Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving and the end of November

After so many years of inviting "orphaned' young people to our Cashman family Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, I got a taste of the wonderful hospitality returned to me by the Edwards family - my program director Suzanne's extended family. We drove down to the OC (no, not to a mansion) for a great meal, good company and a wonderful after-dinner walk around town, in the 65 degree, sunny afternoon, I might mention. It was a far cry from the Cashman shenanigans - no card-playing, none of those potatoes Margie makes - but it was just about as good as it gets when your the only one in your family on the West Coast.

The dinner table. That's Jaime carving the turkey. He is Suzanne's husband and the priest at one of the churches that sponsors us. He was in the first intern class in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, 20 years ago, when he met Suzanne. Not only is this the oldest program of its kind in the US, the two of them have been pretty much invested from the beginning. Their two boys are in this picture too, CJ who is right in front of him, holding a plate out and looking wistful and Micah wears the green hat ALL THE TIME. 

Sarah, my roommate, and I.

Desert table!

Jaime, Suzanne and I. Like I said, Suzanne is one of the program directors, Jaime is a priest at the church in Hollywood and they are more or less our extended family for the year. They are fantastic people!

Day after Thanksgiving, Hannah and I spent the afternoon in a park, enjoying the wonderful weather, reading and talking.

Early winter in Los Angeles. I guess I'm not missing winter too much for at least one year of my life.

Santa Monica Pier, November 26th.

This is the last stop on Route 66.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Giveaway

This weekend was our Thanksgiving giveaway at the food pantry. The local Jaycees (a volunteer group. Do we not have these in Minnesota? I feel like they have a ton here and I keep reading about them in the South and other parts of the country but I've never heard of them in MN) have been working with Friends In Deed for about fifteen years to put on the annual Thanksgiving Gobbler. They partner with us and give food to make Thanksgiving meals to our clients, do all the fundraising and food collecting, put together bags for the clients and give them all out. All I really had to do was be there to tell them where to put things in the pantry and lay down the law with my clients who tried to take advantage of people they didn't recognize.

Sunday when we had the actual giveaway was cold and rainy and we were stuck outside. It made the clients go down to a mere trickle of people, which worked out well for us because there was never a long line, but we still had people coming the whole time and gave away food to about 200 families.

Just a small portion of the prepared bags on Saturday when they were all prepared.

The hallway at the beginning of the day on Saturday.... 

And at the end of the day.

Car full of mashed potato boxes.

And work getting done in the pantry.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Assumption

I realized within the last week that unbeknownst to myself, I moved to California with a particular assumption. No matter how much I said "who knows what will happen? I have no idea what I'll do next year. Maybe I'll stay in LA." I was never actually under the notion that I would want to stay in LA. Even California. Even though I've been working hard not to see life like this, I saw this year in Los Angeles as a step on a list of places I've lived, things I've done. Another awesome thing I can tally up in the list of experiences. I've said before that I'm working hard on being present in every given moment, and this is part of it.

I think in some ways I expected moving here to be like when I moved to Boulder; I made a life there, had patterns and friends and things I liked to do, but I never really felt myself in that life. I didn't fit into the place or with the majority of the people, and though I lived there, I never really felt at home while living in Colorado. Having never actually gone to another city or place long enough to decide that I'm living there (three months in Yellowstone, two in Venezuela, etc is a different mind-set, I think), I think I assumed going somewhere other than Minnesota would be like going to Boulder in more ways than I realized. And thank god it has not turned out the same way at all!

I realized after my mom left with a glowing review of the part of the city I live in that I am becoming attached to this place. I am fitting in this place, creating a life and patterns and finding the people and places that mean home to me. I am being very intentional with the relationships I create right now - when I meet someone at the church or through work or at yoga class or writing group who I feel a click with, I make certain to ask that person out for coffee. I am making an effort to step up, put myself out there and create meaningful relationships with people here so that at the end of the year if I choose to stay here I will have people who will also be here. Or if I choose to leave I will have people to come back to and stay with when the time comes.

I have a weekly routine and habits that keep me busy and centered in myself in a way that I have not had in years. I am not dangling on the edge of insanity between homework, work, volunteering  and personal relationships. As my friend Jackie (the astronomer studying at California Institute of Technology who I met in writing class and who I get coffee with every few weeks. We talk about spirituality and writing and Pasadena, California.) said to me, I am no longer attempting to balance it all in my arms and spilling all over myself, but effectively juggling, even skipping and whistling as I move forward with control. Which is not to say that I have not been happy or felt in control in the last few years, but in some ways, I feel like I've come to a place where I am more happy, more self aware and more in control than I have been in years.

It's funny to look back on the last year of my life and the path that brought me to LA. All the things I thought I would have if I came here, and all the things I thought I lost. "A miscarriage of a dream is a miscarriage all the same," my program director Suzanne told me on the retreat in Santa Barbara when we were thinking about the process of letting go of the things I thought about coming here. I learned how to take care of myself, to stitch up my own wounds, and to grow. I am not broken by what happened to me to bring me to LA. I would have never imagined the world I have found and created here, and that's where the most joy and gratitude comes in: I have been over and over again pleasantly surprised by what I've been given in this journey.

I still don't know if Los Angeles is where I'll be living this time next year. I am still opened-hearted, open-minded and excited to see what will be brought before me as choices and options. I am so happy for the roots I am creating here, the foundation I've built and the trim and fixings I'm finding and adding to my life these days. I'm working all weekend, which means ten days straight of work, plus some nights, but I am so happy, focused and centered. I had an excellent night last night, a very comfortable and happy morning, got off work an hour earlier than I thought I would, rode my bike through a beautiful, foggy, crisp day in southern California and came home to find two hand-written letters from friends as well as a new issue of The Sun magazine. Its going to be another good night!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"When death finds you, may it find you alive"

Something that moved me a lot this week. Published in The Sun Magazine November 2011 Issue: ‎

"Your Own Damn Life"
Interview with Micheal Meade by John Malkin

Meade: Fear tends to drive me toward imagination. The scariest thing for me is when imagination becomes locked down and everything becomes predetermined. That’s when I feel concerned that life will be choked off. Fear is there to generate motion; it becomes a problem when we are paralyzed by it. Healthy fear actually triggers instinct and intuition.
Malkin: You take issue with the idea that the Internet is joining us together.
Meade: My complaint is that the World Wide Web, with all its horizontal strands, lacks a verticaldimension. People used to think the world was flat. Well, they think that again in believing that a flat web connects us. The real web of the world has vertical extension as well as horizontal dimension.
Take social networking. The problem is that it’s not really social enough. “Social” suggests being together, being companions in life. The story comes not just from horizontal experience. The dramatic part appears when it goes vertical. A person rises above others or falls down below everybody else. The realms above and below used to be called “spirit” and “soul.” Spirit lifts the person up, whereas soul pulls a person deeper into life. We’re not supposed to live a horizontal life on the surface of things. We are supposed to live the entire gamut, from the heights of thought and imagination all the way down to the depths of woundedness and the deeper capacity to love. We live in a world of many dimensions, and the human soul is equal to the world. After all the exploration of the earth, the world is being made smaller again. When I work with young people, I tell them they have the capacity and need to participate in the larger world.
One reason for the seemingly intractable problems in this culture — this mindless battle between stimulus and cutting taxes, for example — is a collapse of imagination. Life, with all its dreams and surprises, has collapsed into economics. When the economy rose to the top of the conversation in the culture, I knew we were headed for financial disaster, because wherever people put their attention, that’s where the drama will go. So the drama must be acted out financially. What’s lacking is imagination. There isn’t enough imagination to change the debate. And there is so much fear. People are afraid to let go of the little bit they have. When everything collapses into economics, younger people can’t use their vertical imagination to set their life on a course with meaning, and older people begin to forget who they really are.
Malkin: Could you tell me more about the difference between soul and spirit?
Spirit in mythology and traditional cosmology is connected to fire and air, and it rises. Soul is connected to water and earth, and it descends. When we rise with spirit, we get peak experiences and those overviews of life that include moments of freedom. Soul goes the opposite way. Water runs down. The earth has gravity and pulls us to it. The soul wants us to grow down and become deep like a river. When people talk about “connection,” they’re really talking about soul. The real connections are not surface connections. You can have many friends on Facebook, but your real friends are those who know and support your deep self and will remind you when you’re losing touch with your own soul.
What is often missing in modern mass culture is this depth of connection. When you see a culture dividing into simplistic polarities — which is all of our politics nowadays and most of our religion — what’s going on is a loss of soul. People who are in touch with their soul know what they’re supposed to be doing in the world and what their way of contributing to life is, in the same way that people know what music they love and what food they enjoy — not just life-sustaining food, but food that has flavor, that makes you feel nourished, even inspired.

Read most of the article here,or better yet, get a subscritption to The Sun:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mama Mia! (visits LA)

So even though November isn't the most beautiful month of the year in Southern California, it warmer than Minnesota and my mom flew down and over to LA for a long weekend. It was great to just see her and spend time together, as well as get out of my routine and do some vacation-esque activities I have not been able to do since I moved here and have found a weekly pattern and because of finances.

Thursday she came early in the morning, spend the day in Hollywood wandering around, then drove to Pasadena to meet me at work, see the Ecumenical Council and what we're doing and get the scenic tour of Pasadena, Altadena, Eagle Rock and Glendale (more or less my neighborhood.) She determined: It is a great area. There are more trees, green spaces and less congestion up on this side of LA than San Francisco and the part of LA where we ended up staying (by LAX). We came to my apartment briefly, met my roommate Hannah and drove down along the highways to the hotel.

Friday we were lucky with weather. There was looming rain all day, but for most of the morning and afternoon it was sunny. We drove to the ocean, found the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and went north. We stopped in Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu along the ocean to get a feel for all the different kinds of towns. We also swung by Perpperdine University, where Anna Cashman decided she wanted to go to college when she was 12 to take some pictures and grab some pamphlets. If you know anything about southern California schools you know it's a VERY nice school in a VERY nice location.

Anyway: a beautiful day at Manhattan Beach!

Beach-side residences. "Too close together" is Mama's judgement. That was mostly what she had to say about any house in LA, though.

And Malibu!! As far north as we got.

Venice Beach.

At the Getty Villa: a smaller version of the Getty Museum in LA. It's in Malibu on the ocean. Lots of gardens and art and amazing scenery. The whole museum is designed to look like an old villa from Italy that was destroyed in a volcano. What you can do when you are the richest man in the world and have all the money to spend in the world...

Oh right, and Muscle Beach!!

Day two: We went down to Long Beach to tour the Queen Mary, a luxury ocean liner which later severed as a WWII troop carrying ship, then again as a liner. Now it lives in Long Beach and you can tour it, learn all about the supposed ghosts on the ship as well as rent ball rooms and hotel rooms. Very cool day. Cloudier and cooler, but no pouring rain, so not too bad.

From the front - a cloudy day in Long Beach, CA.

We also went to Watts Towers on Saturday. These amazing pieces of public art were created by a tiny (4 foot, 10 inch tall) Italian man named Simon over the course of 33 years. He immigrated to the United States to flee conscription and lived in Pennsylvania, Washington and all over California working as a miner, builder and working at the Malibu Tile Compnay before he bought this piece of land and built his life's work. It's hard to get the full view of the place and the artwork, but its an entire pavilion of mosaic towers, spires, ground and walls. His house was in the middle of it, and when you get a good look at it, you see it's in the shape of a ship, pointed towards Italy carrying relics and replicas of a ceremony from his Italian village involving three towers and a ship statue.

When he was in his 70's, he had some sort of accident, fell, and couldn't move for several days. After that he decided he was done, deeded the land to a neighbor and never came back. It's a very amazing piece of public art, and is work getting the tour since I've been there a few times now and not until now did we do the tour. Without it, its impossible to get the fully story and affect of the place.

From the inside of the towers.

The replica of the ship used in the festival from his hometown.

There are hearts all over the artwork. I'm not sure what this theme was about, but they are everywhere.

All in all, it was a great weekend spent with Mama driving around LA, relaxing and exploring parts of the city I do and don't know. And getting mother's approval of the place your living is always a plus.

Today my roommates and I spent the afternoon cooking a huge meal for the entire group (25 people) for our monthly-gathering. We over-estimated how much the boys in the program would eat, and we've got a fridge full of pasta and lasagna (we did an Italian feast). This is not the worst thing in the world for me, as anyone who has ever eaten with me knows. I'm headed to bed early this evening, because I am entering one of the busiest weeks of the year, with a fundraiser for our bad weather shelter on Thrusday night, a full week of work and the Thanksgiving give away all weekend long, then another week of work. Then again, it is Thanksgiving week, so I'll make the break really worth it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fumigation and Friends

When I came home from Santa Barbara I felt the need to write a love note to everyone in my program. I felt so happy, centered and focused on the good in my life, which includes the amazing people that I'm in this program with. Also when I came home, things in my house kind of exploded, with the power turned off for several days and the bed bugs issue, that I had not seen everyone for a few weeks. I finally had the time and energy to go out to Long Beach on Sunday night and visit everyone there. Harvey, who is from Louisiana and who is an amazing cook,  has been making us epicly tasty meals a few times this year, and did not disappoint this Sunday evening.  It was so good to reconnect with everyone again, after a few very stressful weeks. I am over and over again very pleasantly surprised by the other nineteen interns I'm lucky enough to spend the year with and now that we've been together long enough to start to develop relationships beyond just being in the same place at the same time, I am ever more grateful.

Like I said, we've had an issue with bedbugs. Well, since the first fumigation which involved us leaving the house for several hours, washing and drying every piece of fabric in the house and moping all the floors, tables, chairs and counter spaces, we found them again a week later. In my bed this time. This lead to another afternoon spent looking for more bed encasements (which keeps them from a) moving into a new bed and b) from getting out of a bed where they already live and biting the person sleeping in said bed. Eventually they will die without blood or food, so apparently we just wait several months then take the encasement off.) a lot more money spent on the encasement for each bed and we're at upwards of $200 spent on laundry. We found a different company to do the fumigation this time (even though the other one offered to do it again for free we decided it was not worth it to go through the process just to see if it would work this time) and when they came through yesterday they ransacked the house. Beds overturned, couches torn apart, chairs upside down. I mean, in the end it was done right. Right?

I had to stay at work while my roommates all took the day off to do laundry. Here's them at the laundromat beginning the second round of  washing and drying. And that's minus my clothes, which all stayed outside for the night and were washed today.

In other news, work is becoming insanely busy. Its the holidays, so we have more people registering to come to the pantry, more people weekly, less volunteers who can come in and more and more people who want to come in only once on Thanksgiving day or for a special event. I appreciate that people step up to help around the holidays, but it takes me a long time to train volunteers in and really what we need is a weekly commitment, not just a one-time helper. This does very little for me, in fact. I also want to challenge people who want to give just for the holiday season to consider the fact that hunger and need does not go away all year, and that by giving up your Thanksgiving for someone else, though a great idea, doesn't get at the root of the issue, or help the pantry in July, when our shelves are empty because there are no major "giving" holidays. 

Finally, my mom is coming tomorrow! I'm so excited to spend a long weekend in LA with her. Fingers crossed she likes it better here than San Francisco! It will be nice to have her here because a) it's always wonderful to spend time with my mom and b) she'll be renting a car so we can get out and see parts of the city that I've not been to but wanted to see, and we'll probably be able to go up the coast a little bit again. Hiking in Malibu? Its on my list of things to do this weekend! 


Photos from this weekend with the group. I had my new camera and was "taking pictures like an Asian tourist" as my friend Joey so lovingly put it. But, I kind of was. The picture quality is just so much better!

Hollywood sky after a crazy rainstorm.

Harvey making his amazing food

Me and Allison.

Harvey introducing the meal that he made. Sarah my roommate is standing expectantly next to him.

Sally enjoying it all.

The "urban intern" version of s'mores roasting. I didn't find it so strange, to be honest.

Harvey didn't eat any of the food he prepared for us, but he did eat his first s'more. He is considering it now, but in the end he gave a nod of approval.

Me, Valerie and Sally.