Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What have we done, WHAT HAVE WE DONE!?!

What have we done...WHAT HAVE WE DONE!?!

Well for everyone who has been waiting with baited breath to follow us on our one year RV Adventure with Pets trip across America, you may have noticed a conspicuous lack of current blog entries from the road during late June and into July. (I'm still not sure if there are actually any “real people” out there reading this; if so PLEASE leave a comment from time to time so I know I'm not completely wasting my time writing this blog.)
Well the truth of the matter is, instead of gazing at geysers in Yellow Stone or discovering quaint little towns in Wisconsin, we have spent the past four weeks of our lives peeling old paint and ripping out linoleum in Stevenson, Washington. What was scheduled as the beginning of an epic journey, has been waylaid and turned into some kind of masochistic installment of “Flip this House”.
Is there ANYTHING yuckier than other people's old and dirty carpet? I think not!
We have literally spent everyday, (and I do mean everyday) of the past thirty days toiling to get our little “cabin in the Gorge” up and running, and in the kind of condition that we have somehow come to expect from ourselves. 
Hard at work installing new hardwood Oak floors in the living room, kitchen, and both bedrooms
Geez, we really can't get out of our own way. Our grand expectations coupled with our self imposed work ethic, have combined to produce quite the little working vacation. So far this summer has fallen somewhere between an internment camp and a continuously running episode of “This Old House”, an episode that never seems to end. 
Paint spattered Pauline diving into her work
We are at this point shambling paint smeared creatures that wake up each morning in various degrees of pain, and set off once again trying to get this project completed, only to discover a whole new litany of hurdles to overcome. The target has been tantalizingly close, but always seems to be just out of reach. Yes, we are in home improvement purgatory. The more we seem to accomplish, the more there seems to be to do. On and on, world without end.
Add to all this toil and drudgery the fact that we also have to get our “Vacation Rental Conditional Use Permit”, a process where we get to sit up in front of an angry mob (all of our new neighbors), at the City of Stevenson Planning Commission meeting and have the pleasure of telling them our plans to ruin their neighborhood with our godless short term rental cabin. Good stuff to be sure. Ah yeah, we really know how to relax and enjoy a summer. It's not all bad though. It has been quite sunny and beautiful in the Gorge for the past three weeks, or at least that's what we think it looks like through sweat stung eyes, looking out through half scraped windows that are badly in need of glazing. (See how it's been?)
Just about bottomed out with this load of 3/4" Oak Flooring.
This self imposed work camp started June 17th., the day we took ownership of the cabin. Well that's not exactly true, on the 17th we actually just did a lot of wandering around the property and the cabin both silently wondering “what have we done?” as we stared gaped mouthed at the dingy peeling linoleum, the unkempt overgrown yard, and the stained and peeling paint.
Could we really do this?
I think there was a brief moment where the two of us almost bolted, but to where? The RV? Yes, that was almost a real possibility. Get in the Pleasure Way and drive away, like none of this had happened. We could always put it back on the market from the road. Yes, that was the answer. RESELL IT! Maybe we could get the money back, but truthfully, on that first depressing owner's remorse type of afternoon we had our doubts. We bought this? Hmmmm...
Nice linoleum, classy
What happened to our glorious vision? What on earth could we have been thinking? Several beers later, our vision started to reappear, and a couple more after that and we were once again gung-ho about this whole flipping the cabin scenario. What a brilliant bit of shrewd real estate foresight. Wow, did we make a timely purchase on a under priced piece of property or what? All you need is a little bit of forward thinking to see what this cabin could become with a little hard work and imagination. Still we slept a wee bit restlessly that evening.
It smelled too!
The next morning, and for that matter for the next six weeks, we basically rolled up our sleeves, cowboy'd up, and gotter done. We look fondly back on those days and think of them as A LIVING HELL. Ah yes, those were the days. Just days after we acquired the property Jerani's parents arrived and proceeded to work us to death. 
Marvin and I tackled the porch
For the next seven days it was pretty much non-stop scraping, patching, painting, measuring, cutting, nailing, sawing, screwing, and just about every “...ing” you could think of. 
This was home during the flip, nice huh?
All of the hard work coupled with the less than desirable living conditions brought on by deconstruction left all of our nerves a little frayed, and under these stressful conditions we snapped at one another from time to time, but in the end their help was invaluable in setting the tone for the entire project. After a week Marvin left for an extended bicycle trip, and a few days later we dropped Pauline off at the Vancouver Amtrak terminal where she caught a train back home.
On our own once again the pace was set and we continued to work ourselves into a frenzy. All the days started to seem eerily similar. We'd wake, have coffee and whatever was around for breakfast, start working on anyone of a thousand jobs still left undone, stop for a quick bite to eat around one or two, work inside during the boiling afternoons (we hit a stretch of about five days over 90 degrees, we're SO lucky), eat whatever was around for dinner at seven or so, and then usually finish up the evening by going back to work on what ever project was most annoying us.
Roof tear off
On and on and on and on and on and on and on... These work days were broken up by one of our four or five trips into Portland. On these outings we would have a list about three pages long, but what they usually boiled down to was a trip to at least half a dozen stores, usually highlighted by a exhaustive hour or so in a Home Depot or Lowes. 
Lardo's Dirty Fries
We tried to reward ourselves with a good lunch, stopping by “LARDO” on a couple of occasions for their awesome dirty fries (french fries with deep fried sage, peppers, and pork back-fat bits. Ummmm sooooo gooood! We also stopped by a great Sushi place in Lake Oswego on one of these errand runs and had their killer Mexican Rolls (shrimp, crab, etc. with a spicy Chipotle sauce), also outstanding.  
Umi's Mexican Roll
But for the most part these were humorless retail slogs usually capped off with a trip to the storage unit for “one more” load of furniture and household goods. Good times to say the least. But ten times better than the litany of chores waiting for us on return. About a month into our fevered work fest we were scheduled to go in front of the City of Stevenson Planning Commission to hear the ruling on our conditional use permit for a daily/weekly vacation rental. This had been our plan all along, and we had filed the initial paperwork the same day we had taken possession of the cabin four weeks prior. Stevenson is an ideal place for vacation rentals as there is an abundance of activities in the area, and a real lack of private places to get away to. It seemed like a no brainer to us, and was a major motivational tool during our flip. 
From the Bridge of the Gods downstream
We had heard earlier via email that the Planning Director and Planning Board had backed our proposal and had recommended that the Commission rule in favor of our conditional use permit. Buoyed by this information we dressed in the best clothes we had (meaning cleanest...) and somewhat smugly drove down to City Hall. Upon entering the meeting room the first thing that caught our eye was the number of people in attendance for a small town Commission meeting, especially a meeting with only two items on the docket. The second thing that caused us pause was that several of the aforementioned citizens in attendance were our neighbors. Hmmm... Wow, I guess these people really care about the inner-workings of their local government. How civic minded of them. 
Angry Mob
We took two seats at the very back of the hall, and noticed as new people filed in that one or two of the women seated in front of us made sure that the new attendees were supplied with all the pertinent paperwork for that evenings meeting from the table up near the front of the room. Funny...those women never handed us any paperwork. I quickly grabbed two sets of the stapled paperwork from the table and while the Commission droned on in the background about the first issue on the agenda dealing with misplaced High School signage we thumbed through the rather lengthy stack of papers. About halfway through we came upon the bombshell. It seemed that although the Planning Commissioner had put a notice of our request for a vacation rental conditional use permit in the local paper, he had failed to notify all the neighbors in the local vicinity by writing of our intent. 
This misstep was pointed out ad-nauseum by a neighbor of ours in a long winded and self congratulatory sounding letter written only the day before. In this letter this neighbor basically cast every stone he could think of at our vacation rental proposal, everything from our arborvitae hedge being too tall and our driveway too narrow, to the fear of the unknown and the demon vacation renters that would soon be raping and pillaging in his own backyard. In a nutshell, he HATED the idea. Well the rest of the meeting was quite uncomfortable. We were asked to take a seat up front, and to present our idea about a rental cabin to the Planning Commission, and then got to sit there while practically every one of our neighbors (and some from outside the neighborhood) demonized us, and threw every possible hurdle and suggested restriction our way. For the most part the Planning Commission seemed to like the idea, but it was quickly apparent that their would be NO ruling that evening, and that written notices would have to go out to all of the neighbors, and the soonest we could reconvene would be in two weeks. David started to get a little snipey with the so called neighbors, which was understandable under the circumstances with them practically Jeering at us while brandishing pitchforks and torches. In the end it was decided that we would meet again during a special meeting on Jerani's birthday (what a present!), two weeks in the future. We left the meeting frustrated, angry, and loathing our neighborhood. We felt completely isolated and vilified. We went down to the Big River Grill, a very nice restaurant in downtown Stevenson and had a beer and a late dinner to try and decompress. We ran into our realtor and let him know what had transpired, and although he was very sympathetic, there wasn't a lot he could do. After dinner we went home and spent a fairly sleepless evening tossing and turning and reliving the meeting. Bad JU JU. We both couldn't sleep, so we got up around three thirty and started working twice as hard if that was possible. 
Flipped Kitchen and Dining Area
We decided to double our efforts and be completely ready to rent come the 23rd. We continued to finish up the cabin, tear out the huge set of outdoor railroad tie steps which were a huge hazard, and put in a rock wall and BBQ area, had a couple of guys haul away an enormous amount of old wood and debris off the property, and in short ran ourselves ragged. 
Flipped Living Room
As we neared the final meeting we interviewed potential landscapers and housekeepers to take care of the rental property while we were away, and completed the interior, which turned out really close, if not better, than our original vision. As we neared the final meeting and the Commissions decision we were really getting excited, and were about to launch the rental website that Jerani had worked so hard on. 
Living Room looking towards the Front Door
In just five days we would know whether or not we would get the conditional use permit, but with the Commission seeming to be warm to the idea, and the backing and on record endorsement by the Planning Commissioner, we felt really good about the outcome. 
Flipped Bathroom
Then four days before the meeting, while reading our emails, the rug got torn out from under us. We had received an email from the Planning Commissioner, and the Planning Board stating that they were taking a one eighty, reversing their decision, and were withdrawing their support, in fact stating that they were now recommending to the Planning Commission to refuse our request for a special permit. This had all come about after another two or three letters from a neighbor of ours pointing out the fact that as the Zoning rules were written, there really wasn't a set definition of a “Vacation Rental”, and so legally, under the written rules for the city's zoning, the Commission couldn't legally give us the conditional use permit. This was brought up along with a petition, and about fifty other accusations indicating that vacation rentals were just as bad as say, Nuclear Plants or Landfills. The Planning Commissioner had reversed his findings because they were indefensible under the current way the rules are written. After reading the email, and reading our “neighbor's” letters, it was obvious to us that there was absolutely no way the Planning Commission could find in our favor without opening themselves up to a lengthy lawsuit that it was quite apparent that our so called “neighbor” was itching to enter into. We were sunk. Just like that, six weeks of non-stop work was basically all for not as far as our cabin becoming a weekly vacation rental. 
The Backyard looking towards the Gorge
We went from being completely optimistic, to sort of rudderless in a period of minutes. Just about the time it takes to read and decipher an email. We took a short drive to cool down and regroup. Obviously the neighbors had won. There would be no Godless vacation rental in their midst. We on the other hand needed to reconsider our options. Would we be attending the meeting on Jerani's Birthday, just to be told “no”, by a Commission with their hands tied, all the while having to listen to our smug neighbors as they railed against us...yeah, that would be a GREAT BIG NO. There wasn't any point. That was pretty much spelled out in the email. 
Flipped second Bedroom
We made the decision then and there to do what we needed to do to batten down the property's hatches, and to get ready to rent the cabin monthly, something we could do without any sort of conditional use permit or input from our neighbors. So for the next two days we worked our butts off cleaning, mowing, landscaping, and storing stuff away. We also found a very trustworthy and capable woman to look after the cabin while we were away. 
Flipped Master Bedroom
After making sure everything was off that needed to be off, and that all the locks and security were set, we loaded up the RV, and low and behold, we actually began our ”RV Adventure with Pets”. A few weeks past the original starting date, but on the road just the same. WAGONS HO!


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bend


We arrived at my sister's house in Bend on Thursday, and her and Charlie my nephew were there to meet us. 
Also Sarge” their huge Rhodesian Ridge Back, was there to welcome us too; he's a really sweet dog, although gigantic. This was the first time he and Max had met, and the two seemed to hit it off “ok”, if not with a little apprehension from the much smaller Max. Wally, Andie's husband, was in Portland picking my other nephew up (David) after his first year in College at Portland State University. They would be home later that night. My third nephew Connor would be flying home on Friday from USC, where he's just completed his third year of college. This would be the first time we were all together in something like two years, and it will be nice to see everyone.
My sister's family live on the back side of Awbrey Butte with beautiful views of the Three Sisters Mountains and the high desert. It always seems like it's nice whenever we visit, and after being chased by rainstorms all day, once we arrived in Bend that was the case once again, with vivid green pine trees silhouetted against a Fredrick Remington like blue sky. 
The air always seems really clean here, if not a tad bit dry (our nasal passageways burn out after about the second day here).
One of the things I think people who have never visited Oregon and Washington would be most surprised about is how varied the topography and climate is in these two states. 
I think a lot of people think they are covered in forests and wet year round, when in fact only the western portion of each state, from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean are covered in Douglas Fir, and have a wet climate. The eastern half of each state are much different, ranging from high desert, to dry rolling hills. 
There are places in both states that if a person not familiar with the geography of this region were to be shown a picture of the mesas and canyon lands east of the mountains they would swear they were taken in Arizona or New Mexico. We love coming east of the mountains because there is such a monumental change in scenery so rapidly. Within an hour and a half from leaving Portland you start to see changes from fir to pine, and within another half hour you are in a completely different world.
We took Charlie for a tour of the RV and he just loved it. Sitting back in the lounge area, staring at the little flat screen TV he stated “I could live here”. It was good to spend some one on one time with Charlie. He has a great sense of humor and it was nice talking to him before the rest of the house filled with people. Andie ordered Vietnamese food for dinner and we scarfed it down, and around eight pm Wally arrived with David. 
David's a great story teller, and he told us a couple of hilarious ones about his litany of college roommates, and his visiting my older sister in Portland. He's very self deprecating, and has perfect timing. It was good to see Wally, and we traded home remodeling nightmares. (He's been working on their Lopez cabin for awhile now, and so he's a kindred spirit when it comes to the pitfalls of home repair.)
The next morning Jerani and I headed downtown and perused the shops. Bend for the most part is pretty upscale. It has a very young, athletic, outdoor enthusiastic population and everyone looks as if their on their way to climb K2, or kayak down the Yangtze River. Actually that's not so far from the truth. Bend has an amazing number of past and present Olympic athletes, and a wide array of well known extreme outdoors enthusiasts. So as you might expect there are a lot of outdoor geared shops, along with some nice boutiques, cafes, micro-breweries, and art galleries. 
The downtown core along the Deshutes River seems to be thriving, and we spent the morning ducking into little shops and munching on fresh baked bread. We stopped by a very nice grocery (I always check out the Meat Department, and it was very nice) and picked up everything to make homemade tacos and pork Verde for dinner.
We spent the rest of the afternoon taking walks, spending time with the family, cooking, and eating. Wally went to pick Conner up at the local airport and they didn't get back until close to 11 pm. 
We waited up to see him, and after some hugs and chit chat went to bed after midnight. (That's REALLY late for us ole folk)
On Saturday we all got up and I went to a couple of sorta creepy estate sales with my sister and my nephews. You know, the kind of sales where it's really uncomfortable wandering around someones unkempt, semi dirty home staring at weird doilies, and 8-track tapes. It was a lot of fun going to the sales with my family, because we all were at the same level of unease, and we all got creeped out by the same things...clown pictures, anything decoupaged, plastic glasses or plates with stains, and other peoples family Bibles, among a litany of other items. We had some good laughs and bought some strange odds and ends. 
Later Jerani and I went out to lunch at Pilot Butte, a classic old school Bend drive-in known for the best burgers in town. It lived up to the hype. I got a Guacamole burger 
and Jerani had the Bleu Cheese burger.
One thing we probably wont be doing again is driving our twenty foot RV into a drive-in parking spot. It was fine when we pulled in and both spots on either side of us were empty. But as soon as we had placed our order, a HUGE Ford f350 extended cab pickup wedged itself inches from our left hand side, and no sooner had he pulled in, a brand new Porsche Turbo took up the spot on our right. Needless to say it took a fine bit of maneuvering with Jerani as a spotter to disengage ourselves from our parking space. Lesson learned, never drive under anything that seems remotely low, and don't park in spaces designed for “regular” automobiles, no matter how delectable the burgers may be. Andie received her distinguished scholar award later that afternoon at a ceremony held at the college, and then joined by some of her friends and family we had a late dinner. 
It was really nice catching up with my nephews, Charlie, David, and Conner. They are all really great young men, and funny and witty to boot. It's neat seeing the three of them grow into who they are today, and we couldn't be prouder.
In the morning Jerani readied the RV for take-off, took a walk and collected beautiful pine cones for decorating the cabin, said are farewells, and just like that we were off.
We drove back towards Madras, and then continued on towards Mount Hood and Portland. We still had another day before we had to return to Stevenson and take ownership of the cabin, so we decided to slow it down a little and pulled off at Clear Lake, near the base of Mount Hood to spend the evening. 
It was a very nice little campground set in amongst the trees, and we just kind of puttered around, made a little campfire and had hotdogs and s'mores for dinner, and turned in early smelling of woodsmoke.

Friday, July 5, 2013

High Desert Highjinks

Waking to much nicer weather conditions we quickly broke camp and drove down to the nicer of the two shower facilities where we spruced up for our upcoming sit down with the title company in Stevenson to sign the papers that will make us the owners of a 1936 cabin. (In other words, we will now get to completely flip a home before we hit the road.) 
Nobody ever said our life was boring.
Squeaky clean we headed down the road a few miles to Stevenson. We dropped by first to a little coffee shop on the outskirts of town to treat ourselves to a couple of Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Cupcakes that we had the pleasure of sampling during our last visit. (We felt we deserved a decadent treat after yesterdays litany of dentists visits, chores, and torrential rains.) After savoring the cupcakes we drove down to the Title Company and signed all the proper papers, making us actual home owners once again. It's a weird feeling. Although we both groused that we didn't want to get tied down with another large yard, or heaven forbids, a fixer-upper, that's exactly what we've done in purchasing a little cabin on ½ acre of densely and unruly non-manicured property. 
But at the same time we both have to admit that being the actual owners of real life property, even though our intent is to turn the property into a vacation rental, makes us both feel a little more grounded, a little more anchored. I think this purchase will allow us to travel with the reassurance that we will have someplace to land when the road becomes weary. We ran into the home owners realtor while walking down the small down town district of Stevenson after signing the papers. He said the woman we purchased the home from was having a really hard time letting go, and that it had been a rough go as far as dealing with her during the proceedings. He thanked us for our patience, and congratulated us on signing the papers. Just like that we were land owners in Skamania County, who woulda thunk it?
With the little or no breeze (unheard of during our travels down Highway 14) and the sun showing for the first time in three days, we headed off towards Bend, Oregon. We had planned to drive down the Washington side until we reached the Dalles and cross over the Columbia River into Oregon and then continue south towards Maupin, Madris, Redmond, and finally Bend. 
With little to no traffic and weather conditions favorable for once in the Gorge we made good time and soon found ourselves on the little road that runs from the Dalles to Maupin. We climbed up from the Columbia and were soon surrounded by rolling hills which soon turned to high desert. It had been awhile since we took this route, and it's easy to forget just how hilly this topography is, and just how lonely and isolated it is in this portion of Oregon. 
We were surrounded on all four sides by distant rain storms, with dark gray clouds and sheeting rain back-dropped by the sun. It was easy to to get a feeling for what it must have been like to have been some of first settlers to push into this unforgiving territory, and the thoughts like “we aren't in Kansas anymore...” that must have been going through their heads. It's going to be great to get out on the road for good and start to see places and things that we've never seen before. Can't wait.
We dropped down into the little town of Maupin, best known as a staging area for rafting and fishing excursions down the Deshutes River. The best way to describe it is sleepy. We pulled over in a City Park right on the River, stretched our legs, went to the bathroom, and walked the kids. Erley didn't want anything to do with the river walk, but he at least got out and had a look around. 
It's a steep climb to get out of Maupin. That's what this part of Oregon is all about, big climbs, and long steep grades down the other side, rinse and repeat. We started to get caught by the omnipresent rain squalls. First the wind would hit us, quickly followed by buckets of rain, followed soon after by sun.
We arrived in Madras around noon. It's a much larger high desert city than Maupin (and one I got to know well while coaching High School football), and a little nondescript if I must say so myself. Dry, dusty, bleached out and not a whole lot of highlights. (Did I mention I used to coach against them, and I'm not too fond of the town?) But I'll stand by my critique of the city none the less, no matter how nonobjective I may be. 
We pulled in behind the local Safeway grocery store, cleaned the interior of the RV so that it would be spic and span for show and tell at my sisters house, and sat down to lunch. (Pretty exciting dinning behind a grocery, but remember what I said, Madras doesn’t have too many highlights...).
We found ourselves in Redmond about an hour later and hunted down the Antique shops. Redmond has actually gone through somewhat of a revitalization compared to the gritty desperate city we visited back in the eighties. The downtown core has been reinventing itself into a much more tourist friendly destination, with antique shops, interesting cafes, numerous boutique type establishments, all done in hopes of funneling a larger percentage of all of that traffic flowing between Portland and Bend. It does seems to be working. There were quite a few people visiting the shops, and we found the Antique district and prices to be some of the best we've seen in a while. We found quite a few treasures for outfitting the Stevenson cabin, and then hit the road for Bend.