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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Au revoir 2017

Last year at this time I was worried about the impact of the incoming presidency. Unfortunately our worst fears have been surpassed. I always imagined that America's system of three branches of government would provide the checks and balances to outweigh the ignorance or ineptitude of the chief executive. I was wrong. And we have seen America's reputation in the world sorely tarnished. Never have we seen racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by a public figure interested only in himself and his personal fortune. Who knows what horrors lie ahead as the tweeter-in-chief enrages our enemies. It is embarrassing and frightening to be an American right now.

But enough of politics. We are all fed up with 24 hour news coverage that staggers from one outrage to the next.

My brother, Joe Aragon
On a more personal note, my year had its ups and downs. My younger brother Joe died in March. Far too soon for a man of such talent and charisma. He is dearly missed.

On a far happier note, my son Eric finished his PhD in Chinese Medicine, receiving his degree from Hong Kong Baptist University - the only westerner in his class. Needless to say, I am extraordinarily proud that both of my sons have earned the title "Dr. Brand."

With his arduous studies behind him, Eric married the beautiful Shuchen Yeh in Taiwan. Their wedding included some fascinating traditional rituals such as serving tea to the parents before the wedding. Eric and Shuchen now split their time between Taipei and Boulder.
I spent a lot of time taking photographs in 2017, but probably my favorite photo expedition was in August when my friend Margo joined me to photograph the total solar eclipse visible just south of Portland. 

Besides the total eclipse, 2017 also included other firsts for me. In September I visited Vancouver B.C. with friend Cindy Gration. 
What a great city to explore on foot and via bicycle!

Finally, in November, I traveled to Cuba with a small group to discover the rhythms of Cuban music with lessons in drumming, song, and dance. 

 When I wasn't making music, I spent hours walking through Havana, camera in hand.

And after a week in Havana, we traveled to the Viñales valley and visited a tobacco farm with cultivation methods hundreds of years old. Fascinated, we watched as our host demonstrated the art of rolling cigars. Dipping the end in honey resulted in a sweet smoke!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Au revoir 2016

2016 brought some extraordinary political, environmental, and social challenges, and many are deeply worried about the year to come. What will a Trump presidency bring for the United States and the rest of the world? I shudder to find out. 

However, for me personally, 2016 was a good year.  I am blessed with a retirement free from many worries and have settled into life in Portland. I live in a great neighborhood, just a few blocks from son Philippe and his wife Rachel.  

2016 included some memorable trips. I went to New York  City in April with my longtime friend, Cindy. We spent my birthday week indulging in Broadway theater, museums, restaurants, and long sightseeing walks through the city. I ❤️NYC !  

 I returned to Colorado three times, celebrating my Mom’s 85th birthday in October.
My Mom at 80

In September, I went to Paris for 3 weeks. I was lucky to exchange apartments with a couple who spent those same weeks at my place in Portland. With a  free apartment in a familiar neighborhood, plus fine weather, I had a wonderful time reconnecting with Paris friends.

Eric and Shuchen
Additional highlights of 2016 were visits by my son Eric and Shuchen from Taiwan. Eric has almost finished his PhD in Chinese Medicine, and Eric and Shuchen are newly married! They will celebrate their union with friends and family in the spring of 2017.

Finally, the latest highlight of 2016 came on November 26th when I became a grandmother for the first time. 

My year was blessed with good health, love and friendship. I wish you the same during the holidays and in the year to come. Bonne Année!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The joys of traveling alone

I recently returned from a solitary three week visit to Paris. Some friends are mystified by my propensity for traveling alone and au pif* (*au pif = following my nose, my feelings, rather than having fixed plans.)

Aren't you frightened? Will you be safe? Won't you be lonely?

But each day of my visit confirmed the benefits of my decision as I wandered the city that I know so well. Most people think I am French and Paris feels like home. I reconnected with old friends and meandered through the streets, camera in hand, always ready to capture the sights or accidental glimpses into the lives of others.

When you're alone you're not distracted by conversation with your traveling partner.
       You can be free to engage with people that you encounter in your travels.
       You can be fully present with your surroundings, fully alive, fully attentive, fully in the moment.

There is no better place to do this than Paris with tremendous variety in neighborhoods and outstanding opportunities for people watching, window shopping, and eavesdropping. I took advantage of the city's cultural offerings: museums, galleries, and dance performances. And the food! There is endless variety in markets, charcuteries, and restaurants. You never have to cook if you don't want to.
But there are moments when it would be nice to have a traveling companion to share a gorgeous sunset, to walk along the Seine hand-in-hand, or to enjoy a romantic dinner. Let's face it, dining alone is not fun.

Maybe someday I'll meet someone new who will understand and appreciate my energy and my independence while offering the closeness and affection that I desire.

It's easy for me to meet new people. I'm not shy and have joined some organizations to support my hobbies. However, I've yet to meet any interesting unattached men in my current circle of contacts. So I have decided to sign up on an online dating site. There seem to be quite a few people who are looking for companionship, and it's possible to screen for interests and other factors.

I'll let you know if I meet anyone!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Photographing the stars

I'm learning more and more about photography. Last night seven members of my photo club drove to Lost Lake at the foot of Mt. Hood to try and capture the Milky Way.

We arrived in time for sunset, took a few photos, and then waited around for it to get completely dark.

We chatted, nibbled some snacks, and checked our camera settings; comparing notes regarding ISO, aperture, and exposure settings.
Finally! The time we'd been waiting for - as the Milky Way gradually appeared, accompanied by some satellites, airplanes, and a few meteors.
What fun! I can hardly wait to do it again.

Monday, June 27, 2016

My itinerant lifestyle

I'm packing again. I'll move out of my place and into a different  house in Portland on Friday, July 1st. My unusual living situation requires it. I have been renting a lovely, fully equipped apartment in a perfect location for 10 months each year since September 2014. However, the owner of the apartment returns to Portland from Los Angeles each summer and reclaims her apartment to get away from the heat of southern California.

That's not a problem, I responded when learning of these terms, I'll just return to my native Colorado to reconnect with family and friends and enjoy the summer in Boulder. And I don't have to move out completely,  I can put away my personal effects and leave them in boxes in the basement.

But this year is different. I won't leave Portland for the summer. I've found a house-sitting gig not far from my current place. A friend will be traveling to Scotland for two months and she would like someone to watch over her home, sort the mail, and occasionally drive her car so that it won't suffer from disuse. There are no pets to take care of and no houseplants to water - so I won't be tied down to a rigid schedule. Furthermore, the house is in a historic Portland neighborhood filled with large beautiful homes. And the icing on the cake? It's not far from a vibrant commercial neighborhood filled with interesting shops and restaurants.

I'm thrilled. I'll have a new neighborhood to explore.

But Elaine, isn't it hard for you to pack up and move all the time? Don't you want a place of your own?

Well, yes. I sometimes wish I didn't have to put my books away in boxes, sort through my clothes and  decide what I need while packing everything else away. I do lose a little sleep as I get used to a different bed and have trouble finding things in a new kitchen and new neighborhood.

And sometimes I wish I owned my own place with a view of the mountains or the city lights or both.  I would love to have beautiful modern furniture, my own art on the walls, a well-equipped kitchen, and space enough for entertaining. I would live near parks, shops,  and restaurants that would provide everything I want without needing to drive my car. Finally, I'd like to live near my son so that I could enjoy a future grandchild.

But housing has become terribly expensive in Portland. It's a seller's market with buyers (and renters!) going to extraordinary lengths to bid on the few houses or apartments that come available. I do keep my eyes and ears open - just in case something comes up that I can afford. But with a limited fixed income and no job, I am unwilling to blow what's left of my savings on a home. And my current apartment, even though I live here for only 10 months a year, meets my needs perfectly.

I prefer freedom. Freedom to travel, freedom to explore, freedom from THINGS. I don't want to be tied down by possessions. I like the discipline of keeping my life simple. My "things" have no hold on me.

I think it keeps me humble. And it certainly gives me flexibility: I feel free to live in Boulder or Paris or Portland or wherever my heart desires, needing only what I can carry in a suitcase.

My decision to live in fully equipped houses with furniture, linens, and artwork that I haven't chosen wouldn't work for everyone.

But so far, since I moved out of my home in Boulder in 2008, leaving behind everything except my clothes and books; it has worked for me. I spent four carefree years living in Paris and traveling in Europe with no furniture, mortgage, or household repairs to worry about.

My attitude, my needs, and my desires may change in the future. But for now, from the first of July until the 7th of October, I'll be sleeping in other people's beds, looking after other people's houses, and exploring new neighborhoods. What an adventure!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lan Su Chinese Garden

I happened to stop by Lan Su Chinese Garden yesterday afternoon, just in time to capture a few images from the Chinese New Year celebration.  It was a completely unplanned visit but a very lucky one!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

A rare break in the incessant rainy weather  provided a good excuse for our our photography club to take an excursion to the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. The garden opens at dawn - awfully early to wake up on a Saturday morning - but worth it to catch the morning light.

It's still too early in the season the see the rhododendrons in all their glory, but there were plenty of other things to shoot.