Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Time To Tango

Everyone has a music that fits them—a rhythm that beats in time with their heart, a melody that makes their feet move, a soundtrack that accompanies them when they dance with a broom in the kitchen late at night after everyone has gone to bed.  It turns out that mine is tango.  All along, those years swaying down the sidewalk humming, my steps were being led by the poignant melodies and wrenchingly piquant rhythms of a music formed by years of European influence in a land of South American passion and drama.   
On Monday, I was treated to my first formal introduction to the dance style that haunts cinematic dreams of Argentina when some friends and I visited the PPAA for their Monday night “Noche de Buenas Aires.”  Though the building is plain from the outside, once we crossed the threshold of the dance floor, we were transported back in time to an era when partner dancing was a pastime and a form of socialization, not simply a thing to do to pick up or romance a date. 
The music for tango is a blend of classical styles; intricate piano passages, lush strings, playful counterpoint, sultry accordion, and a steady emphasis on the downbeat that outlines a dignified step slightly slower than the normal walking speed.  Dancing to this music is a transcription of melodies and subtle rhythms with your steps, interpreting the music as a responsive duet with your partner.  
The instructor, Robert Hauk, was excellent.  He began by teaching us not the steps and turns, but how to walk properly.  Essentially, the basic tango is synchronized walking, a smooth placing of feet and shifting of weight.  Once we had mastered this, he had us stand, uncomfortably close, chest to chest with our partners.  Without touching in any other way, we were to walk around the room, maintaining contact.  In order for this to work, there has to be an equal give and take, a meeting in the middle—if one person is in the other’s space or too distant, their partner will inevitably feel tense and off-balance.  Graduating from this exercise, we were taught the gentle embrace that adorns this wordless connection and were set loose to enjoy the endless diversion of listening to the music and our partner’s movement and responding accordingly. 
At the PPAA, songs are danced in sets of four with one partner, then you are given the opportunity to dance with another partner.  It is the ultimate social mingling—learning the movements and styles of each person in the room, sharing a wordless conversation as you move through the complex rhythms together, listening to the music and the other person’s body as you circumnavigate the room.  By the end of the evening, I felt an intimate connection with quite a few people there, though I scarcely remembered their names or their faces—they are the details that are forgotten as you learn the more important features of how a person hears the music and turns it into a movement.  
Although we were the ultimate novices in the room, the regulars at PPAA are a gracious sort and invited us all to dance the entire night.  When we weren’t dancing—which wasn’t often—the room was a bouquet of lovely couples who were obviously accomplished dancers, each with their own distinctive panache and style.   It was a remarkably exquisite evening, hopefully one of many.  I look forward to returning and highly recommend this venue for all potential tango-lovers!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Love Portland: Schools

Last Saturday, as part of my church’s “Love Portland” campaign, about 40 of us went to Alder Elementary School in SE Portland to do some cleanup and get it ready for the fall.

It was the work you might expect—weeding, spreading mulch and woodchips, painting over graffiti.  
By the time we left, the gardens were transformed from weedy jungles into tidy rock-lined beds filled with flowers, vegetables, and herbs.    It was enormously satisfying to sweat and get dirty with people that I’d only seen dressed in their Sunday Best.   It was rewarding to see such a tangible difference.

Then I overheard one of our leaders as she brainstormed what could be planted in the “secret garden” at the center of the building, surrounded by classrooms.  Every time they came back to weed this garden, they found all of the flowers dead and the pathways overrun with weeds.  Hearing that, I was discouraged.  Was all this effort was in vain, then?  It was only going to be erased in a matter of months as they forgot to tend and water the beds?  What was the use in our cleaning if they weren’t going to keep it that way? 
As I asked myself why we would be working so hard on something that would need to be done again next year, it occurred to me that maybe that was exactly the kind of love that we needed to be giving to this community.  It wasn’t a gift that we could give and then walk away; it allowed us to come back and keep creatively and diligently building on what we had done before.   It gave us the chance to remind them every year that we cared about them.  It opened the possibility of a relationship.

I may have mentioned before that the name of my church here, Imago Dei, means “Image of God.”  Kind of sacrilegious to say that a church, a group of very flawed individuals, looks like God, right?  But ideally, that’s exactly what a church should look like—a reflection of God’s desires and attitude.  It should be a group of people who work together to creatively love and restore others just like God loves and restores us.

 This past weekend, as I listened to our leaders plan what we could do for this garden so that it might have a chance at remaining beautiful, it struck me that this might be the kind of conversation God sometimes has with Himself: “now, what could I do to make these people really understand that I care about them? How could I show how much I love them in such a way that they will remember it a few days from now?”  He knows we'll forget and probably screw it all up, but He does it anyway.  Repeatedly.

This church may never become a mirror image of God, but it just might be headed in the right direction. 

A Time To Cook

There is no way around it: I love food. I am pretty fond of eating it, but even more than that, I love the beauty of that ephemeral artpiece that is a meal.  My friends here make fun of me a little because I tend to take pictures of my food before I eat it (it's better than playing with it, right?), but I can't help but want to capture it! 
Stack of crepes: a lighter and lovelier version of a stack of pancakes. Alternating layers of crepes, peanut butter, assorted jam, and thinly sliced bananas, topped with chocolate and raspberries.

On Friday night, I had some friends over and prepared a french-ish meal.  It wasn't legitimately french, I'm sure, but with the Parisian accordian music and some French wine and cheese, it was close enough to count in my books!  I made a variety of canap√©-style hors d'oeuvres (on crackers... forgive me),  a lovely salad, and ratatouille, while my friends provided the wine, cheese, and bread.  We finished with fresh fruit flambe, which flamed beautifully, but were harder to capture on a camera.  Just imagine blue flames flowing from a spoon full of honey, lime, and rum onto a delicious pan of similarly flickering peaches, pinapple, plum, and strawberry.  It was pretty exciting.

Canapes from left to right: 1) blackberry-elderberry cream cheese, peach, blackberry, sunflower seeds 2) italian herb cream cheese, smoked salmon, dried cherries, cucumber 3) italian herb cream cheese, smoked salmon, pepperocini, sunflower seeds, oregano garnish 4) italian herb cream cheese, tomato, cucumber, spicy mustard 5) cream cheese, tomato, stuffed olive, basil garnish.

Salade Verti: mixed greens, tomato, peach, cucumber, basil, nasturtium

Ratatouille a la Josie: tomato sauce topped with with fresh basil, onions, and garlic, layered with alternating zucchini, squash, eggplant, red pepper, and large wedges of tomato.  Garnished with feta and oregano.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Spotlight: Zenger Farm

Since I moved to Portland, I have been pulling weeds weekly at Zenger Farm.  There is some part of me that secretly enjoys weeding—the ability to see clearly that you have accomplished something, the satisfaction of an ache in your arms and sun on your neck, the simultaneous guilt and euphoria at pulling out the roots of some plant that was trying to eke out an existence in the rocky soil. 
Zenger Farm was originally a dairy farm, back in the days when there wasn’t much else out in what is now SE Portland.  Upon the death of the last Farmer Zenger in the early 1990’s, the City of Portland procured the land in order to preserve the farm and the adjacent wetland as a green space to act as a storm-water collection and filtration area.  When the land was later leased by Marc Boucher-Colbert, it became not only a farm, but also a classroom. 
In 1999, Friends of Zenger Farm took over and extended the lease, and the farm remains an educational and sustainable farm and wetland, offering summer programs, tours and classes on cooking, beekeeping, chickens, and more.  Having tasted the veggies produced on the farm, I can attest to the fact that organic methods and kindness to ladybugs are paying off, as is the dedicated work of the friendly and knowledgeable farm crew and volunteers.   What’s more, community members are able to get involved in learning where their food comes from and in meeting their neighbors who also come to the farm!
So it is to Zenger Farm that I come once a week to sit in the sun with a group of other Portlanders, pulling weeds and talking about the weekend’s concert plans.  Overlooking the Springwater Corridor, we watch as cyclists pedal by and the swallows swoop behind the old tire swing that hangs just at the edge of the wetland.  It’s hard to imagine a better way of spending a Friday afternoon.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why I Like the Outdoors Connection Group

This past weekend I was once again reminded that thwarted plans aren’t such a bad thing. 

Stephanie at Wahclella Falls
The Outdoors Connection group at Imago Dei went with intentions of hiking Wahclella Falls in the Columbia Gorge on Saturday.  However, after a lovely hike and some time atop a rock admiring the beautiful falls, it was still only noon. So we decided to drive on to hike Punchbowl Falls.  This hike was similarly breathtaking and filled with hikers jumping from the 40-foot cliffs into the frigid water.  I repeat. Frigid.  Think Lake Superior in early spring.

Punchbowl Falls

Are you surprised that a group of us decided to swim in for a closer look?

There was a small alcove with some sunny rocks, so we stayed for a while, regaining the feeling in our limbs and—of course—building a raft with some driftwood, a nalgene bottle, and the zip-off bottoms of Ben’s pants.  It held together pretty well, but somewhere along the lines Ben lost the keys to his car.  
Cally with our raft

The mad-hott jumpsuit

By the time we realized this, we had already made it back to the trailhead, so the group of us waited while he went back up the trail to freeze in that water some more.  In the mean time, Stephanie demonstrated how to break into a car with a coat hanger (it didn’t work, we still had to call AAA), Cally taught us the Norwegian foot game, I tried on a fashionable jumper in an effort to keep warm, and we prayed for patience, safe swimming, and that Ben would find his car keys.  Then, since it was nearly dinner time and there was no way we would make it back to Portland in time for the concert/picnic that Cally and I had planned on, we broke out the brie, crackers, cantaloupe, and energy bars and had ourselves a feast. 

Picnic with the group
The car was eventually left in the lot and we got another ride back into town, but not before we had done a great deal of bonding.  Perhaps not quite what we had planned for the day, but we all agreed that I had been an adventure.  And that is why I like hiking group.

A Time For Spontaneity

Even though I claim to love spontaneity, I constantly have to fight the part of me that wants to snatch the reins and muscle my way back to the schedule I wrote down in the morning.  Anybody else have this problem? I’ve learned, however, that when I finally do let go and see where life takes me, my experiences always tend to be more interesting than what I planned.  This past Thursday, for example…
Here was my plan: go downtown and eat lunch in a plaza while listening to live music, spend hours perusing a couple of museums by myself, then find a nice park and do some writing in solitude before going to a Spanish worship service near my house.    
An elderly Chinese man was the first to foil my day of leisurely browsing.  On the bus into town, I was treated to a Reader’s Digest version of his life—which was, I’ll admit, quite interesting.  When we arrived downtown, he insisted on accompanying me through Chinatown (wait, what about the concert??), so we walked through the quiet streets as he beamed and repeated to me several times “this is Chinatown.”  Despite my packed lunch, he shanghaied me into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and proceeded to order several dishes, urging me to try everything and complimenting me on my use of chopsticks: “it’s hard, yes? But you do very well!! Eat more! I not do so well, see?” (this while showing me a finger that had been sliced off at the top knuckle).  Don’t even ask me what I ate, because I haven’t the faintest idea.  Then we went through the newspapers and he translated some headlines, wondering if we had the word “Congress” in English. 
Still digesting whatever delicious thing it was that I ate, I left him at a bus stop and proceeded to the first museum, which specialized in 3D artwork and was currently showing a series of medical illustrations.  I think I spent more time talking to the two very casual hosts and watching 3D films with a couple of guys from England than I did contemplating the deep meaning in any of the artwork. 
At the second museum, I skipped the first floor entirely to use the bathroom, then got distracted by the hands-on weaving demonstration.  For several hours, I sat at the table with an intern from PSU who specialized in textiles, a young girl whose grandmother made quilts for men’s shelters and a cardboard loom, chatting away happily until I realized that I was going to have to leave immediately if I wanted to make it to the evening worship service. 
Upon leaving the museum, I learned that it was the one evening of the month that all the galleries were open, and the streets were thus filled with carousing as people made their way from gallery to gallery with wine glasses in hand.  Need I say that I decided to stay? 
I met a painter from Peru who was excited about his forthcoming show in the Portland Art Museum, learned a lot about symbolism in Tibetan Buddhist artwork, laughed and bantered with a guy selling jewelry who worked as a translator and whose business card proclaimed that he specialized in “leisure and adventure,” and generally enjoyed the festivities and the many musicians (including a bagpiper) who flooded the streets and galleries with music. 
Despite arriving home four hours later than planned, it was somehow very hard to regret my abandoned plans after a day like that. They’re more like guidelines, anyway.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Living in an Artistic City

When I moved to Portland, I knew that I was moving to a city known for its abundance of artist-types.  However, it wasn’t until recently—having had a chance to poke around a bit—that I realized the extent of the creativity present in this city. 
For example, there’s the Last Thursday festival every month on Alberta Street.  For six solid blocks, the streets are packed with artists displaying their creations, musicians jamming, dancers and DJs jiving and inviting others to dance with them, people decked out with stilts and fairy wings, colorful food carts, and thousands of people who come to appreciate the spectacle. 
On the first Thursday of every month, there is an open-gallery night downtown in the Pearl district.  This scene has a slightly less pot-and-roses scented atmosphere than Alberta, with fewer dwarf and sunflower costumes, and nobody sitting on corners offering you tea, toast, and a dollar to hear your story.   It is instead saturated with a certain variety of posh people who stand sipping wine out of plastic cups in galleries and appear to be equally interested in looking at the artwork and chatting with other peripatetic art-lovers. 
When weekends come around, droves of people flock to the Saturday market (ironically open on Sundays as well), which is a combination of all the best art fairs you’ve ever been to, a Central American indigenous market, and a carnival.  Vendors and artists from all over the world set up a labyrinth of tents, and the smell of falafel, curry, tamales, and bratwurst wafts over crowds of tourists and locals alike. 
If you were to tally up all of the people who present their work at these festive venues, the number of ingenious sidewalk-sitters in Hawthorne District, and the incredible number of people you meet on any given day who paint, write, make jewelry, knit, or make fantastical metal sculptures in their spare time, you may find that the total encompasses more than half of the population of Portland. 
Isn’t that exquisite?  A city where being open and excited about creativity is quotidian! Where labeling yourself an artist is like claiming your humanity: “of course you’re an artist, so am I!”
The creative energy I feel here is infectious.  Rather than being overwhelming because of the sheer number of other people creating, it feels like living in an abstract mosaic mural.   Your own tile of creative space is allowed to be oblong and twisty and whatever style you want it to be.  Maybe it's completely different than everyone else's, maybe it's similar, and maybe it bumps into or even becomes part of other people’s tiles.  Close up, it's chaotic and colorful and a little messy, but when you take a step back, the beauty and magnitude of what you have become a part of is breathtaking.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dancing the Iraqi Rumba

If you’re like a lot of Americans, your only impression of Iraq is based on the skewed sketches we get from the daily news reports about war.  This weekend, I was reminded once again how little I actually know of the humanity and beauty of the Middle East.
Late in the afternoon, women in head scarves toting mummy-wrapped babies and drink-filled coolers ambled into Ed Benedict Park with their kaftan-clad husbands and flock of lively but well-behaved children.  The Iraqi Village had arrived!  Most of the Iraqi families at the expo have come to the United States within the past two years, making them one of the newest immigrant groups in East Portland.  Although several spoke English, they mostly relied on smiles and gestures as they invited us to dance with them.  The Iraqi women remained seated, adhering to tradition, but clapped along to the infectious music as the men clasped hands and began a grapevine-like shuffle around the stage. 
After a few minutes of enchanted observation, my newfound Mexican friend and I, along with several others from the lawn, joined the chain.  We tagged along as the confident elder of the group steered us in a wavy oval, smiling in a jovial and satisfied way as he spun his kerchief like a lasso, and found ourselves unable to stop grinning.  The little girls formed their own disjointed ring and gazed in adoration and delight at the adults, who were now cracking up as one of the men came around the circle shimmying his chest in everyone’s face. 
Later, as the guitarists played on—Gypsy Kings, love songs, Iraqi-infused rumba (“rumba music has the rhythm, Iraqi music has the passion”)—I watched one of the littlest girls being tossed in the air by one of her relatives, a young man in his 20’s.   The open display of affection, the rubbing of noses, the squeals as she flew up and was caught in his arms, were so universal that I couldn’t help but wonder at how familiar they seemed.  My friend leaned over and whispered “mira las preciosas… que lindas, casi parecen Latinas!” (“look at the precious little girls… how cute, they almost look like Latinas!”).  
Having not spent much time with anyone from the Middle East, I’ll confess that I had no idea what to expect from the Iraqis who live in my neighborhood.  What I discovered, however, was that they are family—like everyone else I have met.  If we don’t speak the same words, at least we can appreciate a good rumba, hold hands, and shuffle around a circle together, smiling.

East Portland Expo: Multiculturalism Alive and Well

Native American Dancers
This weekend, people from all over the world came to Ed Benedict Park in East Portland to celebrate being neighbors.  There were booths with information about different organizations in the area, vendors from Cambodian, Russian, Thai and Mexican restaurants, and tents set up to be “villages” from different parts of the world.  Center stage were the performers—dancers, musicians, artists, people—who defied the hot afternoon to exert themselves in sharing a little of their heritage with their neighbors. 

Some of the many countries represented on stage were India, Russia, Thailand, El Salvador, Mexico, China, Nepal, Iraq, Argentina and the good ol’ USA.  There were Bollywood dancers, Native American dancers from the Pacific Northwest, Russian Dancers, a Mexican ‘Ballet Folcl√≥rico,’ and a plethora of Indian dancers. 

Some of the highlights were Guru Smitha’s traditional Indian dancers, whose precisely coordinated movements drew attention to the intense training required to be able to control every movement of your body in expressing a song.  As the guru said, “there are rules for everything in this dance; hand gestures, feet, even when to blink your eyes.”
The Lion Dance, traditionally only performed on the Chinese New Year, had the crowd in hysterics with the antics of the two exquisitely ornate lions, who pranced around onstage and off, pretending to pounce and playing fetch with one of the drummers. 
The Lion Dance
Iraqi men joined hands with each other and their neighbors to dance in circles around the stage, grinning and laughing in the festival atmosphere while the two Iraqi guitarists accompanied with invigorating dance music and poignant love songs.  
Iraqi Men

Russian Dancers
Several bollywood dancers demonstrated their moves and taught audience members a dance to Jai Ho, which was performed with enthusiasm by all in attendance.  Some girls from Russia brought everyone cookies to eat while they danced and sang "Kalinka."
The day concluded with the crooning of several Sinatra songs, while neighbors from all cultures danced together, coming together in a vibrant expression of multi-cultural acceptance and appreciation. 

“We can promote peace through art!” proclaimed the emcee, and everyone agreed.   

Imitating the big girl bollywood dancers

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This Is A Test

The most recent lapse in updates, you may have gathered, was due to the fact that I was preparing for the GRE.  The Graduate Record Examination (I didn't know what it actually stood for either, until recently) is one of those standardized tests that supposedly measures your ability to perform well in a graduate school setting, but--like other standardized tests--has more to do with your ability to take multiple choice tests and write concise, formulaic and logical argumentative essays under strict time constraints. (Hopefully there is more to graduate school than that!).

Ordinarily, this is something I am quite capable of, and would not have worried about. The extreme state of mental vegetation that set in around the time of graduation and a two year absence of math in my life suggested that this time, I should probably worry.  So I set up a schedule (which I followed for about 2 days before scrapping) and started studying.  There were practice tests, online quizzes, vocab lists, sample essay questions, more practice tests and vocab games.  In short, a lot of practicing to take a test. 

What did I gain?  A renewed appreciation for triangles, a couple new words in my vocabulary, and a good enough score to get into a graduate school of my choice (I hope!).

But what did the test measure?  The ability to perform a few select tasks that are only distantly related to my field of study. 

It does not measure how I handle a stressful day, what I learned from living in another country for 4 months, or how I treat children, bugs, pets, other people, and myself.  It does not decipher whether or not I will comfort someone who is hurting, work hard to accomplish something worthwhile, weed the garden, drive responsibly, send birthday cards, let my neighbor borrow a cup of sugar, or think about the consequences of my actions.  It does not have anything to do with how much I know about the history of our country or our country's history of meddling in foreign affairs.  And it most definitely does not measure my ability to learn new things and use what I have learned to come to thoughtful conclusions that might alter the way I live my life. 

In short, it does not say anything about who I am as a person or how intelligent I am (intelligence is more than a good vocabulary and an understanding of statistics) or whether or not I am a decent human being who is kind to others and to the planet. 

Kind of a relief, eh?

Yet this is the test that is used to determine who is allowed to continue their education, and therefore who will be most likely to educate the next generation, run the country, and make decisions that affect the future of the world.

An interesting thought.

*Yes, I do know that there is more to getting a job or finding oneself in a position of political power than taking a standardized test.  I also realize that standardized testing does a fairly decent job at measuring basic intellect.  However, I am also of the opinion that as an assessment of ability, a standardized test will never tell the whole story of what a person is capable of.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Visit

My friend Alissa came to visit during the week after 4th of July.  We took advantage of the beautiful weather to take a trip to the gorge:

The gorge

and to take a 25ish mile bike ride around Portland.
Lloyd center from near the steel bridge

In general, a great time to make a bridge between my life in Michigan and my life in Oregon and a wonderful time to spend with a friend.
Alissa and Me at a waterfall

Multnomah Falls

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Plan I Didn't Plan

There have been times in my life that I was completely certain that I was in control of my future--stepping into the unknown, forging my own way--and was completely exhilerated by the sensation. 

This is not one of those times.  Don't get me wrong, I have definitely stepped into the unknown in the past few weeks, but it is becoming increasingly clear that I am not in control.  Case in point: the interview.

I went to church my first Sunday here with a friend of my aunt's, who happens to be the wife of the pastor and introduced me after the service.  He asked my aunt later if I was looking for employment--she passed on my resume.  I recieved a call inviting me to interview for an administrative position at the church. 

Good so far, right?  It gets better.

I had not a clue how to prepare for a formal interview: my neighbor, Le, invites me to help her with a teaching assignment that involves her guiding me through the interview process and giving me a mock interview.  She then proceeds to help me rework my entire resume, prints off several copies for me to take to the interview, and lets me borrow her boots.

I was not sure what an administrative position entailed and was, frankly, a little bored by the idea of sitting in an office making phone calls every day: the position turned out to be support staff for the worship and arts pastor and the refuge pastor (read: cool people.  musicians. people with passion and incredible vision).  It calls for a lot of creativity and flexibility, involves a variety of tasks--including working with artists--and would be something new every day.

In short, this sounds like the perfect job, and I had nearly nothing to do with it.

I have not heard back yet and may not for another week or two, but it is clear to me that God has begun a good work in me, which means that according to Philippians 1:6,  He will "continue His work," "perfect it," and "bring it to completion."  In other words, He will continue to act intentionally in my life, bringing about this plan that is obviously far cooler than anything I could have dreamed up, and--best of all--will not abandon me (even when I think I have my destination figured out and go trekking ahead in the wrong direction)!  How cool is that?

So totally exhilerated! 

Thursday, June 30, 2011


The crazy people with whom I live: Chris & Dawn
and their friend Saska (in blue)
Since the last post, I made friends!  I'm still not exactly sure what God has in mind for me while I am here in Portland, but part of it seems to be connecting to people I meet and sharing in their lives.   And my path has crossed with quite the handful of people in the last week and a half!
On thursday, I was standing by the side of the road (reading a sign about bioretention swales, if you must know), when an ordinary looking male approached me and said something along the lines of "I was just dropping my lady friend off at the bus stop and we saw you walking past and thought you were very cute, so she told me to come talk to you."
Understandably, it was a slightly awkward conversation, but before long we had found common ground--he was moving to Ecuador-- and after running into each other again half an hour later, we ended up taking a bike ride along the esplanade and conversing quite sociably about food, transportation, and our lives in general.  A friend made!

Opal Creek
On Saturday, I went on a hike to Opal Creek with the Outdoors Connection group from Imago Dei (the church I have been attending), and met no fewer than 23 people with whom I had a lot in common.  There were travelers, spanish-speakers, musicians, lovers of nature, poets, philosophers, artists, goofballs, explorers, bakers, dreamers, Michiganders... Not only was the hike itself lovely, it was beyond beautiful to encounter such a wonderful group of potential friends! 

Martha and me at Opal Creek
 Having gone to church with some of the people I met on the hike, I invited two of the girls over for dinner and a walk through Powell Butte on monday, which turned out to be a fantastic experience.  Cally and Martha and I put together a scrumptious spread which included oatmeal-battered pollock, stuffed mushrooms, delicious homemade bread, cantaloupe, and homemade ice cream.  Afterwards, we played a little made-up-word scrabble, which included such gems as "wifeth" (when your birdie gets caught in the net while playing badmitton), "fatiew" (when your birdie gets caught in the trees), "queming" (that cute little shuffle a guy does while trying to get up the courage to kiss a girl), and "os" (the plastic thing on the end of your shoelace).  All in all, a highly entertaining night.

Me, Cally, and Martha in Powell Butte
I will never consider myself an outgoing, extroverted, bubbly person.  However, I am beginning to realize that while a propensity to initiate conversation with strangers certainly leads to the formation of many a new friendship, the willingness to continue a conversation--to meet someone's eyes and listen to what they have to say-- may just as often result in a new connection.  
Addison, me and Cally at Opal Creek

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Time For Exploration

Anyone who has traveled with me knows that my favorite thing to do in a new town is walk.  And walk. Aaand walk. True to form, I took the bus downtown today and spent about 7 hours walking (thanks for those new hiking shoes, Papa!).  My original plan was to go up to the Japanese Gardens in Washington Park, then circle around and wander through old town and chinatown before heading over to REI to pick up a helmet.  Then I got to Washington Park.
Mt. Hood from Rose Garden

For full pictorial documentation of the day, please see the facebook album that is sure to accompany this post.  However, it should be noted that the roses were in bloom,

the skies were clear,
Mt. St. Helens from Hoyt Arboretum
and the trails were wonderful.
Mac trail

I also met a chatty Hawaiian touring the continent for the first time, who graciously took this picture of me with Mickey, the floutist-in-the-woods who wowed us with his rendition of Irish Washer Woman.

It was an interesting day. 

Although the original touring plans were slightly altered and I did not, in fact, end up entering the Japanese Gardens (though I did get quite a nice glimpse of it from above), I would highly recommend Washington Park for day hikes of the most leisurely kind, as it contains plenty of commodious benches and grassy knolls for your reading and picnicking pleasure.  The rose garden is spectacular and beatifully arranged, the trails are well-groomed, varied in foliage, and intriguingly curvy, and the many monuments lend an air of cultural edification to the park (I especially recommend the Holocaust memorial).  In short, a lovely way to spend a day of sunshine! 

P.S. I would not especially recommend walking up Salmon Street to get there... it is a little like being a salmon flopping up a fish ladder.  Quite steep.

The First Week

The best time to do new things is right away, in the middle of monotony, a little later, and also after you thought you'd never do anything new again...In other words, the best time to do new things is all the time. 

view of downtown from Springwater Corridor
My first week in Portland has been quite the trip!  I biked downtown and back, marveling at the existence of a 12 mile bike path without a single spot that wasn't scenic or tree-lined and learning to navigate the many bike lanes and routes that have made Portland famous.  On Sunday, I was picked up by the pastor's wife and was wowed by an awesome time of worship at Imago Dei church, then joined one of their nearby home community groups for dinner and discussion (home communities are like small groups for people who live in the same areas of town).  My uncle also graciously took me to the Midland library to browse and I returned with some pretty spiffy reading material, including a book that seems to be designed specifically with me in mind: "Now What? A young person's guide to choosing the perfect career."  Job searching? Turns out it's pretty tough and a little demoralizing, especially when you're not exactly sure what you're looking for.  However, I am positive that I will end up in the right place doing exactly what God has in mind at exactly the time I am supposed to be there.... I'll admit I wouldn't mind some crystal clear clues. 

Living with my aunt and uncle is going to be incredibly fun and exciting.  They are possessed of that personality that attracts engaging and passionate people, and seem to have found that balance between work and play that most people are constantly searching for.  The neighbors are a fantastic family of five whose children are polite, playful, spunky, and inquisitive, besides being generally loveable and fun.  The four-year-old, Clara, is currently in training with my aunt to be "ninja girl," while her brother Jackson has defied all sulky-teenager stereotypes and was good-naturedly clobbered and sprayed with water bottles by two grown women and his kid sister. 

In general, I am looking forward to this year of unknown wonders and new experiences, and have so far not been disappointed.  This place fits me like a mitten :)
My room

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

After several weeks of amazing bonding time with friends and family, including a hike with my dad, an incredible (if cold and rainy) weekend of camping with a group of my favorite people, and a whole lot of trying to cram an entire Michigan summer into a month, it is finally time.

Today is the day!  I will be leaving home and all of my friends and my beloved Traverse City and flying out to Portland this afternoon! It's a little less surreal than I'm sure it must be to move to another country and another culture, but I'm still trying to digest the fact that I will only be home a few times in the next year and that the majority of the year will be spent far away from everything I know.  I'm going to really miss being home and within a few hours of most of my best friends! 

Once I get out there, the job search begins in earnest.  I have been scoping out places that might be intriguing and fulfilling and useful to work for about a month now, but haven't quite found anything that clicked.  However, I'm guessing that job searching is a little easier once you are actually living in the town in which you plan to work.  My hope is still to find something that might be a legitimate "real-life" job, but I have resigned myself to the fact that even if I am unable to encounter something like that, there are quite a few volunteer jobs at museums that I would be able to work at to at least gain experience, and I can earn my keep being a barrista or something on the side.  Whatever happens, I am convinced that God has something amazing planned for this next year!!!

I'll miss all of you in Michigan, and I'm already looking forward to meeting those wonderful friends that are yet to be met! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Decisions, decisions!

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, I graduated from Alma College.  After decades of following the socially acceptable and expected course for middle class Americans (ie school), I now have a college degree, and all the doors are supposedly open!

I have to admit that this makes life more complicated. 

When I studied abroad in Ecuador, there was a small cafe down the street from the academia that we frequented.  As was the case in most restaurants of that variety, there were no menus. Instead, the hostess would come to your table and give you an option--chicken or beef.  Then she would return with the almuerzo of the day, complete with whatever vegetable happened to be cooking, the ever-present rice, fresh juice (sometimes there was an option of two different types, if you were in a high class restaurant), and some sort of delicious and unnamed torta.  Usually delicious, occasionally sketchy, and always unclassifiable, these meals managed to leave one with a sense of peace and certainty: there was no scrambling to decide between a myriad of tasty dishes, no weighing of options, no choices to get stressed out about! 

Now that I have a college degree, I feel like I've returned from the Ecuadorian variety of choice (Alma or Calvin?) and am living culture-shocked in an American restaurant, with our extensive novella-like menus. There is no obvious next step upon graduating from college, and--if you're like me and neglected to get a degree that led to a specific career--there isn't even an obvious genre of job to start searching for! 

Given the sheer volume of roads-less-taken branching off in this decidedly spring-like wood, it should come as no surprise to those who have met my travel bug that I am moving to Portland, OR.  My travel bug has always had a hankering to live in that part of the world, if only for a time, and now seems to be the time to indulge my little insect and see what there is to see, hear what there is to hear, and do what there is to do.  There is a time for everything, after all!

The current plan is to move to the west coast mid-june and spend approximately a year living with my Aunt and Uncle in Portland.  During this time, I hope to apply to graduate school for a degree in Anthropology (focusing on Latin America), strengthen some family ties, find a job I may never have the guts to try later in life,  go to concerts, hike, write, sing, paint, bike, pray, read, play, and soak up as much experience as I can.  If all goes as expected, I will then return to the heavenly world of school with some perspective on what it is God has planned for the next stage of my life.  However, since I am not the determiner of seasons, the plans could change! 

Throughout the next year or so, I will be writing in this blog in order to reflect on what I am learning, share stories, and hopefully encourage fellow college graduates who, like me, are invigorated and terrified by the huge menu that life is offering for lunch.

I look forward to having you all along for the ride!