Monday, June 21, 2010

One Year Later. My Final Blog Post.

A year ago I pulled out of Atlanta on Father’s Day to start a new life for myself. I was excited, nervous, focused, and prepared. Or, so I thought. What I didn’t expect was that I would immediately get lost. It took me an hour and a half to find my way out of a city that I had lived in for more than 14 years. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of all this but as I said recently, I believe in signs, symbols, and milestones.  

Eventually, I got on the right road and my journey began. That evening I wrote my first blog post and I made a commitment to blog for one full year. I had no idea what I was getting into but it forced me to discover Portland, as well as myself, so I always had something to write about each week. 

In the course of one year I have experienced more of life than I ever imagined. I have hiked trails from Aspen and Crested Butte to the Columbia River Gorge. I’ve run a half marathon and I’ve mountain biked on muddy single tracks. I’ve gone to farms to pick blueberries and peaches. And, I’ve learned how to knit. I’ve produced for ABC, CBS, and wrote for a startup called MDiTV. I’ve volunteered to walk dogs and I’ve hosted a couch-surfer. In the last year, I have dated more guys in Portland than I did the last four years in Atlanta. And everyday I wake up grateful to live in a nice home and in a great neighborhood smack in between beautiful Mt. Tabor and the hip and happening Hawthorne district.  

In so many ways, my life is vastly different from what it was a year ago. By blogging about it to an audience of friends, family, and strangers, I have shared more of myself than I thought possible. And, in the process, I made myself vulnerable. The result is a stronger, better, wiser Lila.  

This past year my writing improved and my voice grew stronger. I attribute this to two extraordinary friends who are amazing writers. My friends Helyn and Stacy took turns copy editing my blog. They did this on their own time. They were my guides, my gurus, and in many cases, my last minute fairy god-mothers. I’m writing this last blog post on my own, so all the dots and dashes you see is Lila, un-edited.  

Perhaps the biggest change these last twelve months has been internal and how I interact with others. Before, when someone hurt or disappointed me in a big way, I would cut and run. Now, I’m learning to breathe through the pain and to accept things and people as they are. This alone has shown me my own strength and has allowed me to move forward courageously, knowing whatever issues I face I can get through it with integrity and confidence.    

Throughout this year people have asked what inspired me, at age 42, to sell my house, leave my job, and move to a city where I only knew two people. I usually say I was just ready for change.  

The real answer, though, is my father. He was my inspiration.  

My Dad passed away in August 2007. I was able to spend some time with him his last few days where he was confined to bed. It was obvious his time was short. At one point, it was just the two of us in the room. As I held his hand, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to tell me … anything he felt I needed to know. Though he was very weak he managed to raise his hand, touch my face and whisper: “Just be happy.” He died a few days later. 

My dad’s words have always stuck with me. So many people live life searching for happiness but never really find it because they’re so busy looking ahead and forgetting to stay in the moment. To me, the key to happiness is staying in the moment, even when the moment isn’t going so well. As soon as I left Atlanta I got lost. But I stayed in the moment. Eventually I got on the right road and the road I’ve been on ever since has been filled with adventure, laughter, tears, and lots of love. I’m living in the moment and living true to my father’s words. 

I find it fitting that I started and ended my blog on Father’s Day. I will always hold my father’s words close to my heart. Just be happy. Dad, I truly am. 

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Mile Markers and Chapters Ending...

I’m a sucker for milestones. I search for irony in life, and I believe in signs. So when I got a call this week from Good Morning America to field produce the story of a missing 7-year-old from Northwest Portland, I thought it symbolic that it fell on the same week that I left CNN last year.  

Since moving to Portland in July 2009 work has played a minimal role in my life. I figured by this point my business would have a healthy pulse and my focus in life would be on my revamped career, but that just hasn’t happened.  

Instead, here’s what I’ve come to realize: this year was never meant to be about work. It was meant to be about me, on a personal level; how I interact with people, groups, and on my own.  

This year of transition hasn’t been easy: I’ve hit the highest highs and lowest lows, I’ve laughed hard and cried harder, and to say I was lonely would be an understatement.  

While I’ve drawn many positive people my way, I’ve also drawn plenty of toxic people too, especially the second half of the year. I’ve witnessed lies uncovered, posers revealed, and lost souls wandering aimlessly. It occurs to me that I’ve been in this place before and I realize I never fully closed that toxic friend chapter which began years ago. Having the opportunity to spend time on my own has prepared me to face loneliness and disappointment and to make room for a new and better beginning for myself. 

This past weekend I went sailing on a friend’s boat. Drifting in the water I thought of a sign posted outside a church at the end of my block. It reads: In compassion be like the Sun. In tolerance be like the Sea. 

I’m not sure if there’s a specific meaning behind this saying but it reminds me of gentleness and forgiveness and how I can sometimes forget to be gentle and forgiving with myself, and others. Something I’ve tried to work on this year.

I think to truly be who we are takes work, time, and a lot of self-love. One year after leaving CNN I’m stronger, wiser, and smarter. But, I’m a work in progress. Perhaps one year from now I can look back with an unbiased eye and see how far I’ve come.  

To be continued… 

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Stilettos & Fishnets

There was once a time in my life where clothes shopping rated up there with spa vacations. I was working overnights at CNN International and had three full days off a week and plenty of time to get to know the mannequins at Lenox Square Mall Macy’s. Oftentimes, I’d meet up with friends and we’d spend a couple of hours checking out the latest fashion trends, finding the best bargains, and leaving with at least one or two new items to add to our closets. It was like happy hour meets Project Runway but without the cocktails or the models.

Turns out, this was just a phase. I was single and living in Atlanta, a booming city where fashion designers are born, hip-hop artist  record, and Elton John resides. It’s the kind of city where a single girl dresses to the nines when she goes out with her friends.

Fast forward many years later. I’m still happily single and now living in Portland, a city where fashion is whatever you make it. Nowadays, I shop for the latest trends about as often as I shop for a new gynecologist.

My focus in life has morphed from looking my best to feeling my best. These days, I’m more likely to be on a hike wearing my Nike running shorts and Merrell trail shoes rather than a color coordinated Karen Kane or I-N-C ensemble. 

My priorities have shifted. Good thing I was in Portland when this happened.

This city’s fashion scene is a little schizophrenic. In one street block I’ll pass a Goth girl with chains dripping from her spike-covered belt, and next I’ll walk past a 60-something man sporting a ponytail, decked out in tie dye and tattered Birkenstocks. Here, mismatched knee socks, ill-fitting “Peace” t-shirts, and short skirts with torn tights and rubber rain boots are the norm.

Initially, I was jolted by Portland’s unhinged style and wondered how my fashion sensibilities would fit. While in Atlanta, I might’ve dreamed of wearing fishnets and stilettos out on the town. Now – a new resident of a city grounded in weird – I’m liberated enough to pull out the sensual hosiery and give it a walk down my street.

But instead of stilettos, I’ll pair my new favorite leggy accessory with my lace-up brown, suede Frye boots. And with that getup, I’ll fit right in with Portland’s funky fashion scene.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Mostly Cloudy with maybe a few flakes...

On average, Atlanta gets 217 days of sun a year. Portland gets about 144 per year. I knew this when I left “Hotlanta,” so I arrived in Portland telling people that I’d brought some southeastern-sunny-mojo with me and that they should expect more sun than clouds this year. It seemed to work. This past winter had an unusual amount of sun with northwest mild temperatures. I even started to think that people here must have made up the stories about dark, gloomy, overcast skies that blanketed the city for months just to keep newcomers away. 

Then something happened.

The clouds rolled in, the temperatures cooled off and the rain came down. And came down. And then still came down. It’s been that way for ten straight days now and this week’s forecast calls for more of the same. At one point I was so fed up with the weather that I off-handedly remarked to the cashier at Trader Joe’s that I could see why some people might want to fling themselves off of tall buildings. His response: “I love the weather here!” Oops.  

While there have been sun breaks, those breaks have been few and far between and I’m starting to think the weather lately is more than a little like some Portlanders I’ve met: it’s flaky.

The Flaky-Portlander is not to be confused with the Laid-Back-Portlander. Laid-Back-Portlander is the friend who invites you over and tells you to come whenever and bring whatever. But the Flaky Portlander is the friend who makes a plan with you and then totally forgets about it or blows you off.

I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle. Though I don’t blow friends off, I do have a tendency to sometimes be a “maybe” when it comes to responding to social events.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe I don’t want to over promise. Maybe I just like being a Maybe.  

This week, though, I turned a maybe into a definitely when I finally had friends over to make grape leaves, a staple in my Lebanese culture. We estimated we made between 150 and 200 grape leaves (grape leaves). As we waited for them to cook, we looked outside and noticed a sun break and immediately bolted for the backyard where we could let the sun warm our faces and bodies, for the whole five minutes we were able to.

It's been rainy enough to get some friends together indoors for a good time making hundreds of grape leaves. And when you think about it, it's really all this rain that makes Portland one of the most beautiful places to live. If that makes it a little flaky, then maybe flaky isn't always a bad thing. 

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Girlfriends: Rocks of My Ages

I’ve been blessed with having many amazing female friends in my life. These are women who have my back, cheer me on and love me unconditionally. I’ve known some for just a few years, while others I met decades ago. 

Chris is one of these women.  

We have been friends since sophomore year in high school. Since then, we’ve experienced a lot of life together: from finagling our way into a Def Leppard concert before we could drive, to making slushie drinks in the bathroom stalls during high school hockey games to, this week, having serious talks about life while drinking dirty martinis in my Portland, Oregon home. 

As soon as Chris arrived, we decided this visit would be about living in the moment rather than making specific plans. It was this kind of thinking that led us to Bagby Hot Springs in Estacada, Oregon, about an hour southeast of Portland and located deep in the Mt. Hood National Forest  (http://bagbyhotsprings.org). The mile-and-a-half hike to the hot spring tubs took us into an old growth forest where we walked along a rushing river, passed thousands of moss covered trees and boulders and tried to avoid stepping on huge banana slugs.  

The path to our destination was enchanting – lush, vibrant and surreal. Walking along it gave us a chance to talk about our own lives and offer perspective on different situations we were each experiencing. Often times, it’s these kind of moments that further strengthen the bonds of friendship.  

Once we arrived at the site (after getting lost), the scene was a little bizarre yet, ultimately, wonderfully soothing. There were four private stalls with tubs made of hollowed-out trees where clothing was optional. (I’ll leave that part up to your imagination). As we sank our bodies into the 136-degree wooden mineral water, it was as if all our troubles evaporated.  

Soaking in the hot spring tub with one of my closest friends was extra special because as I wind down on my first full year as a Portland resident I’m realizing making true  friendships with other women really does take time. Like any good relationship they need to be organic, sincere and authentic. And as the lyrics go in Def Leppard’s Rock of Ages: Still rollin’, keep a-rollin’….  

It’s something Chris and I have been doing for almost three decades.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Boise and the Beach

When I crafted my grand plan to move West, I made it clear to friends and family that once I settled in Portland I would be traveling all over: to Montana, to Idaho, and to Vancouver BC -- all in my first year.  

So far, I’ve made it to super-cool Boise, Idaho, but that was for work.  

When my friend Marnie came to visit from Atlanta this week, she arrived with some goodbye gifts I’d accidentally left behind, including a Fodor’s travel guide to discovering the Pacific Northwest. I was reminded of the grandiose plans I’d made prior to my move.  

Perhaps holding this book in my hands made me realize how much of Oregon I have yet to see, and it inspired me to get out of town and show my friend scenery you just can’t find in downtown Portland.  

After an early morning meeting, I returned home and told my houseguest to pack a bag because we were going to the Oregon coast, about an hour plus drive west of Portland. The forecast called for partial sunshine and a comfy 57 degrees, but I’ve lived in this area long enough to know better. We packed hats, gloves and extra fleece as backup. Good thing, too, because Cannon Beach was anything but sunny and warm. Still, with the coastal mountains as a backdrop, haystack-shaped boulders protruding from the water and big waves crashing against the rocks, the scene was so majestic we couldn’t help but feel good.  

When forced to choose between finding my bliss on a stretch of beach or in higher elevations, I always say, “I’m a mountain girl.” The mountains speak to me. But then I visit the ocean and I find peace so easily amidst the water. The water calms me.

In Oregon I have the best of both worlds.   

Taking in the enormity of the seascape made me realize it doesn’t matter how many physical miles I travel. I know I’ll get to see all those places I listed before my move, eventually. 

Sometimes when I escape to beautiful places so close to home, I’m reminded that the meaning of this trip I’m on is in the journey, not the destination. A day spent combing the beach for shells or hiking up a trail can be like a day at the spa for me. The experience allows me to detox from all the dramas, anxieties, and frustrations life sometimes brings my way.  

And maybe that’s the kind of grand plan I should be following. 
 
 

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Free Blog!


This weekend I noticed two kids who’d set up a lemonade stand on my street, and, by my own account, they were working harder at their business than I have at mine in the last month. The price for a cup of lemonade: Pay what you want.  

It’s so Portland.  

In many ways, this town is like the land of the free: There’s free music, free yoga and a huge free outdoor gym. Throw in easy access to really cheap and delicious food and you can cultivate a social life in Portland on very little money. 

More than 400 food carts dot the city, and cheap, accessible eats draw a cool hipster crowd on any given day. And we’re not talking about your typical hot dog fare either, though you can still order your favorite burrito, taco, or falafel. But behind a lot of these food carts are budding chefs creating signature dishes for just a few bucks. As I strolled along the large selection of carts in downtown Portland this week, it was hard to decide what to get. Finally, I settled on the Super Falafel because the guy who made them told me this would be the best falafel I ever had. He promised if I didn’t like it I could come back everyday for a month and get a free meal from his cart.  

Lucky for him, I loved the Super Falafel. It was fresh, tasty, and filled my belly for under $6.

Another amazing Portland freebie is this town’s vibrant live music scene. A music-producer friend who lives in California recently said that he thinks the best scene for music right now is, in fact, the city I’ve adopted. I couldn’t agree more. Music is everywhere and it’s home to some amazing musicians.  

And while you can find free music in a lot of cities it seems to be in abundance in Portland.  

There’s nothing like catching the roots rock and old country blues sounds of the Lewi Longmire Band at the Laurelthirst Pub’s happy hour every week. http://www.lewilongmire.com. Longmire is a New Mexico native who now calls Portland home, and I discovered him through a friend. Every time I’ve seen him, Longmire’s playing another free show. I wonder how a musician can sustain himself by playing gratis every week, but then I eyeballed the band’s stuffed tip jar at one of his shows. It’s obvious that folks around here really appreciate their music. “Portland people tend to give,” Longmire said between sets.

As I head into month ten of living in the Pacific Northwest I see the value of what Portland has to offer. This city allows me to build a social life, make new friends and eat great food all within a reasonable budget. You can’t ask for more than that. And it has me thinking that setting up a little lemonade stand in a place where people tend to support indy enterprises isn’t such a bad business idea after all. 
 

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Beer. Run. Home.

My friend Julie and I have been close since the third grade, so there isn’t much we don’t know about each other. This week, Julie came to Portland to play. Her visit was two-fold: to try out as many different beers from the Northwest as possible and to run the Eugene Marathon with me.

Within an hour of her arrival we were busy completing Julie’s first goal. The two of us were in full-fledged beer connoisseur mode, trying out everything from Pale Ales to IPA’s to Hefeweizen to Porters. And the more my childhood friend drank, the more she wanted a picture to document her taste-test. With each beer downed, she sent a snapshot to her friends with the simple message: Drinking of you. Wish you were beer.   

Even before I moved to Portland, Julie and I decided to run a race together in the Northwest. We hadn’t seen each other in years and thought it would be fun. During race time Julie goes by the moniker Rocket. She thinks it makes her go faster when she hears her nickname shouted out by strangers along the sidelines of the race.  

The Eugene marathon is Rocket’s 24th. The half marathon is my first.  

As race day drew near I wasn’t nervous. Instead, I began to wonder why I was paying $75 to run 13.1-miles when it wasn’t even for a good cause. It didn’t help that the aches and pains I’d inherited from nearly four months of training served only to reinforce my second thoughts.

What I didn’t realize was how running that race would dredge up the focus and determination that had gone MIA in me during the last few months. Mile by mile I was slowly seeing the fog fade away. Of course, it helped to have people cheering me on most of the way, and it was also amazing to be running in a beautiful place like Eugene, Oregon, which was where I originally planned to move.

Setting my foot over the finish line of my first half-marathon reminded me that, inside, I’m a determined woman and nothing – not a career change or personal upheaval – changes what is fundamentally Lila. 

After the race, I hobbled around the finish line wolfing down sandwiches, pancakes and mini-bags of Cheetos, Doritos, Lay’s potato chips - food I rarely eat - while I waited for Rocket to finish her 26.2 miles. Finally, like a champion, Rocket came through the finish line. Later, she looked at me and said “You never would have done this half-marathon if you didn’t move to Portland”. Rocket was right.  

Somewhere around mile 9 I realized that my home is not in a particular city or in a particular job. My home is in me. I realized that there’s nothing stopping me from picking up again and moving somewhere else if my heart tells me to start packing. I love living in Portland, but coming to this truth was worth every penny of the $75 dollars it cost me to do this race.  

Portland was and is the beginning of all the change I’ve been looking for, and while it has had incredible highs and lows, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Besides, as Rocket says, “It has phenomenal beer.”  
 

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Cold Noses & Wild Rides


I was talking with a friend this week who was saying how part of our American mentality is that we define ourselves by the jobs we have because it gives us a role to play and a purpose. She said that, for some, having a job is just an excuse to have fun on the weekends, even if that “fun” is sleeping in an extra hour or two on Saturday. 

So true. 

For weeks, I’ve been wondering how I got to a place in my life where nothing really defines me. I leapt away from a fixed career path to a road without much signage, and now I don’t even know where this twisting super highway will take me tomorrow. To make matters worse, I have no reference point from my past to help figure out what to do today. I’m making it up as I go, or at least I’m trying to. When I moved to Portland I found this uncertainty exhilarating, but eight months later it’s just frightening, even more so when my long-trusted friends and family are thousands of miles away.

Lucky for me I have a cell phone plan that allows for unlimited minutes and friends and family with equally unlimited compassion. 

Talking with my friends Bryan and Alysia this week, Bryan pointed out that this is a time of big transition and change in my life.  He told me to enjoy the ride because, “you don’t get opportunities for life changes like this everyday.” And he’s right. Alysia jumped in to say that of all her friends she would willingly throw me to the dragons because she knows I’d battle the beasts and come out just fine. Thank you, Alysia. … I think. 

And while I get that sometimes we have to let go of parts of our past and present for new beginnings to take shape, the process itself has not been easy. The last few months have been like a slow unraveling thick rope. 

It seems the only constant this year has been a volunteering gig I began with the Pixie Project, a great local animal organization. (www.pixieproject.org).  

I started as a volunteer who would help keep the kitty room clean, but after scrubbing out cat boxes and throwing three bags of dirty litter in the garbage, I quickly switched to dog-walking duty. It’s a win-win situation: I get to hang with some fun-loving dogs and they get a walker who treats them like one of her own. 

So, while I continue to work my way out of limbo and try not to get mired in confusion and doubt about my unknown future, I know at least once a week there’s a dog waiting to see me, tongue hanging and tail wagging.

And for now that might be just enough to define me as I put on my helmet and fasten my seat belt, because this ride I’m on is one I’ll remember forever.  

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Beefaroni with a side of Ruffles.


While I wouldn’t characterize myself as a “foodie” – I used to get most of my cooking tips from watching Bravo’s Top Chef  - I really love fresh, simple, healthy eats. We’ve all heard the common saying that it is better to eat to live than to live to eat, but, honestly, I waver a lot when it comes to that advice. I’ve discovered that the quality of my food choices depends on what’s happening in my life at the time.  

I was having this very conversation with an acquaintance when he turned to me and said he would be having his own healthy dinner later that night. I asked him what he’d be making. He said - with a completely straight face - “beefaroni with a side of Ruffles.”  He pointed out his meal had two vegetables: potatoes and tomatoes. I didn’t argue. 

What I will argue is that having a farmer’s market nearby really does make a difference in how I eat, and I’ve been lucky to have one near me in almost every city in which I’ve lived. I first stumbled upon tofu at Ithaca’s outdoor farmer’s market and it was at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market in Atlanta that I discovered how tasty squid can be. 

Living in Portland has elevated my palate to yet another level, and I attribute much of that to having so many farmer’s markets nearby. On any given day, I’m cooking up bok choi, tai soy, and chard in ways I didn’t think possible before. This past week I biked to the farmer’s market by my house just to have tamales for lunch and listen to some live music. The tamales tasted fresh and gooey and cost $3.

My new town has more than 40 markets, and the largest is the Portland Farmer’s Market which draws anywhere from 13 to 16 thousand people each Saturday.  

I recently took my first trip there with my friend Dave who’s a consultant with the market. The experience was nothing short of food overload. There were massive amounts of fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses all coming from local farms. The market was crowded with people walking around with bags full of produce. For my part, I enjoyed a delicious breakfast burrito, courtesy of Dave.

I truly believe buying local and eating local keeps us healthy and more connected to our communities and each other. But healthy is as healthy does, and who knows, maybe “beefaroni with a side of Ruffles” would be a big hit at any given Portland farmer’s market, just as long as the potatoes and tomatoes come from a local organic farmer. 

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Monday, April 12, 2010

How Mister Jackson-Hewitt Set Me Straight.

April 15th might be the national dreaded tax deadline, but, April 7th was the big day for me. It was my tax day, and it was both awesome and painful. 

The painful part started pretty much as soon as I walked in the door and sat down. The guy doing my taxes looked at me, turned his head to my W2 form, looked back at me and said after a prolonged silence, “You made this much the first six months of the year, and then you made this much the last six months?” He was referring, of course, to my salary as a CNN producer versus the bacon I’ve brought home as a freelance producer in Portland. No question, there was a huge gap.  

My immediate response was to ask him where the bathroom was located. Once there, my eyes welled up with tears and I thought: “What the hell have I done?”  It wasn’t that I missed the career I left behind or necessarily the city I spent 14 years in, but really, what was I doing with my life? 

I have no regrets with the choices I’ve made to get to Portland. But seven months after the big move I find myself at several crossroads with work, relationships, and finances. I’m still figuring things out and I’m learning I can’t balance it all - at least not right now.  

When I started the journey West it all made sense: Take the summer off. Bike more. Hike more. Find a place to live. It was easy. It felt right. It all worked out. 

When I sat back down across from Mister Jackson-Hewitt, who still had a suspicious look on his face, I said, “Look, I left a really good job to move out here, begin a new life and start my own business. Life just got in the way of things going perfectly.” And just like that he softened up and started hooking me up in ways small business owners get hooked up.  

The painful part was over.  

But later this week I was still dealing with the noise in my head about these tough professional and personal matters. So, over the next few days I did what I always do when I need to clear my head: I went hiking by myself and with friends. I also reunited with an old favorite of mine: the Dirty Martini. There’s something to be said about a good workout followed by the simplicity of a good stiff drink. 

And as I refocus and re-prioritize, yet again, I know the path I’m about to create is the right one: to find my place professionally and continue to build a foundation of friendships. Once I get that going the rest will fall into place.  

By the way, the awesome part of tax day is learning that I’m getting a really nice tax refund. So, I guess taking time off for myself, even if it was an extended amount of time, really has paid off.

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