Monday, November 29, 2010

A Most Unusual Thanksgiving

How do I describe the 24 hour gathering I had with my grandparents and other assorted family members the day after Thanksgiving, in Longmeadow, MA?

It was short, for one. 24 hours from the time we got there at 4 pm Friday to the time we left at 4 pm Saturday.

But it was packed. Packed with moments, packed with connections, packed with so much interaction I think it's going to take me a week or longer to process it all.

Longmeadow, MA is a pretty, upscale suburb of Springfield, MA. It is a place I spent a lot of time in as a child, visiting my grandparents. I got to know the slope and shape of the sidewalks, perfect for walking; the CVS only about a third of a mile away, so much fun to walk to as a kid and buy candy. I took pleasure in the fact that you could walk to Connecticut from there, about 2 miles away (although walking back is another story). I spent a lot of time with my grandparents.

But it had been three years since I had visited this house and town. The last time was in September 2007. I remember it oh so clearly, because it was just weeks before the exposure in my Portland, Maine apartment would cause my chemical sensitivities to skyrocket, ensuring that my life would be changed forever. Because of the chemical sensitivities, traveling to see my grandparents after that and staying at their house was out of the question. I spent two years traveling around the country, trying to find a place to live that I could tolerate chemically. My life was chaos. How fitting then, that on what is only a few days before my first anniversary of finally living in a stable (knock on wood) environment, and moving back to the Maine I love so much, that I should make this trip back to Springfield.

Like I said, processing the events of those 24 hours might take a while. Which is why I'm glad I had my camera with me to document it. A lot of time, my mind is so engaged in participating in a moment or event that it is hard to actually emotionally process it until later. Therefore, being able to look at pictures of an event makes me feel more connected to it and remember some of the feelings I had without the extreme pressure of being in the moment. It also relieves some of that "feelings that I can't identify bottled up" feeling, because it helps me to process what went on.

The other good thing about having a camera is that when you get bored at family gatherings, or want to be present without having to actually be interacting with the people every minute, you can turn into an anthropologist and study what's around you instead. You can document what's going on you and preserve it for generations to come (if you're lucky). You can catch little moments of connection between people - which I believe is what family gatherings, and indeed life in general, is all about. They are just easier to bring to light in a gathering like this. When you go for mostly candid pictures instead of just a few posed ones, you can catch people as they are naturally, and if you're lucky, with a big, unforced smile on their faces. Then you can remember those moments of connection in living color for as long as the photos last, and remember with affection and pride just where it is you come from.

What is a family gathering but made up of small moments of connection? Two brothers teasing each other while playing with their laptops, or helping each other with their homework around the table on a Saturday morning; two older brothers, uncles in this case, one helping the other with a resume on the computer. People mingling, people exchanging stories, people laughing.

I can't actually remember the last time that my mom, dad, brother and I were in the same room. (We were missing one brother, however. He is supposedly surfing in Peru at the moment.)
I saw my brother last year at this time, and my mom in August. But I really can't remember the last time I saw them at the same time. I wonder if I'd have to go all the way back to college breaks for that - not that I can remember if we were actually home at the same time then, but we probably were.

My aunt, uncle, and cousins I hadn't seen in about five or six years. My cousins grew up in that time. They went from being adorable 8 and 10 year olds to teenagers - mature, intelligent teenagers that are a pleasure to be around.

Not too much had changed with my grandparents, which was good to see. They were thrilled to see me, as I was them; it was a new relationship, based on the new people we were. My grandfather and I discussed our mutual love of Whole Foods and hummus. He sampled the fancy Dagoba chocolate bars I brought; he liked the lavender alright but predictably did not like the 87% dark chocolate. The expression on his face was priceless, and the laughter, I'm sure, was worth the bitter taste in his mouth.

My brother looked the same as he had last year, and it was good to connect with him again.

I think we actually look like twins in this picture, don't you?

They say time waits for no one. It is true. People go on with their lives admist the backdrop of oh so many things. It is easy to get enmeshed in the events of your own life and lose touch with others. I never lost touch per se, as I make a point of calling all my relatives at regular intervals because I value connection, but still, seeing them in the flesh was an entirely different animal. For Black Friday this year, we opted for an entirely different experience: family over consumerism. (We went back to the consumerism on Saturday when I sent my grandfather on a search for rice crackers and Italian pastries. Appropriately, someone had named it Small Business Saturday, so now it seems fitting.)

I woke up from a nap in the car (something I usually can't do) as the Beatles played on my father's Ipod, and we hit the border of Maine. Something about that "Eliot/Kittery, Maine" sign made me smile. Massachussets is a nice place to visit, and family important to connect with, but there's no place like home.

My mom and I; I guess we kind of look alike too!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meandering Around Portland

Don't you hate when you've got a great blog post in your head, you can see the sentences and ideas you want to use, and then you have to sit down and write it? Not as easy as writing it in your head. For me, that's not because the ideas or words are hard to find, but because the physical aspect of writing has gotten harder.

But nevertheless!

I was going to go to my dad's today with my friend Kellie, but she felt sick after we walked around Mackworth and needed to go home. As it was only 1pm, very early for me, and not wanting to waste an entire day just sitting in my room, on the spur of the moment I asked her if she would take me to Portland on her way home. I'd wander around there for a while, and then {gulp} take the bus home. This is significant for me as trying out the bus has been a goal I have been working towards for about a year. Due to my chemical sensitivities, buses are very difficult for me. And unpredictable as well - you never know who will get on wearing what. But I had been tossing the idea of trying the bus around in my head for a month or two, and this seemed the perfect opportunity to try it.

I had been afraid my bag would be too heavy to carry as I walked around, but once I put my hat and gloves on, it was nice and light. Also, once I put said hat an gloves on, I felt so nice and warm - whee! I KNEW there was a reason I've carried those hat and gloves around all summer for five months! lol. It was about 40 degrees and windy, so they really helped.

So, I started in Monument Square as usual, down to the Old Port, down Exchange, which is such an iconic street. Down to Commerical and the water, and the DiMillo's wharf. They put a new mini lighthouse statue there - it's pretty. So were the boats. Down Commercial to Standard Baking, where I peeked in the window, and then sat on a bench for a bit to rest. Back up Exchange to the park by the former O'Naturals ("Tommy's Park") (I wonder who Tommy was?) where I admired the pretty trees and walked around on the curb surrounding the tree. I had more energy than I expected at this point, so I kept going so I didn't lose it. I didn't stop much the whole time under the theory that stopping would kill the spirit I had going. Up the rest of Exchange onto Congress, and a left to get to Elm, which would take me down to look at the new Trader Joe's, and then to Whole Foods. (That was the only logistical error I made the whole day, in that there are 2 ways to get back to Mon. Sq. from Exchange and the other would have spilled right into Elm and been technically quicker. But going up Exchange is quicker if you're going right to Whole Foods, which I usually am.)

Down Elm and past the bus schedule that I foolishly didn't read, assuming erroneously that the information the Metro guy had given me on the phone was correct (it wasn't). Stopped to rest on a big stone slab behind TJ's. The opening notes of Lady Antebellum's "Hello World" came on and I was entranced. First time I've ever liked that song, it works better with headphones.
TJs was a mob as expected; and I'm just talking about outside! Six cars in line to get in the parking lot. A cop out front directing traffic. (Does the city pay him for this or does TJs?)
Took a brief look inside the window. Pandemonium. Overwhelming just to look at. So I hightailed it out there ,back the 2 blocks up Elm where I crossed over to Kennebec to go a few blocks to Whole Foods. A lady I passed along the way with a TJs shopping bag said she had waited in line for half an hour and wouldn't be coming back any time soon.

Now, I could look at this two ways. And thankfully, I'm looking at it the second. Walking around Portland used to be a far different, dare I say it better, experience. What with being able to eat junk food and just having more energy than I do now - and the sugar high I was always on. But fortunately, I didn't expect much today. I hadn't so much as even seen the Old Port in months. I expected nothing more than to walk and see. And that's what I got. And it was good enough. I've said this before and I'll say it again. There is something about walking around Portland that just feels so right, so natural, so good. A mandala of sorts. Portland - by this I mean the Old Port, Mon. Sq. and the road down to Whole Foods - is just laid out so intuitively. It makes sense. I could find my way around it with my eyes closed. And for this I love Portland, the intense familiarity of it, my easy competence while navigating it. Portland is such an eminently walkable city.

I was thinking about it more and I figured out another reason I like it so much. My mind goes so fast, and is so agitated most of the time with thoughts and worries going at 100 mph. I try to slow it down, to engage and distract, but it's harder to do inside. When I'm walking, it's like my body is almost catching up to my mind, and that slows it down and makes me feel so much better. I can take out my mental agitation by just walking, and walking a path I know so well. I replace internal stimulation with (positive) external stimuli. I get out of my head and into my body a little. I like that. (Although my aching calves and knee might beg to differ.)

I got to Whole Foods and thought I'd sit, but instead I just started wandering. I still had my hat and headphones on so I was in a completely different plane of existence. I wasn't attuned to the people around me (although I didn't hit into them either), just the music, the food, and my inner rhythm. I went to go sniff some coffee beans to try to get the TJs smell out of my nose, then wandered looking at the self serve food bars, the enormous selection of cheese, the premade pesto and whoopie pies, the weird unidentifiable grub in the hot bar.

Then I zeroed in on the chocolate bar aisle, and examined all the bars very closely. There must be 20 different brands and 50 different flavors in that section. It's like heaven just to look at. All high end, mostly organic chocolate bars. There was the full selection of Dagoba with all their pretty wrappers in different colors. Fat, stocky Chocolove with their poems inside. The distinctive Green and Black's, with their two toned wrappers. Scharffen Berger, with their tiny little squares of chocolate, making you wonder just what could lie behind that packaging, what could be so good that they'd put it in such a small wrapping. Newman's Own Oganics with their expresso dark chocolate, jumping out at you. A small, square shaped package. Then the colors, so many colors, so many bars, so much potential. Long, rectangular packages that promise to be super premium, from Costa Rica or South America, using bourbon vanilla or what have you.
65%, 75%, 85%, 90... the packages call out, enticing you to have a true chocolate experience.

What do you see when you look at an aisle of chocolate bars? I'm guessing you don't see all that. :)

So when I finally broke my trance, I sat down at the tables and stuffed myself with rice crackers for energy. :) The interesting thing, I just realized, is how my experience today differed from the norm. It was "planning vs id," in a way. Instead of planning out every minute of my day like I usually do, I was just going with whatever felt right, wandering with no particular plan. Instead of analyzing everything around me, I was lost in the sensory experience of the colors, the shapes, and imagining what lay behind each product. My thoughts were given free rein. Who knew you could have such a meditation in a grocery store? Have I mentioned I love Whole Foods? :)

Ok so I just got totally distracted googling chocolate truffles. Haha, yes, I know. So let's see if I can finish this quickly cus I'm tired now.

Forgot to mention: went to old port candy co to get Marion chocolate Neccos. She had said she wanted them when we were watching some kind of food network show on candy making. She said, "I wonder where you would even get them?" which is kind of like a challenge to me that I can't resist. I knew Old Port Candy Co woul probably have them, they have lots of nostalgic candy. She loved them and said they tasted just like she remembered :)

Bus: After wandering aroun WF totally aimlessly for 2 hrs, how I'm not sure, I left for the bus. Which was supposed to be at 5:55. I figured it might take 15 min to walk there so I left 20 to be sure. I got there in 8. Woohoo. Instead of going up Pearl like I usually would I went back down Kennebec and up Elm which brought me directly to the bus depot. Street wasn't as steep either.
Score on that. I felt real good for about 2 min until I realized the guy on the phone had given me the wrong time and the bus didn't come till 6:30. 40 min away. Ooops. It suddenly occurred to me after the 5:45 buses came that no buses ever left at :55. Either :45, :15, or :30. My suspicions were confirmed by looking at the schedule on the wall. So I called Dennis to kill 20 min (thanks Dennis!) and sat for the last 10 . Fortunately, it was not too cold out with my hat and gloves, so it wasn't so bad sitting. I should have known he'd given me the wrong time but it's been so long since I took a bus that I'd forgotten, oh well.

Bus came a few minutes before half past and thankfully I was the only one on it, as I predicted might happen. No one goes to Falmouth that late in the day usually, they just go to shop most of the time. I had done my visualization so I could be calm when I stepped on the bus. It was definitely uncomfortable (smell wise) but it wasn't intolerable. It's still not something I'd want to do again in a hurry. It took a lot of self control to keep the smell from getting to me. Or should I say, a lot of crackers. I think I ate a whole box on the way home. Eating something kept my mind off it. Took 25 min. Went by fast enough but I was still glad to get off. Walked back from Town Landing as the driver had no idea where my street was and I couldn't see it from the very fast moving bus.

So got back about 7:00. I'm glad I got out and did something , got to see Portland and achieve my goal of trying the bus. But I won't do it again any time soon, lol. The bus part, anyway. Kinda sore and still have some lingering worries from the bus part but hey I made some memories. Whole Foods had beautiful Hanukkah candles for sale - surprising! The coffee shop that used to be the Maine Bean changed to some other coffee shop, which is probably the third coffee shop that it's been in the last year or two. Maybe that place is jinxed. I heard a girl asking her dad about the Hanukkah candles. "It's only three weeks away!" she said. So good to know there actually are other Jewish people in Portland.

And with that I sign off, hoping that I can retain a positive frame of mind and remain open and calm about other experiences that may come my way - in moderation, of course.