Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Look Back at 2017

I'm fairly certain this recaps my feelings about the past year fairly accurately. In all seriousness, between politics, relationships, natural (and man-made) disasters, finances, and health, 2017 has been one of the most difficult years I can remember. That's not to say there weren't good things that happened too. Overall, it's been a challenging and transformative year and hopefully, that means something good for the year to come.

On some levels, the year started out well. I had just left my roommate situation in St. Johns and moved into my new apartment downtown alone which was so good for my mental health. I had found a wonderful therapist who I was seeing on a weekly basis. Shortly after the move, I started dating and subsequently fell in love with an amazing guy while simultaneously diving head first into my photography. I had just received an honorable mention in Coast Weekend's photo contest, did my first No Strings hanging at Blue Sky Gallery, and had a photo included in the MemberSPACE show at Newspace Center for Photography.  I was also elected to the Board of Directors for the Portland Photographers Forum, was running monthly networking Meetups at Blue Sky Gallery while also doing monthly gallery sitting shifts there too on top of my weekly Saturday volunteer shifts at Newspace Center for Photography. I had also been asked again to donate two photographs to Expressions, the annual art auction for ShelterCare's homelessness prevention program. Meanwhile, Juan and I were spending lots of time together going to concerts, film festivals, artist talks, walks, movies, watching football, and going out to eat. We took a weekend trip to San Francisco shortly before my birthday and had plans for several more trips on the horizon. On my birthday I learned that a photo I submitted to Lightbox Gallery in Astoria was selected to be included in a month-long exhibition. But that's when things took a turn. Juan had been struggling with his own mental health issues for some time and two days after my birthday, unexpectedly and suddenly broke things off between us to work on them. I understood he needed to do what was best for him but was devastated nonetheless. I had come to love him, something I never told him, and thought he was someone I could spend the rest of my life with. The months that followed were extremely difficult for me emotionally, and honestly, still are on certain levels.

Two days after the breakup, I was scheduled to present a collection of my photographs at Newspace Center for Photography as part of their Slideshow night. I was uncertain how I was going to get through it. To get up in front of a large group of people and talk so openly about something that was so personal to me in the midst of the pain I was going through seemed nearly impossible without breaking down. Luckily, I was stronger than I realized because I not only did well, but my work was well-received and several folks came up to me afterward to talk to me about it. Not too long after that, I attended the opening of the very first exhibition, Kinesis, in the new coSPACE gallery of Newspace, in which four of my photographs were on display. I went directly from that show to Astoria for the weekend to attend the opening of my other show at Lightbox Gallery. I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and outwardly successfully did so but not without a lot of struggle internally. I was worried about Juan, I was frustrated that he pushed me away, and I was angry at myself that I wasn't fully present and enjoying my photographic successes. To top it all off, we had a new administration to contend with that made each day a new nightmare to wake up to. I was missing my family and friends in Wisconsin so much and felt so alone and far from home. I broke down and cried every day when I was alone, sometimes before I could even make it into my apartment after work.

I figured the only way to get through all of that was to keep moving forward. I continued my work with all of my volunteer endeavors as well as my meetings with a subset group of people from the photo critique group at Newspace to launch a new photography zine called 1/2 Stop. I did the event photography for Pacific Northwest Hospice Foundation's annual gala, had three photographs included in the Oregon Society for Artists show and did my first photo shoot and interview as part of my newly crafted Legacy project. A remodel at work presented an opportunity for employees to have their art hung and I happily contributed a handful of photographs to display. I was still struggling with the breakup though and decided to take the money I had set aside for a trip to Spain with Juan to fly my best friend, Lana, from Wisconsin out for a visit. She too had recently gone through a breakup so the timing was perfect for us to be together. I planned an action-packed three days for us and showed her around Portland, the coast, the Gorge, and even Mt. Hood, introducing her to some of my friends along the way. Shortly after she left, I got really sick, yet again. A theme that had seemed to be developing over the past few years.

In a desperate attempt to help move on from the Juan breakup, I decided to try dating again, mainly as a distraction. It didn't take long though to meet someone who I surprisingly really liked and the day Lana flew back to Wisconsin, I had a first date with Matt. He and I took things really slow at first. He knew I was fresh out of a difficult breakup and seemed very understanding of that. We went out to dinners, drives through the Gorge, hiking, movies, and even a Memorial Day Weekend trip to Bandon. In the meantime, I learned that I suffered from chronic fatigue and needed to make some big lifestyle changes if I didn't want things to get significantly, and possibly permanently, worse. So I made the difficult decision to quit everything in my life except my job and relationship with Matt. In time, I met Matt's dad's side of the family and was pleasantly surprised to learn how nice everyone was. We soon decided to make things official between us and shortly thereafter even decided to move in together in the fall. But then some family issues in Pennsylvania called him away for what was supposed to be a week but in fact turned into almost a month. Without all of my activities to keep me busy, it was difficult not to overthink the situation and how we communicated long distance and dealt with stress. After his return from Pennsylvania and shortly after meeting one of his close friends, I learned he wasn't ready to move in together after all. Something about that last month or so didn't seem right and with this new information, I made the difficult decision to end the relationship altogether. I think part of me also knew that I wasn't really over Juan either so it was the best thing to do for both of us.

After that breakup, I decided to focus more strongly on my minimalism journey which I had started earlier in the year. I was still struggling with insomnia pretty bad and through minimalism, I was hoping I could reduce my stress level and focus on my mental and physical health more. Minimalism helped me focus on what was most important to me in other areas as well which birthed the idea for my Second Saturday Soirees in which I pushed my culinary comfort zone and gathered friends once a month for a feast. This fall, Cole and I began taking long walks in the mornings to explore and photograph different neighborhoods of Portland. I started doing more road trips with Cole to the coast, through the Gorge, and in Eastern Oregon. I began to think about my photography from a business perspective again and launched an Etsy site which seemed more easily marketable than my website to sell prints. I also began to focus more on my travel writing and launched a new website devoted to traveling in Oregon, Almost-Solo Nature Junkie. To help promote it, I created an Instagram account for Cole and started to get more active on Twitter.

Most recently, I came to the conclusion that I needed to make another big change in my life. In order to better pursue my dreams of traveling, I need to have true financial freedom. Without debt, the possibilities of where I can go are virtually endless. I made the difficult decision to sell my car, coincidentally exactly three years from the day I purchased it.  The process of driving to the sale was unexpectedly emotional, I didn't realize I would have such a strong reaction to letting it go. I couldn't get past how it felt as if I was abandoning my best friend and I cried all the way there and off and on the rest of the day. I had so many good memories wrapped up in that car, roadtripping with Cole, exploring thousands of miles of Oregon, Washington, and California over the last three years. Now is the time to focus on the positive though. I will use the money saved from that expense to pay off my credit card and old medical debt. It's going to mean a few adjustments on how I get around town but I feel confident I'll navigate all of that just fine. There are also a plethora of rental cars to choose from in town for those road trips Cole and I enjoy so much. Another step I'm taking toward this financial goal is moving to a studio apartment on the Northwest side of town in February. It will mean significant savings in my rent to further help my debt payoff with the added bonus of a new neighborhood for Cole and me to explore. It also gives me another opportunity to further minimalize my belongings which is a process I truly enjoy. It's an interesting process to go through and an eye-opening one at that. So much of our stuff really isn't needed to have a comfortable life. As I slowly sell things off, I see all the space that is opening up in my current one bedroom apartment and I think I finally understand what I've read a hundred times: the more space you have, the more things you will acquire to fill it up.

I'm not sure what to expect in 2018. I guess all any of us can do is trust that whatever happens is needed to get us where we're supposed to be. This year, I'm especially thankful for the friends who supported me, my family who loves me from afar, an amazing little pug who is always by my side, a job with a great company that has been so understanding of my health issues, and for the privilege of living in such a beautiful part of the country. Happy New Year to all of you and thanks so much for following this crazy journey that is my life.


Goodbye 2017!!!


Sunday, October 22, 2017

My #MeToo Story

I came across an article a year or two ago entitled Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence and felt inspired to write my own story. As usual when I feel inspired to write something, I create a draft blog post on Blogger, sometimes there are several posts in my drafts section at a time, waiting for the right moment to fully bring them to life and then hit the publish button to share them with whoever is so inclined to read them. Sadly, this particular post sat in my "draft" section ever since it's inception. Why did that happen? Well, it's scary to open up about something so personal, that comes with a slew of emotions and fears. Recently I became aware of the #metoo campaign and it strongly resonated with me. It was difficult to post my #metoo status though. Outwardly, it seems like such an easy task. We share how many things a day through our social media channels, why should this be that much different? But I felt vulnerable, exposed, and for some dumb reason: weak. I feared I would be judged or looked at differently by my friends, family, and coworkers.

Sadly, this sort of harassment and abuse is so common place in our society that it just seems part of life and I sometimes forget that this is part of my own story, my own life, who I am, too, not to mention far too many of my friends as well. It's so ingrained into my life, that it doesn't even occur to me to really consciously think about it, like it's something that needs to be discussed and shared. It just "is what it is". I don't have the stories of men exposing themselves to me, or cat-calling (that I can specifically remember) like so many other women. My experiences are all a lot more personal than that, as if being harassed or assaulted by a stranger isn't traumatic and personal enough. My experiences are with family members, friends of family, boyfriends, men I've gone on dates with or run into when I was out with my friends.

Me, 5 years old
The first encounter I can remember is with a female neighbor, perhaps 8 or so years older than me. I never really knew if she was a friend or a babysitter or both (or neither) but I do remember her putting me in extremely uncomfortable situations. For some reason, she used to make me take baths at her house. I don't remember any specific event happening, like being touched inappropriately there, I just remember feeling like her presence in the bathroom with me and the whole situation not being "right". She was controlling, manipulative, angry, and had cruel and embarrassing punishments. For instance, when I once spilled milk on the carpet, she tried to make me clean it up by licking it off the ground. One time, she and her friend tried to get me to simulate sex acts on a stuffed animal. I was only five or six years old. I never told my parents.

Fast forward to my pre-teen years, a variety of subtle things started to happen. Once, a couple of middle aged guys from the neighborhood stood in the driveway next door with their beers in hand and just watched me mowing the lawn with my parents riding mower. They never said anything to me but their stares, grins, and coy gestures to each other made me feel....for the lack of a better word: gross. A male relative of mine once made a point to call out my early-developed breasts under my t-shirt and it left me feeling humiliated, dirty, small, and like I wanted to cover myself up and hide away from the world. He and I weren't alone, there were other people there and no one said a thing to him about it. I once received a crank call from boys at school, posing as a company doing a survey and if I answered their questions, was promised a year subscription to some teen magazine. I soon realized after they started asking things like my bra size, it was not a legit call. I felt scared and powerless and I didn't know how to get out of the call, apparently I was "too nice" to just hang up.

Me, 15 or 16 years old
Once I became a teenager, the problems only got worse. A drunk, passed out relative of mine once accidentally grabbed me between the legs, I assume thinking I was someone else, when I tried to wake him up. I remember feeling an immediate and intense sense of embarrassment and general sense of dirtiness all within a split second. I felt so ashamed, like it was my fault, even though logically I knew I did nothing wrong. I cannot convey in words how intense and immediate that shame was there, all from a split second action. Another time, a friend of the family, twenty years older than me, who I had a crush on for several years, decided to take advantage of that crush. One night, when it was just the two of us, we kissed and almost had sex. At the time I didn't necessarily think there was anything truly wrong with it, I was 14 and I liked him and thought if he liked me, I must be special. It was only when I got older that I realized that a 34 year old man has no business getting involved with a 14 year old girl like that, he should have known better.

At my first underage drinking party, I met a guy my age and we made out on the couch. I was spending the night with my friend, and we had told her mom that we were going to spend the night at one of her friend's houses but really, we had planned on staying overnight at the house where the party was happening. The party ended up getting broken up at the end of the night and we all had to leave. Having nowhere to go and not wanting to get in trouble with her mom, we and a couple of her guy friends ended up at the guys house who I was making out with earlier. We snuck into the basement and all slept in one spare room. This guy laid down next to me on the floor and kept groping me even though I continuously told him to stop. I was afraid to make a scene, we didn't have anywhere else to go and I didn't want everyone else to be mad at me so I just endured his unwanted groping. The first time I had sex with a guy I was 15 years old. I was curious but didn't really want to do it but was afraid that if I said no, he wouldn't want to be my boyfriend anymore so I slept with him at his brothers apartment, in their spare bedroom while everyone else was outside in the living room watching TV. Afterward, I felt sad, embarrassed, and again -- dirty. 

Me and my ex-husband at Homecoming
Not too long after all that, I met the man who eventually became my first husband and enjoyed five wonderful years without any incidences with him. That did not stop other guys though, at my job, guy friends, etc., from talking to and touching me in unwanted ways. After me and my husband got divorced and I started dating again in my early twenties, a revolving door of issues began. Too many to go into every single one but I can give you a few examples. I was once told by a guy who I no longer wanted to see that on top of him thinking I was the "most boring person he's ever met", that "sometimes a guy just needs a hole" and that was all I was to him. There were numerous times when out with my friends dancing that strange men would come up and get way too close, would grab my hips and grind their bodies against mine in uncomfortable ways. We just came to expect it as a part of going to places like that, just something we had to deal with. Once I went to an after-bar party with a small group of people I had met that night. While one guy, the one whose apartment we were in, started to kiss me, another guy stole my wallet out of my purse. Those two guys ended up getting into an argument after I called the thief out to give me my wallet back and the police got involved. I gave my statement to the police officer and she proceeded to tell me that I should "be more careful who you go home with". Apparently this was all my fault, according to her.

Less than a year later, I found myself out with my sister and some friends in a bar one night. A guy there was buying us lots of shots. I ended up getting sick and throwing up in the attached hotel bathroom. The guy offered to get me a room so I could lay down and rest. As I sat on the floor of the lobby, resting against the wall, barely able to keep my head up, he was putting down his credit card with the hotel clerk to get a room. I'll never understand why that clerk didn't say anything -- clearly this was not a good situation. When me and the guy got to the hotel room, we ended up having sex. I knew going into this that it was a possibility but I was so drunk and sick and just wanted to lay down. After he was done with me, he left. As I laid on my stomach on the bed, feeling sick, I thought, "well, at least now I can just rest". Not too long later, I heard the door open and someone come in. I thought it was the same guy but couldn't be sure because I couldn't lift my head off the bed to look. Without saying a word, the guy put on a condom, something that didn't happen the first time, and proceeded to have sex with me from behind. I couldn't say anything, I couldn't move, I couldn't fight back. When he was done, never saying a word to me, he just left. It turns out the first guy gave his friend back in the bar the room key so he could "have a go" at me too. I never reported it. I thought the police would just think this too was my own fault; "you should be more careful".

Early twenties
After that, there continued to be a series of negative encounters with men. Some men were controlling and emotionally abusive. A couple different guys tried to coerce me into sleeping with them by threatening to kill themselves if I didn't. One time at a house party with some friends without my own car, I started to not feel well. The owner of the house said I could lay down in his room. I fell asleep for awhile but woke up to him crawling into bed with me. He had taken off my pants and started to use one of the dirty sex toys from a box near his bed on me. I told him to stop and tried to push him off of me but he crawled on top of me, squishing me legs into my chest, and wouldn't stop or let me leave. Fearful what would happen if I continued to fight, I froze until he eventually lost interest in me. Another time, a man who owned a hotel next to my favorite neighborhood watering hole offered me $100 to have sex with him. One "boyfriend" of mine once asked me to take my shirt off so his friend could see my boobs.

I'd like to say as I got older, these things became less common as I don't go out to bars and house parties like I used to in my twenties but sadly, I can't say that. Not all of these negative experiences are sexual in nature. Once at work, a male employee I supervised barged into my office, got in my face, and screamed at me, pointing his finger in my face, because he was angry about a conversation I had had with one of our board members. I was speechless and terrified in the moment and he ended up walking out of my office when he was done with his rant. I highly doubt he would have taken the same approach if his supervisor was a man instead of a 29 year old woman. I consulted the board on how to handle the situation as was told, "oh, he just needed to get that out, guys are like that, I wouldn't worry about it too much". This from the same board that when I questioned some of the numbers on the financial report was told with a placating pat-on-the-head attitude to not worry my little-girl brain about it. 

Me, now
Other situations are somewhat sexual in nature but less overt. I've been on a plethora of first dates through online dating platforms over the years. When there isn't a spark with someone, it's terrifying at times to have to avoid physical contact with them. One guy who I clearly was sending signals of "don't touch me" felt the need to force a kiss, even though I clearly was turning my head to avoid it. When I've told other guys that I don't see a relationship happening with them, they become angry and mean. I've had guys call me a "slut" because I didn't want to be with them, even though we had never had any physical contact. It gets to the point where you are afraid to say "no" sometimes. You never know how they are going to react. I used to think it was just me, that I was "too nice" or weak, shy, etc. -- that it was somehow a flaw in me, or that I was just "too sensitive". The more I talk to other people about it, the more I realize it is in fact not me who is in the wrong here and that this happens ALL THE TIME, to so many women (and men too).

The #metoo campaign has really helped connect the dots on the magnitude of the problem. I have only ever told these stories to one or two of my friends and never in such a public way like this. There are so many reasons why people keep secrets like this. I know for me, I used to think this was all my own fault, that I should have known better. That I shouldn't let myself get into situations where I'm alone with someone or in a place where I don't have a way to leave independently of who I came with. Slowly I have learned that nothing we do ever justifies these sorts of actions. They are never OK. I hope by sharing my story here, this helps others come to terms with their own experiences as well. Far too many people can say "me too" and it needs to stop. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Camping, Road Trips, Birthdays, and More!

It's been awhile since I last wrote, I suppose my quest for stillness has been working a little too well. I'll try to give a quick synopsis of some of the more interesting things that have happened since I last wrote in July.

Camping at Northrup Creek

In early August, I decided to join some friends for a short weekend camping trip at Northrup Creek, near Birkenfeld, Oregon. I got a late start getting on the road and ran into some significant traffic on Highway 6 so I decided to get off the main highway and meander my way through some beautiful, winding country roads until I finally reached the gravel road that took me several miles into the Clatsop State Forest. Shortly after arriving, I joined my friends already en route hiking the Big Tree Trail which did not disappoint, there were indeed several big trees along the way. After our hike, we went back to the camp site and lounged around in our hammocks and chairs for awhile before preparing a dinner of Italian sausages, potato and pasta salad, cole slaw, beer and wine. After dinner, we played several lively rounds of Uno until the sunset at which point we started a camp fire and roasted marshmallows before retiring to our tents for a good night of sleep in the cool, forest air. In the morning, we prepared a delicious breakfast of blackberry pancakes, eggs, sausage and coffee. We hung out a bit after that simply enjoying the peace and quiet of the forest before packing up, saying our farewells, and heading back to Portland.


Eclipse

On August 21st, a solar eclipse was visible from Portland. Many folks headed south and east to catch the celestial event in it's totality. I, on the other hand, decided to stay in town and forego the traffic. I did walk down to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and join the hundreds of other folks who were curious to see the show as well. I did not have the special glasses or filter for my camera but that was intentional, I was more interested in capturing images of the people around me and their reactions to the eclipse. At the peak of the eclipse, the color of everything changed into an eery sort of green/grey, wavy lines appeared on the ground, and crescent shaped shadows filtered through the tree leaves. It was definitely a very cool experience. After seeing images of what those in the path of totality experienced though, I believe the next time I have an opportunity to watch a solar eclipse from that vantage point, I will definitely do it.


Second Saturday Dinner Parties

I started hosting a monthly dinner party a couple of months ago. I figured these would be a good way to challenge my culinary comfort zone while also providing an opportunity to bring some friends together on a regular basis to laugh and generally just have a good time. For my first party, I prepared a traditional Spanish Paella which included shrimp, mussels, chicken, prosciutto, and chorizo as well as a plethora of spices and vegetables. Surprisingly, being the first time I've ever prepared shellfish, it all turned out really well. For my second party, I prepared a perhaps-not-so-traditional jambalaya, which was also quite successful and well-received.  My next party will consist of a butternut squash ravioli with maple cream sauce, a Tuscan vegetable soup, and an Italian-style tomato avocado salad.


Minimizing

I continuously work on minimizing my possessions in hopes of making "room" for more of the things that matter in my life. I sold my bookshelves, along with most of the things on them, which opened up a lot of space in my living room to rearrange the remaining items in a way that is more conducive to entertaining and relaxing without as much to distract myself. I really like the open feel as well as how little time it takes for me to clean the area. I went through my hall and bedroom closets, as well as my kitchen cupboards, and found more items to part with. I feel very good about the number of items I have at this point and the overall energy of my home feels much calmer.


Panther Creek Falls

On Labor Day weekend, Cole and I drove out through the Gorge to Panther Creek Falls in Carson, Washington. It was truly an uncomfortably hot day but as we approached the river side, the temperate dropped considerably due to the cold water rushing by. When I got to the overlook for the waterfall, it was clear something was going on. A group of people were intently looking on, not in the way one marvels in the beauty of a natural wonder but more like in the way someone may watch something possibly horrible or amazing about to happen. Camera in hand, I made my way to the front of the group and saw a long cable stretched between two trees on either side of the wide waterfall, perhaps a hundred feet above the ground. Quickly I realized that a man was about to slack line his way over the waterfall. This was quite the unexpected treat but one me and my camera were happy to document.

Eagle Creek Fire

I'm so thankful I was able to hike the Eagle Creek Trail last year, before a group of teenagers so carelessly threw fireworks into the trees, setting the forest ablaze. Now, even though it will recover, it will never be the same. There are so many lessons to be learned from this incident but the number one for me is to not take places like this for granted; there are no guarantees that they'll always be there. Too often I say, "Oh, I'll get to that place someday...it's on my list". The day this fire broke out, I drove through the Gorge, exited I-84 at Cascade Locks, drove over the Bridge of the Gods, and hiked at Panther Creek Falls just north of the Gorge in Washington. I had no idea what was about to happen at Eagle Creek. I never imagined I (and others) would never see the Gorge the same way again. I wish I had known so I could have savored every last beautiful tree.

The other lesson I've learned is the importance of educating kids to respect and cherish these places. We protect what we love. Perhaps instead of lighting fireworks on the trail for a cheap thrill, these kids would have hiked the trail, enjoyed the waterfalls and wildlife, swam in the water, and let their curiosity run wild as they imagined what may be around the next curve of the trail. Someone wrote recently "I can't show you how one person respecting nature can change things, but I can show you what it looks like when one doesn't."

There are so many other places in the burn area I hadn't seen yet that are now forever changed. I'll never know them as they were and there's nothing anyone can do about that now. Places like the Gorge are the reason I moved to Oregon and they are also the reason I stay, even when I miss my family and friends in Wisconsin more than I can stand at times. To say I am deeply connected to the forests, mountains, deserts, and bodies of water of this area would be a grave understatement. This fire in the Gorge feels similar to the death of a loved one, it will take time to process the grief. I know I am not alone. Many of us here, and anyone who has visited, most likely feels the same.

As of October 6th, a full month after the fire first started, 48,000 acres of pristine forest have burned and it is only 47% contained. Officials estimate that the affected trails, some of the most popular in the area, won't reopen for another year (September, 2018). Perhaps what is most sad about this particular fire, besides the area in which it burned, one of the most beautiful areas of the Gorge, is that is was completely avoidable.

Bayocean Spit 

Harnessing my new vigor for getting out and seeing all the places "on my list", Cole and I drove out to the coast to do the 7.6 mile Bayocean Spit loop hike near the Tillamook Bay. After parking the car, we headed north along the gravel road, along the Tillamook Bay side of the peninsula. After about a mile, we took a short trail toward the ocean, through what used to be the city center of Bayocean before it was reclaimed by the sea. We then continued north along the beach until we reached the jetty where we then headed east, back toward the Tillamook Bay, and then south back to the parking lot. We spotted some interesting things along the way: a small hut/shelter constructed on the beach, apparently by hand, the spinal column of what I imagine used to be a deer, a truly sketchy restroom, and a gathering of the most cranes I've ever seen in one place. All in all, it was a really great hike, despite the wildfire smoke.

Cole's Birthday and Health Scare

We celebrated Cole's 9th birthday earlier last month and it was apparent after our coastal hike, that the years may be starting to catch up with him (who am I kidding, they're catching up with me as well). He appeared more tired that usual after our hike. Now, it could have just been the heat and smoke combined with the length of the hike, as well as the fact that it had been awhile since we did a hike of that length. I do know without a doubt that his little white hairs on his chin are spreading, not just on his face, but throughout the rest of his body too. Of course, he's still as handsome as ever. We had a little scare right around his birthday when his vet, during his annual checkup, found some abnormal red blood cells in one of his tests. I brought him back in a week or so later for a follow up test and we discovered that the red blood cells had been replaced by white blood cells, which most likely just meant that he had a urinary tract infection and not the mass in his bladder that the vet originally feared. He completed two weeks of antibiotics and went in for a follow up test. I am happy to report everything was normal and he officially has a clean bill of health.

Fall Has Arrived

It is officially fall and I'm fairly certain the hot spells of the summer are finally over, for this year at least. The night temperatures dip down into the 40s and the day time highs hover in the 60s and low 70s occasionally. This is my most favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest. Cole and I have been going for long morning walks throughout different areas of downtown. I've been sharing some iPhone photography of these areas, trying to savor these cool, dry mornings as much as I can before the winter rain begins for next several months. With fall comes football season and Cole and I have been enjoying cheering on our Packers from afar. As if fall couldn't get any better, Starbucks has begun to serve their Pumpkin Spice Lattes again, although this year, I'm enjoying the decaf versions and therefore, sleeping much better.




Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Last weekend, Cole and I took a road trip to eastern Oregon to hike the Deschutes and White River Falls State Parks before visiting abandoned homesteads, churches, and schoolhouses. The weather cooperated perfectly for my photos and I even discovered some unexpected areas that were simply magnificent. I don't normally photograph buildings and until recently, hadn't had an overwhelming urge to shoot abandoned places but something about these three areas in particular really spoke to me. I'm really happy with how that road trip went and I hope I can get in one or two more before winter rolls in. I am never happier than when on the road with Cole, some good tunes, and my camera.


As always, thanks for following along and please be sure to check out my website, Instagram, and Facebook pages to see an ever-growing collection of my photography. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Art of Standing Still

On July 3rd, my mom could have died. I didn't get a call about it until just last week. Apparently my mom had tripped and fell, hit her head, temporarily lost consciousness, and fractured her pelvis. What was I doing at that time? I was half way across the country, alone, worrying why my now ex-boyfriend, who was putting his family first in Pennsylvania, was bailing on our 4th of July plans and not talking to me. After receiving that phone call from my mom, I contemplated a lot of things. I began to think, what am I doing here in Oregon? Is giving up this time with my family, is not seeing the closest thing to a niece I will ever have grow up, worth the joy I experience by calling Oregon home? A big part of me wanted to call it quits here immediately to go home and be closer to my family. That would be a huge decision to make, so I wanted to make sure it was the right one.

Wheeler, Oregon
I took the weekend to think it all over and meanwhile talked to as many people as I could about what I was feeling. I went out for happy hour drinks with my neighbor that Friday night on the waterfront and told her about what I was thinking. On the walk back, listening to her talk about how much she loves Portland reminded me how much I really loved it too, although I struggle to enjoy it the way I really want to because it's just so expensive to live here. Cole and I went to the coast with another friend and her dog the following day. The dogs had an amazing time running around the beach while we waded into the ocean and enjoyed the waves as they crashed into our legs. I went out to brunch with my ex on that Sunday, our first face to face attempt at moving forward as friends, and he proved to be a good listener to what I was contemplating. I talked on the phone with my cousin and then with another friend on the east coast at different points throughout the weekend, it seemed as if everyone was supportive no matter what I decided, as long as I was doing what made me happy. After much deliberation and soul searching, I made the difficult decision to stay put. Going home felt like it would be a step backwards and I didn't want to take the chance that I would somehow get stuck in Wisconsin permanently. Oregon is my soul food and I think when you find something, someone, or someplace that does that, you owe it to yourself to see it through.

Indian Beach at Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach, Oregon
Standing still, on the surface, may seem like an easy thing to do but nothing could be further from the truth for me. I feel like most of my adult life, I have been chasing "the next thing". I've been so preoccupied with what's next, what goal am I working toward, of constantly moving forward, that I'm losing the joy of now. I feel all of that in the tenseness of my neck and shoulder muscles and in the anxiety that builds up in my chest. I began to wonder, is all of that forward momentum just a distraction? When a relationship ends, I tend to focus on analyzing my career path more but what's wrong with just being happy to have a good job? Why does it have to be going anywhere? When I'm in a relationship, I'm usually preoccupied with the future of that relationship, are we working toward the next step? Why can't I just focus on the here and now with that person? Why can't I just relax, breathe, and be content in this moment in my life? What's wrong with just standing still?

Cole has this whole stillness thing down
Those who have been following along with my blog know that this year, I've been trying to focus on living a more minimalistic life. From time to time, I lose focus on that though and I'm working hard to keep it front and center on a daily basis. Recently I discovered an online forum of like-minded people trying to do the same and have found that helpful. I began reading a book this week called Chasing Slow and it has been truly eye-opening. This weekend, I have been spending a lot of quiet time alone. I consciously avoided doing activities to just pass the time, to keep my mind numb, things like binge watching Netflix. Instead of zoning out to a TV screen, I spent an hour or so just looking out my living room window and listening to the sounds of the city. I sipped a cup of coffee while I talked to my mom on the phone to see how her recovery was coming along. I spent hours reading on my balcony while the warm breeze swept by. I briefly broke the silence with some music while I cooked a meal which I then enjoyed as I sat by the window, focusing on each and every bite instead of zoning out to a TV screen. I spent time thinking and writing about the things I am grateful for and that which are most important to me.

There definitely seems to be an art to standing still in a world that is constantly moving. With any art form, it takes practice to perfect and I think that may possibly be the best use of my time right now, practicing mindfulness while standing still.

"Ask a bird how to fly, and it might tell you to remove the weight from your wings." ~ Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

After It's Over

With new relationships, there is always those beginning months where everything is fun and exciting. You're learning about each other, share a lot of "me too's!", and it seems like nothing could be any more perfect. As time goes on, opportunities arise to see how each other handles stress, you learn more about their families, friends, decision making skills, etc. Inevitably there are going to be differences of opinion.

A little over a month ago, with just a couple days notice, Matt, the person I've been seeing for the last three months, was called away on some family business on the east coast. What started as a one week trip turned into three, and coupled with some technology issues, presented challenges for our relationship and resulted in our first argument. Poor communication, bailing on our 4th of July plans, and a subtle change in behavior led to quite a bit of stress on my part and a lot of guessing on what might become of our relationship.

Shortly before being called away, we had decided to move in together when his lease was up at the end of July. This weekend, just two weeks before he was supposed to move in and after multiple smaller discussions about the moving in plans, I learned he wanted to wait longer. Needless to say, this caused some serious concerns on my part. By keeping this information from me for over a month, I felt betrayed. I felt like we were taking a step backward. It caused doubts on whether or not I could trust him. It made me second guess whether we were on the same page, wanting the same future. Of course, all of this could have been avoided if he had told me right away when we first discussed moving in together that he wanted to wait longer. That's a stance I could have respected because it would have been timely and honest.

I've always been on the bold side. If there is something I want, I go for it. I jump in head first and take a hope-for-the best approach. I don't usually spend an abnormal amount of time worrying about what might happen or make decisions based out of fear. There's always a chance with a new relationship that it won't work out and I don't think there is much you can do but give it your best and see what happens and I've always felt that I'd rather know sooner than later whether things were going to work out. Of course, you should use your best judgement on who to let into your life but if you don't see any red flags with someone, why not dive in? Maybe I've been through enough breakups to know that if a relationship doesn't work out, I will survive. I'll learn something new and will take that into my next relationship and I'll be better for it. Perhaps our timing was just off or maybe we really just weren't right for each other but after another conversation tonight, and with more time to evaluate how I felt about things since our last discussion this weekend, I determined this wasn't the right relationship for me, and we agreed to part as friends.

Coincidentally, I pulled a muscle in my back this weekend that had me laid up for the last few days. Luckily, it's improving and I was able to go back to work today. This injury may have been a blessing in disguise because it gave me a lot of time to think and I've been thinking about what kind of life I want to live. I know without a doubt that our time here is short and will go by quickly. There isn't time to waste being unhappy or committing to the wrong person. The people we surround ourselves with, the work we do, and the choices we make matter, it all adds up. I will be pondering all of this and more in the coming days to decide what my next steps will be but I suspect I will be making some significant changes soon. One change I have been wanting to make and am implementing tonight is to be more honest in my writing. I value transparency in all areas of my life, this place shouldn't be any different. I hope this new level of transparency is well-received as you continue to follow along. Stay tuned.....




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Three Years an Oregonian!

June 22nd marks the three year anniversary of Cole and I beginning our new life as Oregonians. Throughout this past year, I have crossed paths with many wonderful people, have had photography successes, travels, visitors, health concerns, heartbreak, and new beginnings. It's been another amazing year of highs and some lows in Oregon and I couldn't be any happier than to be exactly where I am.

My parents in Bandon, Oregon
I was thrilled to play tour guide last summer by showing my parents around the Pacific Northwest. It was a dream come true to be able to show them around in person, not just through photographs on Facebook. I never thought they would be able to ever visit so needless to say it was an experience that I will certainly cherish forever.  My cousin/best friend also came for a whirlwind two and a half day much needed adventure one weekend this spring. It felt so good to be able to finally show her around as well, something we both thought wouldn't be able to happen for quite some time. Between the Oregon Coast, Northern California, the Cascade mountains, Southern Washington, and the deserts of Eastern Oregon, the Pacific Northwest is such a fun place to show off.

Old friends at Topp's Hideaway in Windsor, Wisconsin
This past winter I went home to Wisconsin after a two year hiatus and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with family and friends, drinking, eating, and catching up. I was able to enjoy a Packers game at my parents house with my sister and her boyfriend while we celebrated an early Christmas together. I met up with a series of friends at all my favorite spots throughout Madison and the surrounding area while also enjoying all my favorite foods, drinks, and local musicians. It was great to see familiar faces and know that while everything inevitably changes, some friendships certainly do seem to last the test of time.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, California
I took a weekend trip to San Francisco this spring for my birthday and enjoyed exploring the city as well as driving south along the coast toward Big Sur, a place that's been on my bucket list for some time. There are certainly some amazingly beautiful spots on the California coast but I'm fairly certain that the Oregon coast will always have my heart, and although San Francisco left me with a new appreciation for Portland's less hectic traffic and cleaner streets, I definitely would enjoy another trip at some point to explore more of the food and art scene, but perhaps next time I won't drive.

I moved two times this past year. First from an apartment at The Yards at Union Station where I lived for two years by myself to a house in the St. Johns neighborhood with two roommates. It was fairly clear from the beginning of that adventure that the particular roommates I had, although nice people, were not the right fit for my lifestyle so a few months later, I found myself moving back downtown, this time to the Essex House apartments where I continue to live now. I love being downtown again within walking distance to so many delightful things but perhaps the best part is that my workplace is right across the street; a two minute commute is hard to beat.

Astoria, Oregon
I kept myself overwhelmingly busy with photography endeavors this past year. I joined the Portland Photographers Forum as a member but then within a short period of time was elected to the board of directors which met monthly on top of the monthly member meetings. I started a networking Meetup group through Blue Sky Gallery and hosted monthly gatherings there for local photographers. I volunteered on Saturdays at Newspace Center for Photography as well as once a month at Blue Sky Gallery.  I entered my photography into contests and submitted proposals for exhibitions and  landed my first juried exhibition at LightBox Photographic Gallery in Astoria as well as had work included in several shows throughout town, one of which gave me the opportunity to test my public speaking skills and present another body of work to the public. Through a volunteer critique group at Newspace Center for Photography, in which I met with monthly, we laid the groundwork to start a new photography zine as well as were given the opportunity to curate shows at a newly designed space within the gallery. I attended numerous presentations and lectures at the Portland Art Museum and Blue Sky Gallery. I also had a series of photographs hung throughout my workplace and once again donated a couple of pieces to an art auction to support homelessness prevention programs.

My ever-growing supply of vitamins,
supplements, and medications
All of that photography business on top of my demanding workload certainly took it's toll on my health and I found myself getting sick more and more frequently. Not too long ago I discovered I suffer from adrenal fatigue which has prompted a new interest in Naturopathic medicine. I'm so grateful for finding the right doctor to work with on a holistic path to getting better. There are a lot of things one can do to try to recover from adrenal fatigue, the most important for me right now is to reduce stress, get lots of sleep, and focus on nutrition. I decided I needed to make a drastic change to my lifestyle. I resigned from all of my volunteer activities and took a hard look at how I was going to spend my time going forward. That rejuvenated my dedication to a more minimalistic lifestyle. I continue to take a microscopic look at all aspects of my life to determine whether or not each part is still pertinent to my well-being. Meanwhile, I'm selective on what plans I agree to and am enjoying spending a lot more time at home with Cole. Rest assured, there will still be plenty of nature adventures to look forward to in the future.

I had a new, extremely promising romance develop at the beginning of this year with a man who had so many wonderful qualities that I've long been searching for. For a few months, from a relationship perspective, it was wonderful. I thought it had great potential to be a long-lasting and mutually satisfying and meaningful relationship. That is why when it unexpectedly and abruptly ended shortly after my birthday, I was devastated. It seemed so unfair, almost cruel. Why would the universe bring this amazing person into my life just to then rip him away by powers beyond both of our control? Processing all of that was difficult but luckily we were able to remain friends, which I'm thankful for. I truly want the best for him going forward and I hope we maintain a wonderful friendship for years to come.

Matt, Cole & I
With all of that heartache, it was surprising to find someone new not too long after the breakup who peaked my interest. His patience and understanding during those first couple of months allowed us the time to get to know each other in a meaningful way and gave me the space I needed to work through my emotions from the breakup. The whole thing was unexpected in so many ways. Through the time spent talking, hanging out, and exploring Oregon/Washington, I was able to learn just how amazing a person he is and what a good fit we are together. I'm so thankful that we were able to navigate that uncertain time and even though this is not how I thought things would turn out when this year began, I'm pleasantly surprised to learn it is exactly where I'm meant to be. Next month we are moving in together and I'm excited to see what this new chapter looks like for us. I feel like the life I have long waited for, the one I was certain I would find here in Oregon when I set out on this journey, is finally beginning and I couldn't be happier!
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”—Gilda Radner

See my third year of adventures as an Oregonian through photographs here:


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

75 Days

It's been 75 days since I last wrote here and a lot has happened. Shortly after my 37th birthday in March, I had a devastating breakup that truly took me by surprise and shook me to my core, something I wasn't expecting nor did I feel prepared to cope with. I've had a lot of different kinds of breakups over the years but none quite like this. Without getting into too much detail, it was heartbreaking mostly because the relationship seemed to have so much potential and therefore seemed so unfair to be ending, something neither one of us really wanted but nonetheless, something that was necessary. I spent every day for the next three weeks on the verge of what felt like a breakdown, yet somehow I managed to also carry out all of my responsibilities, and then some. Perhaps it was all just a way to distract myself from the pain I was experiencing or a way to cope with it all. Part of me just figured if I kept moving forward, everything would be ok, so long as I didn't stop the forward momentum.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse
I nervously did my first public presentation of 20 of my images at Newspace Center for Photography's Slideshow Night just three days after the breakup. I was uncertain whether I would have the ability to get up in front of a room full of strangers and talk candidly about something so emotional to me. Luckily, I got through it unscathed and even had a good response from several attendees who came up to me after the presentation to tell me how much they enjoyed my images and my story. The day after the presentation I drove to the coast to meet with a friend for a belated birthday lunch in Newport and then went to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse for the first time ever. The next day, I showed up for my five hour volunteer shift at Blue Sky Gallery and created materials to publish a call for participants for a photo project I'm working on exploring the concept of legacy in childless women over the age of 65.

The next week, I attended my first Blue Sky Gallery exhibition committee meeting after work on a Tuesday night. Then my old friend insomnia showed up again, I pushed on nonetheless. I decided to throw an impromptu birthday party for a friend at my apartment on a Friday night. I had a new audio system installed in my car the next day to make those long road trips Cole and I like to take just a little bit better. I tested it out the next day as I took a Sunday drive out through the Gorge to Rowena Crest, stopping at various spots along the way.

Near Rowena Crest
The following week I helped with my first installation of a new exhibit at Blue Sky Gallery. I went to the opening of Kinesis, a show in the newly designated CoSPACE Gallery at Newspace Center for Photography, in which I had one print included. Afterward I drove to Astoria for an overnight trip to see the opening of the PDX30 exhibition at Lightbox Gallery in which my first juried photograph was selected for inclusion. On the way home to Portland, I stopped at Fort Stevens State Park to take some photos and let Cole run around on the beach. When I got home, I called up a friend to join me for karaoke at the Alibi. Meanwhile, my insomnia persisted.

Streetcar in Astoria
Cole's ears began to bother him and after a trip to the vet, I discovered he had an abundance of yeast which would require ear drops twice a day for two weeks. Still, I attended another exhibition committee meeting at Blue Sky Gallery. I participated in a Portland Photographers Forum board meeting call. My cousin then came for a visit, the first since I moved to Oregon almost three years ago. With very little sleep, over 2 1/2 days, I took her through the Gorge stopping at Chanticleer Point and Multnomah Falls, then up to Timberline Lodge where I used my snow chains for the first time before getting them stuck and then unstuck from my tires before heading back to Portland for some nightlife activities with friends. The next day we drove to the Coast and I showed her a bunch of my favorite spots from Ecola State Park south to Cape Kiwanda before heading back to Portland for some more nightlife activities with friends. The next day we went to the Saturday Market and then had a Dim Sum brunch before it was time to say farewell and drop her at the airport. I went home to rest for about an hour or so and then headed out for a first post-breakup date at the Chinese Garden, a huge step for me.

Sunset driving back from Eugene
The next day I went to a Portland Photographers Forum monthly member meeting but I could tell something was awry. The next morning I woke up sick. I went to work for one day but then slept for the next three days before I could go back to work. When I was feeling better, I had a second date: a quick stroll through the Beaverton Farmers Market, lunch at a delicious Korean restaurant, followed by coffee nearby. Afterward, Cole and I drove to Eugene to drop off two framed photos I donated to the ShelterCare art benefit and to meet with a couple of friends for dinner. The next day I hosted a photography Meetup at Blue Sky Gallery and then did my five hour Gallery sitting volunteer shift. My insomnia continued.

I had a third date the next week over a homemade Thai dinner at my place. The next day I met with my photo critique group for several hours to decide on a name for our group and zine (1/2 Stop, if you're interested). That weekend I traveled to West Linn to do event photography for the Honor the Journey gala, a fundraiser for the Pacific Northwest Hospice Foundation. The next day, I had a fourth date which started with hiking on the Washington side of the Gorge at Catherine Creek followed by a quick drive past the animals at Schreiner Farms. We stopped at Horsethief Lake to see petroglyphs, then made a quick stop at Sorosis Park to take in the view of the Dalles from up above. We then stopped for dinner and at Rowena Crest before heading home.

Going to see the petroglyphs
That next week I dropped off three of my framed prints for the Oregon Society of Artists/Portland Photographers Forum joint show. I saw Patton Oswalt perform at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. I hosted a Cinco de Mayo Party at my apartment complete with margaritas and homemade guacamole. I organized and hosted another photography Meetup at Blue Sky Gallery. I attended the opening reception of the Oregon Society of Artists/Portland Photographers Forum joint show followed by a fifth date to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and then dinner and drinks at the Backstage Bar.

That next week at work, on top of my normally hectic schedule, our phone system conversion went live two days early causing a small panic and complete redirection of energy to that project. That same week, I realized the deadline for a friend's kid's school project that I agreed to help with was a few days away so I had to scramble to get that taken care which had me photoshopping images, picking up travel brochures, and overnighting materials back to Wisconsin. On the upside, three of my photographs I agreed to hang at work arrived from the printer: a stretched canvas, a glass print, and a metal print. Then, out of the blue, my doctor informed me that she thought I had adrenal fatigue, not entirely surprising considering how my life has been the last oh, ten years or so. I wasn't really sure though what adrenal fatigue was or how it could impact your life. I figured it would still be "life as usual" going forward so the next day, I had a sixth date: attending the Beast Talks at Beast Studio followed by dinner.

Then I got sick, again. I mean really, really sick. After learning more about adrenal fatigue and the long term effects if left untreated, I realized that I needed to make a huge change in my life. In order to reduce stress and focus solely on my health, I made the difficult decision to resign from all of my photography endeavors and various volunteer commitments. After sending out my resignation emails and tying up some loose ends, I pushed through one day of work being sick and then took three days off (again) to rest and focus on recovering from my cold. I eventually got better but this time it took two weeks to get "back to normal". It was becoming clearer and clearer that I couldn't keep going like I was.

Bandon, Oregon
Since then, I've been taking things really easy. I'm reluctant to make any plans. On the rare occasion when I do schedule something, I make sure it is something that I can easily cancel without feeling bad. I've been spending a lot more time at home which has given me time to catch up on my favorite Netflix shows with Cole. I did get out of the house though for Memorial Day and spent the weekend in Bandon enjoying the beach and eating delicious food with Cole and Matt. This past weekend we took Cole to the Pug Meetup where he got to reconnect with Emma and we got to enjoy the fresh air. I look forward to continuing to photograph the Pacific Northwest but there will no longer be the same pressure as before on what to do, if anything, with the images I take.

I'm slowing learning to listen more to what my body is trying to tell me. It's an interesting process.  I met with some folks at work today to begin adjusting my schedule and reducing the level of stress that is experienced with my job. I feel good about the first steps we're taking toward that, I am so thankful that the management team is so supportive. I'm continuing to work with my doctor on methods for adrenal fatigue recovery including increasing how much I sleep, adding in some more vitamins and supplements to my diet. There will need to be more changes in the future but they need to be done slowly. There's no quick fix for this but in time, I should be healthier and happier. What more could I ask for?