Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday five: so long, summer in Portland, and thanks for all the fun!

We were sitting here this morning, eating breakfast and watching the rain fall, realizing that summer really might be done, when another realization hit me - we missed last night's Last Thursday! That was one thing we had never done when we lived here, and I was bound and determined to go this year (especially since we're within walking distance at our housesit). Last night was our last chance...

Oh well. It's always good to have a reason to come back someday, right?

Here are five Portland summer "musts" we didn't miss this summer, in no particular order:

1. Berry picking on Sauvie Island - blueberries, strawberries, marionberries, blackberries, raspberries, yellow raspberries... If you can name it, chances are pretty good that you can pick it every summer at one of the numerous U-Pick farms on the island that's just minutes from downtown.

(peaches, cherries and other stone fruits also available)

safety first!

We didn't go too nuts due to limited freezer space and no freezer after October 5, but suffice to say we're still eating berries.

2. The annual Mississippi Street Fair. I used to enjoy visiting this street fair every year - there are always new artists doing something kitschy or interesting. With no "kitschy" budget this year, as well as a big aversion to consumerism and unnecessary "things" given our current lifestyle, and OMG ALL THE PEOPLE, it wasn't so enjoyable.


But I'm glad we went because we now have a fond memory of the "Gentrification is WEIRD" t-shirt stand (if we did have a "kitschy" budget it would've gone to this guy), and we did enjoy the last Miss Delta hush puppies we'll probably ever eat.

3. The Vaux Swifts watch at Chapman Elementary School. Bring a picnic dinner and a blanket, hunker down on the school lawn, and watch the show. Thousands of swifts swarm around an old chimney, avoiding the clever hawk(s) as they descend in a giant funnel to roost for the night.

roosting here for more than 30 years

Some nights the hawk(s) catch one or two; other nights the swifts rally and chase the hawk(s) away. It's pretty amazing. The Audubon Society has a great educational program every night in September, too.

4. Beer festivals! They're year-round, but the most widely-known and widely-attended festivals occur during the summer. Patrick volunteered at the North American Organic Brewer's Festival and the Oregon Brewer's Festival this summer...

the OBF attracts quite a universal audience

good pour, sir!

We've also hit up several craft breweries in town, but that's a story for another post.

5. A summer show at the Edgefield. The annual line-up varies pretty widely; there's usually a show for every musical taste. But nothing says summer to me like sitting on the grass watching the sun set while an awesome locally-grown band plays for their hometown.

thank you... Troutdale!

This summer we enjoyed Mr. Meloy & Co's cheerful, charming bantering with two (also cheerful, charming) friends who had never seen the band live before. The McMenamin's beer is almost always crappy and the parking lot after every show is almost always a zoo, but it's definitely always totally worth it.

Portland(ish) people - what's on your summer "must" list?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Living like a local: our NE Portland neighborhood.

Exploring supermarkets and wandering through random neighborhoods were two of our favorite (free!) pastimes while we were traveling internationally. Both activities offered interesting insights into the local community's daily life and priorities.

Even though we've been in a familiar town all summer, we've still enjoyed these activities. Here's a little glimpse into Concordia, the NE Portland neighborhood we've called home for the past three months...

Judging from the supermarkets within walking distance, quality over quantity is the norm in this neighborhood. There's a New Seasons and a farmer's market - it's Portland, of course there's a New Seasons and a farmer's market - and two locally owned markets featuring heaps of local, fresh and hand-crafted gourmet foods. We FUNemployed housesitters don't shop at these markets often but they're good for the occasional splurge (AKA bacon) or a last-minute ingredient we forgot to pick up at our usual store.

There's also a Caribbean market carrying every exotic spice known to man, and several mercados too. Those are definitely fun to visit.

"Quality" is a pretty good definition for this quiet, mostly residential neighborhood, actually. I don't mean high-value houses (although there are plenty of those), I'm talking more along the lines of general lifestyle. For example, raised vegetable garden beds are everywhere! Every day as we walk the dogs, we pass front yards and planting strips fully stocked with tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peppers, and various other goodies. I'd bet quite a bit of money that most, if not all, of them are organic.

a "corner lot"

There's no need to lock up the veggies; people passing through the neighborhood seem to just leave what's not theirs (although we have seen numerous signs requesting that people not "steal" blueberries or fruit, which aren't so dime-a-dozen especially this summer).

It's pretty common to hear chickens squawking while we're walking the dogs. Yep, Portland city laws allow up to three chickens - or any combination, up to three, of chickens, rabbits, pygmy goats, pigeons, doves and ducks - without a permit. Permits for more aren't too hard to get, either. Most homes with chickens, including our host's, have their coops in the backyard but a few homes around the neighborhood have implemented more creative front-facing coops and chicken runs. These coops are kept locked, presumably to protect against predators as well as egg thieves.

our host's backyard coop

a neighborhood front yard coop
(the run on the right goes into the fenced backyard - free range!)

When the eggs come from your own chickens, you know they're cage-free - and I can almost guarantee that those chickens are eating premium feed.

Environmental quality is definitely a huge priority in this neighborhood.  Gardens and chickens are one thing, but there are also several urban farms and a large home apiary nearby, and it's impossible to walk five blocks in any direction without seeing at least one of the following signs...

a great organization

another great organization - 

Native plant landscaping, wildlife preservation, and water conservation efforts further support environmental quality in the neighborhood yards. (The Audubon Society of Portland's Backyard Habitat Certification Program provides incentives and discounts on materials for many of these efforts.) Good for the birds as well as the bees.

good for them!

very good for them!

Portland people care about the environment because many of them are outdoorsy types, especially during the summer.  Our neighborhood has been busy with people sitting on lawn chairs in the front yards at dusk, walking their dogs, biking to the park, watering their numerous raised bed gardens... Kids are everywhere in the evenings.

don't worry - 
the cat isn't dead, it's resting (I think)

FINALLY, a sign I can relate to

Setting the "quality" theme aside for a moment, there's a lot about this neighborhood that's pretty common across Portland.  Speaking of signs, Concordia can't live up to SE's stop sign standards (see Stop - Hammertime and Stop - Collaborate and Listen) but they try their best.

also known as "older brother"

yes, please

Still speaking of signs, it wouldn't be a Portland neighborhood without one of these every four feet...

but of course

And like most Portland parents, they're quite serious about their school in this neighborhood.

not just "love" - "love"!

Also in true Portland form, I think I've counted four poetry boxes, and a few "lending library" boxes as well, just within a quarter mile radius from the house.

new favorite quote

leave one, take one

They keep it weird here in Concordia too!

world's longest hopscotch 

artist? little league coach? probably both

Dinosaurs Jr

teeny tiny sock, ginormous tree -
after three months it's still there

The final common Portland theme in our temporary neighborhood this summer has been housing - new and improved housing to meet the needs of this recent influx of people. I'm usually at the house on weekdays and hardly a day has gone by that I didn't hear the buzz of a saw or the constant beat of hammers on rooftops. It can really put a damper on your quality of life, all this noise pollution.

over the summer we've watched several houses go from this state...

... to this state

What kills me are the lots where one house once stood, and now two tall skinny houses stand. It makes sense from the perspective of urban development but it completely changes the look of the neighborhood. (Besides, as a friend recently asked, "who wants to stand in their bathroom brushing their teeth, looking out the window at their neighbor in his bathroom, brushing his teeth?")

seen: everywhere

also seen: everywhere

Tiny houses (another Portlandia-esque phenomenon) are probably more prominent in Portland's SE neighborhoods or on the outskirts of town, but close to our neighborhood you'll find the only tiny house hotel in the US. For just $145/night (plus tax, minimum two nights on weekends and holidays), you too can bathe in your kitchen sink, whack your head on the ceiling 6" above your loft bed, and sit on your combination couch/bookshelf/pantry/air hockey table while you drink PBR and stream the latest episode of All Things Considered and watch back episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.


(I kid, I kid. We support the tiny house movement. We couldn't do it - small, yes but tiny? no way - but more power to all of you who could. I'd rather see ten tiny houses on a lot than two tall skinny ones... Oh, and we support NPR and Jon too, obviously, but PBR? Not so much.)

So that's the NE neighborhood of Concordia, from my perspective anyway. Each day as I'm wandering around with or without the dogs, I see so many people walking while thumbing through apps on their phones or texting friends. I wonder how much of this they notice?

life moves pretty fast -
if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday five: things we've learned over the past 880 days.

Yes, yes - we've learned that people are generally good, and that the world is much smaller than one might think, and that we are capable of handling more (physically and mentally) than we ever imagined. And we've learned a heck of a lot of world history and geography.

Here are five other things we've learned since April 21, 2013, in no particular order...

1. Goats. Are. Awesome.

Wakefield, Quebec
June 2013

2. "Suggested routes" are usually easier, but "alternate routes" are always more interesting - and always have fewer people.

Uzumlu, Turkey
December 2013

3. Eating where the locals eat is always a good idea, no matter where in the world you are.

Hanoi, Vietnam
April 2014

4. You really can survive 19 months with one pair of jeans, four t-shirts, a few layers, and a week's worth of underwear. Really. You can.

Luang Prabang, Lao
May 2014

(We've since learned that it's possible to survive in general with about twice that much clothing.)

5. Bill Murray was right. Nothing teaches you more about your partner than 24/7 togetherness during countless stressful situations, endless months of decision-making, and numerous bus stations where no one except you speaks English.

Portland, Oregon
July 2015

Well, he was probably right. We didn't actually land at JFK so we didn't take his final piece of advice, haha. (But if and when that will happen is definitely a very frequently asked question... and when we have an answer, we'll be sure to let you know.)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday five: not-so-frequently-asked questions.

We've talked about how it feels to "be back" and we've answered some other FAQs. Now it's time for the questions we've only been asked once or twice, but we've really enjoyed answering... (We did mention that we'll be injecting travel talk into every conversation for the foreseeable future, whether you want to hear it or not, didn't we?)

1. What was your happiest moment? We both agree that there are many! Using a general gauge of # of photos taken and/or smiles remembered per place, the following moments rank pretty highly: hanging out with Nubian goat kids in Quebec, our Cares Gorge hike in Spain, building a Habitat for Humanity house in Cambodia, the night dive with manta rays in Hawaii, and of course hitting Day 365 in Vietnam and realizing we were only halfway through our one-year travel fund.

the Cares Gorge in Picos de Europa National Park - go there

I'd also have to say that after 20 years of dreaming with absolutely no expectation of it actually happening, the day in September 2013 when I finally crossed Krakow off the list made me pretty darned happy.


2. What was your proudest moment? I thought it was interesting that we both named physical achievements when answering this question. Patrick says his proudest moment was the first time we dove together on Koh Tao...

awesome tan lines brought to you by SE Asia

And I'd agree that one of my proudest moments is getting my diving certification. Patrick, being a man of few words, summed it up nicely above. Good for him. Now please allow me to expound on this a bit.

Getting this dive certification took a lot of swimming, a lot of carrying around really heavy equipment, and a lot of bouncing and sliding around dive boats in choppy water. But I survived, physically.

Mentally it was a whole other story. Yes, I have done crazy things like river raft in class 5 rapids, jump out of airplanes, swing 250 meters over canyons, and climb mountains. I'm not claustrophobic but the mere idea of being 18 or 30 meters underwater for an extended period of time Freaked. Me. Out. The dive shop wasn't the most professional (equipment didn't fit or seemed to keep breaking and the instructors were all ADD twenty-somethings), which didn't help with my unease...

But I did it, and those last two dives with Patrick were magical. Sorry to be cliché, but they really were.

My other proudest physical achievement was reaching the top of Thorong La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit. The night before we summited the pass, Patrick was loving the adrenaline rush while I was having some sort of bizarre freak out. We attempted an early sleep for our 5am wake up but all I could do was "what if" and try not to cry. "What if we have a heart attack, how will they get us off this mountain?" "What if our lack of sleep causes us to fall off a mile high cliff?" "What if we are hit with hypothermia or frostbite?"

We didn't have heart attacks. We didn't fall off cliffs. We were plenty warm the whole time (even while it was snowing that morning at 5am). We climbed to the pass without issue and took celebratory photos.

we {heart} Nepal

It was awesome.

There are volunteer moments that we're really proud of too - but those were more about giving back than patting ourselves on the backs.

3. What was your biggest insight? This one we definitely agree on - we now have a much better understanding of how the rest of the world lives. Everything from what people eat on a daily basis to what they prioritize, how their politics work, how they build their homes... Details vary greatly but in general, there are more similarities worldwide to life in the US than you'd probably imagine.

We also learned a lot about how the rest of the world views America. Almost everyone with whom we talked politics was thrilled that Obama got two terms, and some folks were a bit concerned about the 2016 elections. (Just the other day we were talking about how happy we were to be back in the US when Trump announced his presidency. If we were still overseas we'd be hiding our heads in shame even more than we're doing now.)

And no one we spoke to outside of the US understands why Americans love their guns so much. Then again, neither do we. Many of these conversations happened in Canada and Australia, but we also happened to be in Phnom Penh at the time of the Ferguson shooting and ensuing riots. The Khmer hotel staff seemed quite fascinated with this story playing on the lobby's TV - this happens in America, land of the free and home of the brave? - and the story was in heavy rotation in world media (which typically covered US news far less than any other country's news).

We followed BBC news and other world news web sites before our trip and we continue to follow them now. We encourage everyone to do the same - US news is entirely too insular and does nothing but fear-monger and dramatize.

4. Did you make a lot of friends in your travels? Yes! But very few of these friends were travelers we met along our route. Sure, once in a while we hit it off with someone well enough to share a meal, but most of our fellow travelers were half our age and we really couldn't relate to them. (Or they were people we met online who we wouldn't actually "meet" until we got back to Portland.)

Most of the friends we made along our journey were the farmers and their families who welcomed us into their homes and taught us so much about their daily life, their challenges and successes along the way, and what they loved (and didn't love so much) about their country as well as ours. We also made some great WWOOF friends, half our age but very wise for their years. These are most definitely "our people" and we are so happy to have shared 10+ days with them, and to still keep in touch with them today.

5. What surprised you the most? We really had to think about this one. Patrick says his most surprising moment was when our Thai hilltribe village host pulled an eel out of the rice paddy and said, "Breakfast!" I think my most surprising moment overseas was landing in Perth, Australia after being in SE Asia and Nepal for seven months. The Western culture shock and extreme excess kind of blew me away. We were also pretty surprised at the poverty in Portugal - we had this image of a lush, exotic, thriving Western European country... not exactly.

These days, we're surprised at how long ago this whole trip feels, and how easy it is to forget that we actually rode camels in Morocco and went to the coffee capital of Vietnam and bottle-fed joeys in Australia...

So keep asking questions - it helps us to remember. We'll keep talking travel whether you like it or not, so you might as well help direct the conversation!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Housesitting: two months in the life.

We've been housesitting for our Portland, Oregon host for over two months. (Over two months! How did that happen?) Many people have asked what we've been doing all summer, so we thought we'd add another answer to the growing list of FAQs...

First things first. "FUNemployment" does not equal "vacation." Although we have actively resisted any kind of temporary office work, we have done a few odd jobs here and there for cash (thank you, you know who you are) but generally speaking, we are still living off our travel fund - such a challenge in the city known for its great food and amazing music! As housesitters we don't pay rent, but we still have costs of groceries, gas and other miscellany, and we've allowed ourselves a (pretty small) entertainment budget. It all adds up and at this point our average living costs run around $32/day. Money is always on our mind and is often a determining factor in how we spend our time.

"FUNemployment" also does not always equal 100% fun. Our first few weeks here were pretty stressful and we continue to struggle with staying positive while basically remaining stagnant for the first time in over two years. Some days we've been so weighed down with the enormous question of what we're going to do for the rest of our lives (or just in 2016) that it's hard to motivate ourselves to do anything productive. Those days have sucked.

But most days have been pretty good and we've actually done quite a bit over the last few months...

As far as the housesitting responsibilities go, twice a day we feed and walk two silly, adorable dogs.

goofball Ruby

big brother Rusty (also a goofball)

(As an aside... When you apply for a housesit, you're able to see pictures of the house and pets, and you should definitely talk to the host(s) before accepting, but obviously you can't Skype with the pets so it's impossible to know exactly what you're in for. Luckily, we had a wonderful feline experience in Melbourne, and here in Portland we have fallen in love with these two goofball canines who provide hours of entertainment each week. We are really going to miss them.)

We also feed the chickens each morning and let them out for an afternoon romp while the dogs nap inside.

afternoon freedom

And we water the small raised bed gardens. They need a lot less watering now that it's not 100°F and almost fall (how did that happen?), but we've enjoyed many pounds of tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, basil, arugula, green beans and lettuce this summer.

early July

late July

early August

late August

early September (just one day's harvest)

And that's all we're required to do each day. Yep, housesitting is HARD!

I kid... sort of. I've honestly been rather challenged by two months of (fairly selfish) down time. I appreciated the first few weeks for catching up on our US National Parks blog-o-rama, and then I read a handful of books, watched a handful of movies, and caught up with some friends. And then I got bored.

To combat this idle purposelessness, I've been volunteering once a week at the Oregon Food Bank's Learning Garden - so much fun! You just sign up, show up, pick your project(s) for the morning, and go to it.

earlier this summer I spent lots of time with the tomatoes

now I spend lots of time weeding

It really is a learning opportunity; I've harvested fruits and vegetables I never knew how to harvest and I've learned a lot more about the growing season here in Portland (in spite of the oddness of this particularly warm season!). As an added bonus, volunteers can take home a piece of the day's harvest so I've been able to try new recipes and regularly supply Patrick with jalapeno peppers for his homemade salsa.

Most importantly, though, produce harvested at OFB's Learning Garden is distributed to local hunger-relief agencies. A few weeks ago I got to see the other end of the cycle by spending an afternoon at the Northeast Emergency Food Program. The food on the NEFP's pantry shelves is free (families get up to three visits every six months) and a lot of it comes from the Oregon Food Bank. Whereas many food pantries pre-bag food for families in need, NEFP allows families to browse shelves and "shop" for food based on the size of their household.

That afternoon I helped six families - ranging in size from 1-10 family members and varying in backgrounds, ethnicities and food choices - select produce, canned goods and frozen meals. Several of the clients were Vietnamese and I struggled to remember basic words from our time there so that I could better connect with them; another US war veteran client had spent time on a farm in Vancouver and I enjoyed talking with him about nutrition while he shopped. It was a good experience that I hope to repeat soon.

Anyway! Patrick has enjoyed his down time by plowing through a dozen books and catching up on movies. He's also helped out at the Oregon Food Bank, he volunteered at two brew fests and a hops harvest, and he helped a friend with some home brewing.

service with a smile -
Oregon Brewers Festival

a straight shooter with upper management written all over him -
North American Organic Brewers Festival

sip, sip, pick -
Hopworks Urban Brewery hops harvest

To facilitate building our local farm network we've gone to Friends of Family Farmers events and a few "classes" at the Urban Farm Collective... I use the quotes because the UFC classes have been more like volunteer opportunities where they get free labor in exchange for teaching us how to do things - pretty smart of them and pretty fun for us.

fruit tree pruning class

pickling class

It's been really nice to have a kitchen for an extended period of time. We've been able to continue the pickling and fermentation experiments throughout the summer, and we've enjoyed cooking meals that don't require a campfire.

sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha

We're both running again (another perk of being stable for a few months) and to keep active I've also been doing some landscaping around our host's yard and helping a neighbor with her yardwork. We may also be helping several friends with landscaping projects during September.

We've spent time with friends and family, and we've been able to get away for solo adventures too - Patrick went camping on the coast with a friend and he's been helping his mom with some house projects down in Eugene. I also went to Oakland to help a friend with her house project.

And yes, in between all of this I've been thinking about writing that book... But that's about as far as I've gotten with that little project.

Long story short, we are definitely keeping busy and the days are flying by. (We've actually been here long enough to see the days start to get shorter. It's weird.) The hours in each day are starting to fly too - we're usually going by 7am, and some days we look at the clock and can't believe it's already 3pm. Really not sure how all you people with jobs ever get anything done...!

As our time in the Rose City winds down, we're realizing that we've done almost everything on our Portland wish list and we've seen almost everyone we want to see. We've learned some cool things, met some neat people, and helped some worthwhile organizations. We know where we're going next, and after that, and after that. And probably most exciting, we have a plan for 2016! More to come on that...

Pretty soon it will be October 5th and after we wonder how that happened, we'll say goodbye to the puppies, go camping for a bit, and then start this housesitting process over again in a brand-new-to-us Oregon town. Only instead of three months there, we'll have just five weeks.

Yeesh! Thinking it's time to just enjoy these last four weeks of Portlandia and see what happens from here...

taken at 2pm on a Wednesday -
to FUNemployment!