Friday, December 31, 2010

Coming Home

So I am so disappointed that I looked at my blog and I have not written in over a month! I guess I could blame it on the Holidays or traveling, but really what it comes down to is lack of discipline. The holidays were filled a lot of family, a lot of snow and a lot of travel! I always eagerly anticipate the holidays spent with my family in Chicago, telling my friends, “I’m going home for Christmas!” But this year, “going home” felt, well, like “leaving home.”  When did this suddenly all change…and why?!
After six years, can I say that my home, and my heart, is here now, in Portland?! It was an unexpected feeling, but one that I embrace and welcome, because it is good to be content exactly where you are. It means that I have now established my life. My own city. My own home.
I missed my adult life; my friends, my cats, my cozy little home under the two big sequoia trees. I missed my church, my roads and the hills. I even missed Winco! I missed my coffee pot and my routines. I missed green!  Oh glorious green!  I always seem to forget how much easier grey is if there is green along with it. And I even missed the rain.

What makes a place finally feel like home? And does every person eventually get to that point? I think home is where your friendships are. Home is where you live the “moments in between”..the everyday. Home is the ups and downs. It’s filled with the people you “do life with’. With coffee dates and walks in the park. With deep conversations and tears. Home is my life. I think any place can become home; it just takes time, and people and memories. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE my family and I still enjoy the time spent together when I visit. But I when the plane finally lands on the runway in PDX, I am home. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Lessons from a Flower Bud

My mom used to always say that “anticipation is half the fun.” I never understood what she meant, until I became an adult. I soon realized that it is the anticipation of what is to come that propels us through life sometimes. It is the waiting, the dreaming and the yearning for something that makes its arrival only that much sweeter.
  Perhaps the event I most anticipate is Spring. With the start of the frigid winter weather this week, I already know that around mid-January, I will be longing for signs of spring, a promise that there will brighter days ahead after a cold, rainy winter. There is one magnificent flower bush in particular that I especially watch all during the dreary, rainy winter months. It sits near our house, and I pass by it frequently.  Even before winter begins, it already cradles an array of delicate buds. Without fail, it is the very first flower to burst through  and display its pink radiance. It happens around late February, although around late January the buds that sit so dormant all winter begin to anxiously swell. In fact, I can almost feel the energy in the air when I walk by them; it is like trying to hold back a valiant racehorse from rushing out of the starting gates too soon.  Every time I walk past those buds, I glance at them, and it reassures me that even though the winter seems interminable, there is something beautiful ahead. They sit, all nestled together, enduring the wind, the sleet, and the darkness. They just exist; not noticed by most, but to me they are truly a hope I watch and wait for with eager anticipation.
And because I wait so long for them, their brilliance excites me just the same each year. They symbolize renewal and growth, and a fresh start. They are a longing satisfied. Their raw, dewy scent refreshes the staleness that collects within me.  They are my prize, for never losing faith that they would indeed bloom. They dazzle the neighborhood for but a few weeks;  but too soon their edges start to wither. They crumble inward; the life in them tumbles to the ground below. I want to hold on to them, because I waited so many months for their arrival. But I know that they must die, because if they didn’t, they couldn’t grow again. And I wouldn’t have anything to anticipate. 
And anticipation is half the fun. 
What then would I have to assure me that winter will not last forever?

Now I wasn't planning on getting philosophical in this entry today, but I see life in metaphors. Therefore, this metaphor just popped out to here I go:
 If it were not for the death of something, how could something new begin to grow? If it were not for the sad good-byes, how could we anticipate the reunion again? It is important to remember that whatever we are anticipating or dreaming about, we are experiencing the joy of it right at that moment. The attainment of it can often times be a let down! What consumed our thoughts for so long is finally fulfilled; and we have vacant thoughts, and empty space. So, what I am saying, is that we must remember to enjoy the moments of anticipation, because it is this that propels us forward. 

Wilting and tumbling to the ground below, these flowers are gone before spring even begins. However, as I peer down in the crevice between a single leaf and its connection to the branch, I notice a very small notch. It is barely observable, unless a person knows what they are looking for. 
But I know what it is. And I will wait. For I am already excited by the beauty of it. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Unexpected Reunion

Sometimes there are events in life that are too coincidental to be coincidental.

 Such an event happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was visiting family in the Chicago area, celebrating my Grandma’s 75th birthday. During the week, she and I had lunch together. We were discussing various topics; and, as I so often do, I asked my Grandma about her life. My Grandmother has experienced so much; the birth of five kids; the tragic loss of her husband; caring for her mother after a stroke; being a Grandma to her 13 grandkids... So many years. So many joys, and so many sorrows.  My Grandma always emphasizes that life is but a collection of seasons. Sometimes when we are going through a period of time—perhaps a rigorous job, a season of waiting, or a dark depression—that season seems as if it will last forever. But soon enough, our situation suddenly changes—we marry, we change jobs, we move—and the seemingly interminable past is but, well, a memory. It’s amazing actually that a circumstance could be so all consuming and then suddenly, it’s over.
I began to reflect about my recent transition from being a full time classroom teacher to now working part time. The past five years have been a whirlwind of grading papers, planning lessons and teaching hundreds of students.  My life was my profession. I was a teacher. I knew nothing else, and I believed that I would always be this. Because if I was not this, who was I? And to be honest, the transition has caused me to examine my life and what difference the past five years has made.
 I sat for a moment, stirring the white cream into my dark coffee. “I wonder if any of those kids ever think of me anymore…” 
All those hours, those days, those moments spent together and then all of a sudden, it’s done. And they move on. And I move on. And here I am now, having lunch with my Grandma in a restaurant in a small suburb of Chicago, on this blustery November afternoon, wondering if all those days ever made a difference.

Later that night, my family wanted to grab a bite to eat. After our dinner, someone suggested ice cream. ICE CREAM! On a cold November night such as this?!! As we pulled out of the parking lot, I tried to convince my Dad that I did not want to go to the store to get ice cream. But traffic was unusually bad for that time of night, and it seemed we would be waiting forever to turn left out of the parking lot towards home. “Let’s just turn right and go get that ice cream,” my Dad declared, suddenly navigating the vehicle to the right. 
We parked, exited the car and entered the deserted grocery store. I scanned the aisles of flavors, not finding the seasonal flavors of pumpkin or gingerbread that I so loved. I decided to check the end cap and made my way to the end of the freezer section. As I examined the end freezer for a suitable holiday selection, I sensed that someone was staring at me. I turned and saw a perplexed young woman. “MRS. PATTON??!!” she shrieked in utter disbelief as she started trotting down the aisle way towards me. 
“Country?!!!” I quizzically answered back.
In Portland, being such a small “big city”, I am always ready to run into a former student or parent and snap back into “Mrs. Patton-teacher-mode.” Here, however, I NEVER think about accidentally running into a student. So I was completely confused and caught off-guard when my student from five years ago embraced me in the grocery store in Chicago on this chilly November night. “I am a freshman at Wheaton College now,” she explained. “Time goes so fast, doesn't it?"
I was so surprised to see my little 8th grade student transformed now into a young, independent woman; I couldn’t think of what to say!

“Mrs. Patton, I was JUST thinking about you the other day. We were writing poetry in class, and I thought about the time you took us out to that field in 8th grade to write haikus.” 
Suddenly, her parents came traipsing around the corner. Apparently, it was parent weekend at Wheaton College, and they flew in from Portland to visit.
“Good to see you again, Mrs. Patton." Her father shook my hand.  "Thank you for preparing my daughter so well in your class. You made a difference in her life.” 
After a few more moments of reminiscing about the days in my 8th grade Language Arts class and hearing about all that she is doing at college, we parted ways; I didn’t even realize that my pumpkin ice cream was melting down the side of the carton in my shaking hands.

And I didn’t want to go to the grocery store to get ice cream that night.

I truly believe that the purpose for that trip that night was not to get ice cream. I believe that sometimes God wants to delight us; sometimes there are meetings timed so perfectly that they could only be divinely orchestrated, such as this one.
That conversation I had with my Grandma just that afternoon suddenly came flooding back to me. “I wonder if any of those kids even remember me…”

“Mrs. Patton, I was just thinking about you the other day!”

God gives us what we need when we need it. Sometimes he gives us things that we didn’t even know we needed, just to bless us. Sometimes he gives us a message through someone else.   That is why we really don’t know what our words, our actions and even our smile may mean to someone else. Perhaps we pass that person, or talk to that person not by mere chance, but because we have a blessing to deliver. And you many never know it. 

And you might wonder if what you do day after day after day is really worth it…

And then, one cold November night, you could be browsing the ice cream aisle, and God decides he wants to tell you it was.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Certainty of Change

It is one of those afternoons, where I am tucked inside my little house, with a blanket,  a cup of coffee and the rhythm of the rain on my windows. The fall rains have started in Oregon, and it's ok. Yes, it's ok. That is usually not like me, to be so "ok" with rain. But I've realized that in a world that is so uncertain,  there is comfort in the changing seasons; there is comfort in knowing something will happen. There is comfort in waiting, in anticipating for it to occur, and then have it come to fruition.
 Each year we know, even on the sunniest of days, that the rain will come. We know that it will get progressively darker throughout October. We know that it will be a little harder to wiggle our way out from under the covers in the morning to the chilly, dark air. These things I used to dread; I used to mourn the coming of late fall and winter like a long good-bye at the airport.
But what I realized is that there is a certain comfort in knowing, without a doubt, that certain things will happen at certain times in the year. Now that I've lived in the same house for over three years, I know when certain trees in my yard will turn certain colors. I know that a slight red can be detected in the very very tips of my towering maple tree in the backyard around mid August. I know that it will tease me, because the color actually won't creep slowly up the leaves and branches until the first week in November, when it will be the most luminous crimson and gold. During that week, the sun will radiate through the painted branches. And, like a filter, it will cast a deep, warm, red glow throughout my kitchen.  But then, one by one, each leaf will float down...down...down and lay dormant on the ground below. By mid November, the tree will be bare; and I will have a lot of raking to do. I don't need to mourn the demise of my tree, because soon after, my Japanese maple will suddenly explode with color. By Thanksgiving, the blackberry and grape vines wrapped around the fence next to us will be so illuminated, I fear being woken up at night! :)
Every year I wait with anticipation. Even when the days before show no signs of change, I know, without a doubt, what will come.  And it always does.
There is comfort in this, when the world around me is uncertain and doesn't make sense. There is comfort in knowing that God doesn't change, and I think He reminds us of this through the certainty of the seasons. Even if all the signs try to convince us that it won't happen, that the rain won't come, we know, without a doubt, it will.
 One fall under my glorious red maple, I was moving my life into my new home. I sat in the kitchen, under the glow of the tree, dreaming about all the memories that would take place here.
 The next year, under the same glow, I was praying that the stock market would stop falling, and thus the end of the world wouldn't devour us all so painfully.
The following year, I realized the world didn't end, but instead it was spinning awfully fast; I was in the whirlwind of finishing my grad classes, coaching volleyball and working full time. I barely noticed the tree; but, it was there.
 Now, as I write, the maple changes, and I notice it because I'm not so busy. Even though I've waited for it, I am still marvelled by it.
Generations have come. Generations have gone. There was uncertainty. There was the unknown. Yet, the seasons still came. Nothing can stop them.
We can trust. We can wait. We can know, that God remains certain.
Like His seasons.
Like the rain.
It will come; and I will be comforted.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Beautiful Horizons

I've been gone the past week, traveling around the Southwest with my Grandma. Yes, my Grandma who is 75 years, can hike and bike and gets around all over the world. She is a widow; my grandpa died 26 years ago, so I really don't remember much about him. When she travels, she goes in these tour groups, which is a whole new world for me. It is mostly seniors, women in fact, who have lost their husbands as well. They all travel around safely, hoping to explore different parts of the world together.
We saw so many beautiful sights during our week together; rocks that change color in the sunlight (who knew rocks could be so pretty!); skies so blue I could dive into them; stars to bright  I could catch them! As we drove through the North rim of the Grand Canyon, the rocky terrain suddenly gave way to trees, golden aspens in fact, that literally sparkled in the breeze.  But I think the  part I enjoyed the most were the long drives through the wide open spaces. It gave my Grandma and I time to talk, remember, and reflect. She, being a widow, has always been a part of who she is. I never really gave it much thought. In my eyes, she was always my joyful, confident, independent Grandmother who takes hold of every experience and every opportunity to live. But all of a sudden, now that I am married, I really considered the long 26 years she's lived alone, without a life partner. I think if anyone had to make the most her life, she certainly has, traveling, spending time with her five children and thirteen grandchildren, taking classes, going to lectures, meeting friends for breakfast...But still, in the back of her heart, it must have always ached.
One morning, as we were driving through the rusty red cliffs, I asked my Grandma how she ever made it through the last 26 years of her life. She told me that she really had no choice. She said in tough situations, God comes through and He gives you the grace you need: enough peace for each day; enough joy for the moment. "No one is guaranteed a life without loss, without heartache, without twists and turns. But, it's how you pick up the pieces and carry on that makes all the difference in the world." My Grandma says on the that cold night 26 years ago when she buried my Grandpa, she sat alone in a quiet house. At that moment, she had to decide how she was going to live the rest of her life.
I then realized that we all face some kind of loss in life. It is not necessarily the physical loss of a person, but perhaps the loss of a dream or a loss of joy. Each day we wake up and we have to decide how we are going to live the rest of our life. Each day we must decide if we are to linger in the loss, or trudge ahead to the future. One more more day...
 "You just take one day at a time. You decide how you are going to live in THIS moment of THIS day," she explained. "All of a sudden you wake up and look in the mirror and wonder who that old lady is staring back at you!"
 My Grandma took my hand and we both looked out across the horizon before us.
 "There is so much beauty in the world, but sometimes people are unable to see it."
The horizon ahead seemed so far away, just like this moment probably seemed so far away at one time. But it will come, one way or another... and it will be beautiful.
My wonderful Grandma and me at the Grand Canyon

I could blow this up and hang this in my house!

Hehe..."Don't get too close"

Beautiful Horizons

Inside Antelope Canyon, shaped like pottery

The red cliffs of Glen Canyon

My inspiration 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moon Beam

I think one of the most wonderful feelings is being able to sit outside under the moon without a coat. Last night was one of those nights. It is en exhilarating feeling, basking in  the moon's deep glow. The sympathy of crickets provides the perfect backdrop music.  All over the city people go about their lives, under the watchful eyes of the stars. Sometimes I look up at the moon and I feel like it is casting it's glow directly at me. When I was a child, I felt sorry for the rest of the world because I thought that the sun chose only me to shine on. The moon chose me to watch over. Oh, the egocentric thoughts of a child. 
  But  even still there are times, times like last night, under the moon, out on my back porch, with a few friends, a bottle of red wine, that I still feel like the moon is only shining on me. Or perhaps I now recognize that feeling to be not the moon, but God;  blessing me with life and friendships and laughter. As a child, I sensed that God was watching over me. Now I know He is. And I smile at the thought of that.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Perfect Saturday: Breakfast and Urban Hiking

This morning I woke up to most most splendid blue sky. I love opening my eyes on a Saturday morning (often times after the persistent prodding of my cat) and looking up to see the blue of the sky peeking through the curtains above the bed. It is back-BLUE-after weeks now of the grey and rain of fall. I sat up and realized that the whole day was before us. So, we decided to forgo cleaning out our car or the basement and instead have breakfast downtown at the Stepping Stone Cafe, a place I've been wanting to try for awhile now. They are known for their "man-cakes," super-sized pancakes featured on an episode of "man vs. food." We hopped into our car and headed out into the magnificent day. There is no better place to be in the world than a nice day in Portland. The sky is a perfect backdrop to the green hills. And, there is nothing more stunning than the pristine white views of Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams protectively watching over the city like my cat watches me when I sleep. I never get tired of seeing them. We pulled up to the Stepping Stone Cafe, a place as charming as its name. It is nestled on the corner of Quimby slightly off of NW 23rd. It has a diner like feel, but with decorations a bit more quirky and unique. After a short wait, we were seated at our cozy red vinyl table. Our server welcomed us with two mugs of rich dark coffee, softened with a bit of cream. Although tempting, I decided to forgo the "man-cakes" and instead ordered something unusual for myself-cheese blintzes. Yes, three delicately folded crepes cradled a slightly sweet cheese filling; adorned also with fresh bananas, blueberries and a cloud of whip cream. John had some sort of egg dish, but I honestly don't remember what it was because I was so excited about my own! We enjoyed out dishes, sipping our coffee, slowly taking on our day-even though it was nearly noon already. Afterwards, we decided to do one of our  favorite activities on a beautiful day-urban hike. One of our great loves are the neighborhoods and houses in Portland. Living in the 'burbs, you just don't get the stunning views or the ornate porches and decks like you do in the city. Every house is so charming and unique; I feel like I'm walking in a cluster of little gingerbread houses. I walk by each one, just imaging what the people are like inside, what they do for a living and how they spend their Saturdays. I know that might sound creepy, but I am a dreamer, and although I am happy and content with my life, I can't help but wonder about the lives of others. I especially like the big windows in some of the houses, letting in the light of day. I try to picture myself cuddled up under a blanket under that window, drinking a cup of coffee, watching someone like myself wandering through my neighborhood. We meandered past the adorable Chapman school where kids played on the park equipment, couples basked in the sun on a blanket, and dogs pranced around chasing sticks. In the distance we could hear the cheers and shouts of a little league soccer game. Oh what comforting sounds! All the parents, cheering on their boys, visiting in the noon sunshine. It warms my heart to see community within a city and families enjoying the day together. I tell John that I can't believe some people live like this!; some of the views of the city and the mountains right outside their family room windows are so breathtakingly stunning that I can't believe they actually see that everyday. We often dream about the future and will talk about where we'd like to live someday. I have to say, NW 23rd area is my choice. It has the location, the views, the community and charm. I am in love.
I never want to come across discontent with where we live, but it is so fun to dream. We are silent for a moment, John and me. I think we are both pondering what could be someday. I turn to him and smile, grabbing his hand in mind. I am happy for just this moment. The moment in between what could be someday. The moment we are enjoying together on this beautiful Saturday day. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Joys of Pumpkin Season!

Ah fall... we have such a love/hate relationship you and I.
I resent you because summer is over and the days are darker, and I know your evil cousin "winter" is approaching fast just around the corner. The rain starts to fall again, and it's so difficult to crawl out from under the warm covers and step into the chilly air when the alarm clock sounds. The rigor of school and schedules start again, and football holds the television hostage.

However, I love you because there is a crispness in the air that goes perfectly with my coffee. The morning light reflects off the changing leaves and creates a soft glow. And I don't feel guilty for spending an entire evening curled up on the couch with a book. But I think perhaps the reason I really love you  is because of pumpkin!
Yes, pumpkin season officially started for me last night when I purchased my first two cans!  There is only a very small window during the year when pumpkin is a wonderfully satisfying treat. It's one of those flavors you pass over throughout the rest of the year, but is so comforting when the weather begins to turn. A pumpkin spice latte in April? Pumpkin soup in July? Nope, that doesn't sound appealing at all. But when the first tip of a leaf begins to soak up red or orange, I suddenly have a taste for it.  It literally makes me giddy to see the many varieties of pumpkin infused food that begin to pop up all over...including in my kitchen! Last night I cracked open my jars of pumpkin and went to work. Every year I make the mistake of trying the pumpkin on the spoon. If you haven't done this, pumpkin without sugar or spices is not the best taste. It has the texture of baby food and the taste is earthy and bland. By the end of pumpkin season, I have to say that I have usually severely o.d on it. Oh what joy my pumpkin brings! Do you have any great pumpkin recipes that you bring out this time of year???
Creating joy from pumpkin!
The finished masterpiece...pumpkin biscotti! Perfect with a pumpkin spice latte on a chilly pumpkin day,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Girls on one end; boys on the other

I always have to smile at the profound differences between male and female bonding. For example, last night my husband and I met some friends downtown for happy hour to celebrate a friend's birthday. Sitting at a high bar table, all eight of us were arranged by couples. All of a sudden I notice that all the male eyeballs are simoustainiously tracking something behind us, like a cat stalking a ball of yarn. It turns out that the enticing glow of the mega TV has snagged all their attention.
Meanwhile, the females are shouting at each other from across the table, trying to penerate the sudden outbursts of cheers. Finally, I suggest that perhaps we rearrange our seating-girls at one end, boys at the other, like "Jr. High" style. Sidenote: Isn't it interesting that in high schoool and college sitting next to the same gender would be our last option at a bar?! The chase is over I suppose. :) Anyhow, Once we resituate ourselves, communication becomes a lot easier (or atleast until a touchdown happens...) We talk about work; we talk about the probelems at work; we talk about the people at work; we talk about working out; we talk about the problems with working out; we talk about the people that we see working out; we talk about the Today show; we talk about the problems featured on the Today show; we talk about Merideth Vera's choice of shoes that morning...
Meanwhile, I turn to the guys, and now all six of them are completely turned around, transfixed on the movement behind us. They cheer. They groan. They yell something.
Two hours later, we leave the bar. Both my husband and I feel satisfied with the social interactions and bonding that has taken place among the table. Now don't get me wrong, I have to say that my husband is more of a natural extrovert than I am. But it is amusing to me that men can bond without words and women, well, let's just say "movie nights" are rarely times for silent viewing. I guess its good that God made us this way though. Could you imagine the schedules if two people tried to make weekly coffee dates? Actually, doesn't that make you smile thinking about walking into a Starbucks and seeing a table of men, sipping their skinny vanilla lattes and talking excitedly about the new book club choice?! Or how about a bunch of girls gathered around a TV, not saying a word except to the TV? I suppose that could happen with a bunch of girls, but I think someone would at least comment on the sports commentator's shoes!
Nonetheless, my husband is still my best friend and I'm glad I'm married to him. However, I am thankful for my gals too!!!! :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Moments in Between

Sitting at dinner the few weeks ago, my husband and I started talking about what we were going to do after dinner. We decided to walk about downtown and perhaps get some gelato. Eating gelato, we discussed what tomorrow held. The appointments. The plans. The agendas. The schedules. "Why don't we just enjoy this last bit of Sunday before we tackle Monday," suggested my wise, wonderful husband. Hmmmm...that made sense to me. Why should we give up half of our carefree weekend thinking about the stress of next week, when we can't do a thing about it right now anyway!
I guess I have always sort of been like this, but I don't think I am alone.

"Happy 29th Birthday, sweetie....Just think, next year, you'll be 30!"

"Only two more weeks until vacation..."

"If I could just get through today, then everything will be easier..."

I think Americans are particularly susceptible to "living for the weekend" mentality. We are planners, schedulers, producers. We have appointments to make, goals to attain and people to connect with. Luckily we have our smart phones to remind us that we need to be doing and thinking about something else than what we are currently doing and thinking about at this moment. I can't even being to tell you how many times I've been at dinner or in between sleep and consciousness when an electronic ding suddenly reminded me that I should be thinking or doing something else!

Why are we always looking to the "next big thing?"

I certainly think it is responsible to plan for the future. I think it is exciting to have dreams and goals. But, what I really realized recently was that life happens in the moments in between our big plans, goals and seasons. I think that often times I put my life on hold until "that big next event" or "that next season" in life. I do trust that God has a plan for me and my life. I believe that we need to be responsible stewards with the resources and jobs He gives us. However, I do believe that God's gift to us is simply living in the moment, lingering in the now, and enjoying the small joys he places before us.
Furthermore, this blog is being created to help me do just that. This is a blog dedicated to life-the moments in between our big plans.
These moments are when life actually happens.
The moment in now.
And it is passing quickly.