Forever Girls – Notes from Red Door Cottage
by Debra Chappell
* This was written a week ago while I was in Cannon Beach, but wasn’t able to post until now for technical reasons. (read that: operator error.)
A friend of mine recently commented that she missed my blog. I was heartened and flattered she even still remembered it and admitted that I missed writing it too. I told her the last couple years had left me a bit uninspired – what with the nasty political climate and onset of Covid, it was hard to get motivated to write anything remotely perky much less entertaining. Swinging a hammer and sawing up ceramic tile seemed better suited to my mood and the resulting design and renovation projects satisfied any creative longing not extinguished entirely by the nightly cable news.
But as with most things in life, things have a way of coming full circle… of settling back into a more stable equilibrium. Like when your pounding heart slows to a normal beat again once an immediate danger has passed. In today’s climate, it’s not so much that you feel entirely out of the woods, you’ve just come to realize there is always something in the woods with every recurring news cycle. And so, it was a pleasant old sensation I felt when I was walking on the beach this morning, enjoying a brilliant panoramic view of the ocean, the sound of gulls, and the wash of sea air with my morning cup of coffee in hand…perhaps that steadier heartbeat inspiring an old familiar urge – to commit to paper (so to speak) all that I was seeing and feeling – to sit down to write. Not just about the stunning scenery, but about the simple pleasures found in everyday rituals – especially the ones I’ve found here, along the Northern Oregon coast. As the rest of my family is working hard, toiling away in the heat of Eugene and the newly remodeled Hayward Field at the Olympic Trials, I have stolen away to the coast…and am sitting on the deck (white wine spritzer at the ready) of one of the more satisfying of the aforementioned renovation projects – the happy result of a bit of hammer-swinging and tile-sawing (and some generous “staging” from my favored vintage shops and that fabulous local home décor emporium known as Sesame and Lilly’s.) Purchased two years ago, the little 1920’s beach cottage has been christened ‘Red Door Cottage’ for it’s cheery painted accent color- and sits on a corner lot one block from the ocean in Cannon Beach Oregon, 79 miles due west of Portland.
I discovered this place on a girl’s road trip to Portland a few years back. We had taken the coastal route home to Nevada driving through all the little beach towns along the northwest OR coast and Cannon Beach stuck out. I immediately fell in love with the town before I ever stepped out of the car. When I re-visited Portland a year later (on another girl’s trip), I made sure the picturesque little town I remembered was on our itinerary. Being a former realtor, I jumped on Zillow for giggles, and convinced my girlfriend to go look at the ‘cute little cottage in desirable location just one block from the beach’, which I’d seen listed online and looked irresistible. To make a long story short, it was…and after a another trip (with my reluctant husband in tow), some arm twisting, a couple generous gin and tonics and a few very spirited discussions between him (“but it’s 11 effing hours from home by car”,) the realtor (“so what if it’s 11 hours?? it’s adorable and only a block from the beach!”) and the opposite sides of my brain… (pragmatic side: “it is 11 effing hours from home by car” vs impulsive side: “but it’s so stinkin’ cute”,) the impulsive side won out! An offer was made and after a bit of haggling, was ultimately accepted. We were now the proud owners of a delightful little cottage located one short block from the beach….albeit 11 effing hours from home by car.
As it turns out, the impulsive side of my brain is not only where all the fun is, it has the right attitude for just such a journey. A mere 3 cups of coffee, 2 potty breaks, a peanut butter sandwich and tank and a half of gas, plus an entire audible book of your choosing …. And you can be in Cannon Beach with a glass of Sauv Blanc in one hand and a prawn cocktail in the other, just in time to watch a fabulous sunset… and it’s only one short block away from the most stinkin cute little beach cottage ever, that you can now call your own…so what if it’s 11 effing hours??
My days here start earlier than at home,( kinda like a kid on Christmas morning,) but mostly because I can’t wait to get my coffee from one of two of my favorite java joints and get out on the beach for a long walk before the city folk and interlopers arrive. The Bald Eagle Coffee house is closest to the cottage and the proprietor Tom and his family are the nicest people you’ll find anywhere. Seeing them after a period away is like coming home again. They have terrific homemade pastries and soups, and the best Marionberry scones I’ve ever tasted. Another Upside: they serve Starbucks coffee. The Downside: they only serve Starbucks coffee.
My other favorite caffeine courier is Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters, also just a few short blocks from the cottage. But don’t just take it from me, seemingly the whole town agrees and willingly waits patiently in lines out the door for a good cuppa Joe and a homemade donut or other treat. I love the staff, they are all women, and some of the more seasoned of them – my age-ish (ahem) are self assured, so very hip, efficient and fun at the same time. They deftly and cheerfully handle the scores of people in line waiting grumpily for their first caffeine fix of the day, and are as sharp and accommodating as they come. After ordering there yesterday, I asked if they needed my name to write on the cup. One replied, “heck no, we know who you are, it’s Debbie, right? Café Au Lait on the way…” I said, “Man, you girls are good!” They looked at each other and then at me and giggled with wide grins – one of them exclaimed “we’re just so thrilled you called us ‘girls’!!” To which I replied, “We’re all still girls, right? Forever and always…just girls!” They gave me a high five, an extra shot of steamed milk, and a bounce in my step that lasted the rest of the morning.
Walking the beach each day is a sacrament – I never miss it – come rain, thick fog, mist, howling wind or shine. Of course here I can do 14,000 steps with nary a thought to the physical exertion- letting my mind drift freely like the seaweed in the rolling tide. At home it’s an effort to get in 6,000 steps on a good day. It helps to have a little goal, a reward if you will at about the 7,000-step mark (half-way). Mine is a little gem of a bakery called Sea Level. It appears just about the time I’m finished with my coffee and well past Haystack Rock, and is the best little bakery on the planet (save for Perrenn bakery at home, in mid-town Reno, NV – which is 11 effing hours away lest you need reminding…) Sea Level has the best bread and Kouign Amann this side of Paris. Okay, so it cancels out all the calories just burned by the 7,000 steps you had to do to get there, but if you can have another pastry, a second cup of coffee and a fabulous ocean view to boot, and still call it a wash – then I say that’s a good day!!
Then it’s back to the beach for the walk home and some serious concentration and intellectual stimulation, all in the interest of preserving my brain cells and any cognitive function I still may possess. Searching for heart rocks and scrutinizing sand castles qualifies by my standards, and collecting sand dollars is my new fetish…(right up there with vintage dishes.) I have discovered the best nearby beaches for each and am still finding new ones to explore. I figure that has to be at least as effective as Sudoku or the NYTimes crossword puzzle, no?
The rest of my arduous day is often spent back at the cottage doing what my mother used to call ‘putzing around’. I might dig in my flower beds or rearrange my chotskys, or if feeling especially creatively inclined, start a sewing or other home project (or a blog??), or walk into town to browse the shops (with requisite pilgrimage to Sesame and Lilly’s.) I once recommended S & L to a friend from home who was visiting Cannon Beach and she texted from the store saying “I don’t know whether to thank you or curse you…I just dropped my whole paycheck here!”) There’s a great little book shop, several sweet shops, a fun little antique store with a name as original as the treasures inside…The Butler Did It. There are a myriad of boutiques, restaurants and as one would presume, a terrific fresh seafood purveyor – Ecola.
After a grueling day of putzing, poking, and p’diddling, one tends to work up a ferocious appetite. (God forbid one goes more than an hour and 52 minutes without consuming a meal, more treats and a crab pot full of more calories!) By the time dinnertime rolls around my thoughts turn eagerly to a couple favorite eateries… Corbins for the warm and welcoming Irish brothers who run it, charming atmosphere, and a Fisherman’s Pie created by the chef (one of their wives) that is to die for – a creamy herbed sauce filled with fresh crab, scallops and catch of the day, all topped with golden browned mashed potatoes served in a piping hot earthenware crock. I’ve ordered it the last three times I’ve visited and brought the leftovers home on my hips. (no, Martha, this is not the time to start your diet.) Another favorite…The Bistro. Great atmosphere (with live music often), an inspired and varied menu, and the best clam chowder and steamed clams in town (along with everything else on the menu). Jack (owner and chef) and JJ, his beautiful and cheerful soon-to-be-bride partner have become good friends- as they are I’m sure to most of the locals. Their story is so romantic and compelling as well – Jack proposed at “the bench”, a scenic spot overlooking the ocean and Haystack Rock, just doors down from their house. I meet them occasionally there for a glass of wine when I’m in town, and it’s a fitting resting place along their new life’s path together.
There are lots of other favorites as well which I’m working my way through. The Cannon Beach Hardware Store (Screw and Brew to the locals) is a local favorite – it’s a combination ironmonger, pub and restaurant and the food is surprisingly great. You can stroll the hardware aisles with a beer in hand while your burger sizzles on the grill.
The other day was brilliantly sunny and I was feeling adventurous so drove down the coast past Nehalem to Kelly’s Brighton Marina for some fresh crab I’d read about. You can crab off of their dock or rent a boat – but if you have no luck with your own crab pot, or like me just don’t want to work that hard, you can just buy a fresh live one there and they will cook it for you. Sitting in the sun I had a birds eye view of the dock, the marina and the bobbing seagulls who were competing with the resident cat for the leftovers. I discovered it’s a lot of work to dig out the crab meat but tastes so good, and at least slows the calorie intake a bit!
There is tons more to tell you about this magical place, (hiking, biking, clamming, wine tasting, kite flying…) which I hope to do should the heart still beat steady and the mind still of relative soundness after the mid term elections. I’m often asked if we rent out Red Door Cottage…. and the answer is yes. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, (oh c’mon, after the last four years you should be used to it!) here’s the link: https://www.starfishluxuryrentals.com/rentals/red-door-cottage
Just think, you too could be staying in a stinkin’ cute little cottage just one block from the beach, 11 effing hours from home by car… but as close to heaven as it gets.