Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Enjoying the bounty of the Willamette Valley

July 21-27, 2013
Corvallis, Oregon
Chez Cook’s RV Pad

fruit medley

The days here seem to be melting away—not in terms of heat, thankfully, but in terms of errands, appointments, gathering with friends, and getting in some daily exercise. Which, as I write this, sounds a lot more like normal life than one of travels and visiting new places. No complaints as I think we are both enjoying this break from spending time in the tourist mode.

Along with checking off a fairly lengthy list of appointments, we are also taking this time to go through all our belongings in the motorhome and donate some things we don’t use or put some items that we think we might use in our “next life” back in our storage unit. I am also trying to use up everything in our freezer, so we can fill it before we leave with some of Oregon’s summer bounty—especially berries. Our vision is to leave here with everything serviced, clean, and ready to take on another year of travels.

We will be in Corvallis until August 17, then we head three hours north to Astoria for a week to spend time with my oldest son. From there the plan is fairly ambitious as we head to Montana and Wyoming taking in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons before making a cross country trek to Niagara Falls, then down to Asheville, North Carolina. We will be spending the winter in Florida again  so we have about ten or eleven weeks to take in a wide swath of country before we get back to a tropical environment. Vic enjoys doing all the planning for this road trip, but we are in agreement that we are going '”reservation free” so we can edit our plans as the mood strikes us at least until we arrive in Florida. Wish us luck with this plan for freewheeling it!

In the meantime, our greatest joy in being here in the Willamette Valley has been visiting with friends and appreciating the ideal weather (especially this week with highs in the low 80s and lows in the mid-50s and zero rain). The humidity has been about 30-35%—so refreshing! We also have a goal of getting out on some local hikes, but so far have only done one to a nice viewpoint quite close to where we used to live. I had not done this hike in years as at one time it was a favorite spot for my high school students to have parties out in the woods. (Remember those days???)

We recently bought the dogs their own little Henry & Clemmies backpacks to carry their water and ours!  I have read that dogs like to feel they are doing something of value and adding a pack makes them think they are working. They also get more exercise when carrying some added weight and we sure know a tired dog is a good dog. Neither dog minded the pack one bit. They mostly just love being out with us so I suspect it will soon be something that excites them when they see us get their packs out.

dog backpack

This hike was just a little less than three miles but it did include some elevation so it was a good way to start the day. The views of the town of the Corvallis are the reward. The photo below is looking to the south. The day was a little hazy but on a clear one you could see the Sisters and Mt. Jefferson, snow-capped mountains to the east.

In the late afternoons or evenings, we have been busy getting together with friends to catch up on their lives. One of my teaching colleagues has a fourteen-month-old son whom I was anxious to see. We spent a pleasant time seeing the baby and their new house while sharing our travel stories and listening to the latest news of life in the English department at the high school where I used to teach.

Another fun visit was to see a friend (and former middle school teacher colleague going back to the 80s!) who bought one of our puppies. Our dog Rico is her dog Kai’s brother, so we always try to get them together for a puppy play date—even though they are already three years old. They raced and raced around her yard together until both they both collapsed. Of course, when I snapped a picture of the two of them, they politely hid their panting tongues.

Another special day for me was having lunch with a friend who turned 70 this year! She surprised me by making reservations at a favorite lunch spot Gathering Together Farm, an organic farm and restaurant out in the countryside. The place has become so popular that it is hard, even on weekdays, to get a reservation. I neglected to take a photo of my friend but I did get one of the café and their new Kiko Denzer earth oven.

gtf lunch2

gtf pizza oven2

The food at what is known as GTF is amazing as everything is local, organic, and fresh. We had a duck confit pizza with housemade mozzarella and a creamy polenta with roasted summer squash and red chard. The perfect wine for this lovely afternoon, a well-chilled glass of Pinot Gris from Lumos, came from a winery just a few miles away. I even know the winemaker as his father was one of my master’s thesis professors. It’s a small world around here.

One of out favorite pastimes here has been barbecues on the deck at the Chez Cook house where we are staying. The four of us have a long history of playing the card game Phase Ten and “skipping” Ann or Vic—the two of them particularly like to torment each other. Vic likes to wear his lucky hat when we play cards which he believes boosts his chances of winning.

vic with crazy hair2

The four of us have also been watching episodes from the first season of Mad Men together. Vic and I have seen several shows from later seasons, but never saw the series from the start. Our friends have Apple TV where all five seasons are available for anytime viewing (that’s 65 episodes!). When we go inside to watch TV, Vic has taken to wrapping himself in one of Ann’s quilts as we are not used to the cool evening weather—a sure sign those Florida winters have thinned his blood. 

vic in anns quilt

One last pleasure to share. Back in our working days, we used to go Big River, our favorite restaurant and bar here in Corvallis on Friday nights where we would have a cocktail, listen to music, and enjoy a meal while always sitting at the copper bar. We did a repeat performance of this ritual last Friday night. The only disappointment was they switched the live music to Saturday nights!  Regardless, it brought back good memories of the early days in our marriage.  Here’s to the Good Times!

big river negroni cocktail

Friday, July 19, 2013

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig

July 12-19, 2013
Corvallis, Oregon
Chez Cook’s RV Pad

vic and dogs walking near osu

After leaving a family reunion in Southern Oregon last week, we drove about two hours to the Seven Feathers RV Resort for a relaxing day before making our final three hour drive back to our hometown of Corvallis.  We are blessed to have many dear friends that we are anxious to see in this area and quite lucky to have close friends who have a spot for us to park with water and electric hook-ups for our month-long stay here. As you can see in the photo below, our motorhome has its own little niche right next to the fence bordering their luscious garden.  I took this photo from the deck on the back of their house where we enjoy a barbeque together almost nightly.  It is very sweet to be just ten minutes from downtown Corvallis or the campus of Oregon State University, yet out in the country where there always seems to be a refreshing breeze and the bonus of country roosters crowing in the morning. Thank you Ann and Don for your generous hospitality and special friendship!



Coming “home” again always tugs at my heart strings in different ways. My memories of this town are quite varied as I moved here in 1983 with my first husband when my boys were four and four months old. I went back to school here that same year to get my teaching certificate and later my master’s degree and ended up spending my entire teaching career in the Corvallis School District.  I taught long enough to have two generations of students in my classrooms and now I even see that second generation around town with their young families. It’s a pretty small town overall (55,000) so the anonymity I have become accustomed to in our travels is a rare experience here. I was a single mom in this town for almost ten years and then spent the last twelve years of my time here married to Victor in a home that we thought we would live in for the rest of our lives. As the reality of my retirement date drew near, a restless spirit took over and we came up with the idea of traveling around for a few years in a motorhome. Yet, we had an implicit agreement that we would always return to the Northwest in the summers as we both have a love affair with Oregon that we are not totally willing to give up.  It’s funny that we never talked about where we would spend summers. It was just a given to come back here. Even though we have discovered that we like Florida best for the winter months, we make the most of the lengthy trek back to Oregon as an opportunity to take different routes and explore new places along the way.

We have also found there is some truth in Thomas Wolfe’s admonition: “You can’t go home again.”  The beauty of this lush green valley with its winding river and snow-capped mountains in the distance all remains the same, but the rituals of life we used to enjoy here are forever altered. Friends have moved away (retired like us!), my sons no longer live here, and the ties we used to feel to the community have loosened.  Not all bad—just different. Perhaps home has little to do with geography. Some motorhomes display the sign: home is where we park it—and that seems true as well.  Life is full of paradox and change—maybe that’s the jiggity-jig!

Before we moved away, almost two years ago, we had a party at our home and took this crazy photo of some of our closest friends in our backyard. You can probably tell we know how to have a good time.  Fortunately, all but two of these friends are still in the area, so we have been lucky to be able to reconnect and enjoy the bounty of Oregon together during our stay here.

corvallis friends summer 2011

While we are here, another major focus is scheduling all of our annual appointments, not only for us but even the dogs, the Jeep, and the motorhome. After having attended Camp Freightliner, Vic is religious about taking the motorhome every summer to McCoy Freightliner in Salem for the strongly recommended 12 months or 15,000 miles service. Vic uses the service checklist Freightliner provides to make sure they do all the necessary oil, filters, lube, and inspections.  We also get our annual inspections at our primary care doctors, plus I do an annual mammogram and dermatology appointment. At some point, we will need to find new doctors but for now it is nice to see ones who know us and have our complete history. Thankfully, neither of us is on any medication so that makes life easier when we are on the road.  We don’t take our good health for granted.


One other lovely aspect of staying here a month is having time to just be. We are both enjoying some summer reading. I am finally getting around to reading Dave Egger’s memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and Vic is reading In the President’s Secret Service by Ronald Kessler.  I have taken a bit of a break from internet activities as well—somewhat of a holdover from summer’s past when vacation from teaching meant getting unplugged. Sorry if that has meant fewer comments on blog posts and only weekly updates.


The weather in the mid-Willamette Valley has been almost perfect with most days in the 80s and temps in the 50s at night. The cool nights means it takes almost all day to reach the high temperature so the only really warm time is between 4 and 6 p.m. Just like we remembered it. We have only had one day that reached into the low 90s causing us to run the generator (running on 20 amps here) to run the a/c for a couple hours.  If it looks like a hot spell is coming this way, we only need to take an hour’s drive to the coast where the temperature will be about 20 degrees cooler, something we want to do anyway.
I will leave you with a few classic images of summertime from the Corvallis riverfront area on a Saturday morning.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Lake of the Woods family gathering

July 6-11, 2013
Lake in the Woods, Oregon
Aspen Point National Forest Campground

sunset at aspen point

For most summers the past twelve years, we have joined our son-in-law’s family reunion in Oregon. He has two brothers and the three of them have fond memories of camping at Oswald West State Park on the Oregon Coast near Cannon Beach when they were growing up. As they each have their own families now, they wanted to create similar memories for their own children. Unfortunately, Oswald West, a heavily forested tent-only campground, had several trees come down in a windstorm one year and, out of concern for campers’ safety, they closed the park to overnight camping. There is another state park quite close to Oswald West called Nehalem State Park which is where the annual gathering has taken place for the last ten years. We are no longer tent campers, so the years before we had a motorhome we rented a vacation home in close by Manzanita and enjoyed all but sleeping at the campground with our three grandsons, their four cousins, three sets of parents, two other grandmas, and three dogs besides our own. Two summers ago, just before we became full-timers, rather than rent a cabin, we were able to bring our motorhome to Nehalem State Park as one of our inaugural shake-down trips. Last year, we returned to Nehalem State Park for this annual event as fairly seasoned “campers” having been on the road full-time for almost a year.

This year, my step-daughter and her husband moved from the Bay area of California to Southern California. Our son-in-law’s oldest brother lives in Long Beach, California, and the youngest lives north of Seattle. In an effort to find more of a mid-way point to meet, the brothers chose to try something new and stay at an inland mountain resort called Lake of the Woods.  Learning they had full-hook ups for big rigs, we agreed to join them in this new locale as we love being a part of the grandsons’ summertime camping memories. 


Lake of the Woods itself is a large (7 miles in diameter) freshwater lake situated about midway between Medford and Klamath Falls at about 5000 ft. elevation.

Most of the land around the lake is National Forest but they allow a few small resorts to operate with special permits from the Forest Service to provide recreational opportunities such as camping, boating, and fishing around this beautiful Cascade Mountain lake surrounded by conifer forests of mainly Doug Fir and Ponderosa Pine.


Our vision of this place was a far cry from what we drove into at the Lake of the Woods Resort about 5 p.m. on a Saturday following the 4th of July. The place was crammed with cars, a rock band was playing outside, and the campground was full of revelers. We had made reservations in February for a “big rig” site with full hook-ups for the rather hefty price of almost $50 per night only to discover when we arrived that they had only one choice for us: a pot-holed “overflow site” next to a small cabin full of partiers. It took lots of maneuvering to fit into, and, after three tries, we still could not get level. Not a fun way to start our vacation with the kids. If I knew how to Photoshop this photo, I would put the Not Allowed sign on top of it rather than next to it.


I won’t go into all the complaints we voiced, but suffice it to say we left there with, after way too much convincing, a full-refund. We were able to find another very friendly FHU campground at Fish Lake Resort about six miles away. We made due with this alternate place for two nights before discovering the U.S. Forest Service had a park with big rig sites available right near the kids. Interestingly, all our reservations for a motorhome site, one cabin, and three tent sites were for Lake of the Woods Resort, but the tent sites were actually located at Aspen Point, a U.S. Forest Service campground. We learned Aspen Point is one of two U.S. Forest Service campgrounds on the lake (the other is Sunset Campground)  that can be reserved via the Recreation.gov website, but we were happy to learn that one-third of their 60 campsites were non-reservable ones. We found about ten potential sites to choose from that were all level and plenty large enough, but the only amenity they have here is bathrooms (no showers, ho hook-ups).  The big silver lining in this whole scenario was that with Vic’s  Senior National Parks Pass, a lovely site close to the kids was only $8.50 a night! We had to dry camp, but it was no problem at all for only three more nights.


On to the fun. The Aspen Point tent sites had direct access to the water, so not only could we fish and swim from this spot, we were able to unload our kayaks and keep them right at the water’s edge for easy access.


Also, the oldest brother Paul brought a Mastercraft ski boat, so our grandsons had their first tubing experience. I did not go out on the boat, so no photos of the kids in action, but I did get one of the boat at the marina.


Everyone had fishing poles too, but the bass and crappie were not biting; however, the mosquitoes were! In all my years in Oregon, even camping with my sons when they were young, we never had to deal with mosquitoes. I guess we were lucky as this place definitely had a hatch going on. The primitive beauty of the setting and great weather (80 degree days, 50 degree nights) almost made up for dealing with these pesky insects who were at least only bothersome in the morning and at sunset.

The kayaking in the lake was quite beautiful as the western shore of the lake provides a majestic view of Mt. McCloughlin, a 10,000 ft. glacier capped volcano.


We also discovered in our kayaking adventures that the western side of the lake was more of a grassy marsh area full of geese, ducks, lily pads, and this unexpected creature. Apparently, there are large while pelican nesting areas on nearby Klamath Lake so much so that the pelican has become the official mascot of Klamath Falls. Who knew?



And my love of water lilies would not be fully expressed without some photos of the gorgeous yellow blooms (and ducks and ducklings) we found paddling in this part of the lake.



Between tubing, biking, swimming, eating ice cream, and roasting marshmallows by the campfire, the kids sure had a great time with their cousins.



The brothers also managed to fit in their annual golf competition at a golf course near Klamath Falls; it must have been close as they had to play two extra holes for play off shots (but we never heard the final standings). The other major competition between the brothers involves their college alma maters: two are former Beaver athletes from Oregon State and one is a former Duck athlete from the University of Oregon. It’s easy for the three families to pack clothes for this event as they all wear either orange and black or green and gold. (Although the joke is that the Ducks have about twenty school colors now due to their crazy Phil Knight Nike-sponsored school uniforms.)  Two of the brothers, in the collage below, even had a wood chopping contest: Beavers won! (Sorry, Chris).

beavers vs ducks collage

We had the nightly pleasure of providing a real bed in our motorhome to my step-daughter and, on most nights, to our four-year-old grandson. Mindy is not an avid camper and has been happy to stay with us and whoever happened to be the youngest grandson every year so far. With Tyler, the youngest being 4 already, we may have reached the end of the motorhome or cabin vs. tent days for him as the older boys all seem to enjoy the tent camping with Papa Bear experience.


This trip was also the first time the boys were able to join us on the kayaks. They are still small enough to sit fairly comfortably on the back while we took them on a tour of the lake. Of course, the ski boat had more attraction, but they seemed to enjoy the quieter side of exploring as well. 



The lake was surprisingly warm for this altitude which made it fun for not only the kids, but this grandma as well.  I grew up swimming in Midwestern lakes and enjoy a good swim in a lake that is clear and refreshing. The only thing that would have made it better, and more representative of my youth, would be to have a wood-burning sauna at the water’s edge to use before “yumping” into the lake (from my “yooper” days—Michigan’s Upper Peninsula).


The dogs also had a fun time in the water. The rules were that they all be on a 6’ leash, but the park was quite liberal about this restriction as there were many dogs playing freely at the water’s edge.




The five days sped by and this morning we found ourselves watching the brothers and their wives pack up their seemingly endless amounts of camping necessities. Vic recalled a simpler time when everything he packed for his family camping trips fit in the back of his wood-paneled Ford Country Squire station wagon. (He is probably romanticizing how easy it was back then as he later admitted he had two bikes on a rack in front and two in the back.) I could see the look of sadness in the grandsons’ eyes that their camping week with their cousins was over, and it reminded me how grateful we are to be enjoying our endless summer of camping—with hardly anything to pack up!

vic and mindy by campfire

This final morning also brought a much more difficult goodbye as we probably won’t see them until we return to the West Coast next summer.Thank goodness for Face Time!  We were consoled by the vision of only a two-hour drive to the Seven Feathers RV Resort for some R & R time in the spa, a nice dinner prepared by someone else, and full hook-ups for doing laundry and emptying and filling tanks before heading a few more hours north for a month-long stay in Corvallis. Roll on. . . .

deer at lake of the woods