The journey, at home.

journeySo much for posting every week or two. (Good thing so many of us are in the forgiveness business, or at least trying to get there.) On my sabbatical journey I had two weeks at home and encountered many treasures there:

  • Getting teary just from the act of dropping my sophomore son and his girlfriend off at their school’s graduation.
  • Three trips to Ikea, and hours of putting together furniture for our redecorated guest room. (Can you say: “studly”?)
  • scarfNurturing my reborn knitting obsession. Now on version two of the sea-creature scarf.
  • Two meetings with my new writing group; my dining room table blessed by their pages.
  • Many little daily treasures of being able to choose what to do each day, visit favorite coffee shops and discover new ones, hang out with treasured friends.
  • An opportunity to reignite my love for high school basketball: after six games in ten hours on a gorgeous Saturday, filling the spaces in between with walks and fun errands, I almost had my fill.

dumas bayAnd finally, six days of sipping from the fire hose of the College for Congregational Development (no wonder I haven’t had time to blog!), taking a break from sabbatical just long enough to be reminded of just a few of the reasons I love what it is that I do. Watching the imperceptibly-not-yet-full moon rise on the last night of the College over lovely Dumas Bay with a bunch of amazing colleagues was a perfect end to this leg of the journey.

Next up: London.

Day 5: Rituals of the Road

I periodically drive the 45 miles down I-5 from Portland to Salem and back again. Today was one of those days and I found myself cataloging all the things that make the trip better: a coffee to go, a bottle of water, music (Handel’s Messiah, for the 12th Day of Christmas), and a snack to look forward to on the way back. It turned out to be a long, long day, with not much more to say at the end than “and to all a good night,” but I’m curious: What are your rituals of the road?

Day 3: Cellar Door Coffee

Today’s post is brought to you by Cellar Door Coffee Roasters, housed in a nice corner shop at SE 11th and Harrison, with a growing restaurant upstairs. The place is off my personal beaten path and I don’t get here regularly, but I’ve got friends and colleagues for whom this cozy roastery is their home away from home. A 15-second scan of the cluttered bulletin board, newspaper rack, and multiple blackboards lets me know this place is all about coffee and community.

And the coffee? It was a little cooler than I like, and the Cellar Door espresso roastlacks the Stumptown bite I’m used to, but it was delicious nonetheless. Besides, I’m such a sucker for a double heart, what can I say?

I can say that I really like Cellar Door because they have a strong Twitter presence, and have managed to strike that important balance between promoting their own stuff (mostly announcements of yummy-sounding small plates and soup being served upstairs), and community information their followers will want to know about. Their resident tweeter was particularly active when Occupy Portland first began. It’s great when a neighborhood business is willing to take a stand and possibly offend some of their neighbors. Sometimes I wish more businesses and other organizations (ahem….you know, like neighborhood churches?) might have similar courage.

How do you use Twitter to let followers know more about you than what’s for sale?

Day 2: Coffee Division

Okay, anyone who knows my routine has probably already figured out that I’m starting off this January project by visiting my regular coffee haunts. (Any day now, I’ll branch out. Stay tuned.) It just so happens that today, being the last day of vacation, is an odd day, and I’m not yet into my January schedule. I’ve just ventured out into a chilly-damp afternoon, on foot, to the closest good coffee to my house, Coffee Division. Coffee Division has been open for about a year, but this sunny corner has housed a cafe of some kind since about 2002. The current incarnation is my favorite. It’s light and air, lots of sun when the sun makes an appearance at all, and there is lots of room for people to spread out and do their work, which seems to be what most people come here for.

I wonder how many people are in here living out a New Year’s resolution. Perhaps the person who ordered a decaf latte did so for the first time in a long time. Perhaps the guy sketching is starting his new graphic novel. Perhaps the woman teaching herself Photoshop is launching a new business. Perhaps the guy in the corner with the noise-canceling headphones is determined to finish his book this year no matter what. Perhaps the woman with the pretty braids sewing beads on to a velvet bag is determined to do a little bit of creative work every day. Maybe the trying-not-to-be-so-sullen young woman with an eccentric old lady has resolved to be nicer to her grandmother and take her out for hot chocolate regularly.

I spent the weekend with some of my very best friends and our loud, happy crew of teenagers. Over dinner someone asked what we were going to do this year to make the world a better place. I think we all felt we could do more, or weren’t where we wanted to be on the saving-the-world spectrum, but as I reflect on what people said, I think we’re doing pretty well. One person is about to publish a book on cancer treatment, and hopes it will help people. Another is expanding her efforts to educate her community about climate change. Another is putting in the effort to employ a valuable but challenging staff-person who would probably not be able to find another job. A couple who are in business together talked about looking forward to the day when they can invest some of their time and their business profits into Habitat for Humanity. One person joked about not killing his kid this year. But my favorite thing was this:

“How ’bout we all just keep doing what we’re doing: being good parents, caring for our kids and others’ kids, and doing our work?”

I’ve been reading a lot of about New Year’s resolutions these past few days. My favorites involve just the right balance of creativity and realism, hope and experience. Examples? Check out The Instant Librarian or Let’s Talk About Writing.

And my resolutions? For me they are like Christmas cards: some years I write them, some years I don’t….Some years I make New Year’s resolutions and keep them, other years I make them and break them as quickly as I can, and other years I refuse to even consider the subject. This year I’ve enjoyed using this season as an opportunity to commit to a couple of important personal practices, such as taking vitamins, growing my hair, spending more time with friends, and a couple of goals, such as getting my writing life a little more organized.

Day 1: The Fresh Pot

Welcome to my FADPDX3 project. This year’s project is a stretch in a couple of different directions. 1) Blog every day and 2) Visit a different coffee shop every day. This is a stretch because I am such a creature of habit it’s remarkable I’m not a nun. Stay tuned, and if you know a coffee shop I should visit, leave a comment to let me know.  

I wrote this on Day 0, because on Day 1 I’m on Mt. Hood not thinking about coffee or blogging.

The main thing about The Fresh Pot is that their baristas, all of them, make the very best latte I’ve had in Portland. I like the location – I frequent the one adjacent to the Hawthorne Powell’s – and the time I go is in the hour or two before Powell’s and the other stores open, so there’s always a parking space along with an easy getting-into-the-day feel as things begin to open up and fill up. The Fresh Pot crowd is fairly diverse as cafe-goers go: young, old, couples, singles, laptops, paper. The cafe curates a monthly show of only the freshest local art, sometime by its own staff. The only thing I don’t always love about the Fresh Pot is the music, which often too loud and techno for me. But that’s me.

This project means I won’t be back here for about a month. Good by, Fresh Pot!

Air Jewelry

For years, I’ve worn a cross whenever I fly. A superstitious ritual, perhaps, since I rarely wear a cross on the ground. When I fly I wear a cross to reassure myself that faith (not necessarily mine, some days) is stronger than my chronic travel anxiety.

Most recently, instead of a cross, I’ve flown wearing a necklace my new friend Nikki. made. She makes jewelry out of junk: others’ cast-off jewelry, hardware, children’s toys, and other small items. the tag line of her business is “everything is beautiful in its time, even nuts, bolts, and washers.” Every time I see Nikki, she is wearing a new creation: a pendant made of a small metal plate with a piece of a vintage earring dangling from it, a ring made from a doll’s teacup, a pair of earrings from light-catching dashboard fuses. Take a look. I’ve learned not to gush too much over Nikki’s jewelry, because she is prone to take it off and give it to me. She won’t take my money, and I know she depends on jewelry sales as a portion of her income. I keep my mouth shut so she can sell it to someone else later on.

Over coffee she told me about how she was prostituted by her mother as a child, and subsequently abused by her stepfather. In the same paragraph she talked about her life in the suburbs, her wonderful husband and two small children, and her jewelry-making, how the ability to see beauty in odd objects and discarded broken things came to her as an unexpected gift.

The necklace I wear whenever I fly these days is the one she wore that day. It’s made of nuts and washers, pieces of something else that were formerly left for dead. It has become my talisman for survival, for the triumph of life and hope over fear and death. The hex-nuts hang down like a bunch of perfectly ripe grapes and are irresistible to play with mid-flight, their satisfying weight and shape as reassuring to hold onto as any cross.

Today’s Cup: Extravagance

Today I went to my current favorite latte shop with the best barrista ever. Sometimes he makes my drink with an ornate leaf in the foam on top. Sometimes a heart. Today, a heart and a leaf. (How do they do that??) All I could think of was: what extravagance!

Extravagance is a favorite word of mine, especially in these times when scarcity is creeping into so much of our daily conversation. I use the word all the time, so I decided I better look it up. (Mostly, I was wondering where “vagance” comes from.) Lo and behold, channeling Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, and “inconceivable” in The Princess Bride, an initial dictionary survey showed that the word doesn’t mean what I have always thought it means. The common definitions are all about spending too much money. Spending a few extra seconds and one’s own natural talent to create latte art, destined to be destroyed in as many seconds, would not be a good example of extravagance according to Webster or many others.

It’s a great word nonetheless, and I refuse to accept the limits of all those common definitions. I finally found a dictionary that gave me the etymology I sought and taught me something new: extra, outside of (and I extrapolate beyond) plus the present perfect of the latin vagari, wandering, or vague. Wandering beyond expectations. Who knew that extravagance was about vagary?

What’s your daily cup?

I’ve got two favorite daily cups: the one I have first thing in the morning, usually between 5 and 6 am. That would be tea, steeped strong, with a little one-percent milk. I’ve got fairly strong needs around this cup of tea: the kind of tea (Peets’ Scottish Breakfast), the strainer, the water temperature, the time it steeps in its Deruta mug, the peace and quiet during which I drink it….When I travel, I bring all of these things with me, including an electric kettle for boiling water. I like to think that into the making of this one cup of tea I pour all of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, leaving me free the rest of the day to act like a relatively normal person in almost every respect.

My second daily cup happens two or three hours later, just before going into my office. After making the day’s lunches, going to the gym, taking my son to school, and any other domestic errands, I’ll go to one of several regular spots for a latte (12 oz, half-decaf, two-percent milk), and write in my journal, answer email, balance my checkbook, or spend time on a big clunky work-project that is easier done away from the interruptions of the office. I often schedule meetings with friends – new and old – during this second daily cup.

An old friend used to say “Ah, breakfast, one of my three very favorite meals!” or “Do you know that lunch is one of my three most favorite meals?” or “Food, my favorite!” I’m that way about times of the day. My favorite time of the day is that first cup of tea in the dark before anyone is awake. And it’s also that time when I sit down and treat myself to a latte before heading into the office. (Is it still a treat if you do it every day? I think so, although some would disagree.) Or it’s when I finally sit down to the piles on my desk after the morning’s meetings and phone calls, with a clean glass and a fresh pitcher of water, ready to get back to that clunky project I began hours earlier. Or it’s when I fall into bed at night to read a page or two before falling asleep.

What’s your daily cup?