ruined for life. for real.

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It has arrived.  My final day at SOLV, my final days as a Jesuit Volunteer in the great Pacific Northwest.  How did this happen, I ask myself, when it was only last week that we arrived at orientation in Molalla?  Oh yes, that’s right.. its all coming back to me now.

During this year, I have met some of the most wonderful, passionate and empowering people I will ever meet in my life and I am forever changed by the experiences and conversations I shared with them.  I moved into a house in Hillsboro with six strangers who are now family to me and will always have a place in my heart, no matter where our next adventures take us.  Though not without its challenges, this year has been one of the most meaningful and difficult things I have ever done and has made me realize how much more growing I will do throughout my life.

This year, I biked, I canoed, I baked, I cried, I yelled, I retreated, I sang, I danced, I danced again, I loved, I lost, I created, I painted, I drove, I planted, I uprooted, I flew, I ran, I walked, I dreamed, I talked, I stayed silent, I protested, I believed, I carried, I learned, I listened, I travelled.  There is so much in this life I am thankful for and blessed with; Oregon will always be a place I call home and the relationships I have cultivated here will sustain me for many years to come.

Thank you for staying with me throughout this year, I hope you’ll stay awhile for the rest of the journey.  My brother and dad arrive in Oregon today and we leave tomorrow on our version of a great American road trip back east, take a peek back and see what we find.  Many blessings to you always, my dear friends, and I wish you peace and wonder on your own adventure.

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You look like the Fourth of July

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What’s more patriotic than a houseful of volunteers, pool noodles and dance parties?  Nothing, that’s what.  Us JVC’ers celebrated our independence from salaries and the nation’s birth in style this past weekend in Portland.  Its been a fun past few weeks with this fabulous summer weather and getting to be outdoors with friends.  Here is a snapshot of how fun we are:

I started the weekend off at the fantastic Last Thursday, a street/art/craft fair held on the Last Thursday of the month on Alberta St. in Portland.  Meghan and I hightailed our way over to Alberta after work for an early-bird dinner (literally ate dinner at 5:15.. am I 70 years old?) at the fabulous vegan/veg Vita Cafe.  We walked around saoking in the rays, meandering through art pieces, past people in tutus on stilts and listening to fantastic music that ranged from 10 year old kids dropping beats on buckets to a little kid singing Beatles with his dad to  some guys and gals from All the Apparatus, a great street band.  Homemade ice cream from Suzette’s, a precious creperie dessert cart and store front.  Honey lavender and cinnamon ice cream?  Yes, please.

The weekend was very patriotic, as I mentioned.. we all made it into Portland to hang with JVs from a few of the Cascade region houses.  Loads of fun watching fireworks from the roof (they’re legal here!) and catching up with everyone to hear about their post-JVC plans.  As if there is any life beyond JVC.. ha!  We danced the night away and into the morning too.. Christie, Elena and I said our goodbyes to friends the next morning and meandered around some fun shops on Missisippi St.  We stopped for a root beer float breakfast.. duh.  Wandered down to Saturday Market on the waterfront and ate some lunch on the grass.  It was an extreme day for us kids and so we headed home to rest for the evening.

4th of July was a super fun morning as we all survived stapling 1200 Tootsie Rolls to slips of paper to hand out during the Hillsboro parade with HomePlate, Sean’s agency.  We walked with some of the folks from the agency and had a fantastic time.. we saw our neighbors and they FREAKED out when they saw us walking in the parade and handing out candy.  “It’s our neighbors! Our neighbors!”  Why yes, it’s us.  We did indeed turn into movie stars overnight and so yes, your excitment is valid.  Lots of fun.  And a breakfast of marionberry ice cream cones followed!  Plus a lunch of organic pizza deliciousness at Earth Oven Pizza, a fantastic new restaurant in Hillsboro!  Chris, Elena, Christie and I biked to a nearby park for dinner and a photo shoot and watched some fireworks.  And then we biked home cause we couldn’t see any fireworks.  And then we had to dodge the ends of people’s driveways because they were all setting off their own fireworks.  Perfect.  And then we ate brownies.

What a weekend.  We’re so independent and patriotic.  More stuff coming soon.

Chaco tan lines and bald eagles

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Brace yourselves, friends!  There are so many photos included in this blog post and they are all of wonderful things; I will let the pictures do most of the talking…

Life at SOLV has wound down for the time being as Green Teams are finished since schools are out for the summer but we are now gearing up for six weeks of vegetation monitoring of all of our sites.  We have three interns joining us for the next weeks from Duke University and they will be helping us with photo point monitoring and vegetation monitoring.  SOLV does this every summer to measure the amount of native and invasive plants on all of our active and graduated sites; we will go to each site and take photos and data on how the native vegetation is doing and what invasive plants might be threatening the site.  Getting ready for some sweet tanlines!

Our final retreat for JVC was this weekend on Whidbey Island in Washington; this was our third retreat with a focus of spirituality and what better place to see the beauty of the world than along the coast of Washington?  We stayed at Camp Casey, a former military fort that was built in 1890 to guard Puget Sound.  It is right on the beach and provided absolutely stunning views and wonderful space to walk and enjoy the sunshine.  We were visited by bald eagles nesting in the fir trees, a doe and her fawn, seals and the occasional stray JV.  It was fantastic to see all of the JVs from the Cascades region, reflect on the year and consider how our experience will influence where we are all headed.  Since calories don’t count when you’re on retreat, we all ate very well and made use of the expansive field, beach and outdoor space.  We’re so used to rain that we weren’t quite sure why it was so bright and warm out!  The weekend ended with a coffee house and of course, everyone who shared was hilarious and so talented.

So hopefully, this sun is here to stay and we’ll have a lovely next few weeks.  We celebrated my housemate Sean’s 23rd birthday yesterday with some fantastic Chicago deep dish pizza his parents sent… how lucky are we!  We enjoyed it at a tree house a few miles from our house and Sean donned my birthday tutu to celebrate.. quite a sight on a bike.  Not sure where the next few days, weeks, months, years will take me but I’ll keep ya updated!

Slugz

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Well hello there, sunshine!  The sun has graced Hillsboro with its presence over the past few days, though she’s hiding now.. I hope she’ll be back soon.  This has made wrapping up with Green Team all the more pleasant as the weather is the most cooperative it has been all year; some of our eighth graders had their final site visit this week and led an event themselves this weekend.  I was able to go to the presentation of their final school projects; I was so impressed by their professionalism and intelligence at 12 and 13 years old.. amazing.

Under two months left with JVC and our final retreat is this weekend on Whidbey Island in Washington.. very psyched to see everyone and have some good laughs and conversations.  Hoping for good weather, some outside time, space for reflection and delicioussss food.. tamales, anyone?

Spent this past weekend volunteering at a local elementary school carnival/fundraiser extravaganza.. let’s just say my fishing pond booth was a hit.  What kid doesn’t love fishing with a clothespin and getting a ruler in the shape of a lion or a super bedazzled ring?  Saturday was a SOLV day, started off with our student led event at Willow Creek and then I helped with the clean up after the epic Portland Starlight Parade.  Why yes, I did wear my tutu.  A great day of sunshine, got to spend the middle of it with Christie hanging at the farmer’s market.  Played a riotous game of Ultimate Frisbee followed by Sproutball with youth ministry on Sunday.. an epic weekend overall.  Lots of work this week (and an interview!) followed by retreat.. see you next week, friends.

Side note: Slugs are following me around lately.  They’re everywhere.. hence the title.  Some are small, some are large, some are yellow, some are brown.  All are slow.

Wear your tutu everyday

I am officially obsessed with tutus and I am now officially 23 years young; what a stellar combination.  Life has a funny way of getting busy but my housemates made time to ensure that the start to my 23rd year was a wonderful time; I got a cake with a bird on it and a homemade tutu.  Who says growing older means you have to grow up?

bird cake and birthday tutu

In the past few weeks, I’ve been very busy with our Green Team schools and working with them to wrap up the school year.  We’ve done some fun newsletter writing and bug hunting and willow staking.. you can check it all out (and please do!) on our Green Team blog.  We just had a student summit on Thursday with students from five of my schools presenting their work they have done this year; it was such a proud moment for me and for Green Team to see them share all they have learned and to hear their personal stories.  I have really come to love working with these kids and getting to know them over the past nine months has been one of the absolute best things about my year in Oregon.

Some of my students also spoke at SOLV’s fundraising breakfast at the Oregon Zoo about their experience with Green Team, along with their teacher who has been so inspiring and wonderful to work with.  Watch it here:

As busy as life can be, it can always get busier!  With the warmer weather here (kind of) I’m hoping to get outside for long walks, runs, hikes and bike rides more as everything is blooming and its so much lighter out later.  The farmer’s market is open here in Hillsboro with fun veggies starting to come in from local farms; we’re trying to get our raised beds started in our backyard and we are in the process of getting beds started at a local church with lots of good deliciousness.  Also going to keep up on card-making.. its a fun way to use up paper and fabric scraps while keeping in touch.

Not too much else to report since I’ve been working so much but have been able to table for SOLV at some good events like a children’s festival and a farmer’s market; I know now how imperative it is for me to really work on my Spanish!  We have a great intern that is able to help me out a lot but I’m hoping to start learning some key words and work on my vocab so I can communicate with more folks about SOLV and life in general.

That’s all for now.. remember to get all your veggies planted now that the frosts are done!  Get outside for hikes and farmer’s markets and bike rides and visits with friends.  I’m gonna be on the hunt for a used Polaroid camera.. they’re so fun to use and I love the photo formats.. perfect for summer picnics in the grass.  Soak in the sun friends!

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplacable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours. (Ayn Rand)

PS: I hear things are going well at Fresh & Fancy Farms in NJ; you should check them out if you haven’t yet!

Fresh and Fancy flowers in my parent's yard

love on lined paper

We’re wrapping up with Green Team schools for the end of the year and I am saying goodbye to students that I have worked with all year.  Its hard to believe I’ve been working with them since September and have really come to love working with them, both inside and outside of the classroom.  One such group, seventh graders from an environmental middle school that comes out once a month, wrote Meghan and I thank you letters for our work with them since they didn’t get to say a real good-bye on their last day.  Below is a poem a student wrote for me; its things like this that make me know that I will always be involved in education and celebrating the power of students!

Dear Alex,

Your work will be admired

How you did it is what I inquired

How did you tread through the mud trail,

Through rain, ice and very strong gale?

You endured this to help us succeed,

Instead of going inside to read.

Putting up an effort and turtling through,

Everyone here is going to thank you.

The work you have done, made SOLV shiny as a bell,

Please come back, we wish you well!

Students with a pacific tree frog