friends and family reunion road trip: day eight: long-distance friends meet up in san francisco

Yesterday, after we dropped the pups at daycare, Allan and I took the BART into the city, but got off at separate stops. Allan was meeting a blog-friend (someone we have met before, and went to a game with the last time we were here, in 2010), and then had an appointment at Kayo Books, a mecca for collectors of pulp paperbacks. Allan always hunts down used book stores when we travel, but this was a special find, something he's wanted to do for years. (As usual, I had no idea of this until we planned the trip.)

I stayed on the BART one stop further, then took a Muni Metro train that turned into a streetcar, to the Sunset-Irving area. Once outside, it was very hilly, so I had a great view of houses and neighbourhoods. I always get a little buzz from being by myself on public transit in a city. It's a little feeling of freedom and adventure, and I love it.

It was cool and foggy, and I was glad I brought an extra layer. Summer in San Francisco! According to Snopes, Mark Twain never said the famous quote attributed to him about "the coldest winter" but when it's late July and you're chilly in this town, it's easy to think he did. (Snopes needs help, by the way. If you use their service, please consider helping them survive.)

I found the Posh Bagel where my friend D and I were meeting. A word about Posh Bagel: this may be the first time I've seen garlic bagels, onion bagels, and salt bagels outside of New York and Montreal. These are authentic bagel flavours that, in most places, have been replaced by the "everything" bagel. They're a busy chain, whipped up a great and fast breakfast sandwich, and are dog-friendly. Well done, Posh Bagel!

D is a really interesting person. He emigrated to the US from Korea as a young teen, and was part of a very Conservative Christian church. Sometime around the time we met online, he began questioning some of those teachings, especially around the personal enrichment of the wealthy pastors, and the hypocrisy of Christians supporting the death penalty, the US invasion of Iraq, racism, and so on. 

When Resident Bush ran for re-election, D voted Democrat for the first time. He now belongs to an affirming church, and has really opened his mind to new ways of thinking. He has read a lot of history and politics, and always brings fresh ideas and perspectives to our conversations. Also, he loves animals: we originally bonded over dogs. We met in person when I visited A (FADOJ) in southern California. I'm grateful I met D's dog, the amazing Noah, who is now gone.

D and I talked for a solid hour. One tidbit that was especially interesting to me was about the Korean-American community and racism. One of D's family relatives, an uncle I believe, told him how the US Civil Rights movement paved the way for more open immigration for Asian people. He said, Black people spilled blood, Black people struggled and died, so you could live here. When you see an African-American in "your" neighbourhood, you shouldn't question his rights, you should get down on your knees to thank them. I found this so moving. And really, it's a perspective we should all have. All freedom struggles are related. David said he always thought he was "self-made," but now realizes that none of us are.

D and I meant to wander around the neighbourhood, but mostly we sat inside and talked. We could easily have talked for another hour. We walked a bit in the neighbourhood, a tiny bit in the nearby botanical gardens (without paying for entry), then found a bus. I thought I would need an Uber or Lyft to my next meet-up, but it turned out to be another super-easy public transit ride. 

The bus went through The Haight, which I haven't seen in years, so that was a fun treat. This was once the epicenter of the hippie counterculture, but of course all remnants of that are long gone. It's now a funky district for shopping, eating, and hanging out, very colourful and vibrant. 

From there, I transferred to a different bus (free transfer with the Clipper card or any Muni card) and headed for The Mission, to meet up with A and her wife M. All three of these friends (D and A/M) are here from Southern California, using our visit and the baseball game as an excuse for a vacation. Yay! Super yay!

A, M, and I converged at Mission Dolores, and took a tour. A and M have a project (a mission) (groan) to see all 21 California missions, picking up fridge magnets and getting a "passport" stamped at each one. It's interesting to see how these Christian institutions now incorporate an understanding of the Indigenous people whose cultures their predecessors obliterated. The Mission church itself is not wealthy or opulent, and it's a significant part of US and California history. But... it's a tough thing to see, knowing what we do.

I was eager to see some of the murals in the Mission (or Mission District). I love street art and somehow on all my trips to San Francisco have never seen these. I did see a few from the bus window: so cool to see bright bursts of art in random places! On a tip from the person working in the Mission gift shop, A, M, and I found a long alley lined with at least a dozen mural panels on each side, all political with social-justice themes, each by a different artist. It felt like a giant graphic novel. 

I was really missing our camera, which we accidentally, stupidly left at home in Port Hardy. It would have been great to get both details and wide-angle pics of these murals. On the other hand, I am very grateful we have cameras on phones now! (Photos below.)

After this, we went back to the Mission. While we waited for Allan, A looked for restaurants for our late lunch / early dinner. With Allan at a used book store, and only one phone between us, I was a little concerned that he'd be very late... but he was right on time. Surprise, we are all grown up now! Allan had our backpack plus two cloth shopping bags filled with books. No surprise there!

We walked to the restaurant, seeing at least one mural along the way, then sat in a covid-constructed outdoor dining booth for some Peruvian-Mexican food, including a pitcher of sangria. We laughed a lot and had a really good time. Plus I got to hear the origin story of A and M, and how M, returning to school as an adult, connected with her Mexican heritage for the first time. Two beautiful stories that had me both laughing and teary-eyed.

I hate goodbyes: they crash right into my abandonment issues. I get all choked up and weepy, and remind myself how fortunate I am to have these enduring friendships, and to have such privilege, to travel to see friends. My sadness at goodbyes is a reminder about love. 

From the Mission, Allan and I picked up a BART train, zipped back to Berkeley, picked up two extremely overjoyed pups, and spent the evening unwinding in the cottage. Allan showed me his book haul -- stacks of vintage pulp paperbacks, plus three large hardcover books about pulp paperbacks. (Books about books!) I wished he had shown us these at dinner. The cover art and jacket copy is hilarious.


 Some murals from the Mission.


The Yelamu and Ohlone were among the many Indigenous people of this area, now all gone.

Words at the top of the murals form "We rise up and we won't stop."

This is difficult to see, but it's anti Israeli Apartheid and pro BDS.

This mural is obviously influenced by Picasso's Guernica. Love this!!

A contemporary Mayan mural.

This music-themed mural was elsewhere in the Mission.


friends and family reunion road trip: day seven: dodgers vs giants!

Yesterday, family and friends from different areas of my life were brought together, through our plans -- and through baseball! 

We dropped the dogs at the daycare place in the late morning, then headed back to the BART station. (I noticed that regular parking is $3.00, which means the reservation service is double the normal cost.) We took the BART to the Muni Metro. 

From the train I saw many homes in Oakland with memorial murals for victims of police shootings, painted in ways that would be visible from the train.

There were a few people on the BART who might have been going to the game, but the Muni was a full-on game-train -- families and groups of friends in jerseys and hats. Allan and I have been on many such trains in many cities. I was a little choked up with nostalgia, and joy that this is happening again. 

In the ballpark, as we walked to our seats in a packed crowd, the large majority of people were not wearing masks. I was amazed (although I shouldn't be -- people have very short memories). We kept ours on until we were outside at our seats. Even then I felt a little weird taking mine off, but I did. Later, when I went inside for food, I put my mask on and noticed some other people doing the same. The concession workers were all masked, thank goodness.

At the game: niece C (my sister's daughter) and spouse J, there on vacation; nephew J (my brother's son) and spouse C, who live in the Bay Area; A, my very dear friend who I have known since 1983, and her spouse M, my first time meeting M; D, my friend who I know from blogging; and Allan and me. A, M, and D all live in the Los Angeles area, and used this game and my trip as an excuse for a trip to San Francisco.

My friend A is mentioned several times in this blog, likely from before we moved to Canada, and again when visited her in Southern California, on two separate trips. A few lifetimes ago, she and I used to go to Yankees games together, when we all lived in New York City, with a different group of people, all of whom are still in touch and close with each other in different ways. We haven't seen each other in many years, and -- true to our history -- half-watched the game while gabbing.

Allan, of course, does no such thing, although he manages to score every pitch while still being somewhat social. Allan and D, who is a big Dodgers fan, watched the game together, which was cool, and the cousins sat together. We purposely got seats in two rows, rather than nine seats stretched out in one row. Successful party planning!

This was our third visit to this ballpark (2003, 2010, 2021). We've also seen a game in Candlestick Park, where the Giants used to play (1988) and at least one game in Oakland (2003). (Did we see two games in Oakland on our 2003 West Coast roadtrip? Allan will know.) 

The Giants play in a beautiful park, which at this point should be called Your Corporate Name Here Ballpark. For the three games we've seen there, the park has had three different names. The ballpark is beautiful. The revolving door of "naming rights" is a disgrace.

The Giants wiped the floor with the Dodgers, winning 5-0. One minor disappointment: we didn't get to see former Red Sox hero Mookie Betts, who is injured.

After the game, A and M took off (we will see them today), and the rest of us walked further away from the ballpark, so we could find a place not mobbed with post-game partying. We found a cafe, a local chain, got iced drinks and took over a corner. At the game, we had been in the sun the entire time -- slathered with sunscreen and most of us wearing caps, but still hot and thirsty. It was great to hang out together without the game, too. 

There's something else about this coffee chain. Allan will guest-post. (Suspense!) 

Outside, we said goodbye to niece C and spouse J, who we won't see again on this trip. It was so wonderful to intersect with them. I love all my niece and nephews so much. 

Then Allan and I walked with nephew J and spouse C to their car, through an area of San Francisco we don't really know, along the canal. They drove us back to our car at the BART station, which is on their way home. We'll see them again on this trip, too.

Then we picked up two very happy dogs, stopped at Whole Foods for food for dinner, and hung out in the cottage. I thought we'd be hitting good restaurants for dinner every day on this trip, but after a full day at doggie daycare, it's better for Cookie and Kai to snuggle in at home. It's a little disappointing, given the limited restaurant options in the remote area we live in, but the dogs come first. (Yes, Cookie and Kai, that's how much we love you!) We've also been tired from long days out and about, so staying at home is also a chance to rest and recoop.

We've been away for a week and still have a week of vacation in front of us. Most people I know don't take two continuous weeks of vacation, but I wish more people would. It's very different from a one-week vacation; you get into a different mindset, where the concerns of work and home feel very far away. I am proud to say I have not checked work email once the entire time we've been gone!


friends and family reunion road trip: a story about the digital divide

I separated out this story, because I didn't want to give the impression that it ruined our day -- and because I wanted to properly explicate it. The events were of minor consequence to us personally, but of major importance in the world at large.

We hit a technology snag, and it was a perfect example of how the digital world -- and the absence of paper, analog options -- frustrates and excludes people. It was the kind of thing I see happen in the library all the time. This is about access, and the barriers that prevent large segments of our society from full participation.

I am rarely on the other side of this divide, and at least I can afford to lose a little money in the process, but it royally pisses me off on behalf of others. This massive social change has taken place, very rapidly, and in our current society, it's all been designed for the profit of a few companies (and likely a few choice corrupt individuals working in government), and for the "convenience" of educated, middle-class people, with no thought to all the people who the change leaves behind.

Here's what happened. 

We wanted to leave our car at the BART station. The information we found online seemed to indicate that we needed to reserve a parking space. After a while, with time and patience, I found out how to do this online. I paid for three days of parking at $6 per day -- a good deal. 

The website said we needed to print the permits. In the FAQs, I learned there were no machines to print parking receipts at the stations, although these are quite common these days. The FAQs suggested saving the permits as a pdf and printing them yourself. Notice how the "hidden competencies" to navigate this system are piling up.

I'm guessing most people reserve parking on their phones, and I already know that most people don't have printers. Maybe they can print permits at work, but not everyone can do that. 

The link to "print this permit" went to the first screen -- where you begin the process of obtaining a permit -- i.e. it sends you around in circles. There was no way to create a pdf. A screenshot would not have helped. There was no way to print at all, except through a link.

After dropping off the dogs at daycare, we came back to the cottage and happened to see the host. I asked where we could print something -- hoping she would offer to do it -- and she suggested a nearby copy shop. We found that fairly easily. I went inside. I was the only customer there. The owner was on the phone in what sounded like a personal phone call (but perhaps wasn't). He didn't greet me or ask how he could help me or say "I'll be right with you". He just continued talking on the phone.

I said I needed to print something and he gestured towards a sign with the copy shop's email address. I knew what he meant -- that I could email him my document at that address -- but (a) I couldn't do that because I didn't have a file, and (b) that is destroys customer privacy, so there must be a more secure way to print. 

With the (presumed) owner still on the phone, I said I didn't have a file, only a link. He waved at a computer. Not only is this absolutely awful customer service, but what if I didn't understand what he meant?!

Here comes the kicker.

I logged into my Gmail account, but because I was using a new device, I needed to verify my access by letting Gmail send a text to my phone. The phone that died on the ferry to Nanaimo. 

I see this happen all the time in the library, with people who cannot afford phones. We are all expected to have smartphones and 24/7 access to the internet. But what these everyday essentials are very expensive. They stretch the budgets of some, and are completely out of the question for many.

Back in the car, we discussed our options. By this time, the parking reservation had already expired, so there was no point going to heroic efforts to print the stupid thing.

We drove to the BART station, and were very surprised to find a huge, mostly empty parking lot! There were 20 or 30 cars parked in the reserved section, and many spaces in the non-reserved section. We parked, intending to buy parking for the day -- even though we had already paid for a spot.

Inside the station, we navigated how to buy a Clipper card. Signage was minimal, and the screens had limited information. We did it, of course, but it is clearly a system designed for people who already know how to use the system. Anyone else would need someone walking them through the steps. But of course there is no one to do that, no city pays anyone to do that. (Sometimes in the busiest, most touristed stations in New York and other cities that rely on tourism, there will be an "ambassador" worker to help -- which is awesome. But 99% of stations are not going to have that.) 

We bought a card -- which is $3.00 just to buy, plus the dollar value you add to it. Using the card gives you a discount -- a discount only available to people with who have credit cards and digital skills. At least San Francisco has free transit for kids and seniors. Most cities don't.

Paying for parking? Only available after you've passed the transit turnstiles and only by cash. What. The. Fuck.

I was happy to leave the car there without a parking slip. I could tell that would be fine. Allan was antsy about this, thinking we might get a ticket or be towed, but I had a strong sense that neither would happen. 

On the train on the way into the city, we talked about all of this. Allan said, here's what should happen in order to take public transit: you go to a station and get on a train. 

He's right. Public transit is a public good. It's something we want every town and city to have and every person to use. It should be fully accessible and free.

But private corporations see public transit as an opportunity for profit, and those corporations hold governments in their pockets. So public money -- our taxes -- are shoveled over to private companies. Those companies then take perfectly workable systems, systems that have been working for decades, and in some cases for more than 100 years, and "modernize" them to make them "convenient". And in the process of modernizing, governments allow systems to be created that exclude huge segments of our society. 

I personally love transit cards and I use them whenever possible. But I recognize that they are exclusionary. They are instruments of privilege. And wherever these cards are introduced, they very quickly become not options, but necessities. The parallel, analog system is allowed to wither and die. (See also, two-tiered health care.)

We did not get a parking ticket, and we now know we can leave the car in the BART parking lot for "free", thereby not completely wasting the $18 we spent on invisible permits. But, as I hope I have made clear, that is not the point.

friends and family reunion road trip: day six: san francisco

Ah, San Francisco, how I love you. I love the energy of this city, its unique beauty, its mosaic of people and cultures and vibes. Just being here today was so fun and energizing.

We had a late start and a frustrating morning (more on that later), but eventually had the dogs in daycare and ourselves on a BART train. It's an easy trip in, around 25 minutes. We bought Clipper cards, good for all transit in the region, which, if you can do it, is super convenient. We walked a bit downtown, heading for Chinatown, but once the walking became very steep, as it often does here, we hopped on a bus. Masks are mandatory on public transit, which is fine by me! 

I wanted dim sum, and we had a short list of places that came highly recommended. Insiders say the best dim sum in San Francisco is in Richmond, but we're not connoisseurs. Plus I enjoy seeing urban Chinatowns. San Francisco is said to be the first in the country, and it doesn't disappoint. Narrow, crowded sidewalks (masks on!), and shop after shop crammed with dried seafood, vegetables, teas, herbs -- dozens and hundreds of barrels and jars and baskets. All the stores seem to sell the same things. There are also dozens of bakeries and tiny lunch spots that cater mainly to locals.

None of the places I had written down panned out -- one had a long line of hipsters (we all have the same internet!), one was too tiny and crowded, one out of business. We picked a place at random, ordered a few of our favourites, and were surprised that to learn we had ordered individual pieces! In other words, when we wrote "2" next to the shrimp dumplings (har gow), we didn't get two bamboo steamers, we got two dumplings! So we ended up with just one small plate with four or five little goodies. That turned out to be enough -- although I wouldn't mind having the same thing again as soon as possible.

We picked up a coconut bun at a different bakery, then walked through Chinatown to the edge of North Beach, then picked up another bus, and took it all the way to Crissy Field

Crissy Field, part of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, is a long strip of sandy beach and tidal marshland adjacent to the Bay, with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge to one side, and Alcatraz and the city Skyline to the other side. It's all public space -- no shops, no condos, no logos. Nothing but beauty and wonder, and other people (and dogs!) enjoying the same. It's one of our favourite places. We've also been in San Francisco before Crissy Field was created, and it has added so much to the Bay. It's so sad that so many cities have ruined their waterfronts by privatizing every inch of space. 

There were many people out enjoying the sand, surf, and view -- many lovely dogs to admire -- and many pelicans flying just above the water. And of course, the Bridge. The Bridge! The dramatic span, the distinctive colour, the ribbon of fog. I don't care how many times I've seen it, it is simply spectacular, and always rivets my attention.

We had a long walk out towards the bridge and back, enjoying the scenery and the birds, and watching dogs play in the surf. We decided to have sushi for dinner, or we thought we did, and wanting to have really really good sushi, searched online, found a few places to try, consulted our bus map, and walked another long-ish walk, through a beautiful neighbourhood near the bay, where we picked up a bus.

I love riding city buses -- it's great for seeing an overview of neighbourhoods. We were on the bus for a long time, heading towards the Castro and the Mission districts. We got off the bus in the Castro, thinking we were going to get another bus... and I ran out of steam. 

Fortunately there was a cafe very nearby. One iced coffee and one iced tea later, I decided the sushi hunt was over, we were heading back to Berkeley and would grab dinner there (at least that was the new plan). We were right near a Muni Metro, which we took to Embarcadero, intending to get a BART train back to Berkeley. 

Feeling revived, we strolled to the Ferry Building, a huge, historic building that's been re-made into a marketplace. We have seen it before, on our last trip to the area in 2010 (for a family wedding). It's beautiful and spacious, with all local vendors. It skews a bit upscale, but not so much to be super exclusive. There are often performances, events, craft vendors, and the like in the plaza. 

We strolled around inside (masks on), and ended up at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants. We ordered four tasting-sized glasses (the equivalent of two glasses each), some cheese, meat, and bread plates, and were very happy and content. 

After that, we got a BART train back to Berkeley. Our car was in the parking lot (without a ticket, story to follow), and picked up the dogs. They were, of course, wildly happy to see us. We stopped at the local Whole Foods and I went in to pick up many boxes of my favourite herbal tea which is not sold in Canada (on my to-do list for this trip), along with popcorn, ice cream, and wine. All the vacation essentials!

In the evening we hung out in the cottage, nailed down some plans for the next few days, and I was asleep well before 10:00.


friends and family reunion road trip: day six: ashland to berkeley

This morning, after packing up the gear and the dogs, we went to my mother's place for a short visit before leaving town. She loves seeing Cookie and Kai, and it's great to see her every day that we're in the area.

After more goodbyes, we headed to the Ashland Dog Park again. This time Cookie and Kai were yipping and whining with excitement as we pulled into the parking lot. Not quite the hysteria that accompanies trips to the beach, but still... two very happy and excited dogs.

After some play and some romping, we were back on I-5 South. It's about 4.5 or 5 hours to the Bay Area, an easy drive. We're staying at another VRBO cottage, this time in the Elmwood area of Berkeley. The neighbourhood is gorgeous -- huge trees, large old houses with lush front gardens, very walkable. The cottage is large and pretty amazing, separated from the host's house by a beautiful patio garden. The dogs are allowed to be loose in her yard, but it's not secure enough. She Who Cannot Be Contained would be touring Berkeley in no time.

This cottage is probably a prime example of housing that would have once been a great rental, maybe for two students or a couple, but is now a vacation rental, further depleting the housing stock in an area already squeezed for space. I know some people want travelers to boycott Airbnb and VRBO -- a nice idea for people who don't travel. Public pressure on city councils to restrict vacation rentals seems to be the only way, an uphill battle pitting housing activists against the tourism and hospitality industries, not exactly a level playing field. It's a problem that can't be solved on the consumer level. (Cut and paste that sentence for future use. Telling people to voluntarily inconvenience themselves is not a sound strategy for change, in my view.)

After settling in a bit, we (all four of us) walked down to a locally famous burger joint called The Smokehouse. There's a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe's in the area, and I love both, but I knew we'd end up overbuying, especially since we'll be out and about almost the whole time we're here. The burgers and dogs were very good! 

Tonight we're sacked out in the cottage, drinking craft beer and cider we picked up in Oregon. We have a busy few days ahead, with lots of plans, lots of people, plus books and baseball.

family and friends reunion road trip: day five: hanging out in ashland and talent

On Monday, we started the day at the Ashland Dog Park. Kai and Cookie had a great time. It was their second time there, and they were more comfortable and up for socializing. There were lots of beautiful dogs of all sizes, and people were friendly but not intrusive. Just lovely. It's also so wonderful to see our dogs are completely relaxed around other dogs -- no fear, no aggression whatsoever.

We went into Ashland and met my mother, my sister, and two nieces for lunch. Unfortunately this meant leaving the dogs in the car. Of course the windows were all open, but it was still very hot. Lunch was fun, but we were glad to get them back to the air-conditioned cottage.

After hanging out for a while, we went back to my brother and sister-in-law's, and hung out on the deck. The group kept growing, so we had the chance to visit with lots of folks. Wine bottles and water jugs were plentiful. Leftover chicken, lamb, shrimp, and tempeh appeared. The grand-niece came home from camp and entertained us. As it grew late, the group dwindled until we all finally went to bed.

* * * *

The VRBO cottage was perfect, and it turned out to be a five-minute drive to my brother and sister-in-law's place. There are dog-friendly hotels everywhere these days, but having a little house is the best. Five stars all around for this host. 

It is very hot here, but so dry! I marvel at being outside in 28, 30, 32 C degree weather without sweating and without being too uncomfortable. I am usually overheated at 25 C. It also cools down at night, so sitting outside is lovely. That's also different! In NYC and the GTA, when it's super hot and humid during the day, it will stay that way all night, too, so there's no relief.

It will be much cooler and more humid in the Bay Area. I love San Francisco and am excited to be going back. It was also a lot easier to say goodbye to the Oregon crew, knowing we would see them on our way back. 

With two of the couples -- one niece and spouse who live in California and one nephew and spouse who live in New Jersey -- I had to say goodbye for who knows how long. I'm grateful I spent some time with them in the last few days. But I wish I could see them more often.

family and friends reunion road trip: some things I've seen

 Seen on many lawns and in many windows:

I saw a few in my mother's senior community, which made me happy.

* * * * 

Seen on a front-yard fence near the Ashland Dog Park:

Seen in the approach to every town and city so far: tent encampments. Whole villages of people without homes.


family and friends reunion road trip: day four: birthday party at a winery

This was another big family day, and a wonderful one. 

We took Kai and Cookie to a dogsitter who we found through Rover, the Airbnb for dogs. She has a sweet little older house with a big fenced-in yard, and was very relaxed and easy-going. I had already told her about Cookie (a/k/a She Who Cannot Be Contained), to be on the alert for digging, and to keep her double-collared on walks.

This was the first time these pups have been left at someone's home, rather than a doggie daycare place where there are lots of other dogs to distract them. They seemed perfectly happy and comfortable, trotting around in the backyard, sniffing everything, and we made a quiet getaway.

My brother and sister-in-law had booked a private room at a local winery. The food was very good, the wine was cold and plentiful, and the company was outstanding. My brother asked me to make the toast, which was a fun challenge, since I hadn't prepared. It seemed to go over well.

My mother seems somewhat overwhelmed by all the goings-on, but also seems very happy. She had presents for my own birthday, including this cute "librarian bookend".

When we picked up the dogs, they were (of course) thrilled to see us, but they were also relaxed and not stressed. The dogsitter said they were well-behaved and no escapes were attempted. At night they were completely wiped out from their big adventure.

I've said this many times in this blog: I didn't grow up in a particularly happy family. Certainly there were good times, and I do have many happy memories. But the head of the family was a tyrant and a bully, and also mentally ill (although there was no awareness of that at the time). His issues and behaviour controlled our lives in myriad ways. Family gatherings were generally riddled with anxiety, fear, and abuse. These fun, happy family gatherings, free of fear and anxiety, are something I've only experienced as an adult. To both love and like my family is something I am truly grateful for.


family and friends reunion road trip: day three: an amazing day in southern oregon

We've run out of adjectives to describe the day. Amazing, incredible, awesome. A celebration. A love-fest. It would have been special and meaningful any time, but coming after the pandemic, it was profound.

After a quick breakfast in the cottage, we headed straight to my mother's place. She lives in a retirement / assisted living community in Ashland, about 15 minutes from where we're staying -- and more importantly, 15 minutes from the rest of the Oregon family (all transplants from the eastern US).

This was the first time I had seen my mother since she stayed with us in the summer of 2019. We were set to make this trip in April of 2020, postponed because of covid. It's the longest I've ever gone without seeing my mother, and throughout the pandemic, in the back of my mind, I wondered if I would ever see her again. What a joy and relief to hug her!!

We saw Mom's apartment for the first time, which is simply amazing, with huge, spacious rooms, and a balcony with a view of the mountains. This was just a brief visit to say hi. Nephew M and spouse J were coming over to take her out to breakfast, for some special Grandma alone time. So we got to see them, too. 

After that, we took Cookie and Kai to the Ashland dog park. It's a really nice park, large, grassy, with a good water supply, some shade, and lots of friendly dogs. We knew it wouldn't be a great day for the pups, so I'm extra glad we did this.

In the lovely little neighbourhood near the dog park, we saw a moving Black Lives Matter display, and I stopped to take pictures (to be shared in the future).

Next up, another stop at the Medford Food Co-op, and we were off to my brother and sister-in-law's place in Talent, only a few minutes from where we're staying. 

M and M live on 50+ acres of land with a storybook view of a valley and mountains. They are Land Stewards; their land is used for grazing pasture, a vineyard, beekeeping, and other sustainable uses. They have an amazing house, and on the same property, our nephew D, partner R, and their daughter S live in a small cottage.

Also staying at their place: nephew J and spouse C, and niece E and spouse T, who all live in northern California. 

We last saw brother/sister-in-law M and M when they visited us on the Island in 2019, and last saw their adult children and partners in 2016 -- our Vancouver/Oregon trip. That was the first (and until now only) time we saw our grand-niece in person! Pretty amazing! At that time S was 14 months old; now she is 6!

The only wrinkle for us is M and M keep their house pet-free, and there would be no way to keep them safe, loose on the property. This is Cookie, after all! We set up our tether-stake in some shade near the house. Cookie and Kai could see the house and anyone on the deck or patio, but weren't part of the fun. It was also very hot out, so we had to make sure they were always in shade and had plenty of water.

We periodically checked on them, and Cookie's line would be tangled around trees and bushes, and she'd be straining on a tiny bit of tether. They'd be super happy and excited to see us, we'd untangle Cookie and get them both settled... only to disappear again into the house.

After a few hours, the rest of the crew showed up: my sister J and partner J, niece C and spouse J, and nephew M and spouse J. I hadn't seen since these folks, my sister's adult children, since the last family weddings in 2018! They brought with them the guest of honour, my mother C.

Once everyone was assembled and a lot of the barbecue preparation was done, champagne (both regular and alcohol-free) was poured all around. My brother made a beautiful toast, the perfect mix of earnest and humourous, and we all lifted a glass to Connie.

We also toasted to other milestone birthdays, which my brother announced by birth month: 70, 65, 60, and 40. Pretty cool!

As the internet says, "you won't believe what happened next". Nephew J stepped up to toast, and he announced that he and C are pregnant, expecting their first in January 2022! Everyone gasped and cheered and exclaimed! Tears of joy and hugs all around. It was an incredible surprise: only their parents and the west-coast siblings knew. Our grand-niece S has been the first of the next generation of our family; now there will be two.

After more talking and hugging, and checking on the dogs, we assembled everyone for a big surprise for my mom: I had coordinated a Tribute video. All of us who were present, plus some extended family and very dear friends, had recorded videos telling C what she means to them, what they love and admire about her, and sharing special memories. Doing this through Tribute gave people incentive to create lovely videos, and made it easy to coordinate and assemble the final product.

For my mother, this was a complete surprise, and for everyone else, the first time they had watched the completed video from start to finish. It was... indescribable. Loving, meaningful, very moving. I totally lost it, weeping, more than once. No surprise there!

Allan and I ended the completed Tribute with this short video showing all our dogs through the years, over a jazz-piano version of the Happy Birthday song. Our nephews and nieces, and of course my mother, all remember our first dogs, Gypsy and Clyde, and everyone gasped and exclaimed to see their pictures. That turned out to be a really nice touch: everyone mentioned it to me later in the evening.

After a while we went outside to the deck and patio to eat. I felt Cookie and Kai had had enough. The temperature was cooling and there was plenty of shade, but being tethered... not so much fun. Allan walked them around for a while, then we brought them up to the deck, and tied looped their leashes around deck-posts to secure them, putting them much closer to the action. We moved a few chairs to their corner, so we could visit and gab with each other while including them.

After eating, we had one more surprise for the day. We brought with us some small gifts from the U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, for everyone there. (All the purchases pay royalties to Indigenous artists.) We're not huge on material gift-giving, but this was something I really wanted to do, to show my appreciation and love, and to share a little bit of Indigenous Vancouver Island culture with my family. Everyone was very happy and appreciative, which made me feel great. We gave grand-niece S a puppet (very culturally relevant to the Kwak'wala-speaking peoples), which she promptly named, and didn't take off her hand for the rest of the evening.

By the time it was growing dark, Cookie, Kai, and I were all beat. It wasn't hard to leave, knowing we would all see each other the next day, for the next round of celebration!


family and friends reunion road trip: day two: everett, washington to talent, oregon

I am happy to report that today was far less eventful. 

The most important thing was to get on the road early. We know from past experience (our first trip to Vancouver and Oregon in 2016... where the idea to move west was born!) that there are two major traffic areas on this stretch of 5 South -- Sea-Tac and Portland. The plan was to get up very early, start driving immediately, and be past Sea-Tac before the major morning rush.

This is not an issue for me, as I am normally up at 5:00 a.m. Sleeping until 6 or 6:30 is late for me. Allan, however, is most definitely not a morning person. Waking up early is painful and difficult for him, so I was very grateful to be out the door by 6. We stopped at one of the famous coffee shacks that are everywhere in the PNW, got back on 5 South, and didn't stop until we were in Lakewood, south of Tacoma. 

I brought the laptop to breakfast, and executed my cunning plan: logged into my Telus account to change the plan on Allan's phone, emailed friends and family we're seeing on the trip to tell them my phone is out of commission and give them Allan's number, got my email set up on Allan's phone, and installed the apps I need to make the trip work. All before our food arrived. 

Which is not to say I worked quickly. I could have knit a sweater before our food arrived. Or someone could have, someone who knows how to knit. Black Bear Diner chain: a long wait for mediocre food. But again, happy to be there, and even happier to use their wifi.

After breakfast, we gave the dogs their breakfast in the parking lot, and got back on the highway. As we were slowly driving past Portland, I had a brilliant idea: why not find a dog park in the area and give the pups some exercise and fun.

Now here is an example of technology improving our lives in unexpected ways. I was able to use Allan's newly data-enabled phone to find a list of fenced-in dog parks in the Portland area, chose the southern-most one -- and we were about three-quarters of a mile away from exit we needed! Amazing timing. Google navigated us to Willamette Park, a huge and beautiful multi-use park on the Willamette River. The fenced in dog area was just a large square of sand with no shade, but our dogs were very happy to run around for a bit. Cookie especially seemed very happy, bouncing around, awkwardly chasing a toy, so happy and relaxed.

It was sunny and pretty hot, so after a short time, we put the dogs' leashes on and walked on a shady bike/walk path. We took them to the boat launch -- many canoes and kayaks on the river -- so they could wade in and cool down. Cookie was eyeing a family of ducks, but no dice. She Who Cannot Be Contained will not be off-leash on this trip unless surrounded by visible fences!

After the park, we couldn't find an entrance to 5 South, and had to take a connector highway north, get off, and U-turn. Worth it!

The rest of the drive was uneventful. We picked up some supplies at the Medford Food Co-Op, and discovered we were only 10 minutes away from the cottage in Talent that I had booked, pulling in around 7 p.m.

It's a lovely one-room cottage, very comfy, everything we need, and surrounded by fields and orchards.

Seen on a highway billboard: MARXISM, YOUR TICKET TO A POVERTY LIFESTYLE, with a picture of Uncle Sam.