Monday, August 31, 2015

Vagabond Summer, Part 4

(Catch up on Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Sometimes you have to blow things up.

Sometimes you need to travel 1,000 miles away from the place you call home before you can discover what home really is.

In a basement apartment, in blazing heat and no air conditioning, away from the familiar and the comforting, we tore down walls and ripped out hurts and dug up disappointments to find our family at the center of all our busyness and distractions.

Three weeks into our vagabond summer, we started to find our footing again. We started to enjoy our time instead of rushing to cram in as much as we could. We settled into the knowledge that changing location only does that – it doesn’t actually change who you are. And we began to rebuild.

Amid the chaos, we stumbled into church on Sunday morning, completely unsure of what to expect. I’d found Nexus PDX through a Google search for something near our rental. Three weeks was long enough that I wanted something. If we were even considering moving to Portland ever in the future, I wanted to know there was a faith community we could call home. That we wouldn’t find ourselves spiritual orphans, without the family we’ve found at our church in Los Angeles.

There have been a few people in my life that felt like friends the moment we met. Like something in me recognizes something in then. “Oh, it’s you!” Walking into that church felt like coming home. The two Sundays we spent with Trevor, Julie and the rest of the Nexus family left an indelible mark on my heart and my soul. If we did nothing else that entire summer, the encouragement we gave and received were totally worth it.

To finish off that first Sunday on a beautiful note, we barbequed with dear friends from the newly wed small group we'd lead years ago. Rob and Amber live in Hawaii now but ended up in Portland for a couple days while we were there. Our boys struck up an instant friendship, while we shared our hearts and souls and journeys over the years.

That second week in Portland, We blew things up, put them back together, and build deep friendships over burgers, beers and artisan gelatos. We visited stunning parks shaded by towering trees. We ate every recommended doughnut in Portland (for the record, Pip’s are the best, but only fresh and they are kind of different animal all together).


With our time in Portland winding down, we spent those last days in a whirlwind of fun. We visited the Portland Children’s Museum, the Oregon Zoo, splash pads, the local pool and the rose garden. We spent an amazing day on Sauvie Island, where the Columbia and the Williamette meet. We picked berries and swam in the river. We fished for crawdads in our own backyard (where the water was so clear, it looked like it had come from the tap!) and ate them for dinner. We were wild and free and family. 


We found so much of what we were looking for, and yet we still had no real grasp of why we’d come. Joe and the kids spent our last morning at the Oaks, the little family-run amusement park nestled along the river in our neighborhood. I took myself in for a long over due haircut. I think we were all in a bit of denial. Despite the struggles, none of us were ready to leave.

We drove away from Portland with lumps in our throats, already aching to come back. 

And there was still the small detail of where we were live for the next week, when our renters moved out...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Vagabond Summer, Part 3

(You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

And now we’ve reached the part of this narrative I don’t want to write. I deleted 3,000 emails rather than write.

The truth is, no matter where you go, you go with you.

We reached Portland on the Friday before the 4th of July, during one of the hottest, driest summers anyone could remember. Our beautiful, lush land of dreams and hopes looked a little… dry. Dusty. Worn. Still, the trees were big and wild. Our son exclaimed “I thought we were going to a city, not the forrest!” We crossed over the Willamette to our little neighborhood on the east bank of the river. Construction on Sellwood Bridge clogged the main route into town. Streets were torn up and sidewalks blocked. Orang detour signs dotted the landscape.

Our Airbnb host was waiting for us with a hammock set up under the willow tree and a promise that our part of the house stayed cool, even in the heat of summer. My anxiety inched higher as we passed the time I’d said we’d arrive. It was the last pit stop, wasn’t it? I shouldn’t have stopped for a drink of water. We were being rude, making her wait. What if she left? How would we get a key? Where would we go?

You go with you.

We arrived at last (maybe 15 minutes late), found the right gate, parked in the right spot, met our host and all piled out into the most stunning backyard I’ve ever seen. The willow tree towered over the crisp green lawn, branches sweeping low and swaying in the breeze. A stream, with two fountains spouting from the center, babbled in the background. The bright red hammock beckoned. The kids sprinted into the open space, relishing the clean air, bright roses and hydrangea, and our host’s big, bouncing Golden Retriever. 


Our host led us on a tour of the grounds, explaining it had once been a salmon hatchery and that she was working with the city to turn on the water wheel, which could power the entire house. This would be our backyard for the next three weeks! Yet even amid all that beauty and peace, my mind ran. I wanted to see the house. I wanted to unpack. I want to feel settled and like I knew why we were there.

You go with you.

We got in, we set up beds, we ate from the provisions our host generously left, we bathed the kiddos in the giant jetted tub and sent them off to bed. Joe ran out for one of our Portland bucket list items – a meal at Burgerville. It did beat my expectations. Everything was going as planned.

Saturday morning, we hit the ground running. We fit as much Portland into that weekend as we could. We met up with Joe’s friend/business partner (Duncan) and his wife (Star) for coffee (at a coffee shop/bamboo flooring showroom), then crossed the river for the farmer’s market at the North Park Blocks (where our kids started a party a fountain with half a dozen kids they’d never met), then back across the river to grab food and prep for a barbeque. Joe’s cousins and their friend, along with Duncan and Star, joined us for dinner and a drive to find a spot with a view of the fireworks. We squeezed into parking spots with strangers helping us navigate. Our once-fearless son decided the fireworks terrified him. He refused to go near the sparklers and lamented the 4th of July as the worst day ever. We were tired. We overwhelmed. A good night of sleep and church in the morning would put wrongs to right. It had to.

You go with you.



Sunday morning, we discovered the church we'd planned to visit was closed for the holiday. No worries. We’d find a doughnut shop and have a nice family breakfast. We walked up and down the main retail district in Sellwood, checking every restaurant and café for any sight of our favorite morning treat. No dice. Not a single doughnut to be found within the limits of our neighborhood. No worries. We’d check off another Portland bucket list item – Voodoo Doughnuts. We piled into the car and headed across the river to find the line wrapped around the block. No worries. We’d hit up Voodoo Two, back on our side of the river. Another twenty minutes of driving and we had doughnuts in hand. Subpar doughnuts, but doughnuts. Since we were out, we might as well hit up Target. The Target another 20 minutes away because that Target had the scooter we’d promised our son he could buy with birthday money. The kids ran up and down the store squealing like banshees - and other people thought they were cute! We were certainly not in LA any more.

Back home at last, we wanted to end our weekend with a family adventure. We donned bathing suits and water shoes for a creek walk through the park across from our rental. The cool water felt soothing on a hot afternoon. The bottom was rocky, but easy to navigate. Our son decided he was afraid of crawfish pinching him, but we talked him through it. And then Joe mentioned the fish.

I have a deep, irrational fear of fish. A phobia. I know it’s dumb. That’s a how phobias work – an irrational or very powerful fear and dislike. The word “fish” implanted visions of minnows burrowing into my legs and dying in there. It makes no sense, but there it is. The idea of a fish even brushing against me set my nerves on edge. No worries. I’d just stay out of the water as much as I could. That worked great until it didn’t and in my scramble to stay above water, I took out my knee, my shoulder and almost dragged our 2.5yo daughter under with me. By then, it was time to go home. There were tears and struggles and somehow we made it back bruised and beaten and far too tired.

I took me with me. I took my fear and my expectations and I found myself staring back at me, no more adventurous because I’d struck out from home.

The next week or so is a blur. Joe and Duncan set up business meetings and opportunities to try out the new film equipment they were trying to rent out. That was part of our purpose for the trip. The kids and I joined when we could and found our own activities when we couldn’t. We checked off more Portland bingo squares: white people with dreadlocks, giant thigh tattoos, finger toe shoes, an aluminum wrapped house, and a neighbor named Hok (pronounced Hawk) who enjoys bicycling in the buff. But the kids were crabby. I was crabby. Joe was stressed. Our picture perfect vacation was turning into snapping at each other, tears, anger and frustration. Things too long unspoken came out. Our son’s 5-year-old rage (go testosterone!) led to slamming doors, swinging punches and screaming matches. I resorted to eating my feelings – every last of them, mostly flavored like Tillamook ice cream and peanut butter.

Why had we come? To tear each other apart and revert into our worst selves?

We came with us. And we have a lot of growing to do.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Vagabond Summer, Part 2

(You can read Part 1, explaining how & why we rented out our home, here)

Summer arrived and we moved through the last week of preschool, shedding only a few tears as our boy walked out in his orange grad cap and proudly took his diploma. We said our goodbye to teachers and friends, before cramming in our last minute packing and to board the Saturday night red eye to Cleveland. We set up the lockbox, did a final sweep of our home, and shut the door, knowing we wouldn’t be home again for more than six weeks. 48 days. Our son cried. Our daughter looked at us in confusion. We piled into our friends’ van and set off for the airport.

Beside our gate, flight 1999 for New Orleans board, while Prince ran through my head. Along with a never-ending reminder than I wouldn’t be home again for a month and a hald.

We arrived in Ohio weary and shell shocked. My inlaws cheerfully picked us up to hand off a car, ensuring we had breakfast before we launched into a whirlwind of friends, family and summer fun. My phone camera promptly died, leaving me with very little documentation of our travels.


We moved on. We met our newest nephew, the kids chased lightening bugs and played with their cousins. They snuggled aunts and uncles and grandparents. We took a side trip to Kentucky to visit Joe’s grandma, with a rather complicated overnight stay involving three hotel rooms, dirty underwear (not ours) and a wrong booking date. We barbequed and played in mud and jumped on trampolines. We saw friends old and new. Our son went to his very first baseball game. Ten days passed so quickly we barely found our footing before we were off again.

Off to where? We didn’t know. Our flight would land in Los Angeles at 10pm and our friends/neighbors would pick us up for the night. But come morning, Joe would need to go to work and we had no place to sleep. Down below, our renters would be settling into our home, while we would sleep on air mattresses.

Yet as surely as everything else fell into place, a facebook post brought us to a friend – an friend of a friend, really. Someone we’ve met and enjoyed yet never quite become regular companions. They were out of town and would their home suit our needs? Instead of living out of hotels, we were invited to spend a week at a home with more space than we even dream of having. The kids had toys, a backyard with a trampoline, and a very sweet pet cat. We rested, regrouped and repacked.

This home is one of those places that radiates with peace. We felt welcomed, wanted, loved, even in their absence. On their walls, amid silly, smiling pictures and verses from the scriptures, they have a family mission statement. It stirred something in me. What was our mission? What was our purpose as a family? What did we stand for? In the early, pre-kid years of our marriage, we had a mission statement. But our family, and our vision, had changed. I needed to know how. Maybe that was the purpose of this vagabond summer? To find purpose!

At last, the time came to strike out for Oregon. We juggled luggage and strapped a roof rack to the car. We filled the space under feet and between seats. We loaded in and took off. We had stops in places like Kettleman City, Shasta Lake, Corning and Grants Pass. We ate at local restaurants and played Daddy Bear. We reached the last real rest stop before Portland and enjoyed the free coffee provided by a local church. Our kids were sweet and adorable and such troopers, even after two days strapped into car seats without a single screen to entertain them. They jumped on hotel beds and ate more sweets than is good for them. They saw farmland give way to hills and mountains and the parched, sunburned vista of Central California morph into the lush forests of Oregon. Our conversations were good, deep. It felt like a whole different world opening before us.


(And here we are at the end of Part 2, not even in Portland yet. More to come...)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vagabond Summer, Part 1

It started sometime in the winter, when my husband, Joe, turned to me and said “Let’s spend the summer in Portland.”  

One of the things that happens when you live in Los Angeles long enough is that you develop an escape plan. A backup. A “what if…” It’s just a hard place to live. It’s crowded. It’s dirty. But mostly, there’s a franticness to the pace of life. We race everywhere. We have to be productive every moment of every day. Because if we’re not, there’s someone younger and hungrier and more driven to take our place. It’s exhausting.

We stick to grind, answering emails in the checkout and scanning every social interaction for ways to further ourselves and all the while, we talk of escaping to blueberry farms in Maine or the mountains of Colorado or the vast openness of Arizona. We dream of something different. Some place different. Some place we can breathe and think and feel.

For Joe and me, that place is the Pacific Northwest. The trees are big and the air is clean and the entire place is permeated by a sense of adventure. It’s a place that, in our few visits, quickly became the home of our hearts.

And so, when the claustrophobia set in this winter, Portland beckoned.

It’s more than the air or the adventure that draws us. It’s a sense of purpose. Portland is important and I’m still not sure why. But it matters. It matters to us.

So I said yes. We’d spend the summer in Portland. We’d already booked tickets to Ohio to visit our families, but what was one more trip? We needed to be in Portland.

As rational adults, we listed our home – the condo we bought before it had walls, where we chose counter tops and floors, with our carefully selected sofa and brand new sound system – on Airbnb. How else would we fund such an endeavor? Joe let his company know he was taking a mental health holiday. I told our friends and planned around preschool graduation.

The first few Airbnb inquiries turned my stomach. Single guys who wanted to party over the 4th of July. Retired couples with large dogs that would do “that much” damage. Dates that didn’t work. I doubted. I worried. I planned.

On a Sunday morning in May, I listened to a sermon on the idea that none of our stuff belongs to us anyway. Everything we have is a tool to be used to serve the world around us. I turmoiled. Should we go to Portland? Should we stay in Los Angeles? What was the best use of our resources? How did we use the gift of our home? My phone buzzed in my pocket and I knew. This was my answer. This was our renter.

We adore your home… We just sold our house and will be a bit homeless… We are working on buying a place (but don't have it yet)… We are looking for a place to stay with no stress… It would be me and my husband and my almost 4 year-old, who would be thrilled with the kid's room… Love to talk to you more…

In all truth, I only skimmed the inquiry. I cried with relief and fear and doubt. I sat on a metal folding chair in an elementary school auditorium, while my church family sat around me, and I sobbed. 40 days and 40 nights. The perfect fit for our space needed our home for 40 days and 40 nights.

This was it. Portland called and there was our answer. We were off. Where would stay? How would we get there? It didn’t matter. This summer was important. This summer would change things. We were off.

For a week, I searched through Airbnb, extended stay hotels, campgrounds, whatever I could piece together to make a home for my family. Nothing worked. Nothing fit. Our home was rented and we had no place to go.

May drew to a close, with preschool graduation – and the first leg of our journey – only two weeks away. During Sunday naps, a listing popped up on Airbnb, in a neighborhood in Portland that had a particularly strong draw for me. In a city with so many interesting little pockets, Sellwood caught my attention and kept it. And here was this listing with a “park-like backyard” and jetted tub. It was perfect. The dates worked. It was just too much. It would more than take our budget for the whole trip – just in lodging.

Joe threw out a number – something more than 1/3 less than the listed price – and suggested I ask the host for that. In my non-confrontational way, I sent a message asking if she was at all flexible, keeping our budget number for future communications.

Minutes later an offer popped up on my phone, offering the full stay for exactly our number. It wasn’t a number that made sense. It was a random amount we could afford and that was her offer. We booked that night.

I cleaned and packed and planned. I put most of my closet in boxes. I made sure our sheets matched. I scrubbed places in my home that I haven’t touched since we moved in seven years ago. I sorted things into piles – for Ohio, for Portland, for in between.

That was the hitch. In between. Our dates for Ohio were set. Our dates for Portland were set. And in the middle, we had seven days with no place to go.

But those are details, right? We’d figure it out.

{More to come. I thought I'd fit this into one post. It's 1,300 words and I haven't actually reached Portland yet...}