Friday, December 31, 2010

Oregon = Peace Corps Love

In a recent Willamette Week article it was mentioned that Oregon ranks 4th, per capita, in Peace Corps volunteers with the Portland metro area alone supplying 151 volunteers. I wonder how many are out there right now waiting, like me for their service to begin...

In 2009, Corvallis, home of my alma mater, was also home to the second-greatest number, per capita, of volunteers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


It's hard to believe that less than two weeks' time has gone by since I slogged out of my trailer through a foot of water with fifty pounds of luggage in tow, bound for home and family and holidays. In the time since then, I seem to have retained my will to remain in the moment and to take things as they come.

In an interesting turn of events, some windfall income during my WWOOF tour allowed me to offset most of the cost of the adventure, bringing the total of my net expenditures during the two months to $262.12.

Lately, I've devoted a lot of focus to my ASUS Eee PC 901. Basically, I'm transitioning from a computer that cost $1,000+ in 2007 to a computer on which I spent $168 last August on eBay. The purpose of this exercise is to prepare me for the coming time when this is all I have to rely on.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Homecoming: Part 4

All the way to LAX, traffic on the freeway fairly crept. At check-in it was 6:45, almost an hour and a half after my planned departure. When Southwest was able to give me a ticket for a flight that was delayed, I was inspired to reflect on an event happening in the sky that night which was unprecedented in the last 372 years. I scrambled to the gate only to learn that the flight had been delayed again and wouldn't depart for another hour or so. Finally around 9:00 we boarded and departed shortly thereafter.

Though we arrived in rainy Las Vegas well after the scheduled departure of my connecting flight, I was relieved to find that it was also mired in long delays. During my layover, on the video poker machines I managed to turn 50 cents into 5 dollars, but there was unfortunately no place still open where I could spend it. By the time I stepped into Mom and Rich's car at PDX, it was after 2:00 the next day, but I couldn't complain. I was home.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Homecoming: Part 3

Having determined that I was on the wrong road, heading in the wrong direction, I decided to ask around about the bus that I was on. Other passengers assured me that it was indeed going to Los Angeles and although it would use up all the slack I had accounted for, I guessed that could expect to arrive with enough time to make my flight. So, warily, I settled in and endeavored to read my book in spite of the din coming from a neighbor's earbuds.

Before long it became clear that it was going to be an even closer call than I had thought; in order to make my 5:20 flight, I was going to have to catch the four o'clock Flyaway bus at Union Station and three o'clock hour had rolled past while we idled in Palmdale. My hopes were finally dashed when, winding through the San Gabriel mountains, the Antelope Valley Freeway became a parking lot. A call to Southwest Airlines revealed that I would have two hours after my scheduled departure to show up at the airport and make alternate arrangements.

As if that wasn't enough, I discovered next that the bus I had boarded wasn't even going to Union Station as my itinerary stated. It's last stop would be 7 miles away in Hollywood. Not knowing what to do, I put in a call to Max who advised me to take the Metro. Luckily, there was a Metro stop three blocks from where the bus stopped in North Hollywood, so I got off and rode the entire length of the Red Line to Union station where I boarded the 5:30 Flyaway bus.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Homecoming: Part 2

I arrived at the Greyhound station with plenty of time and, after presenting my itinerary and receiving my ticket, I settled in for the customary hour-long wait. I was a little antsy about the limited buffer of time I have given myself to make my transfer at Union Station in LA and to take my mind off it, I made conversation with a nice lady from Oklahoma over hot cocoa as I hovered in the meager shelter of the Barstow Station roof edge and eyed the curtain of heavy drops rolling off it.

By my calculations I was only going to have between half an hour and 45 minutes to check my bags and make it through security at the airport and that was if I allowed for 30 minutes of slack during either of my bus rides. Under normal circumstances I would have just camped out in Max's living room the night before, but I figured he was probably already in Portland for the holidays.

I watched and waited while my driver took a 45-minute lunch break (the same driver who gave me a hard time when I had to run in to LA to get my Peace Corps papers). 15 minutes after my scheduled departure we rolled out of Barstow onto the wet desert freeway and moments later were on some secondary road heading northwest. This was a troubling development when you consider that my itinerary had me going through Victorville which is half an hour southwest of Barstow on I-15.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Homecoming: Part 1

It rained for much of my last two days at Aquarius Ranch. The washes filled with water that flowed to low points like the one in front of my trailer where it was deep enough to cover my mid-shin. A small mote formed around the Avatar dome (the dome that was finished when I arrived). Nearly every trailer had at least one leak, and we spent an afternoon fastening tarps to the roof of Tonya’s trailer, fighting gusts of wind of up to 40 mph. It would have been easy to throw in the towel like some had done, and leave early, but I was determined to make good on my promise to stay for 12 days.

By the time Monday arrived, we were working indoors most of the day and what work was done outside focused on mitigating the ill-effects of water. We shoveled berms to divert its flow and piled mulch in walkways to avoid walking in it. It’s remarkable how quickly the stuff went from coveted resource to nuisance. When the hour arrived for my departure, Penny was vacuuming water from the basement.

The food was still excellent!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Desert Drizzle

Tonya and Ceci take a break from gardening to drink some barley grass juice. Jugs of water have been placed in the rows to protect plants and regulate temperature.

I awoke this morning to the pitter patter of rain on the roof of my trailer. It was nothing much by Oregon’s standards but enough to give my freshly-washed clothing a light spattering on the clothesline. It’s Friday, only two full days before my December 20 departure, but in the Aquarius Ranch work week it’s a Saturday. Much has transpired since my last dispatch.

Tomas and Derrick help Tonya transfer the wood-burning stove from the house to her trailer

A couple of days ago Ceci left and yesterday Steven took off so there are now officially no WWOOFers here that were here when I arrived. Two more girls are here now one from the Bay Area and one from Sweden. They met in Colorado where they heard from someone else about the ranch here. Also, a guy from France arrived yesterday. So now the role call is Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, California, Oregon, France, Switzerland, and Sweden.

Keeping the house clean is a constant battle in the desert when you have so many cats and humans tracking dirt inside.

Yesterday we cleared land for an orchard and dug a trench for an irrigation pipe. I wax sentimental, savoring the smells of burning salt bush and chicken manure while I still can. I think about the Peace Corps every day and wonder what I’m going to do for two months while I wait for my departure.

The dome is coming along.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Catch-Up in Hinkley

I've returned to Hinkley and I work to exhaustion every day which is why the posts have become less frequent. Here is the cliff-notes version of the last few days. I walked several blocks with all my gear to the train platform in Ventura and helped others around me figure out the ticket-printing kiosk while they waited for the train. On the train I met a man who works for a company that provides data management for the BP spill clean-up. He was an interest fellow. Among other things he told about year he and his wife spent in an Alaskan Eskimo village 70 miles from Russia.

I rode the train all the way to Barstow where James, Ceci, and Steven greeted me at the platform with their new friend Kika (an English girl whose real name is Henrietta). Back at the ranch I met Dennis and Marije from the Holland. The next day we spread out some mulch in the driveway and went for a hike up a nearby peak. It was very windy at the top and we found a survey marker.

Yesterday, Kika, James, and the Dutch departed and we got a new guy from Switzerland. His name is Tomas and he is part of a team that designed and constructed a puppet that writes poetry. Today two girls arrived from Ohio and we're getting another guy tomorrow. Soon I'll be the only link to the last 7 or so people to have come through. Oh, and one more thing; I fixed my camera! It doesn't zoom anymore but it takes pictures. Maybe one of these days before I leave I'll work up the muster to start uploading pictures again. I'm so out of it. Life on the road.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ventura: The Lost Archive

My time in Ventura was a whirlwind. I didn’t have as much opportunity to write updates because the bulk of my time was devoted to developing a website to showcase a few of the many sides of Lynne. The site is a simple gallery, but my design is such that changes can be made without ever typing the tiniest bit of code. It remains to be seen whether she will or not, but I know I have potential clients who are up to the challenge.

Since I didn’t stay current during the last week or so, I’m just going to list the highlights of my time to bring up up to the present, beginning with a night on the town with Roberto when I did some pub trivia (my impromptu team finished in second place) and then saw a band at a trendy bar where I met Sienna, the proprietor of nearby Wine Lovers. When I mentioned my upcoming Peace Corps services she told me about the year she spent living in Puerto Rico with family and in particular pointed out the scarcity of water.

The following evening Lynne had an art show opening in a little clothing boutique that was part of a trendy shopping alcove downtown. Afterwards, we caught the proprietor of nearby Kama Sutra Closet as she was leaving her appointment-only shop, and managed to get our own private, unscheduled visit.

Other things that happened included more yoga lessons, ecstatic dance, visits to Art City and The WAV, a rave-like dance party, complete with LED glove light show, and a sitar performance followed by a raucous Indian dance party. Never a dull moment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Third Day in Ventura: Part 3

Into the rabbit hole

Freshly departed from Currie and JJ’s with Angie now in tow, Lynne and I went to her house where we pooled cars and headed for the so-called “86 House”, stopping to get Carrie along the way.
The 86 House defies description. In the time I was there I saw many of the more than 90 pieces of underground art (mostly paintings) that were on display in nearly ever square inch of available wall space in the portions of the wall space that are shared by all the tenants. What unifies the pieces and gives the 86 House its name is the presence of 86 in some way, shape, or form (the actual digits “8” and “6” written or represented, 86 of something featured in the piece, etc.) in each and every one.

Lynne examines her prototype

Lynne had gathered us there that night in order to capture the bedroom of one of the 86 House’s residents for a creative project. Being an avid burner, she is working on an idea for a conceptual space to be constructed at the festival next year that involves wood paneling and 3D, wall-hanging beer adds. We came offering lasagna as a thank-you, and left after we had perhaps overstayed out welcome.

Our last stop for the evening was karaoke at Golden China. For a Monday night it was hoppin’, but I still got in a couple of songs. Both times, however, I picked the wrong song and had to improvise (then again, it’s kind of hard to screw up when you know the song and you’ve got the lyrics right in front of you).

Ten point to the first commenter who can name the song I'm singing in this picture.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Third Day in Ventura: Part 2

Lynne had to make a work-related house-call on the way to the GSA dinner party at Currie and JJ’s and had also planned a photo-shoot after it with Angie and Carrie, so we set out early with raw Lasagna in hand. After our first stop, we managed to way overshoot the beginning of the dinner, arriving far before the hosts were even ready, so we found ourselves with about an hour to kill. We spent it shopping for household items in a 97¢ store (99¢ stores everywhere, hold on to your seats!), and dropping in on the comely folk at La Ancla to chat.

GSA Dinner Party. I'm in there somewhere.

The dinner party went splendidly. I felt a genuine affinity for the everyone I met there and everyone I remembered from the work party the day before. The theme of the dinner was comfort food, so my lasagna fit right in. I would even go so far as to say it was a hit. I made it with Roberto’s expert help in the kitchen (he’s a professional cook) and we substituted steamed kale from Roberto and Lynne’s CSA box for the spinach.

After a little while, Angie arrived and after a bit more hanging out, she, Lynne and I excused ourselves from the party after a fond farewell.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Third Day in Ventura: Part 1

Having enjoyed Lynne’s hospitality for two whole days and only supplied rudimentary work, I decided it to was time to get down to brass tacks and really start coding. But first, as usual, there were dishes to be done. Once seated at the computer I was relatively productive in the milieu of Lynne’s and Roberto’s comings and goings, but really gained traction after Lynne broke away to the barn to work on some of the partner yoga ideas she had developed the night before. Her partner, it turned out, was a winsome chap by the name of Andrew who surfs and has flowing, brown hair.

Noble companion: Spookums

Having consulted with Lynne on several occasions and identified a plan of attack for helping her begin to realize her still-forming and ambitious vision, I proceeded to put in a few hours cleaning up a project I did a while back for Ryan Smythe. It involved a mashup of jCarousel Lite and lightBox for jQuery. Meanwhile Lynne finished and came inside, so I set her to task doing some parallel work. Somehow, I managed to reach a stopping point about halfway through the task at hand and find time to make a lasagna, ready to put in the oven at a moment’s notice.

Monday, December 6, 2010


The crystals hanging in the window over the sink cast rainbows in the warm, late-morning sunlight. It is a welcome repose from the gloom, yet somehow no less comforting. The sounds of Espers and Avey Tare & Kría Brekkan drift drowsily into my living room office, accompanied by the sounds of starlings bickering as they muscle for territory on the fig tree in the garden.

My heart grows weary at the thought that my tour is more than halfway through. My December 20 return looms a mere 17 days away. It’s hard to believe six whole weeks have passed since my trip to Tillamook with the OMEN VISTAs. As I near the point of one week at the Artbarn, I feel great satisfaction in my progress, working decent hours from about day two onward at developing Lynne a tiny web application that will allow her to develop her web presence and continue to change an update it after I am gone.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Garden Interlude

The day began with a visit to Lynne’s friend, Trinity for a crash course in newsletter layout with Constant Contact. After that, it was time to get my hand’s dirty again at Lynne’s lot in a nearby community garden known as C.O.L.O.R. Gardens, where I helped her transplant some chard. The local GSA was having a work party that day, so we helped them clear weeds and turn the ground, much to everyone’s delight. I was very warmly received by everyone and was even invited to join them for an informal weekly get-together which, it just so happened, would be the following day.

C.O.L.O.R. Gardens

After some time spent shopping for groceries and doing laundry at the local Laundromat among other things, I had an opportunity to meet Matt, a long-time friend of Lynne’s with whom she was planning a partner yoga routine. I sat and worked on my computer while they studied a yoga book until Lynne’s housemate, Roberto returned home.

More C.O.L.O.R. goodness.

I had heard a lot about Roberto, and I was excited to finally meet him. Roberto has worked in the high-tech sector, particularly doing something that involves auto-cad. Being a dedicated foodie, however, he recently left behind his old career to pursue his love of cooking, becoming a cook at a local organic market and restaurant. Early in life, Roberto alternated between living in the United States and living in Mexico which, it seems, has endowed him with unusual character and insight. In the time since I met him, it seems we’ve often found ourselves deep in conversation about careers, cultures, or even life in general.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 1: Artbarn

Inside the Artbarn

I awoke early the next morning to find the resident foot-warmer, Spooky, hard at work atop my sleeping bag. Stumbling out of the barn and into a shower and breakfast, I was greeted by an intrepid Lynne. Given that it was a holiday weekend, she hadn’t planned on hosting a “program” for local foster kids, but she anticipated that families would be showing up on account of her Saturday morning routine as part of Kids and Families Together.

I soon found myself entangled in string, pinecones, and peanut butter as I helped her little kids make natural bird feeders and seed balls (little balls of soil and seeds for the purpose of chucking into empty lots and unused civic space as a vehicle of guerilla native gardening.

Once we had satisfied our kid visitors and their parents, it was off for a bike ride up “The Ave” to a residential neighborhood where a bunch of Lynne’s young photographer and musician friends were having a garage sale. As we talked an hung out, a cold breeze began to blow and the sky threatened to bring rain so Lynne and I excused ourselves. On the way back, she took me for a tour of Ventura’s “little Mexico” at which I was duly impressed. Also featured was the downtown strip where Black Saturday was in full effect.

Back home, I busied myself with trying to repair my camera while Lynne worked on a series of paintings and I provided conversation and feedback. We tried to manifest a spontaneous dance party but only Angie turned up, so we went for a walk and found a patio with a fireplace. Upon returning home, Lynne’s friends Dain and Andy were there and I the four of us hung out until late.

Spooky left us this present at the front door.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Northward Bound

Back at Leo’s, with a lazy morning on my hands, I took the opportunity to get organized, do some blogging, and groom my unruly beard to the sound of more choice selections from his record collection while he cleaned his room and went to meet up with family for lunch. After talking to my next host, Lynne, on the phone we agreed that, since she was in Los Angeles for the day, I would make my way to Union Station and we would take it from there. Leo gave me a lift back to Irvine, but not before loading up the bed of the pickup with vegetable starts for sale at the farmers’ market, from an enthusiastic collaborator with whom he shares in a local gardening club.

A work party at Leo's old Sonoma County farm (you'll have to get Leo to give you a slide show if you want a better pic).

On the train, I received word that Lynne would meet me at the station in Montalvo so I would transfer trains in LA. This meant I would be four hours in transit, a fact I relished for the sake of having a chance to read a Cormac McCarthy novel Max had loaned to me a few days prior and which I had been chomping at the bit to begin. I got about a third of the way through it!

Is THAT a compost pile or WHAT?

Once in Ventura, Lynn took me to a bar to see Seth Pettersen, a long-time local favorite of hers and then to a very crowded bar closer to the town center where we saw a band called Crippled Puppy and ran into a couple of her friends, Carrie and Angie. After that it was back to the home where she showed me into the back yard and I saw the famous Artbarn, which would be my home for the coming week.

Leo cooked these enormous beans that he bought at the farmers' market.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Orange County: Part 3 (Thanksgiving)

Fresh produce from Leo's garden ready for the thanksgiving kitchen

Around 8:00 in the morning, Leo and I rose and headed to his mom and dad’s elegant seaside home in Dana Point to help with preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. I was excited to learn that there would be no fewer than fourteen people present that day for Thanksgiving. As I chatted with Leo’s sister, Kira and brother-in-law, Mike, who had arrived before us from New York, along came his other sister, Meredith with her girlfriend, Hayley and Hayley’s mom, dad, and brother.

From left to right: Kira, Mike, Seth's mom, Seth

The more people arrived, the more people arrived, the more I felt positively charmed. There was Teresa, a long-time family friend from Argentina, Seth, a long-time friend of Mike and Seth’s mom who was here from Maryland via Colorado where she had recently visited her daughter. Together, everyone passed the afternoon, alternately lounging on the patio or in living room, or busied themselves in the kitchen, preparing vegetables and readying things for the oven.

Marilyn (Hayley's mom), Leo, Maureen

At least the time arrived for the feast. It was a meal fit for a king. Turkey, sweet potatoes, fresh beats and greens from Leo’s garden, green beans, stuffing, potatoes and gravy; everything was there. As we dined, everyone shared a single word that described what he or she was thankful for. When my turn arrived there was no hesitation; my word was “hospitality”. A highlight of the evening came when Hayley’s brother, Ross was given a blind taste-test of the various cranberry sauces prepared for the occasion. Ross was an interesting guy. Having been working for a gang unit with the LAPD, he had some rather alarming footage and photographs which he shared on his phone.

Thanksgiving dinner

After dinner we retired to the living room to observe that other most sacred of Thanksgiving traditions; vegetating in front of the TV and casually milling about, grazing on the ample leftovers while our numbers slowly dwindled. As we took in the various Thanksgiving programs on TV, I was amused by Teresa’s compunction to remark that one person or another was a “son of a gun”. When the time for me and Leo to go home, I was sincerely sad that it was over. Definitely a Thanksgiving to remember.

Meredith and Teresa