Portland, Oregon--March 2014

This March Marnie and I were presenting twice at a conference in Portland, Oregon, and I couldn't bear the thought of being separated from my family, so Robert was nice enough to take a few days off from work and come out with me and make a vacation of it too. Portland was lovely--rainy, sure, and chilly, but warmer than Boston at the moment, and with lots of good food, fun things for kids, bike lanes, and more good food. We had a fabulous time.

Flying out we had to connect through San Francisco as there was basically only one non-stop a day from Boston, and the timing didn't work out to get me there in time to present at 5:00 on our first day. Even with a flight delay in San Francisco due to clouds, we got there in plenty of time and got our Thrifty rental car. Robert dropped me right at the convention center (I'd changed in the airport bathroom) and then took the kids to the hotel.

We were staying in the Embassy Suites in downtown Portland, and it was a nice hotel in a good location. That first night while I presented, Robert took the kids to the hotel pool and then to the free evening cocktail hour/reception, and then they crashed. I walked home from the convention center at 9:00, wondering a little at the complete and utter lack of pedestrians. I saw a total of two people until I got to a homeless shelter, where there was a crowd of about 30 outside. A block later I saw another crowd of approximately the same size on the sidewalk, but this was for Voodoo Doughnuts, just a single block from our hotel. 24-7 donuts? Sign us up. I got a maple bacon bar (their classic, and deservedly so), a chocolate cake donut with strawberry marshmallow frosting and marshmallows on top (cute and tasty), and a mango-tango filled donut (awesome, tart and sweet and delicious all around) and Robert and I ate them in the living room of our suite while the kids slept in the big bed in the other room.

The next day, everyone was up early, but not crazily so--we were up around 5:30 and standing at Voodoo Doughnuts again, this time all of us, at 6:15. Marcus got something with sprinkles and Samantha just ate anything she could get her little donut-loving hands on. We walked back to the free hotel breakfast (very nice, large and extensive if a bit repetitive day after day) and had an early morning of it all around.

From breakfast we walked over to Powell's Books, and we read lots of books together and bought one book for Marcus while Samantha napped on me. We admired the public art along the way and windowshopped, as it was still on the early side.

We stopped at a playground near Chinatown and both kids had a blast playing. It was cool and wet but not actually raining, and I just put them in their L.L. Bean rain pants (which I'd bought years ago, literally--the size 2 had been bought for Marcus at age two and never worn, and then when he outgrew them I bought a size 4 thinking it would be a good idea, but that was also never worn, and indeed, mostly outgrown, though fine for this trip) and they were able to sit on the swings without getting soaked. Robert and Marcus used the public bathroom near the playground, and found it surprisingly clean and pleasant-smelling.

I had a free bus pass for the length of time I was at the conference, so we just paid for Robert and took the number 4 bus over to the other side of the river, getting to Clever Cycles a few minutes after 11:00. I had arranged for us to rent bikes from them for two days, and they had everything ready to go for us.

We chose helmets for everyone, they let Marcus help pump the tires up with air, and we got a primer on how to use the locks, and then we were off. I was very shaky on a bike--I hadn't ridden one in 20 years, I think, and then never actually in the street next to cars--and Robert had never ridden a bike like this, even with one kid, never mind two, so we took about ten minutes getting a feel for the bikes, circling up and down the block with the bike store.

When we felt more comfortable, we rode just a few blocks away to meet friends at a food cart pod on Hawthorne and 12th streets. It was a babywearer meet-up with not a lot of actual babywearing happening, but we had a great time seeing our friends--Sara and Dave and Ivy had come down from Seattle for the week, staying with family, and Amy and her boys Jackson and Greyson now lived in Portland, though when I'd met them before they'd been in California. We got Marcus a really good chicken quesadilla (his favorite) from the Mexican cart, and then I had a capicola, apple butter, walnut butter, carmelized onion, and arugula pressed sandwich from a fancy PB&J cart. Mine was out of this world--fabulous combination of flavors and textures. We also got a dulce de leche and plantain crepe from the crepe cart (not as good as it sounded, unfortunately) and two different made-in-Portland sodas (a pleasant but too-sweet gingersnap molasses one, and a really great tart lemon one), and then Robert ran across the street to Lardo to bring back a Korean pulled pork sandwich, which, though very different at heart, was the equal of my fancy PB&J in terms of flavor and quality. We had a lovely lunch under the tent and all got to catch up.

After lunch we headed out on bikes (well, Amy and her boys zoomed ahead in a car, but the rest of us were on bikes) to a park. There was a lot of uphill, but I got the hang of switching gears and made it. Sara is great to follow on a bike--she signals, rides safely, and managed to look out for the less-expert ones among us. She also took our pictures from her bike!

We got to the playground just as it began to rain again, and then it really began to pour. We were huddled under a small overhang while Robert checked a radar map and announced that this "could be here awhile," so eventually we moved to plan B. Amy took her kids home, and we all rode through a light rain to a nearby cafe, Suzette, where we ordered ciders and beers and cocoa, depending on the individual, and eventually got a buckwheat crepe with arugula and pears and goat cheese during their happy hour special at 4:00. They had a little play area near the tables and the kids played for over an hour while we sat and chatted. When it was clear again and we were all ready to go, we headed back out on the bike for another playground jaunt.

For short rides, Ivy joined Marcus on the back of Robert's bike. There was plenty of physical space for her to sit, but ideally there'd have been a separate handle for her to hold onto. We made it work to the playground, though, and then the kids played very happily--Ivy would tackle Marcus and say "I need you! I need you!" and Marcus would say "This is. . . weird!" but with a smile on his face; then Samantha would look confused and run and tackle Ivy too.

We tried to go to Pok Pok for dinner but there was an hour and a half wait, at just 6:00 on a weeknight, so we ended up at Sen Yai, the Pok Pok noodle outpost, down the street instead. We were seated right away with no wait in what we came to call the child ghetto, a little room off to the side with our sprawling party, then a group with three adults and three kids including a newborn, and then a shell-shocked, completely silent, couple on a date in between us all. The noodles were wonderful, and we had several dishes we'd never had before, and at least one that I'd actually had in Thailand but hadn't known what it was called.

After dinner, Sara and Dave and Ivy headed back to Sara's aunt and uncle's house a bit to the north, and we walked across the street to Salt and Straw for excellent ice cream. Samantha ate a whole cup of the salted chocolate ganache and Marcus ate most of a cup of a snickerdoodle one. Robert groaned that my choice was salted caramel, and wondered aloud whether he'd ever get to have ice cream flavors that he actually liked.

The ice cream was wonderful, and I was glad we made time for it, but at this point, it was pitch dark out, and though we could see on a map where we'd have to go to ride back to the hotel, we didn't really know the streets at all. It was also raining, albeit not quite as heavily as in the afternoon, and--the most dangerous thing, actually--Marcus was literally falling asleep sitting up. We aborted the ride home and I took the 4 bus back with the kids--bike on the front, Samantha asleep on my back, Marcus asleep on my lap on the bus within a minute of getting on--while Robert rode the cargo bike back by himself. The driver helped me unhitch the bike from the front when we got to our stop downtown, and then I just walked the bike for three blocks to the hotel, jollying Marcus (whom of course I'd just had to wake up) along the whole way. We all made it home safely, though, and we put the bikes in the hotel storage room overnight and went upstairs and crashed.

On Thursday morning we got up and out early again, but this time we were on the bikes from the hotel out. We rode over to the water, just a couple blocks, and then we rode up the river toward the Steel Bridge (picture at the very top of this page, centered). This was my kind of riding--daylight, no cars right next to us, no cross traffic at all, cool but not cold, scenic, and actually not raining, for once.

We rode across the bridge on the lower level, where there was a separate bike lane completely apart from cars, and then we rode down the river on the east side, where the bike lane was like a causeway a bit separated from land, right down on the level of the water. People could fish from there, it looked like, and aside from the occasional other bike rider or dog walker, it was very empty and lovely. We rode straight to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, which we had free admission to thanks to the reciprocal membership from the Children's Museum here. Sara, Dave, and Ivy met us at the museum an hour or so after we arrived, and we all had a great time hanging out.

From the museum we left the bikes and just walked a couple blocks up to Boke Bowl, a nouveu ramen place which was absolutely amazing. The ramen itself--broth and noodles--was very good, but then all the extras were great. We had pickled shiitakes (dense, small, sour bites of umami), fried pears (chewy, salty, sweet, and smoky), a miso "twinkie" (very good sponge cake, not as miso-y as we were expecting), limeade, and a cauliflower-brussels salad with bits of mango in it. Everyone loved lunch, and the place was very child-friendly even though it had a good amount of office workers in it at the time. We walked back to the museum and hit one more exhibit before calling it a day.

From the museum we rode to Isla Bikes, a British bike company that specializes in kids' bikes, and Marcus got to test-ride their bikes in a couple different sizes. We bought him a beautiful red bike with hand brakes and gears, his first "real" bike, and at 20" a big step up from the 12" pedal bike with foot brakes that he started riding almost two years ago. They shipped it to us, and it should arrive in Boston in a few days, but even there in the warehouse, it was neat to see Marcus getting the hang of hand brakes after just a few circuits around the track (defined, of course, by other bike boxes).

Sara et al. met us there, since it was at her suggestion that we came (Ivy had tried out the 16" bike the day before) and then we all rode around a nice residential neighborhood for forty minutes or so, just zig-zagging up one street and down the next, enjoying the nice sunshine, the pretty houses (I saw a two-tone purple house--beautifully maintained--and Robert saw a ramshackle house with everything under the sun hoarded its front yard: Mommy's house, and Daddy's house), the mossy trees, and the company. Eventually we had to go return our rental bikes and Sara and Dave and Ivy had to go meet his cousins for dinner, so we parted ways.

After saying goodbye to Samantha's rabbit helmet and Daddy's big green bike, we went back to the cupcake cart near Lardo and got milkshakes and cupcakes to share as a post-bike treat. We chatted with a friendly Portlandian family also there, and the four kids played together in the tent. We took the 4 bus back to 6th and Stark, downtown, and walked over a block to the big pod of food carts on 5th street. We got another chicken quesadilla, two lengua tacos, a chicken tamal, and a big plateful of Egyptian food (rice, meat, dolmades, and salad), and we took our picture in front of this (sadly, closed) Mauritian food cart. Hi, Basil--we thought of you!

On Friday I went and gave my second presentation first thing in the morning, and Robert again took the kids to the pool and then met me at the convention center with the kids and the car. We drove out to the Evergreen Aviation Center, stopping along the way for a lunch in the car at Burgerville (rosemary fries and halibut sandwiches, anyone?). Sara and Dave and Ivy were sticking close to home that day, but Amy and her boys met us and we all had a great time.

Marcus's favorite plane was the Blackbird, the fastest plane ever, and I loved the giant Spruce Goose (Marcus was impressed with the beach balls inside it--the old man volunteers at the museum told him about how Howard Hughes filled up the entire pontoon of the plane with beach balls because he was paranoid about drowning). We liked seeing the Titan II rocket, which was sunk down a couple floors below ground and went up to the peak of the giant hanger. Everything at the museum was worth seeing, though, and we spent the whole afternoon wandering around the buildings.

They had a biplane ride for kids, at no extra charge, and then a kids' area in one building with some simulator games and other ride-on toys.

Throughout both buildings, there were vintage airplane seats scattered around, and Marcus and Jackson especially would run to each set of chairs and thoroughly check them out.

Admission included one of the 3-D movies, so we saw whatever was playing at 3:00. It was something like "Mysteries of the Unseen Universe" and had a lot of zooming into skeletons, etc. Samantha was predictably terrified by the movie, and we were thinking seriously of leaving ("Can we get out of here, Daddy? Now? NOW can we get out of here? I want to get out of here!"), but after two minutes she closed her little eyes and fell asleep, so we ended up staying through the end of the movie after all.

There were also planes parked around on the grounds, a huge outdoor playground, and a separate waterpark with a giant plane on the roof of the building and waterslides coming out of it, but due to weather (pouring rain) and time (we were out of it) we stuck to the main museum and the movie.

We said goodbye when the museum closed at 5:00 and drove back toward the city, stopping at an outdoor mall to eat at Bo Kwon's KOi fusion for Korean-fusion hot dogs and Mexican. Despite the pouring rain, we enjoyed that stop--there was an enclosed gazebo thing at the mall's center, with heaters inside, and we sat there to eat our hot dog (an excellent hot dog, first of all, then wrapped in bacon, then topped with kimchi and bulgoki and bbq sauce and a drizzle of mayo and shreds of nori) and sliders (Korean-seasoned pulled pork with Tillamook cheddar cheese and a nice slaw on them) and tamal (Korean chicken inside). From there we drove back all the way to the city and stopped at Ruby Jewel downtown for ice cream; I think overall that Salt and Straw was better, but I did have a really good ice cream soda here (they make their own sodas, so housemade vanilla soda + brown sugar sour cream ice cream = excellent) and they make ice cream sandwiches to order with lovely chewy housemade cookies. After that, it was bed, our last night in Portland.

On Saturday morning we woke up to more rain, although not quite as heavy as the day before. We had breakfast at the hotel and then walked over to Voodoo again (Marcus had to have the Fruit Loops donut, and Samantha ate the head and arms of a voodoo doll jelly donut) and then hit the Saturday Market along the water. Sara and Dave and Ivy met us there, and we all visited and the kids got to play in the rain a bit--and then in (if you were Ivy) or near (if you were Marcus) a fountain, even after the rain had stopped.

We had an early lunch of an expertly made, thoroughly greaseless pork and cheese pupusa from one of the stands, and then we walked our friends over to Voodoo, since they hadn't been there yet. While they were waiting in line (there really is always a line, and of course Saturday morning the line was the worst), I walked over to check on the food cart from Mauritius again (still closed) and a nice Hawaiian one (also still closed), but we settled for a bulgoki taco, feeding Marcus the meat from it while Samantha napped on me.

It started raining harder, and even hailing, so Sara and Dave and Ivy escaped inside to a cafe and we parted ways for the time being. We went to our car, parked in the garage across the street from the hotel, and drove down to the Portland Aerial Tram, which sounded like a fun thing to do on any day, but which happened to be having a kids' day and festival on that particular afternoon.

There were balloon animals (Marcus got an orange sword, which came with a yellow scabbard; Samantha asked for a purple puppy, and then felt gypped that she didn't also get "a yellow thing" so we had to go back and ask, nicely, for a yellow scabbard for her to be able to put her puppy in), crafts, free snacks, and then tours of the control room and the motor room of the tram.

We loved watching the giant wheels turn and see the tram hover and pause at the "saddle" before it comes all the way in. Of course, we then had to ride it up and down ourselves, and get out to enjoy the view.

It was at last once more not raining, and Sara and Dave and Ivy rode down to the tram to say goodbye to us. Ivy didn't want us to leave, but we waved and waved as we walked back to our car. We rode over to the P's and Q's Market (basically City Feed) for sandwiches for supper--Robert had their brisket sandwich, which was really pretty good, and I had a chickpea "salad" sandwich--super chunky hummus with arugula and red onion and tomatoes and feta. From there we stopped at Helen Bernhard Bakery, which some people say has better classic-style donuts than Voodoo, and got a jelly donut for comparison's sake, and some sugar cookies for the kids for the car on the way to the airport. Then it was gas up, car return, goodbye balloons, security, and onto the plane. Our plane stopped in Phoenix, but we didn't have to change planes or even get off, and the kids slept straight through, Portland to Boston; I slept most of the way; and Robert, of course, slept not at all. We got home and went straight to my parents' house--while we'd been away they'd finished moving in--and had breakfast together, and somehow another great family trip came to a close.



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