Take me to the river

Excellent timing.

A Discover Yamhill Valley reader told me there were kayaks and canoes for rent in Newberg. I called around to find out, and got Kat Ricker, the public information coordinator for the Chehalem Park and Recreation District. That is, I got the woman who really wants you to have fun paddling on the Willamette River in Dundee. I caught her at just the moment that she hit the button to take the Chehalem Paddle Launch’s website live.


Kat told me about the 14 kayaks and 4 canoes available to rent weekends through Labor Day. She told me about the life jackets, the permits, the safety whistles, the price and the hours. She gave me directions. And then she invited me to come paddle with her!

Oh, joy!

More than once, I had to stop paddling to take it all in. Kat snapped a photo. (Photo by Kat Ricker/CPRD)

All this water around here — rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, estuaries, streams — and the only water I’ve been in since I moved here is the kind that falls out of the sky.

I met Kat one mellow afternoon at the gravelly end of S.E. 8th Street in Dundee, on the bank of the Willamette, just across from the lee side of Ash Island. There was a trailer full of boats there, and nothing else. Just orchard, grass, river, trees and sky.

Kat introduced me to Bart Rierson and his daughter Melissa.

Bart is one of the brains behind the operation. Bart would like me to emphasize that he is one of many. He gave me such a long list of people he credits as invaluable to the project that his daughter joked that he was giving an Academy Awards acceptance speech.

The idea, Bart told me, is to help the Yamhill Valley grow in a healthy, happy way by bringing nice things here. If there are wonderfully fun things to do here, people will savor and appreciate the valley.

It is very easy to savor the Yamhill Valley when you have a view like this.

If people fall in love with paddling on the river, they’ll be thinking of that river when, say, it’s time to dispose of chemicals in an environmentally responsible way. Bart wants people to get out on the water, play, appreciate it and want to protect it.

Melissa, who is 16 and an enthusiastic newcomer to paddling, works at the launch. It’s something of a dream summer job for her, too. She’s giving up every weekend through Labor Day, sure. But she gets to play outside while she works.

She fitted me with a lifejacket, paddle and kayak. There are 14-foot and 12-foot boats. I chose the shorter, more stable length. She gave me a thorough and informative safety rundown, carried my boat to the water and helped me launch. At the very moment Melissa warned me about the deep mud at the bank, I sunk in ankle deep. So watch out for that.

Think mud and water when you dress for a day of paddling.

Also, wear shoes and clothes that will survive mud and river water. It may be avoidable for people less clumsy than me, but better safe than sorry.

Melissa joined me in her own longer, swifter kayak. Bart and Kat shared a canoe.

That's Melissa in the kayak and Bart and Kat way off in the distance. I don't move quite as fast as them. Yet.

I only had an hour to spend on the water, so we didn’t paddle all the way around Ash Island. Instead, we headed downstream, outrunning cottonwood tufts on our way to Chehalem Creek. The water was pretty low, so we didn’t get far before we hit logs in the water.

“Sometimes you have to play limbo out here,” Melissa said.

We stopped to admire a rookery of herons, take a few photos and enjoy the stillness. Then we paddled back. We sat and chatted at a picnic table near the boat trailer. Had some water. Admired the weather. If part of your workday involves a trip to the river, why cut it short?

Kat took some excellent photos. You will, too, if you go paddling. It's so gorgeous, it would be hard not to.

When you go — and you know you’ll go — dress down. I had on clogs and wound up borrowing a pair of sneakers from Kat. Bring water and sunscreen. Pay attention to the safety lecture. If you have a camera, phone, keys, anything you don’t want to get wet, you can borrow a water-tight case.

Although you can’t reserve a boat ahead of time, the launch uses the CPRD computer system. Save 10 minutes and sign up online before you get there.  Go to www.cprdnewberg.org and click on online registration. That takes you to a screen where you click “request account” to get rolling.

Have fun out there! Say hi to the river for me!

Some useful information: The launch is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day. You can call 503.537.2909 for more information, or scope out the links above. Enjoy!

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Old stuff, but new to me

There’s an extraordinary amount of cool stuff packed into the Yamhill County Historical Museum’s two buildings in Lafayette. Look at photos, furniture, clothes, tools, toys — anything you can think of that will illustrate what life was like when Lafayette was a new town and Oregon was a new state.

There are two buildings at the Yamhill County Historical Society and Museum site in Lafayette. One of them, this one, is an old church.

Better than that, there’s people. Volunteers at the museum know the county and the collections really well, and take a professor’s approach to giving a tour. Ask about an artifact and an explanation follows, plus context, plus a side trip over to another item that relates to the story. That rocking chair interest you? Well, here’s the story of its journey down the Oregon Trail. Ask about a quilt and learn about quilting, textiles and the woman who created it. Everything has a history, including the buildings. Ask.

If you are interested in fabric art and the history of textiles, move this museum to the top of your list.

If you want to learn even more, poke around downstairs. Most of the ground floor is the Ruth Stoller Research Library. On a genealogy mission? This is your first stop. Again, ask questions. There’s plenty of help available to you.

An old cobalt blue bottle collection is artistically displayed in one of the church building's front windows.

Stop on by. The museum is at 605 Market St., Lafayette, and is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, or by appointment by calling 503-864-2308. It costs $2 for adults and $1 for kids 6-16. Younger kids get in for free.

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That’s beautiful! What is that?

I’m coming up on a year in Oregon.

It’s so cool!

And I mean that literally. I love how I can bike 15 miles on a June morning and still show up at my destination looking like a human being. In case you were wondering, that doesn’t happen in Virginia.

Besides my daisy-like freshness, the difference in climate means different plants. I’ve seen things growing wild alongside trails that I’ve seen for sale in nurseries back east. None of the trees are familiar. Everything smells different, even. So, to educate myself, I visited the native plant demonstration garden at the McMinnville Public Library.

According to the explainer signs in the native plants garden at the McMinnville Public Library, this California poppy likes plenty of sun.

Are you a gardener interested in working with native plants in order to preserve the local ecology? Or perhaps just a curious hiker wondering just what that little pink flower is? Spend a little time at the garden skirting McMinnville Public Library, at 225 N.E. Adams St., McMinnville. Hand-drawn and hand-lettered signs explain which plants are where, plus other tidbits of information.

Signs in the garden identify this as an incense cedar.

For example, if you’re considering natives for your own garden, you might like to know which are sun-loving perennials (Oregon sunshine, yarrow and Nelson’s sidalcea) or which will attract birds (blue and red elderberries).

Signs feature diagrams explaining which plants are where in the garden.

Stroll up and look around. It doesn’t cost a thing. Plus, you’ll learn something.

This sign tells you that ...

... this tree is a red alder.

There’s a native plants program at 7 p.m. the fourth Thursday of every month inside the library.

Plus, you can take a break from learning and sit on a lovely log bench donated by the McMinnville Women’s Garden Club. It’s a nice place to eat a sandwich.

This marks a nice spot to have a sandwich.

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Blissed out, with a pleasantly sore core

No sympathy. And I’m not expecting it.

Part of my job in the beautiful Yamhill Valley is writing a blog about how beautiful it is here, and how there are so many fun things to do. Thus, part of my job requires me to walk, bike or drive around, eating terrific food and savoring delicious beverages. And then what? Why, I go home, sit on my sofa, rest my laptop on my coffee table and my feet on my dog and do one of the things I love best — write.

Hard row to hoe, right?

Don’t judge me. I get stressed out just like anybody else. Which is how I came to be dressed in comfy clothes at 4 on a Tuesday, attempting yoga with my girlfriend Jo.
Well, comfier clothes. I had to change from jeans to sweats. No dress code in the Discover Yamhill Valley Secret Bunker.

Yoga is gaining popularity in the Yamhill Valley, just as it is everywhere.

I’m a yoga newbie. My idea of flexibility is not making reservations for dinner. Since I wasn’t sure what I would make of it and didn’t want to make a time and money commitment, I dropped in on one of Yogis Studio‘s many donation-only community classes.

The studio offers classes in yoga, tai chi, qi gong and pilates, all “rooted in the eastern tradition of movement, meditation and relaxation,” owner Laura Pedroni told me. Classes blend strengthening and stretching, she said. The community class is “a pretty good sampling” of the various techniques.

“There’s a stereotype that yoga is just about relaxing,” Laura told me. But it can “get the heart rate up.” Some classes are more strenuous and incorporate work with balance balls and medicine balls — “things you’ve seen in the gym before,” Laura said.

Bolsters can make some poses and stretches easier.

That said, Laura decided to go deep into yoga because she loves the stress-free way it makes her feel. She regards a yoga session as a workout for mind as well as body. Yoga “unites body, breath, state of mind and emotion,” she said. “If you’re relaxed and balanced, you’re better equipped to go out and face the problems of the world.”

Whether your muscles feel relaxed or relaxed and strong, your decision-making skills will be improved. “Strength of mind creates strength of purpose,” Laura told me.

She knows what she’s talking about. She’s been practicing yoga for 22 years — 5 of those spent teaching in McMinnville. But just in case you doubt her certainty, she brought backup: It’s a 5,000-year-old tradition, she pointed out. A tradition anyone can participate in. “Everybody does it. Pro athletes do it,” she said. Thirty to 40 percent of her students are men, she told me.

Classes at Yogis Studio are rooted in Eastern traditions.

Oh, really? Well, I’m no pro athlete, and I did all right. Indeed, any given yoga class can be done with any degree of intensity to fit body and mood. “Yoga here is different each day,” Laura said.

Kids can do it, too. In fact, when Yogis hosts its monthly kids’ night, parents can drop the kids off and go out to dinner.

How did McMinnville become home for Laura? The short answer is, it reminds her of Italy. She has family in Italy and lived there for a while. McMinnville’s food, wine, scenery and pace reminded her of her time there. “There’s a lot of parallels,” she said.

Laura Pedroni demonstrates a stretch. Photo by Kristen Parker | KE Portraits | http://www.keportraits.com

The yoga community here is growing, too, she said. She’s right. There are plenty of places to practice. Yogis is a good place to start. Excell Fitness in McMinnville and Newberg offers classes. If you’re in Newberg, there’s also First Street Yoga. Or just look around — yogis are everywhere.

While you’re doing your body and soul good, think of others, too. Besides the donation-based community classes, Yogis offers several classes that benefit Yamhill Community Action Partnership.

And you will do your body good. I made it through class without toppling over, which is kind of a big deal for me, and I spent the rest of the day feeling relaxed. Recommend!

Posted in Fitness, Living here, Northwestern woman | 1 Comment

Coffee — an education

Put on a pot of coffee. Right now. Seriously — I’ll wait. You’ll be craving it by the time you’re done with this post. Bonus: It will be like reading in Smell-O-Vision.

Got your cup of giddyup? Let’s go.

I’m feeling a little bit like a coffee expert at present. I went to Caravan Coffee in Newberg recently and got caffeinated and educated.

Operations manager Pat McGarraugh opened my lesson by showing me how to make a delicious cup of coffee. She started with heating water to 200 degrees. Meanwhile, she rinsed out a paper filter to make sure it was flavor neutral, and dropped the filter into a pour-over coffee maker. In it she scooped precisely 27 grams of coffee. Next, she warmed up a glass carafe with the hot water. She poured a little water into the coffee, let it sit for 25 seconds — “pre-infusion,” she called it — and then poured in the rest of the 400 milliliters of water.

Pat McGarraugh demonstrates the pour-over method, and makes a convert out of me.

The result was piping hot and just absolutely delicious.

Pat told me that the proportion of coffee to water is a matter of personal preference, but I like her formula. Strong, too. It definitely put some bounce in my step.

Pat McGarraugh gave me a cup of Caravan Coffee's special Valentine Blend. That strong, tasty brew had me stepping lively all day.

Caravan Coffee does tastings, called cuppings in the business, on Friday mornings. Stop by and taste unbelievably fresh coffee and learn a little about the beverage and the business. Pat served me my coffee black so I could get the full flavor. She had me searching for all the taste elements — flavor, body, sweetness and acidity. Acidity, by the way, refers to how the coffee affects your mouth, not your stomach, she said. That’s part of the slightly fruity flavor a coffee might have.

Coffee is more complex than wine, she told me. And each blend benefits from different preparations. I have a French press at home, so I asked her if that’s a method she recommends.

“You know, they all taste different,” she said of drip, French press and espresso. When they get a new coffee, they try it all three ways; espresso is usually more complex.

Besides roast and preparation, an endless supply of variables can affect flavor. “It’s the soil, the altitude, volcanic ash sometimes,” Pat told me. “I had an Ethiopian coffee that tasted just like blueberries. Different coffees just come with different tastes.”

My coffee lesson started really, truly at the beginning — with a coffee cherry. Coffee Caravan has a tree in the tasting room. It was a little sweet, a little tart with an earthy finish.

If you ever get a chance to try one, take it. The flavor will remind you of some of the notes in a cup of coffee, yet it's completely different.

Inside was a small, greenish and familiar looking pit — a fresh, raw coffee bean. Roasted beans are brown and split in two. This guy was whole and more round. Fun fact: A coffee bean that doesn’t split is called a peaberry.

Peaberries are coffee beans that don't split in two. According to Alexander Rehm, whose hands you see holding unroasted beans, "you can now make more flavor using the peaberry than otherwise."

The tree looked fine to me, but in their natural habitat they’re more lush and bushy. Coffee doesn’t grow well in Oregon; it’s a tropical fruit. Want to grow a coffee tree? Move to Brazil, the top coffee-producing nation in the world.

This is Caravan Coffee's warehouse, and that is A LOT of coffee.

The lion’s share of my Java 101 class was a tour conducted by Alexander Rehm. Caravan’s coffee steward knows a lot about his business. I’ve got pages and pages of notes. The quick version is that Caravan buys all different kinds of coffee from growers all over the world. Their roastmaster, Paul Allen, roasts it in small batches and ships it out immediately. Stale coffee is a very, very bad thing, according to Alexander. There’s a special area in the warehouse for organic coffee, and the roasters are careful to keep it from touching non-organic-certified beans.

Beans were all different sizes and colors and each had a unique aroma. It all smelled like coffee to be sure, but with different notes and intensities.

Caravan Coffee always strives to use cleanly and ethically produced beans, Alexander told me. “This industry is neat because we have the unique opportunity to have a humanitarian impact,” Alexander said.

This San Francisco 20 kilogram roaster is actually considered a small-batch, artisanal roaster.

Alexander’s personal favorite is the Organic Sumatra Mandheling brewed with the pour-over method. “It’s medium to low acidity,” he said. “Not a very complex cup.” According to Alexander, roaster Paul Allen’s favorite is Guatemala Antigua. The preference stems as much from a love for the region as love of the flavor. Nothing ties a person to a favorite place better than food and drink.

Which is why I spent an afternoon indulging in coffee culture. It’s something we do really, really well here.

Posted in Food, Living here, Spend the day here, Unexpected adventures | 3 Comments

McMinnville’s firehouse: Part public safety, part museum

Firefighters don’t generally retrieve kittens from trees anymore.

Fighting fires requires science, strength, stamina and speed. Modern firehouses are temples to efficiency and order. They are not quaint.

Except maybe a little.

This fire truck doesn't go anywhere on its own anymore.

McMinnville’s fire station on First Street is a gleaming modern structure, barely more than 20 years old, but it houses an exhibit detailing the fire department’s 137 year history.

The candy apple red centerpiece of the exhibit is the city’s second fire engine. It looks just like you want it to look: Shiny, red, with hoses and ladders and a row of fire hats lining one side. It’s still drivable, too, but has lately been spared any slogs on the roads. “Now, if they take it somewhere, they take it on a flatbed,” Donna Mehlhoff told me. Donna has been the office manager at the fire department “forever. About 13 years,” she said.

“Santa Claus used to ride in it,” she told me about the old engine, which has been a fixture in local parades for decades.

“When my son got married, the chief picked him up in it and drove him to the reception,” she told me. Beats a limo.

This fire hat is made of leather.

The firehouse’s exhibit is fun for kids. It was, um, fun for me, too. But kids are the target audience. School groups regularly tour the station. Parents bring their children in for entertainment and education. Also, the station is a fun, safe and low-stress way for a youngster to see a firefighter suited up and ready for action. Parents “like to get them used to seeing them in their uniforms so they won’t be scared of them,” Donna said. A trip to the firehouse thus is not just a perfect rainy day excursion, it’s part of a complete fire-safety plan for families.

Coats like these line a couple of hallways in the firehouse.

If you take a tour, you might get to meet Rich Leipfert, the fire chief, or get a tour from Lt. Dale Mount, like I did.

Dale is the one who burst my bubble and told me firefighters don’t generally rescue kittens or keep Dalmatians on staff. Instead, he showed me the two bays, the variety of trucks and ambulances and patiently explained which trucks go out on which calls and in what combination. For example, did you know that firefighters bring a truck called a water tender with them to put out fires in rural areas? The water tender is basically a giant fire hydrant on wheels. Or, did you know that firefighters will sometimes use a foam that lowers the surface tension of water, making it possible to smother a fire and help prevent re-ignition?

I didn’t see a Dalmatian, but I wasn’t disappointed by my tour, for sure. Instead, Dale showed me the firehouse pole, still in regular use. The firehouse ceilings are high and there are a lot of stairs. Zipping down the pole gets firefighters on the scene precious seconds faster.

Poles aren't generally incorporated into newer firehouses, but McMinnville's firefighters still use this one.

In fact, Dale showed me a few other time-saving systems in place. Firefighters will keep their gear on or near the fire engine so that they can jump in and get moving in moments. What looks like an unorthodox laundry pile is actually a pair of pants, called turnouts, with boots peeking through the leg holes. The coats are in the cab.

A firefighter's turnouts, with boots poking through, are ready to be leapt into.

Firefighters must be able to don their air masks in 60 seconds. “Some guys can do it in 30,” Dale said. Yes, they’ve been known to race. “We’re all competitive.”

As much as I am charmed by the old-timey cuteness of some of the fire equipment on display, all of this efficiency and science is hardly new. One of the mysterious gizmos in the lobby exhibit is probably a tool for introducing soap into a fire hose, Dale told me.

Lt. Dale Mount thinks this may have been a tool for introducing soap into water to help smother fires.

Dale isn’t entirely sure how old the old fire engine in the lobby is. McMinnville’s fire department has had a long history — it was founded in 1874.

The old fire engine on display in the McMinnville Fire Department can be started with a crank.

But he does know how to operate it. He’s turned the crank in the front to start its motor. And maybe, if you ask nice, he’ll show you how to work the siren.

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Burgers, ice cream and monkey

Tourist trap implies something less than awesome. This is not a trap! It’s Americana. Alf’s Ice Cream and Burgers in McMinnville is a tourist draw for sure, but it delivers on its promise.

Its promise is, specifically, burgers, ice cream and monkey.

Only two of these items are on the menu, thank heavens.

I dropped in for lunch a few days ago. What’s good? I asked Stephanie behind the counter.

She ran through the options, telling me which burgers were most popular. She had me at western bacon cheeseburger — that means it comes topped with an onion ring and barbecue sauce — with a small order of fries and a small diet Pepsi. Yes, I said diet. What of it?

This is a western burger with fries and a diet Pepsi. It's bigger than it looks in the picture.

Alf’s has a Pepsi fountain, but a Coke fan can buy by the bottle.

It was a delicious burger. It was big, too — the kind of meal that presents a challenge. Definitely worth its $6.58 price tag. Alf’s has a half-pound burger on the menu. That sucker must look like Everest sitting on a table in front of you.

If you’re a teenage boy, training for a marathon or planning to only eat one meal all day or something, add a scoop of ice cream for dessert. I am none of the above, but in the interest of serving you, dear readers, I had a scoop of homemade hazelnut ice cream for $2.49. Additional scoops are $1.99 each. Trust me, you’ll only need one.

“My scoops are very big,” Stephanie told me. She wasn’t kidding.

That is a LOT of homemade hazelnut ice cream. Very tasty, dense, creamy and not too sweet.

Yes, Alf’s has a monkey. Not on the menu, silly. He’s a wee little capuchin monkey called Elvis. He lives in big room with a window facing the street and a window facing the dining room. He spends his days playing with toys, snuggling up in a blanket and offering friendly waves to curious children who stop by to ogle him.

Elvis the monkey enjoys a snack in his annex of Alf's in McMinnville.

Elvis is interesting, to be sure, but he’s just the garnish in this cocktail of quirk. The burgers are tasty and the homemade ice cream is downright impressive. There’s a 1950s diner vibe. The décor isn’t precious and canned, with a chain restaurant’s kitschy vibe. There’s just a lot of cool stuff lining the walls and counters and blanketing the little yard around the building. Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” was playing on the radio while I was waiting for my lunch. No kidding.

This monkey, one of dozens, possibly hundreds, at Alf's, sits on the counter near the cash register.

Check it out. Soak up the ambience. Make a special trip — you won’t be the only one. Stephanie told me that people come to Alf’s from all over. Surely business got a boost from being featured in Roadside America.

A lot of those visitors are regulars. Stephanie says besides hungry locals and travelers on their way to or from the coast, there’s a guy who drives in weekly from Wilsonville just for the ice cream. Regular customers who have left the area always come back for a visit.

Elvis has a birthday coming up. On Valentine’s Day he will be 11. Stop by sometime soon and offer your best wishes. Stay for dinner.

Posted in Food, Living here, Spend the day here | 3 Comments