Five things that make me smile

Things are grim out there in the world. The news is full of violence. The sky is full of wind and rain. I’m not really up to writing, as my brain is heavy and slow. So, to cheer myself up, I decided to look through some pictures — to lighten up my inside and outside. Here are five pictures of things that make me smile.

  1. A beer-inspired R2D2 sticker at a pinball arcade/bar in Seattle, WA.

Rainier beer R2D2!

2.  A park full of penises (Haesindang Park) in South Korea


Phalluses as far as the eye can see!



We picked up Dave’s NSUs (yes, he has both of these) in Roseburg, OR

…and this llama who came to visit us while we were picking up Dave’s NSUs


Hello there!

Street art


Awesomeness in Toronto, Ontario

I am grateful that it was super easy for me to come up with five things — this list could go on and on, really. Even on a day like today, I can find lots of things that will brighten my mood. I am very grateful for this ability, and the fact that I have so many memories that warm my heart. I know many suggest writing in a gratitude journal (it’s scientifically proven to improve your health!), and this is a similar exercise. I wonder: What would happen to our hearts if, every day, we named five things that make us smile?





A Day Late…

It’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo for those who embrace silly catchy phrases). My friend over at Toysmith reminded me of this, and I am going to try to play along too. One blog post a day — and I already missed one. Oops. This is going to give me a chance to get back into writing, fill in some travel gaps, write up what little I remember from various karaoke excursions, and keep me thriving in Oregon during the dark months.

I hate this time of year. The dang clock change that makes me want to turn in at 5pm and deny the rest of the world. This time last year, I was in Oman still getting used to my students and the idea of teaching English. The weather was turning perfect — oceans the temperature of bathwater, evenings with a slight breeze perfect for sitting on the roof and watching the world go by. The sand in the air created the most magnificent sunsets.


An Omani sunset in late October

The year before that I was in Toronto, a place thus far that fills the role of “My favorite city.” There was hockey everywhere and the leaves were turning beautiful colors. In the neighborhood where I was staying, people took their Halloween decorations seriously.

A horrible picture of a really cool Halloween setup in Toronto.

A horrible picture of a really cool Halloween setup in Toronto.

And now I am back in Portland, Oregon. I will be searching for its good at the beginning of the worst time of year here. The summer is gone, as are the farmers’ markets. We were fortunate enough to and extra month of fall before the rains came, but now the darkness of being so far north begins. My goal is to find beauty in its sadness, and remember that the lushness of this state depends on this time. I can use the early sunsets to make more time for writing and sitting — two things I have been doing very little of lately and I miss that time with myself.

I follow a blog whose name I can’t recall that posts a gratitude moment at the end of each post (I will credit if and when I find it). I liked that idea and so I plan to do the same.

Today I am grateful for the beginning of the holiday season. I am looking forward to it this year — even though I did absolutely nothing for Halloween.

In search of my people

In some ways I’m having a hard time adjusting to back to Portland (have I said this before? It feels like I have, which means it was, and still is, true). It’s cold here, and today is one of those stereotypical/prototypical Pacific Northwest days where it’s grey but not quite rainy. Mother Nature is misting down upon us like spray from a tongue raspberry – mocking me for leaving the warmth of the sun behind. Dave and the others say it’s unbearably hot in Rustaq now – 30 degrees warmer than here. In the flat we once shared with the aircon running. Outside, their centigrade temperature of blazing heat almost matches the Fahrenheit number here in Oregon. But I don’t care; I would rather be there. I haven’t felt warm all day. At least if I’m going to feel cold, I should be able to enjoy the hockey playoffs. No point in being cold without hockey.

Even though I’m back in North America, I live in a city that could not care less about the NHL*. A sad mismatch in my relationship with the city I call home. In fact, I almost didn’t move here because of its lack of hockey culture, considering Phoenix a better option with its sun and Coyotes. Yet, when the time came, I pointed my loaded-down car north instead of south as I drove out of the Bay Area, California – home of the San Jose Sharks.

I caught a glimpse of the good life in the three-plus months I lived in Toronto. There, after dinner with family, I would walk down to the local bar to watch the rest of the game. The first period was watched in the condo, and during first intermission I would hurry down the street to my choice of three bars showing the game. If I walked during the middle of a period, I could tell when there was a change in score based on the cheers or groans coming from the apartments above. Everyone in the whole city was watching. Inside, I would find a spot at the bar, or accept standing room only. Almost all of the screens would be on the game (except for the occasional lone one in the corner that would be tuned into curling, or perhaps the World Series). This is what home feels like, even though I dare to admit I was usually rooting for whoever was playing the Leafs.

Here, where the closest NHL team is hundreds of miles away and not even from this country, basketball dominates sports bar screens – despite the fact that the Trail Blazers were knocked out of the first round. Only four teams left in hockey, and no one cares. I found one bar that shows games – sometimes with sound! – while another one treats it the way Canada treated the World Series, hiding it in the corner, embarrassed to admit it exists. The rest don’t even do that.

I did find a bar dedicated to hockey, but it’s in Seattle. The Angry Beaver is 100% hockey – no NBA playoffs or even a lone curling match. Just Molson on tap, poutine, and ice on the screens. I wish there was a bar like this in Portland, especially now that the finals are about to begin. While I don’t really care about either team playing for the Cup this year, I am going to make an effort to go down to the one bar there and pray for sound. I’m sure there will be others like me, who prefer a rink to a court any and every time. Perhaps there will be a small community that comes out of the woodwork. We shall find each other, cheering or groaning at a score change. Just like everyone in Canada – only our beers will taste better.


Believe it or not, this is not Toronto. Unfortunately, it’s not Portland either. Welcome to the Angry Beaver in Seattle.


*Yes, I know Portland has the Winterhawks and they are very good, losing in the finals this season to the Kelowna Rockets. Not interested. I have been to a couple of games and I prefer a higher level of play when I watch hockey. Sorry.

Always here, always now

To be able to be unhurried when hurried;
To be able not to slack off when relaxed;
To be able not to be frightened
And at a loss for what to do,
When frightened and at a loss;
This is the learning that returns us
To our natural state and transforms our lives.
[Liu Wemin, 16th Century]

Found while reading  dhamma footsteps 

I see these words as a great guide as I move forward in my new job, in my resettlement into Portland. I am wary that I will, indeed, slip back into the hurried state that I was accustomed to, that I witness every day in others. Taking time to stretch, walk, write, connect – these are important to me. The balance of relaxation with obligation is an ideal I will continue to strive towards. I felt this most when I lived in Toronto and Cheonan; working hard, yet still able to appreciate my surroundings and where life was taking me.


Taking a walk break in Toronto

In these two places I found a welcoming balance of routine and novelty; of unhurried and mandates; of relaxation and production. These were places where I went outside every day and experienced the community mindfully. Sometimes I threw myself into the bustle of humanity, while other times I would find a more secluded place and just sit. Refreshed, I would return to my computer and produce, create, or do whatever was needed. Rarely did I feel like I had to do something; I looked forward to the tasks that lay in front of me.


A park in Cheonan, South Korea. An escape from the large buildings in the background.


During these times, in these places, I was able to live in the experience of now. Appreciate that every moment is now without that meaning pressure, an impending deadline. Now simply is, and always will, be.

Slow down, you move too fast

I took the bus for the first time since coming back to Portland. It made the city feel more like home again. I like the idea of sitting down, staring out the window, and letting someone else deal with the traffic. Yes, it takes more time than driving, but in some ways that’s good. The bus has helped me feel less rushed about things. If I miss one, I need to wait for the next. If it’s late, I wait until it arrives. I have no control over its exact timing. I can plan a schedule, even look up real-time arrivals using TriMet’s website or texting center. But overall, the timing of the bus and when it takes me where I need to go is out of my hands. It’s a freeing sensation that I welcome in my usual tendencies to stress about stuff. Taking the bus is one small step towards learning what I can and can’t control, and my responses to such situations.


At a nifty bus station in New Zealand. I think Wellington.


I also use bus time to do nothing. Sometimes I message friends or listen to NPR, but usually I am just spacing out or people-watching. The pace of the United States is so much faster than anywhere else I have traveled (I have never been to Japan so there may be some places more hectic than my home country) and riding the bus slows me down. In Korea, it was more common to see people drinking their coffee at a table than taking it to go. In the hotter climates of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Oman, things literally come to a stand-still in the middle of the afternoon as shops close in the heat of the sun. In New Zealand and Australia, the cashiers always seem to take the time to really say hello, and no one behind you in line seems to mind. While the times and specifics may vary, each culture seems to have a break built into people’s daily routines. Even Toronto, Canada – a major Western city – didn’t seem as rushed as it does here.

I don’t see America’s fast-paced lifestyle as a good thing, at least not for me. I benefit much more from a slower way of life; I feel better, I’m more creative, and I’m generally happier. I believe I’ve somewhat of an empath (just like Deanna Troi!); if I am surrounded by people who are stressed, I tend to feel the same way. Living a slower life for the last year and a half has really helped me in many ways. I just hope that I am able to recall this way of being and know there are other ways to live, even though I am rooted in a culture that doesn’t seem to value this. Looks like I am going to have to build in my own break times. I’m thinking tea. Pretty much every country sits down for tea except the US.

But for now, there’s the bus. I may be the only person around expressing gratitude when I wait for it.