Into the light

Dear friends,

I’m about to fall in love for the second time in five months, and it’s with a baby girl. My brother’s first daughter was born two weeks ago. A photo of her is pinned up in my cubicle; her eyes are gazing upon her daddy while her mouth forms a serious little O. I look at her and try to see the different generations of my family. The shape of her features will become more apparent as she gets older, but right now, I could swear that the nose definitely comes from her daddy, and from my dad and grandfather. I can’t wait to hold her and make her smile. In two days, I’ll be in California to get my turn.

Fred is coming with me to even the score in our relationship—I’ve already met every member of his immediate family, while he’s only met my brother and sister-in-law via Skype. Fortunately for me, my brother’s family lives in the same town as our parents, and I have aunts and cousins the area too. As the word spreads, I imagine lots of people “just stopping by” my parents’ house to see my male caller. It’s been almost eleven years since I have brought a boy home. Fred is already being treated like part of the family from afar, so I know how warmly he’ll be welcomed in person. Read the full post »

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A love of Saturday

Dear friend,

This was a very Portlandy day in Portland. I felt more at ease than I had in quite a while. The air felt substantially warmer than it had in the past few weeks; our winter has been quite frosty in January. Today we had friendly clouds with a bit of drizzle and a smattering of sun. I started my day with a walk down the street for coffee and pastries, which I ate while browsing Caturday pictures on my laptop. Under most circumstances, it takes little more than that to make me content.

To get from contentment to happiness, though, requires a bike. And I’ve been using mine consistently over the past few weekends, as Fred has borrowed my car to get to his job on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s been a pleasant reminder of how little I actually need my car. I admit that I’ve often succumbed to the cold, nasty weather as an excuse not to get around by bike, even though I’m well equipped for staying warm. (The main problem is with my glasses, which get fogged up easily.) In today’s mild weather I biked just a mile or so to meet a friend for lunch at Portland’s best Lebanese restaurant. On the way back, I hauled myself up the old Salmon Street hill, expecting to run out of breath quickly—most winter cycling trips remind me that I’m out of shape—but found it very easy to keep a steady cadence with only a couple of downshifts.  Read the full post »

Dreams for the new year

Some friends of mine have a Dream Collage party at the beginning of every January. They gather a bunch of people in their little apartment with piles of magazines, sticks of glue, sheets of poster board, and pairs of scissors, with the intent of having us depict what we wish to happen in our lives over the coming year. I think of it more as an Intent Collage, since I don’t believe in the direct manifestation of thoughts and dreams. (Probably few of us really do.) I created my first one two years ago and still had it hanging on my bedroom door until yesterday. I filled it with pictures of things that I wanted to cultivate in my life or in my personality—but then mostly forgot about it. I’m sure I could have put it to better use by letting it be a reminder of what I had wanted for myself.

Anyway, this year I’ve made another collage, and a few themes emerged.

Dream Collage

Bikes: Always bikes. Every year, bikes. Not so much like that girl in the photo, who is clearly out for more of a cruise than an adventure. (Hey, it’s all relative.) I don’t often wear a dress while cycling, but it’s a cute photo, showing an environment that I’d be happy to find myself in. But I’d rather be in the top-left-corner scenario. It’s not unattainable just because it was staged on a mountaintop. I’ve had a mind to ride across Mt. Hood one of these days, and up to the rim of Crater Lake another one of these days. Either or both may not happen this year, but somewhere, somehow, I must go on a tour. Read the full post »

2012 retrospective

January

It was going to be the year of bike touring. I woke up in 2012 at Stub Stewart State Park, having biked there from Hillsboro with a group of friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve with two nights of cabin camping. Although it had been an easy 22-mile ride, I reacted to the dawning of the New Year with relief that I wouldn’t have to pack up my gear and pedal home that day. Most of my prior bike camping trips had lasted a single night each, allowing little time for laziness in the morning, as it was always best to head out by 11:00 to get home at a reasonable time. And mornings were always cold. This time we were tucked into heated cabins full of furniture, food, and board games that people had stashed in their panniers. I had the entirety of New Year’s Day to play silly games like Taboo, read my book, drink from various bottles of liquor sitting on the windowsill, and take a couple naps on the bunk bed while eavesdropping on friendly conversations. It was thoroughly relaxing.

Later that month, I bought some Adventure Cycling Association maps and cultivated the idea of a bike tour down the Oregon coast into northern California.

February

On a day in mid-February, I walked into my office for a day of work just as I’d done for the past eight months. Nothing was different except that I had just been converted from contractor to full-time employee of the company. Procedures dictated that I be treated as a newcomer and receive a two-hour orientation. I listened half-carefully during the session while skimming the employee handbook. At one point, the company president walked into our conference room and shooed us out because he needed the meeting space. He was friendly, and when he found out that we were new employees, he introduced himself to us. My hands were busy cradling all the orientation paperwork and a coffee cup, so unfortunately I couldn’t accept his handshake. He welcomed me to the company anyway, and some indignant part of me wanted to say, “Haha! That’s cute of you, but actually, I’ve been working here for a while and I’m too good for this orientation. Will you please tell this HR person to let me return to my work?” Instead, of course, I left quietly and followed the trainer into the lobby so she could finish telling me things I already knew. I haven’t had a chance to meet the president since. Read the full post »

Christmas grows up

Dear friend,

This is not the house I grew up in. It’s been about ten years since we’ve celebrated Christmas in a house that I had ever called “home”. My parents are restless and easily dissatisfied. After trying out a gleaming subdivision, a 20-year-old ranch-style home shaded by trees, and a small rural house in the Sierra foothills, they have now settled in another subdivision even as they dream regretfully about the country-style suburb we lived in while I was in high school (which, also, was not a house that I spent my childhood in). And my dad dreams about the actual countryside as he plans to cash out some of his retirement savings and buy a few acres of property. But they have forced themselves to stay put for a few years, at least, in this suburban town outside of Sacramento. The house is new, stuccoed, and neutral in color like its neighbors. I can look through the window at a freeway carrying shoppers to the nearby mall. I can go for a walk along the paved path that winds through the entire subdivision but passes only a single point of interest, at a patch of wetland where ducks and egrets reside.

Being here does recall, in a sense, what it was like to grow up where I did. It’s just … very suburban. If you came of age in a similar setting and now have a healthy dislike for it, then I don’t need to tell you what that means. For those who are unsure, I mean that my brain feels dulled by boredom and the constant noise of television. I can’t quite remember how I spent my time when I was growing up, once I moved past the age of playing with Barbies. I know that I went to stores and malls quite often, after getting a driver’s license, even when I had nothing to buy. When I hung out with friends, we’d listen to music—we were totally rockers because we favored the “alternative” radio station, have sleepovers in a backyard tent, and put on goofy shows in front of my dad’s video camera. When I was alone, though, what did I do at home? I’m recalling a few things: I learned HTML and built myself a website. For a while I published a e-zine on AOL. I met strangers in chat rooms. I gorged myself on photos and news articles of my favorite band, Third Eye Blind. I practiced art photography while wandering through our neighborhood. I read books and played with our dog. Read the full post »

Holiday departure

Dear friend,

I sit in the main concourse of Portland International Airport with bags of Christmas gifts at my side. I finished my gift shopping for the family a few weeks ago, and now I can’t wait to see them received. My own friends, and boyfriend, have already given me so much this season. Even the little girl I mentored for two years, whom I’ve ended my formal relationship with, picked out some presents for me and insisted that I open them in front of her as she opened her gift from me. We had an animal theme going on. I gave her a children’s novel about a girl and a pony, and a reindeer tree ornament; she gave me two jigsaw puzzles, one with a picture of cats and the other full of dogs. She also drew a picture inside the Christmas card showing her and me riding a giant cat. She didn’t say “thank you” for her gifts, but I came to expect that a long time ago. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer a mentor that it didn’t occur to me to correct her and elicit some verbal appreciation.

It is dreary outside on the runway, but inside it’s as pleasant as usual. This really is a nice airport, and I must have picked a good time to fly (3:45 in the afternoon) because it isn’t too crowded. I only wish that somebody was at the piano to play Christmas tunes. Not that I haven’t had my fill of holiday music this season. My head has been in Christmas-land since before December. That’s partly due to a new boyfriend who has made me feel as joyful as a kid. Among many other things, he’s one of the rare people in my life who actually enjoys carols, like I do. So we’ve been singing with the car radio, singing as we walk down the street, singing as we prepare meals or bake in the kitchen. Read the full post »

Heartaches and stomach pains

I didn’t really want a carton of french fries and a huge milkshake. It’s rare anymore that I have a craving that junk food would genuinely satisfy. But after this happened I was hungry, and lazy, and felt like I actually should feed myself junk against my own will. I thought it might help the indistinctly crappy emotional phase I had just entered by breaking up with a boyfriend. My true melancholia was gone. I’d already spent the past week feeling my way through the inevitable, lying on friends’ couches, drinking more vodka than I’m accustomed to. By the time I hit the Burgerville drive-thru I was ready to look forward—just not quite ready to start caring properly for myself. I deserved the stomachache I had for the rest of the evening.

It’s been a couple of days and I’m still in limbo, still indulging these unhealthy couch-potato cravings that seem to come from a juvenile place. I know better than to fill my life with distractions instead of real hobbies and reflections. I guess I’d like to be excused from those responsibilities for a little while longer. It seems a bit unnecessary because I’ve been through the worst already. When things get back to normal, however, the past will come into focus again and I’ll need to acknowledge that I recently had a relationship that I was pretty happy about for a while. There’s no serious heartbreak here, but underlying the numbness and frustrated disappointment, I’m afraid there could be real sadness.

It comes in waves

Glued into a photo album somewhere is a picture of me, at age eight or nine, hugging my knees and staring at the ocean thoughtfully. Half of my legs are covered by a red San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt, and my face is covered by a big pair of glasses and long, straight, sun-bleached hair. My family and I are vacationing at the Oregon coast from Sacramento. The cloudy day doesn’t bother me; beaches are among my favorite places in the world.

I’m drawn to the water. I’ve been climbing intertidal rocks in search of a high spot where I can sit apart from everybody for a while. As I often do, I want to be alone to think. What am I thinking about?

A few weeks ago I drove to the small town of Oceanside for a contemplative two-day spell. The weather was cool and verging on foggy, but it had stopped raining a day or two ago. I headed for the beach as if I had an appointment to keep. On a scarce patch of dry sand I stopped, laid out a towel, took off my shoes, opened a book, and let myself relax in the way I’d anticipated all morning. But I kept looking up from my book to the northern end of the beach, where a tunnel had been bored into a sea cliff. There was a neighboring beach on the other side. Overcome by curiosity, I packed up and went. Read the full post »

Things said to me by people in cars

As a cyclist, I’ve gotten a few comments from people with whom I’m trying to share the road.

“Get a car, asshole!” — Speeding BMW driver who craned his head out the window to yell at me. I was having one of the finest days of my life, riding down a rural highway on my way to my first bike camping adventure at Champoeg State Park. The driver proceeded to flip off each of my bike-riding friends as he passed them. They grinned and waved back. I thought about my car, and was happy that I’d left it at home for the weekend.

Seriously. Ride faster, or move over.” — Emphatic pickup driver on NE 28th Avenue, where I was riding more or less with traffic to avoid the parked cars that line that entire street. It was my birthday, and I was on my way to have dinner with friends. We were stopped a red light. In order to align himself with me so he would be heard, he nosed past the white line and edged the front of his truck into cross traffic, eliciting angry honks from other drivers.

“Don’t fall!!” — Frat-boy passenger of a car that passed me going eastbound on the Hawthorne Bridge. It was rather late at night, and few people were around. He scared the crap out of me but clearly thought he was being funny.

“You know, it’s pretty dangerous to be riding your bike around here with these blind corners. People up here are getting fed up with cyclists and their ‘rights’. We can’t drive on Skyline [a popular rural residential road for cyclists] anymore, and now you guys are up on these roads, and soon we won’t have anything left. … [more blather] … Anyway, it’s nothing personal, but I hope you understand where I’m coming from.” — Pickup driver on a quiet rural road who thought it was acceptable to pull over and deliver a five-minute lecture to me, a solo cyclist who had stopped to eat lunch and enjoy a view of the mountains.

“Hey, beautiful! What’s a guy like me gotta do to get a girl like you’s number?” — Grammatically awkward dude who tried to hit on me as I rode on NW Glisan Street through downtown. I was sweaty and wearing rain gear. When I stopped next to the guy’s car at a red light, I promptly turned onto a different street.

My uncertain history

You might have seen that Seinfeld episode where Jerry talks about the mark of a bad Christmas gift: when the recipient sort of narrates it out loud, as in, “Ohhhh, crew socks! Great!” I usually laugh at that joke because I see the truth in it. But it wasn’t true for me in December 2001, when I opened a Christmas present from my college boyfriend. As the torn wrapping revealed a distinctive red box, I read aloud from the label, “It’s Fun … It’s Challenging … It’s Scrabble!” I was grinning shyly as I gazed at it, unsure of the proper etiquette of expression. It was a unique situation. I was eighteen, and he was the first guy I’d ever dated.

We had made it official just a couple weeks before our gift exchange. In his single dorm room, which was notably absent of visitors that night, despite the open door, we confessed our feelings for each other. It came as a sort of relief to some of our friends, who had noticed the attraction and debilitating shyness between us and had not-so-quietly encouraged the union. After our anxious and awkward declaration, I ran upstairs and squealed the news to my friend Jessica, doing a manic little dance inside her room. I was exhilarated and completely innocent. Read the full post »

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