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photo (7)On our last day there--as with most vacations, it seems--we had the best weather. Which is to say, the sky turned a brilliant, crystalline blue for about thirty minutes before the rain resumed its relentless battle against the earth, and gray sank back down over the city. But for that thirty minutes, we were in the right place at the right time. We drove up to Kerry Park, a spot my parents had brought us many times over the years, because the view is that good. The Seattle skyline is nice and tidily packaged off to the left, the Space Needle jutting out proudly amid the skyscrapers, and the Sound spreads out to your right, tiny whitecaps reflecting the sky. Normally, the Olympics provide a nice contrast to that huge expanse of water, an imposing reminder of the might of earth against the ceaseless force of water. Mt. Rainier will sometimes then loom over all of it, and that's a real sight to see. But we didn't get that lucky. Lucky enough though to squint into the sun at the skyline, buffeted by wind, lucky enough to walk down the road to the next viewpoint and admire the houses, dare to dream that maybe someday it would be a house like that we could own, that some stranger might see and say--maybe some day I'll live in house that beautiful! They were pretty magnificent, although how each of them didn't have floor to ceiling windows in every room to capture all that view I don't know. At the next spot, a bluff overlooking more of the Sound, we see an eagle circling overhead, high enough that he isn't being ruffled by the wind. The water is blue for a second, mirroring the sky. Yesterday when we stood in Pike Place Market behind the old, leaded glass streaked by rain, the water was a steely, melancholy gray. That's how it seems a lot of the time, I think--the next weekend, I come back with my family and my sister Rachelle keeps telling me we're in Gotham City. She may be right.

This time though, it's just Darren and I--we're here for Valentine's Day weekend, only sort of purposefully. It's well-documented that I am not, on the whole, a Valentine's Day believer. I like love, but the kind not celebrated with themed steak dinners and a faux Saint--forgive me, we've been through this before. The weekend picked itself for the trip, the way they do, and then there we were on Valentine's Day, eating breakfast for dinner at Lost Lake Cafe on a triple date with my younger sister. It was perfect. Later, Darren mentioned that Sam and I had a lot of inside jokes. To put it mildly, I said back.

Then, in what should be considered true Valentine's Day fashion, we went and got ultra competitive at an indoor bocce ball court where we owned these two guys who dared to challenge us. Did we all recognize that this was the sport of old, Italian men, and that in the grand scheme of things it meant nothing as to our true athletic prowess? Of course not. The Olympics were on, emotions were running high, we had to win.

We walked home in a haze of glory and delight, as the wet streets and bright lights mingled enchantingly. The walk home has always been one of my favorite parts of a night out—not because I don’t enjoy the dim lit interiors of bars, no, I rather like being among all those people in a crowded, noisy place, or sometimes a quiet one, where you can lean your heads together without feeling bad, just depending on where you go and how you feel. I like all that, but I really love the walk home—going back to a warm, cozy place where my pajamas are waiting, slipping into a dreamless sleep, and waking up with a head full of the laughter of the night before. So this is the way it was on this night too, but with the added layer of magic that a new place brings.

The next day, and the day after that, had the same kind of feeling. Seattle is big and rainy, the market is loud and full of smells, with too many colors that seemed out of place against the gray. When we went into the market from the street we were right next to a tulip stand, heralding against all odds the start of spring, and across the street wasa man playing piano under a large umbrella. He was good, but not as good as the guitar guy further down, singing Led with a bluesy, Americana twist. I gave money to both of them, I have a weak spot for street musicians. It was madness, in a way, but you didn’t realize it until you were out of it—we had one quiet moment on a little balcony behind the Pike Place Market sign, sandwiched between all that water and the dark outline of one of the most iconic signs of my life, we had another in a glass capsule over the water on the Seattle Great Wheel; I begged to go, and though it was cold and wet and there were no sign of the Olympics I still loved it because it was as if the whole city had been laid out at my feet, waiting for nothing, moving for nothing. On the wheel it was nearly silent and very still, and I got to look and look at the lights and the Sound.

And then on the last day we had the best weather, up at Kerry Point. We drove from there to the Chihuly museum, after we saw the houses and the eagle and the blue water, and immersed ourselves in a different world of one man’s imagination—he seemed kind of crazy to me, but in a good way. His glass was unearthly, twisting against gravity, standing in a solid fragility that was, although clichéd, breathtaking. On our way out we watched a short movie about him and he was shown throwing his big glass bubbles into the water—the thing that immediately came to my mind was the day Sam told Rachelle, who was hesitating to jump off the roof of the treehouse, that no one lives forever! She was 6 at the time. Watching both incidents, I think, had the same startling effect.

So that was that, and we went home, no steak dinners and all despite a Valentine's Day in there. A fine trip.



C.S. Lewis

I am very lucky. For some reason, the forces of the universe tend to collide in ways that favor me--isn't that all that luck is? I've heard some people say that it's not luck, it's grace, the kind of grace that comes with a capital G. I'm not so convinced. I went through a phase in middle school where I became obsessed with religion. Not in the sense that I became a big-haired bible thumper, quite the contrary, actually. I couldn't figure out why people believed, and, as with most things, I had to find out. So I embarked on a mission to understand religion with a tenacity that could only be called, well, religious. Is Mere Christianity a little heavy for a tender-hearted 15 year old? Perhaps. Should The Problem of Pain be reserved only for people getting their post-doctorates in theology? Certainly. But! I devoured every book I could get my hands on and pestered every local Presbyterian leader until I was able to build a little theory that works for me, helps me make sense of the world we live in, and why people do the things they do. That theory is ever-evolving--it would be a little scary if I still had the same mentality I did six years ago, but the main tenants of my beliefs remain unchanged. If anything, they have only been reinforced by my experiences since I first decided I would be an expert on everything. What can I say? Sometimes I get it right.

I'd hate to give the impression that I'm a sort of philosophical genius who thinks about the origins of religion on the reg--I probably think more about the plot line of my new favorite show Nashville than I do on my sense of spirituality. Depressing? ...yes. But it's a great show, trust me. It's just that sometimes life gives you more reason to think about why bad things happen more to good people more than others. Sometimes you're forced into wondering why you got lucky, and why other people don't. Sometimes C.S. Lewis is more relevant than other times. Maybe I know I'm lucky because I got to choose to think about life and death and why it happens, and not because I had to.

But still, no one is immune to sadness. If they are, they're in all likelihood a serial killer. I'm just saying. I'm finding though that no matter how much sense I make of my own pain, as much as I theorize about the pain of "the world", a concept that has a certain distance, it is increasingly difficult to make sense of other people's pain. Who am I to say, I read a few books once, I thought about it, and here's what I think? I'm lucky, remember. I think about religion and spirituality in the abstract, remember, because I don't need it. I've never needed to believe in something bigger than me. I do, but I don't need to, because in my life, I've never been faced with a reality that is so terrible I have to believe in something outside of myself or be consumed by despair. I cannot be an expert on this subject, and for that I am glad.

So we come back to the question of how to watch someone else be in pain, be really terribly sad. Can you understand their pain? I don't always know. I think yes. Sometimes I think no. I think the best thing to combat pain is love, which is why so often people turn to their families when things are hard. Families are safe and familiar, regardless of what other complications exist. Always love will help, and always touch--sometimes a hug is the greatest remedy of them all. But as for everything else? Spirituality and religion, the quest for a higher Salvation, belief in a life after death? I think that might just be up the individual. Not really a one-size fits all kind of problem, I guess. Maybe that's how I know I'm getting old. I don't know a damn thing anymore.

xoxo, Lauren

The Vortex

I would like to take a moment to issue a public service announcement: people of Duloc, the real Oregon Vortex is located in Milwaukie. I'm not going to say where, exactly, because I wouldn't be surprised if I had a stalker by now. But consider yourself warned. Tread carefully. You, too, could be sucked in. I consider myself an expert on the vortex because I live in it. It's a bit of a Hobson family phenomenon, or at least our little (relatively) branch of them--but I'm getting ahead of myself. We don't have balls that independently roll uphill or broomsticks that stand up straight unassisted. Our vortex is more of a state of mind. Within days of being in and around my familial home, your daily activities will be defined by the wolfpack and you will begin to describe your life in double negatives (I'm not going to say I started that trend, but I'm not not going to say I started it). You will find that HA HA can be applied to a variety of situations. You too will be calling everyone the worst. Some days you will find it impossible to not sing everything, including your own thoughts. You will find out that it does indeed suck to suck. Some days you'll say, "I hate us!" and at least once a day someone has to hit the deck. Usually Benny. 

The state of mind is definitely influenced by the state of our surroundings, aka the madhouse. I quickly realized that I traded out fun for another adjective with my move home from Louisiana--however, in the same way that fun wasn't necessarily that fun, mad is not necessarily that mad. Which is to say we are mostly healthy in body and mind, but the house is barely contained chaos. I like to think my mother is the barely containing part, because the rest of us are basically unadulterated insanity led by the mad man himself--no, not Jon Hamm, but my father. It's a sort of nice madness though--rather than be all sterile white walls and lobotomies we tend to be more on the domestic end of the spectrum. Maybe the constant disarray is because we're all creative and somehow brilliant, and thus we are prone to leaving one task for another and another, and that's why the yard and house are littered with sporting equipment and half-finished plans. Or maybe we're really all just easily excitable but also easily distracted, and that's a deadly combination.We also have a para-suicidal dog, and that's who I lay sole blame on for the amount of stray socks and shoes that are scattered everywhere. Also, anything that's chewed is him too. Well. Probably. Sam has her tendencies. 

Curiously though, every time I come home from my relatively peaceful existence in New Orleans I find myself slipping easily back into the vortex. Perhaps too easily. Sometimes people think I just fall right off the face of the earth when I get back here because virtually all communication stops and I am consumed by my family's life. Sometimes it's moderately disconcerting to me how quickly and without thought I am able to stop being an independent, really, and surrender to an old role. I throw that white flag up without a second thought when it comes to me time versus family time. It's all of us, all together, all at once, usually making fun of each other in some way or another. Whether this is good or bad for my mental health is yet to be decided. I try and carve out quiet time but it's tough to do when you live in a vortex. 

Or a cult, which now that I read back over this, is what I've just described. Whatever. Bring on the kool-aid. Or in our case, whiskey. Wolf pack. 

xoxo, Lauren      

Happy Loving Couples

So today is Valentine's Day, a holiday I feel genuinely ambivalent about. Actually mostly I find myself mildly confused--this whole 'Saint Valentine' thing sounds a little fishy to me. I even checked wikipedia. All that came up were some vague references to 'one or more' early Christian martyrs and a variety of Popes, one of whom deleted the holiday from the Roman Calendar of Saints in the 60s because he too found it fishy. I'm just saying, the justification behind the day is mediocre at best. However, I promise I'm not one of those people who treats V-Day as a) D-day, b) Singles Awareness Day or c) a day in which to gather all my girl friends, drink bad wine, eat chocolate and curse the existence of happy couples everywhere. Self-pity isn't really my style. I actually find people who talk a lot about how much they don't care about Valentine's Day to be the ones who care the most, and that strikes me as really, really sad. So when I encounter them, I have to nod, smile, issue my standard,"I know, it's hard", despite how uncomfortable I am* and make a quick exit. I don't hate the day, not in the slightest. I just find it bizarre and more than a little over-whelming. Besides its questionable roots, I also have a severe aversion to tacky fake flowers. But what I think it really comes down to is the fact that I'm not a romantic. Grand gestures of love make me cringe. Hallmark cards have more sap than even a Canadian could handle. Do you know how much roses cost? Way too much. Don't even get me started on diamonds. You know what paid for them? BLOOD. I shudder at the thought of forced proclamations of love over dinner for two at a place that has a steak special. I don't really like pink and red together. I find the power-play of a woman lording the potential failure of this day over a man horrifying--did we learn nothing from slavery? It's all so mind-bendingly nauseating. I know right now all my non-single friends are shaking their heads at me sadly, saying you don't know what you're missing.

Ok fine, I'm single and cynical. I'm Joe Jackson. I don't care. Being on a kiss cam at a sporting event is still my worst nightmare.**

I do know what I would miss though, and that's all the things that come with being single. I think I might be a special case because I do really enjoy the pleasure of my own company, and I'm not just saying that. I really am inordinately opposed to the dynamic of a normal relationship. Here's why: I am extremely simple. I like to be left alone, I get tired of being around other people. I don't like being treated like a child. I like to be an equal, and you'd be surprised how many men struggle with that. Conversely, I don't like men who are weaker than I am--not physically or mentally. I like a challenge. I have a peculiar dislike for extreme devotion--God gave us dogs for that. I am easily bored with people who really like me--that in itself is probably a case study. I have no issue saying no. I like people who have lives outside of mine, because I like to have my own life. I don't like feeling obligated to do things. I don't like being on someone else's schedule. I like quiet spaces in conversation. I shy away from taking responsibility for anything, especially other people. I don't dislike commitment, but I don't take it lightly. I also like things the way I like them, which can be problematic--I've been told relationships are all about compromise. I think very highly of myself, which means that there are few people who I find are worth that much of my time.

And really, my biggest issue is that I am difficult to get close to. For as much as I talk about myself, I very rarely share details of my life that I deem personal. Which is pretty much everything, but especially when it comes down to who I see, what I'm doing, and when. There are a variety of reasons for that; the first of which is the fact that I'm an intensely private person and few things make me as anxious and as uncomfortable as sharing about myself.  Probably to an unhealthy extent. Actually I know it's unhealthy because sometimes I would rather lie about where I am or what I'm doing over telling the generally completely innocuous truth. I've become much better at managing it, primarily because I've been in a life-long interrogation session with my Dad, but still.

It's funny though, I have become a master of explaining what I see other people doing. I am a keen observer of the human condition. I can even talk about how I feel, but I dislike talking about me. Now that I've pointed it out you'll find that this is true--we can talk for hours and you will still know very little about me. Or, if I've done well, you will think you do, but really you'll know only surface things. It just takes a long time to get to know me. It takes a lot of effort. I keep most people at arm's length, but at least I do it with grace and aplomb. I can deftly maneuver conversations away from myself and listen to you talk about yourself forever, just as long as I don't have to talk about me. It's a measure of protection--to open up is to hand someone power of you, the ability to hurt. Trust is key, and I prefer to hand that particular gift out to a select few. You'll notice that I have friends that I've had forever, and made only a few newer close ones. Now you know why.

It's not to say that I don't get along with people, or I don't have good friends, or I don't meet a lot of great guys. Some, even, are a lot of fun. There just aren't that many that are great enough to keep around. There are even fewer who make me question my aversion to romance. Maybe that makes me bitter and cynical. Fine. I don't feel bitter or cynical, in fact I feel extraordinarily content. You can have Valentine's Day if I can have my carefully crafted and wonderfully peaceful existence.

But then, maybe in some ways I am a romantic. Just not the stereotypical kind. Eat the conversation heart colors I don't like, watch the Westminster Dog Show with me, and maybe you'll have yourself this cynic's heart. Better yet, make meatloaf. And serve Reese's Pieces for dessert. SOLD.

xoxo, Lauren

*I live in fear of over-sharers. They're the people who have the audacity to actually tell you how they feel when you ask how they are. Probably my sixth biggest fear. **My real worst nightmare is the possibility of flying snakes being real. You may have heard me mention this before. It's because it plagues me. The other night I had a dream I was 21 and swimming with some dolphins off the coast of California. Sometimes my sub-conscious gets it right!

Shaggy Old Bull

This is a "critical response"  I wrote on a food memory for my Food and Culture class--cross your fingers for a Ralphie grade.
My Dad is a terrific cook. He isn’t the most technically advanced, he has been taught only by experience. But he cooks with personality. Intense by nature, he has a gravity that makes him difficult to ignore, and it translates into his food. When I eat anything he makes, I can visualize him in our kitchen at home, without a recipe or a plan, guided only by instinct and an innate sense for what flavors go with others. He knows when the roux is the right consistency, when to pull the bread out of the oven. When he is master of the kitchen, it can be chaotic, but it is never disappointing. Sometimes, when he is particularly proud of what he’s made that night, he’ll yell, “I’m a genius!” at my family and me as we sit waiting expectantly around the dinner table.
We can never disagree.
All of his food is good, even on the nights when it’s whatever is left in the fridge and wrapped in a tortilla but his specialty is any kind of wild game. For me though, the meat that means the most is elk. I didn’t realize it until the first time that I went home after a semester away at college, when I sat down with my family and took a bite—now I’m home, I thought to myself. I don’t know if I can tell you why elk holds such powerful sway over my memory, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it stems in part from the fact that I’ve always been in the presence of my Dad when I’ve had it—it has always come from him. Elk is not a meat you can buy; you must go out and hunt this elusive beast. You must set aside a weekend in the fall to go and find all the secret, quiet places nature has made to hide her creatures, and then you have to muster all your courage and take aim. And once that messy business of dying is over, you must pack the animal out and spend an afternoon in your cold garage, quartering and labeling, until finally you can put it on the table in front of your family.
When I eat elk I am enveloped in my Dad’s rough, warm love, enveloped in the intensity of his care for my siblings and I. Elk is one hundred little rituals from home that I pay no mind until I am suddenly back in the midst of them, immersed with one taste of that lean, wild meat. It conjures memories of my whole life, of all the things I am made of—leaves changing color in September in Portland, the smell of the air in winter, rainy nights around our family dinner table, the sound of my sibling’s voices. It is sitting between my Dad and sister, at my spot at our table; it is my Mom asking what the best part of my day was. It is my whole family together, something that is becoming rarer and rarer. It takes me back further still to the first cabin we ever owned, deep in the Blue Mountains, to the youngest I ever remember being.  To forgotten roads and quiet towns, somewhere in central Oregon, to dollar bets on spotting the first deer, to being told why an elk rubs his antlers on a tree.
This food is memory, but mostly this food is feeling. I cannot help but feel safe when it is put before me—I cannot help but feel secure and provided for, well-loved. My Dad is there and he will take care of me, this I know. Because in that meat is everything I ever learned from him, from being helped on my homework to knowing what a game trail looks like. In it is every time I was fevered and sick and I had his calloused hand on my forehead, in it is every time that I made a mistake and was forgiven. In it is a sense of belonging and of unconditional love. Few things are as strong as a parent’s devotion to their children, and my siblings and I are lucky—we had proof on the table every year of my Dad’s dedication to us.  
Since I’ve been away at school, I’ve become significantly more aware of how much I miss elk and the food that I grew up with, in part because I miss my Dad and the rest of my family. I feel unanchored, somehow, without it—cut off from a part of me that is rooted in a food so specific to my home. So when I make regular pilgrimages back, back to the dinner table and my Father’s crazy, chaotic kitchen, I get lost again in the memories of a place where I know I belong. 

xoxo, Lauren