Jan 28, 2012

Port Land

A Portland vista. (I didn't take this picture myself.  In the absence of my own photos I nabbed this one from Google images. This is in southwest Portland; we were in Clackamas to the southeast, but this view is very similar to what I saw around Carol's house).

"Oregon almost feels like a foreign country.  Florida, Ohio, Michigan--the states where I've spent most of my life are vastly diffferent from each other but also similar in their mostly flat landscape.  Portland is dramatically hilly and that makes the surrounding area appear unlike anywhere I've lived (in recent memory anyway, since I was born here after all).  Beyond that everything feels smaller than in the expanses of middle America--the roads, the shopping centers, the subdivisions, the houses  It reminds me of someplace in Europe or Japan--Australia really comes to mind."
--from my pen & paper journal, Tuesday, December 27, 2011

For the last two years our visits to Portland were so short that we spent most of the time holed up in Carol's apartment.  Thursday and Friday were spent getting relaxing and getting ready for the big Saipan Thanksgiving feast.  Sabbath there was a brief excursion to church, and that was about it.  Sunday morning we'd be back on a plane headed home.  But this time, with almost all full week at our disposal, we are able to get out, and actually get a sense of Portland, Oregon. 

Though this is the city where I was born, and the region where I spent the first eight years or so of my life, Oregon feels distinctly exotic.

A Hawthorne district streetscape (again lifted from Google Images)

The state in general, and the city in particular has a reputation for being more than a little bohemian.  Stereotypical Portland is a hippie retreat, a redoubt of artisnal living.  It is eco-conscious, politically liberal,  and femnist friendly.  The men wear full beards, suspenders and skinny jeans, the women dreadlocks, peasant dresses and thrift store accessories.  This is the Portland parodied in the IFC hit series Portlandia. (Portlandia was my original title for this blog, but it just felt too derivative). During our week I definitely got the sense of the orgins of this stereotype.  I found it particularly interesting that this Portlander persona seemed to span the generations.  Where we live the granola lifestyle is largely the province of young adults--college students, but not so in Portland.  Portland remains the only place where I've seen more than once, women well into their sixties and older dressed like young hipsters--and pulling it off too!

Of course, like all stereotypes, this picture of Oregon is limiting and poorly reflects the rich diversity of people, viewpoints, and culture to be found in the state. Nonetheless, I enjoyed getting a taste of Port Land.  Given, that Babs and I are a little bohemian ourselves we loved the vibe.

I  wouldn't mind living there if not for the constant rain, and the vaguely somber feel of the place that has nothing to do with the it's gentle hippie folk and everything to do with dark memories from my earliest days there.  While Oregon may not be our home, its very "foreign-ness" makes it a place where I always feel at home.

Jan 21, 2012

With the Paez's in Portland

"The Feller" with "Cool Guy" on the left and Fredo on the right at the Oregon Zoo, New Years Eve, 2011.  Unfortnately, I have very few photos of our visit to Oregon.  Most of the pictures were on Barbara's phone, which crashed just a few days ago.  If I'd blogged last weekend as I planned, those photos and video would have been saved.

For the first two years, our visits to Portland were defined by Saipan.  They were the "Saipan Thanksgivings" where we met old and dear Saipan friends to carry on the island tradition of spending the holiday together here in America.

But this year, we didn't make the trip at Thanksgiving, flying out instead on the day after Christmas.  We decided that the brutally short trip over the Thanksgiving weekend just wasn't enough.  Two days of travel to spend two days with some of our best friends in the world just didn't make sense.  So we decided to forgo the tradition in favor of the friendships.  This year the trip was not about flashbacks to the past, but friendships that continue to thrive in the present, and on into the future. 

Some my favorite memories from our week in Portland with the Paez family:

The House:
We left Columbus Monday morning, Decmber 26 after driving back up the day before from Dayton where we'd spent the Christmas weekend with Barbara's family.  We arrived in Portland around six in the evening and were met at the airport by Keisha and "Big Sister." (Carol had already gone to work). 

Carol bought a new house, just weeks after our Thanksgiving visit last year, and this year we got to enjoy her beautiful new digs.  If there is one word to describe her house, it's "warm."  Of course I know a big part of that is the people, but it's also the wood floors, the comfy couches, the gas fireplace, the monster island in the kitchen perfect for whipping up a batch of cinnamon rolls while chatting with one or more Paez family members.  It's the color scheme of taupe and ivory.  Everything about her house purrs warmth, comfort, and rest.

The whole week was one of the most relaxing of the entire year for me.  I spent much of my time reading (I finished Evan Schneider's debut novel A Simple Machine, Like the Lever.  A good read with bite-sized chapters and likable if somewhat inept main character.  Read friend and fellow blogger Mai Rhea Odiyar's review here.  Mine will be forthcoming).  I watched a few movies on Netflix: Rabbit Hole, the good but gloomy Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart drama and Art & Copy, a fascinating documentary about the ad industry are two films that come to mind, though I might have watched a few others.  I also started watching Dollhouse, a TV series Fredo introduced to me. It only ran two seasons, before being cancelled, but lives on on Netflix.  I've enjoyed what I've seen so far.  I cooked at my leisure, trying out several new recipes from a cookbook we bought Carol for Christmas, and making my usual Christmas gifts of baked goods for the Paez kids.  This year I made "Big Sister" a pretty decent lemon tart, peach cobbler for Fredo and Wylie, peanut butter blossom cookies for "Cool Guy", and unbelievably good cinnamon rolls for Keisha (I liked those so much I made another batch on Sabbath.  This particular recipe makes moist, melt in your mouth rolls rich with brown sugar and cinnamon, and slathered with a generous covering of homemade cream cheese frosting--we're talking Cinnabon level of deliciousness!). 

Curled up one of Carol's comfy chairs next to the fireplace puttering around on my computer or ipad while chatting with "Big Sister", Keisha, Carol or some other member of the tribe, or engrossed in a book or magazine was definitely a highlight of the week for me.

Skype with Mai and "Big Sister":

Around mid afternoon Tuesday, December 27 "Big Sister" and I connected with Mai on Skype for some catching up.  Mai is another one of those people whose friendship has transcended the time we shared with her on Saipan, and it was such a pleasure to spend some time with her in Portland, even if it was only virtual.

The three of us "together":  Mai took this screen shot of us while we were chatting.  You can just tell by our faces how nice it was to reconnect.

Hawthorne & Navigating the Backroads of Portland/Clackamas with Keisha.

On Wednesday, December 28, we headed out to the bohemian Portland neighborhood of  Hawthorne.  Filled with cafes, restuarants, vintage-wear shops, funky boutiques, and a branch of the most un-Wall Street looking bank I've ever seen, Hawthorne is as stereotypically Portlandia as they come. (Next blog up, I'll share my observations of Portalnd culture).  In keeping with the Oregon cliche, it was drizzling steadily when we arrived, and we walked in the chilly rain for awhile trying to decide where to eat.  We ended up at Rice Junkies, a little place that served a hodgepodge of ethnic food.  I decided on Korean, and had a delicious bibimbap bowl with a side of kimchi.  It was the first time I"d had kimchi since we left Saipan, and it was so good!

After lunch, we wandered the stacks at the Hawthorne branch of Powell's Books, another iconic Portland establishment.  This cooler than the big-box booksellers store reminded me a lot of the Book Loft here in Columbus with it's narrow aisles, 32 rooms of books (Powell's didn't have quite that many) and wide range of books.   I picked up A Simple Machine. Like the Lever here and glanced through a couple of other interesting titles as well.  After book store browsing for a bit, Keisha, "Big Sister", the Feller and I went to Chez Machin Creperie & Bistro, while Babs and Carol went to a nearby Fred Meyers.  A good crepe is a rare thing and should never be passed up.  The best crepes I've ever had were at a little stand called Crepe Expectations in the Cairns Central Shopping Centre in tropical North Queensland Australia, but this place came a close second.  I had the La Delice--a crepe filled with nutella, vanilla custard, and rasberry jam, and topped with ice cream--and it was wonderful.  One of my favorite memories of our week is of sitting in the cozy warmth of this little creperie with rain streaking the windows outside, and good conversation and food inside.  When we next visit Portland this place is definitely on my list to go back to.

"Big Sister"


The Feller

The Crepes

On the drive to and from Hawthorne, we couldn't quite all fit in one car, so while everyone else rode with Carol,  I rode with Keisha to keep her company.  It was nice to catch up with her a little bit.  She's a full-on adult now, about to become an officer in the United Marine Corps, but she's still the same old Keisha, with lots of interesting stories, and strong opinions on just about everything under the sun!  On the drive back we had a little adventure as we got a bit lost trying to get back to the Paez house.  Keisha's GPS was on the fritz and we ended up driving around for quite awhile.  It was a bit crazy driving through those winding, hilly Oregon backroads, with rain pouring down and the windows so fogged up we could barely see the road.  Eventually, I got the navigation app on my new phone working, right about the time Keisha's phone righted itself, and together both phones talked us home.  It was a little nerve-wracking at the time, but looking back its' a nice memory of an adventure with Keisha.

Touching Base with Saipan

On Friday night, December 30, we were gathered in Carol's welcoming kitchen digging into the lasgana-style baked ziti I'd made when Virle popped up on Skype.  On a whim, I asked her if she wanted to say hi to some familiar faces, and moments later she called us up.  Carol, Babs, and I ended up talking to her for well over an hour, getting all the latest Saipan news and gossip.  During our chat, the second-oldest Paez son, Wylie showed up uannounced, bringing with him another familiar face from our Saipan days, J.D. Tanaka.  J.D. went to Saipan SDA School for middle school, but we hadn't seen him since he graduated from 8th grade.  Wylie and JD's appearance made our little Saipan reunion complete.

New Years Eve at the Zoo

On Sabbath, December 31 we went to church, had a quick lunch at home, and then took the train to the Oregon Zoo.  Our son was very excited about seeing elephants, and though it was bitterly cold, we all had a good time.  We saw the elephants and a surprising number of other animals that could manage the chilly weather.  We arrived just before sundown, when the zoo's holiday lights went on display so we were able to enjoy that as well. We had some really great pictures and video from that evening, but unfortnately almost all of them were on Barbara's phone, which crashed just a few days ago.  She ended up getting a replacement phone for free since it was still under warrantee but we lost all her pictures.  Still, we have the memories--the Feller thrilled by the packyderms, an exhilarting drum circle with "Big Sister" and the Feller at a stand of African drums not far from the shuttered lions display, and supper together at the AfriCafe. 

Our family at the Oregon Zoo on the last day 2011.  I wish we had a picture of the whole Paez family.  In fact, there is a really good one that they have.  I'll have to get it and add it to this post.

We got back to the Paez home fairly early in the evening, with enough time to pack up our stuff for the next day's flight out and still have time to sit down and watch a movie and quietly welcome in 2012.

Fredo reads the Feller a story.

I've come to believe that good friends are too rare to treat casually.  The vast majority of the people we come in contact with are there only for a season before fading into memory as the demands of daily life and the busy round of routine consume us.  Most of us have--and are--friends of convenience, close because of physical and schedule proximity.  But there are the few--those friends that transcend the daily grind.  You can probably count these people on one, maybe two, hands for whom time and distance are no deterrant.  These are the friends that you make time for, the friends you're willing to go the distance to see.  Friends like that are exceedingly precious, and we are lucky to have such friends in Carol Paez and her children.

Jan 6, 2012

What a Way to Start the New Year!

Talk about a win-win situation!

So we were on our way back from a fantastic week in Oregon with our dear friend Carol Paez and her tribe (look for an upcoming blog on our visit), and we had a layover in Chicago.  While we were waiting at the gate, Barbara heard them calling for volunteers to be bumped as the flight was oversold.  They were offering $400 per traveler in flight coupons, and later flights to Columbus and Dayton.

At first when Babs suggested we volunteer to be bumped, I was unenthusiastic.  "No, let's just get home."  Anyone who knows me, knows I hate a change of plans.  But after about two minutes of reflection I gave myself a mental smack across the face:  "What's the matter with you?  Pass up $1200 in flight vouchers just to get home a little sooner?"

We volunteered to be bumped and that choice turned out to be even better than I'd first realized.  They only had one seat to Columbus four hours later., but they had three seats to Dayton a mere half hour after our original flight was scheduled to leave.  We had no choice but to take the Dayton flight, and it was a good thing too.  You see, we'd left Kimo with Bab's parents in Dayton and the plan had been that the next day I would drive down to their house, pick her up, and bring her back.  With our change in travel plans, the Leens met us at the Dayton airport with Kimo.  We drove in a rented car back to Columbus, picked up our car at the airport, and were home maybe three hours later than we otherwise would have been, but with lots of free air travel to cash in, and Kimo home with us already.

The next day, relaxing at home, watching the snow come down, I was doubly grateful that United Airlines had essentially flown me to Dayton to get my dog and paid me for their trouble to boot!

If the start is any indication, this going to be fantastic year!