So today I’m doing a different sort of post than I normally do. A while back, travel expert, Kendra Thornton, asked me to collaborate with her on a post about the things we both love best about our hometowns. I didn’t have to think too long about agreeing, as I love both Portland, Oregon and Chicago Illinois.
Portland: Places to See and Things to Do:
Now I’m not a hipster. And I’m not a lumberjack. And I am not a twenty-something (although I wish I still was in my twenties) vintage-wearing, vegan-eating, bike-riding Oregonian. If you are looking for a place to get a tattoo, or pierce any part of your body, other than your ears, I cannot help you. I do not care, one way or another, about mustaches, beer, or plaid shirts. There isn’t a single terrarium in my home, goats do not mow my lawn, nor do I know how to make any homemade fruit liquors (although I do make my own chocolate in the winter, and I do like to pickle things, and make jams).
As you can see from the above line, I am a food lover. And Portland has a wonderful food scene. There’s St. Honore Boulangerie for authentic French pastries, Barista serving local Coava Coffee, Tasty n Alder for delicious breakfast, Papa Haydn for wonderful lunches and scrumptious desserts, Nuvrei for the best macarons outside of Paris, Alma for the craziest chocolate cravings, and for dinner you can’t go wrong with Meriwether or Ava Gene’s.
There Powell’s for books, Cielo Home for antiques, Oblation for everything letterpress. There’s House of Lolo for gorgeous clothes, Gilt for amazing one-of-a-kind jewelry, and Eden the most exquisite vintage store that could possibly exist, and I don’t even like vintage. Eden carries everything from my favorite French perfume (Serge Lutens Fleurs d’oranger) to beautiful silk scarves, to velvet smoking jackets, to beaded wedding gowns.
And not too far from all of this eating and shopping is the emerald, mist-shrouded Washington Park. With acres upon acres of wooded hiking and bike trails, a zoo, an international rose test garden, a Japanese garden, an arboretum, a forestry museum, a children’s museum, tennis courts, an archery range, and some of the most beautiful homes in all of Portland, one can spend a good weekend just exploring it.
As for accommodations while in Portland, if I were a hipster I’d tell you to stay at the Ace Hotel. Since I’m not, I recommend either The Nines or Hotel Monaco. Both have fabulous decor, attentive staff, and are in the center of town.
Here are some photos of my beautiful hometown. Enjoy!
Friends, this will be my last post for a while. I’m working on a project which will keep me busy for quite some time. I already miss you all. Have a wonderful 2014!
Now on to Kendra Thornton’s piece about Chicago.
Chicago: Places to See and Things to Do
The world is a great place in which to visit. At times, I like to travel to countries and cities by myself as I am on business. At other times, I love to go to a specific place with my husband and our children. As a native of Chicago, this city is my favorite place to be. There are some things to see and places to visit when in town.
1. Shopping with Luxury and Culture
Luxury shopping definitely has enthusiasts and there are places that people will find what they are looking for in terms of luxurious brands and styles. Two places to visit include Bucktown and Wicker Park. Stores to visit at both places include Intermix and Nanette Lepore. Culture is big in both of these places as it has local boutiques in which to visit.
2. The Park of the New Century
One of the most popular attractions in the city is Millennium Park. At one point in time, the area, which is now the park, used to be a piece of wasteland. Through the working of former mayor Richard Daley, construction began on creating a park for the heart of the city. The new park was schedule to open for the next millennium, which was back in 2000. Millennium Park has a number of architectural works, sculptures, art and much more for people to enjoy. In addition to this, there are plenty of tours, programs and activities for everyone in the family to enjoy.
3. Investigating Infrastructure
Wherever one is in the city, it is quite easy to look around and be in awe of the infrastructure that is all around. It does not matter if one is on the north side or the south side of the city. It does not matter if one is looking at bridges going across the river or walking in downtown or in a neighborhood. There is uniqueness, but beauty is everywhere. When viewing the city, be sure to select a hotel that is close to where the wonder and the excitement are.
4. Falling for RL
With winter now here, I like to frequent a special restaurant in the city, which serves delicious food and is in the center of downtown. The place is RL, although some know it was the Ralph Lauren restaurant. It is located on Michigan Avenue North and is next to the famous Polo store. In fact, this Polo store is the largest one on earth. A favorite dish for me to have is a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. It is perfect during the fall months.
These places and things to do in Chicago are just the tip of the iceberg compared to the possibilities that there are. Chicago is the thriving community that has much to offer. Take time and visit there this year.
The snow whirls thick snowflakes over the houses, and the bare trees resemble silver pins in a downy cushion. The icy gusts of wind that rattled the shuttered windows throughout the night, have since died down. It is late morning. The heavens touch the shingled rooftops, bloated and heavy. It is the week of the worst snowstorm the city has seen for years. The snow spills and spills on buildings and houses and streets and people and sheds and gardens. From inside the house, the entire world appears to be suspended in a snow globe: a white bubble of silence.
We’re all gathered together in my dad’s childhood home, the mud brick house with walls three feet thick and double windows. We are all together – my dad and his six siblings, their spouses, the children – all gathered around the open gleaming casket of my grandmother. She is oblivious to us, her eyes shut, her hands folded on the white silk of her blouse, the blouse she had commissioned from the seamstress for just this purpose: her death, her burial.
We are not alone. There are people everywhere, in this room, in the next, in the hallway. They have come to pay their respects. They come in their Sunday best, with polished shoes, and starched collars.
Manners aren’t forgotten in a time such as this, no matter the weather. They sit and stand and cry and say a word of kindness. They lightly kiss the offered hand of the women, with a quiet: “I kiss your hand madam.” They embrace the men, and kiss them on the cheek. Their voices are hushed, their eyes downcast.
They come with homemade bread and chicken soup and pork sausage. They clear the tiled front steps and shovel the pathway from the courtyard gate to the front door. They chop wood, stack it, and feed the orange mouth of the fireplace. The air is stale with their smell: with the smell of sweat and garlic and sausage.
Grandmother’s sons howl outside the door like little children. They slobber into each other’s necks. Why did their mother have to die? What will they do without her? Who will they run to with their problems – for a word of advice, acceptance, their favorite mutton stew?
In the beginning of it all, when the doctor gathered all six of them and their sister, in the cold blue and white tiled hospital hallway, when he told them to take their mother home, that there was nothing he could do, they seemed prepared. They had the front room cleaned out from top to bottom, dusted the heavy furniture, cleaned the emerald green brocade window drapes, beat the rugs. They ordered the most expensive coffin, packed the pantry with pickled green tomatoes and cucumbers, and called the minister to come and anoint her head for the transition.
They butchered a hog and threw a party, invited family from near and far. Grandmother said her goodbyes unhurried, in a civilized manner, amidst tears and smiles and cakes. Her children sat with her and waited, moistened her parched lips, held her trembling hand, fed her tiny spoonfuls of soup, and positioned her frail body.
But something must have happened to them when she crossed the threshold from the known to the unknown world. Because something in them is out of whack.
They walk in circles and press white-tipped fingers into their temples. They hold on to each other. Their eyes are wild. Their hair stands on end. They moan and rock on the balls of their feet. They are unashamed in their sorrow. They are not the fathers we remember. Their pain scares us. They scare us. They do not see us anymore. They do not see their wives or their friends. They only see each other. They only see their dear mother.
When the adults leave to relieve their cramped legs and bursting bladders, when their stomachs rumble for the world to hear, begging to be fed, the children sneak into the room. We make our way to the coffin, peer into our grandmother’s face. We dare each other to touch her, we move the lips to see if they really are held together by a pin, we imagine we see her eyelids quiver, we giggle nervously that we are so daring near the presence of Death. We run out into the hallway terrified when a loud knocking comes from where her feet should be, and collapse into tears of relief when one of our older cousins admits that he hid under the table to scare us. We get our ears pulled by one of the aunts for our lack of disrespect, get sent into the kitchen to wash the dishes and clear the tables.
Outside the window the falling snow blurs the edges of the acacias across the street. The crows and the ravens begin to croak. The room slowly empties. The fire in the tiled fireplace has died. The crying has stopped. The inevitable moment is here. The horse-drawn glass hearse has arrived. It is time to line up for the funeral march. The minister sends everyone out of the room. This is the uncles’ final moment alone with their mother. They shut the door after themselves. Shut everyone else out.
My sister and cousins and I glue our ears to the cold panel of the door. We hear muffled voices and then, much later, the tap-tapping of the lid being nailed down.
Our mothers seize our arms and pull us away. They bundle us in layers of wool and feathers and send us outside.
Helping fingers point us to where we should go.
Our breaths are smoke in the frozen air, our noses and lips turned to marble. We touch them with gloved hands from time to time, to make sure they are still there. The snow settling on our eyelashes prompts us to imagine ourselves as old people.
We hunch our backs and lean on imaginary canes. We get a fit of giggles and feel guilty for them. So we imagine ourselves old and dying, dead already, and we are serious again.
Family, friends, neighbors, and what seems to be the entire city, are packed on the narrow cobblestoned street, shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to accompany grandmother’s soulless body to its hole in the frozen ground.
“It took all night to dig the hole.” The whisper passes through the crowd. The whisper tickles our ears but makes no sense. We haven’t met Death before. We don’t know he likes to take the bodies with him into the ground.
After the coffin is secured inside the hearse, after the uncles remember to take their places next to their wives, after the wives account for the children, after a moment of silence, we march through the icy streets, led by a brass band.
Beside me, my sister is asleep. The golden tiled fireplace in the corner of the bedroom heats radiates heat throughout the room. I get out of bed as quietly as I can, make my way into the freezing cold of the next room, and out into the hall. I put on my jacket and step into my boots, pull my wool cap low over my forehead and stuff my hands into mittens.
It is just a few weeks before Christmas. Uncles, aunts, and cousins are to gather at our house. Today is the day of the pig slaughter. There is a large table set up outside between the water well and the grape arbor. On it are several large bloodied knives. I am glad that the pig was killed before I woke up.
I walk from one group to another, but no one pays any attention to me. I stop to watch the men burn the pig over an open fire. They rub the pig’s skin with salt and cover it. The ham and the chops and the ribs get placed in separate pots. Some will be ground, some will be smoked and some will be used for the midday and evening meal.
The women prepare a lunch of polenta and thick slabs of bacon. Fast food before the making of sausage. They shoo me out of the way.
My sister awakes and the other cousins arrive. Now there’s a bunch of us underfoot. We are given little things to do, such as taking firewood to the smokehouse and turning the handle on the sausage-making machine until our arms seem about to fall off.
The men finish with salting and burning the skin. They mix the meat with fat for storage over the long winter months. They help the women with the sausages and line up every piece of meat that is to be smoked next to each other in the smokehouse.
When the long day nears to an end, the men make a makeshift table running the length of the yard. We sit and have a last meal together of fried sausage and mashed potatoes, pickled peppers and black bread. Everyone is tired, yet merry. We eat and drink until we’re stuffed. Someone mentions that it’s time for each family to their own house.
And then just as people start to leave, it begins to snow. The snow shimmers and sparkles and settles over the yard. My sister and I beg our dad to pull us on the sled, but he is too tired, and the snow is not deep enough.
With promises of sled rides in the morning we get sent to our warm bed, where I am sure we fall asleep right away. And so ends another day of a childhood that seems so far away.
I’ve been in a funk the last few days. I don’t exactly know why. The weather is gorgeous. We’ve had the most beautiful October. Ever. And we are all healthy. Maybe it’s because I joined the PTA. I stayed away as long as I could, until I couldn’t anymore. PTA moms are an altogether different species, and I just couldn’t see how to make myself fit in. I still can’t.
This is what I’ve observed so far: We, PTA moms, seem to have no other interests but to make copies, staple classroom information packets together, decorate for the auction, fundraise, and meet for lunch on Wednesdays. Where, I will add, bottle upon bottle of cheap white wine will be consumed and very little food will actually be eaten. And then when the weekend comes, we, PTA moms, can think of no better way to spend the time than to congregate on one field or another and cheer our kids on. We are so certain, that at least one of them, if not more, will be a professional soccer or football player. I mean, come on! Have you seen those kicks?
The entire social network of PTA moms seems to be made up of other moms with whom we discuss everything from how awesome our kids are - they are PERFECT and as such deserve only praise! - to whether milk is good or bad - it’s BAD, by the way. Very, very BAD! - to how often we have sex with our partners, - apparently we are all in our sexual prime because we have sex AT LEAST five times a week! When our husbands are home, that is. Because a lot of our husbands travel for business. - to how our single friends, or childless friends don’t understand us anymore -we feel betrayed. So it makes sense that with our husbands traveling and our other friends betraying us, we turn to other PTA moms for friendship.
Since we are so busy being PTA moms, we really have no time to read books. Unless it’s Shades of Grey, of course. Which we discuss quite a bit, giggling over some of the parts, and justifying how this book is a story about redeeming love - really! - and all of us can’t wait for the movie -NOT!!! If any mom suggests that we read something different next time, we immediately silence her with a look. I mean, doesn’t she already know that life is hard enough, and we are so busy, and our families and society as a whole, expect so much from us? If we read, we read for pleasure. We are such romantics! We are suckers for love stories! And reality TV.
If this is a harsh portrayal of my fellow PTA moms, I apologize. If I seem to arrive late for our meetings, and leave early, I apologize. If I yawn quite a bit when you all go on and on about one thing or another that is beyond boring to me, I apologize. Perhaps I’ll get around to your way of thinking one of these days. Until then, I’ll go and read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. That is sure to get me out of this funk.
The plum dumplings are ready and they are - almost - worth every second of the process. As a child, plum dumplings have been one of those treats that marked the end of summer vacation, and the arrival of the new school year.
School starts in two weeks and I haven’t even gotten to the back to school shopping. Yes. I AM that mom.
The more I think about it, the more envious I become of all the moms whose kids wear uniforms. Or of all the moms who write a check for school supplies and send it along with their kids on the first day of school. And since I’m at it, also of all the moms whose kids are old enough to go shopping on their own.
So what about you? Are you done with all back to school shopping already? Or do you wait until the last possible minute?
Summer’s finally here. And it is HOT! In the Pacific Northwest we only get two, sometimes three months break from the relentless rain that hammers against us, our towns and our forests. When summer finally arrives we treasure it for about five minutes and then proceed with complaints about how unbearably hot it is.
Which just shows how ungrateful we are. Because really, what’s there to complain of? Hours of doing absolutely nothing other than sitting at an outdoor cafe with our kids or our friends? Picking raspberries, cherries or peaches at the multiple family farms surrounding Portland, which we’ll take home and turn into pies and cobblers? Biking and picnicking in the shade of a tree by the water’s edge? Meeting friends for happy hour and not having to rush home and get the kids to bed? Exploring new hiking trails?
There is really no reason to complain.
So hello, Summer. And welcome!
Well, hello friends! How has everyone been doing? I, for one, have had the busiest May ever! It was the yearly renewal of my business, and as always, I freaked out that something would go wrong. Nothing went wrong. Nothing ever does, but isn’t worrying so much fun, anyway?
Unfortunately, the only thing I wrote during May were medical notes and Facebook status updates, and the only things I read were medical notes and Facebook status updates. On June 1st I sat down to write but I couldn’t manage more than 70 words in 2 hours. Then I sat down to read. And fell asleep.
So I gave myself permission to take a break from writing and reading for two weeks, and instead watch all the movies I had meant to watch for the last two years.
And boy, was that fun! But movies get boring after a while. Too predictable. The one I have on pause now has been on pause for the last two days, and I’m thinking I just won’t watch the rest of it. I’ve had it with movies for the moment.
So, I’m getting ready to start on the books. Which one should be first?
Yesterday I took my daughter in for her yearly check-up. As she had her vision tested I remembered when I had mine at her age, but not because it was mandatory, but because I was a naughty little girl. Two of my closest friends in my first grade class were wearing glasses. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted glasses too. My friends said that they had headaches from all the squinting they had done. They said their eyes hurt. They said their eyes turned red.
I went home and cried to my dad that my head was killing me, and that my eyes hurt so terribly, I was afraid they’d fall out of the eye sockets. I rubbed and rubbed at them, and my eyes became red and inflamed from all the rubbing I did. I walked around the house squinting and rubbing at my eyes. My parents were worried. Bad eyesight was a common occurrence in my dad’s family. Three of the seven siblings were wearing bifocals.
So my dad took me to see the eye doctor.
The doctor’s sitting room was filled with kids who, no doubt, had the same idea I did. There they all were in their blue and white school uniforms rubbing at their eyes and squinting. And there were the parents slapping the kids hands away from their eyes, looking worried.
I was sure I would come home with a pair of glasses. I was sure I could fool the doctor just as I had fooled my parents. I was sure that all I had to do was just squint and rub at my eyes. No one told me I had to make mistakes reading the eye chart. I was a first grader and proud to be reading already. I wanted the doctor to see how smart I was, and what a good reader I was, and that I was sure to receive a certificate from my teacher claiming that I was the smartest little girl in all of the first grade.
The doctor was impressed. Not with my reading as much as with my vision. My vision was perfect, he said. And (almost) perfect it remains to this day.
My daughter is happy she doesn’t need glasses. They’d only get in the way of soccer and ballet, she says. Sunglasses, on the other hand, she can’t have enough.
All children have expectations of their parents. The seeds of expectation are planted in a child’s infancy, by the first cry. From the first: I am hungry, feed me; I am wet, change me; I am scared, protect me; I am hurting, love me, expectations are watered daily, and they grow. The roots go deep. Far into the earth. And whatever the outcome, disappointment follows.
I know all about disappointment, dashed expectations. Mines were dug out, set fire to, and destroyed soon after I turned nine. That’s when my childhood stopped. One day I was a child and the next I wasn’t.
It wasn’t anybody’s fault.
When my parents came to the United States in 1981, with five children clinging to their legs ranging from two years old to nine, they worried more about what things to bring in their allotted two suitcases, than about how they would function in this country. Functioning in the United States, in fact, was never an issue. To their minds they were not the first immigrants and they would certainly not be the last. Besides, they had family here, to secure them a furnished rental house, an automobile, even a job for my father. Within a year or two, with hard work and many economies, they would even be able to buy their own home. So many immigrants with a strong work ethic did it. They would too.
And they did. My father had two, three jobs at a time. He worked from four in the morning to eleven at night. Monday through Saturday. Week after week after week. For years and years. He did this while my mother raised us five, gardened and cooked and drove us to school and to church and to wherever else we needed to go. All because they were determined that their children have a better life than they did. That they’d have better opportunities.
But it was the lack of English skills that they bumped against every single time they stepped out of the house: at the grocery store, at the bank, at the doctor’s office. And as the oldest child in the family, I became their interpreter. A parent to them, in a sense. Their confidant. The one privy to all their secrets and moles and blood clots and financial situations. I had more control over their lives than I understood. And maybe even more than they understood.
While my sisters and brothers chased each other in the rows of vegetables and fruit trees, while they splashed in a plastic blue kiddie pool in the shade of the backyard pomegranate tree, or read books, or played with bits of wood they imagined as dolls and action figures and cars under the scented lemon trees of the front yard, I was translating insurance forms or waiting on the line for the electric company. That’s when the seeds of responsibility were planted. One. By. One.
I did not know any better. I was raised to respect my elders.
If there was any resentment toward them, if there was any resentment that I didn’t have the freedoms of my siblings, it was buried deep within my body, somewhere in my toes, I think. It was the toes that always itched to run away when I heard my name called.
But I never ran. Responsibility had become a vine and I was ensnared within it.
The minute January 6th is over, and I take down the Christmas trees, I am done with winter. January’s a tough month. Possibly my least favorite month of the year. The older I get, the more I hate the cold. The older I get, the more I hate the rain, the grey skies, the fact that summer is a long, long way off.
It’s in January, usually on our morning walk to our favorite coffee shop, that my husband and I resurrect our daydream of moving to warmer places. You know, places like Miami or Scottsdale or San Diego. Places where the eternal mists of the Pacific Northwest winters are absent. Where the sun caresses the skin and warms the pavement beneath our feet. Where the flowers are the deepest magenta and the air smells like lemons.
And then we get inside the warmth of the coffee shop, and we think: we can’t leave this place. We laugh at our complains. To live in constant sunshine and the whir of air conditioners? That’s not for us! Not yet, anyway. We can wait until we retire. So we sip our cappuccinos and nibble on our croissants, say hello to the regulars who stop by our table, and admit to each other that we have a pretty good life here. A loving family, great friends, wonderful neighbors, jobs that we enjoy, a creative community we’re part of. Quite a lot to give up for a bit of blue sky.
I guess we’ll stay put for the moment. Have more coffee, more croissants, read another book, start another painting, work a little harder. Because life is beautiful. Right here. Right now. Now if January would just hurry up and be done with.