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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Beach Weekend

This weekend, I went to Virginia Beach with a big group of friends. What was billed as a long weekend wound up feeling more like a legitimate vacation. We left Thursday evening on a bus to Richmond. After spending Friday at my friend’s parents’ house there, we drove to Virginia Beach for the rest of the weekend.

Even after only two and a half days there, it almost felt routine. Wake up, have a cup of coffee, head for the beach. Spend all day reading, soaking up good music, deepening old friendships, creating new friendships…and working on covering up awkward tan lines from an old bathing suit.

It was a break from my New York routine that I needed more than I realized. And it was a chance to spend a whole weekend appreciating an amazing community of friends.

A few random tidbits, because I’m still on a vacation high and if I don’t write them down now, I’ll forget them:

Richmond, VA is a really cool city, especially if you’re into Civil War history. Friday evening, we drove around the city checking out notable spots. Driving down Monument Avenue, you pass incredible statues of Confederate notables like Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. My personal favorite destination was the state Capitol building and this statue of George Washington, which sits outside it. So elaborate, with so many connections to various figures in early America (hey, Meriwether Lewis).

This song made it onto someone’s beach playlist and now I’m addicted to it.

On our flight back this evening (yep, we took the bus down and flew back to maximize beach time), I flipped through the Sept. 1 issue of the New Yorker and laughed so hard at this week’s fiction: “The Referees,” by Joseph O’Neill. A quick, funny read if you need one. “What does this e-mail even mean? She wants to recuse herself? Who is she, Sonia Sotomayor?”

So now I’m back in the city, unpacking and watching Silver Linings Playbook (It’s become my unofficial summer movie. I play it all the time. Just so dang good.) and thinking about how I don’t just feel refreshed after this vacation. I feel completely reset. Tomorrow morning and the week ahead will bring what it may, but I feel new. And it’ll already be Tuesday.

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.

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.

Hey, Beantown

This past weekend, I finally made it up to Boston to visit one of my good friends from the UO, Kate, and her husband, TJ. Kate and TJ moved to Boston not long after they were married last March and I had yet to visit and see their place. Semi-spontaneously, I left after work on Friday, and we spent the weekend exploring New England, walking all over Boston, shopping at outlet malls, eating cupcakes and watching Arrested Development.

rockport massTheir apartment is in Everett, a northern suburb of Boston. They live five minutes from a station on the Orange line of the T, but also have their car, which we took advantage of on Saturday. We wound our way up the Massachusetts coast (stopping in Cape Ann, Rockport, Newburyport, and a couple other beaches whose names I don’t remember) to New Hampshire and Maine.

Setting foot in all 50 states has been a longtime goal of mine, so I loved getting to check two more off the list, especially two that seemed unattainable while living in Oregon.

New state, New Hampshire

New state, New Hampshire

We didn’t go too far into Maine, only stopping at an outlet mall in Kittery, but we made it! Driving back directly from Kittery to Everett only took about an hour.

On Sunday, after spending the morning in our pajamas and spending some quality time with the Bluth family, Kate and I went into downtown Boston and visited the Harvard campus (including the Harvard Coop bookstore, my new favorite place in the world), the Beacon Hill neighborhood, the Boston Public Garden and shops on Newbury Street.

It was a treat to have my friend as my tour guide, and her ability to show me around a city she’d known for less than a year was a testament to how much she’d embraced the change of pace from Eugene and Portland. In the past year, Kate and I have both moved our lives completely across the country, and I cannot describe how much I valued the chance to talk about that transition with someone who not only moved from the West Coast to the East Coast (I’ve met plenty of people who’ve done that), but who understood the nuances of that transition. We were roommates my freshman year of college and lived in the same co-op house for another two years after that. Kate knew exactly what I left to move to New York, exactly what people I missed and exactly how those people and places shaped my view of New York City, my career and my future. To hear her perspective on her move and process of establishing her life in Boston was encouraging.

I returned feeling grateful for the time spent with my friends. Just a couple days away from my normal pace of life gave a chance to look at that life with a fresh perspective.

Two more assorted items I wanted to write about:

1) I came to appreciate Roger Ebert’s gift for writing, analysis and criticism in the past year, so here’s my small tribute: He wrote one of the most beautiful, striking piece I’ve read in my life: A blog post reflecting on 20 years of marriage to his wife, Chaz. Other recommended reading: His review of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s NightDavid Carr of the New York Times on Ebert as a digital innovator and pioneer of personal branding; Ebert interviewing Paul McCartney in 1984 (they were both born on June 18, 1942); Chris Jones’ tremendous Esquire profile of Ebert from 2010. 

2) Speaking of Ebert, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to expand my cinematic horizons and make a dent in watching the films on his “Great Movies” list. With that goal in mind, and coming off an obsession with Netflix’s House of Cards series and its star, Kevin Spacey, I rented and watched L.A. Confidential on the bus ride back to NYC. Wow. I want to watch it again, because I feel there were bits and pieces of plot that I missed, but it was terrific. Part of it was the 1950s setting, drenched in jazz standards, showcasing the glitz and the gossip of a waning Golden Age. Part of it was the slick dialogue and delivery. A lot of it was the look on Kevin Spacey’s face when he tells Guy Pearce’s character, “That is Lana Turner.” A great movie indeed.

*Editor’s Note: Post title stolen from a made-up song featured in a 2009 episode of “30 Rock.”

Familiar Faces

Over the past few months, I’ve perfected the Readers’ Digest version of my life story to share with the new people I’ve met in New York. You know: “I’m Paige, I’m from Oregon, I was a journalism major, I work in the PR department at Sports Illustrated and since you asked, yes, Portlandia provides an accurate description of my hometown and yes, my school’s football team has a lot of uniforms.” I can’t even count how many times I’ve shared this surface-level information about my life since I moved in June.

The conversation has gone deeper with several people, and I’m beyond grateful for the new friendships I’m forming. But I’ve gained a new appreciation for the people who’ve known my story for years, and a few of those people made their way to New York over the past couple weeks. I was so excited to see familiar faces.

First visitor: Sarah. Sarah was my roommate in our sophomore year, but we go back even further: Fall term of our freshman year, we were in the same J201 class (the most introductory of the introductory journalism classes). She went the broadcast journalism route while I did PR, but we had a few other classes together along the way (including a hip-hop class just for kicks…we have skills).

Nostalgia photo: Sarah and me at the Oregon-Arizona State game in 2009:

Anyway, her older brother is in a graduate film program in the city, so she took a few days off from her job as an assignment editor at KATU (she’s a boss) to visit him, and I was lucky enough to crash their party for awhile. We spent Sunday walking the High Line, exploring the West Village and eating pizza, and I met up with Sarah and her sister (who’s also a boss and was in the city rehearsing for a touring show she’s in) for dinner after work on Monday. ‘Twas a blast.

Grace, Sam, Sarah and I on the High Line:

The next weekend brought two more old roommates to town, and these two actually got the pleasure of sleeping on my couch.

Kate and I were roommates for most of my freshman year (my first roommate transferred at Christmas break) and when I think back to the awkward Facebook chats we had after finding out we’d be roommates, I can’t help but crack up…”I’m so excited to be your roommate! How is your break!” etc. We’re way past that now, and I’m proud to call her one of my best friends from college. She got married in March and moved with her husband, TJ, to Boston in May. While I still haven’t made it up there to visit, I often find comfort in knowing that one of my closest friends is just a few hours away (when pretty much everything and everyone else familiar is on another coast).

Nostalgia photo: Our house formal, June 2009, when we were roommates:

Shannon and I were never technically roommates, but we’ve been housemates since my sophomore year – both in the giant co-op I lived in through junior year and the smaller house with six others we lived in as seniors. We had quite a few classes together since she was also a PR major, though I probably spent as much time raiding her closet as I did sitting in class with her – she needs a fashion blog. Anyway, Shannon went to stay with Kate for a week, and they came to New York for a long weekend (arriving really late on Thursday night and staying through Monday morning).

Oh, and Shannon nostalgia photo: Modeling the last Autzen-Stadium-student-section arm stamps we’d ever wear at the Pac-12 Championship game last year.

Bonus nostalgia photo because I miss college: Shannon and me at graduation, in front of said senior-year house:

It was Shannon’s first time in New York, and Kate hadn’t been since high school, so I loved sharing my favorite parts of the city with them. On Friday, we walked through Central Park, explored various neighborhoods and enjoyed the rooftop beer garden at Eataly:

Kate, our photographer, not pictured here.

I work from home Saturday afternoons and evenings, managing Sports Illustrated‘s Twitter feed, so after a morning pilgrimage to Citi Field (Shannon is a huge baseball fan, and her brother played in the Mets’ farm system for awhile), Kate and Shannon set out for a day of exploring on their own. On Sunday, we bought rush tickets to Chicago on Broadway – while Broadway shows are always breathtaking experiences, I was underwhelmed, but that’s probably because I adore the movie version and judged the play too harshly against it – ate brunch on the Upper West Side and did more exploring. We ended their visit by watching Wonder Years re-runs and eating takeout in my apartment Sunday night.

Kate and me waiting in line for Broadway tickets.

The three of us walking beside the Hudson on a gorgeous, sunny Friday.

These visits were refreshing. Going from a world of familiarity to a world of unknowns is exhilarating but stressful, so after nearly four months, returning to a bit of that familiarity was just what I needed. Thanks to Sarah, Kate and Shannon for venturing to NYC…and if you’re reading this in Oregon and need some time away, my couch has your name on it.

Delayed Reaction: Rose Bowl

Yes, I know the Rose Bowl game was practically a week ago. But after a couple days in the car and a couple more organizing my life before winter term begins, this is all I could muster for a recap of my wonderful four-day SoCal stint.

I drove down with two great friends – Lauren and Lindsay – and we made a pit stop in San Francisco to ring in 2012.

Yep, we're those people who hold our arms out to take pictures of ourselves. Please note the cable car in the background - we were DEFINITELY in San Francisco.

We spent our New Year’s Day on I-5, and I feel pretty good about my year knowing that the first lunch I ate in 2012 was an In-N-Out Burger.

Because an Oregonian can't come here and not take a picture of her meal.

It was an incredibly smooth journey that carried us all the way to the Hilton at LAX, the Ducks’ team hotel. There were designated ticket pick-up hours, and a line was already forming when we arrived. As we waited, my usual bout of ticket anxiety kicked in. Did I really get one? Yes, I’ve been receiving the Azumano Travel emails. But did I remember to buy a second one? Yes, I distinctly remember listing my dad as Lauren’s emergency contact so I could submit the form as quickly as possible. Do I have my student ID card? It never hurts to look again. Yes, it’s there.

This always happens to me at Autzen. The student ticket distribution system is so touchy that, even with guaranteed student season tickets, I’d get nervous every time I neared the turnstiles.

But my fears were unfounded, and two gorgeous tickets waited for me in a crisp envelope.

The coolest sporting event ticket I've ever possessed, even if it is a rip-off of the Obama "HOPE" design.

We went from the Hilton back up to Santa Clarita, where we’d be staying with the family of an old housemate (who has since married and moved permanently to Eugene). I’d met Jeff and Anne a couple times before, but we didn’t know them all that well and they were incredibly kind and gracious to us.

Monday came: Gameday. We navigated public transportation to Pasadena, which was surprisingly easy. As we exited the Metrolink train we rode from Santa Clarita to downtown LA, the train operator issued the usual warning to remember your personal belongings but added, “and no offense to anyone, but go Oregon.” We cheered.

There’s really nothing I can say about the game that hasn’t already been said. All I have to add is how excited I am to know that I was there. Even in the excitement of the moment, we acknowledged that this was a game for the ages. When DAT’s 91-yard run is played on the Autzen jumbotron years from now, I can tell my kids, “I was there! I saw that!” That fumble recovery? I was there! Heck, I bet I’ll even drop that line with regards to Montee Ball (who, despite Wisconsin’s loss, is a beast).

If there was any way to experience your final Oregon football game as an actual Oregon student, this was it. BCS redemption. California sunshine. History made on a number of fronts. Geez, it’s fun to be a Duck.

The view of the field from our end zone seats (unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of depth perception).

The classic Rose Bowl trip photo.

My Converse stand among a post-win sea of confetti and pom-poms.

What a wonderful day.

Just for kicks, a few other fun trip anecdotes:

  • We left early Saturday morning, and it was pretty darn cold. So cold, we couldn’t get the doors of Lauren’s Ford Escape to open. We poured water over the openings and yanked on the trunk door. Then we realized the doors were locked.
  • The concierge at our hotel in San Francisco warned us to layer up before we headed into the city for NYE. “Everyone says it’s freezing,” she said. Knowing that San Francisco can be chilly, we ran back to fetch our coats. Then proceeded to peel off layer after layer as we walked through town – apparently that city is warmer in December than June.
  • Before we left, I called LA’s MTA and mapped out a pretty legit route to the stadium. Jeff, one of our hosts, told us about the faster Metrolink train we could take downtown, but none of us thought about the return trip. When we arrived downtown after the game, we learned that the day’s service to Santa Clarita had ended…meaning we were stranded. Jeff and Anne get a gold star in heaven for driving to North Hollywood and picking up our helpless trio.
  • The hardest part of being a college football fan is enduring the endless Chick-fil-A ads, after it was mercilessly removed from Oregon several years ago. (I love Chick-fil-A, but Lindsay, whose family hails from Georgia, is an even bigger fan.) Thankfully they still exist in LA, so we were able to get our fix.
  • We stayed in Redding on the way home, and as we walked out of the hotel, a CHP officer was walking in. Noticing our Oregon attire, the first thing out of his mouth: “Have fun in Pasadena?” Even the fruit inspection people at the California border asked us if we were headed for the game.

Oh, one final thought. If you’re looking for a classy but not-too-expensive place to dine in LA, head for Bottega Louie. My roommate at the UO is from the area, and she and her mom treated us to a fabulous lunch on Tuesday, complete with mini desserts. Aside from major family meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don’t know the last time I’ve seen so much quality food on one table.

Pastas and pizza galore, fried calamari, caprese, asparagus, some sort of delicious beet dish. Food coma.

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY TART.

Coffee, of course. And the most beautiful take-out boxes known to mankind.

I have a bunch of other pictures – most notably, of Bottega Louie’s insane macaroon trees – but you get the idea. Amazing restaurant, great company. (And drinking iced coffee in January.) One of the greatest afternoons on record.

A dark, rainy winter is ahead, but I feel lucky to have had four days in the sun with my friends and my Ducks.