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.

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On Broadway: You Can’t Take It With You

My sister and I more or less have a rule that we see a Broadway show when she’s in town. We don’t follow theater too closely, but right now there are two shows we really want to see: You Can’t Take It With You, and It’s Only a Play. We saw the former last night, and it was lovely.

I’ve seen high school and college performances of this play before (it’s a Kaufman & Hart classic) but never a professional one. Of course a Broadway production is going to be of a different caliber than a high school show, but I don’t think that was what made me look at the play differently this time. I think it was the fact that I’d never seen Penny Sycamore played by someone who could actually be a middle-aged mom, or the Grandpa played by someone who could actually be a grandpa.

That someone who could actually be a grandpa, by the way, was James Earl Jones. As you’d expect, he was amazing, delivering perfectly timed one-liners and kind of just sitting there grinning the whole time. It almost felt like he was grinning at the spectacle before him, simply joyful because he got to be in this weird little family in a fun little play. And it just so happens that sitting there grinning works perfectly for the character.

There was an interview in the Playbill with Kristine Nielsen, who plays Penny Sycamore, matriarch of the crazy family around which the show centers. “This play is about collectivism. It is ‘take care of each other,'” she said while discussing her role. I liked that. During the show, I kept thinking of The Royal Tenenbaums. A movie, not a play, but still a story about a family that’s slightly…off. No one is normal. They have spats and disagreements. They can be ashamed of each other. But they also know they’re family. They take care of each other.

We’re all a little off, but we take care of each other anyway. That’s family. The family you’re born into, and the family you create for yourself among friends. Either way, I know I’m lucky to have mine.

Moving in New York is the Worst and the Best

Moving in New York draws it all out of you. It drains your bank account. It tires your muscles. It confronts you with old memories and fills you with doubt. It forces you in to a new routine.

I moved this past weekend and I am exhausted. First, there was packing and wrapping things up at my old place. Now, I feel like I’ve been unpacking for days but haven’t made any progress. I’m ready for it to be over. I’m ready to feel settled.

But while moving in New York draws it all out of you, the effects of this move are already starting to refuel me. Even the moving process itself was refreshing – well, maybe not refreshing, but encouraging. My dad flew in to help me move, which relieved some of the stress of hiring movers (knowing I could leave some items out of boxes, make an extra trip to the old place if need be, etc.), and gave me the chance to spend a whole weekend with him. I knew one of my roommates would be moving at the same time, and one of our friends was helping her, so I figured the four of us would tag-team.

We did, but we had even more help from some friends who all work at our church. They get Fridays off and chose to spend part of it lugging our boxes and chairs and suitcases and side tables. That was incredible to me. I feel like, in church circles, it’s easy to talk about doing good things for other people or lightening the load for your friends. To be in a community where people walk that talk…that’s why I love Redeemer.

I’m trying to look on the bright side of unpacking. It’s a chance to purge even more stuff than I did when I packed it the first time. It’s an excuse to watch my favorite old movies (because it’s too hard to multitask and concentrate on following a new movie while you unpack) and peruse Pinterest for decor ideas (I’m looking for a great print to hang on my empty wall…currently leaning to something that involves Bill Murray and/or The Royal Tenenbaums).

Another bright side of moving was having my dad in town. I hadn’t seen him since March, so it was great to catch up, introduce him to my friends and show him my side of the city. We also took one history nerd adventure, to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, which was really awesome. I always thought it sounded interesting – tons of famous and famous-in-New-York people are buried there – but never went since it was too far away or too confusing to navigate or whatever. It’s a doable trip by subway, and my dad bought a cheap app that told stories about notable people and graves. Sounds morbid, but it was super interesting, and added an element we wouldn’t have had if we’d wandered mindlessly.

So for now I may be sitting amidst a maze of half-opened boxes and my brain might be a little fried from the adjustment, but the process of getting here was worth all the exhaustion. Until everything finds its place, I will savor life on the Upper West Side, a killer view of Central Park and the east side from my bedroom window, and a breezy commute to work on the 2/3 express trains. Here’s to seeing life in New York from a different angle.

Obligatory New Year’s Post

One of my perennial New Year’s resolutions is to “blog more.” I never make it specific enough to really get motivated, so my goal for 2014 is to develop more of the thoughts I have for posts and stop leaving so many in my drafts folder. Ideas spring to mind at all hours of the day, and I want to get better at acting on that motivation.

I did leave a ton of half-formed “end-of-2013” posts sitting as drafts, but in the spirit of writing more and wrapping up the last 365 days, here’s a quick look back at some of the highlights and notable obsessions.

I’ll start with the most recent event: A ten-day trip home to Portland for Christmas. I’ve been back in New York for a couple days now, and with the benefit of hindsight, I can see how that trip helped me hit the restart button. It was rejuvenating to step out of the everyday routine, have a change of scenery, and rekindle friendships that are hard to maintain when living on the other side of the country.

Looking at the year as a whole, I’ve now completed my first full year of life after college – and my first one settled in a full-time job. I had a lot to learn about the post-college world in general, and specifically about the post-college world in New York City, but definitely feel like I’ve found my feet in a way I hadn’t thought possible when I first moved here.

On a lighter note, I’ve discovered and indulged a few new passions/obsessions this year, including movies and movie criticism. I’d never been much of a movie person before, but discovered a love for watching movies and reading reviews that place the film and its message in the larger context of society. This is due in large part to rediscovering Roger Ebert’s brilliance (I’m sad to say it took his death in April for me to remember how much I love his writing), and listening to Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday‘s weekly review segments on the Tony Kornheiser Show. Of the films I saw for the first time in 2013 (both brand-new releases in theaters and new-to-me films on Netflix/DVD), favorites include American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, Fargo, Up in the Air and The Royal Tenenbaums. 

Staying in the media vein, I discovered The West Wing this year, which changed my life a little. I don’t even care if that sounds dramatic! It’s the best show I’ve ever seen and it helped me understand a lot about the American political process. Educational value aside, it’s brilliantly written and structured, with deep character development that leads you to love even the most insufferable characters (except Mandy – she’s unlovable). I have fallen especially hard for Toby Ziegler, the White House Communications director, who proved with this rant that he is my spirit animal.

It was also wonderful having my sister in NYC over the summer, and I loved traveling to Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando and Portland over the course of the year. So many of the moments that made 2013 great would seem silly if I tried to explain them, but little things like a great night out with new friends or a funny text from an old friend gave the year even more character.

As far as 2014 goes, I have a few resolutions – but again, nothing really specific. I’d like to travel abroad (hopefully to London) and milk even more out of my time living in NYC. I’ve also been saying for years that my dream is to write a novel. At the moment, I’m pretty thin on ideas, but maybe I’ll start piecing it together in the next twelve months. 

Who knows where the next 365 days will lead, but here’s to a fresh start.

August Things + Welcoming Fall

There was a post on the Humans of New York Facebook page a few days ago, showing the hands of an older lady as she wrote in her journal. The photo caption read:

“I write in my journal everyday.”
“Why’s that?”
“So much happens in life, I think it’s good to live it again and get some distance from it. Or else everything is in a muddle, like on a merry-go-round.”

That quote made me realize it was time to take a step back from a busy month, to get some distance from all this craziness, and write it out.  So here it goes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of summer – it’s the humidity, mostly – but this one was (or has been, since it’s technically still summer) really wonderful. August was by far the busiest month of the summer.

It started with a family vacation to Disney World. My little sister, Beth, is the perfect age for Disney – still young enough to think collecting character autographs is cool, but old enough to ride all the best roller coasters. My parents like it because you always know what you’ll get with Disney vacations. There’s something to make everybody happy. Every family is susceptible to the occasional meltdown (Beth gave custom names to each family’s meltdowns, according to the first letters of our names – if I was starting to lose it, I was having a “Peltdown”), but for the most part, you’ll all leave happy.

And we did. Over the course of five days, we made it to all four parks and one water park. There was a nice balance of attacking the parks, checking all the rides and attractions off our list, and relaxing. I abandoned my family for one afternoon and spent it reading poolside, speeding through the excellent “Rules of Civility.” Thanks for the vacay, mom and dad.

About a week after returning from Florida, my sister Hope, who interned at the Wall Street Journal this summer, left NYC and headed back to West Point. I was sad to see her go since we had an awesome summer together, but I’m always comforted by the fact that she’s still only 50 miles away from me. We spent a good deal of time this summer at the movies; neither of us is a movie buff by any means, but we like to see anything with Oscar buzz. Our final movie together this summer was “Fruitvale Station.” Heavy subject matter, no doubt, but a well-acted, well-told, and powerful story. I highly recommend. (Our other summer favorite was “The Way Way Back.”)

In the middle of August, I moved. Let me tell you: Moving in New York City is no joke. Like, seriously stressful. I’m still in Sunnyside, Queens, within walking distance of my old apartment, and I didn’t do myself any favors by gradually moving out of the old and into the new. (My leases overlapped for a couple weeks.) I hired movers to handle the big stuff like my bed and bookshelf, but left some out some smaller items. If you’re ever moving in New York, NEVER do this. Say good riddance to the old place. Just do it all in one fell swoop. I still don’t feel completely moved in to my new place, but I’m so, so glad to be out of the old one. It’s funny how simply walking out a different door in the morning can change your entire outlook; it’s a small but meaningful shift in perspective. Pretty soon, this change of pace will feel like the routine, but it hit me during the moving process that this is my first big change-within-a-change. I’ve been in New York long enough to experience a major transition within the major transition of moving here in the first place. That feels strange, but rewarding, in a way. I never want to be at a place in my life where I’m unwilling to let changes – big and small – reshape my outlook.

Other August things: Everyone at work is back from their summer hiatus! Most of the show’s production staff take a six-ish week summer hiatus, but in publicity, we work year-round. I did enjoy the slow pace of summer, but it feels like the office has returned to normal now that all my loud, collaborative, pop-culture-crazed co-workers have returned. So here’s my plug: Season 8 of Rachael Ray started taping this week and the season premieres Monday, September 16. Check it out.

Also, there is real, live COLLEGE FOOTBALL. I woke up last Saturday, turned on College GameDay, and the first thing I saw was radio host/SEC troll/new GameDay contributor Paul Finebaum saying, “I think Gene Chizik is the worst coach to ever win a National Championship.” Go Ducks.

September is off to a pretty good start: I went to my first Red Sox-Yankees game last night, and a steady stream of family and friends will be in New York for various reasons over the next few weeks. Summer, thanks for the memories. I’m ready for the new season.

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.