What Home Is

I’m sitting on my bed in New York, snacking from a bag of homemade Chex mix that traveled with me this morning on a plane from Portland, Oregon. This is bringing me great joy.

For the first time since I moved to New York over two years ago, I went home for Thanksgiving. I’d been home other times, of course, but this was the first time in a few years that I spent Thanksgiving in Portland. I was lucky to get a good chunk of time there, too – flew out Tuesday morning and came back Sunday afternoon.

One thing that’s surprised me about living in New York is how infrequently I get homesick. Or rather, how infrequently I get Portland-sick. I miss my family, but we talk all the time, and since my sister is also in the area for school, they come to New York at least a couple times a year. We’ve also gotten together in “neutral” places, like a trip to Florida last summer. So while I miss a lot of things about Portland – friends from college who live there, extended family, Fred MeyerPowell’s – I find myself able to go a long time without physically being there, because so much of what represents “home” to me can be found elsewhere.

This was my first trip to Portland since last Christmas, and I think I was wearing my almost-a-year-away-from-home badge with some degree of pride. I secretly wanted to see if I could make it a year. And I know I could have done it, but what’s the point? The opportunity to go home was there, and I wouldn’t have jumped at it if there hadn’t been some part of me that longed to be in the actual place.

These little thoughts about home have been bouncing in my mind since Tuesday. What is home, really? A place? The people in the place? A combination of the two and several other elements? When I landed at PDX on Tuesday, my first stop was my old high school, where my mom is still a teacher. A landmark for me in Portland – but the school changed locations in January. I loved chatting with my favorite teacher and cross-country coach, but we weren’t in any of the classrooms I used to sit in. It didn’t matter, of course. But it was different.

And about a year after I moved to New York, my parents moved within the Portland area. They’re not far from the old house at all – my sister who’s still at home didn’t change schools – but there’s not the same sense of nostalgia. I’m not going to Portland so I can sleep in my old room, you know? My whole frame of reference for driving has changed, too. Again – none of this really matters. Home is still home. Portland is still Portland. But I was reminded this week of how things are always in flux.

It’s the physical places that are in flux, though. Not the people I spend time with. My parents and little sister are the same people, as are my best friends from college. It was a joy to see those girls. I think there’s a relaxed air to the Thanksgiving holiday that doesn’t exist at Christmastime, where there are more events to attend, gifts to buy, places to be. At Thanksgiving, we can just hang out.

I know there isn’t a formula calculating the perfect number of times one should visit home. There are so many factors. But I know this visit was perfect, and perfectly timed. I saw so many amazing people, made two trips to Powell’s (scored a gloriously retro used copy of this for $2), tried new (to me) restaurants and sang at the top of my lungs while driving up and down I-5 (though I discovered that in two years of basically never driving, I’ve lost my parallel parking prowess).

There’s something I love about landing at JFK and knowing I’m home. Not home in the “this is where I was born” sense, but in the “this is where I am supposed to be right now” sense. So here I am. Eating snacks from home and thinking about what home really is. I think the last few days have given me a pretty good idea.

New York and Portland, Lately

There is no tired like red-eye jet-lag tired. Holy cow. Actually, new-parent tired is probably way worse, but of all the tireds I have experienced, this PDX–>JFK variety takes the cake.

While I’m tired in this moment, I’m really feeling refreshed after a four-day visit to Portland for 4th of July weekend. It was planned pretty last-minute, and I flew out after work on Wednesday.

Brief aside: One of the best “cheating the New York system” feelings comes from taking the subway to the airport. Yes, I paid an arm and a leg for a cab ride home from the airport this morning – I love the subway but there’s no way I’m riding it at 5:30 a.m. after having been on a plane all night – but getting all the way from Chelsea to JFK for $8ish when you include the cost of the AirTrain? One of the city’s best bargains.

Anyway, we (meaning my sister Hope and me; see below for more on why she’s in the city this summer) arrived late Wednesday night and got our first glimpse at the Landsem family’s new home in West Linn. My parents moved from Tualatin in May, and despite my lack of familiarity with the floor plan, I have to admit it’s a cool house, complete with a huge backyard that provides ample roaming space for the dog who may have kind of started to like me.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve spent our Independence Days at our cousins’ house in the Columbia River Gorge among grandparents, aunts, uncles and other friends, setting off our own fireworks in their driveway and enjoying a bigger show over the river, put on by the city of Cascade Locks. I talk a pretty good “city girl” game, but spending the day in view of the river, trees and mountains reminded me that there’s nothing quite like the natural beauty of the Northwest.

More visits with family and friends filled the weekend, and they not only afforded me opportunities to see some of my best friends from college; they also gave me the chance to drive all over Portland to see them in various locales: downtown, the Rose Garden (as in flowers, not Blazers), Pittock Mansion, the Eastbank Esplanade and of course, that great bastian of suburbia, Bridgeport Village. I love driving and never get to do it in New York. Jetting across town to see some of my favorite people at some of my favorite places, all while driving with the windows down and blasting my rediscovered Switchfoot mixes from high school (don’t judge) was a serious treat.

It can be tough to live 3,000 miles away from most of the people with whom I shared my college years. While I’ve made amazing friends in New York – honestly, every day I count my blessings with regards to the community I’ve found here, and know many of those people will be lifelong friends – there’s a slightly deeper comfort zone with the people who knew you before you started out on the post-college journey. This past weekend, they challenged me (in a good way) with regards to how I like New York, where I see myself in a few years, whether I would move back to Portland and how I’m doing personally and spiritually. I was probably in a reflective mood anyway, since the visit came around the same time as my one-year anniversary of living in New York (June 18) and my birthday (July 1), but I loved seeing how the last year had taken us all down different paths but hadn’t changed the relationship we had. I am blessed to have them.

New York is a singular city. No other place holds the same level of excitement and intensity, but this weekend reminded me how important it is to take a breather every now and then. Recharging in the company of family, friends and Portland was good for the soul.

*Since I haven’t written in awhile, I have to do a quick speed round of awesome NYC happenings from the last month or so:

  • SUNSHINE. And as a result, perfect afternoons and evenings outside at the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria, the Skillman BBQ Crawl last month in my neighborhood, and the Top of the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking district.
  • My sister Hope’s arrival in NYC for the summer. She’s interning at the Wall Street Journal, and even had an editorial published in the paper last week. A number of other friends – from Oregon and elsewhere – are also finding their way to the city this summer.
  • Lots and lots of Mets games.
  • Movie obsessions as of late: Joss Whedon’s black-and-white, Shakespeare-language-in-a-modern-setting staging of Much Ado About Nothing, which Hope and I loved. And, because I’ve had a Bill Murray obsession lately (for no particular reason, although I recently rediscovered Lost in Translation and have pretty much had it playing on a Netflix loop), I watched The Royal Tenenbaums on my flight to Portland. So I guess now I have a Gene Hackman obsession. I mean, come on.

That seems to be it for now. I can’t wait for the rest of summer in the city.

“Milk Hyper.” (Or, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”)

Since Hurricane Sandy hit a week ago, I’ve been collecting and piecing together thoughts about the storm, and want to post them, if only selfishly so I can process all this week has held for people in this region. I am lucky to live in a neighborhood that suffered minimal damage (mostly just a few downed trees – we never lost power or anything), but seeing how many New Yorkers’ lives have been turned upside down, and how their leaders and neighbors have responded to them, has dramatically changed my perspective on community, local government and the city of New York.

But first…family.

Sandy almost canceled their trip, but my dad and little sister Beth had been planning to visit New York City and West Point for a couple months. After a last-minute hotel change and frantic rental car rerouting, they arrived in New York City on Friday morning. The plan had been for them to rent a car and drive from Newark airport to my apartment in Queens, but Sandy was still making a mess of New York traffic and we realized trip would take them hours out of their way. Since we needed to head north toward our hotel in Poughkeepsie anyway, I took Metro-North and met them at a station in White Plains.

My dad visited in July, but I hadn’t seen my little sister since leaving for New York in June. My first reaction after seeing her was disbelief at how TALL she was. Beth’s always been a big kid (I’m of average height now, but was short for my age as a kid), but now she seemed practically as tall as I am. Four months can change so much about a person. Obviously, she was the same kid, but she was just. so. tall.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of a weekend filled mostly with your typical family hangout activities, but we had a wonderful time together.

 

 

Highlights:

Kids say the darndest things. Last night, my dad and I were having some college football-centric conversation that included mention of Mel Kiper. “Milk Hyper?!” Beth exlaimed. “His first name is ‘Milk’?!”

Autumn in New York. Between drives up and down the Hudson Valley and a walk through Central Park, we were treated to the beauty of fall in New York. Colors everywhere. I’ve never experienced winter here, but I know those colors will soon leave us for bitter cold so I’m appreciating them while I can.

Driving. For the first time in over four months, I operated a motor vehicle. And it felt good. I love driving, and between my parents selling my beloved ’94 Corolla this summer and living in an area where owning a car is completely unnecessary for me at the moment, I was feeling a little deprived of time behind the wheel. I drove less than a mile from our hotel to the nearest Starbucks (could I sound like more of a child from the ‘burbs?), but it was glorious.

Can’t ask for much more from a weekend than allowing you to see two of your favorite people. Dad and Beth, thanks for toughing it out through less-than-ideal conditions. Miss you already.

Mannequins and Manhattan Driving

Some days throw you curveballs. Others throw you the keys to an SUV in Manhattan.

Today was one of the latter. Let me explain.

I went into work at 7:30 this morning to help Bicycling magazine prep for a segment on Good Morning America Health that was being filmed at a bike store in Chelsea, Sid’s Bikes.

The segment would feature the editor-in-chief of Bicycling magazine showcasing and discussing triathlon gear. We (and by “we” I mean myself and Bicycling’s head of PR) had to take several different props and pieces of gear to the shop. To transport it across town from Rodale to Sid’s, we took a Honda CRV Zipcar.

Three bags of gear, two naked mannequins and a partridge in a pear tree.

While waiting for the car to arrive, I stood outside the building with all of our props, guarding them until they could be loaded. This setup included a rolling table, two unclothed mannequins and a few bags stuffed with assorted triathlon necessities. If you haven’t laughed yet today, hopefully the image of me standing next to this (see left) on a New York City street will get you started.

When we arrived at Sid’s, we parked on the street but eventually needed to move the car. Guess who was handed the keys?

I wasn’t afraid of driving but I was afraid of driving in Manhattan. This wasn’t my car and this wasn’t my city so I was uncertain. Really, it wasn’t bad at all; I only had to drive around the block to a parking garage so I wasn’t in the car for long. Now, I have the privilege of saying I have driven safely in New York City.

Driving hasn’t been the only fun I’ve had. I had a great weekend exploring Greenwich Village and Coney Island, going to a great church and enjoying a lazy afternoon in Central Park with a new friend.

Central Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Now that it’s officially summer, I plan to do a lot more of that. Spending an afternoon in Central Park is now my idea of an ideal summer afternoon; few things sound better than joining the New Yorkers who go there to play Frisbee, enjoy a picnic, read a book or get a tan. It’s a nice change of pace from driving an SUV.

A few more pictures from the last few days, since they’re worth more words than I have time to write:

nathan's coney island

At Nathan's Hot Dogs on Coney Island; notice the countdown to the 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

larry tate pizza

Larry Tate pizza, which you could purchase at a pizza place my suitemate and I ate at on Friday night. I gave myself bonus points for randomly remembering that Larry Tate is the boss from the TV show "Bewitched."

Yes, this sign made sense to me, too.

empire state building

Last but not least...how could you ever get tired of looking at that?