Monday, August 31, 2015

A forgotten heroine

I wrote a post a while ago about inspiring females from the world of literature - Matilda, Anne Shirley, Mildred Hubble, Sophie and Laura.
I have a very important one to add.

Josie Smith
The heroine of the Magdalen Nabb series that I read and reread as a child and was still rereading as a young teen because they're so relatable and warm.  Like Sophie, I saw parts of Josie's life as my life. She lived in a town so I didn't necessarily see her house as my house and she had a front step not a back garden. But she also had a mum and grandma making her wonderful costumes, a bit of a spoilt best friend and a talent for writing. Most importantly she had a no-nonsense outlook and she was such a real little girl. She was scared in all the situations that little me was scared in - older kids, rooms full of strangers, unknown houses. She wasn't some precocious wunderkind just a normal little girl who loved her wellies and her panda, new dresses and new books. If she got herself into a shaky situation she generally did the right thing and got out of there for a while or held her nerve until things improved, like someone who has been paying attention all her life to how one deals with obstacles. This I appreciate because there seems to be a growing trend of assuming kids are too young to learn how to handle themselves. Well Josie Smith, a very realistic child, handled herself just fine and she was only seven. Thanks Josie and Magdalen Nabb.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Running towards

I was expecting an absolute shitshow of a week.  I know I know, if you have negative expectations they will come true blerp blerp
This week I think I officially disproved this theory because it has been a tiring week but also full of little surprises that have warmed my heart and stirred my stone cold soul.

I have also astonished myself with my unprecedented burst of running motivation.  Whether it's because I had that lovely break and feel renewed strength to do so, or because I am finally learning to love it with a route I enjoy or something else entirely, I'm making great strides in making great strides.  Sticking firm with my 3 mile route for the last couple of runs and maintaining a steady pace. In fact I'm shaving off minutes without even trying.  On the route I take, I struggle a bit through the first few minutes as they're sliiightly uphill and I think 'I won't make it to the end without having to pause or walk' and then I'll look up and realise I'm at Franklin Avenue.
See I leave from my place, pretty much starting on Brooklyn Avenue and running along Eastern Parkway, and I hit New York, Nostrand, Rogers, Bedford, Franklin, Classon, Washington then past the museum and down to Grand Army Plaza where I swing round and come back crossing the same avenues but along St Johns and Lincoln instead of Eastern Parkway.  When I make it to Franklin Avenue without even realising, it gives me enough new heart to make it to Grand Army Plaza where there must be some enchantment in place because crossing the plaza gives me this awesome second wind and the journey home is a total breeze.
And then...ENDORPHINS!

I already related the tale of the Angel disguised as a cab driver.

Here's one about the Carlos who wouldn't give up: earlier this week I had the thankless task of restoring an apartment that I previously had packed away in preparation for painting.  I had to squeeze this in post-babysitting and the thought of how it would all work was causing me all kinds of anxiety.  It was a substantial job involving a baby grand piano, lots of incredibly heavy furniture and a gazillion books and ceramic objets d'art.  My good friend Carlos who has in the past helped me move so many many things learned how I would be spending my evening and gave up his own to come and help me.  He also watched me prostrate myself on the floor having spent half an hour trying to make the edges of two separate rugs line up but not touch to no avail..the whole thing involved him lifting the piano/cast iron table so I could try and pull the carpet into place...and after there still were no straight lines I pretty much dissolved into hysterical giggling.  He watched without judgement. He's a pretty great friend.

And here's one about a kind employer.  A slightly awkward situation in babysitting world occurred. An external set of parents who don't employ regular childcare because they are frequently at home/their oldest is 14 tend to make use of myself and my co-babysitter Melinda.  Sometimes we will make plans with our combined four boys and arrive at work and find ourselves with extras.  It's a little tricky because we are not paid extra for the extra and we are unwilling to take that large a group of rambunctious boys around the city.  Going to the nearby park is different, they all live within walking distance anyway but subways and crowded streets, no thank you.  Such a thing happened today and we were faced with the uncomfortable situation of needing to take the extras home so that we could continue our planned day and do the jobs we are paid to do - occupy the boys belonging to our respective employer families with interesting things so they don't sit inside staring at screens all day.  We don't mind the extra kids in themselves but without notice and an extra pair of hands, and eyes, we can't sensibly do the things we come up with - museums, board game cafes, comic book shop visits and the like.
I had to take them home, and it was an unhappy time all around for the kids and for myself and Melinda.
Lucky me, I have a fantastic supporter in the mother who I work for.  She took the time not only to discuss with the parents why it wasn't ok to ditch their kids without notice on us unsuspecting and helpless babysitters (we are not in an easy position to tell them no) but to call me this evening to say sorry for not protecting me more in that situation.  I'm so touched that she did that because she already defended the babysitter alongside her own today.

I saw both my roommates at the same time - in fact they were both standing in the living room when I came home so for a glorious 10 minutes we were all in the same room.  I do like them so very much they are really great to me.

Ummmm...I'm out of specific things for now but want to put my general gratitude out into the Universe for granting me so many lucky and happy breaks this week, the week that I had entered with fear and trepidation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Santa Nueva York

I was just heading home from an hour of lugging boxes of books around on the upper east side...don't ask it's a whole painting saga...anyway to get home I was going to take take the crosstown bus at 72nd St through the park. To my dismay it was at the bus stop as I was getting close so I started running and shouting wait cos often they will. Not this time - it pulled away with me running alongside so I was left dishevelled and busless.
A taxi driver had spotted this and heard my anguished wails of 'awwwwww....come ooooon!' rolled down his window and called to me to get in. I said no thank you I can't afford a cab but he persisted and said he would get me to the bus. So I jumped in and he chased it down and stopped in front of it so it couldn't leave without me again all for the price of nothing. I thanked him as many times as I could while flinging myself to the curb and alighted breathless on the bus where the driver gave me a look of...I want to say begrudging respect with a hint of indulgent appreciation for my scrappiness. But maybe I'm reading too much into it.
Anyway. I believe he was sent by the Saint of New York (yes, I mean Woody Allen) to rescue me from 40 minutes at a bus stop and a very late arrival home just when I needed it most.
Angels walk and drive among us!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Marina Aquamarina

Hair update: still turquoise, aging well and staying strong

Much like ME - I just ran 3 miles without stopping. It took me 35 minutes and 29 seconds.  I'm SO PROUD of myself! I've never done that before in my life! The best part is that it actually felt good, I didn't feel like I was fighting with the air in order to keep going. I listened to a fun informative podcast, stayed super relaxed and didn't push very hard which means I already know that I can easily increase my pace or my distance with just a small amount of effort.  My goal is to be able to run the circuit of Prospect Park in 30 minutes or less.  Now it's in writing it's going to have to happen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rolling, rollin'

Jacob and I went to a ROLLER DISCO! I have mental blisters on my ankle bones but that is O-KAY because it feels fantastic to roll around and bop to 80s hits!

In case you're doubting our serious credentials before this we went to the New York Historical Society where we took in an Al Hirschfield exhibit, a Selma exhibit and some Picasso. What an evening of evenings.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Rolling Stone gathers a lot of debate

Rolling Stone magazine recently published a list of the 100 greatest songwriters ever. Like their list '100 Greatest Performers Ever' it is a divisive issue.
I went through the songwriter list with roommate Dan who's opinion I hold in high regard especially since he is himself an excellent songwriter.
There were things that made me glad (Joni Mitchell, listed in the 70s for performers but top 10 in songwriters) and things that made me confused (Taylor Swift is on this list but Linda Perry isn't? Nor Lauryn Hill? Hmm) and we spent a good hour combing through making our adjustments. It was a lot fun but ultimately unsatisfying because there are really a lot of great songwriters and how do we quantify such a thing? Also they said 'of all time' which case the ommission of Bach, Gershwin and others seems like a glaring oversight.
Number 1 was Bob Dylan. I disagree. Numbers 2 and 3 were McCartney and Lennon. Which is a cop out, I reckon. 
Anyway. I have been inspired to make my own list. I'm not sure what scale it will be on yet or if I'm putting a time period on it but the category is band names. Under that I will include solo musical artists not using their own name. I am staying in the pop/rock/blues/hip hop zone (so Jelly Roll Morton does not qualify for this particular list). Basically best band names that come from Tessa's life not from weeks of scouring the music world for band names I don't know yet but might like.  I'm including rappers and electro music artists. I'm doing it off the top of my head. Also it's in no particular order. The only stipulation I've given myself is to avoid to many 'The ........' names because there are just so some groups will miss out because I have too many The already. Without further ado:

Dire Straits
The Rolling Stones
Led Zeppelin
Daft Punk
Massive Attack
Echo and the Bunnymen
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
The Clash
No Doubt
Active Child
Joy Division
Manic Street Preachers
The Drifters
Sonic Youth
The Who
Tears for Fears
Electric Youth
Lupe Fiasco
The Roots
Queens of the Stone Age
The Pretenders
The Strokes
The Very Best
Animal Collective
Muddy Waters
Howlin Wolf
*pause to go home*

Will continue adding to this list and solicit contributions from my music minded pals. Tbc

The Mars Volta
The Libertines
The Raconteurs
Goo Goo Dolls
Super Furry Animals
Violent Femmes
Rage Against The Machine
The Commodores
The Libertines
The Raconteurs
The Stone Roses
The Killers
Nosaj Thing

Too many 'The' bands, need to find some more alternative names!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Postdated August 2nd For the love of Lauren (Final Portland still to come)

Lauren turns 23 next week and I will miss it, because I will be in our shared home kingdom.  To somewhat make up for this I conspired with Isabel (also missing her bday) and Mark (boyfriend of Lauren) to have a surprise brunch for her this Sunday morning.
This weekend Lauren was dogsitting for friends of friends, a Lakeland terrier called Trevor, in a fabulous 37th floor apartment om 42nd st with close up view of Empire State Building and distant view of entire lower Manhattan including Statue of Liberty. In fact it's where I spent Christmas two years ago with Sam and his family. Yep same place. So fun to visit and pretend we are those kind of people.

Bel and I worked out the plan yesterday: Trevor gets walked at 9am so we would wait in the Starbucks right outside the building and Mark would text us when Lauren left to walk him.
I went shopping yesterday for bagels, muffins, chocolate babka (a Jewish tear-and-share bread), juice and fruit. Isabel bought a to-go multi-serving box of coffee from Starbucks this morning and procured some sparkling wine that she'd snaffled from work.
I was up at 7 and left at 8 to meet Bel with all the food, and as soon as we heard from Mark I snuck out and stood pressed against the wall to watch for Lauren's departure from the building. Once I saw her cross the street we dashed into the building praying she wouldn't turn and see us (we giggled a LOT) and up to the apartment to set the table.  We had presents and cards too.
We finished everything in 15 minutes and spent another 15 making jokes with Mark about how we should start a business covering up affairs, due to all the sneaky texting he had to do that morning. I prepped a song to play when she came back and we ducked behind the sofa ready to jump up and shout surprise. There was a false alarm when a neighbour opened their door and Miss Reactions here flung herself instantly to the ground while Mark and Bel faffed about for a second. Then I learned that it wasn't her and they laughed a lot.

When she did arrive back Mark keeping watch and told us to hide while he got in prime videoing position.
She came in and didn't notice anything initially so we played a bar of the song and then popped up from behind the sofa with a shout of 'SURPRIIIISE!'
We did our job to a tee I think based Lauren's reaction. She was gobsmacked into silence the she fake cried then she real cried. After the initial shock (it was still only about half 9, poor girl) she took a quick shower and we sat down to a fantastic brunch complete with mimosas. I'll let pictures tell the rest.

Portland Chronicles Chapter ? inconsistent with my titles

Last post was Wednesday of my trip.  When I made it back to Justin's I found a few new faces - well, about 8 new faces in fact.  I never got to know all of them since they were all looking to get to bed in various spots around the house and garden.  Grand total now of 18 couchsurfers in the house plus Justin.  Not bad.

I interrupt this account to tell an anecdote:
While I was waiting for the bus home on Wednesday, I met a person.  She was walking down the street towards the bus stop and something about her struck me as incongruous with the thought was 'she looks like she's from New York not Portland'.  She had skinny jeans, a sharp jacket and high heeled boots - the first person I'd seen in high heels in 3 days.
She sat down next to me and asked how long I'd been waiting, and we struck up a conversation.  It turned out I was almost right on the money.  She was from Portland originally but had been living in New York for 10 years as a stand up comedienne.  She actually lives in Park Slope, a Brooklyn nabe very close to my own.  We chatted about the difference between NY and Portland, and about hustling theatre life and I got her name, Natasha Ellis, for Facebooking purposes.  When I did connect online with her it turned out we have a friend in common.
The purpose of this anecdote was merely to illustrate the cliche 'small world!'
And to reinforce my belief in serendipity.

And now Thursday.  Thursday was preeeetttty special.

So when I was initially messaging hosts on Couchsurfing, I didn't get many responses since I was going in so last minute.  But on Tuesday I had a message from a guy called Ross who apologised for not being able to host me but was available to show me around if I should desire.  I expressed to him my wish to get to a beach, a river, a mountain, something.  We made plans to meet on Thursday and oh boy, did he hook me up.


Got up, took shower, greeted a couple of people, trekked out.  Here's the side of Justin's house and a painting on the road on the nearest corner.

Walked towards the bus stop, went to eat a crepe, then got a message that Ross would pick me up.  So instead of waiting for bus I sat on a chair outside a bakery and read...what was I reading? I think it was Love in the Time of Cholera.  But I might be wrong.  As I sat there I enjoyed sights like

This very snazzy car in front of a pretty beat up car

THIS definition of Gnarly: across the street from my chair there was a knife making workshop.  The door was open so I could watch a guy in there working.

Hey, guy who is making knives, working metal, in a gazillion degree heat, with a ponytail, WITH YOUR BARE HANDS

and enjoy the chalk drawings behind him

Shortly after I creeped on this guy and took these pictures, a red jeep pulled up, and Ross appeared.
While I'm normally socially inept and terrible at meeting new people especially my peers (better with older people I think) this was already a situation where it was kind of all or nothing so my lack of social skills was taking a convenient break.
Ross is a very tall Portland dweller from Tennessee who was getting his Masters in renewable energy engineering.  He brought Vietnamese chicken and rice, and

THAT is a bucket of doughnuts.  They are not fucking around in Portland.  Voodoo Doughnuts is a pretty famous doughnutery and at the restock times instead of throwing out unsold doughnuts they fill buckets with 'em and sell 'em for $7 or $10 depending on bucket size.  This is the $10 one.  It is a bucket full of doughnuts.  That doughnut on the left has bacon on it.  This is definitely in my top 5 happy surprises of my entire life.  I couldn't believe my eyes.
For size context, Ross is like 6'3 so look at the bucket compared to his torso.  

Or my taste buds.

We set off in the red Jeep eating Vietnamese in our laps.  We stopped after a few minutes in a tiny town outside the city to grab me an iced coffee.  And then hit the road for real.

I don't want to write too much about these because they live vividly in my memory and by trying to recreate that verbally I think I'll damage it a bit.  I have a few pictures and some location refs.

Ross was a great tour guide and insisted that I close my eyes as we approached certain things so that I would have the full impact.  He was also good at encouraging me to just dive in, quite literally.  As an experienced Couchsurfing host, he was knowledgeable about the places we saw and had fun facts and good ideas on the best way to experience each place.

First stop Columbia River Gorge

Second stop Multnomah Falls.  It reminded me of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings.  So perfect, so magical and beautiful.  I heard a crazy story about a wedding that took place on the bridge and a huge rock broke away from the top of the falls, causing a strong enough wave to knock the wedding party off the bridge.  Terrible terrible disaster though noone was critically injured.


View from the bridge looking down on the bottom half of the falls.

Third stop Oneonta Falls.  This was SO MUCH FUN and when I really started believing I was Pocahontas.  To get to the waterfall you have to climb over a huge log jam - what it sounds like, big trees and logs forming a huge barrier that you have to clamber over.  Up to maybe 15 feet high in places.  Then you have to splash and wade through the river over both smooth and sharp rocks.  We did it in bare feet because we're badass.  I was so happy, every second.
Then the water gets abruptly deep.  At that point we stashed our tshirts and my phone behind a high rock.  You have to wade up to your chest or swim through the deep part then it's briefly shallow again and then you make it to the falls.  This waterfall was a bit shorter than the previous one and was pounding and thrashing a little more.  There is a big, deep pool at the bottom with a rock to the left pretty low in the water.  There was a gnarly 7 year old little blonde girl swimming across the pool and on to the rock to jump off, so I did exactly the same.  It was very deep so I went for two huge jumps and felt completely exhilarated beyond anything in recent memory.
The second time I jumped, I surfaced to find a wet doggy face an inch from my own - a family who were also enjoying the river and the falls had brought their amazing log and rock climbing dog with them and the dog had taken it upon herself to 'rescue' me when I leapt to what I suppose she thought was my doom.  So fantastic to break the surface of icy clear water to a fantastic dog paddling frantically at me.
On the way over the log jam I was a little nervous - it was slippery and tricky and its so many many years since I did anything that agile.  On the way back I practically ran over the whole thing without a thought.

Where the water got deep

I don't have pictures of the third stop.  I have a picture in my mind that I will keep I hope forever.  It was the Eagle Creek trail ending in Punchbowl Falls.
I can't do it justice but I'll try to express a little of what I experienced - total serenity.  On the walking trail high above the creek all you can hear is the faint sound of water and all you can see is the other side of the valley rising high above dense with pine trees, and a perfect sky.

At the end of the trail is Punchbowl Falls - upper and lower.  I skipped across rocks, I waded into the river (more Pocahontas) and I breathed in deeply.  We spent some time just chilling on a nice flat rock with some wine and cheese, enjoying the beginnings of dusk.  Then after a lot of cajoling I jumped.  Off a 12 foot waterfall into the depths of Eagle Creek.  I jumped once, and it was freezing and freeing and whatever the thing beyond exhilarating is. I then hauled myself back up the cliff face and marvelled at what I'd just done.  I'm the first to admit I'm a big wuss about way too many things so this jump was a big deal to me.  I did it when I was 12 but 25? Much more to fear.  But I really truly heard the words 'feel the fear and do it anyway' and so I jumped.

After enough time spent breathing in the surroundings which I could have done for days, we turned to hike back along the trail so that we could make our final stop just in time for sunset.  I saw a chipmunk on the trail.  I consider that a win.

After a 4th doughnut for essential sustenance, we drove to our final destination.  It's called Rooster Rock, or if you want to be crude there's an alternative colloquial name, guess what it is.

After a long day of climbing, swimming, jumping, gazing, inhaling and facing fears I'll tell you the only place you want to be is somewhere completely quiet, next to a river, with a clear sunset in front of you.

Also, I saw a skunk AND a RACCOON who snuck up from the riverbank to take some of the crisps that had been spilled and left about 10 feet away from us and we watched him for about 20 minutes, they are the craziest animals they move like a cross between cats and monkeys, and when this one was snatching crisps with his little paws he was almost human in his movements.  With the amazing bandit mask eye markings and stripy tail.  I was enraptured.  Initially he would sneak up from behind a rock, snatch a crisp then run back behind the rock and we could just hear little munching sounds in the dark.  After a while he decided we were ok since we were sitting so still and he started eating them in front of us, in big handfuls.  So cute and so funny and so amazing to see my first ever raccoon!

And it really helped top off my Pocahontas fantasy.  As we all know her sidekick is a raccoon.

Skunk! Black blur = skunk

It's so hard to tear yourself away from such a perfectly peaceful place but as it got darker we headed back to the jeep.
On the way back to Portland we stopped off at a service station which is called...Love's.  Come on.  At this point you must be being ironic.  No? Wow.  I love you too PDX.

This is the face of elysium

This is the Jeep itself

And that's the end of pictures though not of the day.  Our final act was distributing our leftover doughnuts amongst Portland's homeless population.  I don't want to go into too much detail because it gets political and I want to enjoy my memories with bliss not politics.  99% of Portland's homeless are friendly, warm people who were happy to chat and delighted to have a doughnut.  It was a strange and wonderful experience.  As a hardened adopted New Yorker I am not used to this level of mutual smileyness in an urban environment.

That was my adventure day.  Ross has my eternal thanks for being the greatest tour guide ever.  I'm going to hold on to this wonderful day as long as I possibly can.