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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