ThxFriday, Running to Stand Still Edition.

Friday dinner funtime with a longtime friend/former classmate; braving downtown for the hugs and the music of my favorite local band of fellas; powering through the readings and the quizzes and the paper-writing, with just another week or so to go; the smell and taste of freedom (it’s like grilled cheese and cookies, FYI); embarking on a new job adventure; the relief of being surrounded by active gratitude, adherence to guidelines, and the embrace of growth to help as many people as possible; a CEO who invites all new employees to her house for lunch; an organization that lets you bring your dog(s) to work; finding joy in opportunity; finding gratitude in struggle; hearts full-to-bursting with that feeling of good fortune; making room and allowances for all the feels; making room and allowances for all the FOOD (and pie x 2); taking the neighbor kid on a ride in the R8; 15-year old wisdom; 16-year old work ethic and resilience; a Will Ferrell movie that’s actually funny; and three days ahead in which to wrap up all the things, clearing the path for what comes next. ❤

that spark and that shine and that warm golden light.

A whole lot of years ago (seventeen, to be exact), I found myself in a pretty terrible situation, by all accounts. It was sad, hopeless, soul-depleting… at the time, I was pretty well numb to all of it; now, of course, I have nothing but empathy and compassion for the person who found herself in that place. I don’t regret a minute of it; I also just don’t think anyone should ever have to go through that.

But in the midst of it all, despite making all the wrong choices and feeling a whole lot less than nothing, there was this thing. This spark. Something all the way deep down that told me I could do better. That I wasn’t done. That it didn’t have to be that way and that I counted, I mattered, and there was a better life to be lived. I had this thing, this voice, this tiny little shine inside, and (with the help of family and friends) it was just enough to move me forward. And just as it was like a fuel for forward motion, it was like a beacon; the light would shine bright enough for those around to see me, to hear the call, to be there for me and remind me of my worth until I could hear and see it, too.

It’s that little sliver of light… I want to know what that is, and where it comes from, and what builds it and feeds it and is it always there for everyone or is it something that comes from within (or without) and what can you do to find that light when you think it’s stopped shining or it feels too weak for people to see? How do you ignite it in yourself? Or others?

I’ve been thinking a lot about unhealthy situations… dysfunctional or toxic or even just unhappy relationships / work environments / family / etc. (I should clarify that I’m not talking about dangerously abusive; that’s a whole other thing and not at all applicable here.) For these kinds of situations, and speaking from experience, there are things that happen to get you to that place. Even the most “together” person can find themselves in an emotionally abusive or unhealthy relationship, or a terrible and toxic job situation, because of a weak moment or a blind spot or a need that’s being met or a slow creep or who knows what, but it happens. So, what is it in a person that gives them the strength and the courage to leave? To move on? To trust there’s something bigger and better (or at the very least, different) out there? Why do some people stay stuck and unhappy while others have it in them to just move on? Is it that the light doesn’t shine as bright for them? Is it a sense of responsibility or a lack of self-worth or a higher pain threshold or tolerance?

There are times in my life where I have stayed in something a whole lot longer than maybe I should have, and definitely longer than other people would have, but it always felt like just long enough. In The Four Agreements, he talks about how you only accept as much poison from another person as you believe you deserve. So if that’s the case… does the light start to shine when you’ve finally had enough?

Not completely unrelated… there’s a street here in town that I’ve fallen in love with. The stretch of 23rd Avenue South, between Sharondale Drive and Golf Club Lane, has a funny little way of lighting me up every time I drive it (pun partially intended). There’s something about the houses, about the warm, enveloping lights shining through the windows and from the porches, that makes it all just feel like home.

“Home” has been a long-running theme of mine, and I’ve been paying a lot of attention to all the people, places, things, and ideas that elicit the home response in my heart. So maybe that thing, that light, that spark inside a person is really just another version of home – and maybe it’s the most important version of all.

ThxFriday, Lights at the Ends of Tunnels what are not Trains Edition.

Family dinners with the funniest kids; rubber glove theft for turkey-making missions; an excellent brunch on a beautiful day with some wonderful folks; add a beer to that equation; knowing my mama’s in the very best hands (membership has its privileges); shepherd’s pie on a cool autumn night; movies for homework; Sunday visits and friends who hold presence; acquiring knowledge of the upcoming Leipers Fork Christmas Parade​ (with pigs! There might be PIGS in the parade! And tractors and horses, too!); passion driving the writing; the freedom found in full monty honesty; saving yourself in order to help some others; that little light or spark that reminds you of your worth; the people who do it for you when the flicker tries to fade; knowing the truth (or the padding thereof) when you hear it; acceptance of others where they are; leaving them there, when that’s what’s best; rooms with birds for necessary respites; bonding over 70’s love; and today – an ending and a beginning, all in one. ❤

My Own Private Oregon.

It’s been 3.5 years since I left Portland, OR, to return “home” to TN. There were so many things I loved about Portland, and even more about Oregon: the landscapes, trees, mountains, ocean in close proximity, clean air, charming homes, innovative restaurants and excellent bars… I could go on. But at the end of it all, I felt impossibly lonely a lot of the time. Disconnected. I think a big part of that was just me and the walls & barriers I had up, but I also think there’s something about Oregon that is akin to places like Minnesota or other spots in the Midwest: people are guarded and distant. Friendly, but not at all interested in pursuing friendships or otherwise. They’ll give you directions anywhere but to their house. After growing up in the South where I never met a stranger, I never quite learned how to navigate those stoic waters.

Anyway. Last weekend I had the opportunity to head back for a long weekend. It was wonderful in all the ways I’d hoped it would be, even better in some, and it was honestly one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. I ate, drank, napped, hugged, explored, and laughed my way through five glorious days. Here, for posterity, is a photographic record, with a few notes thrown in for good measure.

Thursday

I arrived mid-afternoon and made a beeline for Nong’s Khao Man Gai, which I’ve been craving since I moved. That’s a long time to miss something, but man, is it valid. I also got to see one of my dearest dears and her 3-year old daughter’s perfection (if you math it, you’ll note I moved before she was born), and that was the very best way to kick off the trip.

Nongs

And then I went to Saint Cupcake, which, in my estimation, makes the very best chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting ON THE PLANET. This is my heaven.

SaintCupcake

I settled in to my Air BnB, located in inner SE, and was immediately charmed and felt at home. It probably helped that I was less than a mile away from where I used to live, but the studio itself was cozy and perfect. While I was grateful for the offers to stay with friends, this time around – and especially with homework to do – it made sense to have my own space.

A bit later, I ventured back out and went to Barlow Tavern, where I ate a few sliders and had a few drinks, keeping company with my friend who was tending bar.

Barlow

Once she was done, we made our way to Clyde Common, one of my long-standing favorite downtown establishments. After a few drinks (and a very unnecessary salad and pretzel), I bid her adieu, and toddled back to the studio for the night.

ClydeCommon

Friday

I slept like a ROCK.

In the morning, I met back up with my dearest dear from the day before at a place called Broder Nord. Breakfast was just fantastic, as evidenced by the below. I also snuck in a sparkling brunch-type cocktail, since I’d had coffee at the studio. Better living through chemistry and all that.

BroderNord1 BroderNord2

It was a beautiful day and I had a few hours to kill after breakfast, so I wandered up to North Portland, St. John’s area. I lived there for a year and had a view of this bridge, which never ceases to take my breath.

Bridge2

I mean… phew. And here are a few others from that little walk. (I feel compelled to mention, the weather was pretty unusual for this time of year. Rain. LOTS OF TERRIBLE RAIN ALL THE TIME, IF ANYONE IS THINKING OF MOVING THERE DON’T DO IT.)

Bridge1 Bridge3

I made my way into town where I had lunch at Rock Bottom Brewery with some favorite former co-workers. (I will mention here that many, many years ago on my first visit to Portland from MN, when I was trying to decide where to live/move, Rock Bottom was the first place I went because it was right next to my hotel. So, there’s good history there.) The food was fine, the beer was great with a silly name, and the company was exceptionally fun. Afterward, I stopped by to see a friend who owns a gym across the street and we visited for a few minutes; mostly, I just went to get one of the best hugs in existence. It happens when the person you’re hugging is a human brick wall, I suppose. One of the sweetest. And it’s kind of nice to drop in on someone and immediately launch into a conversation about racism. I mean, I’m into that sort of dialogue.

Went back to the studio for a nap, and then back out to meet up with a longtime friend and her family for dinner at Bollywood Theater on Division. The whole family had me cracking up; it had been some years since we’d all spent time together, and it was like meeting the girls again for the first time. They got jokes, man. LOTS of jokes. The food was excellent.

BollywoodTheater

After dinner, my friend and I split off and went for drinks at White Owl Social Club, where we sat by the fire and caught up on life. It was pretty fantastic. I also may have had a Jell-O shot.

jello

We carried on to the Limelight in her neck of the woods, had a drink there, and then called it an early night. Tempting as it was to keep going, I have learned temperance in my old(er) age. Mostly.

Saturday

I met up with a few girlfriends I hadn’t seen for a while prior to the move; we had a grand old time catching up and having brunch at Midpoint Food & Drink. Portland is notorious for brunch, and just as notorious for the long lines that generally come with it, but we timed this one just right and were able to get in right away (wonderful service, food, and company). Here is my breakfast (and lunch, because LOOK AT IT).

MidpointFoodandDrink

I went back to the studio for a nap, packed up some things, and made my way to Verboort, Oregon, home of the Sausage and Kraut Festival! It’s one of my favorite things ever, and yes, I actually did plan this entire trip around the festival’s occurrence. An old friend and former co-worker met me there, and after a not-too-bad wait in the rain, we were seated. And it was glorious. Everything is home/handmade, and it tasted like it. ❤

Verboort

After sausage, we drove to Banks and had a beer together before parting ways, and I went on to Seaside for the night. I miss the coast more than anything. Time was, when I lived in Portland and had a little heartache, I’d drive straight to Astoria and regroup. There’s nothing that fills my spirit better and more than time spent near the ocean.

I stopped in to visit an old friend and favorite, one of the very first people I met in Portland when I moved there. He’s opened a brew pub (Seaside Brewing Company) and it’s pretty fantastic; I highly recommend a visit.

SeasideBrewing

We made our way to U Street Pub for one more…

UStreetPub

…and then I parked it at Seaside Oceanfront Inn for the night. They were incredibly friendly, the room was great (although sadly, no real fireplace – that’s my other favorite thing), and I woke up to this.

MorningView

Sunday

Oh hello, ocean.

I wandered around on the beach for a while, taking pictures and video, but also just closing my eyes and listening to the sound. Thankfully, there was no heartache from which to heal on this trip; just pure enjoyment and soul fulfillment. I could have stayed forever, and am still kind of surprised I didn’t. But instead, I hopped in the car and drove the ~20 minutes to Astoria, home of the Goonies and also my very favorite breakfast place, Columbian Cafe, home of the E-shot cocktail (espresso, vodka, and Kahlua) and homemade toast with pepper jellies. Total swoon.

ColumbianCafe

It was another unseasonably lovely day on the coast, so I wandered around for a bit, hard-pressed to head back into town just yet. I wound up talking to a friendly old veteran who was standing on a pier, watching two bald eagles hanging out on posts. There was the slightest hint of a rainbow, which just made it all the more perfect.

Astoria2 Astoria Astoria3

One of these days I’ll move to a small coastal town. There’s something familiar and comforting to me about it all; I won’t ignore that forever.

I made it back to Portland with enough time to do a little studying and a little napping before meeting up with another group of friends/former co-workers for drinks at Produce Row. They were playing a wonderful soul soundtrack when I walked in, including a lot of Marvin Gaye. It was perfect. So was my drink, the Lemon in the Grass. I won’t tell you about the other drink I ordered because it was even MORE delicious, but also super high-maintenance and I wouldn’t do that to the handsome barkeep.

ProduceRow

Soon after, we went over to Taylor Railworks for dinner where we proceeded to have one of the best meals I’ve ever experienced. So much laughter, connection, intelligent discussion, honesty… and the food was fantastic. Highly recommend; my photos don’t do this one justice at all.

TaylorRailworks TaylorRailworks2 TaylorRailworks3

That night was just perfection.

Monday

There was a whole lot of tedium to tend to before checking out of the studio at 11am, so I stuck around and tended to all that, cutting it real close but locking the door behind me at exactly 11 o’clock. Which worked out well, because I had a lunch date at 11:30 with a friend who’d just returned from Asia the day before. She was kind enough to power through the jet lag; I like to think Andina (the final must-go-to on my list for this trip) made it worth her while. Plus, I mean, I was there, too.

And then there was all this. I wanted to order more, but it was enough to whet the appetite and remind me why I love this restaurant so much.

Andina

After lunch, I met up with another of my dearest dears for coffee and a long walk through Mt. Tabor park. We had a lot of catching up to do, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my last afternoon in town. Plus, another unseasonably gorgeous day (I swear I’m not lying under threat of injury from all of Portland to please not encourage anyone else to move there, I’d never do that, ahem) meant I got views like this.

MtTabor

We stopped in for a few drinks at the Doug Fir Lounge where I had the distinct pleasure of meeting his girlfriend. Suddenly, it was time to head to the airport, but not without first stopping at Nong’s one more time for dinner to go. I mean, when you crave a place for 3.5 years, it only makes sense to eat there twice. At least.

Nongs2

Portland… I miss you a whole lot more than I thought I did. Til next time, eh?

All the News That’s Fit to Print

Tomorrow marks the first day of my last week with the Ronald McDonald House. The last 2+ years have flown by and a lot has happened during that time, both at work and in my own life; it’s interesting to have it all combined in perspective like that, since I anticipate great change in all things and ways with the start of the new job.

I can definitely say I’ve grown and learned a lot as a result of working at RMH; my biggest lesson was reinforcing my need/desire to live in and appreciate the present moment, especially when you don’t know how many more you might get. I’ll miss having little kids come in my office to hang out or play or talk or dig through the drawers or “help.” But for many, many reasons, it’s time for me to move on to the next opportunity. My new position is with a non-profit that provides treatment services for women impacted by drug/alcohol addiction, mental illness, trauma and/or incarceration, and for just as many reasons, it feels like the next right thing. I’m excited about that.

Mom had major back surgery on Thursday morning, and is recovering pretty nicely. Two fusions and decompressive lumbar laminectomy to relieve some of the nerve pinching, done by the head of the spine department (I think there’s such a thing?) at Vanderbilt, so she was/is in good hands. She’ll be moving to rehab tomorrow, staying for two weeks, and we’ll bust her out for Thanksgiving, I’m sure. We’re all optimistic for a much better quality of life after this, and in the meantime, I’m clocking a lot of hours hanging out at the hospital.

Last weekend was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had, five days spent in Portland, OR. I have a separate post about that, complete with photos for posterity’s sake.

School continues to go well, and I’ve got about 2-3 weeks left of my first semester, I think? Something like that. I am hoping that with all the other life changes going on, I’ll be less exhausted during the week and more inclined to spread the love when it comes to school work (rather than cramming it all in to the weekend). I keep thinking about dipping my toe back into the dating pool, but I think I’ll wait til after the holidays. My time is real precious and limited at the moment (especially with the realization that I need to get on the ball with making my cards again this year…erf). I suppose it’s enough to know, for now, that I’m willing to consider it, and we’ll see what the new year brings.

ThxFriday, All Signs Point to Yes Edition.

The offer and acceptance and the notice and the silence and the confirmation (and relief) and the dinner and the jokes and the fire and the talks and the brunch and the laughs and the sausage & kraut and more laughs and the elk and the drive and the beers and the hilariously unnecessary warnings and the memories and the view to wake up to and the weather and the ocean and the swing and the E-shot and the veggies and the bridge and the eagles and the chat with the old veteran and the naps and the cocktails and that dinner and the smarts and the laughs and the small plates and the catching up and the coffee and the affirmations & reminders and the walking and, I mean, THAT VIEW, and the drinks and the introductions and the sweetness and the hugs and “til next times”, all of which was squeezed into just a few magical days; safe journeys home and remembering where that is (it’s in your heart, and it’s in mine, too); EMDR and my powerhouse team; feeling that stuff disappear to the wind; successful surgeries and the promise of feeling better; skipping homework in exchange for hospital visits (and doing well enough to afford the miss); familial ties and friends who hold presence; new neighbor introductions (I think we have a winner!); and the arrival of yet another Friday and weekend filled with food, friends, family, and moving ever forward.

ThxFriday, Bridges to Everywhere Edition.

Out of town visitors and beer and new and friendly faces; lengthy sessions; Halloween crafting; football brunch becoming an all-day extravaganza; new homes, happy visits; sick time, recovery time, homework time in between the naps time, and getting better just in time for vacation time; forward-focused offer acceptance; making it to the other side of telling the truth about experiences and memories; Captain Awkward and all that collective wisdom; being able to sleep on planes; the very best hugs, 3.5 years past due; digging in immediately upon arrival; and all the people I’m wanting/hoping/trying to see, who appear to be hoping the same. 🙂

It’s a funny thing, to come back to a town where I felt lonely and “apart” for most of the time, only to see that it must have been me, because I’m surrounded by nothing but love. Imagine that. Flying in over all the gorgeous, idyllic trees; wondering if those mountaintops ever get lonely, being all stunning with their heads in the clouds; wandering the town with friends and solo and remembering all kinds of moments… Portland, I sure did miss you.