Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shanghai Surprise with Flat Stanley

Dear TLC,

Saturday Critter and I took Flat Stanley to downtown Portland for lunch and to see some of the sights. We took him to Fong Chong’s restaurant in Chinatown for dim sum. Flat Stanley watched in fascination as the wait staff rolled little carts of food around the restaurant. Each cart contained two or three food items, in little plates or steamer bowls, and the visitor gets to choose what they’d like to eat from the cart. “Shrimp roll? Shrimp dumpling?” You take what you want and wait for the next cart to roll through.

“What’s it mean, dim sum?” asked Flat Stanley. I learned later that it means, literally, “touch the heart”; in essence, “order to your heart’s content.”

Critter and I sampled several things and most of lunch conversation went like this:

Me: What’s that pink thing with the peas in it?
Critter: I don’t know. But it’s really good.
Me: What’s in it?
Critter: Peas…?
Flat Stanley: I think it’s a shrimp ball…

Chinatown is located next to Portland’s Old Town shopping district so many visitors make a day of it, sampling really good food and then continuing to the open air market by the river. A new Chinese Garden is now open and there are lots of little art galleries close by.

For a taste of really old Chinatown and Old Town, visitors can go on tours of the Shanghai Tunnels, located beneath the city. These tunnels were built in the 1800’s to move goods from the ships docked in the river to basements of warehouses and such in the city. But they were also used to kidnap unsuspecting sailors and workmen and sell them into slavery across the ocean. Many of the old bars had trapdoors built in to capture a person and hold them for the next shipment out. Don’t worry—no one uses the tunnels anymore—it’s simply a tourist attraction now.

After lunch, we walked around Chinatown and then went to Powells, the City of Books. This bookstore is a favorite and fills an entire city block. I especially like the Gold Room which has a large section devoted to science fiction and fantasy. Authors from all over come to this Portland bookstore to sign books. And parts of the building…

Next we visited Mill Ends Park, the world’s smallest park. “You’ll like this one especially, Stanley. It’s just your size.” This park was created on St. Patrick’s Day over fifty years ago for a colony of leprechauns. It is reported that snail races have occurred here, too.

Our last stop was a visit to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). OMSI used to be located up on the Washington Park hill across from the Zoo but in the 1990’s it moved to a new site by the river. The site was donated by Portland General Electric and one wing of the museum is built in an old steam turbine building. The museum has a planetarium, an OMNIMAX theater, and the USS Blueback submarine.

By late afternoon we were home again. And just in time to eat dim sum leftovers!

Take care and lots of hugs!


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Two Hours With Stanley

(For more letters with Flat Stanley, click the archives on the left)

Dear TLC,

Today feels like a Monday to me. I slowly made my way out of bed, only half-listening to the radio show on my alarm clock. There was a slight, almost feather-like, knocking at the door, low but insistent. Funny, I thought, the cats don't normally knock. I swung the door open and there stood Stanley.

"It was really cold last night," he said.

"Yep." I yawned.

"Do you think it snowed?"

I focused on his words. And then on the radio DJ's words. "...Beaverton, two hours late... Canby, two hours late... Estacada, two hours late..." Finally, the DJ mentioned our hometown and I grinned at Stanley. "You bet it did, Stanley! Let's go look!"

We bundled up and stepped carefully outside. The DJ had reported that only some snow had fallen in the night but it had stuck and frozen. We had black ice on the roads. "I could go skating," said Stanley!

I pointed out that it might be a bit too icy for that. "I could scrape the ice off the roads. This would work!"

"I think our little Princess neighbor would miss that if you borrowed it, Stanley. How about you just BBQ up some breakfast for us?"

Stanley wasn't sure how to BBQ eggs so we settled for cereal and waited for the ice to clear up.

I hope you've had at least one good snow day, TLC!


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Earthquakes, Tsunamis, And Volcanoes, Oh My!

(Continued from Part 1…)

After we parked, Flat Stanley stood in awe outside the car. “Those trees are massive,” he said.

“They’re sequoia trees. The Sisters planted them about a hundred years ago. They had to hand-water them in order to keep them alive the first year. This was long before we had sprinkler systems and such. The trees on this campus are so impressive, that they are under the protection of the city—they can’t be cut down unless the Sisters get special permission. Not that they’d want to.”

Flat Stanley and I brought the donuts upstairs and we all devoured the tasty treats from Beaverton Bakery. My two coworkers looked a bit like this when we done. It gave us a few minutes to chat while their blood sugar levels evened out. Flat Stanley asked what it is that we do here.

I explained that the Information Technology (or “I.T.”) Department handles all of the computer and tech needs of our campus. From printers to computers to e-mail and Internet, it all passes through our department at some point.

“We’re a bit unusual, though, working for a religious organization. The Sisters who live here oversee a bunch of different ministries. We’ve got a daycare center, a nursing home, and schools that cover grades K-12. You could literally enter the school system as an infant at the daycare and graduate from the high school at 18.”

My boss added, “And that doesn’t even begin to cover it all. We make sure that the people who support the schools—like the accounting offices or the maintenance staff—have the software and computer equipment they need to do their jobs. We’ve got a security system that runs off of computers, security cameras that we oversee, websites that we host for each entity…”

“So how does it pass through your office?” Flat Stanley asked.

I showed him our server closet just behind a glass door. All of the computers, I explained talk to equipment in this little space. All of the rooms in the high school have a computer drop—a hole in the wall where you plug in a computer—and it connects up in our little cabling rack. We then patch each computer into all of the servers—really, really big computers that manage the Internet or websites or e-mail or nursing home data—and let them talk to each other. “It’s a bit like Ernestine patching in telephone callers,” I explained.

Flat Stanley helped us change out a motherboard on a computer and asked us more questions about the area. “You’re in the heart of the Silicon Forest,” I explained to Flat Stanley. “Maybe you’ve heard of Silicon Valley in California? That’s where all the high tech companies have offices. Well, the same is true here. We’ve got Intel, Tektronix, Xerox, and many others right in our back yard, so to speak.”

“Intel… They are the ones that make computer chips?” Flat Stanley asked.

“Yep. And don’t forget that Google has offices in the Columbia Gorge!” added my coworker.

If it were summer, I explained, there’d be even more going on. Washington County has lots of golf courses, a hot air balloon festival and the Rose Festival air show. If you traveled a bit south of here you’d get to see all the wineries. The wines made there are direct competitors with California’s Napa Valley wineries.”

“Any that you like?” he asked.

“Well, CrafterKat and I don’t drink much wine but some of the famous wineries are Sokol Blosser, Erath Vineyards, Duck Pond, Ponzi Vineyards, and Rex Hill Vineyards. Right after I graduated college I worked for a winery association—those places kept getting awards. There are two I like, though, just because they are unusual: Honeywood Winery in Salem makes mead, a wine made out of honey. Mead is a beverage that the ancient vikings drank. The other one I like is Argyle Winery; it is run by a (Australian??) man who makes champagne. Except they can’t call it that because champagne is only made in the Champagne region in France. If some place else makes a bubbly wine, you’ve got to call it sparkling wine.”

Flat Stanley made some notes. “I hope you aren’t planning on bringing TLC back some wine, Stanley…” I frowned.

He shook his head. “No, of course not! I was writing down the part about the hot air balloon show before I forget!”

“Well,” I continued, “how about I show you a bit of France?” He gave me a puzzled look. I took him across the hall to the French teacher’s classroom. Flat Stanely smiled wide at all the pictures and props she uses to teach the language.

When lunchtime came, we treated our college intern and Flat Stanley to lunch at Red Robin. Storm clouds were blowing in as we parked. “I hope it doesn’t rain some more,” mumbled Flat Stanley.

At that moment the National Weather Service interrupted the radio station and announced that they had issued a tornado warning for the area close to Vancouver, Washington! “Is that close to us?” asked Flat Stanley worriedly.

We told him that it wasn’t, it’s on the other side of the Columbia River, about an hour away. Oregon can get thunderstorms quite often but tornadoes are really, really rare. “Do you get anything else? Earthquakes?”

Oregon gets a little of everything, I explained. Wild fires are really common in the high summer when the prairies and forest get really dry. Earthquakes happen from time to time because of the tectonic movements up in the Cascade Mountains or off the Oregon coast. We even had a tsunami once, a giant tidal wave that thundered the coast back in the 1960’s after a huge earthquake in Alaska. Since then, the towns along the coast have had tsunami warning signs posted and schools routinely have tsunami evacuation drills. We even have a program at Oregon State University to study tsunamis—they have a huge wave lab.

“And then there’s the volcano,” my coworker said.

I nodded. “Mt. St. Helens, up in Washington state, has been erupting off and on for over twenty years. No lava in all that time but lots and lots of ash and steam. Portland was covered in ash and the state had to call for federal help to cleanup the mess.”

At that time, I lived in Eugene, two hours from Portland, and we heard the mountain blow. It sounded like a power pole transformer had blown up and the windows shook a bit. Later that day, we had a fine layer of ash across the cars and rooftops of our neighborhood. TLC, your grandpa in Klamath Falls used to live up in Yakima, Washington during that time, and worked for the Bureau of Reclamation. When the mountain blew, he had to drive up and make sure that the dam there was still intact. Ask him about it sometime—it’s a good story.

Flat Stanley continued to look worried as we ate lunch. “I’m sure everything will be fine. We’re very far from the tornado warning area, earthquakes are few and far between, the volcano is hours away and we’re too far inland to get hit by a tsunami. We’ll be fine and those people in southern Washington will be fine, too.”

We finished up lunch and then took a short drive to a big business park near the campus where I work. Flat Stanley looked around and noticed the soccer field out front. “Do they play sports here?”

“Sometimes. This is the world headquarters for Nike, the sport shoe company. They’ve got a soccer field, a running track, running trails… They just opened a Tiger Woods Athletic Center in there, too.”
Nike, I explained, started with two men at the University of Oregon down in Eugene. Phil Knight was a business major and he came up with the idea of selling sports shoes out of the back of his car. The track coach, Bill Bowerman, worked with Phil and came up with the waffle-weave rubber sole by pouring rubber into his wife’s waffle iron. The Nike swoosh is supposed to represent the wing of the Greek god, Nike, who was the goddess of victory. The Nike swoosh is known the world over—and the two Nike guys who started the business paid only $35 for the logo.

We drove around the campus some more, noticing the 19.5 mph road signs and the sculpture of a runner before returning to work.

I then took Flat Stanley to meet some of the people with whom I work. First I took him to visit our Admissions Director, just in case Flat Stanley was interested in coming to school here. Since this is a private school, the students have to apply to attend. Mrs. Claudia, though, is a bit of a sports legend. She won an Olympic medal in swimming when she was just fourteen. Four years later, she won a gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and set a world record.

We then swung by the music room to visit Mr. S., the jazz band teacher. Mr. S. is a rocker! He’s played with the Crazy 8’s and was just inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame with his fellow band members. You may never have heard of the Crazy 8’s but your Dad might have. Mr. S. once told me, after I had colored my hair red (it gets rid of the grey!) that I'd make a great singer for his band. I explained that I couldn't sing at all. “That's okay. You've got the hair for it, though!”

Since Flat Stanley had so much fun there, I next took him to visit one of the sweetest Sisters at the Convent, Sister J.T. Sister is the only person I know who plays the harp and gives lessons.

After a long day, we headed home, and I promised Flat Stanley that Critter and I would take him into Portland over the weekend.
Much love to you and your family, TLC.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Driving Around With Flat Stanley

To read about Flat Stanley's arrival, click here.

Dear TLC,

I woke Flat Stanley up at 6 a.m. today so that we could go to my work together. He rubbed his eyes blearily. “I’ve still got a bit of jet lag,” he apologized. “Why do you have to leave so early? Don’t you start work at 8 a.m.?”

“Yes, but it takes me an hour to drive to there from here. So I need to leave at 7 a.m.” I then noticed that he had slept in his suit and tie all night. The hazards of not having a suitcase, I guess. But his clothes looked fine (pressed even!) and we made it out the door on time.

Flat Stanley watched the rain whip around the trees during our drive to Beaverton, Portland’s largest suburb. “Does it always rain this much in Oregon?”

I laughed and explained that it was a common perception and it seems very true in the fall and winter. And spring. We get lots of cloudy, grey days and lots of showers pass through the area. But we really do get some beautiful sunny days and even occasionally snow (though it doesn’t look like that will happen this year). “Would you like to hear an Oregon joke?” He nodded. “People in Oregon don’t tan in the summer. They rust.”

Flat Stanley groaned. “Alright, never mind the rain. Tell me about Portland.” I asked him what he knew of the city and the area. He thought a moment. “Well, I know that the area was explored by Lewis and Clark and pioneers came out in covered wagons to settle the place.”

I nodded and motioned to the town on the other side of the river, “That’s Oregon City across the way and it has the home of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center. It’s got covered wagons and shows people how the settlers came here. And up that hill there, past the outdoor elevator—”


I nodded. “It’s the only outdoor city elevator in the U.S., I think. Because the city is built on two layers—at the river’s edge and up on that cliff—the people living there needed a way to get from top to bottom easily. The original water-powered elevator was built in 1915 and it connected the two levels of the city. That one, though, is electric powered and was put in place in the 1950’s.”

I motioned to the top of the hill. “And up past that is the home of Dr. John McLaughlin, the man who ran the Fort Vancouver fur outpost for the Hudson Bay Company. Dr. McLaughlin is called the Father of Oregon for his important role setting up the area for settlers.” I chuckled then and continued. "And it's rumored that his home is haunted by McLaughlin's ghost!"

We merged onto I-5 and headed north to Portland, also known as the Rose City. There are about two million people living in and around the city, I explained. We’ve got museums, lots of parks, two major universities (PSU and U of P), a zoo and people who love the outdoors. Portlanders are close to the mountains—skiing and snowboarding are just a few hours away atop Mt. Hood. Travel east to the Columbia Gorge for fabulous windsurfing and parasailing. We even have Zoobombers!


I chuckled. “The Oregon Zoo is at the top of a hill in Washington Park. Cyclists will take their bike on the MAX train to the Zoo stop at the top of the hill and then race down rapidly. Usually at night. And sometimes in funny costumes. And if you don’t have a bike, there is usually one to spare. Zoobombers maintain a Zoobomb pile.” Flat Stanley said it sounded like fun but a bit dangerous, especially since he didn’t bring a bike helmet with him. I agreed.

“Tell me about the Zoo at the top of the hill. Do you have pandas? I like pandas.”

“No, but we do have pachyderms. In fact, we’ve got Packy.”

Flat Stanley wrinkled his nose. “What’s Packy?” Elephant, I explained. Packy was the first elephant to be born in a zoo, in captivity, in the Western Hemisphere. He made international news in 1962 and his birthday is routinely celebrated each year. He gets a special birthday cake frosted with apples, celery and carrots. Packy is the largest Asian elephant in the United States.

Portlanders love their elephants and we get pretty sad when something happens to one of them. Pet, the elephant matriarch (she's the Elephant Queen at the Zoo) just died recently (she was having surgery on her foot and the doctors couldn’t save her); all the elephants trumpeted their despair at the exact moment of her passing, even though she was in a completely different part of the park. It was quite sad and quite touching. But even with this sadness, the Oregon Zoo has the top elephant breeding program in the United States. Twenty-seven elephants have been born here, seven of them are Packy’s calves. When I last visited the zoo, they had a new elephant from Thailand and the trainers all had to learn a bit of Thai in order to train the elephant. After all, the elephant doesn’t understand English… There are videos of our elephants on the Oregon Zoo's website here.

We pulled off the freeway at this point and I continued to downtown Beaverton. As a special treat, I took Flat Stanley to Beaverton Bakery for donuts. We have a college student who is interning with us over his Christmas Break and I wanted to bring in something special for his last day with us; we're sad that he won't be returning next summer. Flat Stanley, I discovered when we got to work, loves maple bars as much as I do.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Delurker Day, 2008

Believe it or not, the Blogosphere actually has a few holidays. Today is one. It's Delurker Day which means it is time to introduce yourselves! If you've stopped by our blog and read an entry or two, please drop us a line. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Vermont Visitor

A note to PigDog's daughter, TLC, in Vermont...

Dear TLC,

Hope your New Year is going well in cold Vermont! I wanted to drop a quick note and let you know that we had a surprise visitor last night—Flat Stanley finally arrived. I admit, I was beginning to worry… I wasn’t sure when I’d have to head off to the airport to pick him up. Imagine my surprise when he showed up, curled up in our mailbox! Apparently his flight got in a little early and he hopped a ride with a postal worker who was heading out to Clackamas County. “The only rule,” he told me, “is that I have to ride in a white envelope.”

I didn’t have time to make up the guest bed so he slept on the couch by the fireplace. “It wasn’t too bad,” he said the next morning. “Every time I got up to take a look outside, one of the cats would come by and ask for a scritch or kitty treat.” He then looked a bit pale and added, “I hope they didn’t think I was the treat!”

I am planning on taking F. Stanley, Esq. to work with me today as Critter has some things she has to do at school today. She just finished a big paper on Beverly Cleary, an author who was born in McMinnville, Oregon. Maybe you have read a book or two of hers? She wrote the Ramona books and a lot of her stories take place in neighborhoods filled with Oregon references like Tillamook Street and NE Sandy Blvd. Grant Park, mentioned in her books, actually exists and has a sculpture garden for children with life-size renditions of Ramona “the Pest” Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy the Dog.

It’s been rather cold and rainy here—I’m a little concerned that Stanley didn’t arrive with a suitcase. Our weather people have predicted snow off and on the last few days but we never seem to see it. We love seeing snow here—it’s so rare that it sticks. In fact, we Oregonians (at least the ones who live in the Willamette Valley) will often shut down school for the day because the roads get bad and the buses have trouble. When we get snow, we get ice. And that means lots of sliding around. Here's a famous video from a snow storm just one year ago.

Critter and I will probably take Flat Stanley shopping over the weekend and show him a bit of the town. Perhaps we can get him some gloves and warm hat in case it decides to snow (I'm not holding my breath though. Sigh.).

I hope all is well with you. Please give your parents a big hug and tell them we said hello. I'll be sure to send more pictures in the coming days!

Lots of love,