Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kidd’s Toy Museum

Jill's Journal: In order to see antique toys like this…

You must first find this non-descript building in not-the-greatest section of Portland.

It has no windows and no identifying features other than a number and this little 8 1/2 by 11 sign on the door. It takes a good two or three minutes after knocking for the door to creak slowly open. A woman will then curtly instruct you to sign a book before she walks away, leaving you to wonder if it’s okay to look around or if you’re supposed to wait for further instruction (or if you should make a hasty exit as this feels way too “underground” and creepy for a Mom with young kids) . But by this point, it’s too late to turn around as the kids have let go of your hands and are exclaiming excitedly over ALL THE TOYS.

And there are SO many toys. Rooms full of shelves which are all full of toys, all behind glass and packed in so tightly that one couldn’t possibly absorb even half of them. Thousands upon thousands of toys. Even though they couldn’t actually touch any of the toys, the girls thought they were simply awesome.

There’s “modern” toys, like these early model Mickey Mouses. This private collection of F. E. Kidd features mainly toys from 1869 to 1939 and includes one of the nation’s foremost collections of mechanical banks. There is a section of piggy banks that made me gasp in its stunning racist portrayal (and be thankful it was above the girls’ eye level). Although I snapped a picture to show Rob, I couldn’t possibly put it up here. It’s one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen, but children’s toys are reflections of adult morals of their time and it’s no fault of the museum as they’re simply documenting history. But WOW.

Let’s concentrate on the happy toys! This miniature Noah’s Ark could have fit in the palm of my hand and was darling.

The museum includes several patent models/molds/patterns. Really cool stuff. Commercial toy making in the U.S. began in earnest in the 1840s and really took off following the Civil War. During World War I, European exports of toys around the world all but ceased, opening the door for American toy firms. By World War II, America was the leading manufacturer of toys in the world. Today, more than 1,200 American toy producers introduce over 5,000 new toys annually.

The girls were constantly exclaiming over hundreds of toys that caught their eyes during our time at the little museum, but I loved the war banks and memorabilia the best.

My very favorite mechanical bank, bar none, was this gem from the Civil War. In addition to Lincoln holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, it shows the dividing line in the country between the North and the South. But most compelling, I thought, was the soldier in half Union garb and half Confederate dress. Brother against brother.

The girls loved Kidd’s Toy Museum and it really was an educational and interesting trip. However, in the future, I don’t think I’ll be knocking on too many mysterious doors like the one that led here…!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pittock Mansion and Klickitat Street

Jill's Journal: At this point in our trip, we’ve been to a lot of historic homes. I love them, but since we’ve been to so many, I now take the girls only to really major ones (like Portland’s Pittock Mansion, shown here). Today I realized my love of historic homes is carrying over to them.

We did a self-guided tour of the Pittock Mansion and its magnificent three-floor marble staircase today. The 16,000 square feet of luxury that makes up the home rises high in the West Hills (nearly 1,000 feet, to be exact) above the Portland skyline. It’s a beautiful home. This is the first time in a while we’ve been in a “grown-up” touristy place with other little kids around and the difference between those on vacation and us was night and day. Our kids instinctively know they aren’t to touch a thing and even ask permission before using a handrail on stairs (we’ve been in historic homes where it’s requested one doesn’t touch the antique handrails). They can identify dumbwaiters, busts, harps, etc. They love to “ooh and aah” over the little details. As long as I don’t pause to read all the signs and keep them moving at a decent pace, they are completely engaged and enjoying every minute. It’s great fun. They make wonderful and respectful little tourists! I’m very proud of them. (Other kids simply don’t know better yet; ours are just seasoned professionals at this!)

Look at that view of downtown Portland! This home is “a century-old symbol of Portland’s dramatic transformation from a small lumber town to bustling city; it’s an architectural wonder. With picture-perfect views of rivers, forests, bridges, and mountaintops – and 23 storied rooms teeming with treasures – no other place in town offers a more breathtaking view and more revealing glimpse of Portland’s past.” –Portland Parks and Recreation

The girls particularly loved all the circular rooms in this home.
Henry and Georgiana Pittock lived here. Both traveled into Oregon territory at young ages in the early 1850s (it would be 1859 before Oregon would become a state). He owned The Oregonian newspaper and was a member of the first party credited with climbing Mount Hood. She was a passionate gardener, setting up a pavilion on her front lawn in 1888 and inviting neighbors to bring their finest roses to display. Over the years, that rose exhibition grew into Portland’s renowned Rose Festival (Portland is now nicknamed Rose City). It wasn’t until the Pittocks were in their twilight years that they commissioned, built, and moved into this mansion; it was completed in 1914. The last family member moved out in 1958 and the City of Portland purchased it a few years later.

The shower in the master bathroom certainly made an impression. “…Horizontal pipes allow for a needle-like spray from all sides. A ‘shampoo’ spray allows water to cascade from above while a ‘bidet’ fountain rises from the floor of the shower. Two mid-height shower heads, located on opposite sides, were operated by a handle labeled ‘liver spray.’ Finally, lower down on the central pipe, is a spout for gauging temperature labeled ‘test.’ It releases water on one’s toe first before opening the master valve.”

In addition to the “modern” shower in this 1914 mansion, there was an intercom system throughout the house, a central vacuum system, a walk-in refrigerator, and an elevator which served all four floors. However, I think what endures most isn’t all the high-tech features for the time, but the ambiance. Who wouldn’t want to fling open their windows to this every morning?

The girls were rewarded for their good behavior doing a “grown-up thing” by a much-anticipated stop at Klickitat Street. This street is the fictional home of the characters Ramona, Beezus, and Henry in the Beverly Cleary children’s novels. Cleary actually grew up nearby and once said she loved this street name because it reminded her of “the sound of knitting needles.”

Incidentally, the homes on Klickitat Street and in the surrounding area are the most adorable homes I have ever seen anywhere. They’re not overly big or fancy, but they’re part whimsical and part beautiful and just wonderful. As we drove around, it was easy to imagine the beloved characters from the books stepping right out of any of the front doors.

The Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Grant Park is nearby. The girls loved getting to see Ramona, Henry, and Ribsy in person. (Madelyn loves crazy poses for pictures lately; I took probably 10 shots right here trying to get her to stand up straight…no can do! Each pose got crazier than the next. I think they're cute, but I suspect she’ll cringe at these someday, silly girl.)

Erika is our little lady. No crazy poses from her. :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Days in Portland, Oregon

Jill's Journal: Saturday we arrived in Portland with the magnificent Mount Hood appearing to be just at the end of the road. However, that snow-capped peak is around 50 miles away! She stands at over 11,000 feet tall and sports 12 glaciers.

We’re using part of our time in Portland (we’ll be here a couple of weeks, more on that later) to do some spring cleaning. We’d pulled out all of our school books to organize and Erika immediately nestled into a spot on the couch with them. She pulled out her top 20 or so “textbooks” to re-read over the next few days; how many schools have that happen? This picture cracked me up.

Meanwhile, Madelyn – who has very little interest in organizing, but loves helping with the laundry – was supposed to be folding the whites. I turned around to find her wearing her Daddy’s socks and wrapping Victoria up in towels to pretend they were at the beauty salon. This picture also cracked me up.

A day later, the little ones were at it again! This time Victoria got kitchen clips in her hair, which was being styled with kitchen tongs. Oh, to be so creative!

Although we haven’t done much exploring in Portland yet, we did manage to see Cars 2, much to the girls’ delight. Their grandmother sent us movie tickets (thank you, Andee!) and a wonderful selection of Cars toys. The girls have been in heaven playing with them.

We spent this afternoon at Oaks Amusement Park (established in 1905, it's one of the oldest continuously-operating amusement parks in the country), not because we had a burning desire to be in a carnival-like atmosphere, but to meet one of Rob’s friends from high school with her kids. However, she didn’t make it and it turned into a family day instead. With over a dozen rides, the girls had an absolute ball and Rob and I got the lovely privilege of realizing we’re not as young as we used to be (really, does every ride have to spin??).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Albany Brass Ring Carousel Project

Jill's Journal: Never before have Rob and I looked at each other across the room and both said, “Let’s move here.” And to be honest, we barely saw the town of Albany (we drove in and we drove out), so it wasn’t about the place, although it did look like a really cute town of around 50,000. It was in between driving in and driving out of Albany on Saturday that we spent two very special hours at the Brass Ring Carousel Project. Never before have we felt such an amazing sense of community.

This is what the carousel will look like when completed...
The Brass Ring project is a community carousel. Residents wanted to do something to help revitalize downtown, so they pulled together with an idea to create a carousel – no small task. Eventually, the Dentzel family – those of carousel fame who were instrumental in bringing carousels to America in the 1800s – donated a 1909 carousel mechanism, believed to possibly be the final mechanism made by Gustav Dentzel. The family dreamed of seeing the carousel restored to its former glory. The town of Albany is making that happen.

An authentic Dentzel sign on loan from the Dentzel family.  
All volunteers, of any skill, are welcomed with all work – including wood carving, sanding, and painting – being done by hand. Carving began in 2003 and is still several years from completion. The highly-detailed animals, nearly 60 of them, and all the other decorative elements are being done in the exquisite Dentzel tradition. Each animal takes more than 2,000 hours to carve, another 400 hours to paint, and a minimum of four months of drying to complete.

The future floor of Albany's carousel!
A pride of community and sense of togetherness absolutely pervaded the cavernous old building in which the workshop is housed. Everyone there is so proud to be a part of this enduring gift to their town and tribute to history. It is clear they consider each other family. That feeling of a common purpose was amazing and really beautiful to witness. That’s what drew Rob and me in and made us wish we could be a part of it. Hopefully, whatever place we settle down in someday will have a similar community spirit.

The girls were taken under the wing of this wonderful man named Gary. He kept them in stitches while showing them around. They each eagerly colored a picture of their favorite carousel animal for him to place on his wall of fame. He’s putting together a scrapbook of colorings from children who have visited and it will eventually be on display at the carousel museum alongside the working carousel. They thought it was pretty neat when he told them to bring their own children back in 30 years to not only ride the carousel, but also to see their own artwork.

“There is a place in Albany, Oregon where dreams are coming true; where the creativity and talents of many have come together to create something magical.” –Brass Ring Carousel Project

“Children of all ages can enjoy the time-honored artistry and craft displayed to create the historic carousel. Beginning with original renderings, watch as wooden blocks are hand-carved and painted bringing the animals to life. Come and witness the magic for yourself.” –Brass Ring Carousel Project

What an amazing and wonderful place. Surely it’s this kind of “can-do” spirit that made America great. That spirit is definitely carried on through the volunteers at the Brass Ring Carousel Project -- and carried on in vivid and whimsical color.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area

Jill's Journal: Strangely, immediately after one of the most disappointing experiences on our journey (the Sea Lion Cave), we had one of the funnest and most memorable adventures on our journey (a big buggy ride). The Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area is 40+ miles of sand dunes renowned the world over. The area buts up to the Pacific Ocean and is starkly beautiful.

There’s a harsh wind blowing at all times, constantly sculpting the dunes and shifting the sand. Some of the dunes tower higher than 500 feet above the ocean. It’s a spectacular and magical place.

We strapped into a big buggy with a character named Bob at the helm and half a dozen other tourists. This Bob is not your average tour guide or driver. He’s been navigating these dunes since he was nine (and has got to be at least six or seven times that now). He conjured up images of every redneck joke that starts with, “Here, hold my beer. Watch this!” before someone dies. We were a little scared.

Bob tore up and down and over and around the dunes, thrilling us all every step of the way. Here’s a windswept and joyous Erika after plummeting down our first dune.

It’s impossible to describe just how vast and stark and imposing a 40-mile stretch of sand is…it feels otherworldly. Here you can see ATVs buzzing around; oh, the fun they were having.

The famous science-fiction novel Dune was inspired by this area. I have less than zero interest in sci-fi, but I once suffered through the very long movie inspired by the book more than 20 years ago because Sting played a character in it. (How’s that for teenage devotion to a favorite singer?)

Here’s our buggy (those people in front of us were bundled up even more tightly than we were) and Bob teetering precariously on the top of a sand dune, seeing nothing but sky and ocean…

…before plummeting wildly and (what feels like) uncontrollably down a dune. It is an insane ride, far better and more exhilarating than any thrill ride at an amusement park.

We left the Oregon Dunes in high spirits, all laughing and as giddy as if we’d just ridden a roller coaster. We had a nice reminder of our adventure as well: a lovely layer of sand all over our bodies. Each one of us was thinly caked everywhere, with sand even in our ears, in our noses, and in our eyebrows. When we saw Bob put on goggles behind his windshield before we took off, we had an inkling there just might be some sand thrown around. Why yes, just a touch, but worth every grain of sand I’ll have to clean out of the shower later.

Sea Lion Cave

Jill's Journal: We’ve established that Oregon has wildlife (and lots of it). We’ve also established Oregon has caves (neat ones). Friday we decided to do something wild and crazy and totally different – see wildlife IN a cave!

The Sea Lion Cave in Florence on the Oregon Coast is the world’s largest sea cave, located 300 feet below Highway 101. It’s a basalt rock/lava tube and was discovered in 1880 by a William Cox. It’s literally a cave accessible only by the sea…or (since 1961) by a single elevator from the cliffs above. The cave is 12 stories tall, the length of a football field, and smells to high heaven. The stench is overpowering at first, but after several minutes your nose goes numb and it may (or may not!) stop bothering you.

A wild herd of about 200 Stellar Sea Lions (who knew there were so many different types of sea lions?) call this two-acre cave and the ledge just outside it their home. They live here almost year-round, breed here, give birth here, die here. These are not the cute, charismatic, little sea lions exhibited by marine animal trainers. These are massive creatures (the bulls average 12 feet in length and about 1500 pounds) who spend most of their day complaining and roaring at each other, very reminiscent of extremely annoyed lions. They’re fascinating to watch, but most certainly not the warm and fuzzy type you’d want to keep in your bathtub as a pet.

Erika loved seeing them, but the littler girls were bored in about two minutes flat. And Rob and I felt a little fleeced by the whole experience. We’d heard this was an awesome thing to do and maybe it can be. But, it was close to a 90-minute drive to the coast for us and admission was ridiculously expensive ($48 for our family!) for a sight that we were done with in minutes. It was very disappointing. I don’t think we’re hardened travelers, but every once in a great while, we have an experience that seriously fails to live up to its hype. This was one of them.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Jill wrote in her last post:
"More tomorrow on the great fun we had on the coast…"

And we did - we had an amazing time. And today was also fantastic. You all, those who read this, know those stories will come - we needed a little downtime today after a longer day than expected, with a lot to do. The rest in Portland is welcomed, and everyone here will get to catch their collective breath a little. WE love Oregon so far, and will decide from here, Portland, what direction we go... it's a mystery right now. :)

Jill will blog away in the days to come, but I just wanted to leave everyone with a little memory - one that may not have been seen by our blog's readers. It is not often I (yes, I'm invoking the I) look back at stuff, but I was looking for something and ran across this gem. Taken April of 'beforewewereontheroad', it was amazing to see the changes in all my girls... What a fun thing to be able to look back on, before the journey - and being able to compare it with where we are now...

Jill said... (26 June, 2011 10:45)

Look at those itty-bitty, little kiddos!! Erika was barely 5, Madelyn 3, and Victoria 19 months. Madelyn has changed the most of all. She used to be short and stocky, just a little tank. Now she's tall and lanky and so skinny that the ethnic Mom in me wants to stuff her full of food 24 hours a day!

I remember that day so well -- Kite Festival, Georgetown KY, April 2009. We were about six months into considering the journey we're on now and I remember thinking, "This is the sort of thing we'll do all the time if we go 'on the road.'" And I also remember thinking that if days like that close to home could go well with such little kids, that we really could make this journey a reality... :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Oregon Coast

Jill's Journal: The Oregon Coast is often called the “best-kept secret in the Pacific Northwest.” It is terribly windy (to the point where it’s hard to hold a camera steady to take a picture!) and beach access isn’t easy to come by, but look at these snapshots! Isn’t it beautiful?

The Heceta Head Lighthouse, opened in 1894, is the strongest lighthouse of the nine on Oregon's coast. Its visibility (which reaches 21 miles out to sea) is limited only by the curvature of the earth.

More tomorrow on the great fun we had on the coast…