Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Craft Beer in Eugene's Fermentation District

Enjoy dinner and a couple of craft beers in Eugene's “Fermentation” district.

My oh My how things have changed.

As a kid growing up in Eugene in the 1960's, I recall this area of town as the cities problem child.

Up until recently it was known only as the Whiteaker area. Eugene's oldest community is located at the East end of what used to be a major West coast railroad switching yard. The neighborhood was considered by many as the wrong side of the tracks. Homeless men wondered the streets as they made their way to the nearby Eugene Mission. The housing in this eclectic area consisted of small inexpensive homes and low rent apartments.

I had every reason to steer clear of the area, but my friends and I ventured down there anyhow.

This was where the freight trains were slow moving as they came out of the switching yard. They were easy and fun to hop and ride a few blocks into town before they got up to speed.

This was also a time when the Whiteaker area was on the cities back burner. It remained there for years.

Fast forward to 2018.

I still venture down to the Whiteaker area. The switching yard is no longer in use. No biggie, I gave up hopping trains years ago. Now I'm here for a whole different reason. The night life and craft beer.

Over the past few years, the Whiteaker area has been going through a transformation of sorts. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's being “Gentrified” like some of the less affluent areas of Portland. Here you can still find that eclectic neighborhood of my youth. There's no set agenda to change the look or the income level of the area through gentrification.

Even so, change is happening, but it's on a more organic level; and it's all highly positive.

Here's a sample of what you can find.

It started several years ago with a local small batch brewery called Ninkasi. Good beer and good marketing pushed it to the forefront of Eugene's craft beer industry. They invested in the Whiteaker area by building a brand new state of the art brewing facility complete with tasting room and outdoor seating.

The new Whiteaker area tasting room quickly became a popular hangout by post college types.  

Ninkasi Brewing Company tasting room

Hop Valley Brewing Company and tasting room / restaurant

This was only the beginning.

Two other breweries, Hop Valley and Oakshire saw the area's potential and followed Ninkasi's lead. Hop Valley built a new facility and restaurant just across the tracks from Ninkasi. Oakshire's brewing facility is just outside of the neighborhood, but they did open a nice public house in the fermentation district.

As more people hear about the good things happening in the Whiteaker area, the breweries and the public house have grown into popular hangouts.

In the middle of the district sits two taverns. An older tavern once called Tiny's and another called Sam Bond's Garage, which incidently just started producing it's own line of craft beer. Tiny's is a neighborhood fixture that wasn't aging well. New owners have upgraded the building (and changed the name) to take advantage of the areas growing popularity.  

Sam Bond's Garage

A whiskey bar and a couple of wine bars are now open.  

Izakaya Meiji Company whiskey bar

Eugene Wine Cellars

Territorial Vineyards and Wine Company

Several eateries, a couple of coffee shops and a pinball arcade complete with bar have moved in.  

Vanilla Jill's frozen yogurt and Equiano Coffee Company

Wandering Goat Coffee Company

Blair Ally Vintage Pinball Arcade and bar

Two new distilleries with tasting rooms have moved into the neighborhood as well.

Together they offer some welcome diversity to the area.  

Heritage Distilling Company

Thinking Tree Spirits

The area is going through a transformation. New businesses, new jobs and a new vitality are overtaking Eugene's oldest neighborhood. It's a good thing.

Recently the area has been branded as Eugene's “Fermentation” district. The Whiteaker neighborhood is now referred to as the “Wit”. Short for Whiteaker. The two new labels are a marketing effort to raise the areas profile. It's also a move to change the negative perception of the neighborhood held by some longtime Eugene residents.

The area's current businesses are thriving. New businesses clamor to find a piece of real estate big enough to hang a shingle as the evening crowd continues to grow. These days Friday and Saturday nights are usually a bee hive of activity.

On the down side, heavy traffic and a lack of close parking spaces can cause patrons to park in the more residential areas.

Some homeowners have recently voiced safety concerns with the added vehicle and foot traffic in front of their homes.

As the area grows and improves, the old beliefs of the past will fade away. New issues and concerns connected to the areas growth, (such as traffic), will surely arise, but they will be resolved as Eugene's fermentation district continues to thrive.

Haven't been to the Wit yet? Make a date for dinner and a couple of beers. You'll enjoy the experience.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Oregon's Lavender Industry is Taking Root

A lighter shade of purple was the color of the day at this years Willamette Valley Lavender Festival.

It's a three day celebration filled with fun, food, music and of course all things lavender. The festival accomplishes several things. It expands awareness of the industry. It's an outlet for showcasing many of the products made by the areas growers and it draws potential customers to their farms.

Willamette Valley Lavender Festival in Newberg, Oregon / Scott Gese
The festival takes place in Newberg, Oregon on the second weekend in July. This is also when most lavender plants in the Willamette Valley are at their peak and ready to harvest. I guess you could consider it a harvest festival of sorts.

Lavender Wands at the Willamette Valley Lavender Festival / Scott Gese

Have you ever been to a lavender farm?

If you'd like to visit an actual working lavender farm, this is the weekend for you. There are a half dozen growers located within a few miles of the festival site. They've banded together to promote a self guided auto tour of their farms. You can get a guide map at the festival if you're interested in making a day of it. Be sure to have your camera handy. There are some incredible pictures to be had as you stroll among the rows of fragrant plants.

U-Picking Lavender in the Willamette Valley / Scott Gese

Small Farms Sprout a Cottage Industry

If you take the tour, what you'll find is that most lavender farms are not as big as you might think. An acre or two is an average size. Very few are more than several acres. For many growers, their farm is a big part of their livelihood. To meet expenses requires one to be creative. You have to do more than just grow plants for u-pickers. Many of the growers produce their own line of hand made lavender based products. The temptation to pick up a bar of fragrant soap or bottle of hand lotion at the register can be overwhelming. Some of the handmade items for purchase might include...
  • Soaps and lotions
  • essential oils and hydrosols
  • lavender honey (from their own bees)
  • jams and jellies
  • teas
  • vinegar
  • baked goods

An assortment of crafts such as lavender wands, pillows and air fresheners are also on hand.

If you're not too keen on rubbing elbows with bees in the field, you can buy bunches of fresh picked or sun dried lavender on the stem. It's also available off the stem by the bagful to use for your own craft ideas.

The Oregon Lavender Industry is Growing

There are more than a dozen lavender farms in the Northern Willamette Valley. Not too many years ago you would have been hard pressed to find half that many. As the popularity of herbal and aroma therapy increases, the lavender plant has become one of the standouts. It's the diversity of this plant that makes it so popular. It has both culinary and medicinal uses. It runs the gamut from fresh cut blooms to oils and hydrosols. The beauty and unmistakable fragrance lends itself to a range of craft and artistic uses as well. Lavender is a very versatile herb whose popularity is growing. The number of farms and acres planted are expanding with each coming year.

Willamette Valley Lavender Field / Scott Gese

Why the Willamette Valley?

The best way to answer this question is by comparison and here's why.
Lavender is following in the footsteps of the very successful Oregon wine industry.

For years France had a lock on what is perceived to be fine wine. California wines crashed that party. But it didn't stop there. Once the bar was set in California, wine grape growers discovered what a few early Oregon growers already knew. There was fertile ground in the Willamette valley.
The word spread and soon Willamette Valley wines were taking home major awards. Vineyards began to expand in both size and number. These days Oregon wines from the Willamette valley are rivaling many California and French wines.  

Willamette Valley Wine Vineyard / Wikimedia

The Oregon lavender industry is on the same track.

It all has to do with Oregon's year round moderate climate and the fertile Willamette Valley soil.

As with wine grapes, the word is beginning to get out about lavender. It grows extremely well in the Willamette Valley. So well in fact, some varieties don't even need to be watered during the growing season. The lavender plant has a reputation for being drought tolerant. That bodes well for growers. Oregon's winter rains is all they need.

Will the Willamette Valley rival the commercial lavender farms in the Provence of France? Judging from past experience, such growth is certainly possible. It's only a matter of time before the first commercial fields show up. From there, step back and smell the lavender.

Lavender Field in the Provence of France / Wikimedia

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Grotto: Portland's Very Own Tranquility Bay

It's beautiful, it's peaceful and best of all it's just minutes from downtown Portland.

If you're like me, there are times when you have a crushing need to get away from the maddening crowd if only for a few hours. Maybe you search out that quiet, “special” place to sit and enjoy some meditative thinking time. Or possibly you find peace and tranquility with a meditative walk in an inspirational garden space. If this sounds like you ... there is this place I know of.

It's an internationally-renowned shrine and botanical garden called the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, or better known to those in the Portland area as “The Grotto”. It was developed by the Catholic church but the grounds are open to everyone.

The space is a culmination of 62 acres of meticulously manicured gardens and pathways. The upkeep is an ongoing ministry courtesy of a group of Franciscan Brothers called Sevite Friars who live in a Friary on the grounds.

The shrine is built around the Catholic Churches strong views concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus. At its center, carved into the base of a 100 foot cliff, is this amazing shallow cave. It's known as Our Lady's Grotto where a life-size replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta is on display. Even if you don't subscribe to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, this one feature in itself is well worth seeing.

It's as close to the original as some of us may ever get.

A life-size replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta 

The Grotto is literally divided into two levels. There's the lower, commercial plaza level and the upper, garden level.

The Pieta is on the plaza level displayed behind an alter where outdoor masses are held. This level also holds a large chapel for indoor masses, called the Chapel of Mary. A walking trail called the Stations of the Cross surrounds the area. The trail showcases many native northwest plants that can be enjoyed while listening to the quiet whisperings of Gregorian Chant as it echo's through the trees.
The visitors complex which includes a gift shop and conference center can be found on this level as well. There's no fee to wander the grounds.

The upper level, which is located 110 feet above the plaza area, is where you will leave behind the “busyness” of the city and the commercial interests of the Grotto.

With no paths leading to this “heavenly” sanctuary, you'll need to take the elevator. Tickets can be purchased at the site's welcome center. The charge is according to age and will cost only a few dollars at the most.

Stepping through the elevator doors onto the upper level will reveal an eye catching view of one of the largest green spaces and best kept secrets in Portland.

The inspiring landscape of well maintained winding pathways work their way through a canopy of mature trees and manicured botanical gardens. Numerous small chapels and religious artwork are laced along the trail for you to discover.

There are many quiet places along the path. No need to look for them, they will seek you out. The chapels are open and invite you to spend precious moments in reflection and meditation.

Chapel of St. Anne

Majestic panoramic views of the Columbia River Valley and Mount St. Helens can be glimpsed in several locations and are well worth the trip to the top.
The Grotto is a peaceful retreat for those in need of a bit of quiet solitude. Over 300,000 people of many faiths take advantage of this special place each year.
The Grotto is open during the Christmas season. It's a special time that reveals another facet of this precious space. A spectacular display of a multitude of shimmering lights will be sure to put you in the Holiday mood.

You can find out more by going here: The Grotto

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Brownsville: My New Home Town

Five years ago my wife and I moved away from Eugene, a Mid-size city/college town at the South end of the Willamette Valley. We had lived there for close to fifty years, but knew we didn't want to retire there. We moved about 35 miles up the road toward Portland to a quaint little town called Brownsville. (pop. 1630) It's one of Oregon's oldest pioneer communities. We were still working at the time, so we commuted from here to Eugene until we retired.

Most people have heard of Brownsville. Maybe even been there a couple of times. When I tell someone who knows of it that I live there. Their reaction is almost always the same. Their eyes light up and a wide smile crosses their face. It seems their whole demeanor changes.
It's as if someone had offered them a whole box of glazed jelly donuts. And almost without question, the first words out of their mouth are, “Really, I've been to Brownsville. I love Brownsville. That's the coolest little town.”

I couldn't agree more.

Welcome to Brownsville, Oregon

Today I'm on an early morning walk. It's the start of another beautiful Summer day. I find myself at the south end of town and as I turn North onto Main street I can see it. Off in the distance, at the far end of the road is the town's original hardware store. It's in the “old town” section of town. The building sits perfectly framed under the steel girders of a faded green truss bridge that spans across the slow rolling Calapooia river. Like a patriarch from the past, it greets everyone who turns north off the highway onto Main street. “Carlson's”. The stores' name is emblazoned across the front of the freshly painted covered boardwalk.

Bridge over the Calapooia. Carlson's straight ahead

It's impossible not to take notice of the old wood and brick framed structure. It comes complete with a couple of hitching posts out front for that subtle hint of authenticity and a reminder that at the time this structure was first built, horses still ruled. I'm impressed at the foresight the original owner must have had. This is a prime real estate location if I ever did see one.  

It may be a simple hardware store, but don't let that stop you from taking a venture inside. As soon as you step through the door you'll get a sense of the towns rich history. The musty smell and easy feel of the old wood floor is unmistakable. The many years of constant use play upon the cracks of the original oiled boards. With each squeak and creak beneath your feet, you'll be hearing the same tune these old growth fir boards have played for over a hundred years. I love it. Maybe you will too.

Carlson's Hardware Store

I'm a regular at the hardware store, but it's only one of many commercial buildings that line Main Street. Several others go way back to the towns early years including the historic Brownsville saloon. Some of the greats of country music used to frequent the saloon in years gone by. It's rumored that actor, Sam Elliott , who makes his home just outside of Brownsville, stops by to tip back a cold one from time to time.  

The Brownsville Saloon

The town also boasts many older historic homes. Some of these grand old manors date back as far as the late 1800's.

The impressive Moyer house is one of them. Its elegant grandeur will catch your eye. What a fine example of an Italianate Villa style home. Built in 1881 by John and Elizabeth Moyer, the house has been completely restored to its original design. It now serves as the town's unofficial ambassador as it beckons passers by to stop and take a closer look. The property is associated with the towns museum and is open for tours.

The Moyer House In Oldtown Brownsville

Brownsville is an easy town to fall in love with. There's a rich history here. A history complete with a gracious and caring community of people who still believe in going out of their way to help a neighbor in need.

For the few years I've been here, I can honestly say I like this town. For what it's worth, all of you “out-of-towners” who get that “glazed jelly donuts” look on your face when you find out I'm from Brownsville. I eat those donuts and yes, they're good.

Main Street in Brownsville, Oregon

Monday, July 2, 2018

What is it about Oregon?

Since Lewis and Clark first explored the Oregon Territory in 1805 there has been a fascination with this part of the country. Early settlers began to migrate this way in the 1830's establishing the beginnings of what would soon became known as the Oregon Trail. By the early 1840's the great migration to Oregon was in full swing.

120 years later, I made the great migration myself. It was 1965 and I was ten. My parents packed up the family and moved here from Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes (and 10 million mosquitoes). Three days with a loaded U-Haul. It was quick and easy. What a difference 120 years makes.

I spent my formative years growing up in the small town of Eugene. When I arrived, the population was a mere 64,000. That' was a far cry from St. Paul, the city I had left behind.

The Great Outdoors

For the past fifty plus years I've explored much of Oregon. From the rugged wind swept coast to the length of the fertile Willamette Valley. Across the high mountains to Central Oregon and on to the sage brush deserts of the Eastern side of the state.

I've hiked many of this states well-worn trails to see my share of magnificent waterfalls. I've fished and floated the mighty McKenzie river. Skied high mountain trails and climbed the amazing Sahara type sand dunes of the Central Oregon coast. Oregon is a virtual playground for outdoor enthusiasts.

Along the trail to Sahalie Falls in Central Oregon

Fishing boats in Newport along the Oregon coast

City Life

There are more opportunities for outdoor activities here than you can shake a good walking stick at, but let's not forget about the other Oregon. That would be its major cities and small towns. There's plenty to do here too.
Portland, the largest city in Oregon is nothing less than amazing. Eugene, a liberal college town has a vibe all its own. The central Oregon towns of Sisters and Bend are always fun to explore and only a day trip away. There are many small towns all across the state. Some have developed a reputation as “antique” towns filled with businesses that specialize in helping you take home a piece of Oregon history.


There are no natural disasters here to speak of. No hurricanes, tornadoes or major flooding. No active volcanoes or ground shaking earthquakes. We do have forest fires in the summer months, but they don't affect the major population centers as they tend to burn in remote areas. If the winds are right, smoke from these fires can make its way into the valley and tend to linger for a time. There's also the looming threat of a major earthquake. The experts say it's not an “if” but more of a “when”. Only time will tell when this event will happen. There will be no warning.

Major snow events don't usually happen west of the Cascade mountains. We have had them, but they're rare. We mostly have rain on this side of the mountains. The rainy season can seem long. The standing joke is that Oregonians don't tan, they rust. A few more sunny days during the Winter season would be great. It hasn't happened in my lifetime so I'm not really expecting things to change any time soon.

Oregon Summers are pretty mild. A few days in the 90's are normal, but that's the extent of our hot spell. 70's and 80's are the norm for our three month Summer season.

What I plan to write about

My plan for this blog is to write about what it's like to live in Oregon. The good, the bad and the rainy. There's plenty of joy to be had here. The trick is to keep the right frame of mind, no matter what the day might bring.
I'll be the first to admit how difficult that can be at times. Especially when the mid-winter clouds and rain block out the sun for weeks at a time. As I get older it becomes more of a challenge. Writing year round on the things about Oregon that bring me joy will help keep those Oregon blues at bay.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Why I'm No Longer Chasing Rainbows

Scott Gese
Me a couple of years ago

Since this is my first post for “The Joy of Oregon”, I might as well start at the beginning. I'll elaborate on my “About Me” profile and why I've decided to write this blog.

Most people write blogs for one of two reasons. Either to gain recognition for themselves or their website, or to make money. Usually both.

In spite of what some people might say, the bottom line is that our ego either wants us or needs us to be recognized by others. What better way than to blog on a popular topic. You can become recognized by using social media to get thousands of people to follow you. Then, if your goal is to make a bunch of money, you can sell them a program or some other product. It's a dream that many chase but very few people succeed at.

Fame and fortune, it is the American dream, right? It's what we all need to make us happy... right?

I disagree and here's why.

I chased that dream most of my adult life and no matter how successful I was at catching it, it never made me happy. Now that I'm retired I've finally come to the realization that happiness is not about seeking (or finding) fame or fortune. True happiness isn't found on the outside. Searching for happiness through external means to make yourself internally happy is nothing more than an ego trip. You might reach what you think will make you happy only to realize you were wrong. Now the chase is on for the thing that will really make you happy, or so you think. It's a never ending cycle that will never make you happy.

Happiness isn't made, happiness is a state of mind.

What I've recently come to realize is that true happiness, the joy in life, isn't found through external means. It comes from the inside. It's living your life with purpose one day at a time. It's learning to enjoy the moment by focusing on the things you love and do best. If you focus on the things you like, do them for the sheer joy of it and do them well. The money, if that's important to you, will naturally follow.

Don't get caught up in the “I'm doing it for the money and then I'll be happy” trap. Don't put the money first. That's like chasing rainbows. It's an illusion.

For me, I'm no longer chasing rainbows.

Yes, I've been successful and I've made my share of money. I continue to run a popular niche website. I've had it for twelve years now. It's not a real money maker by any stretch of the imagination, even though that is why I started it.

Over the years the site has gone through many transitions and taught me many things, like the necessity of learning how to not only write, but to write well. Plus the importance of using my talents to help others succeed. I've also learned not to depend on outside forces, including other people to make me happy. It will never happen. It's like I said, happiness is a state of mind. My website is a self sustaining hobby site that allows me to help others achieve their goals. I'm happy with that.

My ability to write has taken me down several paths. Paths I would have never been able to travel without this ability. I once thought writing would make me rich. Not so. I don't pursue it hard enough. I do supplement my retirement income through writing, but these days I no longer need to look at it as anything more than a supplement. My full time working days are behind me. I now write for the sheer joy of it. It's no longer about making a bunch of money. It really never should have been.

With this blog I'm trying to resist all the standard ego traps.

  • I do accept comments, although I'm not looking for pats on the back (or sales leads). Constructive feedback by those who actually know what they are talking about would be good, If your comment can help me improve my writing or photography ability, I'd love to hear from you.
  • I am following SEO guidelines to a point, but I'm not concerning myself about where these posts end up in the search rankings.
  • I'm not focusing on keyword research before I write a post because again, I'm not concentrating on where they end up in the search rankings.
  • I'm not concerning myself with my numbers or my metrics because it's not about how this blog or my posts is “doing”. It's about how I'm doing and I don't need numbers to tell me that. What I need is good feedback.
  • I'm not promoting this blog on social media because I'm not actively looking for “likes” or followers ... because I'm not writing this blog for fame.
  • I will never monetize this blog because I'm not writing these posts to make money. I'm writing these posts to improve my skills. I'm writing for the sheer joy of being good at what I do.

It's not that I don't know how to do these things. I do have a very good understanding of SEO, keyword research and the use of social media. I use them extensively on my website and I'm fairly good at it. I'm writing this blog because I want to focus on improving my writing and photography skills with posts that aren't written around SEO rules and strategically placed key words.

I'm writing this blog for the joy of doing what I love to do without having to concern myself with writing for search engines.

I chose The Joy of Oregon as my topic because Oregon has been my back yard for over 50 years. I know it well. I enjoy writing about the people, places and things I've had the pleasure of coming across in this state and occasionally beyond the Oregon border. 

If you should happen to find this blog I do hope you enjoy it, you can follow me if you like. The option is there but truthfully, I'm not concerned about gaining followers.

I'm writing these posts to improve my skills, so when I do write for others, I'll have something worthwhile to offer.