Sunday, January 25, 2009

Settling In

Wanted to take a few moments to introduce you to my new home. The Big Purple House in Southeast Portland has become my landing pad and I'm so happy to be here. It's lovely isn't it? So Big. So Purple.

Here's the dining and living areas. This house has such sweet and comfortable energy that I really enjoy coming home.

I live here with three other folks (my good friend Joan among them), but I also get to live with two four-legged folks too. Here's Kona.

And look at this black furball - Kitten

So that's all the nice stuff. Now we go upstairs to my room. Prepare yourself.

Told you.

I am so bad at unpacking. It's really just unbearably hard for me. I don't know why, it just is. Well, I do know why. It's because of things like this:

What the hell is that? Exactly. Why do I have it? Why did I pack it to begin with. Why can I not just get rid of it?

It's a candle holder and I can pretty much guarantee you that it hasn't been used in that capacity for YEARS. I'm not kidding. But, I can't get rid of it because I can't just landfill it because it's a scallop shell and I have this...concern, that it's gonna wind up underneath some rotting pile of diapers or buried beneath some rusting piece of metal when it really should be creating sand in the ocean.

I showed it to Joan and she laughed at me!

"Yeah, I see what your problem is now." She said in reference to my difficulty of unpacking. "It's okay to throw that away," she said, backing away slowly before running down the stairs and out of the house. So helpful.

I put it in a box. When I die, someone will find it and just go, "aw...Nik, so...confused."

But, aside from the scallop candle holder I had a multitude of other boxes to contend with...but look! Check it's coming together!

This is my little bookshelf/TV cabinet

And this, of course - the sleeping area. I should've taken these pictures during the daylight hours. This room faces south and gets some really nice light.

And this, of course is my desk. Notice the little black fluffball to the right of my computer. Oh, and that guitar is a loan from Kid Valance. He's got another guitar he's playing with right now and he wanted it to have a home for a little while. It was a very kind gesture - I've been playing with it on and off - it's been around, this guitar.

So, that's the tour for now...I just realized the hour, it's getting late and I need to hit that sleeping area to get ready for work (!!!) tomorrow.

Talk to you all soon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Do you realize it's been over 16 months since I've had to sign a time card? It's true, I haven't worked for well over a year - pretty liberating feeling, you should try it some time.

But with that liberating feeling, that freedom, came the sheer terror of getting down to my last couple hundred dollars without any measure of a job in front of me and rent due in two weeks.

Monica down at Sisters landed me one paid gig, helping her run a non-violence training for a church group in Tigard which kept me going and I appreciated (and it was fun). And then, a bit of grace, as most of you know by now came through with this catering/school cook job at Four Seasons Flavor and my bacon was saved.

So I just finished my first week of work, and it was exhausting in that way of having to learn new stuff, new people and a new routine, but it was liberating in its own way to be spending my day earning money instead of spending it.

This gig is good for me. It's steady and the hours suit me. I get up early in the morning and show up by 7am - work my eight hours and head home at 3:00. It's been challenging following recipes again and learning the myriad of procedures that go with this job. We cook for three different schools, two of which are off site so we have to cook everything off, get the numbers right and send everything away in time for lunch two different locations. I haven't gotten it all set in my head yet, so it's a little swirly but I'm sure I'll get it down in time.

This past week I got to make soups, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, rice krispie treats (!!), pizza and a couple of side items. I also got to learn how to work the POS system (point of sale). We are in charge of running the meals at the high school which means we lay all the food out and then run the cash register as the kids come through and purchase their meals. And they are quick. They only get 30 minutes for lunch and there are a couple hundred of them so I sweat, it's like locusts running through the cafeteria - we lay out all this food and in a matter of minutes, it's gone. It's impressive.

And the kids are sweet - I just see them all as Jake and Shanes - even though the boys are in their twenties now - they will probably always be youngsters to me. So I see all these young high schoolers and feel quite a lot of affection for them. And I remember what it was like to be 15 - 16 years old. What a trial. They have to work so hard just to present themselves in the world, it's rough, I know.

So - nothing else really to add there. It's a good gig and I'm lucky to have it. Did you know unemployment has hit 10% here in Oregon? I'm one fortunate dude.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Beginnings

There aren't many events in this life that we, as a whole, can collectively share. Different from those experiences we can relate with each other as part of the common theme of living (a beloved sports team, Dead concerts, favorite cereal growing up); the things I'm talking about are so affecting that we can sit with a relative stranger and simply ask the question, "Where were you when...?"

Sadly, it seems that so many of these occasions are solemn, or frightening. In my limited days I can go back to the Challenger disaster, Katrina. For some of another generation it would be Pearl Harbor,the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Assasination of JFK and Martin Luther King. And of course, we now have 9-11.

We do have moments of united joy or pure excitement, relief, we do. The end of World War II. The landing of men on the moon. The Berlin Wall coming down.

And now we have this; for one moment in time the world watched as the first African American president was sworn into office. I heard reports of people dancing in Africa, in Indonesia. There were celebrations around the globe. Amazing. There was a report on NPR this afternoon where they played, for about a minute, the lead stories from a dozen different radio stations in all parts of the world. In a dozen different languages, the only two words recognizable were "Barack Obama." What a thing.

Where were you?

I happened to be starting a new job too (the President and I have at least that in common). I watched the festivites from an all-purpose room, really known as the Maverick Room, at Riverdale High School, home of the Mavericks.

I'm working for Four Seasons Flavor Catering Company; where one of their gigs is to provide the lunches for three Portland schools. It's a great job for me, I love cooking and I especially love cooking for kids, so I'm excited about this.

And what a way to start a new gig. Everything was abuzz this morning. The Maverick room is where the kids eat lunch, so it's just off the kitchen. Right around 8:45 the room started filling up with kids and teachers; the projector had been set to fill up the big screen with a live feed from CNN. The kids seemed excited, and not just because they were getting out of class. Some wore Barack Obama T-shirts. Some of the young guys were actually sporting button-down shirts and ties. When the inaugeration started rolling, they were actually rapt; some were taking pictures with their phones, but they were watching. There wasn't even much talking or jostling; and when Diane Feinstein announced the Chief Justice and asked everyone to stand, the kids did so too. Without prompting.

And when Barack Obama was sworn in, and the announcement made they cheered and clapped for a good minute. It was beautiful. And I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

I know of two people that were in D.C. Both friends from the walk. Antonio was there, who I know from Portland; and Kathleen, the nut, left her home in upstate New York yesterday afternoon and was texting me from the Mall this morning.

There will be all kinds of people who will probably say they were there in D.C. for that event. With over two million people reportedly swelling the city, it's more than likely folks will be stretching the truth in that direction for years.

But I don't know why anyone would need to lie about where they were today. We were all there. I thought of my friends in Germany, the cheesemakers, who I know were thinking of me; my friends in Japan, Australia and Spain. They were there too.

This was a day of bounty and grace because a dream was realized today; and hope has materialized from what had been a great dearth of it.

It is impossible to not be excited at the possibilities of such an accomplishment. And not just for one man, representing a race; but for the representation of accomplishment for a people. All people. It's a bit daunting, and I'm not naive about the truth underneath such pedestals. But today, an incredible aspiration has been realized...and I'm just grateful I was there to see it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

To Grandma's house you go...

I haven't been writing to y'all.

I haven't been writing to anyone at all.

I've been mostly, since my return from the Bay Area last week, playing an awful lot of Spider Solitaire and staring at the boxes in my new room in the Big Purple House wondering just where in the hell all of this is supposed to go.

There's something to be said for living out of a backpack.

Oh goodness people. Scattered.

Here's some pictures to help break up all the monotony that is sure to be underfoot here shortly. I'll use this blog to take you to my Grandmother's house in San Leandro where I spent New Year's Day.

Here's kind of an "artsy" photograph of Mike and Grandpa, chillin' at the dinner table. Grandpa had grilled to perfection some very nice cuts of meat, which we ate with potatoes and salad. My Uncle Ken was there, along with his wife and my Dad and Liz.

There's my Dad there on the left, Grandma in the foreground, not wanting her picture taken. I'm sorry I didn't get a better picture of Liz in there, whose sort of tucked behind her son Mike.

When the topic of conversation turned to politics I decided to venture into the house. I love making the rounds at Grandma's house, just to see all those familiars. Here's a wall hanging of my Dad and Uncle's little kid hands.

I love coming to this house because it's been virtually unchanged. I've been coming here my entire life. The ornaments change given the season, but everything else, like some of these books that I looked at when I was a child, is the same. At least to me.

The small sitting room where this bookshelf is remains clean and quiet. There is always the softest strain of the classical station playing in here. The music lulling out of an grand stereo cabinet.

I don't remember us hanging out in this room very often; although I do have memories of one Christmas when I had my Walkman - the old school personal cassete players with those orange headphones. My Great-grandmother, Nana Gehl was still with us and I recall putting those headphones on her, letting her listen to whatever it was I was playing on it. Pink Floyd or the Doors maybe. I also had a tape of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto that I was particularly fond of. I remember her being gracious about it all, as she was about everything.

Here's Grandma's kitchen. I can't even begin to imagine how many meals have come out of this efficient little space. My mother always tells me that it was Grandma Jardin who taught her how to cook. I wish I taken a picture of the stove there.

Behind that door there leads the steepest stairs imaginable, taking you down into the cellar. We were rarely allowed down, in fact there was always a child-proof gate that cordoned us off. I know there are canning jars down there, but other than's still kind of a mystery. The fridge, to the right of this photo, always has 7-UP. Always.

My grandfather worked for Pacific Bell, as did my father, so there's all these old phones displayed.

This one is very cool, and very worthy of playing with when we were young.

I wonder if they ever imagined, talking into this contraption, that in fifty years time we would hold our telephones in our pockets and take them with us everywhere.

I wish I had taken more pictures here, but these will have to do for now. It's a lovely, soft house. There is nothing threatening about this place at all, never has been. I'm always reminded of days in the park with Grandma, and those blessed trips to the library she would take us on; where I would come back laden with books to fall asleep to, happy as a clam.

And cookies...we did a good deal of cookie baking.

Hmmmm...okay, I'm really trying to get you guys caught up. Will talk again sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sorry about that folks...

Apparently the fake baby picture has had more than its day in the sun. I have been really remiss about writing since I've been home and haven't even had the gumption to post new pictures, though I have plenty from my Bay Area trip. I'll try to get to that in the next couple of days.

My father pleeeeeeaaaded with me to get something else up here though so he wouldn't have to look at that doll anymore. Done.

Hey, have you guys ever heard of "reborns?" No, not the religious sect. While I was staying with Big G and Michelle we got to watching this program on 20/20 that talked about this craze that is happening right now. There are these very life-like looking babies that people are buying (adults, not children) and treating them like real babies. Think Cabbage Patch, but a lot more creepy on every front.

I'm not even going to get into it 'cause it just makes me sad. Check it out for yourself if you want and Google "reborns." Wacky.

I'll talk to you all soon. Lots to tell.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ashland to San Rafael - New Year's Eve

I was telling my friend Bridget over lunch in Ruch that I loved coming to Southern Oregon because I really don't have any bad memories here. I've been visiting Corbin for nearly ten years now, and this area has always been a place of quiet, pleasant visiting for me. I met Bridget a few years ago, and now I get to see her as well which adds to the appeal of coming down here.

And now, if that wasn't pleasant enough, dear Kid Valance lives in Ashland so I get to visit with him as well!

I'll be coming back through the area next week and will get to spend more time with both Bridget and Kid, but probably not Corbs who will have family in town when I blow through in a couple of days. But it was lovely to get to spend the evening with her and take a walk along the tracks behind the house with Sophie - truly the most mellow dog that ever lived.

I stopped by Kid's place for a quick cup of tea before taking off on that impossibly long stretch of I-5 - six and a half hours of straight line driving before I got into San Rafael a couple of hours before the New Year's Eve show at the Civic Center that Jon was putting on.

I stopped by my mom's house first so I could change into a little more appropriate attire and spend a little time with Jake, who is just getting more beautiful every year.

After that brief visit I headed over to the showroom where I met up with Jon. Here he is.

I took this picture of the backstage area, Jon said, "well that'll be an inspiring shot." Yeah, pretty bleak. Backstage areas are never as glamorous as you think they might be, but this one was truly dullsville.

I haven't been to a New Year's Eve show in over 10 years, it may have even been longer than that. The last one that I worked was one that we did at the main stage at the Civic Center, seating a couple thousand people. Paula Poundstone headlined that show and it was quite the fest. From what little I remember of it.

But now I'm a little more clear-headed throughout these events, which is a blessed thing. The show was good - I didn't know three of the acts but the emcee, Michael Meehan is a comic that I've known for over twenty years so it was fun to see him. He also got off one of my favorite lines of the night,

"You know, we try to eat well, try to buy the organic food but it's expensive. I've got a timeshare on a grapefruit down at Whole Foods right now..."

About twenty minutes before midnight my brother Shane showed up. He ended up having to work that night, but was able to make in time for the countdown. Look how cute he is! I can't believe how big these guys are.

After the show Shane and his girlfriend Daphne came over to the office and we all hung out for awhile, sharing stories. It's funny because I'm so much older than these guys there are a lot of tales that Shane hasn't heard before and vice versa.

For instance...

It's no secret in the family that through a set of unfortunate circumstances Shane burned the house down several years ago. It was an accident, no one got hurt and all worked out fine in the end, but, they're telling this story last night and at one point Shane was saying, "yeah, it was craaazy, all this black smoke was pouring out of the garage and all the fire guys were there and we were all just looking at it when the bullets starting going off."


Apparently, for whatever reason, there was a cache of bullets in the garage. Something Jon had stashed somewhere (just one of those things, he doesn't even own a gun); and the heat from the fire just...set 'em off.

And Jon sort of chuckled and said, "oh right, that. That's probably why the neighbors stopped talking to me."

Ah, memory lane.

Anyway, it was one of those kind of evenings, we all went to bed way too late, but it was nice to ring in the New Year with those guys. Silly guys.