The great roadtrip of May 2011

As I write this, I’m standing at the kitchen counter in our new apartment in Phoenix. Since we don’t have any furniture yet (apart from a bed and one chair from Ikea, which we take turns sitting on) I now do everything from this spot: email, Skype, eat, lean, sob quietly. My legs ache from standing around all day but the end is in sight because I think we found a nice couch at the weekend, and a possible table and chairs. Hopefully, there will be lots of sitting in my not-so-distant future.

We’ve been here a week today, and despite the distinct air of emptiness in the house, I feel settled already. I’ve met some really nice people and am more than happy to grow old here and never move house ever again for the rest of my life. Plus, the fact that the weather has been in the 30 degree range since we arrived ain’t bad either.

Our roadtrip from Oregon took nine days, and thanks to my nerdy little schedule, we made good time and were able to relax along the way. We went whale watching in Depoe Bay on the Oregon coast, camped in the Redwoods State Park in Northern California, spent three days in San Francisco, drove on the Pacific Coast Highway and stayed in Pismo Beach, Huntington Beach and Palm Springs before we crossed the state line into Arizona. We mostly stayed in Motel 6s where we could as they’re very dog-friendly, as well as being cheap and clean. Milo was a little champ through all the travelling, apart from one or two days when he didn’t eat or got sick and the tick he picked up when we camped. So gross.

Here are some pictures from the trip for your delectation. Please enjoy.

This is where Milo spent most of our days without a peep out of him. Good dog.

Depoe Bay, where we saw (bits of) a grey whale (not pictured).

We also saw some big fat sea lions (pictured).

Local royal wedding humour. Fnar fnar.

One of the zillions of little towns we drove through on the 101. Can't remember the name.

Crossing the state line into California. Hide your fruit and veggies.

Our spot in Elk Prairie Campsite. We were a bit underprepared so we won't be doing that again for some time.

In case you didn't know, redwoods are quite tall.

Dinner. Giant marshmallows (me) and wieners (Eoin).

Like I said, redwoods are big. And old.

Our first glimpse of San Francisco. Such a pretty city. Stunning views from every street.

We arrived via the foggy Golden Gate Bridge. FYI there's a surprise $6 toll on the other side.

Gorgeous houses on Alamo Square. Wantsies one, please.

Alcatraz. One of the highlights of the trip for me. The audio tour is enthralling.

The beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea. Cutest little town ever. Clint Eastwood used to be mayor here, fact fans.

We stayed two nights in Huntington Beach, which has an off-leash dog beach. Milo couldn't believe his luck.

The only picture I have of Palm Springs. 'S okay though, cos I'm defo going back.

And that’s how we got here. Travelling in America so easy, with lots to see. Hopefully we’ll get to do more very soon.


Hood Riiiiiver

Saturday was an absolute scorcher here in Oregon (well, about 20 something degrees and sunny) so we decided to take advantage of the great outdoors. I’m so conscious that we’ll be back in the desert soon that I’m making a real effort to appreciate the trees, grass and running water while I can. We decided to go to Hood River, a little town in the Columbia River Gorge at the far side of Mount Hood, and spend the day walking/hiking. It’s about 60 miles away.

The journey was a breeze so we got there in under an hour and a half. I bought a pet barrier thingy last week for the car so Milo doesn’t need his crate anymore, he can roam around in the boot area with his toys. I think he appreciated the luxury, although he acted as nonchalant as ever.

After a little wander around the town (quaint, non?) we sat outside a cafe in the sun and had a quick lunch. A local Montessori school was holding some sort of a parade for Earth Day in the town square opposite so it was a bit hectic. Lots of dogs and people wanting to say hi to Milo. I didn’t get to snap a pic because my hands were full with sandwich and excited puppy.

After that, we went off in search of a walking trail which took us across a bridge…into Washington. Yup, we crossed a state line for the first time! It was uneventful. Over in Washington, we stopped at a little beach, which was accessed via a train line. Every fibre in my body told me walking across working train tracks was a bad idea, but apparently it was the only way.

About 10 minutes up the road we stopped again, this time at the foot of a little mountain, and decided to go for a longer hike. There was a little stream running alongside the track which Eoin dropped Milo in to cool off. He enjoyed it.

As we climbed further upwards the view got even prettier. See?

Once we got further away from the road I decided to let the dog off his leash and see what happened. He was really good! He ran around us but never strayed more than 20 feet away. If we stopped for a break, so did he. This bodes well for camping. I’m now confident he won’t leg it into the woods never to be seen again.

And just look what I spied on the way back to the car. Another snake, this time much bigger. I spotted it slithering across the road in the distance. So gross.

And so, after a quick ice cream stop, we set off back to Hillsboro, all of us pooped. That will probably be the last time I’ll be in the Columbia River Gorge since we’re leaving on Saturday. It’s so beautiful it reminds me of home. I’m sad to say goodbye, but excited to start the next chapter of this little adventure.

In which Sarah goes to her first ice hockey game

Before I get going, let me just preface this post by stating that everything I know about ice hockey I learned from The Mighty Ducks. Me and sport have never seen eye to eye, mostly because I end up feeling so sorry for the losing team that it takes all the fun out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll support Ireland in anything, especially if it’s rugby and there’s a pub involved, but in general I have no time for sport. Yes, I can appreciate the talent and skill that goes into a game of Gaelic football, but the amount of money professional athletes here and in the UK earn makes me want to hurl (in the non sporting sense).

Despite my apathy for sport and sporty people in general, I was very excited when Eoin’s aunt sent him a pair of ice hockey tickets as a birthday present. The game (or match, if you prefer) was on Friday night in the Rose Garden, where the Portland Winterhawks were playing the Everett Silvertips and I spent last week working myself up into a frenzy about it. I don’t get out much, remember? Being well-prepared, I had Milo nice and tired so he would sleep soundly in his crate while we were out and had even hired a nine-year-old girl to stand outside our door and listen for him (this is totally above board. More about her at a later date.) You can imagine how enraged I was then when we got to Portland and discovered that Eoin’s poxy work phone, which rings every eight seconds, was at home, charging away quietly. Back we went to get it, causing us to miss the start of the game, but only by a few minutes.

As far as I know, the Winterhawks share the Rose Garden with the Trailblazers, Portland’s basketball team. It’s a really cool and well-maintained stadium, I’m not sure of the capacity but I reckon it was three-quarters full for our game. And the best bit? Our seats were in the front row, practically on the ice, with only a sheet of plexiglass separating us from flying players and pucks. Below, I have used my feet to illustrate just how close to the action we were.

A little too close for comfort, don’t you think? To my left is where the teams were sitting. As I said, I don’t know much about the rules of ice hockey but I did learn that the game is broken up into three 20-minute periods and that every few minutes four players from each team did this thing I called Swapsies, wherein they sat down and four other lads got a chance to play. It was hard to keep up. Look at them there doing their Swapsies.

As you would expect, considering it’s played on ice, the game was fast and furious. For the first period most of the action was at the far end of the rink around the Silvertips’ goal, to wit I concluded they must be the less talented of the two teams. Also, I have never heard of Everett. But then, out of nowhere, the Silvertips scored. Naturally, I clapped. A goal is a goal, right? WRONG. You could have heard a pin drop in the stadium. Everett had no supporters in the house and it turns out that at American games the only time you cheer for the “other” team is when one of their players gets knocked out by one of your own. Well, you can imagine what started to happen in my head. I was picturing the Silvertips’ nanas at home watching the game on TV, possibly knitting green victory scarves for their little underdog grandsons. So even though they were winning, I felt the need to cheer for them because, well, no one else there could be arsed. Thankfully the whistle went so the torture could be paused while we went out to grab some burgers (delicious, in case you were wondering.)

The teams swapped places for the second period, which meant the Silvertips’ goal was right in front of us. The players were so close I could nearly smell their sweat and I’m sure, as the game progressed, they got the occasional whiff of my fear. Every time one of them was rammed up against the glass in front of me I almost jumped out of my skin, and after a particularly aggressive bash I saw myself on the big screen in the background – with my hands over my face. A few minutes later Portland scored and the whole Rose Garden erupted. It turns out that the crowd could actually make noise if they put their minds to it. Everyone did this kind of choreographed fist pump thing and stood up and generally went nuts. Of course I clapped along, but my heart wasn’t in it. I don’t think anyone noticed. I’m quite a good actress.

A couple of minutes later, three of the Hawks pounded one of my guys against the wall so hard he was almost knocked out. The crowd cheered so loudly I thought they’d scored. I’m telling you, ice hockey fans are barbaric. They love the fouls and the fights the players get into every 30 seconds. If you ask me, it’s all a bit theatrical. There were four umpires on the ice who spent most of their time separating the teams and making sure they didn’t kick the shit out of each other. Puh-lease, the players wear so much protective gear their outfits are practically bullet-proof. I doubt they’d be so brave if they weren’t covered in several inches of plastic and padding. The kids behind me chanting “Let them fight! Let them fight!” seemed to enjoy it though.

And then the whistle went, marking the end of the second period. We didn’t have anything pressing to attend to in this break so we stuck around to watch what happened in the ice. It was all go. First, the Kiss Cam popped up on the big screen, just like you see in movies. It was very cute when people spotted themselves up there and kissed; one elderly man even went so far as to hump his wife (my mind immediately turned to Milo and I wondered how he was getting on at home alone). Americans have no sense of embarrassment when it comes to the big screen, which I admire. I would have been mortified to see my face up there.

Next up, the Rose Buds made a dramatic entrance on to the ice. As a 28-year-old wannabe cheerleader, I was pretty disappointed with these girls. They did a little dance but showed no athleticism whatsoever, just lots of big white smiles, high kicks and announcements about their official tanning sponsor. Even Eoin was like, “I was expecting more pyramids from them.” After their routine, things took a turn for the weird when people started standing up and throwing rubber pucks on to the ice. Turns out it was for a raffle or something and, get this, the Rose Buds had to clean up afterwards. Scarleh for them. My dreams of being a cheerleader ended here, I can tell you.

And so, on to the third and final period. I was really starting to get into the game at this stage and was using all the tricks I know from The Secret to will the Silvertips to victory. Play was aggressive and the goals were coming thick and fast. Thankfully I’m not a nail biter because today I would have bloody stumps where my hands should be.

Coming up to the final whistle, the Hawks were leading by one goal but my brave little Silvertips just weren’t giving up. I feel like my support was really making a difference. Everyone is ordered to stand up for the final minute so tension was at fever pitch and I was definitely making some noise. But despite my valiant efforts, the Portland Winterhawks won with a final score of 4–3.

Of course they milked it, skating around soaking up all the applause and adoration, while my guys just skulked off quietly into oblivion. But that’s sport for you, isn’t it? I wouldn’t say I’ve been converted, and you’ll definitely never see me in any kind of jersey, but I would happily go to another game if the opportunity presented itself.

And  if you’re wondering how Milo got on, he was mute from the moment we left at 5.45pm ’til I freed him at 10.45pm. So in the end, victory really was mine, when you think about it.

OMSI After Dark

Last week, I visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry with Sandra, one of the lovely Irish people I’ve met over here through Eoin’s work (I still don’t really know any Americans in Oregon. Morto for my ma for havin’ me etc). Once a month, OMSI does this After Dark thing to encourage the childless to come along. Admission is way reduced, it’s over 21s and there’s even booze on sale. And people say museums are boring. Tsk.

The theme of the evening was Egypt, to coincide with the Lost Egypt exhibit they’re running at the moment. After buying tickets to see the next showing of a film called Mummies in the Omnimax, which is inside OMSI, we headed upstairs to learn about pyramids and pharaohs and all that jazz. Unfortunately, that exhibit was a bit of a let down. I can’t remember where, but I’d seen most of the stuff before and it was thronged; we could hear a disembodied voice talking about hieroglyphs but had no idea where it was coming from. Distressing. We did get to check out a real mummy though, which of course only whetted our appetites for the Omnimax film.

In case you don’t know, an Omnimax theatre is likes a souped-up IMAX. Instead of looking at a massive rectangular screen, the Omnimax is dome-shaped, meaning the action is all around and above you. Quite terrifying if you’re scared of heights like me, as the stairs up is almost vertical and once you’re up, well, you can’t not look down. It’s definitely worth a visit though, and works especially well if the film you’re seeing is set underwater or in space or something. Although the format was kind of wasted on Mummies, the story itself was enthralling and I really enjoyed it.

After that we hit the Design Hall, which was really good fun, even for a non-nerd like me. As with the Arizona Science Centre that I visited in Phoenix, all the exhibits were interactive and we spent a good hour or two in there making things and, er, breaking things. It’s very child-oriented, but when it’s adults only you can relax and not worry about depriving some kid of an education while you learn how to build a rollercoaster. If you’re ever in Oregon, I definitely recommend it. Not on a Saturday afternoon though. That would be hell.

Goonies for a day

As a child of the 80s, I can’t remember a time when The Goonies wasn’t one of my favourite fillums. And frankly, I don’t want to. It has everything you could possibly need in a family movie: a great cast, comedy, suspense, a bit of fear and even a hot older brother to fancy. Despite being made in 1985, it still pops up on TV occasionally and, if you ask me, totally holds its own. Everyone loves The Goonies, it’s a universal fact, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that it was set in Astoria, Oregon, less than two hours from where we’re currently living. It took longer than I expected (I’m laying the blame equally between the weather and Eoin here) but we eventually made it down there this weekend with one goal: to follow the goonie trail.

After a rocky start (the kennel I had Milo booked in to cancelled at the last minute and only The Most Expensive Kennel in America would accept him at such short notice) we eventually got on the road and pointed the car towards the Oregon coast. Now, I (stupidly) hadn’t looked up the route on the map, and didn’t realise it went through the mountains, so we got a bit of a fright when said road looked like this for much of the way:

Yeah, slippy. And more than a little scary considering we didn’t even have any chains with us. If I’d been driving we’d most certainly be in one of those drifts right now but thankfully I was passenging for the weekend. Anyway, we got to Astoria safely, and even though it was a bleak and cold February weekend, it has to be noted that it’s a really pretty little town, dominated by a dramatic suspension bridge. The perfect setting for a movie.

As you can see, there was still some snow on the ground which meant wandering around outside wasn’t exactly comfortable, especially when you’re the idiot who forgot to bring socks. Luckily we were there, I’d say, 30 seconds when we spotted this place:

It turns out that loads of movies have been filmed in or around Astoria, including Free Willy, Short Circuit, Kindergarten Cop and, er, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3. The above jail was actually in one of the opening scenes of The Goonies, where Jake Fratelli pretends to hang himself and then escapes with his terrifying mama who might put your hand in a blender if you’re not careful. They have handily illustrated it inside in case you forget.

Those other movies don’t get much of a look in at the Oregon Film Museum but The Goonies is well represented in the props department (there are only one and a half departments plus a gift shop). Remember this statue belonged to Mrs Walsh, Mikey and Brandon’s mum? Chunk knocked it over and its wiener popped off. Note here the wiener is intact.

There’s also a copy of the paper that got them all obsessed with Chester Copperpot and One Eyed Willy’s treasure in the first place.

And the infamous map. Well, a copy of it cos this one is in suspiciously good nick.

The doubloons…

And the skeleton key yoke.

They also have Data’s full costume, which I enjoyed imensley.

Entry to the museum was $4 and even though we had seen everything in under five minutes I’d call that money well spent. Directly across the street is the Flavel House Museum, a real working museum but in The Goonies it was where Mikey and Brand’s dad worked.

But the location I really wanted to see was the Walsh house where all the action kicks off. All of the scenes in the old restaurant and underground were shot in a Los Angeles studio, and the beach isn’t actually in Astoria itself, so the house was definitely the main attraction for me – and plenty of other people who visit every year. We bought a map in the museum and managed to locate it easily enough. This was our first view. Not great, as you can see. I was a bit disappointed and worried that that was it.

So I suggested that we try and get closer, which we did, thanks to Eoin’s mad navigational skillz and some cop on.

And even closer, because it turns out you’re totally allowed, if not encouraged. The house is a private residence as far as I know but the people who live in it, and their neighbours, are obviously seriously chill. I would love to know how many people they get hanging around outside annually. Lots, I bet, especially in summer.

And there it is, the real Walsh house from The Goonies as it looks today! The paint job is different, and the fence and gate are missing, but there’s no denying that’s it. I have to admit, I was embarrassingly excited to get so close. Eoin was mortified. When I was eight years old and watching the video over and over again at home I never imagined that I’d end up here. Funny where life takes you.

What an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Thank you, Astoria.

Walking in a winter wonderland

Urgh that title is going to give me nightmares. My apologies. Brain dead.

This morning I awoke to a really annoying scrapey scrapey sound outside my bedroom window. It could only mean one thing: just as the weather forecast had predicted, it had snowed! And here in America, when it snows, magic people materialise from nowhere to shovel the sidewalks and grit the roads. What a neat idea! That way life goes on as normal and the country doesn’t almost collapse.

I love snow. When everyone at home was complaining about it last November and December I didn’t even try to hide my jealousy. We were living in Arizona at the time and feeling decidedly un-Christmassy due to all the sunshine (visit to the Christmas block aside). And then we went to Mexico, which didn’t really help matters.

So today I leaped athletically from bed, grabbed my camera and Milo and went, er, walking in a winter wonderland, for want of a better description.









We took our normal route down to Orchard Park and walked around it once. Milo, who’s not a big cold or precipitation fan at the best of times, was very wary of the strange white powder but soon chilled (ha!) out and started to enjoy digging and playing around.

I love how fresh snow makes everything go so quiet and peaceful. There were a couple of people in the park but far fewer than we would normally meet. It’s 11.32 am now and already starting to thaw, but it sure was nice while it lasted.

Oregon: my first impressions

I’m here, y’all!

On Wednesday morning we packed up the last of our apartment in Chandler (sob!) and headed for the airport via a quick stop at Desert Breeze Park for an auld leg stretch. I knew we had been approved for a housewares package at the new gaff (thank you, Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named!) but we tried to squeeze in some sheets and pillows cos our shipment doesn’t arrive til next week and we weren’t really sure what “housewares” included anyway.

The airport was really quiet so check in was a breeze and we even managed to sneak an extra bag in with our hand luggage. That would never happen with Ryanair. Before boarding we sat down for a drink during which I started banging on about all the stuff I was going to miss about Arizona. In the middle of my spiel I had a quick look at Twitter and discovered that our local mall, Chandler Fashion Centre, was at that moment closed because there was a gun-wielding madman down there taking hostages. It was at that point that I was ready to say goodbye to Arizona.

Our 1,009 mile flight north was fairly uneventful, unless you count the pilot announcing that there was a sick passenger on board and basically asking if there was a doctor in the house. When we landed the paramedics boarded and stretchered off an old man, who I hope was okay in the end. Seriously, drama was just following me around that day.

And so, we were in Oregon! Thanks yet again to The Massive Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named, we were picked up at the airport by a chauffeur and driven swankily to our new apartment. It was dark at that stage but the differences between Oregon and Arizona were already screaming at me. For one, the weather was basically the same as Dublin: it was cold and wet. Also, everything here is much more normal sized. I can’t stress how big the roads are in AZ, here they’re much more manageable and crossing the street doesn’t take 20 minutes. Oh, and the houses are so cute! No more low, stucco buildings with small windows designed to keep out the heat. Here it’s all about timber. They’re just adorable.

After about an hour we got to our new gaff which I LOVE. I really liked our AZ gaff too, so much so that we were going to see if we could live in the same community when we go back, but this place blows its socks off. It’s really bright and airy, with a vaulted 15 foot ceiling in the living room, and a much nicer kitchen. And lots of windows everywhere. Plus, we found out that the housewares package meant we were arriving to a hotel situation: the bed was made, we have loads of appliances (like an iron!) and even towels. I never want to move house without The Multinational Company That Cannot Be Named again.

I had been perving on our neighbourhood for ages via Google Maps and it didn’t disappoint in the flesh when we went out for dinner. Although I have my driver license, I will only have my legs and bike for transport Monday to Friday, so the outdoor mall right across the street is going to be my new best friend. It has clothes shops and restaurants, and there are a couple of supermarkets nearby too, including my personal favourite, Trader Joe’s.

Here’s a rundown of some other stuff I’ve noticed in the last 36 hours:

  • People here are really outcdoorsy. A lady from the relocation company came to show us around the ‘hood yesterday and she said basically everyone goes skiing or camping or hiking at the weekends once the weather warms up.
  • There’s a light rail (MAX), tram and bus service available and Oregonians actually use them. In downtown Portland, the MAX is free so it’s really easy to explore. How cool is that?
  • The international headquarters for Nike is just down the road and apparently if you’re spotted running in the surrounding park wearing a competitor’s T-shirt a security guard will step out and hand you a Nike one. (The rule doesn’t apply to running shoes, I checked.)
  • The Oregon Ducks are playing in some big game on Monday and apparently everyone is very excited indeed.
  • We now have a sofa bed, which I hope will lure visitors across the Atlantic. Anyone? ANYONE? BUELLER?

Last night I sent in my dog adoption application form so please cross your extremities and pray I hear something back soon!