was now time to say adios to Brooks as Jesse and I made the trip back to Corvallis. Vic and I plan to return to Astoria this August during the beginning of the fall Chinook salmon run to visit Brooks and do some kayak fishing in the area. We will be back in Oregon in the motorhome in early July and hope to have other opportunities to spend time together even before our trip to Astoria—so I tell myself--as saying goodbye seems harder than ever. Jesse and I had a rainy trip back across Hwy 30 and south on I-5 then it was time for another goodbye. And a lovely time in Oregon comes to an end. I take a long moment to fully experience the gratitude I feel to have had this special time together with two amazing young men.  Blessings abound.

3 pam brooks jesse 1983

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paying Edison and Ford a visit

March 6, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

Note: I started this post over two weeks ago, then decided to take advantage of a lull in our travels to visit my two sons in Oregon with full intentions to keep my posts current. You can see how well that went. . . . I am now back in Florida after a two week break and trying to get back in the blogging groove!

Something on our list of things to do in this area, this year and last year, was touring the estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Fort Myers was their winter home during the early part of the century. Edison bought the land on the Caloosahatchee River near downtown Fort Myers in 1885 and had the house built there the following year. In 1916, Ford became Edison’s neighbor by purchasing the home right next door. This convenient arrangement allowed these two American icons to not only share good times with each other and their families, but also to collaborate on their research and inventions.

Adding to the fun, our friends Mike, BJ, Mark, and Sandy joined us on this excursion. It was good to see different aspects of the estates through their eyes and interests as well as our own. I appreciated seeing Edison's laboratory, a major part of the tour, with examples of some of his most well-known inventions, but the homes and gardens appealed to me the most.

One of the tour guides said that the Edison estate has over 1500 different specimens of trees and plants, many of which he used for his experiments and research, especially in his quest for a rubber alternative. Another big attraction for Edison were the different types of bamboo growing in Fort Myers as he believed the bamboo fibers might work as a filament for the light bulb. Other plants that stood out were the many varieties of trees including mango, fig, banyan, and a 1.5 mile row of royal palms.

This amazing banyan tree was a gift from Harvey Firestone to Edison in 1925. It now takes up almost an acre in diameter and is believed to be the largest specimen in the United States.  Edison, looking for a domestic source of natural rubber, experimented with using the sap from this tree (latex) to make rubber. He also grew different types of goldenrod for latex production and eventually produced a variety that was named for him--Solidago edisoniana. Despite his success with this plant, neither the banyan or goldenrod  produced enough latex to be economically feasible alternatives to the rubber plant.


In addition to the amazing trees, the estates have beautiful collections of flowering plants including rows of gardenias, orchids from all over the world (but they were not yet blooming), iris, roses, bromeliads, bougainvillea, and something I have always wanted to smell-- the flower of the ylang ylang tree which is used to make Chanel No. 5. Edison’s second wife, Mina, who lived with him here, loved flowers both for entertaining and for attracting birds. She was instrumental in the formation of the Audubon Society. She even had what is called a Moonlight Garden which she planted with white flowers that would catch the light of the moon. Interestingly, the estates can be rented for wedding receptions or other types of private parties.

Many specimens of these heritage plants and herbs were for sale in the estate’s Garden Shoppe. BJ couldn’t resist bringing “home” a much smaller version of this giant staghorn fern—something I have long admired in gardens throughout Florida.

Edison’s estate includes his home and a guest lodge called Seminole Lodge.  Pretty impressive place for his friends and visiting dignitaries to stay.

This is the backside of the wrap around porch at the Seminole Lodge, situated between the Edison and Ford estates. It is easy to imagine the grand parties that took place on this lovely porch.

Here is a cozy sitting area on the front side of the Seminole Lodge porch. The mounted fish is a tarpon, something Edison was fond of catching. Sure looks inviting to me.

I am a pushover for such beautiful tableware. Presidents Harding and Hoover were two of the more famous people to eat at this dining table.

The kitchen seems pretty small for putting out large meals, but it has a classic beauty all its own. I can’t figure out what kind of material is covering this butcher block. Sure doesn't look practical for food prep.

Pictured above are photos of the dining room and bedroom in Edison’s private home. The furnishings here are all original as Mina Edison deeded the estate to the city of Fort Myers in 1947 as a shrine to the memory of her husband.

Several places on the combined properties had direct access to the river. One of the first things Edison did after purchasing the property was build a large dock which extended out almost 800 feet to accommodate the tidal changes.  He used the dock to ship building supplies to the property as it was being built.  The original dock was destroyed in a hurricane 1944 but a smaller reproduction still stands in the same spot.  Near the dock, Edison eventually added a swimming pool, one of Florida’s first modern swimming pools built in 1910. 

Edison was also an avid fishermen as were many of the guests. It’s hard to imagine he ever had time for fishing considering what a prolific inventor he was garnering over 1000 patents in his lifetime. I love the look of this creel. They may not be practical anymore, but they are sure are artful looking. You can see a photo of what I believe was the original dock in the background.

This photo above shows the front of Ford’s home, named The Mangoes after their favorite fruit. The architectural style, craftsman bungalow, features a wrap around porch taking advantage of the riverfront views and the street front lined with royal palms.

None of the furnishings in the Ford Estate is original as it was sold to a private party in 1945 and then later purchased by the city of Fort Myers in 1988 for $1.5 million—seems like a deal to me but the two estates required more than $11 million to restore.

roots of mysor or brown wooly fig tree

This Mysore Fig tree provides a focal point for the view from Ford’s back porch. This breathtaking tree was my favorite feature of the properties.  It was really hard to capture a photo that did it justice.

Here is Vic checking out the back porch and the view of the river. I like the striped awnings which seem to capture the 1920s era quite well.

You can’t really expect to visit Ford’s home without a chance to see some of his original cars.  I think the one on the left is a model A but the wooden truck (a model T?) really caught our eye.

We just had to do the tourist thing and have our photo taken next to the statue of Edison near the 64 foot banyan tree with over 350 roots.  Seems like a fitting ending to this photo heavy blog, but then I came up with the idea of having a meal at Ford’s Garage, a popular beer and burgers pub in downtown Fort Myers.

It just happened to be their one year anniversary which made it an extra popular place this day but we managed to get a table. In addition to closing off a side street for a vintage car show, they were giving away free craft beers and sliders as part of their street party. 

We ate inside, but still managed to score some free craft beer which went really well with our delicious sandwiches. I had to take a photo of their unique hamburger buns, stamped with the restaurant name—something I have never seen before.

Vic and Mark were pretty impressed with this old Ford truck. The inside was sure plush for its time. They had some gorgeous vintage cars lined up on the brick streets as part of their celebration.

Thanks for traveling along on our tour of the Edison Ford Estates. I had actually come here as a teenager and must admit my appreciation for this place increased a thousand fold over the years.  

p.s. to Mike, BJ, and Sandy, where were you when I was snapping photos?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A birthday prank and a kayak launch from Matlacha

February 26, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

Inspired by a highly involved prank that occurred in our campground a couple of weeks ago,  Vic and I and another couple, Mike and BJ, decided we had a perfect opportunity to pull a prank on our friends, Steve and Diane, who had left the campground for a few days.  Diane has a leap year birthday and often says that because of this she celebrates the whole week.  Well, this was the week and we thought it would be fun to give her a few surprises when they returned to their motorhome. The other prank in our campground, documented by Antoinette in her blog Have Retirement Will Travel, focused on the exterior space of their neighbors’ fifth wheel.  They put up caution tape everywhere, had the park write and sign a letter of eviction taped to their door, removed most of their outdoor plants and furniture,  set up a fake garage sale on their site, and had all kinds of signs posted saying the site had been contaminated. Most of the people in their end of the park were in on it and they had a lot of fun pulling this off much to the dismay of the couple when they returned to find things in major disarray.

We decided we would not make a public display of our prank, so that meant we would focus on the interior of the motorhome.  The first necessity was having keys to their motorhome. Check. Mike had their spare set of keys. Ideas we came up with were stuffing their bathroom full of balloons, filling their vodka bottle with water (we saved the good stuff for later), putting stones in their coffee filter, short sheeting their bed, and putting a rubber lobster in their toilet. I really wanted to put a live frog in their microwave, but on my hunt for a tree frog (I see them almost every day around here), I crossed paths with a three-foot water moccasin. Thus ended the frog hunt.

While brainstorming other options, we drew the line at the stink bomb ideas. Motorhome life and bad smells are not a fun combination. I did like the idea of live animals and momentarily considered asking to borrow the spider monkey or parrot that happen to be here in other motorhomes, but I wasn’t sure what kind of damage a loose monkey might do.  So we settled for our rather innocuous pranks.


We were lobster in toiletnot there to see their immediate response, but shortly after their arrival I received a text that said, “My bathroom is not accessible, can I use yours?”  It turned out that my last minute idea of putting a lobster in the toilet had the most impact.  Apparently, Diane let out a shriek. 
The short sheeted bed was a failure because we did not put the pillows back exactly as Diane had them, so she suspected something amiss. Darn.  She didn’t discover the stones in the coffee filter until the morning.  And, as I write this, as far as I know, they still have not discovered that their vodka is water. I even watched Diane drink a vodka and tonic without even a hint of revelation.  Now that’s funny although it makes me think maybe I should try it—way fewer calories that way!

Rather than pop all the balloons, which is what I thought they would do, her husband Steve strung them all on fishing line and hung them outside to mark the beginning of her celebration week.

balloons outsidediane pam and balloons

The following day we had plans to go kayaking in Matlacha but the morning sky was rather cloudy and there was a forecast of possible rain. We changed our plans to meet our friends Dave and Jean, a couple we met from Ohio, to the following day.  Matlacha  (pronounced MAT-luh-shay) is a funky little artisan fishing town on a bay in Pine Island about thirty minutes from our campground. We had heard that this was a good place to kayak as it part of the Great Calusa Blueway Trail and there are several places to explore in the bays on either side of the island.


Not knowing what to expect (as usual), we met at the site: Matlacha Community Park and Boat Ramp. We were especially surprised to see a $10 fee for parking, but fortunately a fellow kayaker redirected us to another part of the park with an actual kayak launch rather than a boat launch and the parking there was free. He also told us to cross the bay to the east where there were several mangrove inlets in an area called Beverly Bay. He even said we might be lucky enough to see some Roseated Spoonbills which would make my day.

Before we even left the park, Dave spotted this Osprey in a nest near the kayak launch area. I was hoping this was a good sign that we would have good wildlife sightings on our paddle.

The water was quite clear and calm as well as shallow in several places.  We enjoyed an easy paddle (and pedal when the water was deep enough) to the other side of the bay.  It sure was tranquil there but once again not much wildlife. It was still great to be out on the water, getting a little exercise, and having another chance to visit with our friends before they head north.

This area is definitely prime for fishing. We saw several kayakers fishing (kay-fishers) as well as lots of folks on piers hoping to catch a big one. I asked what they were catching and the answer was redfish, silver trout, mackerel, and small grouper. They were mostly using live shrimp for bait.

After a few hours, we headed back to Matlacha for a late lunch at the historic Bert’s Bar. The original building that became Bert’s was built in the 1930s and stories go that it was once a house of ill repute and private dancers. Nowadays it is just a watering hole with a lot of character, good food and service, and a waterfront view. It also boasts “modern indoor bathroom facilities.”

After saying goodbye to Jean and Dave, we headed home to get ready for a birthday dinner for Diane at the popular Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grill in Fort Myers Beach. It is not typical for us to eat out twice in one day, but c'est la vie when you have friends who deserve a celebration. We just had to oblige.