Looking through the open doors to a sensory deprivation tank at Enso Float in Portland.

I am going to do some of you a favor right now. I am going to clear up a mystery. If any of you are terrorized by the idea of a sensory deprivation tank, like I was a few weeks ago, I’m probably going to reassure you. Turns out, it’s not a big deal at all, and perfectly normal people can go spend some quiet time in a tank.

I have a friend who likes to float in a sensory deprivation tank. He has PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and the tank is a way to force peace onto himself. He repeatedly invited me to try it. I have PTSD too, and thought that my mental health condition would be the main reason I should AVOID a float. You see, one of the characteristics of this disability is that your brain thinks you need to be in fight or flight mode all the time, every day, just in case. Most of the time I have it under control, and I can keep my thoughts relatively quiet and my heart rate at a normal level. However, just under the surface of my calm behavior is this constant absorption of stimulation. Sights, sounds, smells, changes, impressions, suspicions, questions… all these things are being gathered every waking moment (and often when I should be sleeping) in this massive data collection operation. It’s exhausting. One of my tricks for smothering the data collection operation is to distract myself with activity. When I’m quiet is usually when the brain stimulation gets ramped up, sometimes into a swelling spiraling tornado of incoming thoughts that causes a panic attack.

What my friend was suggesting to me sounded CLEARLY like a situation I needed to avoid, for health reasons. But what made me keep my mind open to it is that he suffers with PTSD also, and said the tanks help him calm down.

I had heard of sensory deprivation tanks, but only barely. I had never actually given it serious thought before. It was the kind of thing I read about in magazine articles. In my mind I thought it would be a huge cube-shaped tank big enough to hold a person upright and underwater. In truth I was envisioning a tank containing spice in inhalant form from the Dune novels (I’m such a nerd). I couldn’t imagine how a person would breathe inside a tank of water. Would I have to wear a scuba mask? I tried to imagine how one would get out of such a tank in an emergency. What if I needed to get out while I was in the middle of panicking?!

Fear isn’t allowed to rule in my life, so anytime I feel myself getting frightened about something that I know other people think is normal, then I tend to make myself try it. First I did some research and found out I was totally off base to begin with. Instead of a “tank” it’s more like a big bathtub, and the water is only a foot deep. A billion tonnes of epsom salts have been dissolved into it (ok, not quite that much), so your regularly sink-prone human body floats right on top of the water with no effort. You can actually fall completely asleep in the water and be perfectly safe.

The idea is that your tank water is programmed to match your body temperature so you won’t feel it. You are suspended in the buoyant water so you won’t even feel the tank around you. The lights are turned out so you won’t see anything. The room is insulated so you won’t hear anything. Only the pure absence of stimulation for 90 minutes. People believe it results in increased visual acuity, improved tactile perception, improved hearing, and increased sense of taste. I said to my friend, “Omigosh, 90 minutes sounds like FOREVER. What do you do with your head for 90 minutes?” He said he just thought about stuff, and sometimes zoned out for awhile. I agreed to go with him to Enso Float in Portland, and float at the same time (different tanks) so he could reassure me up to the last minute.

Enso Float is relatively new, clean, and classy. We were met by Trevor, who had a soft, soothing voice and a veeerrryyy laid back nature. He made me think of a young hipster surfer hippie. My naturally loud voice clanged against his till I settled down and got in tune with the quiet place. It’s tastefully decorated with stone tiles and bamboo walls and simple modern elegance. He showed us our rooms and explained the rules.

Shower area beside the tank. Shower before and after your float. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, towels, robes, slippers all provided.

There are lots of rules. Before you go, you are not supposed to drink caffeine, dye your hair, or shave. The caffeine I suppose would stimulate you when you’re trying to relax. Hair dye can dissolve into the epsom salts. Shaving can open up tiny wounds that will sting when the salt water gets into them. Trevor showed us earplugs that we were encouraged to use to keep the water out of our ears. He also pointed out the ointment we could use to cover any cuts or wounds that might sting in the salt water. My friend had learned some tips from his experience, and recommended inserting the earplugs before showering, because it’s hard to get a good seal in wet ears with wet hands. Also, he recommended drying the face absolutely before getting in, so the salt water doesn’t creep up your wet face into your eyes.

Trevor explained about the lights, and that we could float with lights on if we wanted to. The soothing nature music would fade after movement stopped outside. There are buttons inside the tank to turn lights on, and then off, and a button to summon help in an emergency. He showed me that the doors to get out are like saloon doors: just push them and I’m free. No need to feel trapped. He said, “At the end the tub light will come on and music will stop playing. But if you go to sleep, don’t worry, we will sound a bell that is louder and will wake you up.”

I said goodbye to them both, locked the door, and took a deep breath before I headed for the shower. I took a long time to get ready because I was so anxious. I tested the lights a little before I got in, pushing the buttons and making sure I knew which ones turned lights on, off, and how I could avoid pressing the emergency button (same shape, but in a different part of the pool). There were lights in the bottom of the circular pool that lit up the room, and “star” lights in the ceiling. I fantasized that it would be fun to turn off all the lights except the stars. Then I would try to see if there were constellations, or just random specks of light.

Looking into my float tank, with the stars glittering on the ceiling.

The pool itself, stars reflected. Here you can see the white lights on, and black lights off buttons.

So I did it! And here are my impressions.

I’m glad I went to the float. It was very interesting and I have been curious (and terrified) about it for some time. I told my friend Will about it on the way home. Honestly I was bored out of my mind for most of the time, and I think I may have actually dozed a little because the time went by more quickly than I expected. I was doing all this stuff to try to entertain myself for 90 minutes. Stretching my arms, lifting my arms and legs out of the water, pressing them down, turning in circles, fascinated by the fact that I couldn’t make myself sink. As I described it to Will, he kept laughing and saying he didn’t think I was the right kind of person to benefit from a sensory deprivation tank. “You were doing it wrong,” he said. “You needed a mother in there to keep an eye on you. Instead of saying, ‘it’s time for bed, get ready for bed’ she needed to be in there saying ‘it’s time to relax now, stop playing around and see if you can be peaceful.'” ha ha.

I told him I repeatedly freaked out about the comment Trevor made at the beginning. At the time I wanted to ask Trevor “How do you know if I am asleep?” But I was too scared to hear the answer: cameras? what? I was too chicken to ask. So I was trying to figure it out the whole time I was lying there, “If somebody falls asleep, how will they know it? Do they come into the room?” Then I couldn’t remember if I had really locked the room, and every little thump or click the whole time sent me into full alert: Do they think I’m asleep? Are they in my room? I wonder if anyone has done a study on personality types to see who gets the most of of a float.

My idea to turn out all the lights except the stars didn’t work like I imagined. The light for the stars is behind the plastic ceiling, and illuminates the whole ceiling. I wished they had designed it so the ceiling would be black, with only the pinpoints of starlight. I still think that would have been cool. I confirmed that they are only random points of light though, not constellations.

I had another thought while I was floating, that it reminded me of being home. About the same level of quiet, and floating was almost as comfortable as my bed. It occurred to me that people who live in the country and have found their perfect mattress might not be good candidates for the float.

My biggest disappointment is that I don’t think I ever felt deprived of any senses. Not at all. Well, sight. It was purely black in there. And I could never get a good seal on the earplug in my left ear, so there was a steady pop, pop, pop as salt water slowly leaked into my ear. That scared me because I assumed I was plugging my ears for a good reason. I don’t think anything happened to my ears, and I never felt a sting anywhere on my body from the salt. But all the descriptions I read included someone saying how remarkable it was that they couldn’t tell where their body ended and the water began, and how they lost a sense of the room, felt like they were floating in space, and all that stuff. I never did. Maybe because I was trying so hard to discern it the whole time. I wasn’t playing the game. But…I had been hoping for it, because I wanted to see what it was like. Even though I was goofing around when I got really bored, I did periodically try to hold perfectly still and see if I could get the effect. But then I’d hear a low rumble sound that went the whole time – like the hum of the heater or something? I could tell when big trucks rumbled by the building on the street outside. Or I’d notice my left knee was further out of the water than my right knee. Then I’d notice the water was a little chilly. Then I’d notice my back was hurting.  I couldn’t help but notice all those things.

My back was starting to ache by the time I got out. It was as though I had been standing too long. When I got out I had to curl into a ball for a while, and stretch my back the other other direction. I needed to sit down and take the pressure off my back. Weird! I never expected that. I wonder why that happened, since the water is so supportive. My theory is that it’s because I have mild scoliosis – that my hard mattress at home is comfortable to me because it forces my back to flatten out due to gravity, and the soft mattress of the water let my back curve too much. I don’t know. Just a guess.

The powder room. I can’t remember what Trevor actually called it. Apparently it’s a place to make yourself beautiful again after soaking off your moisturizers and makeup. There were books inside too.

More books and all-natural skin and beauty products to buy.

My friend’s experience was that after a float all his senses are heightened, and the world is a fantastic place to walk around and experience: new sounds, new sensations, new smells, brighter colours. I was very eager to experience that! But… of course, I noticed no difference at all. I walked out of the place with wet hair into the lovely day, and was my usually chattery self, blabbing on and on about something unrelated, like what I had done that morning, till I realized my friend had not yet said a word. He moved dreamily along and was feeling unsteady and was focusing on obeying pedestrian rules and lifting his foot high enough to step over the curb onto the sidewalk. A little too out of it to even talk.

Huh. I really am not the right kind of person for a float.

Many many choices of ciders at Schilling.

Flights are the only reasonable way to taste a wide selection without getting hammered.

After he came down off his float high, we went to a cider place called Schilling that he had heard of. It was a super choice. Schilling serves some creative and delicious snacks, but is not a restaurant. Their point is to be a place to drink cider. There were too many choices and we both ended up getting flights. That way we shared and were able to sample 12 ciders total. He likes sweet, I like dry, so we did get a wide variety. When I noted the numbers of the ciders I wanted in my flight, the guy behind the counter said, “Wow, #42 and #43, those are some serious ciders.” I asked what he meant. He said these are serious ciders for people who are all about cider. I asked him specifically what they taste like. He said there was no way to explain it, but as soon as I tasted, I would know what he meant. I did.

My fave of the day ended up being the #42 Herefordshire Blend. Brewers are Oliver’s from the UK, and Anxo from the US. Unlike the bartender, I can explain the taste. It tastes like dirt. But in a good way. Ciders #42 and #43 tasted like moss, and rotten wood with some fungus in it. You know, I don’t think that description would appeal to anyone, so the bartender’s choice to play dumb was the correct choice. I drank the distilled essence of a wet, old forest floor, and it was far and away my favourite taste of the twelve! It’s in a class by itself. Now that I know there is cider that tastes like this, I will be on the hunt for it. You can take your fruity sweet froo froo flowery ciders and shove them.

We looked down on Belmont street and chatted about our float experience.

So there you go! If you’ve never heard of a sensory deprivation tank, now you know. And now maybe you’ll try one. If you decide not to, then I recommend you try a cider instead. In my opinion, the sense response I got from the ciders was way more fun.

Classroom of adult VFW students in a hotel conference room.

October 2018 I stopped working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Can you believe it’s been a year?! I applied for retirement, and my employer officially terminated me February 2019. The retirement was approved in June. Retirement paychecks began arriving in August.

Needless to say, before it all got worked out, I was nervous about how to survive while I waited (and supported Tara, still at college in Corvallis). A previous co-worker dropped my name to someone hoping to hire, and I got a job as a contract teacher! How exciting! I taught during one week in September, and will teach again during one week in November. The students are employees of Veterans of Foreign Wars, commonly called VFW. These people spend a lot of time assisting veterans applying for VA benefits, so the hiring manager told me that ideally they like to hire people who recently left VA, because those people are current on the VA climate.

And with me, they get an enthusiastic VA Cheerleader!

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They told me what my topic would be, and how much time I had, and how many students I would have, and the dates I would be teaching. They said they needed a powerpoint presentation, handouts, exercises, and test questions. Then I went to work. VFW bought my plane ticket and my hotel room, and paid me for my work. It’s a great opportunity. How much fun it is to be a contract worker – I had never even thought of this opportunity for myself before.

I was very, very nervous before I actually taught my first class. I had never been in the environment before, didn’t know the audience, didn’t know the format, didn’t know the area, etcetera, etcetera. But I am great in front of people. Though I only slept about 45 minutes the night before, by the end of my first hour teaching, I was fine, and completely in my element. I am good at this. The student reviews were good, the feedback from the hiring manager was good. I managed to address a problem with time right away and it worked great. The students were experienced employees who should already know the material, and they were engaged, open, willing to do the exercises, willing to share their experience and also to ask questions. They were encouraging and supportive and funny.

The view out my hotel window, of the pool closed for the season. Downstairs were the classrooms, as well as a restaurant. If I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t have to leave the building for 5 days.

Typical hotel conference room classroom.

Another conference room classroom. My point with these photos is only to elicit common memories from people who have been in these rooms before!! It’s so ugly and potentially so boring!!

VFW has annual training requirements. After talking with a lot of these experienced employees, I saw that many of them are eager to receive this training. In their level of experience, these classes are mostly updates (law changes, court cases recently decided, refresher training), and so it’s not new information, but a reinforcement of what they already know. I was grateful for their great attitudes and eagerness to hear what I had to say.

The students are also a lot of fun. I bumped into a guy who lived in Idaho near where I lived. We shared memories of tiny rural communities that most people have never heard of. He and a friend of his invited me to make the 3 1/2 mile walk into the city of Annapolis, one day after class. I had never seen the town and they insisted I would love it. Though it was autumn back home in Rainier, it was still summer and hot in Annapolis – yay!! We held a quick pace and it felt great to move after too much time inside the hotel.

What the what? Yes, that’s a cemetery in the median.

My companions explained to me that when the road was put in, graves were exhumed when necessary. All the graves in this center strip were left alone. But how to get there safely?!

I realized Annapolis must be a real New England town, and I began appreciating the buildings.

Don’t you love buildings created to fill awkward spaces?

Wall art always catches my eye..

Finally we reached a place where we could see the sea at the bottom of the hill. What a pretty town Annapolis is.

It was the end of the day and we had just worked up an appetite. One of my companions said that the last time she was here she had stumbled upon a place serving fresh crab cakes and she wanted to go there for dinner. Of course we did too! It was a no-nonsense crab cafe, and the crab cakes were enormous and reasonably priced ($17 for 1/2 pound of meat). While we sat there, other VFW people showed up, which was fun. After eating, we decided to continue to explore the town.

This was officially a “sandwich,” but I ordered mine without the bread. The plate is blackened from decades of use, I imagine.

We found a hat shop and tried on hats. I never wear hats and didn’t buy any.

If I did wear a hat, I might look like this!

We were only a few steps from the waterfront, so the three of us walked around in the lovely warm evening and watched the sun go down over the water of the Chesapeake Bay.

Annapolis waterfront.

Sunset in Annapolis Harbor.

All three of us are prior military, and the US Naval Academy was right next to us. We happened to have on us the ID that would get us through the gates, so off we went. It was getting pretty dark but we were awake and ready to explore some more. With little trouble and no questions, we were allowed onto the base where we began looking at statues and entering interesting buildings.

The Naval Academy Chapel, completed in 1908, is due some repairs. The famous patina green dome will be replaced with a new copper dome that will take 20 years to turn green again.

This one looked promising as we walked up to it.

And yes, it was enormous and gorgeous inside. Dahlgren Hall was once used as an armory, but tonight there were cadets learning to swing dance.

With a sort of mini-museum there at one end.

Ship accoutrements.

Inside Lejeune Hall.

We explored different statues on campus that my friends could tell me about (they were way more in touch with Naval Academy tradition than me). One of them knew a senior cadet and texted him, and he came out to greet us and we stood in the dark courtyard chatting for some time before he had to go. We also entered Lejeune Hall, which holds an olympic sized pool, a “diving well,” boxing and wrestling arenas, and of course, a classroom. From the hallways up above, we could look down onto the cadets in swim training.

Navy mascot is Bill the Goat

Cadets in uniform move quickly through the night, returning to Bancroft Hall after classes.

Wins lauded in Army-Navy contests.

Cadets hard at work in the pool in Lejeune Hall.

My new friends wanted to end the night with a pint, and I couldn’t think why not. I had a coupla’ Guinness as a nod to my trip to Ireland with Tara earlier this year. Rather than make the very long walk home after two pints, my new friends called us an Uber and I was soon winding down, thinking about how soon the alarm clock was going to ring…

 

View of mountain peaks from Curtis and Peggy’s back deck in the Applegate River Valley.

As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled to Southern Oregon to see Shakespeare in Ashland, but also to visit blogger Curtis Mekemson and his wife Peggy. Curtis writes a fabulous blog (and he’s a book author, too!) at Wandering Through Time and Place, and in the past years, Peggy has been a contributor. They’re clearly a team and we get to read all about their adventures in life on the blog.

Have you ever listened to someone complain about how people are all on their computers these days and losing touch with other human beings? And then did you compare it to your own experience of blogging and feel sorry for the complaining person because they haven’t met so many friendly, supportive, interesting, honest people that you have, ever since you started blogging? Well, that has been my experience.

The Mekemsons graciously welcomed me to their beautiful home in a beautiful part of the country. The moment Peggy spotted me she came over with arms open wide for a hug. I am touched and honored by their hospitality and friendship. Then I got to know them a little better and found out they are really cool people!! They have a thousand great stories to tell about their past lives and their great kids and grandkids, and what they’re involved in locally, and planned future blog posts, and planned future adventures. I can’t tell you how much fun I had.

After meeting in Medford for breakfast the first day, Curt joined me in the Jeep (Peggy had to run an errand in the Big City) and showed me how to get to their place. We got distracted by a covered bridge.

McKee Covered Bridge in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.

Curt explained that the McKee Bridge was recently restored and is a landmark regarded with some pride in the community. We parked and walked through it. The bridge no longer covers an active road, and is only open for foot traffic. Built in 1917 (as you may have guessed) this bridge was closed in 1956 to vehicle traffic. It is one of the approximately 50 covered bridges remaining in the state of Oregon from a peak of about 450 bridges. The McKee Bridge is currently the 4th oldest in Oregon and the highest, at 45 feet above the water.

Boards mounted on the inside to help people control their graffiti tendencies.

Applegate River, 45 feet below us!

I’m always glad to explore covered bridges and happy that Oregon has so many of them.

They showed me where to put my things and I was happy to see that I got to share the room with my old friend Bone, who has been a world-traveler and companion to Curt for many years. Bone and I got to spend some time together a couple years ago, and he spent a week in Cherokee country with me, seeing the traditional sights, joining me to meet the Cherokee Chief, and then meeting Miss Cherokee and Miss Cherokee Junior. It was good to see him again.

Bone has a glamorous spot in the home. The box beneath him holds all his clothing and gear.

After a somewhat quick tour of their home, which is filled with art they have collected from all over the world (it’s SO beautiful), I had to go right back to the city to catch my first play. Ashland is south of Medford on I-5, and about an hour away from the Mekemson’s place. On the way I got distracted again and had to pull over to take photos.

Fields of hemp spread across the valley. These plants are taller than I am.

Hemp adds another shade of green; a great crop for this climate because it does not require a lot of water.

On the way in, Curt had explained to me how the hemp farms were booming. Hemp is a different plant than marijuana, but over the years, growers had failed to get permission to grow hemp as much as they had failed to legalize marijuana. Finally, with the legalization of marijuana, the hemp growers succeeded as well! There is so much anticipation that this is going to be a crop to make farmers wealthy, they are planting it everywhere. Curt said some growers ripped out their marijuana and planted hemp instead. In this section of the road, the scent of the plants rose up around me on all sides. I saw a guy digging a ditch and asked if I could take photographs. He said “Sure!” and told me that people stop at this farm all the time for photos.

The next morning was luxurious because our play wouldn’t start till the afternoon. We had a lazy morning filled with conversation and coffee and scones. I got a serious tour of their place, and I got to hear their concerns about the loss of many trees on their property. Years of drought has weakened the trees in the forest around them, so when the pine beetles come in and feed on them, the trees have a difficult time recovering. Some have died, and Curt and Peggy hired a crew to come in and remove the dead trees. It is sad to lose the trees, particularly the one up close to the deck that Peggy looked at all the time. Each time I arrived in their driveway, I had to move carefully to avoid the massive piles of brush and the growing stack of logs waiting to be hauled out on a log truck. Curt talks about it in detail in his blog.

Morning sun dries the wet deck and lifts the stratus fractus from the hills.

Looking the other direction at their peaceful patio.

Bloggers do what we do, and before long Curt and I were out in the living room, computers on our laps, preparing the next posts. He was working on a post about the remarkable Mono Lake, and I was working on a post about visiting Tara in Bend.

Curtis Mekemson in his “office” creating more bloggy goodness for us.

The next day began much the same, with luxurious relaxation and conversation. The logging and clearing continued on the property, and we could hear the chainsaws. Peggy contemplated the new view with a missing tree up by the deck. I got to meet some of their deer neighbors.

View from the house.

Fawn follows its momma. See her peeking through the railing?

Hi baby!

With no plays to see on my last day, we had a chance for a different kind of play. We decided to go for a hike to see a Bigfoot Trap! I had never heard of such a thing, and that’s because this is the only known Bigfoot trap in the world. Bigfoot is the common name for the Sasquatch, a tall, hairy, man-like beast that lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. It’s closest cousin is the Yeti. While we hiked, I told them my best Bigfoot story about when I was a kid and playing in the woods with the neighbor kids. Trying to show off and get attention like I always did, I lied and told them I saw a big hairy hand around a tree trunk. They believed me and marched us all directly back to their house and reported it to their parents, whom I did not know were avid Bigfoot enthusiasts. Parents got excited, grabbed their gear and insisted that I take them back to the precise spot and tell them exactly what I saw. Rather than confess, I continued the charade, feeling more embarrassed and miserable the whole time, building a deeper web of lies to cover my tracks. They didn’t find evidence of Bigfoot in the forest that day, and let us go back to playing. I never talked about Bigfoot again to those kids!

Bone came along with us on the hike. This is Curt and Bone at the trailhead.

A closeup of the trailhead shows that Bigfoot hunters are still excited about their quest.

It was a hot day but the trail is shady and cooled by a creek.

This banana slug on the trail appreciated the cool shade.

A group called North American Wildlife Research built the trap in 1974 as part of their goal of proving that Bigfoot exists. It was actively operated for six years, but sadly, they never caught Bigfoot. The trap was built strong and is still intact, though it has been repaired. Today is it not operational, and the moving gate is fixed in place to protect the many humans who come here to see it.

Curt takes a photo of the 10-foot square trap. I like the graffiti that says “Bigfoot was here.”

Despite our obvious fear of imprisonment, Peggy and I were brave enough to step inside.

We got back to the truck and decided to keep exploring the area around Applegate Lake. This country is breathtakingly beautiful and I was in no doubt about why, when this couple had explored the world, this was the place they chose to put down roots. For fun they took me to the California border. Out in the country, border crossings are a bit less formal than on the highways. The dirt and gravel road on the other side of Applegate Lake crosses the California border three times in a mile! There are campsites and swimming holes and no one pays attention to which state they’re in. Except maybe at the first crossing, where a little college rivalry showed up:

The paved road stops at the border. On the right side of the tree, the state of Oregon is celebrated, in the orange and black colors of Oregon State University. On the left side of the tree, yellow and gold is used to celebrate California, the same colors as University of California.

At this point we were famished and headed back home for a real meal. I was eager to make my yummy baking powder biscuits and we started planning our meal as we returned home. There were fresh tomatoes from the garden, eggs, some honey from my bees that I brought them. This was going to be good. First we stood back while delivery men showed up to install their new dishwasher.

Curt wears a Bigfoot T-shirt and Peggy checks out the new bells and whistles.

A table filled with delectables. We were all drooling by the time it was ready and we could sit and eat.

Before I left my friends, we took photos together. I posed with Curt in front of a gift of fabric given to him by another blogger. He was pleased to blend his online blogger community in the real life. Then he asked Peggy and me to pose together and I leaned my forehead against hers in affection at the same time that she reached for my hand. I felt loved.

Peggy rocks the purple!

What a perfect portrait to capture a sweet moment. These two are now so close to my heart. ❤

Set and audience for Hairspray, at the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre.

I enjoyed my time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival so much last year that when I received an email this Spring offering discount early bird tickets, I pounced and bought five. It took me all summer to arrange a visit south, but I finally devised a quick trip with the assistance of a fellow blogger. I only had to drop a couple hints and Curtis extended the invitation as though I had not manipulated him at all! The end of August I made the 5 1/2 hour drive south to see some plays and to finally meet Curtis and Peggy Mekemson from Wandering Through Time and Place.

I met them at a Medford cafe for breakfast and they immediately put me at ease and made me feel welcomed. Curt is the third blogger I have met, and I must admit I have great luck and good taste. My blogger friends turn out to be truly wonderful people in real life. (Take note if you’re reading this, and pat yourself on the back for being so awesome.) We got through introductions and current events in no time, and then I followed them from the cafe to their rural home in some of the most beautiful country in Oregon. They live even farther out in the boonies than I do, so I wanted their help getting out there in case my GPS didn’t work. I got a tour of their beautiful home on their gorgeous property, which I will highlight in my next post.

Then I changed into play clothes, and zoomed back to Ashland.

The set rotated, so the audience was able to see multiple sides of the building.

Prior to my trip Curt and Peggy had raved about Hairspray, which they had already seen, so I saw that one first. They said to keep an eye out for something and that I might realize the truth about a character sooner than they did. I saw right away that the character of Tracy’s mom is played as a transgender woman (though I believe in real life the actor is not transgender), and I love that the relationship of Tracy’s parents was healthy and loving and supportive, and no one ever mentioned it was non-traditional, which helped me to invest more in it as a real relationship and not a gimmick. And then I realized it is the most inclusive cast I’ve ever seen. Jenna Bainbridge, for example, who was partially paralyzed as an infant, has an impressive acting career and plays Tracy’s best friend Penny. There are multiple characters with different abilities, such as Luke Hogan Laurenson who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and Zahra Detweiler who lives with Down Syndrome. These actors played parts in direct support of the story and their inclusion helped enforce Hairspray’s main message of tolerance. It’s not enough to say we welcome everyone, but we also have to act on it. There is a confrontation of body-shaming, of racism, of classism. And somehow, despite all those painful topics, the show is a riot of laughs from beginning to end (in between tears), with dancing to knock your socks off (Katy Geraghty as Tracy dances like nobody’s business), songs that rip your heart out, genuine characters, real love, and so much joy.

After the show I had hours to kill and decided to spend it in town. While inside the theatre it had begun to rain and although warm, the world was soaked. I wandered around gaining my bearings and found a sign on the Thomas Theatre that warmed my heart, and continued the message I had just heard at Hairspray.

Sign says: “We Welcome all races and ethnicities, all religions and creeds, all gender identities, all countries of origin, all sexual orientations, all immigrants and refugees, all abilities and disabilities, all spoken and signed languages, everyone.”

I wandered into town without an umbrella, while others were better prepared.

I found this mural along the main street.

I had a fabulous lunch with live music.

The rain stopped and I marveled at the landscapes outside of town.

I spent some time in the park with my feet in the water beneath the Atkinson Memorial Bridge 1912.

In that soggy grey day, I was startled to see this notice on the Elizabethan Theatre as I prepared to go to that evening’s play: change of venue due to wildfire.

Though I had noticed no evidence of wildfire and though it was raining, the venue for the play was not at the magnificent Elizabethan Theatre that I am dying to attend. I have not yet seen a play in that outdoor theatre. For air quality safety, during fire season they moved the play to the high school – that part I understand. But when there were no fires and no detectable smoke, why was it still at the high school? My guess is that the fire situation was unstable, and it’s probably a lot of work to move a whole production between venues. Until they know for sure the air is clear, I’ll bet it’s smarter not to move it back. I should have guessed that the high school in Ashland would have a phenomenal theatre.

The set was appealing but not comfortable. Kind of like the story.

All’s Well That Ends Well was well-acted, as I have come to expect at Ashland. It’s a tough story and grapples with the human conditions we all recognize: unrequited love, children that aren’t what we expect, missteps of youth, aging, missteps of mentoring – that kind of fun stuff. But with the Bard telling the story and the massive talent drawn to Ashland every year, it’s a story I was intrigued with. I was consistently irritated with Helen for clearly being better than Bertram and yet not having the self-assurance to rid him from her heart. (Reminds me a little of my own failed attempts at finding a man. I hope I have all Helen’s wit, strategy, and ability, but I hope I spend it on a man who deserves me.)

I drove back through the dark night to my very comfortable bed at the Mekemson’s home.

The next morning I enjoyed much great conversation and coffee and scones until it was time for us all to get ready to go. Curt and Peggy had agreed to attend the next show with me. We had decided on seeing Alice in Wonderland.

Pure melee ensued in the first half of Alice In Wonderland, and this is what the stage looked like at intermission. The debris is made up of feathers, broken pieces of teacup, balloons, and playing cards. Do you recognize the set? Yes, Alice was also held in the High School.

Alice In Wonderland took me back in time, actually, to what this show must have felt like many decades ago when it first astounded audiences in the 1930s. Turns out, that’s exactly what director Sara Bruner had in mind. I noticed how well the story followed the books: Alice in the first half, and Through the Looking Glass in the second. The program noted that every single line was in Lewis Carroll’s own words. My brain somersaulted through scenes, trying to make sense of it all, trying to use the white rabbit as a common theme, trying to find some greater message. But I was bewildered.

At intermission, Curt and Peggy and I gazed back and forth at each other in dumb astonishment for a few moments, finally saying something like, “Well, that was something!” Curt suggested that maybe it would be best viewed on LSD – none of us knowing anyone on LSD we could ask about that. We chatted until the second half began, all telling ourselves good advice on how best to approach the second half. I was unable to follow the advice (just like the story’s heroine), and found myself mouth-open in dumbfounded perplexity. It is a dazzling show! The adventure is undeniable, and I truly wish I could try again to watch it properly. I think one should watch this performance with the mind of a 8 year old child: open, curious, willing and wanting to believe – without cynicism or criticism or vetting. Nothing at all seemed to match, or tell a story, or relate to any other events. Sometimes characters showed up again, and it was not relevant. There was no message, no lesson, no caution, no celebration – just pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and it is wonderful. It is really the stuff of fantastical dreams from the mind of a child. The creativity, artistry, performance, and spectacle are worth every moment of sitting there. Just don’t waste your time trying to figure it out; you’ll only get a headache and probably miss something.

After the show we found a great Mexican restaurant and joked around with the proprietor when we weren’t rehashing Alice some more – reminding each other of all the incredible things we had just seen. Peggy and Curt went home and I stayed in town because I had one more show to see.

I walked around Ashland some more. Spent an hour in a bookstore, browsed shops, then tried a yummy sake (Tentaka Kuni Junmai) before running back up the theatre hill to catch my last show at the Thomas Theatre.

The set of Between Two Knees points you right away to an outdated idea of Indians. It’s in your face, and so is the show. Suck it up, buttercup.

This is the one I drove to Ashland for. Between Two Knees is a production by Indian playwrights and about Indian topics, and also I had been waiting all year for a chance to see a new favourite actor, Rachel Crowl (who I talked about in my blog about Henry V last year). This production comes from The 1491s, a group of storytellers who challenge the history we’ve been taught, and provide an additional perspective: that of the indigenous, who have been actively erased from the story of our country. Oh, and it’s a comedy, as you may have guessed from the title that is easily a double entendre. One of my favourite things to discover in fellow human beings is when they poke irreverent fun and laugh. Bringing up the absolute worst and making a joke that is irresistible is such a great way to talk about trauma and pain. Laugh laugh laugh, people! Why not laugh? Crying won’t change what happened; laughing won’t change it either, but it’s so much more fun and laughing is transformative and releases pressure when stress has built up.

The opening scene is a game show, with actors tackily dressed as Indians, and obviously playing the parts that white people have had Natives play for a century. One Indian spins the colorful, blinking wheel of NAME THAT MASSACRE! And when the wheel lands on a massacre, the Emcee calls out to the audience: “We all know of the — massacre, of course!” The Emcee provides a brief summary of the deaths and destruction of Indians by white people. “Clap all of you who know this one!” No one claps. “No problem!” we are assured, “There are plenty more!” The wheel is spun, Wheel of Fortune style, and it lands on a new name. “The — massacre! Surely you’ve heard of this one!” Again, he describes a slaughter. No one claps, no one has heard of it. Again. Again. Sometimes a person somewhere in the audience claps.

And yes, this is how the story goes all the way through.

We are asked to laugh and cheer and clap as the play details horrendous abuse, murder, removals, rape, kidnap of Indian children and forcing them into religious schools to “Beat the Indian out of them!” Everything is ridiculed, no holds barred, no taboo left untouched, no shock left unexposed. I was dying with laughter. I could barely contain myself. It was ugly and raw and uncomfortable and hilarious. There was an evil priest who abused children. There was a hippie who pretended to know how to conduct an authentic Indian marriage ceremony, while sitting beneath Buddhist prayer flags. They talked about using Indians as sports mascots. They made fun of using white people to play Indians on TV when there were plenty of Indians to fill those roles, and an actor on stage pointed out that he is actually Chinese-Korean. The message being the 1491s were willing to  poke fun at themselves too. There was an Indian in white face. HAAAAAA!!! Come on, that’s funny.

The audience fascinated me, in that some gave themselves up to the artists and let themselves be involved…but some remained stone-faced and never even cracked a smile. The audience was not attacked, but these topics are just topics that we are told we should take seriously. I could tell people were afraid to laugh. There was a couple next to me that were silent and still the whole time. I noticed them especially because I was cackling loudly with glee, sometimes the only person in our part of the theatre who was rolling around on the floor in laughter, so there was quite a disparity. I started up a conversation with them at intermission and found out they both really liked the show – so that was good. Maybe among the silent people there were admirers of what was going on. It must have been easier for me to laugh because I am Indian, or maybe because I love this form of activism so much.

They passed around a donation can, asking people to give to support their group. The host made a call out to different demographic groups in the audience, asking each to give differently based on what they might be able to afford. But at the end he called to white people, “Give as much as you can spare! And don’t feel bad about it, you’ll still own everything.” The final scene was a musical where the whole cast sang about a future when they got rid of the settlers and oppressors forever, and the chorus repeated over and over: “Goodbye White People!”

It was great. I think my description here makes it seem troubling, or maybe confrontational for some people in the audience, and it is not. The creators did a brilliant job and I did not think any portion of this production was inappropriate. I would love to see it again and again. But instead I left the theatre and made my way home through the dark to a little piece of paradise in the Applegate River Valley.

 

Everybody gathered just before the crash car derby for a group photo.

My neighbor Richard Gaboury has an annual track day at his place, co-hosted by his buddy Tim Oyler. Track Day is the most redneck fun I have all year.

It might help to explain that I’m from redneck stock. The people who raised me (family+community) are good, country folk. I spent my childhood in tiny communities with people who worked hard all day long and came home filthy. I spent my weekends fishing in the crick, catching crawdads, or racing snowmobiles, and usually drinking beer. In the mornings before school in the Fall I went hunting. We built potato guns and used hairspray as an explosive. We said “Howdy!” and “Pert neer” and “Dang!” and we wrastled each other and lit bonfires for fun. Ever since I grew up and left home, I’ve tried to learn how to fit in with the city folk, the educated parts of society, the more genteel people with the power and money to make things happen in the world. My people back home would probably call me “high falutin'” now, but I can’t deny my redneck roots.

An example of one kind of perspective held by country folk. We are “Oregonians” so the sticker makes a play on words suggesting that people who live in Oregon use AR-15s? The other one suggests that if you are American, you do not support kneeling before the flag as a form of racial tolerance activism. I, for one, do not agree with either.

Richard is retired and has turned his great country property into a playground with a paved Go-kart track, a dirt race track, and a zip line. He and Tim spend the year acquiring cars that can race on his track, or hold together in the derby, and on race day they get a spray-painted number on the side and they’re up for grabs. Anyone who shows up can drive a car. Richard begs me to try it every year, but I have no interest in racing cars. I’m content to watch others goof around. The go-karts are a hit with the kids, but adults love them too.

I parked and headed up the hill to the party. Richard’s place is big enough that people just park on the grass.

I passed my other neighbors helping their kids gear up to drive go-karts.

Past the parked vehicles and through the trees, I could see a bunch of people gathered around the dirt track that Richard built in the forest.

As I get closer to the track, I see people waiting for their turn and watching the racing cars.

Kids have almost as much fun as the grown ups.

This is the car I helped paint for Richard when he participated in a derby in a nearby town. It didn’t win, but did well, despite the appearance here.

As I approached the dirt track, I could see where I wanted to go. Those bleachers are the best place from which to see all the action.

A couple of cars race around the corner.

Tim is on top of the safety measures, and guides this car off the track.

Another example of a redneck property: you can find a handy deer stand if you need a good vantage point for the race track.

Richard loves to make his friends happy. The more people that show up and have a good time, the more fun Richard has. I often tease him that he’s a 13-year-old boy in a man’s body, and he agrees. Below, Richard in the blue shirt with sleeves cut off is driving a giant green beast that has no purpose other than to drive over things for fun. The crowd loves it and gives a big cheer!

Richard delights the crowd by driving the big green machine over some parked cars.

Everyone brings food, so there is feasting all day long. Then people take turns racing the go-karts and junk cars and riding the zip line. Then at the end of the day, all activity ceases and people put their name into the bucket for the lottery to win a seat in a car in the crash car derby. This year there was also some raffling of gifts.

People with names in the bucket hold their helmets and wait to see if they win the lottery for a chance to be in the derby.

Tim in the yellow reflector vest and his girlfriend manage the raffle and lottery.

While Tim gathers all the drivers and officials together to go over safety rules….

…Richard has a chat with all the people who have filled the bleachers and stand on the sideline ready for the show.

And if you’re really into all this and want to see the MAIN EVENT, watch the 12 minute video below. The crash car derby is loads of fun and what everyone sticks around all day to see, even if they don’t get a chance to participate.

 

Tacoma Narrows Bridge gets us across a bit of Puget Sound on our way to Gig Harbor.

I don’t believe any musical ability came to me when I was formed. My vocal pitch is flat, I only mastered Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the French Horn in the 5th grade, I played guitar for years and years, but barely advanced beyond what I was taught as a child. I finally traded my guitar – a beautiful instrument, lovingly made in Canada – to a collector friend. The one musical thing I *am* good at, is listening to music!

The way to get more music into my life is to make friends with musicians. Luckily for me there is a lot of overlap.

In August I was excited to make the trip up north once again to gather with other expert listeners at Roy and Lucy’s house in Gig Harbor. I left later in the day because I was waiting for Tara to arrive from Corvallis. Tara had to work that morning, then make the 2 1/2 hour drive to my house. Then I drove us the 2 1/2 remaining hours. While I waited, I made my jalapeno poppers. For the first time, I remembered to wear gloves!! You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Now my skin wouldn’t burn for the next three days.

To make poppers, carefully clean all the seeds and pulp from inside the jalapeno before stuffing it with creamed cheese and baking it.

To keep the poppers warm, I plugged the crock pot in and heated it up. When Tara arrived, I pulled the poppers out of the oven and packed them into the ceramic pot, and brought the whole pot with us. This worked great!

People relax in the yard while the stage is prepared for the next performance.

A view through the trees to protect the identities of the innocent! 😉

Walking into the house I saw Lucy right away, and she greeted me with a generous smile and hug and convinced me that she really was as happy to see us both as she said she was. Roy came in from outside right at that moment and did the same thing. “You’ve come to the party so often that now you’re a regular!” he said to me, and I beamed with pleasure. I am so honored to be invited, but even more honored when they show me that the invite is not merely out of politeness, but because they want me to come. Roy even included a link to my blog review of last year’s party in his Facebook event invite this year.

Lucy and Roy McAlister call the gathering McAlapalooza! It’s an annual music party and barbecue. Roy McAlister is a luthier, and through this work and also by teaching and mentoring, Roy knows many musicians. He has invited them to his annual gatherings. The couple also invites their neighbors and friends – and if you are a neighbor or friend and want to take the stage, you’ll find total support. Roy has in mind the bigger names he wants to highlight at the end of the evening, but prior to that we in the audience are treated with an honest-to-goodness music festival, all in the McAlister back yard.

I found this short video by Joseph McAlister that highlights his shop that I always want to show in my blog posts, but can never capture it just right. Turn up your volume and listen to how Roy talks about his art. He explains that each guitar is crafted with the musician and their purpose in mind. Meaning, he creates a guitar specifically for what the musician wants to do with it. I’ve actually witnessed musician reactions to handling a McAlister guitar for the first time, and can tell you that in this video, Roy is not exaggerating about the response he gets.

Roy also finds joy in using gorgeous materials, like you see here.

My friends Andre and Diana were there again. Andre and I have known each other for years. He had just sprung a surprise on me the day before: our mutual friend, Marcus Eaton, would be there too! That is why Tara made such an effort to come. I haven’t seen Andre for a long time, not since he invited me to see the Milk Carton Kids and The Barr Brothers in November. Tara and I haven’t seen Marcus since December. It’s hard to pin those boys down when they both live so far away and lead full lives. We did some catching up and it felt good.

We arrived the same time as Jerry and Terry Holder, a duo and couple with great music but even greater personalities. These two are funny and fun, and always reach out to Tara and me when we show up, asking for the latest news and offering to let us crash at their house if we don’t want to make the long drive home.

Annual favourite Rick Ruskin, who has been playing for audiences since the 1960s and the talent to prove it. Look him up on YouTube.

Tara and I arrived late and missed the earliest performers, but got there in time for Rick Ruskin, a crowd-pleaser. We were then treated to artists we did not know: Butch Boles followed by Steve Hurley and Mary Kay Henley.

Butch Boles talks with us before a song.

Roy McAlister helps Butch set up.

Steve Hurley croons.

Jerry Holder and Terry Holder are more annual favourites that win me over every time.

Terry plays her new McAlister ukulele.

Behind the audience, a bunch of guitars rest together and swap stories about what they’re good at and where their owner took them last.

Andre was brave enough to leave his own McAlister guitar with me for a few minutes. It’ll probably be the only time in my life I touch one of those.

Then Andre needed his guitar back so that he could play for us.

Andre’s lead guitar backs up Diana’s great voice.

Tara and I were thrilled to get a chance to catch up with our favourite musician, Marcus Eaton. Apparently there was a memo about wearing black.

Marcus finally took the stage after dark.

Eaton is so good that the members of the Alec Shaw Band, warming up in the shop in the back, actually poked their heads out to listen.

Marcus Eaton played stuff we know and love, and was kind enough to drop some new songs on us (Mark I’m so sorry I didn’t get a playlist for you!!). The ones we’ve heard, we sang along with. The ones we hadn’t heard froze us in place, like usual. Marcus is my favourite musician for a reason. I know of no one who plays with such innovation and precision while seeming not to put any effort at all into it. If you are one of the few people who has not heard me rave about this guy, please please please hit that link or YouTube, and listen to a couple of songs so you know what I’m talking about. (and check out those photos – yes, that’s him on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon & Crosby, and that’s him playing beside Tim Reynolds) His guitar playing is beyond brilliant and his lyrics are connected and genuine. I can’t wait to the hear the new album when it’s ready. Marcus has been playing a lot in Italy, and the influences keep showing up in his music. It’s been a good year for Marcus, and also for his brother, A.J. Eaton. The documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name (2019) is produced by Cameron Crowe, directed by A.J. Eaton, and scored by Marcus Eaton and Bill Laurance. It did very well at Sundance and has done well since it’s release.

Typically at McAlapalooza we see individual artists or duos, singer-songwriter folks. Roy invited an actual band this year! The Alec Shaw Band with Zan Fiskum. Good call. They were GREAT!  Alex Shaw has a great voice and together the band has a polished, confident sound that matched the mood of the night and all the music we had previously heard. I got a kick out of seeing a trombone on stage – there’s a new one for the McAlister back yard.

Zan Fiskum on the left, with the Alec Shaw Band. Sorry for the blurry photos. I didn’t have a tripod and neither my camera nor my iPhone could really deal with the dark.

More Zan Fiskum and Alec Shaw Band. Love that trombone!

Tara and I went all the way back to Rainier that night. T had work the next day and wanted a head start and a good night’s sleep before heading back to Corvallis.

If you watch the video, at first it seems like it’s a shot of a peaceful and beautiful tidepool. But as you watch, a variety of different life forms become evident. Two crabs, urchins, anemones, a fish. Can you spot more? You can also hear us talking. I’m the one who can’t pronounce anemone, ha ha. This is some of what Jim and I did at the beach at Yaquina Head: we would find an interesting pool, and then hold still and quiet and watch. It is better than TV!

Parking is at the top of the bluff holding the Yaquina Head Lighthouse that I talked about in my last post, and we followed those stairs down to the beach.

Jim stands at the top of the stairs surveying the tide pool scene below.

From the stairs we could see how the shape of the rocks in the water created tide pools. We also saw that lots of other people thought it was a good day to be at the beach.

LOTS of other people.

When Jim came out to the coast to visit from his home in Minnesota (halfway between the two US coasts), he had his hopes pinned on tide pooling. For those who haven’t done it, tide pooling means finding a beach that has pools left on shore when the tide drops. After the tide is out, you can explore the pools and see ocean wildlife up close and personal. I told Tara our plans, and Tara enthusiastically suggested Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. The U.S. Burea of Land Management oversees this natural area, and interpretive guides were on site to keep people out of restricted areas, but also to answer questions and help us get the most awe and wonder out of our day.

On our way down the steps we could hear a raucous cacophony of bird colonies. Then we spotted them atop the rocks.

A gulp of cormorants clustered atop a rock. Can you even guess how fun it was for me today when I researched what to call a group of cormorants and learned that the proper term is “gulp?”

The beach had no sand but instead these small round rocks that were hard to walk in, but beautiful.

We hit the beach at about 20 minutes before lowest tide, which is perfect. The weather had improved all day and became warm down on the rocks where we were protected from wind. The bright sky did provide a serious photography challenge. I was pleased when I could find rock shadows to counteract the shine on the surface of the water.

This anemone is exposed to the air, now that the tide is out.

The two anemones on the left have closed up to wait for incoming tide. I’m guessing this must be for protection.

Ocean grass beneath bubbles on the surface.

A brave girl showed me how to touch them.

Jim at the beach.

It was hard to find good shots that weren’t washed out due to glare on the water. But look through the glare to see the pink and peach colours of some beautiful coraline algae.

Fascinating sea communities were dulled in the brightly reflected sky.

I know I already showed you the Giant Green Anemone, but they are SO COOL!!

We had a blast and played with little sea critters for a long time. We had a hard time finding starfish, but finally Jim found one and then climbed precariously to a spot to get a photo. When he was done I made the same poor choice, because climbing around sketchy rocks to get a photo is pretty much my MO.

Jim catches a photo of a starfish while trying not to fall into the sea.

This is the sad result of when I climbed out there and did the same thing. At least the starfish is visible, its legs all curled up.

One of the larger pools filled with entertainment.

“Dragon Claws!” I exclaimed when I saw these. But upon investigation, found that they are called Gooseneck, or Leaf Barnacle. I like my idea better.

A gumboot chiton. Yes, that’s an animal.

A relative chiton. Sadly, we were told by an interpretive guide that this one is dying, or dead, and that’s why it’s riblike structure is exposed.

The mood on the beach was effervescent. I think that was because so many kids were there, genuinely enjoying the outing, and so many adults were allowing themselves to get into the spirit of discovery and delight. Even teenagers in packs were climbing around the rocks, discovering things and calling their friends over to see. It made people talkative with each other, while we shared the common experience. I asked a mom if I could photograph her daughter’s little hand with white fingernail polish while she showed me how to touch an anemone. The mom gave permission, and then remarked at how it had not even occurred to her to be protective of her child in that environment. “I think people are safe here,” she decided. I agreed.

A family looks out across the water.

The ocean swells eventually began carrying the tide back to us.

I finally found a section of the beach where there were copious shadows and I could finally take clear photos of the tide pools.

I don’t think I know of a more gorgeous shade of purple than the colours the Purple Sea Urchin wears.

It looks like a mermaid’s toybox.

Here’s a close up.

We sated our bouldering and sea creature desires after a few hours, and headed back up the stairs. The lowering angle of the sun gilded the hillside.

Goodbye cormorant gulps.

Goodbye sea stacks.

Goodbye glowing hillside of purple fireweed.

Chinese lions glare at each other.

I neglected my doors post! As if fourteen billion posts from my New England trip wasn’t enough, I also took photos of doors, which I obviously can’t resist, and they have been patiently waiting in a “Doors” folder on my desktop. Finally, the time is upon us!

Please take a look at the collection of doors I liked from my trip this spring. I have forgotten where most of them came from, which is a loss. But I think they are a lot of fun even without some of the context.

My friend, Will, and I traveled from Maine, to New Hampshire, to Massachusetts, to Rhode Island. These were scattered along the way.

I do like columns at the entryway.

Columns with a pretty curved roof.

Columns are even better when surrounding a detailed metal door like this.

These columns are not as impressive, but I appreciate the sign at the gate: “Home for Aged Women.” It was built for Benjamin Crowninshield, a member of Congress and Secretary of the Navy before he died in 1851. His son, William Crowninshield, was born in this home, and grew up to be a Supreme Court Justice and the Secretary of War, who died in 1900.

The simplicity drew me to this one. I wonder if the dog sticker is to help people identify the right address?

The aging actually makes it more attractive.

Bricks are often gorgeous.

Don’t miss the bull’s head above the awning.

Churches have the most beautiful doors.

Not a “door” but a doorway.

A typical door in Boston’s financial district. But the sign over the door says, “Site of the first meeting house in Boston, built 1632.”

A residence door painstakingly aged.

And last but not least: the door of a liquor store that made me bust up laughing. The T-shirt in the window says “I got it in the Bunghole”

I have learned to time my collections of doors, when I have them, to be able to participate in Norm’s Thursday Doors community. His idea is a great one, and by the number of responses, clearly an idea that resonates with bloggers.

It was a beautiful day as I waited for Jim at the Portland International Airport. So beautiful that I waited outside under the covered approach lanes, instead of inside PDX.

In July I got to meet a friend in person that I have known for years online. Just over two years ago, I spotted a profile photo that I loved, on a dating website. It was of a man with red hair and beard, holding the outstretched paw of a statue of a red dancing bear. The man appeared to be dancing with the bear. Jim, who lives in Minnesota, agreed that we are not a good match for dating, but I couldn’t resist writing to him to tell him how much I loved that photo.

We’ve been writing to each other ever since. We’ve shared our dating woes and successes, our complaints about work, photos from our travels, stupid jokes we found online. We do not see eye to eye on everything, but we do recognize in each other that there is a person somewhere in the world with the same drive to be good to others, to have adventures, to poke irreverent fun at sacred things, and challenge the status quo.

Jim was about to take an Alaskan cruise with his family and they would be leaving from Seattle, two hours north of me. So he flew in to Portland early, and I hosted him until it was time to drive him to Seattle. On one day we explored Portland and on the other we went on a road trip.

One of the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 101.

We stopped at Tillamook Country Smoker to buy jerky snacks and pepperoni sticks. Then we stopped at the Tillamook Creamery for ice cream.

For the road trip we went directly to the coast, because – duh, he’s from Minnesota. We left my house for Astoria, then turned south along the coast highway. We stopped for overlooks and we stopped for a train! An honest to goodness steam train parked in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. We snapped photos and asked questions and found out it’s the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, a tourist train that runs a 5-mile route between there and Garibaldi, the next town south.

A restored steam train in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

The conductor takes a break.

The grate is real wood.

The other side. (You know you wanted to see the other side.)

Our goal that day was tidepooling, and I got so many photos that I’ll include them in a separate post, but at at the tidepooling location was the eye-catching Yaquina Head lighthouse that we explored when we were done pestering sea creatures in the tide pools. The lighthouse has a white 1000 watt bulb in its first order Fresnel lens, and the light pattern is 2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, 14 seconds off.

I thought I was being very clever: catching the sunlight through the Fresnel lens.

The evening weather was clearly more lovely than it was in the morning, making the tower glow.

View of Yaquina Head Lighthouse as we walked from the parking lot.

Look how happy I get when I see a lighthouse!

Upon leaving Yaquina Head we drove due East, inland, until we reached Interstate 5 and turned north, which took us home for the night.

Our day in Portland was mostly occupied with a tour of the Pittock Mansion. I’ve talked about it before. This is a beautiful old mansion on a hill overlooking the city of Portland that has been turned into a museum. I love this place so much that I go there about once a year.

The outside of the Pittock Mansion.

View from the second floor balcony.

Furnishings in the curved hallway.

Henry Pittock was born in 1834 in England but raised in the United States. He and his wife Georgiana came to Portland at a time when many news publications had been started and it was a competitive business. He worked as a typesetter for The Oregonian but the business was not thriving, and he eventually was offered ownership of the paper in lieu of back pay. Pittock kept the paper alive, and then some. Today, The Oregonian is the largest newspaper in Oregon and the oldest newspaper on the West Coast.

The success of the paper allowed Henry and Georgiana to build a remarkable home when they had reached their later years. The couple was able to occupy the residence in 1914, and sadly died four years later. Family lived there until 1958, when it was put up for sale. It sat empty, got damaged in a storm, and then slowly fell into disrepair until the community rallied and brought it back to life in 1965 as part of the Portland Parks and Recreation system.

Great efforts have been made to fill the house with original furnishings when possible, such as this photo of a Mansion party.

When people in the community discover they are in possession of a piece of Pittock furniture, they will sometimes donate it to the museum.

I really love this kitchen made to look as though it’s in use. I would recommend a remodel to open it up though. Talk about a galley kitchen.

I get a kick out of the bathrooms here. They are truly wonderful.

What the heck do you suppose this was for? Sitting in, I guess. My feet would get cold. I think in this curved tower room I would prefer a tub.

The medicine cabinet is stocked with period items.

Look at the crazy old pipes for this tub and shower.

Array of pipes in the shower.

A direct line to every room.

This is the dumbwaiter, and buttons for each of the four levels of the home.

After we were done wandering all over the house into every room we were allowed to enter, and that includes the basement, we then walked around the grounds. The old coach house is now the admission and gift shop, and the groundskeepers home has been restored and is open for touring as well. From this magnificent estate on a hill, we gazed out across the city of Portland at the peak of Mt. Hood rising as she does.

View of the valley from the Pittock Mansion.

I then turned the tables on Jim and enlisted his help with my own project. I needed to rent a car because my Jeep was scheduled for some repairs. I don’t often have a second driver in my home, but Jim’s visit was perfect timing. Before we went to the rental office, however, we had time for one more important stop: VooDoo Doughnuts.

The logo for VooDoo Doughnuts, a Portland original that has now spread across the country. A friend of mine posted this summer from VooDoo Doughnuts at Disneyworld in Florida!

The inside of the shop is so wild that you can stay entertained while you wait in line. There is always a line.

We then picked up a rental car, and each drove one of the vehicles to the repair shop. I dropped off the Jeep and Jim drove us both up to Seattle as it got dark. We found his hotel and said goodbye after two super fun days together.

Kids in the new kitchen. That’s Tara in the middle.

I did not expect that when I spent this summer jobless I would be busier than ever, but it’s true! I thought that those hours when I used to be glued to the computer I would now spend more time in the garden, or just relax on the deck with my kitty. What happened is that I just filled up all the rest of the spaces. Looking back, I realize my 10-hour work days might have been the closest thing to physical rest I got, other than when I was sleeping.

One of the most fun things I did this summer was to finally show off my new kitchen. You remember my whining about the remodel woes earlier this year. It took 10 months instead of the projected 2-4 months. The Project Manager TRIED to charge me double the estimated price, but he didn’t realize that the person he assumed was a dumb girl, that he had been ignoring and disrespecting the whole year is actually a wildcat. I got advice from a lawyer and submitted a letter to the PM with a corrected invoice, and a check for what – in my opinion – was the correct balance. …and then I sent a copy to his boss at the parent company. A month later I received a response accepting all my corrections except one. No apology. But whatever. It saved me over $10,000!! Gold star for Crystal.

Now it was time to have people over. First let me show you a before and after:

This photo is from last spring. I’m standing in the front room, facing a wall that holds a utility closet and a pantry. Behind all that (you can see the stove and microwave) is the tiny galley kitchen.

A photo of what it looks like now, while standing in the same place.

Tara wanted to have a big 22nd birthday party at my place in July, and said it was ok if I invited a bunch of my friends (since most of them know Tara anyway) and had a kitchen-warming party at the same time. Tara’s partner, Brynnen (orange hair), came over, and Tara’s best friend also came over the night before, and they insisted on making dinner. I unhesitatingly agreed.

We had the party on a Friday, and I told people it would go from 3pm to 8pm. That way, people could come and go all day long. A few of my friends stayed the night too, and so obviously the party really went till 1am or so. We had a fire in the fire pit and talked and laughed till we were finally spent.

While the photos of the perfectly clean kitchen are lovely, I like the following pictures better because this is the whole point of a kitchen: to gather and eat and drink and laugh.

The kids filling their plates after they finished making dinner.

Friends in the kitchen. My front room is still dark, but believe me it is so much lighter now after the remodel.

Three of my best friends and former co-workers.

Hosting parties is not typically my thing, and this part where people just break off and talk to each other without my help is magical to me.

Tara’s friends rigged up the TV to play video games and spent their time in that room.

Tara and a couple of my friends.

Here are the same two friends, who are also newly married, and took the opportunity to go for a long walk.

Speaking of friends… earlier in July I had the chance to spend a day with a blogger friend, Marlene, and help with her yard sale. I am fortunate to call several of you friends, and I lucked out when one of you bloggers turned out to be a neighbor (she’s an hour and a half away, but that’s pretty close). Anyway, I spent one of the best days of my whole summer with Marlene and a few of her beautiful family members. If any of you follow her at insearchofitall, please let me assure you that she is even more sincere, generous, and wise in person than she seems on her blog. Marlene wrote a great post about the yard sale. She also handed over some bowl cozies that she made specifically for Tara and Brynnen. These are bowl-shaped hot pads that you set your bowl into before you put it into the microwave. When your soup is hot, you can just wrap your hands around the cozy and pull it directly from the microwave without burning your hands. Brilliant! Tara and Brynnen are huge fans of soup, and use the cozies constantly.

Marlene wears a great apron that of course she made for herself.

Customers survey the treasures for sale when two homes get merged into one.

Blue and green leaf pattern chosen specifically for Tara’s cozies.

Another thing I did with Tara and Brynnen in honor of Tara’s birthday, is take them to see the Broadway show Wicked, a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. Tara is a huge fan of Broadway. They listen to the Broadway Pandora channel and know most of the songs for most Broadway shows by heart, despite only having seen a few of them. Tara has been dying to see Wicked for years, but it took a very (very) long time to come to Portland, then it sold out the first two years before I could get tickets, then we were busy, but finally it all came together. I read the original book by Gregory Maguire (based on the original original by L. Frank Baum) and couldn’t imagine a Broadway show of that book. However, the performance takes only some of the key ideas of the book, and to my delight, keeps a lot of the creepiness of the uncomfortably strange world, while also showing a way to connect with that world.

The Keller Auditorium in Portland, with crowds of people who want to see Wicked.

Merchandise for sale in the lobby. I’ve always liked the artwork and design for this show.

Though not allowed to photograph performances, I always try to get a shot of the stage before shows that I see. This one is one of my favourites ever because…. Yes! the DRAGON! (It’s eyes lit up and its head moved, too)

If you don’t know, Wicked is about the days when Glinda (The Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz) and Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) were college students together. How they started out as friends, but how politics and society told them that in order to pursue their dreams they had to present as enemies. In a way, one ended up on the right, and one on the left, and society didn’t allow them space to respect each other (sound familiar anyone?). Though they always cared about each other, publicly they were forced to denounce each other, and privately they didn’t really understand each other. There was also a very strong story line about discrimination of a group of citizens that the people of Oz felt were too different to be welcomed into society. And a third strong story line about how Elphaba didn’t fit stereotype of a pretty and desirable woman (her skin was green after all), and how handsome party boy Prince Fiyero not only falls in love with who she is, but is also motivated to become a better man after watching her example. The show makes us reconsider everything that the beloved television special The Wizard of Oz taught us, and makes us realize that the “truth” of history is a function of who gets to tell the story.

A whole string of good advice, wise warnings, biting criticism, intentful introspection, and positivity with tolerance. Great songs, great actors, and all of us went home very happy to have seen it.

We were, however, curious about the strange sights in the parking garage as we entered and left.

This sight on the wall near where we parked inside the parking garage. So creepy we actually laughed out loud!

On the way down the stairs to street level, we laughed again. It’s a play on a famous line from the 1977 film Star Wars.

One of my many guises

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