Delight in the wild

Decadence.

It’s a word that slips softly off the tongue. In my daydreams of decadence, I am tempted by soft blue sheets and silence. Chocolate and wine and stories of magic charm and entice me in front of a blazing fire.

I have some experience with that kind of decadence, but over the past few days my dip into all things decadent was a bit different.

My week in words included a day to Be Decadent.

I’ve experienced a weekend’s worth. Close friends joined us as we drove a few hours south to a campsite along the Deschutes River on Friday afternoon. After successfully putting up our family tent, we walked to the water’s edge and watched several sparkling souls float by on great puffy innertubes, coolers trailing them in the clear rushing water. Parenting non-swimmers is scary, but the scene was fairly benign and my eldest is super close to swimming independently. He took to a fallen log with his friend, and they comandeered a “speed boat” from just above the bubbling water. So content. So delighted.

Camping with toddlers is not a superior experience. Our two-year-old was stricken with a mild fever the day we headed out, and proceeded to develop a summer-style cold that made him uncomfortable but not bed-worthy. He woke up several times the first night we slept in the tent, and everyone felt tired in the morning. But as day broke and coffee brewed, I felt a part of the universe that only sleeping outdoors can make happen.

Shoes? No shoes? Whatever. We foraged from coolers and washed beneath the cold rushing water of the camp faucets down the road. Tiny rabbits hopped into camp to watch us, and we watched them.

Sunscreen was a must as we walked into the river under the hot. hot sun. So were s’mores.

Decadence is defined as being marked by self-indulgence or pleasure. An alternative definition is being marked by decay or decline.

I choose the former definition.

As we gathered to dine last night, I asked my sons to tell us those things for which they are grateful. The eldest said, “awesome swimming lessons!” and the youngest said, “basketball hoops!”. We were home.

Neither basketball hoops nor swim lessons have anything to do with the days spent experiencing a gorgeous part of our state. No matter. It was a perfectly decadent weekend together sharing time and smiles and dialog and food and sun and rest and moments of five-and-under frustation and tears.

I can’t wait to do it again.

Bad times hit the good life

Sometimes one’s best intentions turn out to be irrational and unsuccessful.

And that’s why one might keep a box of red wine in the basement.

Go ahead, open it.

I recommend a Bota Box for camping and Children’s Birthday Parties in the Park.  Tonight, however, I’m drinking boxed wine to commemorate an anti-celebration of my last week at work.

Lay off = ugh.

Yeah, lay off. AGAIN. I really wish the overly educated, middle-class driven, one percent controlled economy could get its act together already.

Since moving out west, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of a lay off twice. Each time, it was made completely clear that it was due to limited resources and in no way a reflection of my work, but it still hurts. The first time I was among over 200 City employees who were laid off. Critical employees including police and fire officers were about to be let go, so I understood how dire things were for that particular institution.  This time, however, my layoff is more the result of missed opportunities and transitional leadership.

It’s a major bummer. Until yesterday, I worked with talented people who shared a common vision of strengthening community food systems. Regretfully, there wasn’t a way to bridge the gap between grants to allow me to continue full-time.

This comes at a time when I find myself at a crossroads.

Over the past year I’ve plunged into freelance writing – creative and nonfiction. I recently landed a contract as a short term grant reviewer.  I’m pretty confident I can cobble together some meaningful work as a consultant over the next several months.

But consulting isn’t a job in the sense that a job-job is.

Diving into an unfamilar and rapidly moving river is scary.

Am I ready?

When I mentioned the lay off to a friend, she said, starry-eyed, “oh now you can be a stay-at-home mom!”

Hmmm. True. I could. And staying home with my boys would be incredibly rewarding and challenging in its own right. But that should be my choice and not a consequence of an undesired layoff.

I’ve worked since my eldest was three months old. I admire stay-at-home moms and have no idea how they keep sane when their kids are five and younger, and they don’t have a quiet office to which they can escape a few or more days a week.

So tonight I tip my glass of boxed wine into the fading light and toast to my professional future…whatever it may include.

Cheers.

P.S. I typically enjoy wine that is high quality and value-minded… desciptors like black current, vanilla, plum, blackberry and coffee come to mind. But on a 93 degree day in Portland, it’s dry white whatever all the way.

Motorcyles without mufflers

Once upon a time, I was 25 years old and traveled with a faded green backpack.

In it I kept the following items:

1. chapstick

2. highly absorbent travel towel

3. sunscreen birth control pills

4. identification

and

5. journal and pen (ok, that’s two things but they travel together)

I wish I had kept this backpack. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in the Caribbean and we traveled light.

If I could put just five things in my backpack today, I would prioritize a little differently:

1. baby wipes

2. smarty phone

3. running shoes

4. corkscrew

and

5. journal and pen

For over two years I lived and worked and played hard in the Dominican Republic. Life on a mostly tropical island wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. First of all, they didn’t really speak what I knew as Spanish.

Dominican Spanish is spoken widely in the Dominican Republic. I hear it’s also commonly spoken in New York City, Boston and Miami. In order to  use Dominican Spanish, one must speak at a very high speed, substitute the r sound for an l (ie. correr becomes correl or correi), and generally drop a bunch of letters and incorporate a totally different vocabulary from standard Spanish (ie. colmado for tienda, lechoza for papaya, guagua for autobus, chin chin for poco).

They also use fun words like baboso (moron) and bomba (gasoline station). Curiously, the bombas also served as discos (DR RPCV readers, please make a comment if you remember dancing to bachata at the bomba down the road from Entrena).

So it took a little time to adjust.

I lived in three places during my two + years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

1) La Capital. Santo Domingo is a large, busy, semi-modern city. It is the center of government and spralls over 100 kilometers. There are parks and universities. There are many, many motorcycles without mufflers.  There are some lovely neighborhoods filled with older trees and crumbling sidewalks and colorful homes (usually found behind intimidating gates). And there is trash. Piles of it. El Malecon, the city’s waterfront, is attractive but when I was there cruise ships took the port off their stopping point due to the trash and sewage tossed into the shore – something most tourists on a Caribbean cruise would prefer not to see.

I lived in a humble cinder block home with occasional electricity and occasional running water. Once the water stopped mid-shower and I only shaved one leg. I took buses to get to training and walked a lot under the hot, hot sun. Occasionally I took a small motorcycle home which was strictly against the rules, but my host sister insisted. I was busy learning, and life-ing, and loving during these three months of training.

2) El campo campo. For six months I lived in the rural countryside of central DR. My memories of that time include sharing my house with mice and rats, boiling vast pots of water, visiting tin houses with dirt floors, walking, walking, walking, playing cards with neighbor kids, and running in the pre dawn with a kid who was training to become the next famous Dominican ballplayer.

3) Bani. I got robbed a bunch of times so I moved to a semi-urban project neighborhood in the city of Bani. Bani is a Taino word meaning “abundant water”. Ha! It rained a total of two times during the 16 months I lived there. The best part of living in Bani? Mangos and the people. The worst part of living in Bani? Heat, no running water (and sometimes nowhere to get water AT ALL) and the tigre population who lived on my street.

Every so often I consider what I would tuck into a backpack if I were to leave… tomorrow, next week, next year. Maybe I’ll write about what I’d tuck into each of my son’s backpacks next, or ask them to select five things that they would bring with them. The five items I’d pack tonight may change tomorrow.

But for now, good night, and good reading.


mindbump suggested by Altered Words

“If you were going to take a journey and could only put 5 things in your backpack, what would they be? Why? “

Six month update on my 2012 bucket list

Can you believe 2012 is half over?
On January 1, I created a bucket list for the year. Here’s an update on how it’s going.
  • See a sunrise from somewhere other than my car. DONE. This morning, in fact, I gazed across the sound as the sun rose in the Olympic Peninsula. It was 5:19 am and I was wide awake.
  • Teach our eldest son to ride a two-wheeler. Not yet. He did, however, acquire a skateboard for his 5th birthday.
  • Acquire first passports for boys. Not yet. But I did register one for kindergarten!
  • Use them. See above.
  • Run one half marathon that I’ve never run before. Not yet. But I’m registered for the Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon which will take place on September 2nd.
  • Watch Casablanca (again) at least once with husband. This is an easy one, and yet no viewing has taken place in 2012.
  • Reach out to bloggers outside of the United States. In progress. Check out the World Moms Blog!
  • If the right moment and image presents itself, get another tattoo. Not yet. Ooooh, I want to do this badly, but haven’t landed on the image yet.
  • Take something hot & homemade to a new mom. Does sending my sister a gift certificate to Trader Joe’s count? If so, then DONE. If not, then I’ll be ready to bring something delicious and nutritious to my good friend who lives down the street and is due in early October (are you reading, amiga?).
  • Learn a Spanish lullaby. DONE. I started out by cheating to re-learn an old favorite that I learned as a young girl. Cielito Lindo. I also learned a new one called Duérmete niño. The lyrics are similar to those of “Rock a bye baby” and if you really listen, they are somewhat threatening.
  • Sing it to my children. DONE. But big M still prefers “Mockingbird” and “You are my sunshine” (which always makes me cry, even when they sing it at Timbers games in the 80th minute).
  • Photograph a rainbow. Not yet.
  • Secure a literary agent. I’m trying, ok!?
  • Make paella. Or sancocho. Share with friends. Not yet.
  • Run more. Run often. January was a wash due to busted ankle. February, however, brought in a lot of energy and commitment, despite the rains. March brought no motivation. April – June… more or less consistent, but another ankle turn. But more running is in progress and on the calendar… note half marathon registration above.
  • Rid the house of all bottles and pacifiers. DONE DONE DONE with bottles! Still working on NO PACIS.
  • When the skies finally clear, stargaze. Ahhh, cielito lindo, cuanto te quiero. The biggest, brightest moon I’ve ever witnessed until this past 4th of July was on several nights spent working on a macadamia/coffee ranch in southern Mexico.  A few months ago I took Miles to the planetarium for a pleasant afternoon experience of stargazing. But that doesn’t compare to watching a full moon light up the sky against the backdrop of fireworks crackling and searing and popping…. or was the moon the backdrop for the bombs bursting in air? It was hard to tell. But it was spectacular.
  • Vote for the incumbent! Not yet. Can’t wait. FINGERS CROSSED.
  • Renew my passport. Not yet. Why can’t I just do this?
  • Visit Canada for the first time. Nope.
  • Cook something that my grandmother Irene used to cook (source: a special cookbook gifted to me by my Aunt Marie). Not yet, she writes regretfully. One of my favorite aunts just moved from Michigan to Tennesee. I need to prepare a dish in honor of her courage, tenacity, and love of family!
  • Be more tolerant. In progress.
  • Attend a meeting of the Oregon Beekeepers Association. I keep missing this opportunity.
  • Take boys to the top of the Space Needle. DONE. I might add we paid a total of $50 for a family of four to ride the groovy elevator and walk around the observation deck. Despite its spectacular views, the ten minutes we spent checking out the city from above weren’t worth $50.
  • Do the Shred every day for thirty days. Ummm, FAIL. I might try again at some point in the year.
  • Soak in hot springs in the middle of the woods. Not yet. But a dear friend’s hot tub at the edge of rural and beautiful Marrowstone Island surely counts.
  • Complete my book proposal. In progress.
  • Camp in Mt Hood National Forest. Not yet.
  • Go to Yosemite National Park before a close friend living there leaves. SAD FAIL. Friend employed at the park relocated to Washington, DC. HAPPY FOR HER. Our change in plans includes camping in Tumalo State Park and at Wallowa Lake later in the summer. Wallowa is surrounded by 9,000′ tall snow-capped mountains and a large, clear lake, while Tumalo rests along Oregon’s spectacular Deschutes River. I can’t wait to pack up the car with everything but the kitchen sink and sleep in our gigantic family tent with all my guys.
  • Meet my nephew expected to join the world in early May! DONE. Lighting Bolt is an amazing little guy and already a cherished member of our family.
  • Attend a meeting of the Compassionate Friends. Reach out to other bereaved siblings. Not yet. Scared.
  • Complete an open water swim of a challenging distance. SOON. My father and I are registered to swim the 70th Annual Roy Webster Cross-Channel Swim on September 3rd in Hood River.
  • Go on one meditation retreat, even if it takes place in my basement. Yoga/meditation retreat in the planning stage!
  • Write a letter to the editor. I have not yet felt so compelled.
  • Plan and execute an excellent five-year-old birthday party. DONE. You can read all about it HERE.
  • Hike Silver Falls. MUST DO THIS BY END OF CALENDAR YEAR!
  • Drag out the crock pot. Use it! Not yet. Still dusty. Sorry, Mom.
  • Forgive someone. WORKING ON IT. TOUGH.

the goodness of strangers

I had moved into a quiet, lovely colonia in the city of Merida, Yucatan, where the weather goes from warm to tropical hot – a sultry, scorching white hot heat in which a fan doesn’t stand a chance. The true test of an experienced traveler is the ability to deal with local cuisine and bathrooms. For me, it’s also the ability to avoid getting lost. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with a gene for navigation, and I can’t or won’t read a map unless it’s incredibly basic.

My host family was warm and gracious. My host mother had once danced in the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, and remained slim and elegant at age 60. She offered guidance when needed, but otherwise encouraged my independence as I explored my new community. Athough it wasn’t usual practice, when I headed out in to the neighborhood for a run, she wished me well. I insisted I would be fine, and back in 30-45 minutes.

So off I went, padding along the street of a moderately busy neighbhorhood in a city divided by a series of quadrants. Each calle, or street, had a number and a letter. This meant that Calle 16 Este, for example, had counterparts called Calle 16 Oeste, Calle 16 Sur and Calle 16 Norte. Didn’t much matter to me.

About twenty minutes into my run, I decided to head back. Naturally, I just turned around and attempted to trace my steps backward. Unaware, I left one quadrant for another, always staying on or close to Calle 16. Things began to look less and less familiar, and I recognized that feeling I’d often had before when traveling — and occasionally in my home town!

I was lost.

Yet I kept running. For nearly two hours I ran, in circles and spirals and down long dusty roads, and I studiously read every street sign, which was pointless but made me feel like I would figure it out. It was getting dark, however. Proud and a little dizzy, I hadn’t asked anyone for directions since I didn’t actually know where I lived.

I carried no money, water, or identification.

At sunset, I silently acknowledged that I needed to ask for help. I approached a woman who was emptying her car of four – no, five – children who scrambled and giggled and smiled. She looked solid and trustworthy. Glancing at me, she quickly apprised my situation.

“Donde vives?” (Where do you live?)

Painstakingly, I described my host’s abode and guessed at the numbers. She shook her head, serious.

“Súbete.” (Get in)

What?

“You’re far from home. Quite far!”

I had no choice other than to climb into her vehicle unless I preferred to spend the night outside.

After several minutes during which five small children watched me curiously, I was dropped off directly in front of my home. I modestly thanked the woman, and her five kids, for their trouble and kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to find my way home.


read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Home after home after home

Today’s post was inspired by Kvetchmom’s blog, where she writes:

“Traveling always challenges my idea of home. Where is home? Am I in the right place?  Please share what home means to you.”

Sweeping green leaves shade our play. As summer’s blaze sinks beneath the horizon, tiny fireflies flash and drift across the lawn. They float within arm’s reach, and we run to catch and place them in glass jars. From down the street a few scattered shouts from teenage lifeguards are heard when they close the swimming pool. The savory aroma of grilled food fills the air. Day melts into night. I am home.

Holidays invite colored lights and Christmas carols. It is cold. The chance of snow is ever present, and anticipating a Snow Day gives us a thrill. A vast pot of spaghetti sauce simmers on the stove while a live tree brings its memories of the forest in to our living room. Secrets are tucked into dreams and corners and closets. A few snowflakes drift in the wind. I am home.

I move into a hot, unadorned double suite dorm room with three other 18-year-old women. We share one bathroom and a lounge down the hall. Boxes are emptied of clothes, books, hangers, microwaveable dishes, and rolls of quarters for laundry. The beds are small and transform into sofa-like objects, tucked away until we sleep on crisp new sheets. Photos are taped onto the walls. It doesn’t feel like home.

My suitcase sits in the corner of the unlit room where a spinning ceiling fan is the only sound. My new family is comprised of two beautiful Mexican women with whom I share a house in the Yucatan. They are mother and daughter, and when the weather becomes oppressively hot, I follow their example and rest in a hammock at night. Our bodies remain in gentle motion through the night, and in the morning we eat sweet bread and drink coffee. I am happy in this faraway home encircled by sagebrush and rock, where tiny lizards perch silently outside my window.

The bus rattles along long pot marked roads and the ocean sparkles to the west. It navigates heavily traveled streets filled with noise and heat that contribute to a sweet laziness in the Caribbean. This sense of this all-day siesta is deceptive. On every corner taxi drivers and vendors wait, hover, and angle to be the first to successfully hustle the next person who walks by and force their hand for a few measly pesos. I am thirsty, and purchase a few small plastic bags filled with water that I hope is purified. I smile at children who admire the foreigner in the neighborhood. For more than two years I live in a land of stolen kisses, flip-flops, mangos and merengue.

Not ready to come home yet, I become a part of we. Passports still in hand together we greet a small dusty town in Chiapas to make our home in a rural community where indigenous uprisings are not a thing of the past. Military vehicles captained by dark eyed men move slowly around the bustling town square with its vendors, lovers and travelers. We live in a one room house with a tiny patio, a latrine, a macadamia nut grove and a peek at an ancient ruin glimpsed through the forest. The ranch was home to the unrepressed addiction of a few angry ex-pats, and home to the soul-shaking goodness of our neighbors to the south, men and women whose humanity is draped in indigenous solitude and dependent on survival skills lost to many. Every day we light fires, drink freshly roasted coffee, serve and participate in amazing communal meals, and true friendship brings us through this particular journey.

Afterwards I slip into high heels and sleek black pants, and I blow dry my hair so that the curls go away. In our Nation’s Capitol after nearly three years away, I remember the choices we are faced with as middle class Americans – among them, the overwhelming quantity of toothpaste, cereal, snacks, shoes. I get a job. I rise early. I go to work. I go home alone. I push past men and women in suits and sneakers hustling to and from a cubicle on public transit.

I am home, but not home.

September 11 happens.

And I pack my bags again.

Welcomed by California, I land in a place that is more fog than sun, where sea lions play on rocks by the shore and ancient redwood trees grow ever grander. We build fires in the fireplace, and shop for our very first bed. I claim one side of the closet; he takes the other. We make sushi for Christmas Eve dinner. Our friends fill our home with laughter and shouts. We are home.

Three thousand miles and two years later, we are back in the city that once was a swamp.  We move into the second floor of an old rowhouse on NW 13th Street. The studio is renovated, spacious, and curiously designed for urban living. We frequently dine out, and run and ride bikes in the metropolitan jungle. A suburban experience accosts us on weekend visits to family, and I return to the home I knew as a child.

Again, three thousand miles and two plus years return to us to the West Coast.

We drop anchor in the Pacific Northwest, where we begin a different kind of urbanish life that takes place in the midst of mountains and rivers and parks filled with old growth trees and mossy shade. Our children are born here. We are warm in our raincoats and fleece as we stomp through puddles and trails, and we linger on the days of late summer when we, too, can strip to our lightest clothing and lean back into melting sunsets and sweet summertime life.

Home is my family. Home is here. Home is now.

Pura vida: upon leaving home for the first time

Scintilla bonus prompt (from Saturday): Talk about a time when you left home.

Subtitle: why every high school and college student should travel overseas

She was seventeen, sort of confident, sort of not, but eager for adventure. She clutched a brand new passport in her hand and carried a backpack filled with notebook, books, camera and pens and a small suitcase filled with clothes. There were no cell phones in those days, or any other hand held technology. She didn’t have an e-mail account, but was already looking forward to receiving handwritten letters from home.

She was me, twenty years ago.  The first time I left home was to spend one month in Costa Rica. A driver welcomed me at the airport with a sign and a smile, and proceeded to weave in and out of brisk and moderately scary traffic until we arrived at my destination: a family home in a small town called Santa Ana. The family was friendly, kind, open to my questions and my hesitation as I stumbled over the language.

Monday through Friday I studied Spanish on a mountain top finca, a school/farm with an amazing view of the Santa Ana valley. Most of my classmates were college students. I was about to enter my senior year of high school. This situation was very attractive, and a little uncomfortable. We got to know one another quickly as we practiced Spanish and explored the community, enjoying gallo pinto and cerveza fria on hot nights.

I remember going out one evening to celebrate a local holiday, and perceived the magic of the town at twilight. Marimbas played lightly, their wooden bars struck just so for the rhythm to float through the air. We strolled freely while the men sipped sugarcane liquor and watched the people walk by. The colors, sounds and spices of the streets filled my heart. It was pura vida.

(Pura Vida literally means pura = pure and vida = life, but the real meaning is closer to “this is living!” or “cool!”)

It was summer time, but I doubt I brought sunscreen, preferring to darken my skin under the hot sun. The weather was sublime – warm, tropical, soft. On weekends we traveled to volcanoes, beaches. One week away from my family stretched into two, then three. Suddenly it was time to go home.

I returned home, a little wiser and a little older.

I hadn’t asked to go away. Instead, my father invited me to travel on his dime for the very first time and helped me secure my first passport. So let’s remind ourselves that I hadn’t said to my parents, “Guys, I’m going to go to a foreign country to study Spanish, drink my first shots of tequila, kiss a (gasp) college sophomore, and play the traveler – in a place where there’s no way you can truly know what I’m up to or how things are going until you get a post card stamped two weeks prior to its arrival on your door step”.

The next time I’d leave home, I did ask.

But I was careful to not to say to my parents, “Mom and Dad, now I’m going to go to Mexico to study Spanish (some more), sleep in a hammock on the beach, ride a horse in the jungle with a ten-year-old guide and no water, still never wear sunscreen, drink more than what is good for me, dance in local discos until 4 am, ask you to send me some more money, and spend far too much time with an unemployed but cute guy named Alvaro (who speaks excellent Spanish).”

Instead, I said, “Mom and Dad, I’m going to Mexico to study Spanish and anthropology at an excellent university in the Yucatan, live with a lovely and well respected family, and visit ancient ruins and apply that knowledge to future learnings and a brilliant and bilingual career.”

And I did all that, and a little bit more.

Though I didn’t ask to go on my first overseas trip, I’m certainly glad I had the opportunity. The memories created by leaving home stayed with me, and to this day I always look to the South when I want to get away. My time in Costa Rica inspired wanderlust in me, and for that I am ever grateful.