Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Les loves rain

Hi. This is Les, your guest blogger for today. We're here in Portland this week, staying at the condo of Arlyn's friend. Arlyn will post a summary of our trip in a few days, but I want to write about an experience we had today that may prove to be my fondest memory of the whole trip.

The weather has been generally sunny since we arrived in Portland, but there was rain in the forecast for today. We planned to do a walking tour of downtown, and one of our destinations was the Chinese garden.

Portland's Chinese Garden
While we were there, a heavy rainstorm passed overhead. We quickly found shelter from the rain under a nearby pagoda. The garden, which had been full of visitors before the rain, suddenly was almost empty.

Taking shelter from the rain
It was very pleasant to hear the rain on the roof of the pagoda and see the patterns the drops made on the surface of the pond. I took advantage of the opportunity for twenty minutes of sublime meditation while we waited for the rain to let up.

Raindrops on the pond
We had our rain jackets and light-weight travel umbrellas with us, so we continued on to Powell's. It made us feel confident that we're well prepared for the unpredictable weather we might run into in Scotland two months from now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shakedown trip

We've had a wonderful trip up north. We spent a few days on Quadra Island with old Cornell grad-school friends who recently moved there; we didn't get to see them often enough when they lived in Ontario, so it's great that they're relatively close now. Quadra is a beautiful island off the east coast of Vancouver Island. We'd only been there once before, when we were kayaking in the area, so we did a bit of walking and car exploration. On one walk we saw over a hundred bald eagles, mostly juveniles, soaring in slow lazy circles over the bay. We enjoyed helping our friends babysit their three grandchildren one evening. Les also had fun spending time with the family dogs and cats. Chucky, our kayak, is now going to live on Quadra, so we'll have many happy reasons to return.

View from the end of the road on Quadra Island

Leo pulling the kayak on its wheels
Arlyn reading to Forrest, Leo, and Ivy

We then had a couple of days in Vancouver at CelticFest. The Welsh men's choir concert was excellent, and included an equally good performance by an Irish dance group. We saw lots of short performances and workshops: fiddlers, dance groups, various combos, etc. Les especially enjoyed the workshop on the uilleann pipes, an Irish instrument somewhat similar to bagpipes, and a favorite of Les.

The St. Patrick's parade was fun. Remembering how three years ago I had found it difficult to see through the street crowd, this time I shlepped a plastic stool from Seattle, and Les enjoyed teasing me about it. During the parade I didn't need it, because we found a retaining wall to stand on. So the stool was sitting on the sidewalk when suddenly a woman rushed up, shouted "I need to borrow your stool!" and bolted off with it. How bizarre, we thought. We watched her race up the block to a horse leading a carriage in the parade.

Our stool saves the day!
She got up on the stool, and—with some difficulty—replaced a decoration which had evidently fallen off from the horse's head. So my stool played an important part in the parade, and Les was quite impressed at my foresight! The only negative in Vancouver was cigarette smoke on the streets; we're both very sensitive to it, and we know that it will be a potential problem in Europe.

We found a lovely, deserted beach on Lummi Island
Yesterday we visited Lummi Island off the Washington coast. It was our first time there, and we were surprised at how different it is from the nearby San Juan Islands. In circumnavigating the 10-mile long island, we saw hardly any people (population is about 900), and definitely no tourist attractions. We then drove to Anacortes to spend the night. Today, our final day of nine, we're going to have lunch with an Esperanto friend as we pass through Whidbey Island. Today is also the 8th anniversary of our daughter Julie's death, so we've been thinking about her a lot the last few days.

This trip was meant to be a "shakedown" trip for the big one this summer. Doing this blog entry while on the road, for instance, is more challenging than doing it at home on the large computer. We saw some attractive waterfowl on the ferry to Lummi, which might have been rhinoceros auklets or some kind of puffin, but I wasn't able to identify them online; it felt like I really needed my bird guide back at home. After years of printing off one or more New York Times crossword puzzles each day, we're learning to solve them online, but it's not nearly as enjoyable that way.

We tried out two credit cards and two debit cards in a foreign country—Canada—to see which ones incurred foreign transaction fees. We resolved a banking problem with the help of Skype, so it's nice to know that we can take care of financial matters while we're away. We tried out our new Visa card that has a chip; we had to open a new bank account to get it, as our regular bank doesn't offer a chip yet, and we know we'll want that feature in Europe. We discovered that it's best to have a PIN for the chip credit card, which apparently our bank only issues on request. I'm glad we're learning these things now, and not while we're in Europe.

Les created a new system for keeping track of cash and credit card expenses on our laptop, so we'll be able to reconcile online bank statements on the road. We confirmed that Pandora doesn't work outside of the U.S. (boo hoo), also that Netflix streaming works but the selections are more limited. When a new user ran into a problem with Les' MorseKOB program, other users around the country jumped in with suggestions; it gives Les confidence that support for the program will not depend solely on him during our long trip.

So, all in all, we've had a most enjoyable and successful week. Les says, "It's been the best vacation ever!" But, then again, he often says that. :-)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Living on the boat

The lights of Seattle across Lake Union from our houseboat
We've been living on the boat two weeks now, and we absolutely love it! Les especially is euphoric. We relish the quiet and the coziness. I like watching the lights reflect on the water across the lake as I go to sleep, and seeing the lake come to life as I slowly wake up. And the marina community is friendlier than most neighborhoods we've ever lived in.

Of course there has been some adjusting to do. Mostly the difference is that everything takes more time. We've managed to find places for most of our "essentials", but often we need to move several other things in order to get to a desired object (e.g. a kitchen scale or a tofu press). To do laundry, we go to a laundromat a couple of miles away. (The nice part is that it's next to the Burke Gilman trail, so if the weather is conducive we can go for a walk during the wash cycle.)

We don't just pop something into the microwave. No, first we turn off the fridge, water heater, wall heater and some lights, so that the combined load won't trip the circuit breaker. Afterwards, we have to remember to turn back on the fridge and water heater. Despite our efforts, the power goes off several times a day anyway just from a combination of other lights and appliances. To avoid overloading the composting toilet, which is a low-usage model, Les goes up to the restaurant; a common refrain is, "Be back in a tuppence—I'm going to the outhouse." Drinking water is another issue. In the seven and a half years that we've owned the boat, we've always brought our water with us in jugs from home, because the water here comes in through a hose from the dock, and tastes strange. Now this is home, so we're working on finding a new method.

But, like I say, we love the boat despite these minor inconveniences. After the stress of the move, it's a pleasure to be back to my favorite pastimes: cooking, baking, pickleball, and my weekly walking group. The only thing missing is quilting—the sewing machine and supplies can't possibly fit in the boat—but fortunately I'm not missing it.

Les has gotten the phones switched over successfully. What used to be our landline number at the apartment is now the number for our new cell phone, a model that works in Europe and North America. We'll buy a prepaid SIM card for it when we arrive in Glasgow (with a UK phone number) and perhaps do the same in other countries as well.

On another note, it looks like we won't make it to Egilsay Island, one of the Orkneys, in Scotland. Instead, we're going to take a steam train to two towns on the coast: Oban and Mallaig. The Mallaig run is famous as the "Harry Potter train", because that's what gets filmed for the train taking the children to Hogwarts. Through the Internet I found a booklet detailing every segment of the trips: the sights being passed, the history, etc. We hope to do some kayaking near Mallaig also.

Friday we finalized our registration for the big Esperanto conference in Lille. It's almost five months away, but already 2,000 people from 69 countries have signed up: among them several each from Mongolia, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Nepal, Senegal, 43 from China. We just nailed down our hotel, and chose four excursions out of the 20 offered during the week. We'll be spending a day at Boulogne-sur-Mer, which is historically important to Esperanto speakers because the first international conference was held there in 1905. Also a day at Arras, a key area during World War I. And a half day at a former coal mine, and a walking tour of Lille. We were somewhat reluctant to sign up for so many because we'll probably feel badly about missing certain talks or workshops or activities (we won't know the full program until we get there).

Today is my 70th birthday, which Les and I will celebrate at an expensive vegan (and local and organic) restaurant. (The only other time we were there was for my 65th birthday!) Tomorrow we leave on our first "practice trip". It's a 9-day car trip. The main destination is Quadra Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island. We hope to do some kayaking on the way up, spend a few days on Quadra with friends who live there, and leave our kayak with them. On the way back we'll spend two days at CelticFest in Vancouver. We did that three years ago and really enjoyed the music and dancing and the St. Patrick's Day parade. Other destinations are Lummi Island (one of the few places in Washington state we've never been), La Conner, and Whidbey Island.

We still follow the outline of tasks that we made back in July, and everything is on track. Les says everything is so well planned that he feels like he's on autopilot. We never suddenly become aware of some aspect that we've overlooked relating to our life change. Just two months now until the big trip!