Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

I spent a nice, relaxing Thanksgiving in Portland this year with a great group of friends.  Drew's mom and nephew were in town from South Carolina and definitely brought the Southern cooking with them.  In fact it was a Southern Thanksgiving all around since everyone in attendance was from either South Carolina, Georgia or Texas.  We even fried a turkey (just like my Uncle Rufus used to do) and had sides of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese (both which are considered vegetables in the South), collard greens, biscuits and dressin' (not "stuffing").

I think I'll let the delicious pictures speak for themselves...

Josh (aka Turkey Doctor) carving the fried turkey

a nice presentation of the platter of turkey, Doc!

getting all of the extra meat off of this bird...
my mama taught me how to dismantle a turkey!

that's right, even Drewsky did a little cooking
(not without a beer in hand, though)

the most amazing spread of deviled eggs
Naylan and I are planning to open a deviled egg/cakeball cart
speaking of cakeballs... pumpkin cakeballs!

drunk cranberries... just substitute Grand Marnier for water

the whole group at the Thanksgiving table:
Naylan and his girlfriend Trisha, Sheila, Drew, Kate, 6-yr-old Grayson, me, Josh

Christmas Tree Lighting
On Friday, we kicked off the Christmas season with the lighting of the Christmas tree at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

bundled up for the tree lighting

and then we topped the night off at Rogue Brewery where Kate and I met (and harassed) a local celeb and got his autograph... in sharpie on our forearms (ask me about the story later)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So Portland

This past Saturday, Megan and I explored our amazing city of Portland on foot.  All too often we take the simple pleasures of our city for granted and don’t get out and enjoy the local (and sometimes “touristy”) things in our own backyard.

We started at the Imago Dei DIY Fair (in conjunction with Advent Conspiracy) where we picked up great ideas for crafty projects such as homemade burlap wreaths, vanilla extract, wine cork boards, and compost bins (so Portland!).

Then we walked across the Burnside Bridge and wandered around the Portland Saturday Market where you can find Portland craziness in all its fullness: people on stilts, henna tattoo artists, Bible-beating evangelists standing on soapboxes (literally), bearded guys banging on plastic buckets (so Portland!).

We walked on over to the US Outdoor Store to find some warm running pants and rain gear so that we can stay active and hopefully avoid SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) over the next 7 months of dreary Portland late fall/winter/spring/early “summer” (Portland… why?!).

Next we hit up Powells where I picked up books on American slavery, the life of James Franco, and a teen fiction series on the post-apocalyptic world.  I hunkered down in a corner of the connected coffee shop and flipped through the books while often getting distracted by the eclectic group filling up on their daily soy latte and vegan tart (so Portland!).

We strolled along in a drizzly rain (ugh, Portland!) to the Stumptown Coffee in the Ace Hotel.  We ordered $4 8-oz lattes (really, Portland?!) and sat in the cozy hotel lobby and read an article about Occupy Portland in the Portland Mercury. It was entertaining and completely annoying at the same time.

After that we headed over to the Central Library, which I’ve never been to but wanted to visit for quite some time.  It is a gorgeous historic building in the heart of downtown.  We walked up the marble stairs to the third floor which has a room dedicated to sheet music (so Portland) and another where you can browse through CDs.  I filled my bag up with Coldplay and John Mayer piano books and Lifehouse and Matt Maher CDs. (Public libraries are an amazing resource, and totally not dorky. If you don’t already have a library card, you should get one.)

All this walking made us hungry, so we stopped in Henry’s Tavern for an early happy hour burger and Rogue beer (so Portland – or rather Newport).  And then continued on to REI to continue our search for running gear (gear is the epitome of Portland).

After a long, yet very relaxing and enjoyable day in downtown Portland, we crossed over the bridge back into Southeast, our true stomping ground.  Thanks, Megan, for such a fun day gallivanting around Portland with me. To all of my friends out there, I hope you take every opportunity you have to “tour” your own city and enjoy all that it has to offer.

Portlanders Love…
- being crafty
- bridges
- going against the grain
- coffee, the stronger the better
- anything organic, vegan, and gluten-free
- camping out in city parks in the name of economic equality
- checking out free music (bc we're all "musicians" and in bands)
- beer, the hoppier the better
- gear, and lots of it
- everything local

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wrestling With God

We just finished a series at Imago about the life of Jacob.  The story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32) has become one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  Here you have Jacob, a deceitful man who has lived a less than exemplary life, go through a life-changing experience in one intense night with God, his creator.  Jacob is fearful of soon meeting his brother Esau who understandably hates him and wants to kill him.  One night when Jacob is alone, God wrestles with him until daybreak, breaking his hip and renaming him "Israel".  In his own weakness and incapability to control the mess he has made, Jacob encounters God in a violent way, but comes out a completely different man.  Wounded yet healed.

I've been thinking a lot about "wrestling with God" and what that looks like in my life. As a Christian, I proclaim that I have a personal relationship with God. But I've come to question if I really know God. Personally. I think I know the God of this religion I'm following. I know that he loves me and is always there. I know that he is good. I know I like talking to him.  And I can almost always feel his presence. But do I really know God? And what does a personal relationship look like? One of the most important things in a deep intimate relationship with someone is the ability and willingness to challenge each other. To be open and honest. To state the difficult truths. To hear the difficult truths. To figure things out together, even if that means getting a little dirty. I'm pretty good at being open and honest with God. I can tell him exactly what I think. I tell him when I don't like something, when I'm frustrated with him, when I want things changed. But then I often walk away and don't listen to his response.

Wrestling takes two people. Each person is trying to gain a superior position over the other.  But we know that God is omnipotent and if we enter into wrestling with him, we're definitely not going to win.  So just entering the wrestling match is a big first step. Wrestling takes energy. And it could be embarrassing when I end up in a headlock. It requires us to lay down our control (which we don't really have anyway) and actually want to figure things out with God and let him change us in the process.

But wrestling isn't fighting.  We're not throwing punches in a violent way, hoping to knock our opponent out.  And when we wrestle with God, he's not judging us and he's not pushing us away.  He's actually coming closer to us.  He's touching us and transforming us.  We might get hurt in the process.  There might be some scars, or a broken hip in Jacob's case.  But a couple broken bones is sometimes what it takes to be changed.  And a limp reminds us that God cared enough to change us.

Wrestling with God, especially at night when it's dark and we can't really see what's going on, can be scary and confusing.  I've come to find that usually when I'm in opposition to God, it's because I can't see the whole picture.  I don't really know what's best for me.  Or I can't see how what I do in my life might be affecting others.  But God can see the whole picture and he does know what's best.  And in seeing all of this, he chooses to come down and wrestle with me and help me understand.  I'm grateful for a God who is willing to wrestle with me.

Jacob's story challenges me to encounter God in a way that doesn't really seem pleasant and easy. We can't be afraid to step into the ring and wrestle with God. How else will we be changed?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lago di Merlo

Last week, I gained a new appreciation for wine.  Oregon's Willamette Valley is up there with Napa when it come to excellent wines. And my job, surprisingly enough, is teaching me to be a wine connoisseur.  So I'm gradually learning to appreciate the quality and taste of wine.  But last week I learned to appreciate the complex process of making a good wine.

A certain winemaker in Portland has become a strong supporter of MTI and for the past several years has hosted a vineyard harvest party at his vineyard, Lago di Merlo, as a fundraising event for us.  The harvest party took place two weekends ago, but the grapes were not quite ready to harvest on that Saturday.  Grapes should be at at least level 19 on the Brix scale (which measures the sugar content of the grapes) in order to be ready for harvesting.  Due to an oddly cool summer, these grapes were only at a level 17.  So instead of harvesting grapes, the guests enjoyed a day in the sun playing bocce ball and feasting on fresh roasted pork and fine wine.

Apparently last week was the final harvest week for vineyards all across Oregon before the cold winter weather moved in.  It was "all hands on deck" at the Merlo vineyard on Wednesday, so I took the morning off work and volunteered to pick grapes.  I put on my rubber boots, bought a new pair of gardening gloves, borrow a pair gardening clippers, grabbed a bucket and started harvesting grapes! It was actually a beautiful day outside and picking grapes was so quite enjoyable "work"!  It was a real community event.  Eighty-seven-year-old Harry Merlo himself (yes his last name is Merlo and he is a winemaker - fate) was out there in the vineyard clipping grapes alongside a dozen migrant workers, the neighbor from across the fence, a group of interns from the World Forestry Center, some of the Merlo wine salesmen, and a few MTI volunteers who had been at the party a few days before.

All I did was spend a few hours clipping bunches of grapes off of the vines, but my little hands were a small part of the big process of turning those grapes into wine.  And I can hardly wait to someday drink a glass of that what is sure to be a fine 2011 Willamette Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

the very fresh roasted pig at the harvest party

Wednesday morning grape picking

vines heavy with juicy Sauvignon Blanc grapes

Elvis, one of the World Forestry interns
who has since called me everyday to "greet me" and say "hello"

me and winemaker Harry with a bin full of harvested grapes