The 15

Friday, October 23, 2015

It’s just after 8 am and the morning light illuminates the buildings downtown, searching for a place to rest before the universe decides it’s time to move on. The streets below are humming with activity and my new commute is verging on routine.

I walk past the valet crew at the Westin and we engage in a game of pleasantries. I do the same to the man who faithfully sells Street Roots newspapers on the corner of 6th and Washington. I’m growing to depend on these daily interactions and I know I’ll be surprised to feel their absence when one of us inevitably moves on to something new. 

I worry that one day these exciting happenings will become mundane. Eventually I'll stop studying the faces I pass with intense curiosity that only comes from the uncertainty of whether or not I belong. I'll realize that I’m no longer playing a part I have yet to prove. 

Soon enough I’ll wait for the 15, ticket at the ready, looking for all the world like someone who’s already there.

Trattoria Contadina

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Every street in San Francisco eventually leads to a hilltop. It’s as if the whole city has an unspoken agreement to salute each other from afar, perched upon each of the highest peaks.

It was along one of those quintessential hills that I stumbled upon Trattoria Contadina. Aaron, my boyfriend at the time, and I had just finished exploring City Lights Books and we were ravenous for food. We started walking west and inevitably began to incline. In addition to overpriced hardcovers and a city map, I dragged a bad attitude up that hill. My blood sugar was low and I needed to eat. Immediately. We stopped at the corner of Union and Mason to catch our breath.

The universe must’ve listened to my plea because just then, in my peripheral, I noticed a dimly lit Italian joint and the promise of free tableside bread. I could almost feel the button on my jeans pop.

Inside, Trattoria Contadina feels like walking into the home of the Italian grandmother I never had. It’s unapologetically unfussy and so tiny that the wait staff stands in the walkways, eager to sprinkle pepper and refill wine glasses. The cable car hurled by every few minutes, but I never noticed. I was too busy locking eyes with the plates coming out of the open air kitchen, each dish more beautiful than the last. I ended up ordering the first thing on the menu, Aaron too.

We were fresh in love and this was the first trip we’d taken together. I can’t remember what we talked about, but it didn’t matter. Everything he said to me during that time seemed profound. We were in college, hungry for experience, and the only plan we shared was to stay together through it all.

The thought of him came back to me last week when, years later, I spent the weekend in the city with a friend I’d met through work at Nike. We were staying a few blocks from the restaurant and decided to go one evening. It was May this time and still light out when I realized I could see Alcatraz from the entrance. We walked in and were seated right away. At once it felt both familiar and foreign.

When the waiter came to take our order, I chose the dish with creamy tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, bacon and peas. I knew before I took the first bite that I’d inadvertently ordered the same meal as the last time I’d eaten there.

Even though I was a stranger to the person I was back then, eating that pasta returned me to her. She would’ve had no way of knowing that in five years so much would change.

I wanted to tell her so many things.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I like to collect other people's things. Heirlooms picked up from garage sales, flea markets -- I'm energized by the thought of making them feel new again. My house is essentially a second-chance program for unwanted stuff. I'll never know the original owners of most of them, and they're not my stories to tell.

There's an elk antler that sits on my entryway table, accompanied by old records and an outdated globe. When I look at it, I think about the person who stared down the barrel of a gun one foggy morning in rural Oregon, eventually loading the elk in a Chevrolet pick-up under the Harvest moon. It's the same person I called "Grandpa Jeep," and aside from a few photos tucked away, this is the last I have to show for it.

What I lack in tangible evidence, we made up for in memories. Him and me, laying in a tent over the 4th of July while he told me about his family's farm in Hope, North Dakota, and about the Shetland pony he rode to his one room schoolhouse. He got the attention of the older kids by standing without a saddle, arriving to class by perfecting a graceful lunge off the horse.

He told me about the day his parents and all five of their boys headed to Oregon, and how everything they owned fit in a single car. As the Midwest dust grew heavy so did his heart, longing for the only place he knew.

He didn't know then that on the other end of that road was a woman he loved so deeply he'd run six miles to see every day, and a basketball career that made the front page. It was all waiting for him, he just had to get there.

He's gone now, but it doesn't feel that way. Every Easter, I think about the spring break my sister and I spent with my grandparents. Jeep had fallen asleep one afternoon in his favorite recliner, positioned in a way to watch TV with minimal glare from the window's incoming light. My sister laid a chocolate cream egg on his shoulder - a surprise for when he woke up. Later, when he delivered ice cream to our bedroom, he stopped and started talking about his stint in the Navy.

"You know girls, when I was in the Navy we had to do the About Face," he said, performing 90 degree pivots in the overcrowded room. "About Face, About Face, About Face," until he had turned completely around. My sister and I both realized the egg had made its way down his shoulder and landed on the back of his pants, melting as he slept. What remained was a large, light brown mess on his Dockers and we contorted, urged on by mutual spits of laughter. The three of us sat there, unable to breathe looking into each other's squinted eyes as the night drifted away.

He's the guy who taught me to be a warrior for adventure, the one who reminds me that everything will be okay because it has to be.

There would've been no way for him to predict, as my grandpa stared through the rear window at the disappearing farm all those years ago, what would become of his life. I think it was greater than anything he could've imagined.

(Photo: Grandpa Jeep and me on Diamond Lake, the day I caught my first fish.)

Stories we Tell

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I’ll learn how to budget more effectively soon. I’ll stop working weekends in the next couple months. He’s out there somewhere. True or not, these statements temporarily take the complication out of the unknown, and lately I’ve found myself saying them more and more.

In one way or another, we all want to make sense of our lives. We tell ourselves narratives to justify our behavior. It's easier that way. Chaos has us looking for answers and comfort has us seeking the questions.

The truth is our lives are messy. People we love leave and ones we never thought would come into our lives do. The unthinkable is happening right now and the plans we’ve mapped won’t materialize. How we handle the uncertainty becomes in many ways who we are.

Religion seeks to answer why evil exists and tells us where to find hope. Science explains our interconnectedness and the evolution of the things around us. Therapists ease matters of the heart and the mind by wrapping up the loose ends of our spiraling thoughts. And we tell ourselves stories because we don’t allow ourselves to see what we don’t have the strength to oppose.

I want to experience life unfiltered, as it is and without agenda, but I still hope it has a happy ending.

This direction

Monday, February 9, 2015

At the beginning of every week growing up my dad and I watched Monday night football. He looked forward to Viking touchdowns the same way I looked forward to half time. Those 15 minutes seemed like an eternity then, and we filled the space by playing “tackle the guy with the ball.”

I would wait all week to hold that foam football in my hands and run from my dad’s outstretched arms. It was familiar. It was ours.

Through the ensuing years, routines ruled. Electives followed classes and my identity hinged on how I combined the two. My classmates and I experienced life at the same pace. First kisses, getting buzzed at the expense of our parents' liquor cabinets, scoring the game-winner, graduation. We were in it together.

As we got older, the same milestones we once shared dissipated and marks of progress became more subjective. We had traded syllabuses for diplomas, and it felt like starting over.

I look around now and there are retirement funds and double shifts. There is settling down and traveling the world, and a thousand choices in between.

It’s hard, really hard, not to wonder if I’ve made the right decisions. What if all of them mattered? What if none of them did?

What I know for sure is that no matter the answer, everything that's happened got me here, standing in the living room on Monday night, deciding which direction to run. 

(Photo) NE 26th Street, Portland, OR. Taken on a ride to the store. The tires were flat, and I forget what I bought, but it was one of those perfect fall days. 

Wandering Around: Casco Viejo, Panama

Monday, April 21, 2014

Some call it the last true Panamanian neighborhood; locals call it a tourist trap. Either way, there’s no denying the simple beauty of Casco Viejo, Panama.
Located in the southwest corner of Panama City, Casco Viejo is the more laid-back cousin of other, livelier neighborhoods such as Amador Causeway and Calle Uruguay. We took our time strolling through the narrow alleys, which are often lined with wrought iron balconies covered in drying laundry.
Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Casco Viejo was completed and settled in 1673, following the near-total destruction of the original city in 1671 when pirates, including Henry Morgan, attacked its center.
The evidence of Casco Viejo's resilience is clear in the faces of the locals, in the Panamanian flags hung on windshields of cabs, and in the foundation of its buildings, which refuse to budge even when the whole world sails through its city. 

The magic lies in what's left behind. 

Wandering Around: Positano, Italy

Monday, April 14, 2014

The buildings in Positano, Italy are almost an afterthought. Each stacked on top of each other like legos, they're connected by cobblestoned alleyways and flanked by bakeries and butcher shops.
And as picturesque as the landscape is, the people are what make Positano so beautiful. There's no missing Maria, the owner of the grocery store adjacent to the lone Duomo. She’s happy to pair ingredients for the night’s meal and have her two sons run your loot up the 200 steps to your rented house.
Francesco is the town artist who makes magic on canvas. He sets up his easel on the main drag and waits long after the sun sets to return home again. 
The owner of the sandwich shop overlooking Fornillo Beach is named Fabio, and the name fits him perfectly. During humid afternoons he sits in the open windowsill, smokes another cigarette and watches the beautiful, bronzed, topless women swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. You can find him at the Discotheque tonight.
There are fishermen hauling the day’s catch to restaurant owners eager to grill it, and women crafting sandals from a single piece of leather.
There are kids playing football in the sand and commuters racing Vespas around every turn. There are Catholics streaming out of morning mass and there's you, out of place but right at home. 

Wandering Around: Balinese Temples

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tirtagangga Temple

After spending a couple weeks in Bali, Indonesia, I was both renewed and exhausted. There is no shortage of things to do—surfing in Padang Padang, power yoga in Ubud, tea and coffee tasting in Goa Ganja, but possibly the most shocking and memorable activity was witnessing the diversity and splendor of the Balinese temples. After all, there are more than 10,000 of them to see. Needless to say, I didn't see them all, but here are my five favorites.

1. Uluwatu Temple, or Pura Luhur Uluwatu, one of six key temples believed to be Bali's spiritual pillars, is renowned for its awesome location, perched on top of a steep cliff about 70 meters above sea level. Pura Luhur Uluwatu is definitely one of the top places on the island to go to for sunsets, with direct views overlooking the Indian Ocean and daily Kecak dance performances. Balinese architecture, traditionally-designed gateways, and ancient sculptures add to Uluwatu Temple's appeal. Beware: you'll also be sharing the spectacular views with thousands of monkeys who call this sanctuary home, and they're so keen on sharing the space with humans.

2. The Tirtagangga Temple is surreal. Somehow it escapes the list of top temples to visit, which often leaves visitors with the place to themselves (see picture). The water is swimmable here, and is believed to have healing and cleansing powers. The former royal palace of Tirtagangga (which means water of the Ganges) has everything from tiered fountains and gardens to stone sculptures of mythical creatures spouting water into bathing pools. Just outside the palace grounds, the views of the lush rice paddies of northeastern Bali are stunning. We spent about two hours here, but we could've easily spent more. It's stunning.

3. Tanah Lot Temple is one of Bali’s most important landmarks, famed for its unique offshore setting and sunset backdrops. An ancient Hindu shrine perched on top of an outcrop amidst constantly crashing waves - it's one you can't miss! Thousands of monkeys roam the temple as well, and the site is dotted with smaller shrines alongside restaurants, shops and a cultural park presenting regular dance performances. The temple is located in the Beraban village of the Tabanan regency, about 20 kilometers northwest of Kuta, and is included on most tours to Bali’s western and central regions.

4. The Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is both a famous picturesque landmark and a significant temple complex located on the western side of the Beratan Lake in Bedugul, central Bali. The whole Bedugul area is a favorite cool upland weekend and holiday retreat for locals and island visitors alike. The smooth, reflective surface of the lake surrounding most of the temple’s base creates a unique floating impression, while the mountain range of the Bedugul region encircling the lake provides the temple with a scenic backdrop.

5. Goa Gajah’s name is slightly misleading, lending the impression that it’s a gigantic dwelling full of elephants. Nevertheless, Goa Gajah Elephant Cave is an archaeological site of significant historical value that makes it an interesting place to visit. Located on the cool, western edge of Bedulu Village, six kilometers out of central Ubud, you don't need more than an hour to walk around to its relic-filled courtyard and view the rock-wall carvings, a central meditation cave, bathing pools and fountains.

Wandering Around: Granada, Nicaragua

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It’s hard to imagine that Granada, Nicaragua was ever a blank canvas. Between vivid local banter and rainbow-lined streets, there’s nothing dull about this UNESCO World Heritage site. However, after several invasions and a civil war, locals were left each time with a chance to start over.

Because of its location on Lake Nicaragua, pirates including Henry Morgan invaded the town several times in the 17th century. Trading bright-colored paint for local gold, the pirates sailed away rich and Nicaraguans, thinking the paint was valuable, got busy covering their homes with it.

The result is a dizzying array of hues along cobblestoned streets where shoes are rare and stray dogs rule.

Doors are almost never closed, and men and women choose to lounge in front room rocking chairs or the stoops outside. Some homes double as fruit stands and clothing stalls, while others are full on marketplaces filled with topless children buying marbles to entertain themselves through the humid afternoons.

Public transportation is a spectacle of its own. The local bus doesn't need a horn, as the brakes do an adequate job of letting pedestrians know it's close. It's not unusual for commuters to stand on top of the unmarked vehicles due to overcrowding. Needless to say, balance is a must.

Donkey carriages are lined adjacent to the bus stop and surround the central marketplace. They transport smiling locals, ready to fish for their dinner in Lake Nicaragua.

The country is now one of the safest in Latin America, a stark contrast to less than 20 years ago when Nicaragua was in the midst of civil war.

Ronaldo Castillo, who I was visiting, grew up in Granada. When he was 11, troops broke into his private school, gave the boys guns and told them to fight. That night, Ronaldo’s mother had him smuggled on a mattress truck through Mexico and into the U.S. where Ronaldo lived with his aunt in Miami until his mother could join him... five years later. One of Ronaldo’s friends from school hid in and out of a meat locker for nearly a year until troops dismantled.

What was left after the shots were fired and the money was gone was indeed a blank canvas. One that Nicaraguans have filled with vibrant culture, a gritty work ethic and loving local pride.

Wandering Around: Oregon Coast

Friday, September 6, 2013

I may be biased because I grew up less than two hours from the Oregon Coast, but there's something about the saltwater meeting the forest that seems unparalleled. Here are some photos I snapped on a recent hike through Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Oregon. She really is a beaut!

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