Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Parting shots from our stay in Corvallis

August 15-18, 2013
Corvallis, Oregon
Chez Cook’s RV Pad

Saying goodbye to Corvallis, our former hometown, and all of our friends is never easy—even when the road beckons us to move on. It seems the last week of any place we stay for more than a month brings with it a mental pang of all the things we haven’t yet done or people we have yet to see. One other source of tension for me is leaving behind the local seafood, fruits, vegetables, and wine. The thought of being away from this bounty for almost a year makes me uneasy so filling our freezer and cupboards also becomes a big priority as we get ready to leave. Thankfully, our host, Ann, was gearing up for her annual canning and freezing, so we shared in pesto making duties and canning dilly beans.

pesto collage

Ann grows at least a dozen basil plants in her garden that by August were at least three feet high and three feet wide. As a result, this time of year we had the luxury of eating many caprese salads and the first of several batches of pesto. One of her tips for freezing pesto is to put it in ice trays (sprayed with Pam spray for easy release) until it is frozen, then popping the squares into quart size freezer bags. Another idea she used this year was to try walnuts in a few batches of pesto rather than the very expensive pine nuts. I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference in the end product.

Next up was dilly beans, something I always used to make back in my mega-canning days as it was one of my sons’ favorites. I forgot to take photos of all the steps, but the recipe is simple: freshly picked green beans packed tightly into each pint, a dried chile or two, a couple cloves of garlic, one big "poof" of fresh dill, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, equal parts apple cider vinegar and water, and 1 tablespoon of canning salt. Process hot pack method with liquid for 20 minutes and voila!

dilly bean collage

Writing this post makes me feel extra blessed by the generosity of staying with our friends. Ann and Don, and the great times we had with other friends having special meals together. Breaking bread just seems to be something we naturally do when we plan get-togethers and this summer was no exception.


The dinner featured in the above photo was hosted by our friends Marilyn and Tom. Their home on Vineyard Mountain has an amazing view and one of its crowning glories is their beautiful garden.

tommys garden

Anytime I have dinner at their home, I have to indulge in a cappuccino, even if it might affect my sleep, just to enjoy sipping from their beautiful Italian pottery.

On our last day in Corvallis, I went out to Peoria Farm Market to buy their local pitted pie cherries and marionberries for freezing and I couldn't help but bring back a few other things for my last minute stash of valley fruits.

harvest stash2

All good things must come to an end. What makes this day of goodbyes easier is that we are headed to Astoria, Oregon, where my oldest son lives. I am so looking forward to spending time with him fishing!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Another Oregon Coast getaway with friends

August 12-14, 2013
Florence, Oregon
Woahink Lake Cabin

One of the highlights of summers in Oregon has been staying overnight with our friends Mike and Moe at a lake cabin in Florence, Oregon. Moe grew up in the mid-West where she enjoyed vacations at a lake every summer. Not long after moving to Oregon, she and her husband Mike started looking for  lakeside cabin rentals for summer retreats and this year they bought their own! Luckily, we and another couple, Sharon and Bruce, have been able to join them for a few days every summer the past three years on Mercer Lake and this year we all had the pleasure of staying in their newly purchased cabin on Lake Woahink, just a few miles south of Florence. It has the great feeling of being in a tree house—perfect Oregon rustic charm and a wonderful sandy beach and dock for water


When we all arrived, I had to break out something I had been saving for two months: Pommery’s Pop Champagne that you drink from a straw. It seemed like a perfect way to inaugurate our time together.


Mike and Moe are big-time dog lovers. They used to have two labs, but now have just one, Fenway, who is an avid swimmer. One delight of going to the lake with them is having our dogs be welcome and giving them a chance to swim in the lake. Even though they are both water dogs, Jetta is the only one of our two dogs who likes to swim; Rico is actually a stronger swimmer, but he doesn’t like jumping off docks or swimming in deep water. Rico does like, however, going for a ride on the kayaks and chasing Fenway around. A trip to the lake is definitely a great pleasure for the pooches. (Somehow, I thought I was off-duty as photographer during this time.)

More importantly, we were able to spend precious time with our friends as Sharon and Bruce live in Mexico and we only make it to Oregon once a year now.  As you can imagine when three foodie couples get together, meals and drinks take center stage. We have discovered a great restaurant in Florence, the Waterfront Depot, which we have gone to every year but it is often difficult to get into without reservation which is what happened this year—on a Monday night! Fortunately, they opened an annex called 1285Restobar across the street which serves Italian food along with several Waterfront favorites. We all enjoyed it just as much as the food and ambiance were terrific.



Last year we brought our two Hobie kayaks to the Mercer Lake cabin and everyone had a chance to take them out for a spin. Mike and Moe were seduced by the mirage drive option—pedaling vs. only paddling—and made it a priority to buy their own this year which they did. Ironically, we did not bring ours this year but we all took turns touring the lake in their Hobies and Rico even got his chance to go with me for a ride.

bruce and mike at lakefront

moe and fenny in kayak

plan for day two at the lake was to swim, kayak, read, play cards and make our own meal on the grill.  I think Victor sneaked a nap in there as well.

vic and bruce on couches at cabin

The girls and I went into town to buy seafood for the grill and came home with tri-tip—the little fish market by the docks was closed. Bummer.

sharon and moe shopping for fish

Nevertheless, we had an amazing meal with portobello mushrooms, a garden salad, French bread with grilling cheese, and a dessert of Euphoria dark chocolate mint sauce on ice cream. (Oh, and I can’t leave out the Irish Coffee in vintage mugs.) The best part was the camaraderie of being together for a few days before we all headed in different directions.


On our last day in Florence, we all went on a beach trek at the South Jetty. One surprise was being able to use Vic’s national park pass for free parking as it is a National Recreation Area. To get to the beach, you have to climb up and down a pretty daunting sand dune.

Once there though, the beach stretches for miles and the sand is compact for easy walking. The day started out rather overcast and chilly, but by the time we reached the beach, the skies started to clear and, amazingly, the wind died down for a lovely beach walk.

bruce and sharon on beach

We saw a surprising number of sea creatures on our beach walk. Moe had quite a collection by the end of our walk which included a large piece of sea glass which I discovered. I also came across a stranded starfish and couldn’t help but think of the starfish story that ends. “It made a difference for this one.”  I had to save it.

After an invigorating walk on the beach, nothing sounds better than a bowl of clam chowder. We headed back into town for a late lunch before going back to the cabin to pack up. I am not big on goodbyes, so the lucky part here is that we all planned to meet again the next day for Happy Hour in Corvallis. Let’s just say we know how to have a good time and were committed to make the most of our time together while we were in town.

I leave you with a red rock crab and sand dollar. . . .

Monday, August 19, 2013

Working at the Northwest FMCA Rally

Aug 7-11, 2013
Corvallis, Oregon
Chez Cook’s RV Pad

Early in our full-timing travels we became members of Harvest Hosts, a program that allows you to dry camp at wineries, farms, and orchards all around the United States (and even a few locations in Canada and the Baja region of Mexico). Last March in their monthly newsletter, I read that the owners of the company, Kim and Don Greene, were looking for volunteers to represent them at the Northwest FMCA Rally in Albany, Oregon.  Knowing we would be staying only about ten miles from Albany during the time of the rally, Vic and I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to experience a rally without having to pay the $165 registration cost. I sent the Greenes an e-mail letting them know how much we have enjoyed our Harvest Hosts stays and our interest in volunteering to work at the rally.  About a week later, they confirmed they would like us to represent them and provided us with more information about what this commitment would entail.

nw fmca rally flyer

They would pay our registration fees and we would be attending the rally as vendors. Our job was to set up a booth with all their materials to let people know about Harvest Hosts and sell memberships. One added piece was to hold a one hour seminar for those interested to see a slide show of the various locales available and get more details about the benefits of joining the Harvest Hosts community. Having done many presentations as an educational consultant during my teaching years, I nominated myself to be the seminar leader while Vic worked the booth. One negative aspect of this particular rally was that all participants would be dry camping at the Linn County Expo Center. With temperatures forecast to be in the high 80s that week, Vic and I decided to keep our motorhome at our friend’s home in Corvallis where our dogs could have air conditioning without the need to run a generator all day.

We have met many RVers who attend rallies on a regular basis, but so far it just hasn’t been something that sounded too appealing to us. We are members of FMCA but don’t belong to any special chapters; we just enjoy the occasional discount it provides and like reading their monthly magazine. We really didn’t know what to expect other than having a pretty good idea of what the exhibitors area would be like from having attended a fair number of RV shows. From what we can tell, people attend rallies for the camaraderie, catered meals, live entertainment, seminars, and RV showcase.

fmca logo

With plans confirmed months in advance, all we had to do was wait until the date drew nearer and the Greenes would FedEx a mega box of materials to us for our rally vendor debut. Kim also encouraged me to add any decorations of my own to make the booth look more inviting. Given my penchant for wine, beautiful tablecloths, and fresh flowers, I looked forward to the opportunity to embellish the display.


To be honest, as the date drew near, we started to wonder why this commitment once sounded like such a good idea. Some of our closest friends who now live in Mexico were going to be in Corvallis this week and we had to work! Our hours were 10-4 on Thursday and 9-4 Friday and Saturday, plus we had to arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday to set up everything. After two years of being retired, this little job made me realize how much I take our freedom for granted. In spite of a few last minute misgivings, we went with open minds to see what the rally experience was all about and with excitement to help expand the Harvest Host community.

The rally was very well-organized with about 350 people in attendance which I learned was about 100 fewer attendees than previous years. The national FMCA rally was held in Gillette, Wyoming in late June which, according to the organizers, caused a lower turnout for the Northwest gathering. Setting up the booth went smoothly and, thanks to “shopping” at a friend’s home, I had fun adding some pieces that enhanced the harvest theme.



Our first day of work, we each took a little time to walk around and check out the other vendors’ offerings and see if there were any seminars we were interested in attending. (Did I think to take photos—no.) Vic sneaked off to attend a tire and battery seminar presented by Les Schwab, a major tire dealer in the Northwest. He said there were about twelve people in attendance, something I was curious about as my seminar was scheduled for the next day. One piece of information that was new to him had to do with the manufacture date stamped on tires. Apparently, this date has no relevance for determining the 5-7 year window for tire replacement because tires can sit in shipping containers or warehouses for 6 months to a year before they are mounted on a motorhome or RV. So you should go with the installation date. Another myth that was debunked is the need to put a barrier between your tires and concrete or blacktop parking surfaces. The tire expert says he gets asked this all the time and there is no simply no truth to it; however, covering your tires to protect them from UV rays and weather is an important practice. Overall, Vic said attending the presentation was good for reinforcing what he already knew.

I was interested in attending a seminar on making pine needle baskets, but the time didn’t work out. Other than a few stretch breaks, I stayed in the booth most of the time freeing Vic up to check out the new motorhomes for trade-in possibilities—not!  Quite a few folks stopped by our booth to find out what the banner that said “Free Camping” was all about. Having a bowl of candy might have attracted more folks, but having a bottle of wine on the table lured in a few curiosity-seekers with hopes of a free wine tasting. We also had a good number of folks who were already Harvest Host members stop by to tell us of the fantastic places they have stayed. I kept a running list of hot tips from these folks and started to think about changing our fall itinerary to specifically seek out some of these places.

Like anything, if you really want to learn about a subject, teach it. Kim sent me a 5-page script and a DVD with a slide show for the seminar, but reading directly from a script is not my style. I reviewed the script a few times (happy to have it), then made an outline for talking points. I also previewed the slideshow so I would know what the photos looked like and could adjust the timing. I have to admit learning more about what membership in Harvest Hosts offers and seeing some amazing photos of the wineries and farms made me more excited about seeking out new HH overnight places as we travel across country this fall.

Lots of folks who stopped by our booth said they would be coming to the seminar, but I know that doesn’t always happen. In this case it seems like it did. I did a rough estimate of the number of folks in the room and it exceeded 50! This turnout surprised me as the cost of an annual membership is only $40 and it’s not hard to figure out how it works. Maybe since it was held on a Friday afternoon, they thought I would have something more than the root beer floats offered at the Sky Med session next door.
To help fill the hour and add a little personal experience to the presentation, I showed a mini-slideshow of our own photos from staying at Harvest Host locales. The photo I took of our dogs at Jaxson Keys Winery near Mendocino was a big hit.

I also told the story about enjoying a bottle of wine on the porch of their 100-year-old farmhouse after hours. For one sweet evening, we had the pleasure of pretending we owned our own winery as we had this gorgeous place all to ourselves.

Aside from some great stays at wineries, I also told the audience about our stay at Sunbonnet Farm in Fort Collins, Colorado. The owner, Pam, turned out to be a retired teacher like myself who signed up to be a host just to meet new people. She had a mini-farm with donkeys and horses that she rescued and, unlike most Harvest Hosts sites, she had nothing to sell. She offered us several different places to park depending on our preference for views and encouraged us to stay the whole week. She even brought us fresh chicken and goose eggs in the morning for breakfast and had a huge fenced pasture for the dogs to roam free. With her encouragement, we ended up staying three nights using her place as a base for exploring the area including Rocky Mountain National Park.

sunbonnet farm view

I ended my seminar with a Q and A session that included a short demonstration of how the on-line program works once you are a member. The funny part was that several folks left a little early to beat the rush back to the booth where you had to go to sign up and pay and Vic became a little overwhelmed as I forgot I had the computer with the credit card swipe. Everyone was very understanding and patient and seemed to be pretty excited about adding this new kind of overnight stay experience to their travels.


In terms of attending a rally, we might do so in the future but it would have to be during a lull in our travels. We didn’t get the full flavor of this rally as we opted to return to Corvallis after our shift so we could spend time with our Mazatlan friends rather than staying for the meal and entertainment. We both felt rather exhausted from being on our feet and talking to people all day long, but most folks were quite engaging and had valuable stories to tell from their own RVing experiences. The serendipitous benefit is being inspired to make more use of our membership and discover some more HH gems along the way in our travels from Washington to New York and south to Florida. Lastly, this experience also convinced us we are not ready for workamping as that idea flits through our minds from time to time. Maybe I should change the name of our blog to Freedom Seekers. . . . Thanks for coming along with us.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A splurge weekend at the Oregon Coast

Aug. 2-4, 2013
Yachats, Oregon
Sea Perch RV Resort


The friends we have been staying with in Corvallis wanted to experience a trip in the motorhome with us. What a great excuse to get in a long weekend at the coast. One of their favorite spots has always been Yachats as my friend’s mother used to have a beach house there and they have fond memories of this part of the coast which is about thirty minutes south of Newport. I knew just the place to stay in Yachats as my film club rents a house every year for their annual retreat and right next to it is Sea Perch RV Resort, one of the nicer privately owned parks on the coast. 


Ordinarily, we would not stay at a park like this because it is on the spendy side, but we wanted to do something special for our Corvallis “campground” hosts for allowing us to stay with them for five weeks. Plus, we had a double birthday to celebrate as Don (the male host of Chez Cook’s RV Pad) and I share the same birthday of August 2nd. That means we had at least three good reasons to have a splurge weekend.


Don is still a working man but he managed to end his workday early on Friday so we could leave around noon. We figured the drive to Yachats from Corvallis in the motorhome would take close to two hours as the road is somewhat narrow and windy. Our plan was to have our own happy hour at the resort before heading to a somewhat upscale seafood house for a birthday dinner.


I had checked out this RV park before on my own over two years ago, just after we bought the motorhome. The view is the most impressive feature that I had remembered but it turns out the clubhouse was equally amazing with a luxurious living area, exercise room, full kitchen, game room, big screen TV, 2nd floor ocean observation room, stone-tiled showers and laundry facilities. The observation room even had a small kitchen area equipped with beautiful dishes and wine glasses for guests to use for their own entertainment.






The resort has only 24 sites with about half of them having a full-on ocean view directly from your front window as they are pull-forward sites.  We were lucky enough to get one of these as we wanted to be able to enjoy the ocean views while playing cards in the much warmer atmosphere of the motorhome.


Directly in front of the resort is easy access to a a lovely beach called Sea Rose. I was quite familiar with this stretch of beach since I enjoyed at least three film club retreats at a house overlooking the same beach. The best part about this beach is its secluded quality as the town of Yachats lies six miles to the north. Oregon beaches allow dogs on leashes too, and if there are few people it is typical to see dogs off leash playing fetch and romping in the waves. 



Another thing I love about the beaches here is they allow campfires—something we came prepared to do until we felt the wind blowing at 20-30 knots. The ruggedness of the Oregon Coast often means you can expect cool temperatures, wind, and marine layers that sometimes take a full day to burn off. As much as we seek relatively warm and sunny weather, we know that a visit to the Oregon Coast means being prepared to bundle up even in summer.


After enjoying some adult beverages and appetizers, we headed to Ona’s a fairly new restaurant on the bay in Yachats. We were all craving seafood, especially northwest oysters and halibut. The food was excellent and they brought me homemade ginger ice cream for my birthday treat. I love all things ginger.


After a lazy Saturday morning and hearty breakfast, we headed back into town to do a little sightseeing and to purchase fresh seafood a dinner we would cook ourselves.  Along the way, we stopped at Cape Perpetua Visitor Center where we caught an informative movie about this part of the coastline and spent a little time looking at displays of local flora, fauna, and sea life.



From here we parked along the seafront in Yachats and wandered around the quaint village looking at some of the local shops which even included a wine tasting place. We had also heard about a new brewery in town which we also discovered—a neat place that also sold local vegies and fruit, organic meats, and gardening supplies.




Our last stop in town was at the village fishmonger’s chowder house called Luna’s. We scored big time by being just in time to see the owner bring in his own fresh catch of Chinook salmon and albacore tuna. We also bought a couple pounds of local manila clams for steamers. Yum. While making our purchase, we realized this was a perfect opportunity to have a bowl of chowder—an essential part of the coast experience. The chowder was some of the best any of us ever had. Score.



Later afternoon was a perfect time to walk the beach as there was a minus tide with sunny skies and temperatures reaching into the low 70s, but when you walked down to the beach the wind almost swept you off your feet. Don and I (and the dogs) were actually the only ones who braved the winds of the beach. It was sure invigorating! Our dogs didn’t mind one bit though as they thoroughly relished the freedom of wave chasing and quite a few forays into the water.



Our meal that night was memorable. We made toasted garlic bread to go with the clams which I steamed in champagne and grilled the salmon and tuna on the Weber Q. To round out our very fine coastal meal, we had fresh green beans and tomatoes from the Cook’s garden and a couscous salad. Deliciosa.



Sunday morning came too soon. I haven’t had the feeling of a vacation ending in a long time but Don had to be back to work Monday morning. After a breakfast of a Spanish torta, chorizo, and fruit salad, we packed up and decided to head north on the way home via Lincoln City. This route would take us about thirty minutes longer but we would see more of the coast along US 101 and the road from Lincoln City back to Corvallis is much easier to drive in the motorhome.


The challenge on our return trip was finding another seafood stop for lunch where we could park the motorhome and toad.  We had a few different places in mind along the stretch between Newport and Lincoln City but we ended up having to go with one of our last resorts: McMenamin’s Brewpub in Lincoln City which is in a strip mallann on couch with a huge parking lot. It turned out great though as this McMenamin’s has more seafood on their menu than the others we have been to in their various Oregon locales. By now, it was nap time for Ann and me. I am always in the co-pilot seat navigating, so it was pretty sweet to for us to be able to stretch out on the Big EZ couches, each of us with a blankie and a dog on our laps.

As we headed back into the valley, off came the sweatshirts and blankets as the temperature went from the 50s in Lincoln City in mid-afternoon to almost 90 degrees in Corvallis when we returned around 5 pm. You definitely need to dress in layers in the Northwest to be prepared for a 40 degree temperature change within 70 miles. Pretty dramatic. The good thing is that even with a high of almost 90 in the valley, the temperature starts to drop pretty quickly in the evening typically going down in the 50s, so we are able to sleep well with no a/c.

Of all the years I lived in Oregon, I never celebrated my birthday at the coast. Ironically, the past two years we have been full-timing I have spent my birthday at the coast. Seems like a great tradition for someone like me, a major seafood lover and beach bum!



Next up: a big contrast from the splurge weekend to one of our first work experiences in two years!