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Spreading joy through a box of cookies

I came upon them again, the eager young faces, asking me as I passed by if I would like to buy some cookies. The past couple of times I have given them a quick smile, saying “no thank you”, and kept on my way. But this time I thought oh, what the heck, I have some cash on me and besides, who doesn’t love Girl Scout cookies?

It’s always been a dilemma, making the choice between the ever popular Thin Mints, or maybe the yummy Samoas with the great combination of caramel and coconut, or should I get my personal favorite, the tangy lemon cookie they call Lemonades? What to do, what to do! As I listened to the three giggly girls giving me their best sales pitches for each cookie, I made a final decision to go with the Thin Mints, having a plan in mind as to what to do with them (besides just eating them!)

I handed one of the girls the only cash I had, a twenty dollar bill, and smiled at their squirrely laughter as they oh so slowly counted out my change. Moms were close at hand, making sure that the money end of things was handled correctly, and they happily thanked me for my cookie purchase. And bless her heart, the girl who handed my change back to me did exactly what I do with any cash I have in my billfold – she placed all the bills facing in the same direction – someone after my own obsessive/compulsive heart!

Once I got to the library for my weekly volunteer shift, I was able to put my Girl Scout cookie plan into action. I had decided that instead of once again eating the treats in the break room that all the others have brought before, I would be the one this time to make a contribution. And oh, the joy it brought! My choice of Thin Mints was heartily endorsed by Matt, one of the younger employees who is a bit on the shy side. But his face literally lit up when he asked, “Who brought the cookies?” When I told him I did, he opened up with a smile and told me of his passion for Thin Mints that was completely unexpected.

How fun to have a simple box of cookies elicit such joy; from the young girls who were so eager to sell them, to their mom’s grateful thank-yous for supporting their daughters in this endeavor, to the beaming face of Matt as he enjoyed an unexpected treat that day.

And as I was getting ready to go home, I heard a quiet voice in the break room, asking me if I was going to take the cookies home with me. “No, I’m leaving them here,” I told Matt, who I swear actually breathed a sigh of relief. And he promised me with a sheepish grin that he would try very hard to leave some cookies for the others to enjoy.

My new title, Professional Volunteer

I was volunteering at my neighborhood library this morning, talking with one of the staff who I hadn’t met before, and telling her about my retired life and what I do to fill my time. “Oh, so you’re a professional volunteer!” she proclaimed. And I had to thank her for giving me such a title, it really spells out who I am now – how perfect, yes, a professional volunteer.

I can see why she would say that, as my days now are pleasantly filled with helping out in a number of places. I do have Monday as a “free day”, walking in the morning with a friend and then doing whatever I please for the rest of the day. Then comes Tuesday, and I am presently helping  an older gentleman clear out all he has accumulated over his 70 years, trying to make more room in the studio apartment he now lives in. Wednesday and Thursday mornings I take a very short walk across the street to the grocery store, where I help out as a shopper for a non-profit called Store To Door, a place that provides grocery shopping service and delivery for those unable to do so. Friday is also another day of helping a senior, this time being a visitor and friendly face to an elderly woman, who just wants some company to help stave off the loneliness of growing older. Saturday is usually another free day, except for every third Saturday when I help with the neighborhood clean-up. Then I end my week by helping out on Sundays mornings at the local library. And in between all this are other one time opportunities to help here and there, for all kinds of different places and reasons.

Looking at all of that, I can see why I was bestowed with such a title; yes, it seems like it is an occupation in itself, all the volunteering I do now. But this is exactly what I have been reaching for, since I retired and even before that, when I would imagine all the wonderful ways I could help people if I just had the time. Well, now I have the time and I seem to have found some wonderful ways to help. This truly is my work now, even though I don’t get paid with a paycheck. Instead, I am able to pay forward the gift of time I have been given, when I was able to retire early at age 50 after a long but burned out at the end career in healthcare. I love my new job title, and life is very good working as a professional volunteer.

Happy Valentine’s Day – to me!

Ah, Valentine’s Day – it is by far my favorite holiday, a day devoted to love! What could be better than that? And even though I am divorced and happily single, I am still able to celebrate this holiday by showering myself with gifts of love. Because is it said, and I have learned this firsthand, that if we cannot first find love for ourselves, how can we truly love another?

So today I made a stop at Trader Joe’s, to buy a couple of Valentine’s gifts from me to me! First, a bottle of wine, something I have not splurged on for quite some time. Then I bought a bunch of tulips, one of my favorite flowers, to bring some color to my home during the grey Portland days we have been having. I was going to buy myself a treat of the very sugary type, a mini carrot cake I had seen there before, but sadly they were all out. No worries, as we say here in Portland, I’ll just eat up the chocolates my dear friend from Minnesota sent.

And the chocolates made me think of my wonderful friends, and friendship, just another flavor of love that is often overlooked on this day we tend to equate with romantic love only. But love is a many splendored thing, to borrow a line, and I am going to make sure today that part of that splendor on this holiday of love is loving who I am.

My pretty tulips

My pretty tulips

 

 

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”…

https://i2.wp.com/www.keepportlandweird.com/images/products/KPWLB.jpg

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.

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