We went to Portland! My sister and her family and me and my family flew to my parents beautiful home in Oregon and stayed for a week. We got to spend time with both of my brothers and their wonderful sons and hang out in some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Portland feels like Austin, except better in every way. The landscape is ridiculous. Everywhere you look is brimming with life and green and fresh. You can drive one small hour to the east and be in a snowy winter wonderland. You can drive two hours to the west and be on the beach. When people come to visit Austin, I say, hey, check out this one block that’s kind of cool on North Loop, or these three blocks on South First, or a little strip on Burnet. Every single neighborhood in Portland has streets that blow these offerings out of the water. (Sorry Austin!) Adorable bungalows converted into craft supply shops or charming little restaurants line every block. Food trucks, amazing museums, beautiful public parks. I love it there. And it was so wonderful to see my mom and dad and my brothers and their kids. The cousin thing is so amazing- Henry and George have only spent time with Jack (10) and Leon (5) a couple of times, and they were all fast friends. I wish we lived closer. My parents were great too. My kids are such a handful- loud, rough, and boisterous, and my mom and dad were completely patient and loving and kind with them, which made the trip so much easier. But still, it feels a little stressful to be in someone else’s home for a week with two maniacal small children, no matter how many times they reassure you that they don’t care how many drinks your kid spills on their clean white carpet 😐 We spent everyday running full tilt through all that Portland has to offer- playing in the snow on Mt. Hood, visiting museums, parks, and playscapes, and eating a lot of sugar. We abandoned the no screen time rule and watched Inside Out, Peter Pan, and introduced the kids to Laurel and Hardy, which Henry declared to be the funniest thing he had ever seen. We went to bed each night at the same time as the kids and we were all instantly and deeply asleep after all the day’s activities. It was a beautiful trip and I’m so grateful to my mom and dad for making it happen and for hosting us so generously, and to my siblings and their families for taking the time off to be there too so we could all be together. Here’s what it looked like!
Crispy Thai Pork with Cucumber Salad. This was a few days before our trip and I remember nothing about the day except that George, who eats nothing but heavily-processed carbs (*cough* cheetos *cough*), ate fully half of a hothouse cucumber after it’d had a run through with a spiralizer. So I’m spiralizing everything from now on. Also, this dinner is the greatest, except that I really just need to double it because Andy and I never want to stop eating and have to force ourselves to so there will be some leftover for him to take for lunch the next day.
Broccoli Aglio e Olio with Gremolata Breadcrumbs. I love a pile of breadcrumbs on pasta, but otherwise I didn’t think this was anything too special. Keeping it brief, y’all, cuz we’ve got 24 more photos to talk about!
Did I overwhelm you? Don’t leave me. We’ll get through it!
Black Bean and Roasted Sweet Potato Tostadas. This was Tuesday, the day before we went to Portland, and I had so much to do. We had to go to the library because our books were due back while we were away, and I check out a literal 30 at a time, so that overdue fee racks up fast. We were also out of stamps, and I had by some miracle finished all of our holiday thank you notes and wanted to send them before we left, so I looked to see if there was a post office on the way to the library, and there was, hurrah! And that’s how I spent 45 minutes of my life in line at the worst post office in the world to buy some stupid fireworks stamps. I don’t know how post office funding works, but I’m calling bullshit on there not being a kiosk in the Burleson P.O. When I saw there wasn’t a machine I thought about just leaving, but there were only four or five people in line so I stayed. It seems physically impossible that 4 customers could take up 40 minutes, but they did. There was one employee and one customer was doing a passport application for their kid, which I know from excruciating first-hand experience takes forever, and one was just picking up a package, but the employee took the slip and disappeared for 10 minutes before returning with the thing. The kids were with me and chose to pass the time by climbing the walls and display cases and I let them, in protest of having to wait that long to buy stamps. I am a whiny baby and just wrote 300 words about waiting at a post office. Moving on!
Wednesday, travel! George’s face about sums up the airplane experience. It was ok! I ate a Scholtzsky’s sandwich and George and I went through all 400 of the little things I had brought to entertain him on the plane in rapid succession, and then he took a bunch of selfies. Henry spent much of the four hour flight on an addition workbook I grabbed from the dollar section at Target. He loved it! I had also bought him a reading readiness one (he is already sort of reading so I didn’t know if he’d be into it or not) but he decidedly was not. One of the first pages was an alphabet chart where you had to fill in the missing letters. There was an S and then a blank, and Henry put T U V, and then noticed that U and V were on the next line and was furious that he had made a mistake. I was sitting with George at the time and saw that Andy and Henry were struggling over the workbook. I offered to switch places with Andy, who said that Henry wanted to destroy the book and he’d been trying to stop him. I asked Henry if that’s what he wanted to do, and he tearfully, angrily, answered yes, so I let him. He ripped out every page, one by one. And at the end I asked him if he felt better. He said he felt calmer but that he “rather missed” the workbook. We read The Secret Garden instead. We got in late, and my dad had built a beautiful roaring fire in their fireplace and my mom had made a big batch of tuna salad for sandwiches (Mom, why is your tuna salad so much better than mine? Will you share all your secrets with me?) and we enjoyed being together and not being on a plane.
We spent much of the day on Thursday at the OMSI, a fabulous science museum. They have a chemistry lab with exciting experiments set up with step-by-step instructions and Henry loved it. His favorite was one where you mix some stuff in a flask and then cover the top with a balloon and swirl the mixture around, causing the balloon to inflate. We did it all over again as soon as we had finished. George loved a little area filled with pristine white sand and the water play room, but his big thrill came when Auntie bought a bag of popcorn for everyone to which she had smartly chosen to add a scoop of red and pink Valentine M&Ms. George deftly plucked out the candies and pushed them into his mouth with his pudgy little index fingers. My mom made a gorgeous huge batch of her wonderful chicken mole for dinner, which I sadly forgot to photograph. You can find the recipe here.
Snow snow snow! We went to Timberline Lodge, towards the very top of Mount Hood, and the site where the exterior shots were filmed for The Shining. Henry and I both look furious in this picture, but we actually just have mouths full of snow. Tasty!
We took 17 selfies, with a selfie stick, no less, and at least half the people are blurry in every shot. This was the best one, I think. The lodge has an all-you-can-eat buffet that is so good. My favorite things were a roughly-pureed butternut, apple, and celery soup, little crab cakes with a radish creme fraiche, and tiny caramel chocolate cheesecakes that were so light and rich and I ate fully four of them.
BLTs with Chips. We were all exhausted by the time we got back to the house, but thankfully Helen made us a huge pile of sandwiches. Henry and his sweet cousin Leon had played for hours in the snow: building forts, having parking lot snowball fights, and sledding over and over in a perfect little halfpipe with a clearly marked “no sledding” sign that we chose to ignore. I didn’t move around in the snow that much, but I did hold George in the ergo almost the whole time because he hated the cold and doubly hated having snow touch his hands. Walking up the hill with George, my feet sinking six inches deep with each step, made me feel desperately out of shape. I did manage to drag myself up the hill once to sled down by myself. It was exhilarating and terrifyingly fast and I yelled “I hate this I hate this” the whole way down. I liked it once it was over and I hadn’t died.
It rained most of the time we were in Portland, and all day on Saturday, so we spent the day at a big insane indoor playscape called Play Date PDX. We have places like this in Austin, but this one blew them all out of the water by adding a coffeeshop, a place to buy beer, and a legitimately decent cafe where you could order big crisp pizzas, hummus plates, a soft German pretzel that could feed a family of four, and anything from a long list of finger foods like hard boiled eggs, grapes, and carrot sticks. It was utter chaos in there. Every table was filled, and the playscape, which was like a three-story version of the sort you’d find at a fast-food restaurant, was crawling with kids. Somehow Henry, George, and their cousins Leon and Jack, managed to stay together almost the whole time, and I got to sit at a table and eat snacks and catch up with my brother, Caleb. While we were out, my mom made two of her famous dishes- a rich and creamy baked ziti and the carrot cake I grew up eating by the greedy fistful. It’s a dense flavorful version packed with coconut and shredded pineapple and it tastes like childhood.
I’m stating the obvious, but Oregon is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The drive along the Columbia river to get to Multnomah Falls was completely thrilling. The river is on your left almost the whole time, and is the biggest river I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. On the right you pass monstrously tall trees, immense moss-covered boulders, mountains with trickly waterfalls, and big frozen ponds. And though my photograph is probably in the running for the worst one ever taken of the big falls, the place itself is full of magic. George fell asleep on me as soon as we got out of the car and I put him in the ergo, so I had some time to kill while he slept and thought I’d give the one mile hike to the very top of the falls a try (the .2 mile hike to the bridge in the photo was quick and easy). It started off ok, but I was exhausted by the time I reached a “switchback 3/11” sign, which is where I should’ve thrown in the towel. We pressed on until we were about halfway up and the path turned completely to slippery ice, right next to the side of a cliff, and people were falling down in front of us (not off the cliff, I should clarify). I gave up. But luckily George woke up just before we made it back down to the bottom and said, “oh, look! a waterfall!”
After the falls we headed to Cooper’s Spur, a little place my brother Caleb had wanted to check out pretty far down the east side of Mt. Hood. It is absolutely the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. We were basically the only ones there, and it was perfectly silent and blanketed in newly-fallen snow. The kids sledded up and down the hills, one of which passed over a little burbling stream that George spent almost ten minutes throwing snowballs into.
This was the best picture I got that contained both George and Henry I think George has ketchup on his face.
I had to include this outtake of the cousin shot because it’s so adorably sad. Poor Phinnie! These boys needed a lesson in the proper way to arrange themselves for a group shot.
Cooper’s Spur has a little tavern that serves pretty good food! I got fish and chips, and also ate most of George’s chicken tender kids meal. My body requires lots of battered-and-fried meats before going out into the cold. If you look closely you can also see the head of my high-quality pizza dinosaur drawing.
We came home and improvised a dinner. Helen had the idea to make panzanella with some baguettes that had grown stale on the counter, and my mom had all the ingredients to make it happen. We also had crackers and cheeses and a big pile of sliced pepperoni.
Now we just need to work on the ‘walk softly’ part. It was cold and rainy the next day, but my kids desperately needed a wide open space to run around in, so we headed to the playground in Washington Park, a huge area with a children’s museum, zoo, arboretum, and other stuff. They didn’t care a bit about it being wet and cold, but the adults did! We stayed for as long as we could stand and then headed to the children’s museum.
My brother Cameron heroically met us there with a million perfect donuts from Blue Star Donuts, a place started by a fellow he used to work with. They are rich, dense, and bready little marvels. I got to try a lot of them but loved the spice cake and a doubly chocolate one with some kind of chile kick the best.
For our last big dinner together with both my brothers and their boys, my mom bought rib eyes for folks that wanted them, and there was a smorgasbord of other stuff for people who didn’t. Summer squash couscous with sultanas and pistachios, a salty meat and smoked salmon board, fruits, herbed marcona almonds, citrus-y olives, cream cheese with a spicy blueberry sauce Helen whipped up, hummus, and leftover panzanella. It was so wonderful to have all of us gathered around the same table.
My mom must have spent three weeks baking stuff for our visit. When we got there she had four kinds of cookie dough in the freezer (gingersnap, chocolate crinkles, snickerdoodles, and these, an almond joy-inspired cookie with chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and chopped almonds- so good!), plus my favorite pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, plus that wonderful carrot cake. Also muddy buddies, which some of us may have eaten for breakfast in a bowl with milk as if it were cereal. Not naming names.
Though there were a hundred wonderful moments on this trip, the absolute best part was seeing these kids play together. Jack, the oldest, and Leon were so wonderful to my boys and Phinnie- kind and patient and brilliantly engaged. Henry has talked about them nonstop since coming home.
On our last night in Portland, my mom had planned for us to pick up their favorite barbecue from a nearby place. We called over and over again and no one picked up, so we, stupidly, decided just to drive over and order in person. They were closed for a holiday party. It was late and we had no backup plan, so we called Helen and asked her to put in an order at a Chinese place she had noticed earlier, that my mom and dad had never tried. It was delicious! Also, a lot of food. The people packing up the food put in about 14 fortune cookies, which I took as an indication of how many people they thought this amount of food would feed. The six of us (not counting kids, who don’t eat anything) made a pretty decent dent in it, but we left our parents with a ton of leftovers. We have a history of this apparently. Helen remembered that after we had just arrived in LA, my parents tasked us with ordering Chinese food to feed us and the movers and we somehow spent $400. The movers left with a grocery bag full of takeout containers on each arm.
Then we all got the stomach flu and flew home! Not strictly true. Henry became fully and desperately sick the last day in Portland, Andy didn’t get sick until Friday, and George didn’t catch it till the wee hours of the Saturday morning. I have sort of felt nauseous but didn’t have any of the more sordid symptoms and the nausea might just be related to my queasiness about cleaning up after the kids. Regardless, we’ve eaten mostly sandwiches and done mostly nothing since we got back home. Also our cat has apparently been sneaking into a neighbors open window and attacking and bloodying his cat. So I guess you could say things aren’t great around here. Nowhere to go but up? Time will tell!
Since that’s a bad ending, I’ll leave you with this tangentially-related quote from George:
Me, on a walk with George and Henry yesterday: “Look, George! A cat!”
George: I like cats! (long pause, somewhat accusingly) I won’t eat one.