A Magical Moment at the Train Station!

I’ve been meaning to post about this for awhile!

A few months ago, I was puttering around the house and glanced out the window to find a ton of people milling about near the train tracks, where they intersect with NW 9th Ave to the north of Union Station. Let me assure you, this is not a normal occurrence. There is absolutely zero reason for Portlanders, some with cameras, to be besprinkled between and betwixt the tracks. (Generally, the only crowds we get are when the Portland Police park next door at the mounted police training facility to get suited up in riot gear for protests. There was not a law enforcement officer to be found in this group though. I checked.)

Intrigued, I decided to observe this group milling around for a bit, but nothing was happening, so I continued on with my day…irritated that I couldn’t figure out why everyone was chilling at a nondescript intersection. As I was mentally setting aside their puzzling behavior, my puttering was interrupted again, this time, by a vibrating exhalation that reverberated through our place, shaking everything.

I ran for my camera while my brain was piecing together that a steam engine must be parked at Union Station. Sprinting for the balcony, I could hear it lumbering by, and I managed to catch the shot below of a lovely Art Deco steam engine starting its journey to a train show in Tacoma.

According to Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, this beauty is called the Southern Pacific #4449

Built in 1941 as a 4-8-4 GS-4 locomotive, she is 110′ long, 10′ wide and 16′ tall. With locomotive and tender weighing 433 tons and a boiler pressure of 300 psi, her eight 80″ diameter drivers and unique firebox truck booster can apply 5,500 horsepower to the rails and exceed 100 mph. The only remaining operable “streamlined” steam locomotive of the Art Deco era, this grand Lady of the High Iron pulled Southern Pacific “Daylight” coaches from Los Angeles to San Francisco over the scenic Coast Route and then on to Portland until 1955.

Retired to Oaks Park in 1958 for display only, many thought 4449 would never run again. In 1974 she was completely restored specifically to pull the 1976 Bicentennial Freedom Train throughout the United States to the delight of over 30 million people. SP 4449 has also operated numerous excursions since. She is arguably one of the most beautiful locomotives ever built and kept that way by the all-volunteer Friends of SP 4449.

The juxtaposition of highrise condos with a steam train was captivating for us all who watched her get underway. (Click on photo to the right to enlarge.)

Unbeknownst to me at the time all of this was happening, Tom was stopped by the train as he was walking home on NW 9th Ave with Zelda. He too could not deduce why people were loitering, nor imagine upon what they could be waiting. Lucky Tom and Zelda were both right there as this piece of machinery demonstrated its ability to achieve some serious pressure in its boiler…the noise and heat was quite visceral for them.

Thanks babe for snapping the great close up shot of all that water vapor using your phone (pictured top left)!

The Best $144 Dollars I Ever Spent

You can tell we haven’t road tripped in awhile due to our wildly naive plan to depart for an Idaho lakeside vacation at 6:00 am on a Monday morning. (Don’t laugh!) Google Maps estimated the drive would take us about 7 1/2 hours, without stops. We figured, with a few breaks, we would take maybe 9 hours. Images of a scenic and relaxed drive with two rested adult drivers ready to take the helm at a moment’s notice danced in our heads. (As if the words “rested” and “6:00 am” have ever belonged in the same sentence for Tom and I.)

Unfortunately, life had other plans. The week before our getaway, Zoe had soccer practice every day, a whole slew of work meetings came up at the last minute filling the calendar I had oh so carefully cleared, an eleventh hour trip to California for work sprang up, and Zoe had a soccer tournament where her team made a run to the finals, coming in second. Of course, we had to attend the barbecue afterward.

All of this to say, we didn’t even return home, much less begin packing/planning for our 6:00 am Monday start, until mid afternoon the day before.

Believing all was not lost, we marshalled our family resources and became whirling dervishes of activity to get organized for our extended absence.

Did it help? No.

By 2:30 am Monday, less than four short hours from when we were supposed to be departing, Tom and I were pooped and nowhere near ready to go. So, we did what any smart American who has lived as an Argentine expat would do — we radically postponed our departure date.

Not surprisingly, instead of leaving at o’dark thirty, we ended up rolling out of the building in the mid afternoon Monday. “Okay,” we told ourselves, “this isn’t so bad…8 hours late, plus or minus.” [Insert shrug]

The good news about the first leg of our journey is that we made it to Gresham in record time! The bad news is that we stopped there, only thirty minutes to the east of Portland! This unscheduled break was prompted by the Z’s car DVD player giving up the ghost. One screen just stopped working. Kaput. And no, it wasn’t the cables.

What are bad parents to do without video screens on a long drive with kids who have not absorbed the notion that children should be seen and not heard and who love to vocalize every little personal discomfort as if the rest of us really want to know?

Stop at Target in Gresham and buy another car DVD player! (I know, horrible, right?)

Of course, it took us forever to select, purchase, assemble, and connect it all so it was functioning. But eventually, we got the job done. (By “we” I mean Tom — I took the kids car snack shopping while he played with the electronics.) The blessed silence on the road that resulted from this lengthy, unscheduled stop induced Tom to say, “That is the best $144.00 I have ever spent.”

“Amen to that,” I replied. A subtle giving and taking of a parental high five ensued.

The rest of our trip was equally ridiculously slow for various reasons related to food, gas, bathrooms, an auxiliary jack for music, etc. All in all, it took us about 9 hours to drive from Portland to Spokane, WA, still 2 hours short of our destination. It’s an embarrassment really, for someone who grew up in a hard core, drive ’til you drop, West Coast family.

But the trip was relaxed, the big orange moon that rose over the horizon as we neared Spokane was breathtaking, and the scenery was beautiful (all of these pictures were taken with my phone as Tom was guiding our car through the Columbia River Gorge).

And yes, we made the Zs turn off their movie and actually interact and look around from time to time. Eventually though, they would start bickering and/or complaining, prompting us to direct them back to their movie for a little crack hit of screen time.

Do you think they were doing it on purpose?

More Bridges of Multnomah County

Prior to our carless period, seven years of living in Portland had netted me exactly one trip across the Willamette River on foot. (During Tom’s marathon training, he made many crossings, so his record is much more solid than mine!)

Now, as a rule, if I have a work meeting anywhere in-city, I try to walk or bike to it, which has had the happy side effect of requiring many, many pedestrian crossings of the Willamette, the river that bisects Portland. And every single time I step foot on one of our bridges, my mood soars…it’s so movie montage cliche! Regardless, I find it spectacular in all weather — the driving rain, howling winds, dense dense fog, and gorgeous gorgeous sunshine. These little cross water forays provide a sort of relaxed fulfillment that surprises me each and every time I undertake one.

I think the Steel is my favorite because the pedestrian walkway is so low to the river.

Easter on Dueling Packet Ships…

Engaging in a cannon battle with another tall ship is not necessarily a traditional way to spend the Easter Holiday, but fun nonetheless!

My mother spotted this activity in the paper and signed us all up for a day of cat and mouse on the Columbia River. Oddly, it was a rainy day without wind, but they were still able to maneuver rather handily. The Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain, manned with an able bodied crew, went at it while us land lubbers looked on. I have to say, watching the men and women who scurried up the ladders to set sail really crystallized my sense of joy that I am not a deck hand on a boat in the 19th century!

And yes, finally blogging about an event from April. Totally lame.

You Know It’s Bad When I Want to Bake a Cake

I haven’t posted in forever…I think because I knew the next entry I would have to write would be a tribute to our poor little cat’s very, very, short life.

Our first few weeks of life as owners of a feral cat with sniffles involved a lot of back and forth to the vet for exams and getting up to speed on shots. During one such visit, Quinn gave his doctor a shock, because she noticed that where a few days earlier his eyes had been fine, now, one was suddenly not reactive to light at all, and the other appeared to have a film over it.

A trip to a specialist ensued and a diagnosis of FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) was handed down.

FIP is a fatal feline virus that the doctor speculated would spread like wildfire through our kitten because it was already in his brain manifesting as eye problems. When Tom called me with the news, I had an overwhelming desire to make a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. I am a stress baker. And cakes…I feel the urge to make those upon receiving really, really upsetting tidings.

Our poor little guy lasted only a few weeks beyond the diagnosis, but we tried to give him as much love and pampering as we could in those last days in a desperate effort to mitigate the shitty cards he had been dealt and the hard life he had lived up until he moved in with us.

Random Fond Recollections:

  • He loved to hang out on people’s shoulders, both in the manner shown in the photo with Tom below, which I love, or by literally climbing aboard like a parrot, surveying the world around him.

  • Because of his illness, he didn’t grow very large. With his spots and stripes and very sleek body he seemed like a wild cat, writ tiny. We called him our “Manther”, short for mini-panther.

  • His purr was gigantically, enormously, infectiously loud and so remarkable, given his size.

  • He had a special fondness for me, sometimes running and jumping into my arms with a sweet little chirping noise. He adored sitting in my lap, and if I put my computer on the bed, he would always run up and place his paws on it, waiting for me, knowing that he had some good lap time coming!

  • Watching him play with the Zs was a joy, all of us laughing as he would skid out on the transition from carpet to wood floor.

  • As he was dying, and his motor skills were going, he would insist on perching atop the arm of the leather chair, which was both slippery and rounded. He could never sit on it for long before sliding and falling off, but for some stubborn reason, that’s where he wanted to be, so we let him and tried not to watch.

In the end, Zelda and Tom took him to the vet’s office to be put down. (Zoe and I nominated the two more stoic members of our family to do the deed, because we knew we would be a complete, blubbery embarrassment.) Zelda and Tom were incredibly brave, and held Quinn through it all and were with him until the bitter end, going through a whole box of tissues in the process. Tom said he and Zelda could not stop weeping, thereby teaching us that we have no truly stoic members of our family!


Our Christmas present of a kitten for the girls has been a sad life lesson. We still miss the little furry guy.

The New Man in My Life!

Okay, he’s a little furry and has hair in his ears, but I love him to pieces anyway! Meet Quinn, our shelter kitty that we adopted after our recent trip to Hood Canal. It seems impossible now to think that we almost selected a different feline to take home…

As we stood in the entrance of The Oregon Cat shelter in Lake Oswego, we surveyed the various kittens that hadn’t been selected as Christmas gifts. (It’s big kitten season, apparently.) We were drawn to a little gray guy with lily white feet. His name was “Cruiser.” (This should have been a tip off.)

He was adorably cute, active, easy to handle. The perfect kitten. With the deal nearly sealed, we let him loose on the cat tree in the middle of the room. As I began filling out paperwork, I noticed him bothering the crap out of a giant cat that swatted him down a few times — hard. Cruiser remained undaunted. After filling out a few more lines, I glanced up once more to find him biting the carpet upon which he stood, literally rending the fibers out of their backing, flecks of carpet caught in his whiskers. A slightly crazed look in his eyes.

Hmmm. Maybe we should take another pass, we all decided.

There was a little tabby in a large cage with a bunch of his siblings, all of whom were rescued feral cats. They were like the Flying Wallendas. Playing, batting, lunging, somersaulting, and sometimes launching themselves at the cage grid and hanging on, suspended by their claws. Quinn was smaller, but gave as good as he got. The second you opened the door though, he would immediately put the ears back and to the side, looking none too pleased.

Strangely though, when we reached in, he didn’t hiss, bite or scratch. He remained extremely unhappy though, with ears plastered to his head, as we snatched him out. Quinn was a small guy, but had the LOUDEST purr we had ever heard — really remarkable for his size. (He was the runt of the litter and has slightly bowed front legs that make him look as if he’s got some sort of Western gunfighter swagger when we walks around the joint. His tail is crooked as well, very sharply, 180 degrees — about 3/4 of an inch at the tip.)

Our Kittens for Dummies book recommended setting up a “safe room” when we returned a la casa. A place with everything he needed where he could start out…a home base. So of course, Tom and I decided to volunteer the kids’ bathroom! You can see the picture here. We were concerned, at first, that the safe room was a little too comfortable, as we had a hard time getting him to come out! (Having been a feral cat, we were expecting him to take time to warm up and explore.) I mean, there are volumes devoted to “How to Get Your Cat into His Pet Carrier” but nothing written about “How Do I Get My Cat out of His Pet Carrier?”

Every day though, he explores a bit more. So far, he has attacked the ficus tree in the living room, attacked the fringe on the rug in the living room, tried to jump up and attack a few door handles, and has been entranced by his reflection in the oven door, which required attacking the dish towels that hang on the handle. (Notice a theme?)

He also attacked Zelda’s moving feet under her blankets the other night, popping her inflatable mattress (slow leak). So last evening we left Quinn at home and went to Ikea for the inevitable bunkbeds, the Z’s space-saving Aerobed scheme has come to an due to the paws of a tiny cat. Tom and the girls are assembling it now.

Wow, Sunrise Is Cool!

If only I had known how beautiful you are Mr. Sunrise, perhaps I would have dragged my ass out of bed a bit more often to see you! I suppose it is lucky that I live in the Pacific Northwest, where it gets light late enough in the winter that I had the chance to be mesmerized by the sun pouring over the horizon as I strolled over the Steele Bridge on my way to a morning meeting. It was a clear, cold winter day and the view made me stop and haul out my cell to snap a few pix. I don’t know that I have been more entranced by the vista of downtown Portland, or the Willamette River, than I was at that moment. These are the times that I am exceedingly pleased not to have a car, for if I did, I would have missed this entirely.

Family Travels, Part 2

Our second winter break excursion was a quick drive up to Hood Canal, Washington, where we were going to spend a few nights as a gift to the Zs for Christmas (trying to go heavy on experience and light on crap). This outing had a bit of frenzy on the outside and and gooey wonderfulness on the inside. (The”outside” would be the beginning and end of our journey.)

Once again, we were traveling via Zipcar, this time in a Scion xB. Tom picked up the car in the morning while I raced with Zoe via light rail to the downtown Portland Swimwear store to buy her an emergency suit. (We figured out at the last minute that we must have tossed her too-small gear after the end of the summer swimming season…oopsy.)

We were renting a wee cabin with a kitchen and access to a gas grill. Hence, we not only loaded our little car with bags and hiking gear, but also with a big old ice chest and heaps and heaps of food. There we were, in our cute little vehicle, stuffed like sardines, parked on the street outside of our building engaged in the inevitable husband/wife natter about the best route for undertaking the journey. All was normal…until we simultaneously noticed a yellow indicator light on the dash. It had an exclamation point. Couldn’t be good.

After maybe ten minutes looking through the HORRIBLE manual, we figured out what it was — tire inflation issues.

Next step: call Zipcar. They promptly assured us “it should probably be fine and if the tires go flat, you can just call us.” Mind you, about this time, I lept out of the car to see if any of the rubber appeared obviously low, only to have a heavy downpour of snow, rain, and hail open up from the heavens. We relayed to customer service, very politely, that if we got a flat tire driving to the middle of nowhere with a rain/snow mix coming down, they weren’t exactly going to be able to assist us in a timely manner. Happily, they agreed, and after considerable machinations involving both of our membership cards, we worked out a way to switch vehicles. (Upgraded to a big roomy minivan — oh yah!)

So, we took our clown car to the minivan’s parking lot and in the less-than-ideal weather, opened up both hatches and frantically transferred everything. I am sure we looked completely ridiculous implementing this fire drill, but we executed it flawlessly…by “we” I mean “Tom,” of course. That done, we returned our first vehicle to its home, and we were finally on our way…maybe an hour or two later than we wanted to be, but hey, this is why we don’t fly — it’s too stressful!

I am pleased to report that Hood Canal was its usual breathtaking self, all snug and warm nestled beneath the the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. We cooked yummy meals. We visited with Ian and Deborah. The girls swam and swam. Tom and I watched total trash cable TV until late into the evening (one of the side benefits of not having cable at home). And, we went for a walk through a beautiful estuary, from whence these pictures came. Kingfishers plunged into the cold waters. Great Blue Herons were hunting and doing that funny head shake as they swallowed their prey. Grebes and loons were afoot.

We journeyed home on December 31st, New Year’s Eve, a trip that we had planned to terminate with a stop at the Humane Society to pick up a kitten, yet another Christmas gift for the Zs. We left in plenty of time. We made good progress on the way home…until we stopped…quite literally. An accident on the I-5 Columbia Bridge had completely halted forward progress on the freeway. So close, and yet so far. After about 30 to 45 minutes stalled, we are able to exit and make our way over to the I-205 bridge, and then we circled back to the shelter on the Portland side of the mighty river.

Upon arrival at the Humane Society, we were told that they were cleaned out of all kittens, all juvenile cats, and that they wouldn’t have any more until Memorial Day. May? Really?

What could we do but hop back in the car and race to the Multnomah County Animal Shelter? Good idea, only it was closed early for the holiday. Our plans to get a kitten and spend the last weekend of the Zs’ vacation helping it get acclimated seemed to be dashed. All of us were pretty dejected as we pointed our borrowed auto in the direction of home.

While Tom made a few wrong turns trying to get back to the city, I worked my thumbs away on my smart phone. (God how did we ever live without these things?) And, at the eleventh hour, found a recently-opened cat-only shelter in Lake Oswego called The Oregon Cat. My poor husband gamely rerouted us again and off to LO we went.

We hit the trifecta: they were still open, they had kittens, and there was enough time to go through the adoption procedure.

The rest…well, that’s really a whole other blog post!

Family Travels, Part 1

Our first trip this winter break was a quick drive to Bend for some skiing, in celebration of Zoe’s birthday. We made the journey via Zipcar and rented a two bedroom place near the slopes. It was snowy and icy on the way, but nothing horrible. The car held its own, the mountain passes weren’t too bad, we made decent time, and prepared a fabulous dinner when we arrived.

By all traditional measures, and believe me, our standards are very low, our adventure started off with a bang (the stupendous meal really put us over the top).

The next morning, it was the usual schlep to get on the slopes. (Thank God for Tom, because the three women in his life hate getting up early, even if it means we get to go ski.) It was dumping snow when we made it to Mount Bachelor, scrambling madly to get the girls to their lessons on time (Zoe took up snowboarding this go around). Of course, lots of whining ensued about the being cold, and the carrying of the gear, and the donning of the boots. But, we made it. (It always feels like an Olympic event just to get to this point.)

Shed progeny…check!

After stowing gear in lockers and prepping ourselves, Tom and I finally took to the slopes. Normally, this is a joyous time, but I was feeling more than a bit nervous since it was my first attempt at skiing post knee surgery. To be honest, I was really hoping for some easy familiar runs on well-groomed intermediate trails.

Unfortunately, my plans were thwarted at the outset since there was a nice windy blizzard brewing. Visibility sucked… really, we couldn’t see anything most places on the mountain…not signs, not the snow, not the trail. Nada. And, of course, there was tons of chewed up powder, making the day even more difficult for me!

It was a rough outing, to say the least. My knee was sore as hell, Zelda was cold and had windburn on her face, and Zoe had contracted some altitude sickness symptoms (such as a mild fever) and was pretty beat up after her first day of snowboarding (She did really well, but had a sore neck 24 hours later after taking a few spectacular spills…always on her front edge with the toe turn.)

We closed out the day wanting to document the family in the torturous winter wonderland, only to discover that our new digital camera was broken. Lovely.

Weary, we headed back to our rented home, and the kids lobbied hard to bag skiing the next day so they could sleep late and go inner tubing instead. Tom reluctantly agreed to the change of plan. (Which I was secretly happy about since my icing/hot tub regimen wasn’t really improving my unhappy joint. Ironically though, the knee protection plan took a heavy hit after my first inner tube run. Some idiot teenage boy — son of very entitled parents — followed immediately behind me instead of waiting, as he was supposed to, and knocked me over like a bowling pin the second I got out of my tube, with Tom frantically yelling, “Watch out behind you!”)

Our inflatable fun had us leaving the mountain at about 2:00 pm. That’s not too late, we figured. All things being equal, we should still get over the pass at Mount Hood by 4:30 pm…just before dark.

Then the snow came…heavy and hard. By 4:30, we found ourselves in Madras, nowhere near the pass. Night fell as we traveled through lonely reservation lands, inching toward Mount Hood, with me trying to tail close behind a semi. Much of the time, I was only 20 or 30 feet from the large truck, and I still couldn’t see it! Both of us were crawling along, feeling our way down the road. The conditions were atrocious and Tom and I were hoping and praying we weren’t going to get stuck or have to double back.

At about 6:30, as we finally arrived at the pass, the snow was easing just a bit… and visibility was improving… and a collective sigh of relief was heaved in the minivan… well, at least by the adults who were paying attention. Of course, right then, all traffic halted in both directions. A downed tree was blocking the road and a vehicle had tried to drive over it and was stuck. The drivers of the trapped cars began a mad search for someone with a chain saw. Thankfully, this being Oregon and all, it didn’t take long! A wonderful guy in his Carhartt‘s had that fir cut into rounds and cleared off to the side of the road in no time.

We rolled down the windows of our van and all thanked him soundly and roundly, in unison, as we inched by, “…Ready, 1…2…3….Thank you for clearing the tree!!!” He laughed and waved back to us.

Bike Sixty Nine