Monday, June 30, 2014

Our First Morty Adventure Ends

After our shift linkage fell out on our way through SLO (San Luis Obispo), we were super paranoid the rest of the trip, and kept stopping when we heard a new noise. And since this was Morty's first trip, all noises were new noises. It was slow going to Santa Cruz, which was only 2 hours away, and we ended up arriving at 10pm, well after dark. 

Luckily, the campsite was really nice, we got a spot near the restrooms (which were some of the cleanest I have ever been in!), and we spent a decently comfortable night.

Morty at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, site #32

This trip has totally inspired me to keep notes on campsites that we travel through, as tips like bathroom cleanliness, insect control, cost/fees and privacy are things I find very important, but aren't always rated or noted in reviews. A new tab with campsite recommendations is coming soon!

The next day, we got up super early and headed inland and north, towards the I-5. Our cigarette lighter/charger doesn't quite work yet, but thanks to our buddies John and Jorj, we had solar power to charge our phones. 

Goal Zero solar charger - free energy!

I cannot wait for the day that I have solar power for my entire home. All the destruction of the environment, wars, and pollution that we suffer through, just for gas and oil and coal to power homes - it's idiotic. We could be getting free, clean energy all the time. Mike's already got an auxiliary battery for Morty, so we can put solar panels on his roof and have energy on long camping trips (without using the motor or gas). The future is here! 

And while we're on the topic of the environment, some sad California drought scenes we saw on our way up to Oregon:

brown, brown pastures for miles and miles.

Lake Shasta, which should be up to the level of the trees. For scale, that little white thing
on the right side of the picture is a large boat.

One of the things I love most about traveling is that it gives you perspective. And even though this wasn't a fuzzy, feel good perspective, it did hammer home the fact that water may run through the pipes at home just as it did before, and it may cost the same monetarily, but there is an overall planetary cost that you just don't see every day. Things are changing, and people's lives are affected.

Passing through Shasta National Forest, with Mike at the helm.

After we passed Lake Shasta, it was just another hour to Castle Crags State Park. We were anxious to get home and see our pets, so we didn't hit the hiking trails here, but we are definitely coming back. This place is beautiful, isolated, and perfect for groups to hang out (and these bathrooms are even cleaner than the last!). Lots of bear warnings, though. We decided to eat all our food and store it inside our bodies, rather than stick it in the bear box. There were lots of spiders in there, and somehow, that seemed scarier.

Castle Crags State Park, site #14. Stunning scenery, complete with bears.

Morty likes camping!

The "Castle Crags" from which the park gets its name. Picture from web, no credit listed.

We made it home to Bend the next day, and as much as we love Los Angeles, and hunger for Mexican food, and miss our family and friends...home is where your bed is. And our bed is in Bend. Although, I did just buy some super awesome foam padding for Morty, so our bed may soon be wherever we want it to be.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Adventure Time!

Mike had been gone 10 days when I decided to fly down to Los Angeles and help him drive the van up. I had found a $109.00 ticket, leaving in two days, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I packed, arranged for a pet sitter, and called the cab.

When I got to the airport, I found out I had actually booked my ticket for JULY, not June. Oops. When I thought about it, it was very weird that I could buy a super cheap ticket only a couple days in advance.

Yes, I am a moron.

Luckily, the kind, no-nonsense lady at the ticket counter rescheduled me to fly out that very day, same times, for no extra charge. I am now a huge fan of Alaska Airlines!

I got to LA just fine, and helped Mike finish up the van.

me, putting on door seals.

We got it running and figured we'd do the rest (interior, etc) up in Bend. We christened the car with the name we had picked for a future child: Mortimer Danger Manser. "Morty" for short. Human Morty is probably super glad he was never born and subjected to that name. I think Vanagon Morty loves his name, though. It fits. He's an old soul, but tough.

Mike, baptizing Morty with a bath.

We couldn't wait to leave on our first adventure back to Bend! We decided to take the coastal route up (much prettier than the I-5), and pass all the VW Vanagon specialty service shops and suppliers. We needed to buy a few things for the interior, and a few things for our other Vanagon. And in case you didn't catch that, yes, we have another Vanagon in the works, up in Bend. She's blue, with a sunroof! 

It's so fun to be on the road; you can do whatever you want. I'd never been to a mission before, so we stopped at the Santa Barbara Mission for a quick tour.

Mike at the front of the Santa Barbara Mission, which is over 200 years old.

Inside the church. Opulent, as most churches are...

skull and crossbones outside the door, marking the entrance to the cemetery.

Huge, gorgeous tree in the cemetery. Love these!

We were SO lucky we took the coastal route, because Morty decided to lose part of his shift linkage on the way. It was one of the only mechanical pieces we didn't replace. Guess he thought he should have a new one. We heard something bouncing off while we were on the freeway, looked at each other and said, "rock?" Then, "wouldn't it be funny if Morty was just falling apart?" HA. We lost the part only 20 miles from San Luis Obispo, so it was an easy tow to Westy Werks

This is where the cool vans hang out.

We felt comfortable the second we pulled up. There were at least 8 other Vanagons/Westfalias/Synchros at the shop, and the guys that work at Westy Werks are super nice, professional, and extremely experienced at working on VWs. They hooked us up with some sweet t-shirts that totally appeal to our sense of adventure, and their shop tag line is, "love the life you live." I think we came to the right place!

Mike's new Westy Werks t-shirt. Thanks, guys!

Tonight, we're off to Santa Cruz, to camp at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and wait for Van Cafe to open. Our first adventure is off to a great start, despite our mechanical problems. Being broken down on the side of the road is so much better together, rather than apart!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Living the Simple Life - On My Own

Mike is back in the City of Angels finishing up our Vanagon, and so I have a whole giant 1600 square foot home to myself and the pets. It is far too large for one person, I've decided. In fact, Mike and I decided together that we could live in 900-1100 square feet quite happily and comfortably - even smaller if we had a garage/shop or outdoor space. We actually prefer it - we hate not having each other within inside-voice-range, and with a huge house, we're not on the same sleeping/waking schedule anymore, which we also dislike. I used to wake up to Hall and Oates and the smell of coffee. Now I can't hear or smell anything from the 2nd floor. I guess all those years in the loft changed us. But I do love doors. When you have a bunny, you learn to love doors.

I made SJP a "digging box" and it is her new favorite pasttime. It is also extremely noisy and messy!

Having your significant other leave you for a couple weeks will teach you a lot about yourself. Especially if you live in a small town, where you have no friends (yet). I miss talking to Mike.

One positive thing I learned, is that I am quite determined when I need to be, and that I can lift a lot more weight than I thought. Our sleeper couch arrived last week from IKEA and despite the instructions (which indicated you needed three people to help you put it together), I put it together all by myself! It took me 3 hours, but hey, it's done.

Beginning, middle and end photos:

The couch arrived in 3 big, heavy boxes.

It required some flipping upside down and sideways after this stage, but those IKEA bolts held up OK!

Finished product. Those little tabs pull out a trundle part that completes the queen size bed.

I also found out that if Mike isn't here to drag me out of the house, I'll stay in it. I've been reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, watching deliciously awful James Franco movies, working on a short story, and indulging my Postcrossing habit. Postcrossing is this program where you send and receive postcards from around the world. It's pretty fun, very non-committal, and you can do it as much or as little as you like; for every one you send out, you theoretically get one back. It only costs you the postcard and postage ($1.15 International and 34 cents domestic). Mike read a couple of the postcards I received and said it's like "pay it forward." There's an element of kindness and positivity when you write something personal to a stranger in the Ukraine, or Estonia, or Brazil, and forget politics and country lines and economics. It reminds you that people are people, and they live and breathe and suffer and love, just like you. I love it; it appeals to every aspect of the writer in me.

Also, people love receiving fun stamps, so I get to be a dork and plaster tons of these, in variations, onto postcards:

Just a few stamps from my current horde!

One nice thing about living alone, is you get to eat whatever you want, without compromising. This means I've been eating mostly vegetarian, and enjoying all the local produce!

fresh nectarines and cottage cheese

Oregon strawberries!

And, I treated myself to a sushi lunch, which was not half bad - 5 pieces of nigiri and a 6 piece roll - and SUPER cheap:

50 cents for tea and no sales tax!

A few people have been asking this week, how are we making ends meet? I totally get that money is a major factor in making any sort of change. Rather than get into the nitty gritty details, I'll just start by saying that you have to make a list. Make a list of every single thing you can think of that is a monthly expense, like utilities, car insurance, health insurance, cell phones, haircuts, clothes, pet food, toothpaste, etc. I personally made a spreadsheet, so it would be easier to total costs.

Then, month by month, we started cutting things out. Paid off the cars, got rid of cable, cut down the cell phone plan. Stopped buying clothes, ate out less, made do with what we had, rather than getting something new. Used kitchen towels instead of paper towels. Little things added up. We cut stuff out to the point that our monthly expenses were around $1,500.00 (not including rent) or less. 

Why do this? Well, for one, it's easier to save up $1,500.00 for monthly expenses, rather than say, $2K or even $3K. Over the course of the year, that can be $6,000 or even $18,000. If you have to save less, you can make your change sooner. Also, if you get used to living on less - step by step, that's the key - you won't feel like you're making a huge sacrifice when you're, well, living on less. Like, Mike and I can't even remember what it was like when we DID have cable. And now that we've gotten better at cooking, our standards for eating out are a little higher, so it ends up being more fun to just stay at home. These days, I wouldn't dream of wiping my hands on paper towels when I have a batch of fluffy kitchen towels to use. And I've grown to love the ease of having an older, reliable car that's totally paid off...especially since my boyfriend's a mechanic.

It took THREE years to get to that point, so it was not a quick process. But once we did it, it gave us options. Options are freedom. And then by that time, we also had a little 890 square foot nest egg saved up, too. 

Thank you, nest egg.

In retrospect, if we did it without the nest egg (and no furry children), we would have done it like our friends Adam and Emily, who hit the road and never looked back. But we have furry kids that won't travel well. So the road might be our option after our cats and the bunny all pass on. 

Anyways, that's how we did it, in a nutshell. A combination of reassessment of our current lifestyle, step by step adjustments, and a big move. Like anything, sometimes it seem overwhelming or impossible, but it's the little tiny steps that get you there eventually. You CAN do it. You can do anything.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fish, Fires and Free Stuff

When we first moved to Bend, we kept our kitties in the master bedroom/bathroom for a day, to get them accustomed to the new space. Over the next week, they slowly spread out to the hallway, living room, kitchen, and closets, until they'd explored the whole house. Now they like to sit in the windows and peek out the front door. 

Just like them, we've finally gotten accustomed to our neighborhood and the downtown area of Bend, and are spreading our wings a bit. We decided to explore further down the Deschutes River Trail, towards the south side of town. Cue Moby's "Southside." 

All along the trail are informative signs about the native plants and wildlife. I love it - it's like we're at a museum.

Mike found this sign particularly amusing. Beaver. Ha.

Canadian Geese
There are tons of ducks and Canadian geese everywhere in Bend. It's illegal to feed them, which in my opinion, is a pretty good rule. This way there's no huge areas of poop everywhere, and honestly, geese can be pretty scary if they're chasing you. They're as aggressive as monkeys!

A fallen nest

Mike on a rock in the middle of the rapids
I'm not into selfies so I never get pictures of myself...and here's the best I got off of Mike's phone. 

Me, hanging out with the trolls under the bridge.
We only went a couple miles and it was about 4000 steps on my pedometer. I've been trying to hit 10,000 every day and I've only done that once, and we even walk to the grocery store! When I had an office job, I would have to have had a treadmill desk to be able to hit 10,000 steps every day. Or a serious commitment to exercise. Which anyone who knew me, knew I did not have. This fact makes me even more dedicated to figuring out a non-sedentary lifestyle for myself, so I can be old and fit and happy. 

Hiking aside for a minute, our other area of concentration is our furry children and their happiness. We've been trying to find a bunny support network here in Oregon, and unfortunately, everyone raises bunnies for meat (not love) here. So bunny vets are few and far between, and bunny food is available only in bulk - like, you have to buy hay in bales, which is how much hay our bunny eats in a YEAR. On the flip side, a bale is only $10.00.

Our bunny, SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker), in her self-remodeled cardboard house.

Long story short, we discovered, through Craigslist, a bunny meat lady who would sell us just a little portion of a bale for $5.00. Win for her, win for us (the portion of hay we got from her would have cost us $21.00 in Los Angeles). We politely declined to see her bunnies as we probably would have cried and tried to take them all home. We are going to be super unsuccessful homesteaders.

Through more digging on Craigslist, I also found a lady - in Tumalo, the town just north of Bend - who was giving away free applewood branches for bunnies! The catch: you had to trim them off the tree yourself. Therefore, I got a crash course on trimming fruit trees and "suckles" or "suckers," which are the young branches that only sprout leaves, not fruit. They steal all the water from the fruit, so you have to remove them to maximize your fruit production. Yay for homesteading skills! We'll be good at plants, at least.

SJP's cage with the freshly trimmed apple tree branches.

SJP loved the branches, and we have a steady supply, as we were invited back anytime we need more. And now I know a lady who lives in a double wide.

Inspired by our successful and interesting journeys outside of Bend, I planned our next hike on the Metolius River, in Sisters, Oregon. Sisters has a population of about 2,000 and is a cowboy and biking town.

From left to right, places called "The Hitchin' Post," "Stitchin' Post" and "Twigs."

The hike started at the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, where they raise all sorts of trout and salmon to stock certain lakes and ponds. In those areas, you're allowed to fish and keep the fish. The rivers where there are Redband trout, however, it's only catch and release, and they're doing a fabulous job of keeping the native population healthy. It's amazing how supportive a population is of environmental regulations, when they live right in the middle of it. I think that's the key - keep more areas green and public, and people will want to protect it, because nature is awesome when you get to enjoy it.

One of the holding tanks for Rainbow Trout

Hundreds of baby Atlantic salmon

For 25 cents, you could get a handful of fish food to throw into the holding tanks or the ponds. It takes the fish at least 1.5 years to get to legal catchable size, so they're residents of the hatchery for quite some time. They put on a show, going for the food, and jump out of the water. There are also no bugs at the hatchery, presumably because the fish will eat anything that lands on the water. Major plus in my book!

Fully grown Steelhead trout jumping for food

We finally got around to the hike along the Metolius River, which provides many opportunities for perfect postcard pictures!

The view of the river from the trailhead. The water is freezing cold and turquoise.

Mike is always a faster hiker than me!

Being in a pine forest is super peaceful and the air is so fresh.

For some reason, Mike was determined to get IN the river. I wish I had recorded it, so you could hear his narration, "AHHHH! Needles! Needles! I think my legs are gonna fall off!" The river water is from snowmelt, so needless to say, it's pretty damn cold.

Mike, preparing his legs for amputation.

A pic of myself with appropriate sun protection. 

On the way home, we saw a huge cloud of smoke. It turned out to be the Two Bulls Fire, which ended up causing evacuations in Bend, just blocks from our house. We were lucky we did the hike on Saturday morning, because the rest of the weekend we stayed inside - the air quality was at hazardous levels. It turns out the fires were lit (they believe purposefully) by humans. It just makes me sick. 

The Two Bulls Fire, around 2pm, just an hour after the fire lookout sighted it.

On a positive note, the wonderful fire crews here were able to contain it within a few days, and we, personally, didn't end up having to evacuate. I have to say the people of Bend are super organized and helpful during a crisis. They had livestock and pet evacuation stations set up within hours, and there were fire representatives available at various locations around town, to answer your questions in person. How's that for service?

The fire has burned about 6,800 acres of forest land. I feel really sad for the wildlife that has been killed or displaced, and what we as humans destroy, just to get attention. There is nothing so damaging to the planet as the human ego. Things like this are a constant reminder to Mike and I to get out there and see the world, before it's all gone.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Week 2 in Bend

It's been chilly here in the mornings, like 50-60 degrees, and we are still getting acclimated to Bend. This means I've got sweatpants right next to the bed, to jump into when I get up, and socks are a must on the tile floors! I will NEVER, however, wear socks with sandals, which is a very common sight here in Bend (a Birkenstock store actually still exists on the main drag). Please, people. It's not the 90s.

This is how I heat the house, and sometimes in the morning I have my coffee in front of it:

It's a very common way to heat homes here, and almost every single home uses stove heat, or some combination of stove and electric cadet heat (which are these little wall heaters that I suspect are expensive to run). While our quaint stove runs on gas and is hooked to a thermostat, other people still heat their homes with wood, as evidenced by these giant woodpiles outside many a home. You get a whiff of campfire in the evenings, which, as far as we're concerned, is awesome.

The cats love sleeping by the stove, too:

Once the sun's out, the day warms up and it's t-shirt weather from 11am-3pm. Then it gets cold again, or it might rain randomly during the day. We're quickly learning that we have to be prepared for just about anything. I may even invest in an umbrella!

But yesterday was another gorgeous day, and we discovered a cute little neighborhood by 14th Street and Galveston, with a farm stand:

Paradise Produce - lots of fresh, organic stuff!

Local Oregon berries.
I'm excited to do some canning this summer with all the local produce. I hope to find a place where we can pick our own strawberries and raspberries, because I certainly am not paying $3.50 a pint to can some fruit.

One of my favorite things in the world, is a library. I truly believe they are one of the best ways to use tax dollars - they educate and entertain the public, are free, and provide services such as computer training, tutoring, citizenship, etc to immigrants, children, and the elderly, not to mention the illiterate and the poor. Plus in this technological age, you can pretty much download any book you want, from anywhere in the world. We finally got our Oregon driver's licenses and were able to therefore get a library card! 

I borrowed some books for writing inspiration and a book on mushroom hunting/foraging, which is a skill I hope to learn so we can add to our diet when we're backpacking. You get sick of dehydrated meals after a few days on the trail, and fresh mushrooms would be amazing with fresh fish...

Then we treated ourselves to doughnuts at the local doughnut truck - Glazed and Amused. Because learning makes you hungry. If you're ever in Bend, this place is located on Greenwood Avenue, just east of Bond street. Here in Bend, as opposed to Los Angeles, you don't have to chase down your favorite food truck - they have permanent parking spots. Chalk one up for Bend.

Customized doughnuts, much like Donut Friend in Highland Park. DELISH. We got a maple glazed one, topped with graham crackers, and "zombie bites," which are basically donut holes, with your choice of topping (cinnamon and sugar, our fave).


We spent the rest of our weekend doing home stuff and getting the last of our boxes emptied and stored away. By this, I mean I dumped out all the contents on the floor and stored away the box itself. Piece by piece, I pick up one thing and then another, as I pass the pile during the day, and put it in its proper place. Yep, that's my method.

I did clear off my desk enough to be able to start writing, and today, I began a new story. So look out, world, my twisted thoughts are comin' at ya someday soon!