Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Seven-Year Itch

Confession: I wrote most of this post, word for word, in early 2017. I intended to publish it then with the title "Future Plans" but, for a variety of reasons, I never got around to finishing it. A year and a half later it is still relevant and, with a few additions, should bring you up to speed on the BIG changes happening in the next few months.

First, for some background, here is the link to a post I wrote on the fifth anniversary of my husband Greg's and my move to Portland: https://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2017/01/portland-iversary.html It really sums up how our lives evolved after traveling around the world for two years and then settling in Portland in early 2012.

Next, here is the link to the post I wrote after returning to Portland in late August 2017 after traveling, primarily in central and eastern Europe, for four months last spring / summer: https://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2017/09/where-ive-been-all-summer.html

Finally, here is the post I wrote at the end of last year, which summarizes everything that happened in 2017, for better or worse: https://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2017/12/2017-annual-recap.html

If you actually read the above three posts, you have an idea of my current state of mind and can possibly predict what's coming next. It should be pretty obvious that the travel bug has caught up with me again. Even before we moved to Portland, Greg and I had many discussions about our plans for the future. I always said that I was willing to “settle down” for five years but offered no guarantees after that. I did really well for the first three years and most of the fourth, meaning that I still desired to travel but was satisfied with taking shorter one- to two-week vacations a few times each year. But the urge to be out exploring the world for a longer period of time has been getting harder to deny in the past couple of years. My creed has always been that life is too short to be unhappy, unfulfilled, or to settle for anything less than what you really want. I am now at a crossroads in my life where it's time to take a chance on finding that happiness in the world at large.

As noted in the aforementioned blog posts, there have been a few steps in my evolution from semi-settled to “need to hit the road.” The reality of my recent physical/health challenges along with the serious illnesses and losses of multiple friends and family members way too early in life is a definite mortality check. I will be 44 in a few weeks and now realize that I am already beyond the halfway point of my life. I want to do the things I'm capable of now, as I know there's no guarantee that I will be around next week or next month or next year, or that I will be healthy enough then to do the more challenging type of travel that I love.

Greg has been a faithful and supportive partner for more than two years of unconventional dating / world travel and seven years of marriage. We have always been open and honest with each other about what we both want and need to thrive, but we have struggled with a variety of challenges including job dissatisfaction, housing-related issues, and an imbalance of roles / responsibilities at home. We have both questioned the future, although admittedly for quite different reasons. But now we are at a crossroads in which Greg wants to stay in Portland for at least another year (maybe longer) while he figures out what he wants to do next and where he wants to live; and I have grown tired of waiting to see what happens next. While I may not have a detailed plan to get what I want other than that it involves exploring the world, writing a book, and finding meaningful ways to contribute to the places I go and people I meet, I am almost 100% certain that it does not involve staying in Portland.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Portland and my community here. It’s just that the newness and adventurousness of it all has worn off. Yes, there are still plenty of local restaurants I haven’t tried, cultural experiences I haven’t had, trails I haven’t hiked, nearby places I haven’t explored, etc. But I've done a lot more than many people who have lived here their entire lives. Plus the rising cost of living in Portland and difficulty finding affordable housing that meshes with a car-free lifestyle is extremely challenging. On a larger scale, the political situation and division in the United States as a whole is disturbing to say the least. Sometimes you have to leave the city and people you love for a while to better appreciate what you have. Then, hopefully, it will create a strong desire for you to return and bring with you a renewed excitement and energy to make it even better than it was before.

My timeline in general is this: I will be in Portland for all of June and July, with the exception of a still-in-the-planning-phase trip to Olympic National Park. I also hope to do a few weekend trips to revisit places I have been before but have not visited in several years (Eugene, OR; Vancouver, B.C.). Greg and I are flying to Los Angeles on August 9 to spend four days visiting his brother and sister-in-law and also my family from the Netherlands, who are spending the entire month traveling around the U.S. After that, depending on if we have already moved out of our current residence on Mt. Tabor or if that is scheduled to happen closer to the end of the month, then I will either return to Portland for a few more weeks to pack and help Greg move, or I will fly from Los Angeles to Guadalajara or Mexico City and begin my Central and South American adventure. I will be gone through at least March 2019; Greg, along with my mom and stepdad, is meeting me in Buenos Aires, Argentina in late February to start our two week cruise that ends in San Antonio (Santiago), Chile. It's very possible that I will not return to Portland even then; that will depend on my health, finances, and whether or not I have accomplished my goals.

Bottom line: Including today, I probably only have NINE WEEKS LEFT as a Portland resident. I would love to spend time with as many of my friends here as possible before I leave, as you are what I will miss most about this city. Even if you do not live here but would like to visit, I hope you will reach out to me via text, email or Facebook Messenger and let me know when we can get together.

So, in a sense, this is the beginning of goodbye, at least for now. I will continue to publish updates here and on social media as to my plans, but in the meantime let's make the most of our remaining time together! Thanks, as always, for reading and for your continuing friendship, love and support!

P.S. Here is Greg's ad for housing in inner southeast Portland:
https://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/hou/d/1-bedroom-or-studio/6607130017.html
Please let me know if you have any leads. Thanks!
This is the scratch off map Greg gave me last year. I have been to all 50 states and more than 70 countries and yet there's still so much of the world I haven't seen or explored. I plan to change that over the next year or two!

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Commissioning of the USS Portland

I recently attended the commissioning ceremony for the USS Portland. I read about the event in the local paper several months ago and was intrigued enough to look for further information on their website. Fortunately, I was able to secure an invitation to the event by completing a request online and then corresponding via USPS mail, much like you would receive and respond to a wedding invitation. There were a limited number of civilian tickets available, all of which were free but first come first served. The maximum you could request were two per person, and even though I already knew that Greg would be out of town on that date, I asked for two anyway, assuming I could easily find someone to join me. That person ended up being my friend John Lovegrove, who is probably best known for his documentary PDX: Brew City and for visiting 77 breweries in one day.
military ship commissioning
This was the first ship commissioning I have ever attended. While I have been on military ships before, they have all been retired and therefore relegated to museums. My interest in this event was more about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be present at a commissioning and to observe the ceremonial aspects of putting a new ship into military service. As described on the event website: "The Commissioning Ceremony is one of the most important traditional ceremonial milestones in the life of the Ship, for it represents the acceptance of the Ship by the United States Navy and her entry in to the active fleet."
commissioning ceremony USS Portland
The weather in Portland can be hit or miss in the spring, but Saturday, April 21 turned out to be a glorious day for the commissioning. With abundant sunshine and the temperature in the low 60's, it was not too hot nor too cold and the clear blue sky made a nice contrast to the dull gray of the ship. John and I arrived at the Port of Portland, Terminal Two just after 8:00 a.m. The ceremony was not scheduled to start until 10:00 a.m. but the instructions included with our tickets requested guests arrive early. As it turned out, this was sage advice because we had to wait for over an hour in a line that spanned the full length of the huge parking lot to get through security.
long line
Once we finally cleared security we were given bottled water, the commissioning program, and an 8.5" x 11" souvenir book. We bypassed the vendor tables where t-shirts, hats, and other items were for sale and headed straight to the seating area directly alongside the ship. We managed to get seats with a clear view of the platform where all of the distinguished guests and speakers were seated, and then spent the remaining half hour reading the program and flipping through the souvenir book.
souvenir book program
Finally, most of the 5,000 guests (including relatives of the ship's crew of 384) were seated and the commissioning ceremony commenced. For the next hour we listened to speeches from the governor of Oregon, the mayor of Portland, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Navy, and shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls Industries. The closing featured the most ceremonial aspects of the event including the breaking of the pennant, assumption of command, setting the first watch, and manning the ship and bringing her to life (for which the ship's crew boarded and assumed positions from bow to stern).
howitzer cannon gun salute
At the conclusion of the ceremony, they announced that ship tours would begin in about 30 minutes and that we could also attend the reception on the west side of the port. John and I immediately got in line for the tour but then had to wait over an hour before we finally got to board the ship. This caused us to miss out on what turned out to be a free lunch at the reception, which was not clearly stated anywhere on the program or in the speakers' remarks.
welcome aboard ship
Thankfully, it was worth the wait to have a chance to explore the ship. I had assumed since it was being put into service, there would be areas that were off-limits. This wasn't the case at all, and we were allowed to roam freely through the well deck and on the flight deck, "play" with the equipment, and then ascend and descend many ladder-like interior stairs to check out the navigation room, bridge, galley, sleeping quarters, and medical facilities.
military night vision helmets
It was after 2:00 p.m. by the time John and I decided we had seen enough. It was a long day of being on our feet for hours, but it was totally worth the time and effort to experience this unique event and explore a modern military ship.

The USS Portland (LPD 27) is now part of the Pacific Fleet and is stationed in San Diego, CA.

Here is the link to all of my photos and videos from the commissioning ceremony:
https://photos.app.goo.gl/zdRujQntEJVQG3tC2

Here are some stats about the ship:
Cost: $1.6 billion
Type: San Antonio Class (11th in this class of amphibious transport dock ships)
Length: 684 ft
Displacement: 25,000 tons
Draft: 22 ft
Crew: 381 sailors and three Marines
Embarked Landing Force: 699 with surge capacity of up to 800
Mission: "The primary mission of the USS Portland is to embark, transport and land U.S. Marine Corps expeditionary forces while providing command and control communications, connectivity and medical services."

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Slice of Pizza A Day Keeps The Waistline In Play

The inaugural Portland Pizza Week was in April 2016. Close to 30 local restaurants participated in the seven day event. Organized by the Portland Mercury along with various partner businesses, Pizza Week was a natural addition to the annual food events calendar which already features the extremely popular Portland Burger Week

One of the great things about Pizza Week, besides having an excuse to eat pizza every day, is the opportunity to go to restaurants I haven't tried before. When Greg and I go out to eat, we usually choose a particular style of cuisine that requires more effort or specialty ingredients to make at home. While I love to cook, it's a solo event, so I thoroughly enjoy being pampered with table service plus unique and delicious food that I didn't have to labor over when we eat out.

While many of the restaurants that participate in Pizza Week do not offer table service, they do make an effort to create interesting, sometimes unusual, concoctions just for this event. For the consumer, it's a low risk, high reward proposition at only $2.00 per slice!
This slice from East Glisan Pizza Lounge was a nice balance of sweet and spicy.
I have been lucky enough to partake in the offerings during all three Portland Pizza Weeks. In 2016, I managed to try nine different slices in three days. In 2017, I tried at least six slices (possibly more but I only have photo documentation of six) in two days. This year, I made it to 11 participating venues in two days.

What's my strategy? I go with a friend and split one slice at each place or, I get a slice (or two) to go and share at home with Greg and then have leftovers for a few days.
Greg and our friend Jeremy enjoy Pizza Week slices in 2016.
A few of my favorites this year include (in alphabetical order with ingredients list in italics provided by the restaurants):

Atlas Pizza "The Smokey Kernel"
Smoked chicken thighs, sweet corn sauce, fire-roasted poblano peppers, roasted red bell peppers, red onion, Hatch chili crema, and scallion garnish.

Baby Doll Pizza "A Slice of the Balkans"
Cevapi, ajvar, kajmak, and minced onion.

Rovente Pizzeria "Dilly Mostarda"
Creamy mustard sauce, whole-milk mozzarella, roma tomatoes, and dill chicken.

I think I liked those three the most because they were the most unique out of the slices I tried.

The others I tasted were:
East Glisan Pizza Lounge "N Du Ya Like Me Now"
Hotlips "Chévre, 'Shrooms and Whips" (but feta was substituted for the chévre because they ran out)
Pizano's "Stuffed Green Pepper"
Pizzicato Pizza "The Chimichurri Verde"
Sizzle Pie "Out of Step"
Slice Pizza Co. "Nicky's Holiday Sausage with Portobello and Shaved Parmesan"
Straight From New York "The Big Apple"
Virtuous Pie "Jalapeño Popper"
An assortment of Pizza Week slices waiting to be consumed at home.
I waited in line the longest (15-20 minutes) at Pizzicato on E. Burnside and they ran out of the special Pizza Week slices just a few orders after us. My least favorite slice was at Virtuous Pie, which happens to only offer plant-based items on their entire menu. The crust (and all of the ingredients) were quite dry and flavorless. My second least favorite was from Pizano's. It was the only slice that actually resembled a store-bought frozen pizza. The toppings were plentiful and seemed pretty fresh, but the crust tasted like cardboard. All of the other slices were quite good-to-delicious and I savored every bite!

If you'd like to read more about the restaurants and slices for Portland Pizza Week 2018, just click here. Now, off to the gym! 😋

Thursday, February 15, 2018

My Thoughts on Gun Control

WARNING: This post contains a graphic description of the results of gun violence.

Let's just get this out here:  I am adamantly anti-violence and, therefore, anti-gun. If you want to know why, keep reading.

I grew up in the South, where hunting and fishing is still a way of life, and my grandfather sometimes brought us quail or deer meat to cook for Sunday supper. But I have never understood why regular citizens need to own guns of any kind, particularly automatic weapons.

The first time I shot a gun was when I was in high school in Nashville, Tenn. My boyfriend at the time, who liked to hunt, set up target practice in his backyard one weekend. We shot beer cans with a .22 rifle. It was easy enough to handle the gun and I had no problem hitting the targets, but it never became a hobby. I actually joined my boyfriend on a hunting trip in the early 1990's. We spent several hours tromping through the woods in rural middle Tennessee, where I managed to fire one round from a 12 gauge shotgun in the direction of a deer and almost ended up on my ass due to the recoil. Needless to say, I missed the deer, but our hunting party did bag a rabbit, whose bloody, still-warm carcass I was forced to carry in my backpack for the remainder of the outing.

I didn't fire another gun until last year, when I was traveling in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, after touring many of the war-ravaged sites of Mostar, my guide, who was shot twice during the 1990's Balkan conflicts, took me to an abandoned bunker where we had target practice with an air rifle. I hit the beer can on my first try from about 30 feet away.

I have seen first-hand the effects of a fatal gunshot wound. When I was in college, I worked 12-hour shifts as a firefighter and first responder. We would get dispatched for medical calls and almost always arrived on the scene before the ambulance. I have extricated people from mangled cars using the Jaws of Life, done CPR on an elderly man, and straddled a large and surprisingly strong 10-year-old girl who was in diabetic shock. But the patients that haunt me the most are the young man who committed suicide at home by putting a gun in his mouth, and the clerk who was shot in the abdomen with a shotgun at close range during a convenience store robbery.

The clerk was still alive when we loaded him in the ambulance and I rode with him to the hospital, manually administering oxygen while an EMT took his vitals and applied pressure to the gaping wound. They rushed him into surgery but he was dead within minutes. I will never forget the helpless feeling of knowing there was nothing I could do for this man, the fear in his eyes and his desperate attempts to say something, the fragments of his insides scattered throughout the large pool of blood on the floor, the x-ray the nurse shared with me that showed the shotgun pellets had dispersed throughout his entire torso from neck to waist.

While I was working for the fire department, I started dating a coworker. Dan was much older than me and was a career firefighter for the City of Chattanooga. Our relationship raised plenty of eyebrows, but, over time, most people came to accept it even if they didn't understand it. The one person who couldn't tolerate it was Dan's ex-girlfriend, who still lived in the home he owned. When Dan stopped by the house one day to pick up some personal items, she flew into a rage and shot him in the stomach. I heard the call go out over my police scanner and rushed to the scene, making it there in time to ride with him in the ambulance. Dan was extremely lucky; the bullet enter his abdomen at an angle and lodged itself in a layer of fat, missing his vital organs. Still, the trauma of getting shot took many years for both of us to overcome.

When I started dating my now-husband Greg in 2009, he owned a GLOCK 22 semi-automatic .40 caliber handgun, which he legally carried in the glove compartment of his Prius. His reason for having the weapon: self-defense. I told him that the gun was a deal-breaker for me. Thankfully, he chose me over the GLOCK.

So here we are in 2018. I have not been directly affected by gun violence for almost 20 years, but I have experienced the horrors of other forms of terrorism, like living in New York City during the attacks on September 11, 2001. Yet no matter how much I travel or how much I try to limit my exposure to the 24/7 news cycle, I still cannot avoid the almost constant reports of mass shootings that continue to occur in the United States and the fact that, in spite of the number of innocent people that have been killed as a result of this unnecessary violence, nothing has been done to reduce the chances of it happening again and again and again.

I did some research on the types of venues where mass shootings (generally defined as when a gunman kills four or more people) have occurred in the United States in the past decade. In no particular order, these are some of the locations:

  • residences
  • schools
  • places of worship
  • office buildings
  • shopping malls
  • parking lots
  • entertainment venues
  • restaurants
  • military bases
  • community centers
  • nursing homes

If I change "mass" to multiple i.e. more than one person killed, then I can include every other type of public or private space in the U.S.: city streets, transit vehicles, post offices, supermarkets, daycare facilities, etc. Which means that, whether you are inside your home, at work, or out in public going about your day-to-day activities, you are at risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus becoming the next victim of gun violence.

What is notably missing from this list? Attacks on members of the federal government. With the exception of two incidents, the January 2011 shooting of a congresswoman and eighteen others during a constituent meeting in Arizona, and the June 2017 shooting of a congressman and three others during baseball practice in Virginia, there have been no mass shootings involving elected or appointed members of the executive, legislative or judicial branches of the United States government.

The scope of the Second Amendment has been manipulated by certain parties to make it fit their definition of civil rights, specifically, the right to bear arms. But who in the U.S. really needs to be armed? Only our military and our police forces and perhaps people who live in rural areas who need to defend themselves or their livestock against predatory animals. At the very least, any type of semi-automatic or automatic weapon or device that enables a firearm to be modified from its original design should be banned for possession, sale, or use by anyone who is not an active member of our military and police. You do not need an automatic weapon for hunting and you certainly won't need it for self defense as a complete ban, which would require all current gun owners to turn in their weapons and ammunition, would thus eliminate the threat which many people use as their excuse for owning a gun in the first place.

It's well past time that we rewrite the law, not just state by state, but at a federal level. Sadly, it appears that nothing will change until a mass shooting occurs in the building where those laws are made in Washington, D.C. When members of Congress are forced to watch as their fellow senators and elected representatives are gunned down en masse, when they experience the effects of gun violence firsthand, only then will they have the courage to stand up to the NRA and to pass immediate legislation that will stop this madness. Of course, I am not advocating for such an attack, but rather trying to understand how much worse things have to get before our government will take action.

Of course, there will still be people who intend to do harm to others. And mental illness is a serious problem which we are not addressing adequately enough. There will still be terrorist incidents involving bombs, poisonings, vehicles, and cyber attacks. But imagine a United States without guns. If you really want to kill someone in particular, you will be forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat, or to use a tool like a knife, a baseball bat, or some other handheld weapon that forces you to be in close proximity and to look your victim in the eye. Archery may enjoy a resurgence in popularity, but at least the odds of someone committing mass murder by bow and arrow are exceedingly low.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In Loving Memory of Kate Coates Jones

My heart is heavy, my head is spinning with grief, and my eyes are wet with tears. The world has lost a beautiful and spirited human being who loved life, spending time with friends and family, good food and drink, knitting, gardening, hiking, the outdoors, and helping others through her physical therapy practice. She also loved Rodney Kibzey, who was her rock (her words).

Kate Coates Jones and I became friends on Facebook in May 2016 although I'm certain I met her a while before that. She and Rodney moved to Portland from Chicago in 2013. In May 2014, during a routine check-up, Kate was diagnosed with cancer. There were tumors on her colon, liver, and abdominal lymph nodes. After six months of chemo infusions, the tumors had shrunk enough to switch to oral medication. That, plus antineoplastic infusions to help prevent development of more tumors, allowed her to continue to pursue her dreams and passions for almost two years.

When I met Kate she was still in maintenance mode so, with the exception of being able to see her chemo port if she wore a sundress or low-cut top, it was not obvious she was ill. That summer of 2016, Kate, Rodney and I, along with some of our mutual friends, shared some great times together camping in Parkdale, Ore., watching the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby, cooking out, and drinking beer together on many, many occasions.
L to R: Don Scheidt, Rodney Kibzey, Kate Jones, Cherie Warren, and Greg LaRowe
celebrating the 5th anniversary of Bazi Bierbrasserie in Portland on May 27, 2016
Kate was an excellent writer. She honestly and sincerely documented her life with cancer on CaringBridge.org. Here is a sample from her journal entry on October 29, 2016 as she was starting a new round of chemo after CT scans showed the tumors were growing again: "What is it about facing one’s mortality that awakens the senses to all the beauty in the world? Why do I suddenly notice the seemingly infinite shades of green to yellow to red in the maple leaves as they dance in sun rays streaming between the skyscrapers? And why does that beauty move me to tears several times each day?"

Unfortunately, by the end of August 2017, Kate was coming to terms with the ever-increasing reality that she was not going to beat this cancer. While she valiantly endured more chemo, even that was not an option by mid-October as her blood cell counts were too low to continue. After being deferred from treatments for three weeks in a row (including one day when I accompanied her to her scheduled chemo appointment that turned into a 10 hour ordeal) and with CT scans showing aggressive growth of the liver tumors and other complications causing further health issues, it was time to slow down. She reluctantly took medical leave from her job as a physical therapist and started preparing for the inevitable, with no way of knowing how quickly things would progress without treatment. By mid-December, she was referred to hospice.

I stayed with Kate for 10 hours on Thursday, January 4, 2018 so Rodney could work his first full day in the office in weeks. I hadn't seen her since November because I had been sick with a sinus infection and flu-like symptoms for over two weeks in early and mid December, then Kate was out of town visiting her family in Kentucky for the week of Christmas. Her body may have betrayed and ultimately was failing her, but her mind was still sharp. We didn't talk much that day (she was sleeping a lot at this point), but I remember her sarcastically saying how boring it must be to hang out with her now. I laughed and told her I was always appreciative of any time I got to spend with her, no matter what the circumstances. That afternoon Kate shared with me her two biggest concerns, neither of which involved fear or regret. As I was getting ready to leave that evening, Kate reminded me that she wanted me to try on her shoes (we wear the same size) to see if I could use any of them. I told her we could do that the next time I saw her.

I was supposed to be at Kate and Rodney's house again by 7:30 Monday morning January 8 so Rodney could go to work at his office for a half day. Kate's dad and brother were scheduled to fly in from Kentucky that afternoon. When I woke up around 5:30 a.m. I saw a message from Rodney that Kate had a rough night and he had decided to stay home with her. Thus I wouldn't need to come over so early, but if I wanted to drop in later I could. Kate had specifically asked for chocolate pudding so I had made her some Sunday night and was planning to bring it with me. I told Rodney I would check in around 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. to see when I could stop by.

My husband Greg was about to leave for his bike ride to the office just before 6:00 a.m. when I got the message from Rodney that Kate had just passed away. I immediately started sobbing uncontrollably, for the loss of my friend, for Rodney, and for the unthinkable reality that it could have been me who was with her instead. Greg did his best to comfort me, even offering to work from home so I wouldn't be alone. I sent him on his way, knowing that there was a possibility that I would go over to check on Rodney later.

I have experienced losses similar to this before, but the circumstances were different. In 2014, my aunt Jeanna passed away after a 24-year battle with cancer. She was 48 years old. Just over one year later, my uncle Jim passed away unexpectedly at the age of 58. I wrote about my relationship with him and the impact of losing him here:
http://smartt-adventures.blogspot.com/2015/08/in-remembrance-of-my-uncle-jim.html

I have lost other loved ones and friends, too, but Kate's death strikes a heavy blow. Her youth (she would have been 46 in February), her otherwise excellent health up until her diagnosis, and her selfless commitment to helping others and to caring for the environment; Kate should have had many more happy and fulfilling years with Rodney ahead of her.

Rest in peace, my friend. Words cannot express how much you will be missed!