Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A review, a preview, and a ginormous THANK YOU.

Day 975 of FUNemployment! Crazy.

As I sat down to write this year-end post, I started to go down the "gratitude" path but it took an uber-sappy turn at some point. Believe me, no one wants that for Christmas. Suffice to say, returning to Portland and the US in general was more challenging than we expected and we're eternally grateful to everyone who supported us, particularly those of you who stuck with us through our crankypants summer.

Anyway! Here's the 2015 review for anyone just catching up...

For the first time since 2012, we spent most of this year in our home country. We visited 18 national parks and explored 19 states. We said hi to the cherry blossoms, the Man in Black, the Continental Divide, and the best campsite in Oregon. We tried very hard not to mess with Texas. We kept (at least) ten dogs, six cats, and lots of chickens company. We volunteered for a few worthy causes. We caught up with supportive family members, friends, and former colleagues. We saw some great music. We helped our parents with life transitions.

So in spite of all the sitting around we did this year, we were actually quite busy.

We're wrapping up the year in Canada where we're celebrating our third consecutive Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year holiday outside of the continental United States. Whereas our US adventures were obviously comfortable and familiar, the Canada portion has also felt comfortable and familiar thanks to our Alberta friends and the town of Vernon, BC which honestly feels like every other suburban town in any English-speaking country.

okay, maybe it's a little prettier here...

... than, say, Beaverton

One of the most common questions we're asked is, "what's next?" We're happy to say that we finally have an answer! Here's the 2016 preview: after our BC housesit and another month-long housesit on Orcas Island, we'll head to Eugene to help Patrick's mom with a little spring cleaning.

And then? THEN?!?! Starting next spring we'll be interning on a beautiful vegetable farm in Southern Oregon!

Earlier this summer we thought a lot about our transition back to paid work while making sure we spent those 40+ hours/week doing something we loved. Interning through Rogue Farm Corps' FarmsNext program, which offers a structured educational approach for people like us who think we want to be farmers, seemed like the most appropriate approach. The program will help us answer frequently asked questions like "You know farming is really hard work, right?" and "You know there's no money to be made in farming, right?" and "You know there's no 401K program for farmers, right?" (Kidding - we already know all of those answers. But we will get answers to more important questions like "What are the best soil, greenhouse, and cover crop management techniques?" and "Do you have any best practices for irrigation in this crazy time of climate change?" and "How does one actually drive a tractor, anyway?")

It feels a little odd to be starting over in our 40s but we're pretty confident that our host farmers will teach us a lot about getting started, staying positive, and figuring out how to be successful in this particularly challenging field.

Much more on this later - just know that we're super excited to return to Oregon and kick start our next life! (Is it April yet? ... How about now? ... Now?)

Thank you for your ongoing support. We look forward to keeping you posted on next year's farm shenanigans and our plans beyond November 2016...

Hope next year brings you joy, gratitude, and most of all, continued adventure - however you define it!

... to you and yours!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sorta WWOOFing near Sundre, Alberta.

Since I had to explain it to the border control officers about five times when we were crossing into Canada recently, I'll tell you too: I met Coleen and Andre back in 2010. We and a few other couples spent a week together on a dinky little boat in the Galapagos Islands. Us passengers all got along really well and we kept in touch afterward. (See? It's really not that interesting of a story, especially not after you tell it umpteen times.)

Anyway, the story gets much better. When we were looking for WWOOF gigs on the first leg of our trip back in the summer of 2013, I emailed Coleen to see if she had any leads. Turned out she and Andre knew a great couple who had a bison ranch outside of Calgary, so we reached out to them and the rest is history. Coleen and Andre live in Calgary but they also have a farm near the bison ranch, and we all went down for dinner one night while we were WWOOFing.

June 2013 Team Galapagos reunion

Flash forward to November 2015. After Corvallis we'd arranged a housesit in Vernon (British Columbia) for the holidays. Vernon is just a full day's drive from Coleen and Andre's farm, and when you've driven across two entire Northern American countries and taken a train across Australia, a full day's drive is nothing, so I reached out to see if they needed any farm help for those two weeks between our housesits. As luck would have it, Andre was building a mezzanine level in his barn and welcomed extra hands. We had a lot of fun helping him (and his crew of assorted friends and family members) on the weekends... and we learned so much!

start of day one

step 1: attach the "scabs"

step 2: even out the posts

step 3: haul up and secure the 40' and 28' beams

step 4: nail everything together
(while wearing the same jeans from the 2013 Team Galapagos reunion photo)

step 5: play with Willie

step 6: start installing the joists

end of day four

(most of) the crew

Jack and Willie, our after-hours entertainment

We made some pretty good progress in just four days. During the week while Coleen and Andre were at work, we helped with other small barn work and independent projects around the farm.


burning stuff

checking in on the beautiful draft horses

Speaking of horses, one of Andre's had a bum foot so a neighboring training facility was hosting her for Epsom salt soaks during the week. Turns out this was the same facility that housed and trained award-winning Clydesdales, some all the way from Tillamook, Oregon! Such handsome horses.

patient Angel gets a foot soak 
while Jen plays "dog magnet"

Sometimes we just looked around and enjoyed the scenery.

first night at the farm

almost every morning at the farm

last day at the farm

We also spent half a day at Peter and Judy's bison ranch, where we visited the cows and new calfs and helped with some tree felling around the house. Such beautiful bison at Buffalo Horn Ranch!

hi there, did someone say something about food?

oh, there it is

It was a great two weeks in a really peaceful area of Alberta. We enjoyed Andre and Coleen's company and their projects (even when it was 0°C outside! ehhh, it's a dry cold) and we were so happy to be able to catch up with Peter and Judy too. Hopefully we can see everyone again - maybe the next reunion will be in Oregon!

Next up: Vernon, BC, whose "notable people" (according to Wikipedia) include the Tampa Bay Lightning's Eric Brewer, the Pittsburg Penguins' Andrew Ebbett and Eric Godard, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, the first Chinese Canadian NHL ice hockey player Larry Kwong, and the Florida Panthers' Jerred Smithson. Are you sensing a theme? I think I'm gonna like Vernon...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Goin' north for the winter.

After our Corvallis housesit and a few days in Eugene taking care of some important business, we packed up the car (again) and headed north.

important Eugene business #1

Because that's what normal people do, right - go north for the winter? (No, that joke is never going to get old.)

best pack job yet

Our destination: Calgary. Our route: Eugene, OR - Portland, OR - Spokane,WA - Fernie, BC - Calgary, AB. Our time frame: four days, three nights. Ready, set, go!

Day One: a quick overnight in Portland to catch up with a friend over delicious sushi at Yuki.

Yuki sushi never gets old

Day Two: a long drive day, especially after our morning appointment in Forest Grove. We rolled into our Spokane(ish) Airbnb later than expected but Steve and Jeff were gracious and welcoming nonetheless. We've loved all our AirB&B stays but this was definitely one of our favorites - we enjoyed great conversation with the guys that evening, they gave us recommendations on the following day's drive, the room was quirky and cozy, and we got breakfast the next morning.


Simonette was pretty cute too,
and teeny tiny dogs Lily and Tuesday were hysterical

Day Three: the scenic drive through northern Idaho and northwest Montana. Another long drive day thanks in large part to the weather...

pretty, yes, but not quite the "scenic" we had in mind

We still got a stop at Kootenai Falls which also featured our first suspension bridge since Nepal.

worth cold toes and frozen fingers

he's back there somewhere

And then came the border crossing.

(cue doomsday music)

For our first Canadian border crossing back in April 2013, we had most of our possessions in our car and we went from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, BC. The border services officer that day thought we were a little crazy, quitting our jobs to camp across Canada and then travel internationally, but after a few questions he waved us through and wished us luck.

This time we still had no jobs and most of our possessions in our car, but our experience was a bit different. We opted for the small border crossing at Roosville, MT where most people just cross for the day (which is apparently less suspicious than people crossing for extended holiday visits...? okay, whatever). After about 45 minutes of interrogation, both together and separately, and by three different officers, we finally managed to assure these fine Canadian officials that we did in fact have ample funds to survive two whole months in Canada, that we were in fact returning to the US for our late January housesit on Orcas Island, that our Canadian farm friends and housesit hosts were not in fact paying us for any services rendered, and that we most certainly did not want to do anything to jeopardize future re-entry into Canada.

It made sense in hindsight - Canada's foreign worker laws have gotten more stringent over the past few years and the officers just wanted to make sure we weren't planning to permanently set up camp with our meager possessions and find paid work. It did leave us rather unsettled and feeling for our Mexican neighbors who attempt to enter the US under perfectly legal circumstances, though.

Anyway! Just north of the border, Fernie was an awesome little ski town surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains we've seen yet, and we enjoyed another nice AirB&B stay at Ryland's condo in town.

bachelor for "toaster"?

It was -8°C the morning of Day Four (which just sounds so much colder than 18°F, doesn't it?). The water bottles we accidentally left in the car overnight were frozen but the Subaru started just fine and the streets were plowed, so we made our way to Big Bang Bagels for some delicious local coffee and take-away bagels for lunchtime sandwiches. And then we were on our way...

one of our only "world's biggest" stops

0°C - balmy!

3 miles up from where the mountain lion crossed the road

Our only other stop before Calgary was Frank Slide Interpretive Center, a really interesting look into the mining history in the area about 100 years ago. We figured we wouldn't be spending much money in Canada so we shelled out $12CAD each (about $9USD) for entry, and it was definitely worth it. Frank Slide remains the deadliest rockslide in Canadian history with nearby Hillcrest being the country's worst coal mining disaster. Solar power, people, solar power...

And finally - Calgary! During rush hour, which was, like, a million times less bad than any rush hour we've ever experienced!

O Canada, with your delicious Tim Horton's coffee, and your amazing hockey fans, and your uber nice citizens, and your lack of assault weapons, and your 2-3 month election cycles, and your funny money...

seriously -
what other country has a sport on their money?

$2 coin = "tooney"
(and yes, the $1 coin not pictured = "looney")

We sure have missed you, eh?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday five: Corvallis housesitting.

We finished our five-week housesit in Corvallis about two weeks ago. It was more of a farmsit, actually. This couple has about 40 chickens, ducks, and geese, as well as a large vegetable garden and orchard.

And also? They have THE BEST DOG IN THE WORLD.

Here are five things we did on this farmsit, in no particular order... except the first one which was definitely the most important (and the most enjoyable!).

1. We spent a lot of time with Danny.


Danny is a cancer survivor with an affection for sticks, boiled eggs, catching rambunctious chickens who flee the coop, and belly rubs. You can set your watch to her food schedule and if you happen to be a few minutes late, she'll tap dance around the kitchen and nose your hand to remind you. She's a fantastic watchdog with an abundance of energy. We loved dogsitting for her.

Our hosts lived near McDonald-Dunn Research Forest where Danny had her daily walk. This 11,250-acre forest of old- and new-growth trees is one of eight forests managed by Oregon State University's College of Forestry. Many of OSU's forests are used for instruction and research as well as fundraising from harvests. In addition to these uses, McDonald-Dunn Research Forest also offers an amazing network of trails for local residents to enjoy.

Our daily forest walks with Danny were our favorite part of the day. We tried new trails several times a week to keep things interesting during these five weeks of dog-walking. Still, we probably explored less than a quarter of the available paths! Other days, we rotated between a handful of favorites.

straight lines on the Intensive Management Trail

patiently waiting among the mossy trees

It was definitely the best way to experience autumn in Oregon.

We also took Danny out to the coast twice. We hadn't seen the Pacific ocean in forever and we weren't sure when we would have our next opportunity, so we took advantage of being within an hour's drive of Newport with a beach-loving dog.

we think she had a good time ...

... what do you think?

Danny's yawns are not as impressive as Ruby's and her fly-catching abilities pale in comparison to Rusty's, but this little lady really made an impression on us. She's absolutely adorable.

2. We tried to keep the chickens happy. It got cold, and then the rains started, and they were not very happy. But we tried.

half a day's haul

Despite valiant efforts to keep the coop clean and dry, three chooks died of natural causes on our watch. Three! They were three of the older ones in the bunch, but still, it was somewhat distressing (moreso for Patrick who had to bury them). At least the customers still got their eggs on a regular basis and all the ducks and geese survived.

3. We cooked and ate lots (and lots, and lots) of delicious food. Our hosts told us to help ourselves to the ample vegetable garden that was still thriving when we arrived. So we did.

dinner! (and breakfast!)

one day's harvest


peppers stuffed with sausage

eggplant tomato bake
(my new favorite comfort food)

With a surplus of eggs, we also enjoyed a lot of frittatas. (Sorry, cholesterol.) After much experimentation I've decided that anything that would be good on a pizza works in a frittata.

tomato, arugula, feta

tomato, spinach, parmesan

spinach, feta

And speaking of pizza! Our hosts had a few pizza stones, so Saturday night became homemade pizza night. Because why not?

olive and mushroom, sausage and pepper

sausage and pepper, goat cheese and sundried tomatoes and spinach, arugula pesto

sausage and bacon, mushroom, pesto and goat cheese

Our hosts also had a fancy industrial bread kneader and a wheat mill. I had lots of fun with those.


challahback girl

Patrick's awesome cookies and 
the most beautiful bread I've ever made
(sadly, the second round didn't turn out as well)

4. We enjoyed the scenery around the farm. The weather was pretty mild for most of our stay so we kept busy in the garden and orchard as much as possible before the rains and shorter days hit.

the first of many

gorgeous hazy sunsets

we like tha moon

5. We caught up on some pop culture. Our hosts had an extensive music collection and library, so we read quite a bit and restocked our iTunes playlists. They also had Dish TV/Netflix and we were able to see what all the Master of None fuss was about, catch up on past seasons of Sherlock, watch hockey live (!), and enjoy episode after episode of Castle reruns during our many hours on their elliptical trainer. (Okay, maybe that last one was just me.)

Cholesterol aside, it was pretty perfect and we were really sad to leave. But it gave us lots of food for thought for our future farm house and property... Pretty sure a border collie/retriever mix and a fancy industrial bread kneader will be involved, but we'll pass on the geese.

Now we're in Canada for holidays. Because that's what normal people do - go north for the winter - right?