Sunday, 27 November 2016

Time to start reading the comments

One of the common trends in internet advice goes as follows: Don't read the comments. Don't worry about the comments. Don't feed the trolls. Some people aren't just worth the time.

And then came the events of 2016 and the common question is: "How did this happen?" Even the people who are OK with the political outcomes this year are surprised by it. Somewhere along the way our communications have broken down.

There's been a lot of focus on the media's role in this, but on a personal level, it's made me re-analyse the way we use and advise each other to use the internet. We use social media to spread our message, but we're avoiding—in some cases, actively blocking—the messages we disagree with. We encourage each other to talk but not to listen.

Obviously, I'm generalising here... there is a difference between an alternative point of view rationally presented and trolling. But when it comes to trolling, we've all been generalising because there is also a difference between trolling and somebody with an alternative point of view losing their temper.

A few years ago, I went on a podcast and talked, among other things, a bit about my views on gender issues. Afterwards, a listener tweeted the following at me: "Please stop cockblocking Rob's podcast with your nonsense about male bias."

I replied frostily, and then something happened which is not supposed to be possible on the internet: the conversation de-escalated. We talked through our differences, exchanged constructive criticism and parted ways with a cordial, "Cheers."

I can't say if I changed his attitude on anything at all, but I learned a lot from that series of tweets. Most notably, I've never since been afraid to engage with hostile commenters, and by now, I've got a few ground-rules in place for those confrontations.

 Don't Attack

We often say that trolls forget that there is a real person on the other end of the screen, but that's exactly what we're doing every time we dismiss somebody else as a troll. We're dismissing this person and the experiences that have led them to their perspective, in favor of demonising them, saying their opinion doesn't count.

Clearly, some people genuinely are trolls, arguing for the sake of insulting you. I usually start with a couple of bland responses to see if there's any depth to their accusations. If there isn't, I leave it be, and no harm done. If there is, I'll pursue it further.

What I try (and rarely succeed at) is to argue the point without diminishing the other person's point of view. I might think they're wrong, but I usually don't think they're a bad person, an idiot or a bigot. (I get bogged down in disclaimers a lot, trying to make that clear.) If I do catch myself judging somebody personally, I'm probably too angry to have that discussion, and that's when I should walk away from the keyboard. Sometimes I don't. Then I regret it, later.

Don't Defend

Not just on the internet, but in general, there are three common assertions that I never, ever say:
  1. I am a nice person.
  2. I am not a racist/sexist/homophobe.
  3. I am a strong, independent woman.  (OK, so only about half the population says this one.)
I don't like these statements because they're so sweeping that they require too many disclaimers to actually be meaningful; Everybody is selfish sometimes, everybody is capable of prejudiced behavior, everybody has moments of weakness.

If you find yourself saying one of the above, then you're almost certainly in defence mode. Getting defensive easily is a bad habit of mine and I try and guard against it because I'm too familiar with the drawbacks: I am taking things personally, which makes it impossible for me to be objective; I am making the subject about me, which means I'm probably missing the real point.

For all of those statements, I try and take the classic writers' advice: show, don't tell. Odds are high that the person I am talking to isn't interested in making those judgments about me. They're even higher that if they have made those judgments about me, I can still learn something from talking to them.

 Nobody Wins Arguments

Scoring points in arguments is a bit of a fiction, in my opinion. Most of the time both sides come off thinking they were the victor, and if you do believe you've lost, you probably haven't changed your view... you just want to find a way to argue it better.

The real point is not to 'argue', but to 'communicate'. It's not about who wins and who loses. It's not even about changing minds, necessarily. It's about understanding that alternative point of view.

Remember my de-escalating twitter argument? The one that started off with cock-blocking? The turning point in that argument came with this tweet: "I think we're talking about two different things here, Sarah. I'm talking about your approach, not your viewpoint."

He had singled out our point of disagreement, and once we knew that, it was easier for us to understand each other's perspectives.

So when I argue with my friends or engage the anonymous and hostile, in my own clumsy way I'm trying to find our point of disagreement: where is it that our perspectives diverge and why? I don't always succeed, and it's even more common that the other person isn't interested in finding it, but when I do find it, I learn something every time.

Keep a Balance

Obviously, this is easy practice for a small scale internet writer. For people with a bigger social media presence, there's too much to engage with and the hostility can be considerably worse. The emotional stress of that hostility isn't necessarily something you can just walk away from, either. So, everything in moderation and do what works for you.

Yet if you have the opportunity to be open, take it and see what you can learn rather than what you can teach. It seems that these days we all need to be a little wiser.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Limbo of the Stay At Home Mum

On the left hand side of this page is my bio, written when I started this blog almost five years ago: "I plan on getting qualified in Montessori pre-school in another few years. For now, I'm a stay-at-home Mum." It's unchanged, because it still applies. It might be more than a few years later, but that's still the plan... and I'm still a stay-at-home Mum. Which means that in five years there has been no movement on how I see myself. I have sat comfortably on my personal goals rather than make headway in achieving them.

Perhaps you're expecting that this post will be some burst of inspiration about how I am going to get off my backside and revolutionise who I am. It's not.

The Background

The main factor in this stagnation is that I'm living in a country not my own. We came to the States from the UK, due to my husband's career. Our residence here is tied to his job, which means my legal status is literally my husband's dependant. He even gets an allowance for me (provided I am not earning above a certain income). Yes, reconciling this with modern ideas of feminism is a fascinating personal journey. (Actually, it's not. We can skip that part.)

What this meant when we moved, as a young, married couple, was that I had the unexpected privilege of relaxing a little about my own employment and trying something new on a whim. That was how I stumbled into Montessori and preschool—and discovered I loved it. I was never the sort of person who knew what she wanted to do when she grew up, but after a year or so of assisting in the classroom, I wanted to make this my career.

First things first though: having children of our own. And again, the benefits of being my husband's dependant meant that I had the freedom to stay at home with the kids. Occasionally I would help out at my school on a voluntary basis, and my original plan was to go back to work there once the kids were old enough to attend, but some trouble developed at the school, and it eventually closed down.

We sent the kids to a different Montessori, and I reconsidered my employment options: the convenience of having one parent at home to deal with sick days and vacation days vs. the disproportionately inconvenient pile of paperwork involved in renewing my work permit. (I cannot stress enough how much of a pain this ridiculous process is.)

Besides, I would only have wanted to work for a couple of hours in the morning before picking up my daughter at lunchtime. It was easy enough to conclude that it wasn't worth stressing over, and to delay my career plans for another "few years".

The Future

What takes precedence over my personal career goals is the long term plan for our family. We might have emigrated in 2005 and had american children, but the plan was always to return to the UK. My husband and I were both agreed that this was not a permanent move, and as much as we've enjoyed and benefited from living here, that hasn't changed.

Of course, our deadlines for returning are entirely arbitrary, because we have the luxury of waiting for the right opportunity—i.e. the right job for my husband, both from a practical, financial viewpoint and from a career satisfaction viewpoint. He's happy in his current job, and the kids are flourishing at their school. There may come a time of 'having to' return, but until then, it makes sense to us to play it cautiously, tracking and discussing potential jobs. Nothing has yet come of it.
The end result is that we tend to live life six months at a time, eternally ready to kick off the transatlantic move process. We get twitchy booking holidays too far ahead of time, and it's become a running joke at our school that we're never sure if we're going to complete the academic year.
This, ultimately, is why I've not carried out my plan of training in Montessori. I'm afraid that I'd not be able to complete any course I started. There's also the practical consideration that we might move to an area with no Montessori schools. I still plan on working in preschool care eventually, but I want to wait and see what those options are before I get the relevant qualifications.

However, we have now reached the point where my youngest is at school all day. And I am still unemployed, receiving my allowance—well, technically, my husband is receiving the allowance on my behalf—with no concrete plans to restart my own career.

The Status Quo

This is, of course, very much a first world and middle class problem. I wouldn't even describe myself as unhappy: I've always been more family-oriented than career-oriented, so I don't mind identifying as a mother rather than a teacher. Having two healthy, happy children and a marriage still going strong after twelve years means the world to me.

Besides there's a side of me that appreciates the irony of me being so gung ho about gender equality while my own career track is practically Edwardian.

Rather, this contributes to a sense of... inadequacy? Insecurity over my self-worth? Is there a German word for "concern over one's suitability as a role model for one's children"?  Perhaps it's a social stress rather than anything else. There's never anything new with me; I only update people on the children.

Actually, the aspect of this that gets me down the most is that there's no sense in anybody but me doing the housework, and I am frankly rubbish at it. I'm not perfect at being a Mum, but I take pride in doing parts of that well. When the children are at school though, I am a 'housewife' or 'homemaker'. All my talents count for nothing when my chief contribution to the family is an untidy house, mediocre meals and forgotten laundry. At best, I can consider this a lesson in humility. At worst, I'm struggling to justify my position in my own household.

On the flipside, I've always written as a hobby, and while I have no ambitions to rise above amateur level, I've spent the past four years writing for a reality TV website. This gave me an outlet for mental stimulation as an armchair psychologist and allowed me to effectively play at having a career. I've honed my writing skills. I've learned about using social media for networking and promotion. I've tried my hand at podcasting which does not play to my strengths but has allowed me to face down my fear of public speaking. (So long as I'm sitting in the comfort of my study talking to a computer.)

None of it is remotely useful for my CV, but I have learned new skills, made new friends, and most importantly, done something I am good  at. From a self-esteem point of view, it's been a lifesaver.

Yet in the end, it's just a hobby and one that is, by default, very remote from my day to day life. My friends from my local peer group are either going back to work or meeting up for baby and toddler playdates. I am the anomaly.

So the question I am asking myself is: "Where do I go from here?" And being a procrastinator by nature, I don't know the answer yet. But I rather suspect that I won't be able to stick out eight hours a day of being a housewife for long. Currently, I am dealing with the excess of time to do a thorough clean out, purging the house of clutter in preparation for the ever-potential Move. But this surge of motivation won't last.

Most likely I will end up volunteering somewhere, both to get myself out of the house and so that I have something on the CV for when I do get my career back on track. Maybe I'll throw caution to the winds and start a Montessori qualification after all. Maybe I can find a way to feel like I'm pulling my own weight in this family again. Maybe I'll have a midlife crisis and go right off the rails, but let's hope not.

In the meantime, the limbo continues, and—fifteen hundred words to the contrary—I try not to dwell on it too much.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Mt Rainier, Cooling off in Portland and Goodbye Oregon!

Monday was our last day of the trip before we caught a red-eye back to Virginia. We took the circuitous route back to Portland and it's airport, so that we could get a closer look at Mt Rainier. You can't actually go up Mt Rainier, short of a hardcore hiking expedition. It's over 14,000ft and it's an active volcano. But you can go up the nearby Mt Crystal via cable car, so that was what we did.

Mt Rainier from the top of Mt Crystal
There's a restaurant at the top of Mt Crystal, but we had figured out that it was on the pricey side so we brought our own picnic and were charmed to find a row of deck chairs to sit on for said picnic. The fact that these were right on the edge of the slope with absolutely no barrier did not deter me or the husband. The children, however, only needed a few minutes of the view before they decided to take a more prudent locale in a secondary row of chairs.

Picnic on a precipice.
We did get some drinks at the restaurant and the kids found a patch of snow to play in before we returned to the bottom and made tracks for Portland. As per usual, we hadn't made concrete plans for the second half of the day, but while our initial visit to Portland had been cold and wet, this day was hot and sunny, so we decided to take the kids to one of Portland's splashable fountains: Keller Fountain Park.

The kids were not particularly impressed by my explanation. They've played in fountains before and were so uninterested in repeating the experience that they wouldn't put their swimsuits on when leaving the car. They took one look at this fountain and changed their mind.
The scale. Dear god, the scale.

All ages were playing at the top.
My own take on the fountain was something along the lines of: "Kids have totally died here, right?" (Surprisingly, the Wikipedia article lists only one fatality and that's an adult who drowned rather than a kid who fell.) The top level(s) of the falls is a maze of streams, cascades and pools of varying depths. The pools at the edge of the big falls are three feet deep so that the lip of the falls acts as a wall, but that wall is wide enough that you can easily walk along it--in fact, I watched kids running and jumping on it as part of a water fight.

But the unlimited access is what makes the fountain so breathtaking and as long as you supervise your children and set groundrules, they can have a blast in perfect safety. There are pine trees all over granting shade and the cool breeze off the water meant that this was simply a great place to sit and escape the heat without needing to get wet. Our kids swam, we paddled a bit, and were thoroughly impressed.

Afterwards, we drove past Mill End Park (the World's Smallest) and had dinner at the Laurelwood Pub, which had great food, though we thought we preferred Hopworks for atmosphere and kid-friendliness (though Laurelwood is certainly excellent at the latter.) And then it was back to the airport and back to the humidity of Virginia.

To sum up the trip:

We were generally agreed that the best part of it was the treehouse.
Favourite meal was probably Slappy Cakes.
We ticked off two places that regularly feature on To See Before You Die lists: Thor's Well and Oneonta Gorge.
Aside from living in a freaking treehouse, new experience highlights have to be sandboarding, abalone kisses, and seeing whales.

In short, Oregon (or at least, Western Oregon) is amazing and well worth the effort!

Washington Friends and Seattle

The plan was to head out of Oregon and up to Seattle for the last two days before our flight. Come Saturday morning, 8 days into the holiday, we were getting a little jaded.

After a solid week of hotel breakfasts, (so the usual self serve of waffles, scrambled egg, cereal, yogurts, toast and pastries....) we needed a change, so we took ourselves to Slappy Cakes. This little cafe had griddles built into each table on which you made your own pancakes. You ordered your choices of batter which came in squeezy bottles, extra fixings to cook into it and toppings if desired.

None of us had ever cooked American style pancakes before (I don't like them in theory, but the lemon poppyseed batter converted me), and we had a ridiculous amount of fun with it. Crazy batter/fixing combinations, a buttermilk pancake with a chocolate batter smiley face, a bite size pancake with a single chocolate chip on the centre.... This is something more restaurants should do!
Flipping buttermilk with chocolate chips.

From there, we left Portland and Oregon for Washington. As it happened, my husband and I each had a friend en route to Seattle, so rather than sight seeing, our plans revolved around meeting other people. First up was a play date with an old, old online friend of mine who lived in Vancouver and had kids of her own. We had arranged to meet in Esther Shore Park, only to discover that there was some massive market going on that had taken over the entire park.

However, all we really needed was the playground and as it happened, there was a family craft tent set up next to it, so once the kids had run off their first burst of energy, they moved into the tent to make their own sculptures out of various odds and ends. For my kids at least the opportunity to sit down and focus on something creative was a welcome change of pace. For my friend and I, it was great both to meet for the first time and to see our kids playing and working together.

My husband's friend was an old colleague who had retired to Olympia, so we went there for lunch. Afterwards, we took a stroll past the Capitol building and along the docks to another playground so we could chat while the kids played. Olympia seemed a really lovely place from our brief glimpse... Then again, it was a perfect weather day, so perhaps that isn't the best time to judge!


Olympia's Capitol Building and splashpad.
 Despite the traveling, it was a pleasantly low-key morning, making for an entirely unhurried journey to Seattle.

Our time in Seattle suffered a little from coming at the end of our trip, so we were tired of doing touristy things. I had done my usual research but found it hard to muster up enthusiasm. Still, the Space Needle was the obvious, and I had discovered that there was a pretty amazing playground all but right next to it, so that was where we took ourselves.

Once we had purchased tickets to go up the Space Needle, the playground was the easy waiting spot. Our kids were captivated by the sight of it: crazy climbing structures leading to two long slides. There was also a massive labyrinth painted on the ground and a couple of other features but my daughter's favourite was a roundabout of the old-fashioned pile the kids on kind that usually don't pass safety policies these days.
Child heaven

We had dinner at a food court, then got in line for the Needle. I think I enjoyed the queue more that the time we spent on the observation deck, since they had signs explaining the planning and building of the Needle which held even the kids' attention. The observation deck was noisy and crowded, as these things always are, and I was too tired to enjoy it. They did have some fun touch screens inside that let you 'navigate' some famous Seattle landmarks, which the kids got a kick out of.
Looking out over Seattle

Mt Rainier

My husband had managed a good deal on a nicer hotel than our usual standard, and this resulted in us all sleeping in until 7am. (We had been waking at 6am if not earlier.) However, breakfast was not included, so once showered and dressed we walked to The French Bakery in an ornate office building where we all indulged in crepes and took a few pastries with us for snacks.
We love a good pastry.

It was a Sunday, so we took ourselves to the Center for Wooden Boats where free rides were offered on Sundays on a first come, first served basis. However, we were running late for the 10am sign up, and it was immediately apparent from the line of people that we weren't going to make the cut.

We were wandering around the dock looking at the boats and fish and watching seaplanes come in when my husband heard talk of an ice cream boat. After asking around, we found the ice cream cruise which left on the other side of the Center for Innovation. This took us around Lake Union, showing us such landmarks as Chihuly's glass studio and the house from Sleepless in Seattle, plus it served ice cream below decks. We all approved.
The Gasworks Park

Chihuly's Studio

Floating Houses
Ice cream served here.

Afterwards, we weren't really hungry enough for lunch, so instead we went to Pike Place market and nibbled our way through the free samples. It was National Pride Day, so lots of people were in town for the parade, which also meant lots of closed roads and difficult traffic. But a lot of fun rainbow displays too. The Space Needle sported a rainbow flag and when we visited the first ever Starbucks (had to be done!) that was sporting its own rainbow decor.
Space Needle with Pride Flag

Pride Starbucks-style

(While sitting in traffic on the way home, we also saw policemen handcuffing somebody. The kids were fascinated and speculation about why the man was being arrested led to us having the Drugs talk. As per usual, I was woefully unprepared for the topic as it came up.)

We could have done more, but we didn't really want to. Instead we went back to the hotel and enjoyed the pool, then visited a nearby mall with a Lego store. For dinner that night, we gave the kids the choice of driving to a restaurant or simply grabbing Panda Express. Panda Express won, and it wasn't close.

They went to bed early, we watched the Game of Thrones finale on an iPad, and the following morning, we all slept until 7:30, and barely had time for another visit to the French Bakery on our way out of town.

Seattle had a ton more to offer that we could have sampled, but there comes a point in every holiday where you have to stop and breathe, and we had reached it. However, it was a beautiful city to take that pause in.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Oneonta Gorge and Portland

After Bend, it was a long drive back to Portland, the latter half of which was spent tracking the early EU Referendum results, back when we were still blithely confident that the UK would probably vote to remain. Suffice to say, the evening in our hotel room grew steadily gloomier. Don't blame us--we voted by proxy, apparently while exploring the lava tubes yesterday.

Once we had slept on the fact that our country has decided to jump off a cliff to see what would happen, it seemed a good idea to go and lose ourselves in the Oregon wilds. After Thor's Well, there was one other place on Buzzfeed's most surreal places list that we were determined to tick off this holiday: Oneonta Gorge.

The attraction of this short, half-mile hike is that the creek is the trail. We came prepped in our swimsuits and water shoes--and warm layers and towels, since the day was colder than we had hoped.

Steps lead down, but from there you're on your own.
Our research had told us that we would need to get over a log jam near the start. This proved tricky, especially with the kids but we managed it. I was wearing toe shoes with thin flexible soles, which were great for this, and I comfortably balanced along all kinds of logs while steadying my daughter. However, in the river, I could feel every stone shifting beneath my feet and it was incredibly difficult to manage any speed but sloth. I saw at least one person doing it barefoot, so it's feasible, but I wouldn't recommend it!

The problem was that the water was ridiculously cold and a little higher than we had hoped, with a current forceful enough to make the kids struggle on the shifting stones. Even carrying them through the first 'deep' bit (up to our thighs), they started crying, so we stopped on a small island midway down the gorge.

Even going that far, it was an eerie place with mossy, ferny cliffs towering on either side and a constant 'rain' dripping off them. Birds swooped casually past us and my daughter spotted a small snake curled up in a crevice by our island.

A common garter snake but very cute.

My husband went on ahead to a smaller log jam, and from there he could see the falls. However, the water got steadily deeper from his logs on. We watched two girls (who had done this before) pass us and strip off most of their clothes to leave on the rocks before tackling the last stretch. They made it and took selfies, but we decided we would have to call it where we were.
As close as we got!
The kids had perked up tremendously once we put warm clothes on their top halves and gave them some sweets. They were quite happy on their island, snacking and cooing over the snake, so I also went out to the logs, to see the falls for myself. Then we turned back, carrying the kids again--I was so ridiculously slow with my shoes, that my husband deposited our son on an island near the log jam and came back to take our daughter from me.

We were all cold, but our daughter was really struggling. By the time we got back to the log jam, she was shivering and her lips were turning blue. This gave her a lot of trouble crossing the logs, though mostly we managed pretty well, with me sitting astride logs and swooping her over to the next steady spot, my husband assisting at the trickier, more perilous moments.
Giant Log Jam of Doom. For scale reference, all four of us could stand without touching each other on the foremost rock at the bottom of the picture.
Then my husband stepped on a log which broke. With a "Holy shit!" he disappeared into the depths of the logjam. I freaked out, tried to rush to his aid shrieking his name and slipped on a log myself. Fortunately, I was holding a spur of wood, so instead of plunging  to my doom, I swung around until my knee whacked into something, and I came to rest sitting on one log and clinging to another while my husband yelled at me not to come after him.

When he had fallen, he had managed to hold on to a log with his left hand, so although he hit the water, he did not discover how deep it was. He got himself out, with help from a floating log as a foothold, and although his entire lower half was soaked, he managed to keep our bag of possessions (complete with phone and car keys) dry.

Through all of this, our daughter sat patiently on her log and waited for us to stop trying to kill ourselves and get back to helping her across.

I don't remember getting these bruises on the back of my leg, but I'd guess that happened when I slipped.
So I suppose our verdict on the Oneonta Gorge is that it's a little ambitious for children as young as five. That said, it was stunning and a really cool little hike, to the point that my husband is suggesting we go back on Monday before our flight home. Today was a cold day after a rainy day. Between now and Monday, Portland weather should be hot and dry. Perhaps the creek will be lower or at least the cold water will be more tolerable.

I'm not sure we will be able to talk the kids back into it (even if they were pretty chipper by the end of the walk), but watch this space?

After turning the car's heater on full blast and changing out of our wet things, we drove a short distance back along the pretty Historic Columbia River Highway to the even prettier Multnomah Falls. The car park there was overflowing, and it took us three passes to find a space. (Afterwards, we realised you could also access it from an interstate rest area via a pedestrian underpass.)

Multnomah Falls

The Upper Falls as seen from the bridge.
There's a lodge and assorted snackbars there, so we got the kids a giant cookie because they needed a sugar pep-up, got our dry clothes wet with waterfall spray, and then got ourselves a hot chocolate before returning to the car.

We had no further plans for the day, since we hadn't been sure how much time to allot to Oneonta Gorge, so we lunched at a McDonalds with a play area and did some quick googling which led us to take a ride on Portland's Aerial Tram, which runs between the university campus by the river and the hospitals at the top of the hill. This short trip gave us stunning views of Portland and a pleasant walk around the two tier balcony garden at Oregon Health and Science University.
Looking down Marquam Hill to Downtown Portland and the Willamette River.

The Upper Tram Terminal.
 Afterwards, we took the kids to Washington Park. We did not have anything like the time required to explore it properly, but they played at the playground, while I wandered briefly around the Rose Garden before we headed out for dinner. (At Hopworks Urban Brewery Bikebar. They had a train table for the kids to play at. It was phenomenal. Food and atmosphere was great too.)
The Inkspot, Washington Parks' 'blackest' rose.
Finally a dip in the hotel pool, where the kids tried to see if they could drown me by making me laugh. (They failed.) An earlier night for them, and laundry for me; tomorrow we are Seattle-bound!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Crater Lake and Bend

Our next destination was Crater Lake, created 7,700 years ago when Mt Mazuma blew its top. The lake is almost 2000 feet deep at one part and clear enough to see hundreds of feet below the surface. Our plan was to maybe take the boat to Wizard Island (expensive, but reportedly worth it) or to at least hike down to the shore and consider taking the plunge into the icy water.

We knew we were going a little early in the season, and some trails were likely to be closed due to snow still... We got unlucky. All the trails were closed except for the one to the shore--and the road to that was closed. (I assume that with time and energy we would have been able to bike or walk there;  that just wasn't feasible for us.) We literally couldn't do a single thing on this top 5 list of Crater Lake adventures... Not even the default of driving around the rim road.
Admittedly, we did get a pretty big kick out of the snow.

A small section of the rim road was open, so we could see the lake, and it was a clear day, so we saw it in all its glory. It's blue. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is really, really blue. No Photoshopping required!
Wizard Island

Llao Rock, an old lava flow pre-dating the lake's formation.

Ultimately though, this was an exercise in frustration, and it was with much disappointment we drove on to Bend. This, at least, turned out to be much nicer than we expected. Having read about floating the Deschutes River at Bend, we ate dinner in the Old Mill District, so we could watch people bob past on air mattresses, tubes, kayaks and paddle boards.
The Old Mill District, complete with a couple of air mattresses bobbing downstream.

Our restaurant was Greg's Grill, which was an impressive building, though we preferred to sit on the patio and watch the action on the river and river walk. They handed out etch a sketches to the kids. They had never seen this classic toy before and were instantly absorbed. My son spent a good twenty minutes crafting a minecraft scene that put my childhood etch a sketch efforts to shame.
I try not to be the "Look what my kid did!" parent, but seriously... Look what my kid did!
When not etch a sketching, the kids saw enough of the river floating to agree with us that we should do that tomorrow. At one point we had discussed Rafting on the river, but in the end we were put off by the cost, especially after splurging at the Treehouses. Hiring something to float on was in a much more appealing price range.

However, float rental didn't start until 10am, and we were up and about earlier, so we started the next day by going to the Lava River Cave, a mile long lava tube. Lava tubes are formed due to the outside of a lava flow cooling faster than the inside, so a rock 'shell' forms which the lava flows through and drains out of, leaving a tunnel.

Warm clothing is a must as the cave is about forty two degrees. We didn't have a torch, but some pretty powerful lanterns could be rented on site. The light spot on the below pictures is invariably the center of my lantern-beam.

You see a hole in the ground, you explore it.

Lava flow lines and a rock fall.

Stacked tubes.

The sand gardens. Sand is carried through the tube as sediment. Erosion from water dripping through cracks in the ceiling causes these formations.

Ceiling gets pretty low in a couple of places...

End of the line. Just beyond the stop sign here, the tube ends in a sand plug.
Although my daughter fell over several times, and there were a few grumbles about the cold, both kids were sufficiently taken by the novelty of the cave to take the two mile round trip in their stride. (As they should! But they've been very suspicious about hikes this trip.)

Once back out into the sunshine, we returned to Bend, more specifically Riverbend Park where we rented paddleboards from this on site trailer.

Although our intent had been to float down the river, they recommended that we instead head upstream and float back once we were tired. There is a bus available downstream that can bring tubes back up, but paddleboards are a little more cumbersome so need to be paddled back.

We had never paddleboarded before, and I soon realized the wisdom of their advice when I found myself struggling to make any headway against the current whatsoever. It took me about ten minutes to get past the small landing beach. My husband had less problem paddling, but didn't feel so comfortable standing up. (The kids sat on the front of our boards and generally couldn't see what the problem was.)

Despite this, we powered on. My husband and son far outpaced my daughter and I, but I got better at it--though ultimately, I just don't have the upper body strength to really be effective against a current. That said, if I paddleboarded regularly, I soon would. After about forty-five minutes, we caught up to where the boys were waiting for us and we all floated back down again together--which took about ten minutes!
Relaxing as we go downstream.

Three of us stayed dry. My daughter (of course, my daughter!) managed to fall in from a sitting position while messing around with one hand in the water. Fortunately, life jackets were included with the rental, and although she came up shocked and spluttering, she got herself back to the board with no problem and I was able to help her back on without falling in myself. She assured us that the river wasn't too cold. All three of us preferred to take her word for it.

With the boards returned and my daughter changed into dry clothes, we bid farewell to Bend. Like Missoula on our Montana trip, this is another city in the US where we would actually like to live. I wouldn't pick between the two of them, but my husband prefers Bend because of the river, the bike-friendliness and, of course, the (traffic) roundabouts. All in all, a great pick me up after the disappointment of Crater Lake.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Out'n'About Treehouse Treesort

The genesis of this entire trip came about almost a year ago, when we needed some holiday therapy, I randomly googled treehouses and discovered the existence of Out'n'About Treehouse Treesort in Oregon. Did we want to stay in a treehouse? Yes! Did we want to visit Oregon? Why not? Treehouses book up quickly, but the cancellation policy was cheap until a few months before the stay so we booked in September for June.

We don't usually plan our holidays that far in advance, our mantra being: "Maybe next year, we will move back to England." So for six months, all we had was a couple of nights in a treehouse, and I finally started researching what else was in Oregon in March or so. Oregon proved to be a goldmine of things to do, but it was the treehouse that lured us in.

Ewok Wish Fulfilment
There were a variety of treehouses available, ranging from ones that are about ten feet off the ground with a staircase up, to ones suspended 30-40 feet in the air and accessed by hanging bridges. Sleeping arrangements and toilet facilities also varied hugely.

The house we chose was the Pleasantree (in the above picture), which we reached by two spiral staircases and two bridges. (There was a pulley to raise luggage.)
Mind the branch on the first landing.

Our bridges.
It had a shower and a toilet and had bunk beds for the kids and a loft bed for us. By loft bed, I mean we had to climb up a ladder and then crawl around the tree trunk to a double mattress under the rafters which didn't have enough headroom to sit on one side, while on the other, you risked cracking your head if you lifted it too far off the pillow. They had warned us of this when we booked, and it certainly wouldn't be a suitable sleeping arrangement for anybody with back problems, but we got a kick out of it.

Our bed.

Lying in bed, with one foot touching the rafters.

If needed, you can sleep a fifth person in the crawlspace.

Looking down the ladder, this is basically the entire living area.

The sink and bathroom mirror were attached to the tree trunk.

Living space viewed from the bunk beds. Lack of surfaces was our biggest problem.

Behind the purple curtain in the above picture is this compact bathroom.
The house also had a porch with seats, which meant that--for the first time this holiday--we could put the kid to bed and then close a door on them instead of having to sit in dark and quiet. We had some concerns about the temperature, but with the windows open, the house stayed cool in the heat of the day. Although it cooled down significantly overnight, the blankets were more than sufficient. The shower was better than most hotels too, and phone reception was pretty decent 30ft off the ground.

In general, this whole stay worked out better than we could have hoped. The resort is a fairly small area, and we were able to let our five and seven year olds roam unsupervised. There are swings all over the place, a games area, picnic tables and a fire pit. My son didn't take long to make a friend and spent most of his time outside.

There was a stable right on site, so you could hear the horses and pet them if they were close to the fence. (While we were clearing out our room for check out, our daughter was down there chatting away to the stable girl setting up for the morning's rides.)
Stable yard as seen from our porch.
Out in the meadow where the ziplines were, there was the best tyre swing we have ever seen, suspended from a disused zipline cable, maybe twenty feet up. The zipline gave the swing some bounce, so adults were too heavy to use it (to our disappointment), but the kids had some fantastic rides with Dad slinging them about. The testing zipline also had a couple of swings attached to it, so the kids could play on it when it wasn't otherwise in use.
Possibly the World's Greatest Tyre Swing
The nearest town is Cave Junction, which is the middle of nowhere as far as Oregon landmarks go. Both days, we got takeout to eat back at the Treesort, and both the pizza and the Chinese were great. There are quite a few things to do and see, and we opted for Great Cats World Park. A guide takes you round on a walking tour that takes about an hour, most of it sitting on a bench in front of one exhibit or another while the guide fed the cat treats through a fence to encourage it to exhibit certain behaviours. It was very educational, utterly fascinating, and they seemed to be legitimate in how they cared for their animals. Besides, my husband is a sucker for mogs of all sizes, so we were onto a bit of a winner.
Sleepy roar.

After that, we had a hasty lunch and returned to the treesort for the ziplines. Having done junior Go Apes a couple of times, we knew the kids had no problems doing ziplines, so doing a longer course was something we had talked about for a while. Despite the price, we decided to finally take the plunge here.

There is a lot of waiting around, particularly when there is a large group, and that gets tedious... (You make friends with your group, and you learn all the guides' terrible jokes.) But the lines themselves were fantastic. We were seventy feet up a few times, a couple of lines took you at ridiculous speeds and I nearly took out the guide on one occasion when I didn't brake in time (the kids are light enough that they didn't need to brake), and all four of us had a blast.

Seventy feet up.

This is me remembering to brake.

Afterwards, my daughter and I tried out the riverfed pool.

Water going in...

Water going out.

Easily the most beautiful pool I have ever swum in, but I needed that incentive to swim--it was ridiculously cold. Of course, the day was so hot that the moment you got out it felt fantastic. I ended up swimming the length of the pool twice, while my daughter did the width two or three times, just for the rush.

Even the floor of the pool was paved with riverstones.
As much fun as the activities were, mostly it was good to stay in one peaceful place and do minimal driving for a day. The perfect midpoint to our trip, and it was with some reluctance that we said goodbye to our treehouse and headed north.