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While my kitchen, living room, and dining room are torn up for the remodel, I haven’t been able to enjoy Christmas in my own home. I mean…sort of. Tara came home from college and insisted we get a tree and decorate the TV room a little. It was good for my soul. I love Christmas and this remodel project has been underway since May and I am *so* frustrated that it’s still not done. Not even close to done. And my Christmas was all discombobulated because of it.

This is the TV room, crammed with furniture (and appliances – you can’t see the refrigerator, oven, and microwave to my left) from the kitchen and dining room. Note the desk to the right, that has become my new kitchen, with toaster, electric kettle, coffee and tea. And the bookcase piled with dishes.

It was a good time to go spend some Christmas holiday time with someone else. So Tara and I headed to Boise, Idaho, to visit my awesome brother Eli, his inspiring wife Addie, and their boys.

We set out early Friday morning. There were three mountain passes along the way, and the total trip would be 8 hours of driving. I wanted to have as much daylight as possible. We had coffee and granola bars and jumped into the Jeep. After two hours of driving, we were famished, and that was perfect because we had reached the town of The Dalles, Oregon. Home of our favourite breakfast stop in the region: Petite Provence.

Our favourite breakfast place is in a tiny town called The Dalles, along Interstate 84 in the Columbia River Gorge. Authentic, delicious, French fare at Petite Provence.

The weather Friday was promising. I checked the whole route and saw that no precipitation was expected that day. Still, I’m always nervous about micro-effects tucked away in the river gorge, or between mountain tops where the weather radar can’t see. We were lucky though, and the roads were in excellent shape all day. We arrived in Boise at dinner time, and met the family at a favourite restaurant close to their home. I think it has been four years since we saw them all. I could have sworn it’s been less time than that, but sadly, I think that’s how long it’s been.

We all went to my brother’s beautiful home and chatted while the very exciteable boys vied for our attention. I am touched that Eli & Addie have constantly talked to the boys about Aunt Sis (that’s me) and Cousin Tara so much, that the boys were genuinely excited to see us, even though they didn’t remember us at all.

Tara and me enjoying the hospitality in my brother’s home.

Addie is a genius at decorating, and making a home feel like Home. I can’t imagine the immense amount of work it must have taken to make their place so beautiful – like a magazine spread. There were tasteful, gorgeous Christmas touches in every single room: even the boys’ bathroom. The couch was heaped with fluffy soft Christmas blankets for curling up with – and we used them every chance we got! They doted on our every need, tried to anticipate needs we hadn’t thought of yet, and made us feel like showing up was the best thing that had happened to them in a month. I truly admire people who can do that. I am humbled by what beautiful people they are.

The next morning the boys were very eager to find what new thing had been done by their Elf on the Shelf, named Rocky. For those not familiar, many homes have an Elf on the Shelf ever since a book by that name was published in 2005. The story is that in order to help Santa know if children have been naughty or nice, the elf begins visiting their home every day, and flying back to the North Pole to report each night. The elf looks like a toy, but is alive, and holds very still during the daytime, when the children are around. Each morning, my brother’s boys get up and run around the house to find Rocky and discover what new thing has been left for them. Sometimes it’s mischief like moustaches drawn onto family photos in Mom’s lipstick. Sometimetimes it’s a treat or a project.

Eli watches as the boys mix the ingredients to grow candy canes. Forgive the grooming, we had all just climbed out of bed.

Saturday morning, Rocky left some materials and instructions for a project. There were two big bowls filled with sugar, and small bowls filled with gumdrops and M&Ms. There was an instruction card explaining that the recipe was to grow candy canes. The boys poured in the ingredients and mixed. Over the next couple of days, if they left the bowls alone, candy canes would grow in there.

Addie paints Tara’s toenails.

My fancy nails

We lounged for most of the day. The boys played a lot of video games and we grown ups drank mimosas and talked. Addie was excited to have an estrogen infusion into that bunch of testosterone, and brought out all her nail supplies and hair supplies. We did manicures and played with hair while Eli made holiday phone calls.

Tara and Addie

Nephew getting ready for Bingo night

Finally it was time for us to go to our evening events. My brother’s family has a Bingo night Christmas tradition that they were so excited to attend! The family got all dressed up in funny clothes. We were invited of course, but Tara and I had purchased tickets to see our friend Marcus Eaton perform. We had invited Eli & Addie, but they were going to have too much fun at Bingo night to give it up. So, we happily went our separate ways, all wishing the two events weren’t on exactly the same night.

Another fun thing for Tara and me was that our friend Andre had flown down to Boise from Seattle to see Marcus play as well. We managed to be seated at the same table. Tara hadn’t seen Andre or Marcus for years, so it was fun for them to all reconnect again. Because we are special friends of the artist, we were invited back stage to hang out in the green room with Marcus, Andre, and other friends before the show.

Marcus at the Sapphire Room, entertaining his hometown crowd.

Then we ate dinner in the lovely Sapphire Room of the Riverside Hotel in Boise, while we watched the show. Andre livestreamed the first hour and a half of the show for Marcus’ fans on facebook, but finally put his phone down when his arm got tired. Andre had brought his new guitar, a sister to Marcus’ guitar, to the show. The same luthier made the two guitars, using the same piece of wood. Andre loaned his guitar, tuned in a different key, and Marcus switched out during the show. Marcus also explained that Andre’s guitar is #1 in a series by the luthier, Roy McAlister, who has created the “Marcus Eaton edition.” So you too, can have one of these guitars.

Andre with his very special guitar.

Marcus sings a song from his upcoming album. You can see Andre’s guitar behind him.

Marcus has been writing songs long enough that he managed to fill the whole performance with exceptional ones – favourites for all of us. He also played a debut live version of one I’ve only seen in video (I’ll put the video at the bottom), and he played two brand new songs I had never heard. Some are so beloved that the audience was singing along. He dedicated one to Andre, and one to me. We all sang Happy Birthday to his mom, whose birthday is December 25th. Marcus brought his dad (another performer) up on stage and they did a song together.


  1. Shadow of a Bird
  2. Flying Through the Fire
  3. Step Aside (live debut)
  4. Black Pearl
  5. Better Way
  6. Barbie Song
  7. Handed Down
  8. Calm Beneath
  9. Drug
  10. Sunrise Lets You Down
  11. What’s the Difference
  12. Stir It Up (Bob Marley)
  13. Closer (live debut)
  14. Picture of Us
  15. Up and Over
  16. Lucky Me (featuring Steve Eaton)
  17. Fiona

After the show we went back to the green room with Marcus again. This time with his mom and sister too. They are a loving family and were so kind to us friends and fans.

On the way home we stopped to admire a house in my brother’s neighborhood. It’s astonishingly bright with Christmas lights. Tara noticed that the windows were covered in thick curtains, likely for both privacy and so the inhabitants can sleep at night.

Incredibly bedecked home near my brother’s house.


The house sits on a corner in an intersection, and every viewable angle is packed full of lights, including an arbor of lights over the sidewalk.

The next morning after coffee and cocoa, we left my brother’s house. The family had stayed the night at their friend’s house where they played Bingo, and told us they didn’t expect to get back home anytime soon. We were anxious to get started because of forecast snow. So we left a love note and off we went.

The snow didn’t begin till late morning, so I had Tara drive the first few hours. We stopped for gas and slid all over the road in the snow as we turned corners and slid to a stop at stop signs in the little town. After gassing up, I took over the driving.

A rest stop along the way.

A tiny snowman at the rest stop.

Closer to home it’s warmer, because of the marine influence along the Columbia River. So it was pouring rain for the latter part of the drive, making small lakes across the highway, and with high winds my Jeep was tossed about and spinning tires in the water. Yikes! But the rain had lightened up by the time we got home. Tara relaxed about an hour, got something to eat, filled their water bottle, and took off for another 2 1/2 hour drive home to Corvallis that night. Tara is house- and pet-sitting for friends and had to get back to check on all the critters. Long day, poor kid.

To my delight, the kid then turned around and drove all the way back home to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with me. My holiday turned out perfectly after all. ❤

My kitty Racecar stretches out on my legs, glad that I am home again.                       Me too, kitty, me too.


Me with Santa in front of the Mt. Angel Sausage Company

Marlene, who keeps a blog at insearchofitall, likes German things, and has a special affinity for German Christmassy things. It was a no-brainer that when I heard about the Mt. Angel-Silverton Hazelnut Festival with a German Holiday Market, the person I wanted to share the day with was Marlene.

The hazelnut (also called the filbert) is Oregon’s state nut. And here you were thinking that *I* was Oregon’s state nut. On the Oregon hazelnut website, it states that about 800 Oregon farmers grow hazelnuts on 70,000 acres. The total value growers received for hazelnut crops in Oregon averaged nearly $70 million in the last 5 years. The website does not herald the most important nut fact: Hazelnuts are delicious!

On the way to Mt. Angel we drove through the beauty of the Willamette River Valley. I stopped to take a photo of an eye-catching tree. I thought at first it was the most enormous juniper tree I have ever seen, but I am not sure what kind of tree it is. I am impressed with the massive size of its trunk.

Typical field in the Willamette Valley.

I was watching the tree, but the sheep were watching me.

We parked just before 11am in this lovely small town with a German & Swiss heritage. While we waited to walk into the Glockenspiel restaurant to ask for directions to the festival, their 49-foot clock tower came to life. Hand-carved, life-sized figures rotated to the center window, and each figure had a corresponding song. There was a Native-American-themed chant with drums for the Kalapuya Indian brave, a Pioneer-themed song for Robert and Katrina Zollner, Catholic church music for Father Adelhelm Odermatt and Sister Bernadine Wachte, and it ended with the song Edelweiss. Other tourists next to us began to laugh, commenting that Edelweiss is an American song. They are correct: the song was written for the 1959 Broadway show, The Sound of Music. I don’t see the sense in disparaging the song choice however. Mt. Angel isn’t claiming to be European, but American with early German-Swiss settlers, and the song is lovely.

This building holds the Glockenspiel restaurant & tower, and senior housing in the upper levels.

Kalapuya Indian represents the first occupants of this area.

Abbot Odermatt represents the small group of Benedictine monks that founded an abbey here in 1882 after leaving Switzerland.

Marlene and I walked a few blocks to the big festival hall that was packed full of vendors of handmade wares and many local products. It is the Christmas season and my thoughts should be on gifts for others, but we immediately began spotting things we wanted for ourselves!

The outside of the festival building.

The inside

Marlene said that if there is music, she will dance. I was a witness when she danced with the accordion player.

Marlene stocked up on handcrafted artisan pasta from Esotico, and then raved about the nut butters from Bliss. Keeping with the theme of the day, I purchased hazelnut pasta and hazelnut butter with cranberries. Of course I picked up stocking-stuffer-sized packages of flavoured hazelnuts snacks for Tara and their partner Brynnen, from King Fresh. I bought a pound of wild rice from Arrowhead Wild Rice Co. I found some locally made candies, ornaments, and window sparklies for more stocking stuffers.

We also happily tasted wines and spirits from the region. I was swept away by the flavours of Townshend’s tea liquor- spirits made from tea. I had never heard of such a thing. I also picked up a bottle of Crater Lake vodka from Bendistillery infused with hatch green chili and peppers. I’ve been craving peppers and hot stuff lately – must be because it’s 26 degrees outside. Just a dash into a glass of fruit juice and then you have a drink that warms you from the inside. Next I want to try it in hot chocolate.

By this time we had worked up an appetite and were thinking about the Glockenspiel again, but on our way back to the Jeep we passed the Mt. Angel Sausage Company. Santa was out front, waving to people on the street. It was a sign, and I told Marlene that’s where I wanted to eat lunch. She was on board. I had a bratwurst with onions and sauerkraut, and marlene had sausage in a sandwich with a pretzel bun. Yum! I chose a beer to go with lunch and it came in a pint bottle so I couldn’t finish it – so sad to leave beer on the table.

Me looking at the menu and trying to choose a sausage.

Frosty beer, ready to be tasted

We then prowled the shop counters on the other side of the restaurant, and found a thousand more tempting treats in the form of German chocolates and cookies. Neither one of us could resist them and more purchases were made.

We continued our chatting on the drive back home through the picture-perfect Willamette Valley, and I dropped Marlene safely at her house, then texted her when I arrived at my own home an hour and 15 minutes later. I’ve been having so much fun with friends lately and it was good to catch up on Marlene’s news and to get into the Christmas spirit!

Santa and Marlene. Her hat says: How’s My Attitude? Call 1-800-eat-dirt (How can I resist her?)




Rainier City Hall with a diminutive & dark Christmas tree at its side, awaiting official tree-lighting time.

A couple weeks ago I attended the Rainier tree-lighting ceremony. It was a small affair. My new community of Rainier is pretty tiny. Its heyday was when the Trojan Nuclear Facility  was running, which lasted until the plant was closed in 1993. Rumor has it that the TV show The Simpsons modeled their nuclear plant after this one, which makes sense, since so many Simpsons characters are named after streets in Portland. When the nuclear plant shut down, the town of Rainier slowly began to disintegrate. It still exists because of the logging industry, with multiple mills on the Longview, Washington side of the Columbia River (two largest employers there are Weyerhaeuser and Kapstone, timber/paper companies). But it’s not enough to keep a town thriving, so my home of Rainier is understated and I can almost see it shrinking.

The indefatigable citizens organized a caroling event and tree-lighting on the steps of the impressive City Hall building. It’s the only impressive building in town. The tree appears newly planted, and is about 8 feet high and not quite grown into its oversized decorations. About 30 of us stood on the sidewalk along Highway 30 in the rain, and listened to Christmas carols.


Carolers were energized when Chief Elf showed up.


Tree is now lit

Soon the city fire engine pulled up next to us, and Santa himself climbed out. The kids all broke into a rousing version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, and Santa helped sing. When the song was over, Santa led us in a countdown, and the lights of the tree came on at our command.

Then everyone hurried inside and out of the rain. Kids got in line to talk to Santa, grownups grabbed hot cocoa and cookies to wait for the kids. There was a long table piled with donated goods from local businesses. Each person who walked through the door got a raffle ticket and so everyone stayed to see if they won anything good.


Soon the little tree will be a big tree, and these ornaments will look just right.


Tree comes to life with lights.

This waiting around took a long time, and I entertained myself by wandering the main hall of the City Hall. There are historic photos on the walls and I was delighted to discover that one of the largest original industries in the town was the Rainier Soap Factory, providing critical employment for women as well as men.

Finally, Santa was done talking to the kids and assisted with the raffle. I won a little basket with a stuffed animal and some Christmas dishes, but traded it with the next door neighbor girl for a squirrel magnet. Squirrels are my favourite.


Homemade antiquey looking clocks were the only thing I wanted, but no such luck.


Photos of the Rainier Mineral Soap Factory and its employees (mostly women) are along the walls of City Hall.

Rainier soap

Rainier Mineral Soap – keeps out blood poisoning, cleans ink spots, polishes metals, and protects from pestilence. This natural antiseptic contains no dirty fats. It’s a miracle product! This great little advertisement for the Preston Manufacturing Company tells a story and lauds the many benefits of Rainier Mineral Soap.

I also found an old photo of the City Hall (not very good, so I didn’t include it here) with interesting bits from the back of the photo posted beside it on the wall. “The new City Hall. The American Legion post here was given the privilege of obtaining two cannons, which in a moment of enthusiasm they decided would be fine placed at either side of the entrance to City Hall. It didn’t seem like such a good idea after they were installed, so they were moved to the grounds of the new High School on Nob Hill (1926).

“In the building, provisions were made for a hall above for the American Legion. Also for the library on the east side.

“Bord Kegh, carpenter, built the fire bell tower to the south east side of the building (1922). On Sunday morning, young Robert McKinley (1925) begged the janitor of the Methodist Church across the street for special permission to ring the church bell for Sunday School. In his youthful enthusiasm, he rang it with such vim and vigour that he called out the fire department – the bell tones were similar.”

My first question about those notes from the back of the photo is “Why was it a bad idea to have cannons at City Hall, but a better idea to have the cannons at the High School?” I’m also curious about the timeline, since it appears that the fire bell tower was built in 1922, but the cannons weren’t removed till 1926. Apparently it took years for the bad idea to be discovered. And finally, look at that vigour: Americans in the 1920s also used the British spellings, just like me. Maybe I’m channeling my inner frontierswoman.

It wasn’t the flashiest Christmas party I’ve ever been to, but it was a good night because I visited my City Hall and learned some great little tidbits about the building and my town’s history. These are the kinds of things to make a person feel more connected to her home.

A photojournal of the final days of one tree’s life:

My phone captured Mt. Hood peeking above the tree farm trees.

My phone captured Mt. Hood peeking above the tree farm trees.


Tara is testing the tree height to see if it will be right for our living room.

Stringing lights and scattering needles everywhere. (I'm still finding them!)

Getting ready to string lights and scatter needles everywhere. (I’m still finding them!)

Glass ball received as a gift from Mom years ago.

Glass ball received as a gift from Mom years ago.

Cloth origami crane from my trip to Japan.

Cloth origami crane from my trip to Japan.

Gift time! Tara's holding a T-shirt with the pattern of the Portland International Airport carpet.

Gift time! Tara’s holding a T-shirt with the pattern of the Portland International Airport carpet.

Gifts gone, and it looks a little empty beneath that tree. I love how the lights reflect off the floor.

Gifts gone, and it looks a little empty beneath that tree. I love how the lights reflect off the floor. (Yes, yes, it’s a ginormous TV. I didn’t buy it, it’s actually a hand-me-down.)

Goodbye tree. You are still beautiful. Thank you for being in our home.

Goodbye tree. You are still beautiful. Thank you for being in our home.

My neighbor across the street has a friend with goats, and the goats just love to eat Christmas trees. So… that’s where the tree will go next.

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

{Our trip begins with Day one.}

I had told Arno the night before that I wanted to be on the beach Christmas morning for sunrise photos. It helps to tell someone else when there’s a good chance I’ll blow off my own plans.

“Sunrise is at 7:52,” he announced as soon as I started moving. “We’ve got about 40 minutes. But first, I want you to open this.”

Arno handed me a Christmas gift and I sat perched on the high bed feeling excited about the gift and disappointed in myself. I had searched all over and found him just exactly what he wanted, wrapped it a week before, and left it at home. Darn it! (He has it now though: a GPS for his many many hikes into the mountains.) I opened a new lens! It takes my two old lenses (18-55mm and 70-300mm) and makes them one, 18-270mm. So convenient.

His organization was the opposite of mine: he brought multiple gifts, stocking stuffers (I forgot my stocking, too), and even a little decorated tree, which you saw in the previous post. I opened all my gifts and felt very spoiled. Glancing over the top of my pile of booty through the window, I could see the grey sky growing lighter over the ocean.

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

I couldn’t wait to try out my lens! We jumped out of bed and made coffee, washed our faces, pulled on coats and gloves and I added my new alpaca Christmas scarf.

The temperature was above freezing, but it was cold out there at the beach. Seagulls were in a group, standing in the mouth of Tenmile Creek as it spread out at the beach and then emptied into the ocean. We joked that it was probably warmer in the freshwater stream than in the salty ocean.

Our bellies reminded us that it was time to eat something amazing. We headed back up the hill to see what Sherwood and Stephanie had cooked up for us at the B&B.

After breakfast, our big plan for the day was to Take It Easy. I had checked the tide table and knew that low tide would be around noon, so after we stuffed ourselves on baked grapefruit and cheese croissants, we headed back to the beach to check out the tide pools. We played out there for a couple of hours. The sun prevailed, there was no wind, and for a little while I felt warm. Other people came out too. It felt silly and fun to call “Merry Christmas!” to folks on the beach in the sunshine.

Sea-green anemones

Sea-green anemones

After the beach, we wandered south again on Highway 101. The first thing that caught our attention was the Heceta Head Lighthouse run by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. We left the highway and drove out to it, to see if it was any prettier than the Umpqua Lighthouse from the day before. Oh my, yes it is.

Haceta Head lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse

There is a half-mile trail from the parking lot out to the lighthouse, but first we went out onto the beach to get photos of it from a distance.

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper's House to the right. The weather was perfect!

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper’s House to the right. The weather was perfect!

We were both grateful for the long trail to the light house. We needed the exercise to burn off some of the holiday food. Above the lighthouse are more trails that head up and along the ridge, which we also walked, just to keep moving. It paid off with new views.

Looking out to sea

A view of the beautiful first-order Fresnel lens

Heceta Head lighthouse is all by itself at the head, and so picturesque.

The 56-foot tall picturesque Heceta Head lighthouse

inside the tower

inside the tower

base of the light

base of the light

inside the lens

inside the lens

Back down at the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, people were whale-watching. It’s a great spot for awesome views of the ocean. Nearby, we admired the Queen Anne style assistant light keeper’s house (the light keeper’s house was torn down for the lumber) is now used as a Bed & Breakfast.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

At first we assumed the place would be closed because of the holiday, but it soon became apparent that the OPRD volunteer there was taking people on tours. It was my very first time inside a lighthouse. This one is newly restored and having a tour is a good way to have things explained that I wouldn’t have known to ask. For example, I learned that all the lighthouses along the coast have a signature, so mariners can identify them. Heceta head flashes every 10 seconds, the one at Yaquina every 20 seconds, and the Umpqua lighthouse has a red glass pane, so every third flash is red.

Next we continued south to Sea Lion Caves, and that was closed, as expected. However, we peered over the edge of the cliff and spotted the main attraction anyway. Sea Lions were lounging all over the rocks below us.

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

After that it was time to dress in Christmas clothes and head to our dinner in Yachats. (We had to ask our hosts how to pronounce it. We never would have guessed it’s Ya-Hots, emphasis on the second syllable.) Our holiday dinner was lovely. I even found a little phone reception and called my 93-year-old Grandma to wish her a Merry Christmas before I went to the table.

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

A view of the B&B from the beach on a glorious Christmas morning.

A view of the B&B from the beach on a glorious Christmas morning. {Click any of these photos for a larger view in better resolution}

I’d like to take the time to talk about our Christmas lodging before I continue on the journey. If you are interested, click here for Day one and here for Day two.

Arno found the SeaQuest Inn Bed & Breakfast online for us, and reserved three nights. The closest town is Yachats, seven miles to the north. There are neighbors, but the location is rural and isolated, which is what we are often looking for in a vacation. It’s less than 3 1/2 hours from Portland whether you travel on I-5 or if you use Highway 18 and head out through McMinnville. Unless you’re like us, and stop at a bazillion neat sights along the way, and stretch it to two days.

Arno does a little whale-watching from the great room

Arno does a little whale-watching from the great room

Waves crash beyond the breakfast table

Waves crash beyond the breakfast table

This B&B is a large, comfortable home on the beach. Our room had a sliding glass door that opened onto a patio and the lawn you see in the photo above. We literally walked to the beach from our room. All rooms have a view of the ocean and the beds are positioned so that guests can watch the waves crash. During our stay I watched this amazing swell that made me think of surfing every single day I was there. Unfortunately, there are too many rocks to plan a future surf vacation.

Personalized door to our room

Personalized door to our room

Arno's little tree that he put up in our room.

Arno’s little tree that he put up in our room.

Hosts Stephanie and Sherwood make the place, however. Yes, it’s beautiful and yes it’s right on the beach and yes it’s a high quality place for a reasonable price. But we did that two years ago in Bend, OR at a different B&B, and it was not the same kind of vacation. This time, when Sherwood and Stephanie greeted us with a cheerful “Welcome Home!” it became obvious they meant for us to feel that way. Listen, I padded up the stairs to breakfast in my socks. That’s how comfortable I was.

Another example: We were too tired to drive into town for dinner our first night. Between our own cooler and suggestions from our hosts, we made a delicious little evening meal for ourselves. Even though we were too late for wine hour, they set out a bottle for us before they left for the evening. Arno and I had the entire great room to ourselves, with Christmas music playing and the lights from the tree. It was cozy and romantic and lovely.

One of the rooms. (not ours; it was too messy)

One of the rooms. (not ours; it was too messy)

The gourmet breakfasts are above and beyond. Often more than one course, and always plenty to eat. The presentations were so beautiful that one morning a fellow guest commented, “It looks so nice I don’t want to eat it.” But of course she did.

We ate our breakfasts in the huge and welcoming great room on the second floor, with stunning ocean views, a giant fireplace (with stockings hung!), couches and chairs and everything else someone could want in there, to include a piano and a Christmas tree. It’s beside an enormous kitchen that is open to the great room, so we could chat with Sherwood and Stephanie while they prepared food.

Cozy book room beside the guest kitchen.

Cozy book room beside the guest kitchen.

Even the guests were part of the appeal this year. I can’t help but compare it to other B&Bs I have visited, where the guests hesitate to open up, or even to show up. You may also know that my nature is to avoid social situations (I know I don’t show it, but I’m a good faker), and being around people is often very stressful for me. But there was something here that made me relax. I looked forward to gathering for breakfast or the evening wine hour. We met the most interesting people with great personal stories. The most exciting story of all was finding out that one of the guests knew about the products Arno’s company builds. It’s a small company, so most people, even local people, have never heard of it. The guest was prior Navy and had served aboard a ship that used the UAVs built in Hood River, Oregon. How cool is that?

Taken during our gorgeous Christmas morning on the beach. After breakfast we headed back out to play in the tidepools.

Taken during our gorgeous Christmas morning on the beach. After breakfast we headed back out to play in the tidepools.

Belgian waffle with walnuts and strawberries and cookie butter.

Belgian waffle with walnuts and strawberries and cookie butter.

Dinner reservations in town were a breeze because the hosts had thought of it ahead of time, suggested reservation times, and made the reservations for us. They graciously called and canceled for us one night too, when our sight-seeing kept us too far away to make it back on time.

We were a little more spoiled than the usual guests, I imagine, because it was the holidays. We were invited to a social gathering with their neighbors on Christmas

Baked egg croissant with fresh tomatoes and feta, salsa, and jams.

Baked egg croissant with fresh tomatoes and feta, salsa, and jams.

Eve evening. Stephanie was excited to have prepared all kinds of seafood hors d’oeuvres. The place was decked out to the max in holiday decorations that really added a feeling of festivity for me, particularly since I didn’t decorate at home this year.

You’ve seen me rave about things in the past, so I’ll try not to apologize for making this blog post more like an advertisement than a vacation story. It was a big part of our trip, so the special attention is warranted. 🙂

Sherwood, me, Arno, Stephanie. They are wearing their Christmas gift aprons. (I'm in my socks!)

Sherwood, me, Arno, Stephanie. They are wearing their Christmas gift aprons. (I’m in my socks!)

Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

This is day two of our coast vacation. Day one is here.

We are staying at SeaQuest Inn Bed & Breakfast, and it is a story in itself…so you’ll have to wait and I’ll talk about that wonderful place and its spectacular hosts in my next post. I will say that our Christmas Eve gourmet breakfast was worth raving about. Stephanie and Sherwood prepared a two-course breakfast that began with a fruit and nut granola, orange juice and coffee. The main course was egg and cheese baked onto an English muffin (I do not recall the proper names for the dishes – apologies to the chefs.), with a potato pancake and caramelized bacon. It was totally delicious and I ate every last bite.

Unfortunately, our first plan of action for the day was to meet for lunch, and I was stuffed! My Great Aunt and Uncle live in North Bend, Oregon which is south of the B&B. We had been hurrying up the highway the night before, and didn’t stop. Christmas Eve was a good time to head south again and see all the things we missed in the rain and in the dark.


entrance of Siuslaw River Draw Bridge, designed by Conde McCollough

Climbing. Again.

Climbing. Again.

The weather cleared up and warmed up. We stopped for photos of bridges. Arno climbed one. I can’t take that man anywhere…

It was a perfect day for visiting, too. The best part of the visit was hearing some old family stories that I didn’t know about, and seeing photos of my Great Grandfather William Wells Haley (and realizing that Great Uncle Dwight looks just like him) and photos of my Great Grandmother Mabel Redman looking very Indian. I trace my Cherokee heritage through William.

We were treated to lunch at a favourite place of Great Aunt & Uncle’s, and the staff all came out from the back and said hello. That was pretty special. We managed the meal as gracefully as possible, and turned around once more to head north while there was still daylight.

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Our first stop was the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which is a lovely old lighthouse but an active Coast Guard Station. So, as scenic as it is, it’s behind a chain-link fence and there are ugly military buildings packed right up next to it and that made it difficult to get a nice photo. A map of the coast showed how all the lighthouses are still in use and how their ranges overlap so that mariners can always have an eye on a lighthouse in the night. The Umpqua lighthouse is small, and not set very high compared to others, so its range is not as far as others.

An informational sign told us about whale-watching. Arno had his binoculars up and had already been gazing out to sea, when I began reading the instructions for spotting a whale. About the time I finished reading out loud, Arno said, “Oh, hey! I saw one!” He saw the puff of spray blown above the water as the whale came up for air, and he also saw the dark shadow of the whale’s body. It turns out that it is peak whale-watching time. I tried a few times to see something, but never did.

Memories were recounted along the highway. We were long overdue for a visit to this part of the country. Arno’s main memory was of a bicycle trip he made from Portland to Florence when he was 17 years old. Mine was dune-buggying with my dad when I was very young…perhaps 8 or 9. I remember reading the Wizard of Oz and Nancy Drew to my Pa and my brother around the campfire at night.

We continued along the road past the lighthouse, and came to a large parking area for a huge section of sand dunes. No one was there, which was nice. The sand dunes were remarkable, and beautiful. They rise as high as 500 feet above the sea and stretch for 40 miles along the Oregon coast. It’s a famous recreation area for off-highway vehicles (OHVs), and practically every square inch of dunes in front of us were beat down with vehicle tracks. But at least no one was there on Christmas Eve, so it was quiet. We hiked over a couple of sand peaks, wanting to know what was on the other side. The answer: more sand.

Unlike other images of dunes I’ve seen, this one is interspersed with clumps of pine and fir trees. The deep green oases of evergreens are an unexpected sight when everything else is suggesting Saudi Arabia.

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

A high dune beside the sea

A high dune beside the sea holds unexpected tree shadows

Sun sets behind a tree island

Sun sets behind a tree island

Too soon, the early winter sun dropped from the sky and things got chilly. We left the dunes and returned to the car and found our way back to Highway 101. It was nearly dark on the highway, which at this section is too far away from the beach to see the sea.

Arno wanted to find a beach from which to watch the sunset. I skimmed the map but didn’t see any obvious place to pull over. I told him there was nothing, and we should just head north. He began to get a little insistent. In my mind, I chalked it up to his sappy tendencies. Arno is such a romantic. I’m more practical: it’s late, it’s dark, let’s roll. He wouldn’t let up and I could tell it was important to him, so I took a good look at the map, and found a spot we could pull off. It was a small road from the highway that led out to Siltcoos Beach, which we had never heard of.

We parked behind a bluff, where the sky still looked dark. Arno hurried me up the sand dune so we could see the sea on the other side.

And I was astonished! “Oh! Oh! Oh my gosh look at the colours!” It was magical. It was a Christmas gift. I don’t know how close I came to not seeing this amazing sight out of pure unromantic stubbornness, but thank goodness it didn’t happen. I simply could not limit myself to one or two sunset photos, so you’ll have to endure a whole string of them.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

through the grass

through the grass

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat....

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat….

....and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

….and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

Looking west across the volcanic landscape topped with lenticular clouds.

This is a continuation of my Christmas vacation blog, begun in Part I.

Monday we went to Boyd Cave, a lava tube. We took highway 97 to China Hat Road and went out into the dry valley and had a stupendous view of altocumulus lenticularis over the string of dormant volcanoes along the horizon. We took the truck up the side of one of the tiny ash cones to get a better view. At the bottom side near the road, many locals were using the granular constitution of the cone to practice shooting their various weapons into. So, though Arno and I were at the top, and on the other side of the cone, while we took photos, our soundtrack was a cacophony of shotgun and rifle blasts. Hard to stay relaxed the whole time, ha ha. But we did get some neat photos of the clouds.

Arno looks into the maw of the Earth

Not an encouraging expression.

Prior to coming out to Boyd Cave, we had looked out across the valley at this vast landscape the day before, and saw the remnants of a lava flow. A deep river of lava poured through the valley following a volcanic eruption around 100,000 years ago. The flow lasted so long that as it flowed the outer edges and top of the river cooled and hardened. The outer crust kept the interior very hot so the remaining lava continued to flow, emptying the shell. The hot stuff inside the tube kind of oozed down the sides a little, and began to drip from the ceiling, but cooled quickly and remained in tube form till today. THAT is what we hiked inside.

It's simply a hole in the ground, with a fence around it. And a ladder.

You drive out into the desert, park on the side of a dirt road, and begin walking out through the sagebrush until you come to a fence with a little U.S. Forest Service sign tacked to the fence, next to a ladder that disappears into the earth. No staff, no buildings. Just you and a hole in the ground.

Moving through the inside was surprizingly easy.

A portion of the roof caved in, so we had to climb over.

solidified magma drips

In the intervening millennia, typical erosion and dust deposits have covered the land above the lava tube, so it is not detectable, but the hollow tube remains below ground. The floor of the tube is surprisingly flat and smooth, except for spots where the ceiling caved in and we had to crawl over boulders. We attempted to go the length of the cave, which the U.S. Forest Service estimates at 1,880 feet long. We got close enough to see the end, maybe 1,865 feet into the tube, but the last little bit was at the end of a small hole and we had already crawled through a couple of those.

Wriggling my way through one of the tight squeezes.

It was pitch black inside, so we wore headlamps and carried a flashlight too. It was cold, but quiet and still inside there. We think we saw a bat, but… you know, bats are dark and hard to spot inside of midnight. I only had one little bit of claustrophobia, crawling through the first tunnel. Two are so low I had to get on my belly and wiggle through like a sand worm. That means I belly-wiggled four times total before I got out. The first time I stopped inside while I let my heartbeat relax a little, and had the courage to go all the way through. After that, no problem at all.

We got back to Lara House just in time for wine and cheese, and that’s when I met Peter and Lynda’s granddaughter and showed her photos from inside the cave. She told us about hiking at Smith Rock, and we said we would be going there the next day. Still believing ourselves to be stuffed from Christmas dinner, the Monday wine & cheese was sufficient to take the edge off, and we went out for our walk in Drake Park and then turned in for the evening.

The stunning landforms in Smith Rock State Park. {click to see it larger}

White chalk tracks up the rock face like alien footprints.

Tuesday, after a final scrumptious breakfast from Peter and Lynda, and hearty goodbyes, we hit the road while it was still morning. We went north along 97 to Smith Rock State Park, a striking outcropping of rock that bursts above Crooked River, the same river we saw on Saturday at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint. Skies were cloudy, it was cold and windy, but there was no precipitation at all, so it was almost good weather, considering the date.

Me, rocks, Crooked River below

Arno in silhouette

Though Arno notes that Smith Rock is known as the birthplace of American sport climbing, I am not interested in rock climbing, only hiking. Luckily, there are lovely trails to hike. I did not muster the cojones to scramble over Asterisk Pass, and instead we walked along the river, around the peninsula of land. This gave us more time on the trail, and a chance for me to photograph Mallards. On the last leg of the hike, we spotted rock climbers, finally braving the air that had thawed enough to make a climb fun.

Mallard ducks and drakes

At long last we had used up our vacation time. We arrived in Hood River in the midst of a snowstorm in the dark. I transferred my gear to the Saturn Dragon Wagon and traveled the last hour home alone through the Gorge.

Stunning Mt. Hood - seriously lacking snow for the end of December

I’m late, but I still need to tell you about my awesome Christmas! When Mom died it just screwed up everything about the holidays. It doesn’t even feel like Christmas really happened, because it went all wrong without her being a part of it. However! I had a great vacation and it was packed full of stuff, so I’ll describe it in two parts. Part II will be available soon.

Tara spent the winter holidays in Cali with her dad, and Arno’s boys went to Wisconsin to see their mom, so we realized we were going to be granted the opportunity for a grown-up Christmas. We reserved three nights at the Lara House Lodge, in Bend, Oregon.

Passersby honked their horns while we were getting this shot!

Neither of us had been to Bend since we were kids, so it was an excellent place to get away from all the thoughts of my mom plaguing me. Didn’t have my home to remind me of her, and didn’t have any familiar sights reminding me of her.

We left from Hood River, south on highway 35, which eventually connected to highway 97, and we spent some time reminiscing about, and comparing, highway 97 memories. When you spend any time in central Oregon, you get familiar with 97, its long boring straight stretches through lodgepole pine, the caravans of RVs traveling at approximately 8 miles per hour below the speed limit, and inevitably the deliverance to one of your favourite childhood recreational sites.

We went through Madras, and I turned temporarily into a blathering idiot because I’m infatuated with Jacoby Ellsbury, who is from Madras. Ellsbury is a center fielder for the Boston Red Rox, of American Indian descent, and damn fine. Arno teased me by saying, “Maybe you’ll see him!”

Highway 97 bridge over Crooked River Gorge


After Madras we stopped at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint. I am always impressed with fabulous views, particularly those with intriguing geologic formations, so this captured my imagination. It was frightfully cold and windy out… but our entire trip was very cold and often windy. Just set that idea in the back of your mind and keep it handy for every single scene I describe. In fact, to assist you, I’ll suggest you simply add the words, “…and it was damn cold” to the end of each sentence from here on out.

Anyway, at the viewpoint we gawked and pointed, and I pursed my lips against the biting wind. Finally we returned to the truck and I spotted a sign warning people to keep their dogs in vehicles. Not just leash, but keep your dog in the car. Wow. I confess I thought dogs had more finely tuned senses than humans. I guess some dogs are smarter than others. Note to Bulldog owners and Ally at Hyperbole and a Half: don’t take your dogs to this viewpoint.

Anime Tshirts

We arrived at the Lara House Lodge with no difficulties at all. It is a brilliantly maintained home from 1910 and excellently hosted by Peter and Lynda who were gracious and genuine people. I even had the honor of meeting their granddaughter on one occasion, when she was helping in the kitchen. Had a lovely discussion with Peter, a retired minister who has a very interesting history of service, including years volunteering with Hospice (which is how we got on the topic of his work), and was able to wish Lynda a happy birthday on the 26th. They prepared us the most incredible gourmet breakfasts, and interviewed us each evening to ensure that any dislikes or allergies were taken care of.

living room

We arrived midday Christmas Eve and spent the remainder of the day walking the decorated streets of Bend. The Bed & Breakfast is smack in the center of town, and so convenient for vacationers. We were only a couple blocks from a lovely walking district. I found a shop entirely of Japanese gifts that I knew my daughter would have wanted to experience. More commonly, I spotted dozens of things I wanted to tell Mom about. I reached into my pocket for my phone a couple of times, with the intent of texting her… Eventually we met back at Lara House for wine and cheese, then wandered back into town for an elegant dinner.



Christmas Day we opened gifts in front of a darling little tree that Arno brought as a surprise, with a silver star on top that he had made as a kid. The little tree was sent to him in college by his parents. So sweet. After a scrumptious Lara House breakfast, we went up to Mt. Bachelor to cross-country ski. However, there wasn’t good snow, so we opted to snowshoe instead. Still, the mostly ice-encrusted snow did not lend itself to snowshoeing. After clack-clacking a short way on the ice, we pulled off the snow shoes and hiked in our boots. The trail wound a few lovely miles through the forest, and we were satisfied.

Deschutes River in slanting rays of sun

icicles hanging from ice

After that, we went to hike a trail along the Deschutes River to Benham Falls. I snapped dozens of photos of the ice in the river, as it formed irresistible bubbles and icicles around the edges of the tumbling water. On the way back from the trail, we stopped at a vista across a wide valley where the region’s volcanic history was starkly evident. We saw a long and wide lava flow area (still black and crumbly!) with mounds raised over long-absent hotspots. Signs advertised cave exploration and museums available in the summer months, so we agreed to come back again when it’s warmer.

Lara House is across the street from Drake Park, and we went there every day for a short walk (are you remembering to add “…and it was damn cold”?). We ate entirely too much at our Christmas feast (with roast beast), and walked for an hour at the park before bed. The Deschutes River is wide and slow there, and holiday lights from the houses across the water glittered across the surface, Mallards peacefully floated about, and the stars made the sky magical.

the tumbling beginnings of Benham Falls along the Deschutes River

Arno and me at Benham Falls


Benham Falls

Misty wet Northern California scene

Misty wet Northern California scene

Christmas tree, decked in all its finery

Christmas tree, decked in all its finery

Friday night: open presents

Saturday morning: open stockings

Saturday late morning: start driving to California

Saturday evening: drop my pretty girl off at her dad’s house to spend the holidays with him in Eureka.

I was exhausted by that time, but I still managed to find an adventure!

Christmas is a stressful time for me, because I do so much to get ready. This time we crammed our “Christmas” into a Friday night after work and a Saturday morning before an 8-hour drive. I was tired, cranky, and frazzled by the time my girlie was reunited with her other family, I wanted 1) quiet 2) dark 3) absolutely no people.

So rather than call up one of my girlfriends (sorry ladies!), I drove out to Clam Beach and found a spot for my tent. (On the way out of town I stopped and gazed in wonder at a favourite piece of Humboldt Architecture: the Carson Mansion. ) The first available parking spot at Clam Beach was also an official camping spot. It was full of cars and RVs with a couple of generators running and lots of street lamps lighting the place up, and fluorescent lights blaring from the windows of the whitewashed bathrooms in the center.

Eureka's Carson Mansion, magically alight

Eureka’s Carson Mansion, magically alight

Camping on the beach with generators and fluorescent lights? Uh, no, I don’t think so.

Instead I found a place to pull off the road where the sign said clearly “DAY USE ONLY” and I hauled my gear over a couple of sand dunes (the kind where the beach grasses and blackberries and cool beach plants have completely taken over), and hid my camp in a little gully. I was totally surrounded by dunes, buried about 4 feet deep in brush. It was soft and almost completely dark (except for the beam from the airport slowly slashing through the fog over McKinleyville). I could hear the ocean roaring and an occasional vehicle on Highway 101. I’m such a lawbreaker!

Part of HWY101 slid into the sea. Lights regulated the use of the remaining lane.

At exactly 5:50am, a few raindrops on the rain flap woke me up, so I started packing up. As I did so, I was startled by dazzling flashes of light…and a little later, the rumble of a thunderstorm. When I used to work for NOAA there on Woodley Island, I learned that thunderstorms are somewhat rare on the North Coast. Partially because they are rare, but partially because meteorologists can’t help themselves, the storm thrilled me and was an excellent start to my Sunday morning.

Rainy dawn. There’s a ship! See the light?

Just as I was slinging my backpack over my shoulders to head back to the car, the downpour began! I laughed. Mother Nature is so awesome. What excellent timing! I stayed almost perfectly dry by getting into my car at 6:15am. The rain POURED until about 10am. By that time, I was in Crescent City having a salmon omelet.

The red speck is a pickup truck

So when the sun finally came up, I moseyed off the path a little. Explored the Smith River, tooled through the Redwoods, watched the fog slowly lift off the ground into the sky, and then evaporate.

By the time I hit Grants Pass, it was a sunny blue-sky day. Funny.

The solitude did me so much good. Man I get sick of people. Yes, I’m an introvert, and you are all wonderful. You really are. I still need to get away from you. I am truly myself when I am in nature, and can hear the air whistling over a crane’s feathers as she soars over me, and hear the spray of water droplets fall off a trout’s back as he snaps a bite off the surface of a still pool in the river. My soul craves the smell of moss and decaying leaves; the sight of a frog leaping through a clearing; the sound of raindrops that had been clinging to each and every tip of the fern-like sprays of redwood branches and then letting go to create a whispering ceremony of percussion on the branches below.



My batteries are recharged.

Jedediah Smith State Park

One of the Highway 101 bridges

Smith River two minutes before sunrise

One of my many guises

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