Look at this handsome fellow.

Look at this handsome fellow.

Best thing about waking up this morning was that we were still at the Waddling Dog! He was gracious enough to allow me to snap his photo as we checked out.

We were at The Butchart Gardens right when they opened, and M and I walked for a couple of hours in the drizzle. We were both so glad we added the gardens to our trip. Two good things about touring the garden today: the grey skies prevented the sunshine washout in our photos, and there were very few people around. See? I’m a Pollyanna to the core.

Her Royal Highness, Victoria

Her Royal Highness, Victoria

The Sunken Garden was our favourite, followed by the Japanese garden for me. I’m not sure if he would choose a different second best garden. The grounds are immense and March was a good choice because the trees were blossoming and the bulbs were at peak. Tulips and daffodils and hyacinths galore! As it rained and rained, M decided he would like to work there. He wanted to have the job of watering the plants.

While most of the plants were familiar to me because the climate on Vancouver Island is similar to Portland, we finally got to a section where M knew all the plants: the indoor room, filled with orchids and other exotics that I find hard to imagine growing wild, like M described it.

We returned south along Highway 17, now becoming familiar. M is constantly astonished at the laid back nature of Vancouver drivers, who are extremely polite and make room for the Jeep while we change lanes. Not like Boston drivers. Back in Victoria we took one of those little yellow water taxis I included in my post yesterday. It was inexpensive and fun. We got out at Fisherman’s Wharf and ate fresh sturgeon for lunch – yum! I was stuffed for the rest of the day. While we ate, we watched kids feeding mackerel to seals off the dock.

Victoria is a lovely city. We saw interesting  architecture, history, statues, cultures. M (from Sri Lanka) and I (from the US) both have a history of British Colonization…but much different obviously. Coming across the many references to Britain, the Queen, the crown, etc. caused a reaction in him each time we saw something new. I am getting a bit of an education on this trip, I will say. And I trust he is as well. If only you could hear the discussions we’ve been having for days on end while the Jeep carries us around the wet West.

Rain. Yes. Lots and lots and lots.

After a good look at the key points of downtown, we were ready for the next adventure. We got onto the Tsawassen Ferry without so much as a bump in the road, and by evening were on the mainland. We went through the rain and dark in search of my blogger buddy from Quillscratches. We found her! We went and had eats and drinks and chats and then I had to break it all up because I just need my sleep. M has been such an accommodating traveling companion.

Here’s my plan: I’ll drop a couple photos on you and add an IOU for a new post dedicated just to the Butchart Gardens, since I took many many photos and don’t have the time to go through them all tonight. Cheers! Thanks everyone who has been travelling along with us and commenting. It has been a lot of fun to do this trip with a group of friends. ;-)

Delicate twins. Beds of Flowers are often raised, making close-ups of tiny, ground-hugging flowers easier.

Delicate twins. Flower beds are often raised, making close-ups of tiny, ground-hugging flowers easier.

This is what we were able to see because it is March.

This is what we were able to see because it is March.

The Sunken Garden.

The Sunken Garden.

Darling little water taxis.

Darling little water taxis.

Kids feeding the sea lions. Look at the expressions on their faces!

Kids feeding the seals. Look at the expressions on their faces!

There was also an otter.

There was also an otter.

Next fish for me?

Next fish for me?

We loved the colorful floating village.

We loved the colorful floating village.

Here's another look at all the house boats at Fisherman's Wharf.

Here’s another look at all the house boats at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The most impressive architecture in town is the Parliament Building.

The most impressive architecture in town is the Parliament Building.

Parliament Building domes

Parliament Building domes

Grand entranceway

Grand entrance way

Confederation Garden Court

Confederation Garden Court

A hunter so intent on its prey that it held still while I got close for a photo.

A hunter so intent on its prey that it held still while I got close for a photo.

British history is embraced in Victoria, British Columbia's capitol city.

British history is embraced in Victoria, British Columbia’s capitol city.

The hour and a half ferry journey from Swartz to Tsawassen was more interesting than the previous ferry ride, because we wound our way through islands.

The hour and a half ferry journey from Swartz to Tsawassen was more interesting than the previous ferry ride, because we wound our way through islands.

M on the deck in the wind.

M on the deck in the wind.

Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was meditative to stare into the water.

Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was meditative to stare into the water.

I was having a leisurely morning, checking this and that on the WiFi, including the ferry schedules from Port Angeles. My neighbor back home had given me a bit of a pre-warning about wait times for the ferries and I was trying to plan ahead. At 9:00 am, I decided to reserve a spot for the Jeep, and discovered that the 2:00pm trip was already sold out. I called transit authority and spoke with a man who suggested a show up “a little early” and try to get on the boat via standby.

“How much is ‘a little early?'” I asked.

“If you aren’t here by 11:00, you probably won’t get on,” he answered.

Since we were an hour’s drive away, that meant we had to get crack-a-lackin’! I called Mads and debriefed. I jumped in the shower, and soon we were on the road. The drive from Forks, Washington to Port Angeles was deeply forested at first, like much of what we had seen yesterday. Then we came into high mountain peaks surrounding deep sparkling lakes, and the speed limit dropped to 35. It was gorgeous, but I was nervous. Particularly when driving 35 mph. Showing up for a 2pm ferry by 11am was going to take up a huge portion of our day. And then… what if we didn’t get on the boat? Then what?

We found the ferry line without any effort at all, and presented passports, paid, and were in line by 10:45. We were #5 on standby. The woman who let us in explained painstakingly: there were no spots left. We could pay the $80 for a one-way trip, but no guarantee. If we didn’t get a place, we could take a refund or the next trip at 8:30 the next day.

Before we left the car, we called up Port Townsend, and reserved a spot there on the 3:30 ferry, so if we couldn’t make the Port Angeles one, we had a back-up plan. At about 11:30 we left the Jeep and walked into town. And ate, Finally! Starving at that point.

We wandered around town and were thanking the gods for the warmth and sunshine. The temp was around 50 degrees, but it was NOT RAINING! This was cause for big smiles.

…and we got on the boat! There was room enough for at least 8 standby vehicles, so #5 in line made it! We high-fived and did a facebook check-in. The trip was 90 minutes’ straight shot to Victoria, British Columbia. We got through customs without a hiccup, found parking directly in front of the BC Museum downtown, and we went in to ask questions. Betty, the sweetest woman, gave us all the info she could, which included easy directions to The Butchart Gardens.

Off we went! Within twenty minutes of arriving in a new country, we were zooming along the Pat Bay Highway, bumper to bumper with all those British Columbia license plates.

Butchart Gardens was closed. What?! Winter hours. Bewildered, we asked a gardener for a recommendation of a place to stay, and ended up at the BEST place: The Waddling Dog. The price is fabulous. The character is undeniable. The Happy Hour was all one could ask for, and hockey was on (complete with a flashing red light when a goal was made by the home team. The same red light that flashes at a real hockey game!). It may not have been the most eventful day, but it was an excellent one nonetheless.

View of Port Angeles from a high point we found after breakfast/lunch.

View of Port Angeles from a high point we found after breakfast/lunch.

There were entertaining displays inside the ferry building, such as this crab display.

There were entertaining displays inside the ferry building, such as this crab display.

On the ferry, we felt a few raindrops, but for the most part stayed ahead of the poor weather.

On the ferry, we felt a few raindrops, but for the most part stayed ahead of the poor weather.

I loved this brass bell on deck.

I loved this brass bell on deck.

It was a little chilly, but I don't understand why there were hardly any folks on deck. This huge ferry was packed with cars and people, but most stayed indoors.

It was a little chilly, but I don’t understand why there were hardly any folks on deck. This huge ferry was packed with cars and people, but most stayed indoors.

We looked back to get this shot of our ferry, as we left it.

We looked back to get this shot of our ferry, as we left it.

The bay at Victoria included this wonderful taxi.

The bay at Victoria included this wonderful taxi.

Victoria is a lovely European-looking city.

Victoria is a lovely European-looking city.

This totem pole is in front of the museum. I am pretty sure this is Tlingit Indian design.

This totem pole is in front of the museum. This is Coast Salish Indian design.

Yay Canadians! One more reason to love you.

Display in the ferry building: Yay Canadians! Maintaining the rum ration: another reason to love you.

"So sorry. We close at 4pm in March. Please come another day." (Dearest readers, please cross your fingers for us that it will not be pouring in the morning when we try again.)

“So sorry. We close at 4pm in March. Please come another day.” (Dearest readers, please cross your fingers for us that it will not be pouring in the morning when we try again.)

We stayed at The Waddling Dog, and were greeted - I kid you not - by an easy going basset hound, who howled a greeting at us until his mistress showed up from the back.

We stayed at The Waddling Dog, and were greeted – I kid you not – by a basset hound, who howled a greeting at us until his mistress showed up from the back.

This place holds too many delights, like cast iron weiner dogs in all the fan vents.

This place holds too many delights, like cast iron weiner dogs in all the fan vents.

"A continental breakfast will be served in the library," we were told.

“A continental breakfast will be served in the library,” we were told.

This was the view this morning beyond our table at the Holiday Inn Express. Can you believe this view?

This was the view this morning beyond our table at the Holiday Inn Express. Can you believe this view?

Today the weather did its best to dampen spirits, but we prevailed! Good day despite the rain and hail and chill. Plus, good soggy rain photos get a few laughs, so there’s a couple more points for me.

Look what we found! It had 911 service, but you could not use it for calls. Too cool.

Look what we found! You could not use it for calls, but it had 911 service. Too cool.

Astoria, Oregon is the location where the movie The Goonies was filmed. If you didn’t see the Goonies, or don’t remember it, then trust me: you’d love it. A story of a gang of boys who go looking for buried treasure and end up on a heck of an adventure. We found the building that was the jailhouse in the movie. Scenes from yesterday’s post – Haystack Rock and the boardwalk at sunset – were also in the movie. I had been hopping with excitement all day Sunday, waiting for the chance to see “Mikey’s house” the unforgettable house in the movie.

The owner of the property graciously invites visitors, and has signs directing tourists right to the spot, including the best places to park.

As we walked up the gravel drive to the house, M and I were stunned to see a prominent, sparkling new flag flying smack in the middle of the porch, clearly making a political statement, and one that was deeply offensive to us. The “NOBAMA” sticker on the car next to the house will give a sense of the political bent. We stood silent, making faces of disbelief and dismay, for a full five minutes before we could move. All my joy and excited anticipation was demolished, and I forced myself to take a couple photos once M suggested editing the flag out. You can use your imagination and cover the flag in something that gives you bouncing childlike happiness…to make up for what I lost first thing this morning.

We ate fresher-than-fresh oysters for lunch, and learned about multiple Indian tribes as we drove through a lot of Indian country and past reservations. It rained and rained and got colder and rained some more. We saw sunbeams a couple of times. Finally we stopped in Forks, Washington for the night.

Astoria-Megler Bridge from Oregon to Washington. We took this bridge and soon began the Washington leg of the trip.

Astoria-Megler Bridge from Oregon to Washington. We took this bridge and soon began the Washington leg of the trip.

The grey sky matched the grey water and made it look like this building was floating in air.

The grey sky matched the grey water and made it look like this building was floating in air.

Jailhouse from The Goonies

Jailhouse from The Goonies

Mikey's House. Goonies Never Say Die!

Mikey’s House. Goonies Never Say Die!

We saw two lighthouses. The second one was at Cape Disappointment, but this one, called North Head Lighthouse, was more of a disappointment. It was all wrapped up for repairs, except for the part the winds have torn off.

We saw two lighthouses. The second one was at Cape Disappointment, but this one, called North Head Lighthouse, was more of a disappointment. It was all wrapped up for repairs, except for the part the winds have torn off.

Coast Guard ships

Coast Guard ships

The lookout at Cape Disappointment. At the northernmost point of the mighty Columbia, it was strangely named in 1788 by John Meares, expressing his chagrin at not being able to find the Columbia River.

The lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. On the north side of the mouth of the mighty Columbia, it was named in 1788 by John Meares, expressing his chagrin at not being able to find the Columbia River. Puzzling. Or hilarious.

Horsetails along a trail

Horsetails along a trail

Rainforest trees look like the long hairy arms of a green ape.

Rainforest trees look like the long hairy arms of a green ape.

The World's largest Sitka Spruce. 58 feet 11 inches in circumference, 191 feet tall, approximately 1,000 years old.

The World’s largest Sitka Spruce. 58 feet 11 inches in circumference, 191 feet tall, approximately 1,000 years old.

Me at the base of the spruce tree.

Me at the base of the spruce tree.

Me on the spruce tree

Me on the spruce tree

M waiting in the rain while I played at the base of the tree.

M waiting in the rain while I played at the base of the tree.

Fabulous sea stacks at Ruby Beach

Fabulous sea stacks at Ruby Beach

Windows through a sea stack.

Windows through a sea stack.

Long, wet day is done. My goodness it's getting late. I make such sacrifices for you people! ;-)

Long, wet day is done. My goodness it’s getting late. I make such sacrifices for you people! ;-)

The view north from Cape Lookout State Park, near Tillamook, Oregon

The view north from Cape Lookout State Park, near Tillamook, Oregon. This was the first moment we spotted the Pacific Ocean on our trip. We plan to hug the sea and go north until we run out of time.

#PDXcarpet

#PDXcarpet

My college friend M flew out last night and I picked him up at PDX airport. Was very excited for a chance to get what will certainly be one of my last chances to take a selfie of my feet on the Portland Airport Carpet. The famous teal carpet is being torn up amidst the gnashing of teeth. Beloved by Portlanders, this carpet has a line of merchandise, a facebook page, and a twitter feed. And it’s going to be the Grand Marshall at our upcoming Starlight Parade. Yes, we are a bit wonky in Portland.

This morning we took off on our coast road trip. I have challenged myself to post each night, because I promise I will not post 7 days’ worth of photos in a timely manner once I get home and go back to my busy life. It has to be done now or not at all. Wish me luck.

Thus, I am going to go heavy on the photos w/captions, and light on the talk. Please enjoy.

Driving past this marshy area, I was drawn to these flowers. Aren't they interesting from a distance? I knew it would be worth the trouble to get a close up, so we pulled over.

Driving past this marshy area, I was drawn to these flowers. Aren’t they interesting from a distance? I knew it would be worth the trouble to get a close up, so we pulled over.

What a fabulous flower.

What a fabulous flower.

We left the house and came through the center of Portland so I could show a little of the city to M on our way West. We explored the outdoor amphitheater in the center of the volcanic cone of Mt. Tabor, then we spotted clusters of food carts, went down Hawthorne Street, and crossed the Willamette River. Purely by coincidence, we ended up downtown next to a classic Portland must-see spot, on my way to Chinatown. So we pulled over and waited in line 25 minutes to get into Voodoo Doughnut. Check out the link: craziest doughnuts you’ve ever seen. As M said, “Take that Dunkin Donuts!”

Portland is such a lovely small city that in minutes we were out of town and heading toward the coast. The sky kept things interesting all day: alternating drizzle to rain to mist and then one actual downpour with hail. We did get some breaks of sun that sometimes corresponded with our stops.

We toured the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and ate some of their fabulous ice cream. That was just too much sugar for one day, but neither of us is entirely sorry. We toured the cheese making operations, and purchased giant slabs of extra sharp white cheddar. We ended the day in Astoria, and now I need to rest up for tomorrow. (spoiler: Goonies!)

Tillamook Cheese Factory

Tillamook Cheese Factory

The factory floor.

The factory floor.

A view along the coast.

A view along the coast.

I am in love with the sharp dramatic cliffs of the Pacific Northwest coast. Reminds me of the scenes in Japanese traditional art.

I am in love with the sharp dramatic cliffs of the Pacific Northwest coast.

See how the highway cuts a slice right through the rock?

See how the highway cuts a slice right through the rock?

Enormous slabs of cheese! They must be 20-lb blocks or so.

Enormous slabs of cheese! They must be 20-lb blocks or so.

I may know how that raccoon sticker got on that sign.

I may know how that raccoon sticker got on that sign.

My friend M is as addicted to photo as myself, thank goodness.

My friend M is as addicted to photo as myself, thank goodness.

Another vista point. They are all stunning. How grateful I am for the bursts of sun right when I need them.

Another vista point. This one of Haystack Rock. They are all stunning. How grateful I am for the bursts of sun right when I need them.

The Astoria Column is remarkable and I must look up the story of this structure. In the meantime, this is what it looks like.

The Astoria Column is remarkable and I must look up the story of this structure. In the meantime, this is what it looks like.

And this is the view from the top. That's the Astoria Megler Bridge connecting Oregon to Washington, across the mouth of the Columbia River.

And this is the view from the top. That’s the Astoria Megler Bridge connecting Oregon to Washington, across the mouth of the Columbia River.

Here's the view of M from the column.

Here’s the view of M from the column.

We chose seafood for supper and then had to run out of the restaurant before the food came because sunset was happening. You get that, right? It was impossible for photo addicts to let this one go.

We chose seafood for supper and then had to run out of the restaurant before the food came because sunset was happening. You get that, right? It was impossible for photo addicts to let this one go.

Seagull on an old boiler from the seaside fish processing days.

Seagull on an old boiler from the seaside fish processing days.

What a beautiful boiler.

What a beautiful boiler.

I caught this one and then it was time to head back in for halibut.

I caught this one and then it was time to head back in for halibut.

Our trail climbed steeply, and the payoff was incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge.

Our trail climbed steeply, and the payoff was incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge.

DSC_0035I joined a Meetup Portland group recently.  I actually just heard about Meetup on the radio, and it turns out there are groups all over the country – tons of them! For stamp collectors and entrepreneurs and knitters and singles over 60 and gamers and history buffs. If you’re looking for a group to join, check this out and see if you find anything you like: http://www.meetup.com. Ok, cheesy advertisement over. (They didn’t even pay me!)

Anyhow, the group that looked the best to me was PNW Women’s Outdoor Group, Hiking in the Pacific Northwest. I made a great choice! The leader is a person brimming with positive energy, the women were all enthusiastic about being on the trail. The group offers at least three events a week – so there is no possible way I could do all of it, but I love the idea that there is always something going on, and I can sign up for what works in my crazy busy schedule.

A lovely trailhead sign for the Cherry Orchard Trail.

A lovely trailhead sign for the Cherry Orchard Trail.

We hiked through trees at the beginning, but soon climbed up and out onto the exposed mountainside.

We hiked through trees at the beginning, but soon climbed up and out onto the exposed mountainside.

I went on my first hike on an incredible and unseasonably spectacular sunny day in the Gorge. We all gathered at a meeting place just 5 minutes from my house (it couldn’t get any more convenient) and piled into vehicles together. That was nice because I was able to get to know a few of the women before we hiked.

One great thing about this group is that I will be introduced to new trails in the Columbia River Gorge that I haven’t had a chance to hike yet. In this case, I had hiked the Coyote Wall trail near Lyle, Washington, so I knew the landscape. When the announcement came out that we would be hiking the Cherry Orchard Trail that also begins near Lyle, I knew ahead of time that I would like it.

One person in our group was very knowledgeable about the wildflowers and was able to name everything we spotted.

One person in our group was very knowledgeable about the wildflowers and was able to name everything we spotted.

I was surprised at how many wildflowers were bursting to life so early in the season.

I was surprised at how many wildflowers were bursting to life so early in the season.

Our winter sun doesn’t rise very high in the sky yet, and it was a chilly chilly morning. What a boon, then, to be hiking on the Washington side. The cliffs with all the waterfalls you’ve seen in my posts are on the Oregon side, and that side stays shady much of the day all year round. On this morning we hiked the other side of the river, and soaked up the sunshine till we were toasty warm and smiling.

It was a nice short trail – only two miles – and the views hit us right away and made the little discomforts all worth it. Getting up at 6am on a weekend, bundling up in freezing morning temps, going alone into a group of strangers for a day…an inexpensive price for being out in this beautiful world with beautiful women.

Even in the leafless brown winter, this landscape is compelling.

Even in the leafless brown winter, this landscape is compelling.

Looking down onto the Columbia River.

Looking down onto the Columbia River.

That's me, holding my Tilly hat to make sure it didn't blow into the next state!

That’s me, holding my Tilly hat to make sure it didn’t blow into the next state!

I was feeling a little artistic with this one.

I was feeling a little artistic with this one.

Looking east from where we picnicked at the top of the trail.

Looking east from where we picnicked at the top of the trail.

And looking west, back toward Portland, from our lunch stop.

And looking west, back toward Portland, from our lunch stop.

Something about this landscape is stunning to me. On the surface, it is desolate and dry and colourless. Still, I find it spectacular.

Something about this landscape is stunning to me. On the surface, it is desolate and dry and colourless. Still, I find it spectacular.

This is me, photographing one of the ancient Cherry trees for which the trail takes its name. Thanks to the group leader S for the photo!

This is me, photographing one of the ancient Cherry trees from which the trail takes its name. Thanks to the group leader S for the photo!

I’m not sure this pole is as squirrel-proof as the company who sold it to me believes it to be. However, I added some olive oil, and that was more effective.

P.S. Don’t you just love the symphony of bird voices I get to hear while I work from home?

Nothing says "Spring" like newly opening flowers.

Nothing says “Spring” like newly opening flowers.

Tara and I visited Laurelhurst Park a couple weeks ago to take advantage of glorious February sunshine. The park was lovely, as always, though not as advanced into signs of Springtime as we had hoped. I took plenty of shots, in my typical fashion, and nothing grabbed my heart until…these.

Reaching up hopefully to a weak Spring sun.

Reaching up hopefully to a weak Spring sun.

A tiny package of delight, reaching out to me.

A tiny package of delight, reaching out to me.

The light behind these buds and flowers is inspiring!

Has that ever happened to you? You are walking along, looking around, taking all things in as more or less equal contributors into your environment, and then BLAM! An incredible snapshot is framed ahead of you. Terrible when you see it without a camera nearby. But what a treasure when the Nikon is slung around your neck at that moment. Carefully pull the strap over your head without breaking eye contact with that amazing view, switching it on as part of the fluid swish of motion, since – for heaven’s sakes the “on switch” is programmed into subconscious memory by now.

And the greatest treasure of all: when the photos look as wonderful on your laptop as they did in the tiny viewfinder.

I couldn't get enough of the fuzzy flower buds. Tara was getting chilly, hopping from one foot to the other, while I was not aware of temperature at all.

I couldn’t get enough of the fuzzy flower buds. Tara was getting chilly, hopping from one foot to the other, while I was not aware of temperature at all.

Obviously, all the light and dark made me think of black and white.

Obviously, all the light and dark made me think of black and white.

This is Peanut. He was sort of freaked out about the Nikon, but not so freaked out that he was going to pass up a peanut.

This is Peanut. He was sort of freaked out about the Nikon, but not so freaked out that he was going to pass up a peanut.

Quick note today. I just managed to snap this photo and wanted to show it to you.

The squirrels and I have a complex relationship of both attraction and conflict. I’ve trained two of them to eat from my hand: Peanut, the fat red one. And Mushroom, the silver and white one. They are both males, which proves I haven’t lost my appeal at 45. Yes, if I am handing out food, the boys will still be putty in my hands! Peanut is so greedy, he will put his tiny squirrel fingers on my fingers to pull my hand to him and get that peanut faster.

The problem with our relationship is that they also believe that the bird feeders are for them too. Peanut will pull the lid off the larger feeder and curl up inside it, and munch seeds. Mushroom has a sweet tooth, and prefers the hummingbird feeder. He will put one of the plastic flower tubes in his mouth, tip the feeder, and gulp, gulp, gulp.

I can see them from my work desk at home, and I come busting out of the house, yelling, “Get off the hummingbird feeder you brat! And you! Quit spilling cracked corn all over the grass!”

They hop a couple feet away and look at me, “Did you bring peanuts?”

My cousin called me the Squirrel Whisperer. I’ve been asked if I have taught them to pick up lentils and fold laundry yet, like in a Disney film. Not YET.

A, T, and Tara on the right, on the gorgeous Oregon State University campus

A, T, and Tara on the right, together making the Oregon State University campus even more attractive. ;-)

Colleges have been on our minds for awhile, but the pitch and volume are increasing. We’re mostly past the application period, as deadlines for most colleges and universities have come and gone. Still in the nail-biting period of not having heard from any of them whether Tara has been accepted.

I said “we’re,” and it’s a little inappropriate to say it was a joint effort, as Tara has done most of the work. However, Mom has done a bucketload of essay support and editing, which involves not only the writing part, and having to recall the exact date of ACT testing and volunteer work at the Buddhist temple, but the morale and emotional support of keeping a freaked out teen full of hormones from totally wigging out and having a nervous breakdown after the 27th time of clicking word count and finding that the essay is still 12 words over the limit. It has been a super great exercise for me in being an editor, in that when I manage to keep my suggestions out of it, Tara has written some unbelievably good stuff. Really good. As in, I’m wondering if the people in Admissions who read Tara’s essays are going to believe that all I did was point out run-on sentences and changes in tense. How good are teen writers these days? Well, if Admissions will only condescend to an interview, they’ll find out in 2 minutes that Tara is as eloquent and wise beyond their years as the essays seem to imply.

In Boston, over Halloween, we checked out my Alma mater, Brandeis University, as well as UMass Boston and Harvard when our friends showed us around the other campuses. “Why do you guys want me to go to school in Boston?” Tara asked of R. He replied with a smile, “Because if you go to school here, we get your mother.” It’s nice to be loved.

My brother in Seattle has been pestering me for a year to get Tara up there to visit the University of Washington campus, particularly since it’s a school that offers an environmental program that Tara is interested in. It’ll be our next stop for sure, along with Western Washington University, right next door to UW.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

While Tara initially insisted that no Oregon or California school would even be considered, due to the proximity to parents coinciding with a deep and abiding desire to get away from parents….we discovered that one of the best Forestry programs in the whole world is 1 1/2 hours south, in Corvallis, Oregon at Oregon State University. Tara has wanted to study Forestry since about 5th grade. After some agonizing over the implications of being in the same state as Mom, Tara gave in and applied. Once that hurdle was crossed, the applications to Portland State University, University of Oregon, UC Davis, Humboldt State University (in the same town Tara’s dad lives in California) and Stanford followed. I’m relieved that the potential for in-state tuition now exists. I consider it absolutely unfair that I have to contemplate helping Tara with student loans while I’m still paying my own. And trust me, FAFSA does not give a flying pig about whether parents are paying student loans, when calculating the expected family contribution.

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn't get a little excited about this?

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn’t get a little excited about this?

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

After telling other parents which schools Tara applied to, a comment I’ve heard frequently is something along the lines of, “Wow, Tara must be brilliant to be able to apply to those schools!” I know what they’re thinking, and no, my kid does not have straight A’s. Tara gets pretty good grades – that’s the best I can say about it. The thing is, colleges and universities – particularly the very best ones – do NOT want carbon copies of straight-A automatons filling their Freshman classes.

I was the first person in my family to get a college degree, and I figured out why that is a big deal. Because I know things that I can teach Tara that my parents were not able to teach me. For one thing, there is absolutely no reason to limit yourself when thinking about college. Someone pushed me until I learned that lesson, so I was able to do it for my own child. What schools actually want is to know how a potential student will contribute to their college. So the ability to get good grades is definitely important, but so are creativity, involvement, motivation, diversity of perspective. This is what I was able to tell my kid: you are more than your grades, and yes, these colleges know that and they are dying to see it in your applications.

It took nudging and some psychological gymnastics, but I got Tara to apply to tons of schools covering a wide range of school cultures and reputations and donor levels and numbers of (and lack of) famous alumni. Public and Private. Easily affordable and ridiculously expensive. And now my kid is out there in the world. I got Tara to visualize being the kind of student who could apply to Stanford, and have a decent chance of being considered. Now THAT was my goal. Academic program and Financial package are the two main things that should determine where Tara goes to school. “Am I good enough?” cannot be one of the factors.

In my opinion, any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as nearby Universities always are.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as neighboring Universities always are.

President’s Day I took my kid and besties A and T down to visit the OSU campus. We showed up with 535 other registered visitors that day and we filled the auditorium for the 8:30 am welcome. We were then shuttled off to a briefing just for students interested in the College of Forestry, and heard that OSU is ranked 7th in the world for Agriculture and Forestry studies. We learned that there is an 11,500 acre demonstration forest a few miles away that is considered part of the campus, and that students attend many classes there learning silviculture and preservation and identification and a hundred other things.

Oregon State University has a gorgeous campus. Tara got pretty excited about the six-story library, so we went inside and took an elevator to the sixth -and silent!- floor to look around. Apparently there are some Nobel prizes displayed in the library, but we were already getting ready to head to the next campus when we heard about them, so we did not go back and look.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

Pink blossoms didn't show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

Pink blossoms didn’t show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature "O" is everywhere.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature “O” is everywhere.

Thirty minutes down I-5 is the University of Oregon – home of the Ducks. We were not registered to visit here, so there was no planned itinerary. We just walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, and there’s something to be said for that. Kids were sprawled everywhere in the warm sunshine. Groups sat all over the grass, laughing and studying. There were pick-up basketball games, frisbee, and hackey sack. Music was playing. It was definitely a place a kid would want to spend 4 years. It made the focused and subdued OSU students seem rather uninteresting, I have to say.

I was glad for the big Jeep being large enough to haul the kids in comfort. They wanted to sit together in the back seat, so we filled the front passenger seat with jackets and backpacks and gluten-free snacks and maps and college brochures. Sometimes….yes, sometimes I’m ok with fitting the image of a suburban Mom.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Very cool glass building at UO.

Very cool glass building at UO.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

I need to be outside to feel completely right. Breathing fresh air brings me peace. I wish I could live outside – except for the dirt, ha! During the warm months I open up half the windows in the house, and they stay open -morning, noon and night- till November when I am forced to shut up the house again.

So it follows that in winter I tend to go a little stir crazy when the weather keeps me indoors too long.

Lucky for me, I do not live in New England right now, and going outside is pretty much a breeze. Wednesday the temps were in the 50s with fog and only a slight chance of drizzle. I picked a show-stopper of a trail to add some Zing! to my winter, and off I went. Well, I had a late start because first thing that morning I toured a home for sale in Estacada. I liked it so much I made an offer, and then heard it had sold 15 minutes earlier. Dang!

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular in the Columbia River Gorge because the trailhead is an easy 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, and also because it packs a lot of scenic beauty into a few short miles on a super easy trail. For these reasons, in warmer months the parking spaces at the trailhead are typically jammed, and cars line the sides of the road all the way out to the Interstate. I thought perhaps the middle of the day Wednesday, in February, would mean an empty trail but I was wrong. There were about 25 vehicles parked when we arrived.

Guidebooks caution that it’s not a good trail for children and dogs, and that everyone should use care. Much of the trail was actually blasted out of the side of a cliff above sheer drops into the creek. In 2009, two people died on this trail, one due to a 100-foot fall.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff. The cable is there to hold on to.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

My philosophy is that there is potential danger all around us at all times, and that a trail is actually safer than a sidewalk. As long as I dress right, bring extra gear, water, food, etc., and in this particular case if I stay on the trail, I am confident that it will be a safe hike. Using our smarts will keep many of us alive. You’d think that would mean after 7 million years of natural selection our human population would be filled with only brilliant individuals, but somehow…that is not the case. :)

From the trailhead, it’s a 12-mile hike to Tunnel Falls, which I have never seen because I have never hiked that far. There are spectacular sights along the entire trail, but so far I have only hiked in 2 miles to Punchbowl Falls and then returned. There is so much to see in such a short distance that I use the trail for day hikes when I don’t have much time to invest.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

In the winter, there are waterfalls. And waterfalls, and waterfalls! They are astonishingly high, crashing down on both sides of the creek every few hundred feet or so. In some places you have no choice but to get wet because the trail hugs the cliff, and the falls spill down the cliffs. At one point near the beginning of the trail, a waterfall arcs over the top of the trail and you walk beneath it. (By the way, this is why Tunnel Falls has it’s name) The falls are so common that despite many of them being remarkable enough to warrant a postcard if they were solitary waterfalls in some other place…HERE most of them are not even named.

Lower Punchbowl Falls is a fun place to play in the water in the summer, and one can walk out into the creek and get a great view of the big falls. On this trip, it was too chilly to even consider going into the water for a view. It was lovely, and we watched others play around with each other and with their dogs. Despite the dog and child warnings, many people brought their dogs and children – and I’m glad. This is a place that really should be experienced by all.

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there's just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there’s just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail...

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail…

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I'm standing is the one at the top of this post - jaw-droppingly gorgeous.)

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I’m standing is the one at the top of this post –  the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Punchbowl Falls.)

Heading back to the trailhead along these truly remarkable and beautiful cliffs.

The rocks, trees, and cliffs are adorned with luscious moss.

One of my many guises

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