Monday, November 2, 2009

A $1 House, Chickens, Ducks, and Morning Glory

Admittedly, I know nothing about the Earth. Big "E" Earth and little "e" earth. I don't understand how we stay afloat in the universe instead of sinking into nothingness at an uncontrollable rate. And I certainly don't understand how we can bury a little nub of a plant in dirt and within days see proof of life emerging from the ground. While I will probably never understand the complexities of scientific law that propell us around the Sun, I can start to understand where I get my food. And that's where Kathleen Bellefeuille-Rice comes in.

I met Kathleen through Clare, her daughter and LACW community member. Kathleen is jolly, a hard worker by nature, and eternally passionate about gardening. She had extended a few invitations my way to visit her in Olympia, Washington, to learn about gardening and get my hands dirty. I decided to take her up on that offer.

Early October, I arrived in Olympia via public transportation. I paid a total of $6 to get from Portland to just blocks away from Kathleen's home. Granted, it took me 10 hours to complete the trip, I was stranded in Longview, Washington for 3 1/2 hours, and did hear the story about a mother being hit by a train (see previous entry). But the people are the glory of the adventure, aren't they?

Kathleen and her husband David live in a house that was physically moved from one lot to the current location. The house itself cost $1. It is now sitting on a nice plot on a hill in Olympia, surrounded by a garden that feeds Kathleen and David throughout the year. While they didn't live in a Catholic Worker house, they raised their two children in a similar lifestyle, valuing the traditions of simplicity and nonviolence. They do not own a car, relying on the public buses and their bicycles for local transportation. The food that doesn't come from their garden is purchased at the local food co-op, farmers market or straight from the farmer. David works as a water meter reader in order to provide an income and but not pay federal taxes (aka: war taxes). And Kathleen spends her days tending to the garden.

Although, "tending" might not be the accurate word, and the garden is not the sole venue of work. Kathleen labors year round to supply food her home. This includes the basics of planting, watering, weeding, pruning, and harvesting. There are also three chickens and three ducks that need food, water, and eggs to be collected. That is enough to keep anyone busy, but as I mentioned, Kathleen is a hard worker by nature. In the autumn, she spends much of her time around the stove, dehydrator and porch. The stove is the headquarters for canning. When I was with her, we made salsa out of tomatoes, parsley, onion, garlic and hot peppers. Kathleen also experiments with tinctures, homeopathic remedies and shampoos. (Science is a series of experiments, she says.) The dehydrator provides crisp slices of pears, handfuls of sweet kiwis and crunchy raspberries, flakes of nettle, leeks and onions for soups and rose petals for teas. The porch is the temporary resting area for the freshly harvested gourds, squashes, tomatoes, potatoes and other fall produce that aren't ready for in-house storage. Many of the vegetables later find homes in boxes under beds, under the house or in the attic.

This is just a quick overview of one season's worth of work. Did I mention that she often does it all by herself?

I don't want to project onto Kathleen, but I think she was happy to have another day laborer. David claimed since she knew I was coming, Kathleen started lining up more projects for me to do. We re-roofed her small greenhouse, cleared a few beds of produce, yanking morning glory out from the ground, and planted cover crops. Before some days began, I would join Kathleen for pre-dawn yoga. I was getting exhausted at 6:30 and going to bed at 8:30. I hadn't worked so hard in... well, a while. After working in her garden, a day at the Hippie Kitchen sounded like vacation. But it was wonderful work.

I had an established morning routine I looked forward to. First, I walked out to the Asian pear trees to coax the fruits off of the branches. The chickens followed and jabbed their beaks at the fallen orbs. Then to the raspberry bushes that were still producing juicy morsels. Spiders had found the thorny stalks and each day, I saw that one more had knitted herself a home between the aisles of bushes. My third stop were the kiwi trees. I reunited with the chickens who had declared a special roosting place near the fruits, and would chaperone my harvesting. They pecked at the ground for a second-hand feasts and clucked to each other incessantly. I would end the morning harvest when either the colander was full of the small, fleshy fruit, or when the chickens began to mistake my feet for grub.

Ripping fruit from its stem, however, was the extent of my garden knowledge. I spent a lot of time with a confused and/or apologetic look on my face, and Kathleen spent a lot of time telling me, "It's okay! You're new at this!" One evening, in preparation for dinner, I harvested an entire celery root instead of a few stalks as was asked of me. I mistook another plant for a rutabaga. Kathleen chimed in once more with reassurance as I hung my head in embarrassment.

When I wasn't making novice mistakes, Kathleen and I engaged in wonderful conversation. As we hauled clippings and weeds to the compost, harvested squash and loaded the dehydrator, we laughed and told each other stories. Kathleen openly shared anecdotes of her faith and snippets of motherly advice. We make breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and chatted about the place we found ourselves in our personal journeys. Our workspaces were warm with care and intention.

The entire two weeks were a blessing for me. Kathleen and David welcomed me into their home and into an intimate understanding of simplicity, peace and family. While I'm not sure I would be able to cultivate my own livelihood from the ground up just yet, I think I'd be willing to try in the future. So, thank you, Kathleen, for giving me an insight into the love that goes into the earth, and resurfaces to nourish us.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Stranger's Prophecy

(note: info on my two weeks in Olympia to come later; thought this story would be fun to share)

One of the great lessons I learned at the LACW was how to interact with crazy people. Even more than crazy people, I learned to interact with men and women whose social skills drive others away instead of inviting them into conversation. And while I still can be cold toward strangers who are looking for a dialogue (or an ear for a monologue), I try my best to be open to the interactions I could have with the random person I meet.

I found myself in such a situation last night while waiting for a Portland city bus to whisk me away to the Keippela's home one last time. As is the norm, I silently waited with a handful of other strangers, staring up the street in anticipation of the desired bus. A woman came up to the bus stop, grinning at me as if I was an old friend. With her thin lips and curly short hair, she reminded me of an aged Meg Ryan (pre-botox). She was wrapped tightly in a black overcoat that couldn't hide her slight frame and her knitted scarf ruffled up to her gaunt face. Breaking the code of bus stop silence, she asked, "What bus are you waiting for?"

"The 35. And you?" I stretched out from my introverted state.

"The same. I just don't know when our bus is coming." She leaned against the railing next to me, making herself comfortable for the wait. "You know, at work--I work at this building where they have cubicles..."

I've got a rambler here, I restrained a roll of the eyes. I ran into a similar type in Longview, Washington, when bussing my way up to Olympia. He ended the conversation by telling me how his mom was killed when hit by a train. However, according to him, it was "not that bad. She wasn't nice. She wasn't a good mom. My dad didn't even like her." I wondered if this interaction would be just as fascinating.

Noticing that I was sniffling and coping with a cold, she spoke about a soup she learned about. "It's called 'sick people soup.'" She listed off the vegetables needed. "It calls for miso, too. You know, bean curd. But I didn't have any, so I put refried beans on it. 'Cuz that stuff is spicy! It elevates the, uh... oh, what do you call 'em? Those things." She waved her hands around her chest and stomach, hoping I could finish her sentence. "Well, the spicy stuff is good for you."

Portland State students passed by. Crowds entered and exited the restaurant on the corner. People gathered to wait for the bus, and I continued suppressing sneezes. All the while, my new acquaintance continued to talk, routinely adjusting her glasses with her leather-gloved hands.

She directed the conversation toward me. "Do you work or go to school?"

"Neither. I travel." This was the first time I'd ever defined travel as what I "do," and my heart jumped with a bit of joy.

"Where are you traveling?" Her eye narrowed in interest. She leaned toward me, her weight still resting on the railing separating our personal bubbles.

I explained my recent travels and upcoming plans. Usually, with strangers, I am reluctant to use the term "Catholic Worker." Mainly because I don't like answering the same questions over and over again, especially being asked if I'm a nun. Yet despite my limited energy due to my cold, I thought I'd return the favor of monologue and briefly explain the Catholic Worker movement to my bus stop buddy. Serving the poor, community, hospitality, nonviolence, the whole shebang.

She was immediately amazed. "That's wonderful. That's God's work." Her face lit up with a smile, and she fixed her glasses more rapidly. My few sentences were enough to spark her lengthy stories about giving her jackets away and revelations of Jesus calling her to Him. "Revelations are just dreams that God wants us to have," she clarified. Our bus arrived mid-story, and she followed me on, weaving her tale as we took our seats on opposite sides of the aisle.

The rumbling of the bus and constant influx of passengers made conversation impossible for us and I was preoccupied with making sure my luggage wouldn't hinder the path of fellow riders. When I was finally situated, the woman wrapped in black had found a new seat.

That was nice, I happily reflected. People just want to connect with other people.

Some minutes later, I saw movement to my right, and the Meg Ryan lookalike was seated next to me. She wore an expression of giddy anxiety. I smiled to her.

"The Lord wanted me to tell you something," she spoke confidently. "Actually, He didn't have to tell me, I just knew to tell you: You are doing His work. By helping the poor, you are doing His work. And it looks like you're not feeling well right now, but you'll get better. I'll pray for you."

There was a point when I could have entertained her fantasies about God and grinned and nodded and told myself, "She's crazy." Instead, I felt her loving concern and faith. I smiled as she professed. I was smiling so deeply my cheeks were going to cramp.

"The Lord is going to test you," she warned, "because He tests everyone. But keep doing what you are doing, and you will be fine. Don't stray from the Lord."

She looked down to her lap. "I wanted to give you these." In her small hand were a plastic wrapped collection of prayer cards with Bible verses printed on them. "They help me a lot when I'm having a hard time. This is my last one, and I want you to have it."

She reached to me, I reached to her, and in between us was prayer. "Thank you," I whispered.

She released the cards into my hand. "You know, I think I was supposed to meet you."

For the remainder of the bus ride, she spoke more about pastors she knew, asked if I worked to "save" the poor (my response: "St. Francis said, 'Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.'"), and told stories of friends who had been healed. We introduced ourselves by name. Sherry smiled and said goodbye as I exited the bus.

Oftentimes, "normal" people grow wary of those who hear God. We deem them crazy, and their message is lost. Sherry has probably been ignored, shut down, or unprofessionally diagnosed by people she has met. Do I believe that she actually heard God's voice? No, I don't. But her kindness, outgoingness and obvious faith are gifts that were offered within our hour of knowing each other. And no matter her place in life, who am I to deny such gifts? And who am I to say they are not of God?

So I think Sherry was right. I think we were supposed to meet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Keippelas

When I moved from Los Angeles to Oregon, I knew my ideal situation would be living with the Keippela family. Four years ago, I met Kacy as my supervisor at the University of Portland Office of Volunteer Services. The two of us hit it off and maintained what we jokingly refer to as a "secret relationship" throughout the year. I lived just two blocks away from Kacy and her husband Andrew, and spent a good amount of my junior year at their house. They took me out to dinner for my 21st birthday, tried to set me up with one of their friends, let me store all of my stuff in their garage one summer, and even let me crash at their house for a few nights when I was transitioning from one living situation to another.

Throughout my junior and senior year of college, Kacy and Andrew grew to be two of my closest friends. I learned about young marriage from them, and witnessed their dedication to each other during the beginning months of their lifelong commitment. Despite my differing political beliefs and world view, we respected each other and felt comfortable speaking openly; and when I told them about the Catholic Worker, they were very supportive. Kacy and Andrew saw me through travels to Nicaragua and Los Angeles, graduation, immense transition and inevitable heartache and my move to LA. I was present for Kacy and Andrew's adoption of their dog and first love, Oscar, the purchasing of their first home, and most recently the gift of their first child, Maxwell Alexander.

I had the gall to ask Kacy and Andrew if I could stay with them for a few months after leaving Los Angeles. Their response was immediate and welcoming, even after hosting another house guest for the three months prior. Once I arrived with my uncertain future ahead of me, they gave me a home. When I sank into the ruts of depression and loneliness, they offered me counsel. And without hesitation, they welcomed me into their family and asked me to be godmother to their son.

The expectations I had of these past months, as I have often written, were nothing of what actually happened. I thought Los Angeles was going to be the only place to which I would have an emotional connection, but the Tacoma CW dug into my heart. And now, I'm not leaving some place I've visited, or people with whom I can easily break ties. I'm leaving family... again. I'm packing my bags to venture out into a life yet to be determined, and I am saying goodbye to the Keippelas.

They are not affluent. They do not have a large home or income. They are not Catholic Workers. Kacy and Andrew are a middle class white couple who saw my need and offered food, shelter and love. They opened their house for hospitality. Once for a near-stranger, and again for me.

I share this story to lift up the Keippelas for their generosity and spirit of kindness. And I also share this story as an example of the great work an "average" person can do. Andrew told me a few weeks after I arrived, "We have that extra room and you need a place to stay." The logic was simple.

Without a doubt, Kacy and Andrew sustained me through what were months of confusion. They could have easily asked me to leave, or demanded a deadline for my stay. And while they may not define their generosity in this way, I received the grace of the Works of Mercy, and felt love that God asks of us all.

Thank you, Kacy, Andrew and Max, for everything you have given me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

More Confrontation With Money

These past few weeks have been a blur for me. I left the Tacoma Catholic Worker with much more sadness than I could have anticipated. The community members and Jesuit Volunteers pulled me back to purpose. I spent hours in fascinating conversation about life, love, family, service, music, and community. I ended my days covered in dirt from the garden, and plans each night were anyone's guess. My three weeks in Tacoma excited me for my future route through the west coast.

My excitement did break, however, as my grandma was recently hospitalized. Days after, on September 24, she passed away in hospice care in Pasco, Washington. Grieving a family member is new to me as an adult, and the process weighs on me. Yet the blessing amidst the sadness is family. Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren: we are bonded together in our love for Grandma. And while that love was comforting, I couldn't shake the expectation for Grandma to walk through the door of her Lutheran church and join us in singing her favorite hymns.

I won't pretend to have the slightest idea of the workings of life and death (I think my entries are proof of such ignorance); but in effort to further my understanding of life, I am confronting the issue of need. As a first step, this morning I worked on my budget for the year. When I decided to embark on this year of travel, simplicity was not a goal but a requirement. I hadn't hoped for extreme poverty, yet I find myself with $327.13 to my name (not including some leftover money on a Target gift card and Fred Meyer coupon).

Side note:

I have been given money by some family and friends. Some people have bought me dinner, drinks, paid for gas. And for all of these acts of generosity, I am grateful. But I do not want to skim through this year on the dollars of my friends and family. Will I turn down your gift? No. Might I send it to a Catholic Worker or local organization? Yes, and I would encourage you to do the same.

I already knew I wouldn't be able to pay for flights across the country, which is why I quickly abandoned any hopes to go to the School of the Americas Watch, and the east coast Catholic Workers. When I was telling some high school friends about my financial situation, one exclaimed, "That's less than one dollar a day!" For some reason, I had never thought of it like that, probably because I didn't ever take a good look at how far I could get with my money.

I was resistant to make a budget because of my idea of simplicity: money is not the priority. And I still agree with that statement! Money is not the priority. When it is, we get wars and corporations. But I can't argue that money doesn't exist. I have money, and I am going about a system that requires money as an exchange for goods and services. It would be hard to convince Amtrak or Greyhound that a jar or two of homemade blackberry jam would suffice for a ticket to San Francisco (even though I think that's a fair deal). Plus, you can't make that trade online, which is a hindrance.

In more detail, my outline of finances shows that I have approximately $36.34 per month through June. (My plans after June? We'll talk about that in June.) Within mainstream society, I can't really make that pittance support anything. People who are receiving multiples of that are still fighting to keep above ground. Lucky for me there is more than mainstream society. There are Rideshares through Craigslist, the Lower Columbia Community Action Council, dumpster diving, Goodwill, and most importantly hospitality.

My biggest hope right now is not that I'll make it until June. I know I will. That's not in question. My biggest hope is that I can make it to June without expecting rescue. Less than $40 a month will be difficult, especially for the girl who used to regularly overcharge her debit card at the mall. I'm not looking forward to the inevitable "I don't have enough money" breakdown. As long as I stay true to my goals for the year (see below), I have to remember I will be fine.

Goals and Purposes
* to explore the Catholic Worker lifestyle in new environments
* to better understand the needs of, use for, and actions of community
* to challenge myself as an individual to take risks, face discomfort, handle uncertainty and eventually find inner strength and peace
* to learn more about simplicity, nonviolence, hospitality and service and how to incorporate these values into my life
* to interact with people I might never have spoken to
* to find beauty and grace, even in the midst of suffering
* to bring the Catholic Worker to my family and friends as something tangible, relatable, real, possible
* to learn to love more deeply and more often
* to find Jesus and my faith

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Passion: It Hurts So Good

I made it to the Tacoma Catholic Worker. And for the past three weeks have tried to keep busy amidst the community's attempt to restructure and redefine itself. I've found good, thankless work in the organic garden just outside the main house (there are 8 houses used by the Tacoma CW). I wake up at a decent, yet not lazy, hour to start weeding which is most of my labor. I spent a substatial amount of time harvesting the Asian pears, blackberries, tomatoes, miscellaneous squash, non-Asian pears, lettuce, beets and an occasional ear of corn. After I drained the garden of its yield, I helped to can the produce. And yesterday, I finally finished the blackberry jam project. But if I'm not in the garden, I sit back and witness community dynamics, have conversations with fascinating people (the Jesuit Volunteers are next door), search for a piano to play, and look forward to a year of discovering the lifestyle that fits me best.

A friend of mine is currently in a similar time of discovery, although half way across the country and without an organic garden. We met in Los Angeles, and he has since been a source of strength for me, possessing the unique ability to simultaneously calm and enlighten me. Our spiritual journeys have also been quite parallel, although his dedication to his own path seems much more solid than my temporal excitement.

Recently we talked of causes we believe are just. Essentially, we were asking: What do we do with our passion? Do we feed our passion to boredom to create a lively experience, or do we find what we need and cultivate our calling? We didn't have any decent answers.

Ironically enough, it seems the challenge is passion--reining it in, directing it. "Ambivelent" is not a word often used to describe a Catholic Worker. Yet sometimes our conviction as Catholic Workers is so strong that it drives others away, alienates us from dialogue, paints an untrue picture of our work, or distracts us from the journey toward Christ. In other situations, we feel the burning in our bellies and refuse to act for fear of disapproval. One of the many struggles I have lies within the risk of meeting the needs of my self and spirit without being dictated by the societal understanding of what is acceptable. My friend's response to that revelation: "Welcome to following the Gospel."

In Greek (pema) and Latin (pati), passion literally means suffering. Hence, we call the series of events leading to Jesus' death The Passion of Christ. This is slightly reassuring, only in the sense that my struggles with my chosen path now seem to have Greek and Latin meaning. It makes me wonder if the Buddhists really have got it down: Life means suffering (one of the Four Noble Truths). And the Noble Eightfold Path leads one out of suffering and to Nirvana. It transforms suffering into a higher level of existence, ultimate wisdom. Similarly, Jesus' death brought forgiveness and eternal life, and our following Jesus can lead us from the suffering of mortal life to immortal grace and love.

As I continue to learn, the journey seems to be within the challenge, passion and confusion. My dear friend and I are stuck on a path with blind turns, but we maintain faith that each step and the destination are grace. In the meantime, what do we do with our love, hopes and desires blooming from our passion?

"Maybe we just have to demand more from the world and, in turn, ourselves," I reached for wisdom.

"Maybe not more," he replied, "but just something different."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Get Going

Since moving to Portland, I have faced lingering depression. Away from the community that provided me with structure and purpose, I am trying to learn on my own how to be myself and proudly declare my intentions, values and desires.

I had great dreams of scanning the east coast and drinking in the culture of Catholic Workers there. Strangers becoming friends, new land becoming home. And now, I am in Portland, a familiar city, waiting for my friends to call, sitting at home unemployed, suffocating with self-pity. My plan was dying, and I mourned. I didn't have a job so I wasn't getting money, which meant my traveling would have to be limited. Underdeveloped. Unsatisfying.

I decided last week that I can't sit around like this anymore. With each second I am not moving, it is one more second I am wasting my journey on remorse. So I emailed the Tacoma Catholic Worker to request being in their company in September. When I pressed "send," I felt a resurrection of exuberance. I felt purpose coursing through my veins. I remembered the adventure I lusted for, and felt it just weeks out of my grasp.

Yesterday, after weeks of waiting and hopelessness, I was offered a solid job. I turned it down. The decision was quite counterintuitive to my original desires of saving money while earning an hourly wage; yet I understood at the very moment the job was offered that I didn't want a job. I didn't need the few months of pay. In actuality, I needed to stop worrying about doing things "right" and start taking care of myself. And that meant to stop delaying my travels and get to it. I knew I had the funds, the connections, the capability. In declining the job offer, I had finally gathered the strength to immediately take care of my own wellbeing instead of characteristically stalling for anticipated comfort.

I believe I made the right decision, but I am still so wrought with confusion. Should I really be saving money? Should I strive for my great nation-wide adventure? Can a local adventure be just as exciting and exotic and worthy?

The biggest struggle I am facing now is: Were these past six weeks just a giant waste of time?

I'd like to believe they weren't. My Pollyanna optimism would say in response that I learned a lot about myself: that I need community more than I thought, that I have the ability to conquer fears and discomforts, that I can face challenges on my own, that it is difficult to be in a new culture after two years, that I still hold such high expectations for my life and guiltlessly compare my "achievements" to others. And my realist and/or pessimist side would woefully moan: it was all a waste, you could have traveled sooner and instead you just sat around and felt sorry for yourself. Go now, but you have 6 weeks less to do it.

I guess either way, I used six weeks--whether they were useful remains to be seen. I have to forgive myself for being melancholy and dragging myself down. Any additional time spent on thinking about my loss of time or my seemingly unnecessary sadness will hinder my travels even more.

But I am heading out of Portland because I know I deserve to have my adventure. I don't want to sit around dreaming about it, or earning money for it--money can't buy me a better experience. I want it now. I'm sick and tired of waiting for scenes in my life to miraculously start without my provocation, or waiting for permission from others to partake in the life I want.

So I'm preparing to head out. Not much longer in Portland. Soon I'll be on my way and I'll have stories and meet people and use the youth I have been temporarily blessed to enjoy. Get me out of self-pity and get me to joy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Dumpsters

I had the opportunity to dumpster dive while in Los Angeles. I was invited often during my last months, yet for many reasons I declined the offers. But the ideology behind dumpster diving was something I truly respected. In its best form, dumpster diving or food salvage or urban gleaning seeks to liberate food that has been unnecessarily discarded. Once gathered, the food is shared among community. The work is really what we do at the Hippie Kitchen: bringing forgotten and discarded men and women to community.

Sadly, or quite possibly luckily, I never had a reason to go search for free food. I was always provided with an abundance. But when I took a three week house sitting gig, I was confronted with the prospect of buying food. Since I'm trying to save money for travel and am still unemployed, my budget to spend any money is quite limited. I was not looking forward to spending it on food. The dumpsters remained my option.

The Internet proved a useful tool, once again, to educate me. Dumpster diving is a nocturnal activity. It's advised that a diver doesn't start until at least an hour after the store closes. Many places will have separate bins for food stuffs, or compost bins that look like dumpsters. There were a litany of excuses one could use if confronted by a store manager or, God forbid, a cop (many were "I'm sorry," followed by leaving, or a form of this response). And I should prepare to get dirty--wear long sleeves, pants and shoes.

On Wednesday, I skulked and whined and moaned. I was nervous to do it without familiarity of the process and all by myself. I scoured the Internet for more tips and hotspots around Portland, and hoped there would be meet-ups or groups already formed. There weren't as far as I could see, so I tried to form my own. I scrolled through my contact list and called my friends I thought would be interested.

Lo and behold, Karen called me back. Lovely Karen who, while we were at the University of Portland, became one of my few allies in social justice and peace effots. Preparing to leave Portland in less than two weeks, she heard my message and decided, "You only live once." She came over and gave me shoes to wear, as I only had sandals at the time. We loaded up. Armed with flashlights, a few bags, and NPR on the radio, we drove into the dark, suburban night.

It was disappointing. We traveled the roads of northwest Portland and its suburbs, and found that all of the suburban markets used trash compactors. We stopped at at least ten locations ranging from bakeries to cafes to fancy markets (ie: Trader Joe's, New Seasons). After the slew of trash compactors, we grew desperate. Our fear of approaching the dumpster took flight and we found ourselves tempted to look into each dumpster we saw, hoping for a treasure trove of unwanted food. But no. Leftover suburban food, it seemed, was to be fed to the hungry and effective trash compactor. After driving for 1 1/2 hours, our enthusiasm and excitement was slaughtered. We gave up and drove home in our clean clothes. I fell asleep at 1am, defeated.

The next day, I was determined to find food and feeling much less anxiety toward confronting the green, metal bins. Another UP ally, Valerie, RSVP'd for a Thursday night session. For the second night in a row, I peeked under the dumpster lids of Portland markets. Valerie and I made a few stops, only finding some oranges and apples in a Trader Joe's compost pile. Feeling less defeated than the night before, yet still unsatisfied, I dropped Valerie off at 12:30am and made my way back home.

As I crossed the Willamette River into northwest Portland, I decided once more to see if there were any stores that donated food via dumpster. I didn't want to go home empty-handed. I couldn't even find the dumpster at a second Trader Joe's, but a market nearby had an open dumpster right in plain sight. I parked, hopped out of the car and expected to see nothing, or a lot of trash. But right on top was a large bag, full of bread. I balanced my torso on the edge of the dumpster leaned my head in, and pulled out the bag only to reveal more food. I was ecstatic. Checking the hardness of the bread, it was clearly still good. I reached in the dumpster once again to liberate more food.

Driving off, I was motivated. I cruised for more dumpsters. At another store close by, a line of three dumpsters were carefully situated between the concrete walls of two buildings. It seemed to good to be true: the area was well lit and the dumpsters were wide open. I peered inside the nearest bin and saw, underneath a few garbage bags, dozens of bananas. I tried to balance my weight on the dumpster as I had done earlier, but I couldn't reach the bushel. I took a step back and stared at the dumpster for a moment, wondering what to do now. Then, quickly and instinctually, I climbed in and stood on top of the garbage bags.

I'm sure I looked like a frightened fawn learning to walk. I lifted my knees and kicked my feet in my attempts to maneuver in the metal compartment. At some point, I stopped caring about propriety and cleanliness. I was already in a dumpster, mingling with trash bags. So I started making room my myself to dig down and get the produce. Chucking bags in other dumpsters, pushing, tugging, smiling the whole way. My adventure was set to the soundtrack of the market's reeled music still serenading the empty lot. I conquered two of the bins and retrieved two dozen bananas, nectarines, cantaloupes, apples, grapefruits, onions, roses and a single potato.

As I piled the food in the back of the car, I felt more than a sense of real accomplishment. I confronted my fear of failing at new experiences and anxiety of facing challenges alone. And I came out unscathed. In fact, at the end of night, I realized my strength and capability.

I drove home, proudly unloaded my find, took a long, refreshing shower and went to bed. At 1:30am, I feel asleep happy for the first time since arriving in Portland.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shed a Tear of Complete Dumbfounded Glee for Me

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of questions. My family's minds and friends' minds have been stirring up questions. The following is a compilation of the common reactions and questions I have encountered in two weeks:

So what do you want to do now that you're not in LA?
Well, I'm trying to find work so I can save money to do a tour of the Catholic Workers around the country.

I mean what are you going to do about a career?
Yea... I really like the Catholic Worker mode. Intentional communities, service, simplicity: I'm drawn to that.

That doesn't give you any money! You know you can be of service to others without living in voluntary poverty or without health insurance.
I know.

When you get married and have kids, you're going to need some money.
(laughs) I am not thinking about marriage and children right now. That's not really in my immediate future. I'll deal with that when the time comes to take that option more seriously.

Okay... how are you going to travel?
Greyhound, probably.

...Yes. It's cheap.

Hm. Well, it's not the nicest way to travel.
Well, I'm pretty poor. So it's my only real option.

How are you feeling about all of this?
I'm very excited. I feel like I'm doing what I need to do, and this is a great time to explore. But I'm not sure where my life is going to take me or what this upcoming year is going to reveal to me. It's going to be a great ride.

Alright, the above scenario is not so accurate. Mainly because it doesn't show my extreme discomfort during the conversation. I hate to tell my family that this is what I'm hoping for myself. My time in Los Angeles was a journey for me, but also a journey for my family. They were dragged through watching me struggle with the intense emotional commitment I had with the guys and the community. They witnessed my loneliness in a big city. They read about my changing beliefs and values over the past two years. And I think my leaving LA was somewhat of a relief, but I'm not done. And to tell them that I want to continue with the Catholic Worker lifestyle for a while longer is like saying, "I know these two years were a bit of a roller coaster, but I need you to hang on for me. We're going to do this all over again."

Maybe the above is melodramatic, but I know that my family wants the best for me and the Catholic Worker isn't on the top of their list of things they'd choose for me. Maybe a teacher, social worker, mom, or even nurse (that was suggested to me by a family member this past week). They'd love for me to have a retirement plan, health insurance, a steady income, own a house someday (at least have enough money to rent), maybe even purchase a car or be able to go out every once in a while. My family wants me to have all these things because they love me and want me to have the comforts they know.

But the truth for me is that I have found happiness and comfort in the midst of the struggle of the Catholic Worker way. Part of the mindset I have now is that I can achieve and share my personal idea of success and unfiltered happiness without mainstream necessities. You could write it off as youthful abandon, crazy talk, fantasy. I certainly have wondered if my idealism has strangled all rationality out of my college-educated brain. Yet this doesn't take away the amazing transformation I underwent in the past two years and the incredible sense of purpose that drives me now.

After all this, I recognize I don't know much about life--which is why I am searching for enlightenment, a control freak, and shocked that I'm still unemployed after two weeks of job hunting. With my 24-year-old mind and spirit, I am deciding to follow my desired path of simplicity and service to learn more about life.

Upon reading this this statement, maybe you will roll your eyes, or shed a tear (of frustration? of sorrow? of complete dumbfounded glee?). And who knows, maybe I will get some answers along my journey. Maybe, even, I will reach my destiny.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

So Much Fear In Such Little Time

When one part of my life changes (for better or worse), I silently expect all aspects of my life to also change (only for better). As if I am waiting for one flaw in my life to be fixed so everything else can fall into place. A domino theory for my identity.

Of course, on top of all of this, I arrogantly assume this personal betterment will occur without any personal effort. If the fates give me more free time, for example, I assume that exercise will fill that slot and I will enjoy it!... even though I characteristically dread exercise routines and avidly deter such exertion. And when I come to see my afternoons are instead saturated with naps and other inactive activities, my perception of myself sinks to negativity: I am physically and mentally idle and without motivation.

Currently, I am a few weeks into a sizable change in my life. I have left Los Angeles and the community in which I participated for two years. I am facing an uncertain and important path of travel, exploration and sacred time for my own understanding of life. Not only do I have free time, but I find there is no routine. Every choice for my life is suddenly decided by me--from the time I wake up at 11am to the time I go to bed after two glasses of wine. I am not obligated by a pre-planned schedule, and I am not responsible for much more than myself and my values. I am facing life, the world and society with me, myself and my vulnerability.

So what do I assume from this change? What I desire is not so much based on usage of this opportunity, rather it is based on a personality overhaul. I think many would approach a similar transition as a chance to expose their true selves to the world. I, however, would rather hide behind the facade of a different person when facing the world. During these introductory steps to independence, I prefer to be thinner, less sarcastic, more spontaneous.

The unattainable nature of my dream is unsettling and disappointing. I am frightened to approach my peers, new experiences and the general unknown as the person I am. I am fearful of displaying my true self, complete with flaws, shortcoming and ignorance.

Within the past week, my cowardice has taken physical forms, as well. Sleep has recently been limited, haunted by nightmares or (when sleep finally occurs) uncomfortable. My appetite wavers between dangerously nonexistent to gluttonous. My mood is unpredictable and inexplicable. And while I enjoy sharing conversation with others, I have turned deeply inward.

I carried my self-assigned burden without real understanding of its roots until I forced myself to sit down and ask myself what was wrong. Actually, I hiked around and asked myself. After an hour of solitude in the dried and recently burned forest outside Pine Mountain, California, I "got it." And I was intensely ashamed to realize once again my unsteadiness is caused by my insecurities. Even more embarrassing is that I thought I had harnessed these fears and unrealistic desires.

The upcoming weeks feel like a tidal wave on the horizon and I am only equipped with an umbrella. In other words, I anticipate more discomfort. Learning to let go of fear and embrace the present has been a difficult path for years now. Accompanied by the challenge of loving myself--my current, broken self--I feel overwhelmed.

Now, I have to stop equating a change of scenery with a need for a new self. Adding that burden to what is already a litany of challenges would only break me. If my journey is so important, if this upcoming year still means as much to me as it did when I was in Los Angeles, I have to lift it up, slide on my yoke and walk this path. I am now obligated to refuse fear for my journey.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lessons from the Poor

On June 17th, Los Angeles will no longer be my home. After spending a bit of time with friends and loved ones, I will arrive in Portland exactly two years after I left, never assuming I would seek out the city again. And from that point, I hope to earn some money doing whatever I have to do that's legal so I can travel to different Catholic Workers and intentional communities around the country and--eventually--the world. I hope to get some writing in along the way, reflecting on my two formative years here in LA. And I know I will be searching for what I need from a community and what I need from a city. Although, I'm sure more questions will arise along my nondescript pilgrimage.

The hardest part so far has been telling the guys down at the kitchen. Albeit flattering, their complete disapproval of my departure forces out suppressed tears and resurrects a forgotten feeling of doubt--the same doubt I struggled with when leaving Portland for Los Angeles. Reactions include the following:

"The sun hasn't shined since you broke the news of leaving... [starts singing] Ain't no sunshine when she's gone..."

"I think I have a chain. Now I just have to find someone who has a manacle so I can tie you to the kitchen. I'll give you a 30' radius."
(another man in response) "Yea, enough for her to get to a piano."

"Oh yea, you're young! Enjoy the world!"

"I'm gonna miss you like the desert misses the rain."

"Oh no! Why?!"

These men from the Hippie Kitchen have not only claimed territory on my heart, but they have managed to grab such a strong hold that I can feel our desperate clinging as I prepare to leave.

Within the past few weeks, I have essentially demanded that I be at the kitchen at least two of the three kitchen days each week. I have kept my eyes panning across the garden for long-lost guests of whom I have been thinking recently. I have created a mental list of guests I want to tell personally that I am leaving soon, yet have delayed a good amount of conversations out of pure grief.

The men and women from the Hippie Kitchen have been the most formative aspect of my time in Los Angeles. They, the outcasts and forgotten of our society, invited me into the intimate details of their lives, demonstrating trust and openness--two qualities, I now realize, I was not offering. They furthered my commitment to nonviolence upon my seeing the plethora of veterans fighting PTSD and other war-related syndromes 35 years after their tours. They challenged and restored my faith in a God who loves us unconditionally. They gave me a reason to be passionate about the work to which I dedicated my past two years.

To see any homeless individual now and not attribute Jesus, dignity, hope and persistence would be to deny all of my experience through the LACW. I am blessed to have worked for these men and women who have so much to give, so much to say, so much love in their hearts, that (for all us Christians) it is indeed sinful to see them for anything less than a true manifestation of Christ's image.

So I prepare to journey and let my heart be torn apart by more wonderful men and women who face strife within an unrelently harsh culture. More tears and more restoration of purpose are in the cards, I'm sure. Maybe I'm just giving my heart to the poor so I can show love over and over again; and, to show the smallest bit of solidarity with their pain, my heart can be broken again and again in return.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"Darren" and "Matt"

It is true: I am leaving in June. I was thinking about waiting until just a few weeks before the official announcement via blog, but then I realized that (1) barely anyone reads this, (2) the few people who do read this already know I'm heading out, and (3) I'm really not that big of a deal, so it's not earth-shattering news that I'm leaving Los Angeles... in fact, I doubt that Los Angeles, a city of 4 million, will notice that I'm even gone.

Despite my cynicism toward the city and its concrete, Babylonian existence, I have experienced very formative situations here and met a slew of people who are making it difficult to think about saying "sayonara."

A few people I don't believe I've mentioned in this blog are from the kitchen: Darren and Matt (names changed, as always). These are two magnificent men with witty spirits. Both are Vietnam vets who are bitter about the VA's treatment of them and their peers (not to mention actually having to be in Vietnam, which gets them pretty irked, too). Although they have such youthful and curious personalities it is hard to believe that either of these men could have been armed and face-to-face with the deemed enemy 40 years back.

Darren has so many interests and has been so many places. Each time I speak with him in the garden, I get sucked into a deep conversation about a sect of the world and his travels, or photography and other hobbies, or happiness and the meaning of life. Recently, Darren lent me a book about creating my own dark room when he learned I started teaching myself photography. Darren is engaging in a way I have rarely come across in others, and is a genuine person, not a cocky, arrogant man seeking to teach me the ways of the world, hoping I will gain something from his wisdom. He is instead modest, not outspoken and willing to share--a great conversational companion.

He is about my height, is always searching for a hug from me, and has a slightly high pitched voice which piques when he is most enthusiastic. Darren limps with the wooden cane he juts in his direct path. I have never seen him eat at the kitchen. Rather, he gets a big container and fills it up. I imagine he eats his beans and salad through the day and night, especially when he is unable to sleep because he is stuck in a rut of depression or deep thought.

And Matt... one of the most child-like 60-somethings I have ever met. He is insistent he is living his second childhood, that he was blessed with a second go-around. Topics of conversation include marriage (ours), his Harley which he has yet to purchase, and college sports. He calls me the "Oregon Hippie Girl" and I just call him by his name, trying not to encourage his flirtatious behavior. Nevertheless, we get along well and he is more protective than predatory. In fact, one day I was breaking up a fight in the line, and Matt almost jumped in to "save" me. I had to talk with him to say that his actions were aggravating the person I was trying to calm down, and to go into the garden. Matt didn't like this at all and refused to listen to me. Later in the garden, he said, in good humor, something along the lines of me being too tough for his help.

Matt is huge. He towers over me and I'm thankful I'm on his good side because I'm sure if he wanted to harm anyone, he could. Matt always wears shorts and usually has some kind of USC or veteran propaganda on his shirt. A do-rag or hat covers his grey cornrows and sunglasses block a good view of his yellowing eyes.

These two men are quite different, but are always excited to see each other. Matt usually shouts out a "hoo-rah," and they both talk about how no one says it the right way anymore. Darren sits and watches the people pass, patiently waiting for his turn to speak while Matt lays on his go-to lines regarding our usual topics of conversation.

I thoroughly enjoy both of their company, and have yet to tell them I'm leaving. Telling the guys at the kitchen is definitely going to be harder than telling the community. The bonds with the guys are why I really came here after college, why I re-upped for another year, why I miss work after being sick and home for a week, and why my heart breaks when I imagine not seeing the 3+ days out of the week. My life with be so different without seeing Darren and Matt on a regular basis.

It's all a part of the transition, I guess.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stress Levels

"Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. Just lie down."
--Natalie Goldberg

Ironically enough, I had to re-type the above quote four times before the bold command obeyed. Meanwhile, I was thinking, "You stupid computer!! Why aren't you working?!" And then I realized I was consumed by the ignorance of stress... once again.

My dad will be the first to agree that I have issues with control, which lead to issues of stress and anxiety when I'm at my worst. In college, he called me up to tell me a joke:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Control Freak.
Control Freak who??

Yes, hilarious, Dad.

But in the past four years, I have dealt with my stress in very different ways: playing the piano, crying, eating, watching television, ceramics, talking with friends. Many different ways in handling the repercussions, but never hitting the root of the problem.

And now, as I type, I am dealing with yet another repercussion of my stress. It seems I physically hold my stress in the muscles just behind my shoulder blades. And it seems that life has been just a bit too stressful lately because I have acquired a tight mass at the top of my right shoulder blade which makes any movement of my arm and neck very painful. I went to the doctor on Tuesday, and she said, "Well, you're just a ball of stress!"

I wonder why?

Maybe it's because I'm leaving in June. Leaving Los Angeles, not to mention the community I have spent the past year and a half trying to immerse myself into. I'm looking forward to traveling after I save up some money, but that also means that I will not have the securities of a community as I do now. I will be emotionally homeless.

Maybe it's because I have seen so many flaws in myself lately and have desperately staged a coup over them, trying to perfect myself. The patience and grace that are required to lead such a transition have not, as of yet, come into my grasp. I am grappling with too many flaws and not enough encouragement.

Or maybe it's because of the work I do, the complete surrender I experience when working in the garden, the all-encompassing worry I carry for each person I talk to, and then the heartache I feel when I see pain in one of my friends.

Maybe those are some reasons for the pain in my shoulder.

What is so difficult about all of this is that, unlike Natalie Goldberg's suggestion, I think they all are emergencies. I think all of my problems must be solved immediately for my own sanity, and they must be solved (most importantly) my way.

But in the Catholic Worker lifestyle, and in the peace movement, there is an understanding that the work we do is not for us and we cannot enter this work expecting to see results in our lifetimes. We do the work because it is the right thing to do, because Jesus did this work and because we care for the future of our world. There is an accepted slowness to our projects. While the need peace in foreign countries and even in our hometowns may seem immediate, the reining power of peace as a worldwide phenonenon takes time.

When I compare my own stresses to the problems of the world, and in turn compare my own sense of urgency to the snail-paced spread of global peace, I am humbled. If the world can hold on for peace, and therefore struggle with the discomforts in the meantime, then I can hold on through my own discomforts, as well. So, I will be grateful for my time in Los Angeles and the community in which I have experienced so much love and formation; I will continue to try to see myself through the loving eyes of God; and I will take deep breaths at the kitchen. And one day, I will fully understand the ignorance of stress.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Not Giving Up for Lent

Lent is here again. The season I almost dread because it is a dedicated season in which I am forced to reconcile my benign faith, my faults, my fears, my brokenness. Selfish reasons, I know, especially when the Lenten season is really about Jesus preparing to be sacrificed in the most barbaric sense for the sins of his brothers and sisters--a sacrifice we will never be able to emulate.

Yet, we try. And I almost despise the pressure to find something to "sacrifice" for Lent. What will it be this year? Will chocolate, beer, television, Facebook be enough to parallel Jesus' surrender? I, like many, face the temptation of receiving a tangible result from my Lenten penitence. Weight loss would be nice, or more money in my account. Rarely would my thought process include considering the spiritual repercussions of my choice. So, for the past few years, I have refused (yes, refused) to give up anything for Lent to spite my tendency toward "results." Instead, I led my life as I did through Advent, Pentecost, Ordinary Time--you know, in mediocrity.

This year, however, I decided to redirect myself to a path of reflection, to recognize the blessing within myself. It seems selfish, focusing on myself, and I never like to spend time thinking about how "awesome" I am. In fact, my time is more often spent dissecting my flaws, magnifying my shortcomings, staring intently at the unattainable standards I have set for myself. But after recently reading Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved, I came to a new perspective of self-love and self-hatred.

Nouwen insists that we are all broken and incapable of loving others and God until we love ourselves. We must humbly accept our brokenness, yet recognize our lives as a loving honor from God. Life is not a curse, rather the most incredible gift and worth such gratitude and joy which we will never be able to fully express.

It seems the only way we can show appropriate thanks is through loving ourselves despite our flaws--by not looking a gift horse (God) in the mouth. This is where is gets sticky for me. Nouwen's "steps" (although he never refers to them as such) ascend from loving yourself to loving God and others.

I think I've been living my life backwards...

My love has always gone out to others--family, friends, the guys at the kitchen, my community--and I have seen self-love as indulgent, egotistical and unnecessary. If I love others, then I love God. Check. Done. Finished. Next task? But the idea of lifting myself up as I lift up others is a concept not readily available to me. I don't know how to love myself. Sad, isn't it?

This all leaves me with the questions: Does that mean I don't really love my family, friends, the guys at the kitchen and my community? Does my self-hatred mean I also hate God?

I hope not.

These questions are why I'm not giving something up for Lent in the material sense. I am, as said earlier, focusing on a path of reflection. For Lent, I am teaching myself how to love myself because I want to love more. I want to be a peaceful disciple. I want to walk with joy. I need to be in unity with the sanctity of life.

So I'm sacrificing the horrible things I tell myself: that I'm too fat, too mean, too sarcastic, too ungrateful, too ugly, too ignorant. I am laying down my snarling at my flaws and my muted weeping over the unreached goals. I hope to replace this all with joy, forgiveness, some grace when possible and, eventually, love.

Learning the work of love is a lifelong journey, and it was for Jesus as well. He faced the tests of temptation, the bitter hatred of those who deemed him "enemy," and the selflessness of giving one's own life. Yet all the challenges led to the Miracle. The Ressurection. So I am anticipating these vernal weeks to be my first beautiful insight to the intertwined gift of love in all life. Yours. Mine. Ours. And in time, I humbly hope my forthcoming enlightenment will bring the same salvation as the man who, with scarred and bloodied flesh, rolled away the stone to deny death and restore life.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Then Peter came to him and said, "Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!"
--Matthew 18:21-22

It is difficult to truly forgive, and I am not sure if I am capable of such a beautiful act. My tendency is to hold grudges and judgments in my heart as my mouth speaks words of love, as I write phrases of peace.

At the kitchen, we witness the consequences of gentrification, of war, of misplaced priorities. I see men and women I have grown to love walk through our line; I am struck with sorrow and anger. Am I capable of forgiving those who contribute to oppression? If face to face with a loft-dweller, could I say, "You are persecuting my friends: fellow children of God; although you have hurt me through your oppression of them, I love you not only because I am called to, but because I want to. I ask you to forgive me for my judgments against you. I rejoice in this newfound love, this forgiveness"?

If face to face with a police officer of the mayor, could I say, "Your enforcement of policies has demonized and tortured my friends; yet I forgive you because I cherish the bond we share as brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope you will forgive me for my demonization of you and your work. My love for you is just as important as my love for the poor"?

The struggle to seek forgiveness is great, as well. The flaws I carry are deep and I feel the crevices of sin throughout my day. In order to continue my work, to live a life of nonviolence and to follow the path of Jesus' sacrificial mercy, I must be able to kneel before those I have hurt and understand I may not receive the forgiveness I so desire. I might be instead spat on, criticized, or hurt in return. Yet in the tradition of nonviolence, it is necessary to humble myself in the presence of those I denied. And, in the end, it is necessary that I also lift my own yoke and forgive myself.

Possibly more difficult is to walk away from the act of forgiveness without pride, but with humility--still recognizing my own shortcomings and wrongdoings, seeing myself as a sinner just as the person I forgave, craving the forgiveness of those I have hurt.

And then, to continue to act with love. To continue to forgive and risk hurting others and self once again. To beg mercy from those I have wronged. To love those I do not understand. To embrace those I once deemed my enemies. To recreate my family to include all.

For now, my heart runs with cold currents of righteousness, weakness, fear, seeking validation, perfection and victory. The journey is lengthy and I do not see the end, but I hope I will learn of the forgiveness unconditional love has birthed.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I know that eventually I'll have to write for my blog updates, but so much fun has happened in the past month or so that I thought pictures might be more appropriate (with little snippets of writing in between). Enjoy viewing my holiday adventures.

I made a deal with Herman (left) that he could check out as many books as he'd like from the public library on my library card if I could straighten his hair. Sam (right) didn't require negotiation. He just let me lay on the flat iron.

Rachel and I spent the day together just a while before Christmas. This is just outside the LA County Museum of Art. There was a big square of lamp posts, and we were having fun playing on them (just like all the other little kids who were running around). The picture was taken just seconds before the security guard asked us to get off the piece of artwork. Apparently, it's not meant to be interactive.

Christmas Eve was fantastic. All of us gathered together, sharing songs and gifts.

I got a bouquet of flowers from one of the guys at the Kitchen. Beautiful, no?

It rained on Christmas.

But we (me, Sam, Herman--l to r) cuddled up, listened to Jim Gaffigan's Beyond the Pale album and had some good laughs.

Ian and Dad visited, and boy were we excited! This is at the top of Pepperdine University. We were strictly told not to get out of our vehicle because the campus was closed. Well, if that security guard would have known what rebels we McGillivrays are, he would have thought twice before letting us onto his precious university.

We ate at The Pantry, a local hotspot, the morning before heading off to Disneyland (see below). It was an early morning, but we scarfed down a LOT of food.

And I made Dad and Ian go on the Tea Cup ride with me. (Mom: you were missed)

And they spun me around really really fast.
It was all great fun, although being away from Christmas for the first time was a challenge emotionally. Now, we're all back to our normal schedules. Piano lessons are underway once again. Soon, I hope I'll be taking a writing class at East LA College. Lent is soon on it's way, which means Seder will just just around the corner. While we're still in the midst of winter here in Los Angeles, there is much light. Much hope. Much excitement. Much love.