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Archive for the ‘places’ Category

Only in Portland

Keep Portland Weird! The bumper stickers with this quirky catchphrase in bright yellow letters can be seen all around town. Some of the locals find it trite, but for me it was a draw to this “weird” city, a place where the eccentric are encouraged to come out in full force. The origin of this slogan was actually a campaign started by a company to encourage shopping at local merchants around town, but it really defines the energy of this very interesting city.

Another aspect of Portland that makes it so unique is its almost overzealous love of dogs, rivaled only by some European cities. Instead of most major cities who would have to post a “dogs allowed” sign in the window of any business, Portland assumes that dogs are allowed everywhere! The only sign posted here is “only service dogs allowed”. And Portlanders are not shy about taking their dogs everywhere, often dressed in cute little doggie clothes, making them as eccentric as their owners. I have seen dogs in many restaurants, coffeehouses, all kinds of local businesses and even in the grocery store. But this morning as I was picking up a few things at the grocery store across the street, I encountered a surprising lack of Portland patience for our canine friends.

I was in the produce section, trying to size up the pomegranates and figure out what makes one pomegranate better than the other, when I heard the announcement from a less than happy employee – “Would the person who owns the dogs chained outside to the bike rack please go and take care of them – they will not stop barking! Thank you.” And this is something else that amazes me, is the honor system that is in place; allowing people to leave their dogs chained up outside an establishment while they take care of their business, never giving a worry or second thought that someone might come by and steal their precious pooch. Only in Portland…

And in another vein of quirkiness, I am proud to say that I live in the city that houses America’s Largest Hat Museum, simply named The Hat Museum. I had the good fortune to be able to take a tour through it with a women’s writing group one rainy Saturday afternoon. Reservations are required, and only groups of up to six people are allowed, so it is not like just any old museum that one might stroll through.

The museum is located in the Ladd-Reingold house, a vintage house through and through, built in 1910. Of course for many years it was a private residence, but now it is literally filled to the rafters with hats of all kinds. I was greeted at the door by Alyce, our tour guide, dressed in a wonderful outfit from the turn of the 20th century; a beautiful vintage dress circa early 1900’s, black lace gloves, black leather boots from that period, and of course an extremely flamboyant hat full of ribbons, feathers and flowers.

We started on the first floor, gazing in awe at the stunning collection of antique and vintage hats, some of which were adorned in very ostentatious ways. Then we moved on to a more modern day collection, learning all along how hats have really been a huge part of our histories and cultures. The second floor houses a massive collection of men’s hats, where we learned that because of the overwhelming desire for beaver hats in the day, the poor beaver was almost hunted to extinction. After that we moved on to the unusual collection of novelty hats, which included hats for every occasion and holiday, even one that was made to resemble a Thanksgiving dinner table – very quirky! We finished up with the collection of international hats, most of which have been sent to the Hat Museum from people all over the world.

So it is with great pride and joy that I shout out to all who will listen – Keep Portland Weird! And I love being able to relay stories to my non-Portland friends, beginning with the words, “Only in Portland”…

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It’s not always about the food

Every month I meet with four other women for lunch, at a previously chosen destination somewhere in Portland. We call ourselves the “library ladies”, due to the fact that we first met during the monthly book club at the Central Library. As we made small talk one day before the book club discussion started, we soon discovered that we were all transplants from other states. So in order to get to know our new city better, as well as get to know one another better, we decided to meet once a month for a lunchtime adventure.

This has gone on for about a year now, and it has been so much fun as we find new and interesting places around Portland, with a wide variety of all types of food. We have eaten everything from Vietnamese to Mexican to Chinese, and of course the regular fare of what would be considered American food. And the venues have varied from the simplicity of ordering food at the counter of a local taqueria and finding a place to sit, to lunching in some rather elegant places such as the more upscale hotel restaurants around town. And as much as we go to enjoy the different foods and atmosphere of different restaurants, I seem to find that our monthly get together is really more about friendship and not the food.

Our latest foray took us to the Portland City Grill, which is on the 30th floor of an office building in downtown Portland. I could feel my jaw drop in amazement as we were led to our table, in a dining room completely surrounded by windows. The view was spectacular! Luckily the restaurant wasn’t terribly busy at that time, so I was able to grab my camera and run around looking like a crazed tourist, trying to get the best picture of Portland I could without bothering too many people. The service was great, the ambiance lovely and relaxing, and the camaraderie between friends was delightful. And although the food was good, I wasn’t as wowed as I thought I might be, for the price that I payed. And the part that I just had to laugh at was dessert; I was expecting so much more. I ordered a lunch special that came with “Brandon’s Ultimate Dessert Selection”, and I was ready for my sweet tooth to be charmed. But I was more like shocked when the Ultimate Dessert came, in the guise of an eclair – that’s right, just a plain old eclair, like the kind you can get for a buck at just about any bakery. It tasted good, but not in an ultimate kind of way.

So I looked at our lunch date that day as more than just going out to eat. It was about getting a bit more dolled up than usual, sitting in a fancy schmancy place and just soaking it all in. It was about the breathtaking view of my beautiful Portland from high in the sky, and watching a red tailed hawk soar right past the window by our table. And most of all it was about spending precious time with friends. And no matter how overpriced and overrated I may think the food itself was, the time spent in friendship was worth every penny.

The view from our table at Portland City Grill

Acknowledging the good things in life

I’ll never understand why it seems to be human nature to find it easier to complain than to praise. Maybe that’s a bit of a poor generalization, maybe it’s just the crabby old person starting to come out in me. But you’ll have to agree that most of us are quick to jump all over a person or place that has dissatisfied us, yet we keep to ourselves any positive experiences we have. This best shows itself in the increasing multitude of lawsuits being  filed over any little thing, and the fact that malpractice insurance costs for physicians are starting to scare prospective medical students away.

So I try to retrain myself, to get out of the Pavlovian response of only letting my dissatisfaction show. Now I try to think of instances where I could share a kind word or two about something or someone who has made my day. After my trip to Chicago in 2009, I came home, remembering how enjoyable the whole experience was; from the person at the hotel who helped me when I needed a cab, to the friendly and informative people manning the Hop On, Hop Off trolley that took me all around town. So I sent words of thanks to these places and others, telling them what a great job they did. It felt good to share some joy, and I could almost feel the happiness in the recipients of my messages. Positive energy all around; much healthier than the other side of the coin.

And I must have rubbed this off on my daughter in some way, as she related to me a story about going on a frustrating search for just the right pair of jeans. Now granted, my daughter has literally a multitude of jeans in her closet, and her husband must have been shaking his head (lovingly, of course) as she set out to find a new pair or two for their upcoming honeymoon. She told me how she wandered through the mall, going to store after store, looking for flared leg jeans and not the skinny leg jeans that are so prevalent. Finally, at the last store she checked, there they were – tables and racks full of jeans with the perfect flared leg – she told me was a madwoman as she filled the fitting room with a mountain of jeans. Out of all this craziness she managed to find two pair that met her stringent guidelines. She went home a happy fashionista.

She told me that after she came home, full of the joy of a very successful shopping expedition, she was moved to write an e-mail to the company that saved her from a fashion meltdown. In doing this she hoped that the company will know how satisfying it was to have just what she was looking for, and how helpful the employees were.

Of course there are times when we need to go down the other road, to voice our complaints or to make known our unhappiness so that others may be spared. But let’s not forget how easy it is to go down the path of saying “wow, thanks for doing such a great job and making me happy”. It takes the same amount of energy to write words of praise as it does words of complaint, and I’d rather see more of that positive energy floating around in our world.

The gifts of perfect timing

I took a break from reading the 500 some page book club book about Teddy Roosevelt to check and see if the mail had arrived yet. As I walked into the foyer of my apartment building, I saw a large wooden desk sitting there with a yellow post-it note proclaiming “Free”. I have been keeping my eye out lately for a desk of some type, but it needed to be smaller than this one. I was anxious to replace the TV tray that I had been using as a combination desk to write at and kitchen table to eat at. Rick and James were in the office, the manager and assistant manager of my building, and I lamented to them how much I would have loved that desk but it was just too big for my studio apartment. One of them mentioned a smaller desk they had seen in the basement, in the corner where people leave “free stuff”;  things that are let go for one reason or another, usually because it is easier than trying to haul large and bulky items to the nearest Goodwill.

I found the adorable white wicker desk just sitting there in the corner, amongst a mattress, a broken entertainment center, a battered tool box and a box full of old clothes and shoes. I felt like I was at the humane society, picking out the perfect pet. Instead I had found the perfect desk! I ran up to the office, out of breath and proclaimed, “I’ll take it!” James graciously offered to bring it up to my apartment on the fourth floor; good thing he was there at the time or else I don’t know how I would have managed it on my own, and then I may have lost my chance to have such a great find – for free!

But wait, there’s more!

As I started to rearrange things in my home to accommodate my new piece of furniture, I heard a knock at the door. I answered it and there stood Rick with a lovely black office chair that looked as if no one had spent any time sitting in it. Another free gift! Rick must have been paying attention to me when I was rambling on about how I have the world’s most uncomfortable plastic folding chair that I bought only because I didn’t feel like driving all over to find something better and yeah I hate to complain but it really would be nice to have something a bit more comfortable and on and on. And now here he was, with the perfect chair to match my perfect desk – yes, what a perfect day!

After all was said and done, with my new desk in place and the drawers full of all the things I had previously kept on a kitchen shelf, I could see how perfect timing, what is called synchronicity, played a part in all of this. I had to come down to get my mail, just at the time that the desk was there, just at the time that Rick and James where there to tell me about a better desk and to hear about my sad chair story, just at the time that James was there to carry my treasure find to my apartment, just at the time that Rick thought to give me his old office chair. This is how the Universe lines up the dominoes of our life’s happenings, then gives them a joyful flick to fall into perfect succession – this is how it’s done!

As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as luck or fate or serendipity; there are no coincidences. We are all part of a much greater plan than we can imagine. And when we take the time to step back and stop trying to control everything, we might just find ourselves the recipients of perfect gifts that can only come from perfect timing.

From this….

…to this!!

 

 

Time to explore, once more

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a travel adventure; I would say the last place I really traveled to was Portland, last year when I moved here. And now I am happily settled in as a Portlander, and I have had adventures and explorations around my pretty city. But I could feel my soul, nudging me on a bit as I hemmed and hawed about attending an event in Seattle, about angels and the afterlife. Oh my, two topics so near and dear to my soul, and a chance to go on an out of town adventure – well, why not? So I purchased a ticket to the event itself, a round trip train ticket from Portland to Seattle, and made reservations at a hostel for two nights – that in itself would be a whole new experience! But after finding hotels in downtown Seattle averaging around $200 a night, I took a leap of faith in the $69 a night hostel experience – after all, I am an adventuress!

The four hour train ride to Seattle was very pleasant, and after sinking into a good book I brought with, I was there before I knew it. I love traveling by train, and Amtrak once again proved to be a mode of travel I am very comfortable with. My skills in acting as my own travel agent proved to be quite proficient, as I found myself situated only five blocks from the hostel I had found, and less than five minutes by city bus to the convention center where the angels & afterlife event was being held. I had to pat myself on the back for that bit of perfect planning!

I do have to admit though, that as I walked through the heart of Seattle’s Chinatown to get to my hostel, I was a bit nervous. There is a Chinatown in Portland that I have walked through many times, and it just doesn’t seem quite as “gritty” as the Chinatown in Seattle. But I do have street smarts, that tell me to be back at the hostel before dark, and to try and not look like a tourist – in other words, only look at the big bright fold-out map of Seattle before heading into a “questionable” area. The hostel itself was warm and welcoming, and the staff very friendly and helpful. I had to laugh though when I saw my room. I don’t think I quite understood the whole hostel experience, as I just thought it would be like having a very basic hotel room. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to my room (and I had booked a private room) and saw basically, a college dorm room – a metal frame bunk bed, a sink, and a tiny wooden table in the corner. But you know what, it was all I needed, and the whole time I was there I felt completely safe and comfortable. What a deal for only $69 a night – and I got breakfast to boot!

My room at the hostel

Time to explore Seattle! I didn’t plan on going too far, but I had enough time to make my way to the waterfront and to a place called Pike Place Market. The waterfront area was pretty, looking out over an expanse of water called Elliott Bay. I spotted the huge Ferris Wheel from a ways back, so tempted to take a ride and see everything from high in the sky. But when I found out it would cost $15, my budget minded self thought it may be better spent elsewhere, like on food. And Pike Place Market had plenty of that – from fruits and vegetables, to chocolate and cheese, and of course the amazing array of seafood that Seattle is so known for. The fish vendors are half the fun in the marketplace, as they toss fish back and forth, making up crazy rhymes and chants as they go along. I settled on some great bread and delectable cheese, going a bit European, with a cheesecake truffle for dessert – perfect!

Elliott Bay

The Ferris Wheel that I didn’t ride

Fish stall at Pike Place Market

More food at Pike Place Market

The next day was my biggest concern, as I needed to navigate the free downtown bus system to get me to the convention center. This free bus ride takes place in what is called the “bus tunnel”, and it is just that – a tunnel, much like a subway, that has both buses and transit trains running through it. But thanks to a helpful employee I found in Union Station, I was able to get on the right bus and get there easily, as well as getting back – phew! That was honestly my biggest concern about the whole weekend, and I conquered it.

The event itself, the catalyst for getting me to visit Seattle in the first place, was very nice. The speakers were John Holland, a well known medium/psychic, and Doreen Virtue, a woman who connects with the angelic realm and is equally well known in the metaphysical world. I didn’t really come away with anything I hadn’t already heard or knew, but the energy was lovely, and the speakers were very interesting. I was able to walk around the downtown proper during the lunch break, and it seemed very nice – but not as nice as Portland!

When I got back to the hostel, I found a celebration going on in Chinatown – the Moon Festival. What luck for me to be staying in that part of the city during this festival, and I was able to satisfy my craving I had for weeks for sweet and sour chicken – it was delicious! I watched some displays of martial arts, as well as dancing and drumming in the Chinese way. Then I saw something called a mooncake, and just the name alone enticed me. It is a decorative pastry, filled with sweet lotus paste – but the duck egg in the middle was too much for my uncourageous taste buds, and I had to just say no when I got to that part!

Martial arts at the Moon Festival

Drumming at the Moon Festival

A mooncake

All in all, I had a delightful time in Seattle, happy to be able to visit this city that is really so close to me. But honestly, when the announcement on the train came, “Next stop, Portland”, I had my bags gathered up and I couldn’t wait for my feet to touch the streets of the city I have come to love the best, my beautiful Portland.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes? The idiosyncratic world of animal & bird group names

Because I love to write, I love words. I love putting words together to form thoughts or a story, but sometimes I love words in and of themselves, just enjoying how they look and sound. Words like cacophony, plethora and gallivant have a quaint look and rhythm all their own, making them fun to say as well as making me appear well spoken when I can actually use them in the proper context. That may be a bit pretentious though, don’t you think? Do I want to be one of those people trying to impress others with my extensive and unique vocabulary? Well, obviously I am not the only one who wishes to be noticed by using interesting words. I recently discovered a list of group names of various animals & birds, and I’d have to say that the biologists or ornithologists or whoever appointed themselves to the task of naming these groups must have been either drunk or trying to impress fellow colleagues as they came up with some rather peculiar pairings.

As I read through the list, I realized how clever some of the names are. I could certainly attest to a prickle of porcupines, a shiver of sharks (and they do make me shiver!), a quiver of cobras (another creature that yes, makes me quiver!), and a tower of giraffes. There are some group names that imply a character trait: an implausibility of gnus, a mischief of mice (and isn’t that one so very true?), a wisdom of wombats (who knew they were wise?), and a pitying of turtle doves. I found that some groups were named on the basis of their actions: a leap of leopards, a lounge of lizards, a romp of otters, a cackle of hyenas, and a crash of rhinoceroses. But the ones I enjoyed the most were the totally off the wall labels that had to have been chosen by those in a mind-altered state, or perhaps on a dare, or maybe just for the hell of it, because they could! : a kettle of vultures, a consortium of octopuses, a charm of hummingbirds, a bloat of hippopotamuses, and my personal favorite, a murder of crows.

I am envious of those who were given permission to label the creatures of the earth and their groups with such creative license.  So the next time you go to the zoo, remember the zeal of zebras, the streak of tigers, and the coalition of cheetahs, and say “thank you” to those who sprinkled a bit of levity into the animal kingdom.

A flamboyance of flamingos

A barrel of monkeys

A flock of seagulls
(also the name of a popular 80’s musical group)

And what did I learn this time?

Life can be a breeze here, when the dominoes fall in perfect succession. I have had that pristine line -up of  all things clicking into place, as they did when I made my plans to move here to Portland, when everything did come together as it should and the dominoes fell in a perfect wave of all I needed, all I wanted.

But now I am cleaning up all the dominoes of a recent experience, where they seemed to connect at first, but there was a piece or two out of sync that caused everything to scatter. I have found myself needing to secure a job here in the near future, so I do not blow through my retirement money and end up having to live with one of my children – not the scenario I have for my “golden years”, and not one I’m sure my children have either! So I started the job hunt a couple weeks ago, perusing Craigslist, and came upon what seemed to be the perfect job for me in so many ways. I started to line up the pieces, so sure they would all be in order.

Oh yes, this job seemed to be made just for me! A short 15 minute walk from my home, part – time hours in the morning which would leave my afternoons free, and located in a small holistic health clinic – the type of medicine that is near and dear to my heart, no longer wanting to be back in the world of Western, corporate medicine. And after my first interview with the clinic manager, I walked out of there cocky and confident, thinking about what kind of clothes I needed to buy for what I was sure was my new job.

But wait, not so fast. I was asked to come in for a second interview with one of the physicians. Well of course I was more than happy to meet with one of them and show what a great catch I was for their clinic; this was just a formality and then I could get started earning some much needed income.

But I started to realize as the interview progressed that I must have failed to line up one of those damn pieces just right, and things started to scatter everywhere. I went from a belief in myself that I could do this front desk job with ease to jumping into a defensive mode, as the physician interviewing me started asking his probing questions. I felt the energy shift palpably as he questioned my ability to handle stress; citing my reason for retiring from lab after 30 years of burnout and stress as a red flag to him, not confident that I could handle the stress of their front desk. Fair enough; I patiently explained the differences I saw between front desk stress in a clinic setting versus the stress of working in a hospital laboratory, literally dealing with life and death situations.  But when he asked me if I could handle the fact that some of their patients die, I almost had to laugh! After 30 years in healthcare, I unfortunately saw my fair share of patients die, but that did not discourage me from working in my field. I think that was when I knew my chances were oh so slim.

And then I received the response that I knew all along was coming – they hired another candidate. What have I learned? This is what I come to ask myself these days, with all experiences, good or bad. I’ve learned that there are times we think we know what is best, in our limited egocentric ways. But I know in my heart that for some very good reason, God and the Universe knew this was not my best place to work, and arranged it as such. So in that way, I learn trust, letting go of the bitterness my ego wants me to feel. I learned how to speak my truth, not making up a more pleasant reason for retirement, even though “burnout” to some may paint me as one who can’t handle the stress of work. And lastly, I learned honesty, especially with myself. Because deep inside, I knew this really wasn’t the place for me, but all the parts seemed to fit – except the part that was missing, and that was a genuine excitement to work there. And I learn that my soul really wants that, enthusiasm and joy when I do go back to work. So I patiently wait until I come upon the workplace that genuinely lights up my soul.

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