Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Journey to Oregon: Day Eleven

Domestic Josh is in the kitchen and asks me what I'd like for breakfast.  “Eggs and toast,” I say and he prepares them as I read a picture book to Finn who is still in his pajamas.  Stacy and Nathan are already working on their laptops.  Ezra is playing with his tech deck.  Jenny comes out in her pajamas which look like a kimono to me.  Right before we leave, I remember that I wanted to get a picture taken with each of the families, and so we stand outside, and Jenny takes one of Josh, Stacy, Ezra and me and Stacy takes one of Nathan, Jenny, Finn, and me.  Jenny comments that she hasn't put on her day face, combed her hair, or changed out of her pajamas, but she looks great in the picture. 

Josh, Ezra, and I drive into Eugene.  Sun sturdily risen for the day, majestic buttes glowing blue in the distant horizon, the sky cerulean, the fields a mixture of green and gold.  Josh drops Ezra off at his parents' house.  Betty will watch her grandson for they day.  Ezra gives me one of his tech decks, which is a sweet gesture of friendship.  He wants to give me the coolest looking one with an elaborate spiral design, but I convince him to keep it. 

Natasha and I leave for coffee and conversation before I depart on the shuttle back to Portland for my flight home.  Caffeinated, I  realize that I've left my cell phone at Betty's house, and at the same time, Betty calls Natasha to let her know.  So we head back, I get my cell phone, and we say our goodbyes one more time.  Natasha and I  stop at the bookstore downtown.  I buy a book, Being Zen by Ezra Bayda, which Waylon said he had read and liked. 

It's what this entire journey has been about: being Zen.  Where ever you go and what ever you do, you can do it with a Zen approach, you can be Zen.  What does that mean?  Mindful.  What does mindful mean?  Cultivating a sense of awareness, attentiveness, appreciation, and acceptance.  Having a plan and changing your plan.  Navigating the boat in the river of life and at the same time going with the flow of the current of reality.  Smiling.  Laughing.  Feeling adventurous.  Feeling content.  Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.  Feeling happy. 

Natasha drives me to my pick up location.  I take a picture of the two of us.  We say and hug our good bye.  We tell each other we love each other and then she tells me to chop wood, carry water, which are good last words to part on and so we do. 

The wisdom of Zen is also about love. Loving people, loving yourself, loving your life, loving what you're doing.  Traveling brings out love.  We love being somewhere else.  We love seeing new cities and new elements of nature.  We love tasting new foods and drinking new wines and teas and coffees.  We love learning new things about this wonderful world.  We love the friends and family we visit.  It was an amazing journey for me.  A journey of love.  I didn't expect that.  It is, however, the emotion that emerges most readily when I remember and reflect upon my Oregon Journey. 

My Journey To Oregon: Day Ten

Sunday morning.  It's coffee outside.  Josh is reading the newspaper, Nathan is doing a Sudoku puzzle, and I'm just sitting.  It's a morning to relax, a morning to slow down.  Ezra comes out and shows me around the yard.  They have goats and chickens and a  small pond they've cleared of weeds so they can swim in it.  It's the afternoon plan.  We have breakfast together.  Eggs from their chickens, organic kale, sausage, more coffee.  It's slow breakfast with a lot of talking and laughing.  Jenny, Nathan, Stacy, and Joshua have taught Finn and Ezra to not interrupt and they do a great job of this.  After breakfast the two of them run off and build a space ship out of cardboard boxes.  It's wonderful how they use their imaginations to create objects.  They call me into the other room where they've built it and we play it in for a while, pretending Finn and Ezra are the captains and we're defending ourselves from aliens. 

Later, Ezra asks Joshua if they can get the tech deck, the small skateboards mostly elementary boys collect.  He had mentioned it yesterday and Joshua said we didn't have time but would get one today.  Children never forget when they've been told they can get a new toy.  It's probably what he's been thinking about all morning.  Savor it, Stacy and Josh, soon it will be girls.  Or boys.  But probably girls.  I get that vibe from him.  Now that Ezra gets one Finn also wants one, so Josh, Ezra, Finn and I are off on a mission to find tech decks.  We stop at a the local department store in Venetta.  No luck.  We go to another one in Venetta, which in addition to the basic things you would expect from a department store also has a large selection of kitsch Northwestern items and high end art and ceramics.  It's not what I was expecting from the little store in the country.  No tech decks.  If all else fails, Target!  We step into the Eugene Target and it looks exactly like the Eagan Target.  There's an odd corporate comfort in this.  I typically don't eat at chain restaurants or shop at chain stores when I'm traveling, but sometimes it's nice to know what you're going to get, and if you're craving a sub sandwich, you can get a Subway and know what you're getting.  We head to the toy section and score! There's a huge selection of tech decks.  You can buy one of them or a package of them.  Josh thoroughly explains why purchasing the packet of five is the best deal, and why they significantly more expensive one with a glow in the dark tech deck seems cool but is a bit of gimmick for how much more Ezra would have to spend for it.  This is, after all, Ezra's money.  He chooses the package of five he wants.  Finn's been listening and learning the entire time and so he also chooses a package of five.  Children's needs satisfied, the two boys pay for it from the tiny wallets they keep in their pockets and then Josh and I tend to adult needs: coffee.  There's a Starbucks in Target and we get  a  coffee slushie with loads of chocolate shavings and whipped cream on top. 

Back home, Stacy and Josh take a run while I play with Ezra and Finn and then Jenny and Nathan take a run while I again play with Ezra and Finn. They are imaginative and fun kids and mature boys for their age which makes playing with them enjoyable.  Then Stacy says, “Josh is at the pond if you all want to go swimming.”  Quicker than you can say Josh iswearing a square cut black Speedo, the three of us are out there in our swimsuits.  Josh is floating on a giant round tube.  He looks immersed in the moment, entirely enjoying the leisure, completely relaxed, and one hundred percent sexy.  This is something I've noticed about Joshua while I've been with him.  Yes, he's sexy, and whatever he's doing he seems to just do it.  As he cooked meals and cleaned up the kitchen, swept the sidewalks and mowed the lawn, he did it with ease and effortlessness, a naturalness that showed him in the moment.  As he spke to other people—his wife, his adult housemates, Ezra and Finn, me, his friends--he exuded a calmness, contentedness, and confidence that I found inspiring.  It is what I do as a person of mindfulness.   It is what he is doing either knowingly or unknowingly as a part of his spiritual practice.  It is the Chinese Zen aphorism Natasha, his sister, said to me twice on this journey: chop wood, carry water.  Well done, Josh.

Ezra runs into the water first.  He's got a paddle board and has put Daisy, his dog, on the board and she's floating around, a bit scared but also thrilled at the adventure.  Ezra loves his dog.  He told me that when he got Daisy—Natasha got him from a humane society and then gave him to Ezra when she moved to Salt Lake City—it was “the best day of my life.”  I told  Stacy and Joshua this the night we drove home from the winery and they said he tells them this often.  You would think it would be their trip to Disney,  but it's the day he got Daisy, which I appreciate even more than Disney, because Daisy is a living creature he loves and who loves Ezra back and that says a lot about Ezra's values. 

I follow next.  Josh says, “Careful, the mud is slippery,” and sure enough, I step onto the bank and slip on the mud, fall on my butt and slide into the pond.  It's chilly and a bit muddy on the bottom, but these are simply observations and not complaints because in the pond I'm happy. 

Nathan cannonballs into the water, a huge splat and splash.  Finn, who's been swimming around doing the dog paddle and then the back float when he gets tired, sees his father enter the water via the infamous cannonball and so he's getting out of the water and then running back into the water again, knees to his chest, arms around his knees, and kaboom! keplunk! cannonball!  

We have another delicious meal together.  The whole house sits around the table, holds hands, and says their prayer, the Waldorf prayer before meals. It's a beautiful community building moment.  We have a bottle of exquisite rose with our our meal, to which everyone should now say, it's the year of the rose. 

Parents put the children to bed, and once they have, Nathan lights a fire in their large urn, and we adults sit in deck chairs in a circle.  The stars above us are so bright because the sky is so dark.  I live in a suburb near the airport and so for the most part light fills the nighttime sky and it never gets dark enough to see other than the few brightest stars.  But here in Venetta, in the country, I see millions of them, and several times shooting stars.  I look at the others as I talk, but often when I'm listening, I look up, and each time I'm amazed at how beautiful the night sky is with its pure black background and its glistening diamond stars.  

As we talk, I mention that I'm using a dating website and one of the questions asked in the user's profile is “What are six things you couldn't live without?”  I explain how guys, myself included, list things like family, friends, hope, my smart phone, my i-pod, books, etc.  Recently, however, I've been thinking about this question a lot.  What are six thingsI really couldn't live without?  To maintain my current life?  If so, then things like my job, a car, electricity, running water, a house take precedence.  But what if it meant not to maintain my current lifestyle and status?  Could I live without electricity, for example?  My first thought was no, but then I thought, okay, up until the 1920's most people lived without electricity, so certainly it's possible, although it would  be incredibly difficult. But yes, if I had to, for some reason, I could live without electricity.  It wouldn't make a necessarily enjoyable or easy experience given how used to electricity I am but I could do it.  And books?  Books were on my list.  Really?  I couldn't live without them?  Surely, I could still live if I didn't read books.  Looked at deeply, the question becomes quite interesting.  Josh commented that he could live without electricity and running water.  He, Stacy, and Ezra often go camping and for the most part rough it: tents, fires for food, water in jugs. 

“So it's just like camping,” Josh says. 

“Speaking of which,” Stacy replies, “could you remember to bring a colander the next time we go camping?  I hate trying to hold the lid on the kettle and pour out the water when we make pasta.  Half the pasta lands on the ground.” 

To which I say, “So you couldn't live without a colander.”  We all laugh. 

“Yes, I couldn't live without a colander,” Stacy says.

“What about you, Jenny?” I ask.  “What couldn't you live without?”

Without a second's hesitation she says, “Cashmere.” 

We all laugh.  I've not laughed so often and so hard with a group of friends in a long time.  It feels really good.

“Seriously,” Jenny says, “ I don't think I could live without coffee.  I just need it in the morning or I can't get going. I'm useless.”

“Well, you know of course, that means you also need electricity and water, so your one thing you couldn't live without requires two other things,” I say.

“I am willing to make that sacrifice for coffee,” Jenny says.

“Now what are talking about here?” Stacy asks.  “Things you couldn't live without because you're trying to simplify your life or have less of a carbon footprint or your doing a experiment in what's truly necessary to live?  Or are we talking the Zombie Apocalypse?” 

“Zombie Apocalypse,” Josh says.

“And what kind of zombies?” Stacy asks.  “The fast moving zombies or the slow moving zombies? Because the type of zombies change everything.  If it's fast moving zombies then I definitely want a good pair of running shoes, maybe several pairs. Because I don't want to run around barefoot and I certainly don't want to be chased by zombies in bare feet.”

“This is really nerdy,” I say, “and I'm sure if I listed this in my profile I wouldn't get a single date, but I don't think I could live without my glasses.  I'm not blind, but everything is a bit fuzzy without them, and especially in the case of the Zombie Apocalypse, I would want my glasses.”

Stacy, a glasses wearer herself, says,  “Me too.  Because I don't want to see some large object ahead of me and think is that a tree or a zombie and it's not until you get up to it and can feel it that you realize, 'Oh shit! This a zombie!'”

“Exactly,” I say, “because in that case, you better have said you can't live without a good pair of running shoes, because you are going to have run!”

“Especially if it's a fast moving zombie,” Stacy says.

“A knife,” Josh says.  “I couldn't live without a knife.  I'd need it to kill zombie and to cut the food I hunt.  Which means I also need a gun.”

This absurd conversation about the Zombie Apocalypse carries on for a quite a long time, with a lot of laughter.  It's what I love about this group of friends: conversation always goes into the fun and funny as well as serious and spiritual directions. The group tires.  Nathan, Josh, and Stacy all need to work in the morning so they head inside to go to bed. 

Jenny and I stay up, outside, as the fire fades to glowing embers, and talk for several more hours.  I'm glad we got the chance again, without her needing to be there for Finn.  She's a dear friend.  We too tire, however, and call it a night.  I valued my time with her outside under the brilliant stars in the pitch black sky with the sound of silence surrounding us and love connecting us to each other.  

My Journey to Oregon: Day Nine

I wake before anyone else and take a walk by myself.  I love those days when I start my day with a walk.  No shower, no coffee, no breakfast, no lounging around the house; just put clothes and shoes and go walking.  My mind is in a beautiful place from a good night's sleep, calm and content, uncluttered by the ten thousand things that clamor for attention throughout the day.  Here, in the country, along this country and down this gravel road where I walk, I am a letter of peace inside the envelope of silence, sealed, waiting to be sent into the day that awaits me.  It's a good place. 

Back at the house, the others have woken.  Josh is mowing the lawn.  Jenny is cleaning the counters.  Nathan is organizing the deck.  Stacy is putting items in their proper place.  They are hoping to sell this house, a beautiful house they have lived in for eleven years, and are getting it show ready for a potential buyer who's viewing it this morning.  This house that they bought eleven years ago as a collective experiment, living with several other friends and family, those friends and family eventually moving out to pursue other way of living, their own paths.  This house where Ezra was born and raised.  This house where Finn was born and raised.  This house full of memories.  This house full of living and loving and learning and laughing.  And yet, now, a house that no longer suits the needs of the adults who live here.  The commute into the city has become too long.  The ample space and maintenance too much.  We change.  What we want from life—what we need from life—changes.  And so, Stacy and Josh and Jenny and Nathan, the remaining adults of the Venetta House hope to sell it and we need to be out of the house by ten. 

Not a problem: Stacy and Jenny are going to Mary Jean's bachelorette party at a winery.  Nathan and Finn are taking a walk together somewhere.  Josh, Ezra, and I are also taking a walk along the Willamette River.  What I've enjoyed about this journey is I've gotten to spend time with everyone one on one and everyone in various combinations.  Josh and Ezra right now, for example, and after we drop off Ezra at his grandma and grandpa's Josh alone as we walk to the Farmer's Market, buy pad Thai from a food booth, an Oregon beer for Josh and an Oregon Gris for me, and sit at a table in the hot sun and enjoy each other's company as we talk to each other. 

Back at Josh's parents' house, Josh's dad, Leroy (Josh calls him Leroy rather than dad) is pouring beer he's home brewing into bottles and Ezra is fastening the cap to the bottle with a handle lever contraption.  It's grandson grandpa bonding time through beer making Oregon style.  Leroy is the Spoden I know the least well.  From what I can tell, he's a good man.  Raised a good group of keeps, kept a wife of four decades, bikes to work every day, eats primarily organic,  brews his own beer, enjoys spending time with his family, and in the later part of his life, his sixties, moved from Minnesota to Oregon to be closer to his children and grandchildren and reconnect and connect with them in ways he couldn't have if he were still living in Minnesota.  I admire that.  I admire anyone who can make a big change like that in life.  It's not easy.  Change isn't always easy, even when we want it.  To relocate half way across the country can be difficult.  To uproot yourself and to plant yourself in new ground makes you wonder if your roots will take and you will grow healthy and strong and produce the bounty of your growth.  From what his children have told me, Leroy has rooted himself and grown into a strong organic man.  May all of us who wish to uproot ourselves and grow somewhere else have the same successful growth. 

Ezra eats his pad Thai and I take over as beer brewing assistant, pulling the handle of the bottle attaching contraption.  I'm sure it has an official name, shorter than my clunky description, which would never win for best marketing name. 

Oh, and Josh is shirtless.  Apparently, hot and slightly sweaty from our walk to the Farmer's Market, he's taken off off his shirt and is walking around the apartment shirtless.  Let's just say this: a six pack, no body fat, solid pecs, and a face like Ryan Gosling's.  I've got a bit of a man crush on Josh, as do most men, gay or straight.    

Josh's shirt back on, we head to a birthday party of one of Ezra's classmates.  Josh tells me that a lot of the kids from Ezra's class will be there and there parents and that he thinks I will like his friends.  In fact, he wants me to meet them.  I like that about friends who have friends and they're proud of their friends and want to introduce me to them and think I would fit in with those friends.  This sort of social situation is completely comfortable to me where I know virtually no one but am certain that because they are friends of a friend that I will find them intriguing or interesting and have easy and enjoyable conversation with them.  Sure enough, I do.  We talk about a wide gamut of topics from organics to education to spirituality to marijuana.  This is Eugene, after all.  Nathan and Finn are also at the party.  It's the first time I've gotten to talk to Nathan since arriving at the Venetta house.  We stand at the sink in the kitchen, he drinking a beer, I drinking a gris, and discuss organic agriculture in Oregon. 

After the party, we drive back home.  Yesterday, Jenny grilled a chicken and so we have left over chicken which we heat up on the grill.  There's kale and potatoes to go along with it.  Nathan puts Finn to bed.  Stacy and Jenny come home, and tired, head to their beds for beauty sleep they really don't need.  Josh and I sit outside.  He lights a fire in the large urn they have.  I ask him he'd like to play guitar but he says he doesn't know how to play.  We talk about his brother Waylon's creativity with guitar playing, lyric writing, and singing.  Josh mentions that Nathan plays the guitar and I should ask him to play.  So I do.  Josh calls it a night and Nathan brings out his guitar and “some really good stuff from Oregon” and I get a one man show with a fire in front of me, millions of stars above me, crickets filling the stadium with applause, and a happy high.  The song he sings is Wagon Wheels, which he recently sang at his sister's wedding, and reprises tonight.  It's tender and vulnerable, hopeful and pleading, pleasing and promising.  Song over, Nathan puts his guitar in its case and we talk for a bit.  Nathan doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, and yet, tonight, he opens up to me, lets out some feelings, and that's always a good thing.  Maybe that's the benefit of a friend you don't see on a regular basis and won't see on a regular basis: you feel safe and free to share with them things you might tell none of your other friends who are in your life on a more regular basis.  We all need friends like that.  The friends who we trust so much even if we haven't seen them in a long time that we know we can take out items we've been keeping inside our suitcase of thoughts and emotions for far too long.  Those items get heavy to carry and pull behind us.  We all need to lighten our load and continue to lighten your load.

Soft and soothing thoughts float through my mind as I spend time in my room after Nathan and I say and hug goodnight.  I write in my journal stating basically how happy I am and what I'm happy for.  I write a short poem for each of the people in the house—Nathan, Jenny, Ezra, Josh, Stacy, and Finn.  I meditate for a  bit, and then, I'm tired, and sweet sleep seduces me into his silent embrace.  

My Journey to Oregon: Day Eight

 I wake up to part three of my journey: Stacy, Josh, Nathan, and Jenny's house in the country and time with them.  I walk downstairs and Jenny stands at the stove telling Finn, her son, who stands on a stool, to stir carefully.  I will notice over the next several days that Jenny is an excellent teacher with her son and her son an excellent student.  He likes to do things that typically five year old children don't do; that typically they let their parents do and their parents prefer because it's easier and quicker.  Jenny, however, as a stay at home mom takes the opportunity to teach Finn skills, attentiveness, and a work ethic that will benefit him for the rest of his life. 

We eat breakfast together.  I play with Finn. He has tiger and lion masks which he wears and then crawls on the floor attempting to scratch me with his claws.  We head upstairs as Jenny gets ready for the day and play a game of ping pong.  He wins and tells me I'm not very good.  “Have you ever played this game before?” he asks incredulously, stunned by apparently how terrible I am.  I tell him yes and he suggests perhsps we do something else.  "Like what?' I ask.  "I will perform a magic show for you," he says.  So we head downstairs where he puts on a magician's cape and pulls out a box of magician's tricks.  He performs several tricks and each time he's finished he tells me to ask him how he did that and when I do he says, "A magician never tells." 

I had initially thought of going to the coast with Natasha, but the plan doesn't work conveniently for her and now that I'm here, I realize I would rather spend time with Jenny and Finn in whatever way they would like to spend the day.  Jenny suggests a park in Eugene so Finn can play and we can talk.  I say yes and soon we're packing a picnic  and spending a perfect Friday afternoon at the park: clear blue sky, low if any in my opinion humidity, green goodness everywhere.  I love summer. Always my favorite season. 

After the park, we stop at the grocery store.  We start with an ice cream cone for each us which we eat at a cozy living room area with a fireplace which isn't on but is a great touch for a grocery store.  Finn insists on pushing the grocery cart and placing all of the items in the cart.  All Jenny does is tell him which item.  He's a bit slow pushing the cart and placing the items in the cart, but she's incredibly patient and gentle with him. It's really beautiful parenting. I wish I would see more parenting like this when I'm at grocery and department stores.  It's usually the opposite: crying child throwing a temper tantrum and parents impatient and curt with their children rushing through the store, taking their children along for the whole process who are often bored because they aren't doing anything.  Solution as Jenny aptly showed?  Let your child take charge.  Yes, it's a bit slower, but it becomes a learning activity for them that develops their ability to do a sustained task that normally adults would do. 

We head back home.  There's delayed traffic due to a field fire and strange coincidence, Joshua is driving behind us.  He sends us a text to let us know.  What are the chances that with all the people in Eugene in all their cars that he would end up behind us?  Yes, the plan was that we'd all get home around five, but it's still an incredible coincidence and I love it when coincidence or synchronicity happens in my life. 

Stacy, Josh, and I drive to the King's Estate Winery about twenty minutes from where they live.  It's a beautiful winding road through hills lush with golden fields and green trees.  The winery itself is at the top of one of those hills and from every direction you look there are expansive  hills of grape vines in straight rows.  The view is beautiful.  It's the first time I've been to a winery and so I'm looking forward to it.  We do a flight of six wines at a bar area.  We are quickly laughing. It feels like old times; a wonderful reminder of why I love these two people and why I'm grateful they are in my life.  After our flight we sit outside for a bottle of rose—it's the year of the rose-- and a charcuterie, a word new to me.  Basically, a fancy French word for platter of cheese, veggies, and meat..  More laughter ensues.  The evening is perfect for spending it outside eating and drinking with two good friends who I had the pleasure to marry, and I'm happy that they are happy together, and that the three of us are happy together right now after all these years. 

As we drive down the gravel road to the front of their house, we see that the gate is down and Ezra and Finn are standing at the gate, wearing camouflage and carrying plastic toy machine guns and they demand to see our identification.  It's right out of movie set in some paramilitary future.  There's also a password involved, which fortunately, Josh knows, and soon, the gate is lifted and we enter into the compound, I mean the house. 

We all say good night and see you in the morning, which for me, living alone, is a really nice way to end the day, saying that to people you love and looking forward to them in the morning.  I open the window again to the silence of the country.  A few crickets, a few frogs, a lot of silence.