I have been thinking about my elementary school days lately. In a matter of months my son will cross the threshold into his Kindergarten classroom; I will likely be wiping tears away as I wave goodbye. It’s a big transition time for families; a time of growth, change, and celebration as a new normal settles in. While we still have summertime on the horizon and there is fun to be had, it’s hard not to think about what’s ahead. It makes me think about my own childhood days in the classroom. While time behind a desk was punctured with the fun-filled chaos of recess, it was field trip days that were always a highlight of the school year. During my recent wandering through Oakland’s Chinatown I stood in front of The Fortune Cookie Factory and thought about a field trip of my own a long time ago to watch fortune cookies being made; and of course being sampled by my eager little hands. I figured it would be fun for my equally eager grown-up hands to get inside and relive a childhood memory that was sure to end with the fun crack of a fortune cookie being opened.
If you were to ask me what I miss these days, my answer would be traveling abroad. Tight budgets and two little ones have kept my feet local in recent years; I have mixed feelings about it. While I have re-discovered my own town and all its nooks and crannies, I ache for the adventures of international travel. Discovering the nuances of other cultures by wandering the streets of a foreign city is not only an unforgettable memory, but an invaluable learning experience. Not knowing what to expect, to be pleasantly surprised by stepping a bit outside of your comfort zone is a growing experience. I once had a day like this in the bustling city of Shanghai. Abroad for business, I had one day to myself. I studied my map, stepped outside my hotel feeling a bit nervous and hesitant, and I walked. It became one of those days I have never forgotten. At the end of the day while I had logged miles, viewed temples, drunk tea in a historic tea house, taken in the architecture of the French Concession district, what has stayed at the forefront of my memory is the unexpected. A hapless wander through a city park where I photographed people sitting on the park benches; couples, families, friends in the midday bustle.
I was on a walk in my neighborhood several weeks ago and I came to a stop to stare at an oak tree. I can’t really explain why; maybe it was because it at the top of a hill and I needed to catch my breath. Perhaps it’s because things often catch my eye and I pause to take a closer look. In this case it was the way the huge limbs swept up and over my head; a canopy to filter cloud and fog. I snapped a picture and kept walking. A week later my family enjoyed a Sunday morning at the Oakland Museum of California and I spent some time in front of the exhibit about the oak tree. A blog post was born. I have been asked how I come up with what to write about; well there you go. My busy mind got to work. Why is Oakland named after the oak tree? How did it become the symbol of our city? From our garbage cans to our T-shirts; its roots symbolize our civic pride. What started as a momentary stare at an old giant turned into a quest to learn more about Oakland’s beloved oak.
I have always loved the rain. I love the sound and smell of it; sometimes I even like the feel of it. I watch my kids stand completely unfazed by their drenched clothes and dripping hoods as they stretch their red, cold hands out to feel the droplets hit their palms. The winter season of 2016-2017 has brought endless downpours to Oakland and beyond. To say our ground is saturated is an understatement. Water has been endlessly streaming through our neighborhood days after the skies have cleared. The green blanket of weeds in our yard is nearing knee height; my husband often sighs at the work ahead. While temporary creeks seem to exist along every curb with a downward slope, I started to think about the vast watershed that cuts through our city. I crossed my fingers that a series of dry days might remove the slickness from the mud and I hit the trails of Joaquin Miller Park in search of the sound and smell that I love.
Juice recently became a metaphor for me. That may sound funny, but a little spot in Old Oakland that popped onto my radar a few months ago ticked off a long list of things that have been top of mind for me these days. Whole and healthy lifestyle. Female empowerment. Immigrant success stories. Small businesses run by women. Opportunity for local youth. All of these things converge with the whirl of a blender behind the greenhouse glass door of Superjuiced. The organic juice and smoothie bar tucked inside the courtyard of the historic Swan’s Marketplace in Old Oakland brings these components together. It is proof that our city, our country, is unique and full of opportunity…with a rainbow of color to boot.
I drive the stretch of MacArthur Boulevard between the Laurel and Dimond Districts of Oakland quite a bit. When I take the curve by Coolidge Avenue I often glance at the small shopping center that is home to a local favorite, Loard’s Ice Cream. A sign has always caught my eye towards the back of the parking lot that says “Free Oakland UP.” I have often wondered what it represented. When I learned that an interesting concept was at play behind the doors of this unique thrift shop I added it to my list of places to pop in.
It’s Monday and there is a question at the forefront of my mind. What do I do now? To stand among 60,000+ people and then scroll through my screen later that day to see that we were just one mass among so many others in cities throughout the world is empowering. I think I likely have company in the question I just posed. I am one person; one woman. How do I use my energy and sense of empowerment to do good; to incite change? I know that so many of us feel ignited to make a difference after the high that comes with being part of such a powerful day, yet how we take the next step forward is individual. It might be cautious for some, and a strong leap for others.
2017 has begun. The beginning of a new year is often full of conflicting emotion. The post-holiday letdown meets the anticipation of a fresh start. For some, myself included, the year may have milestones that mean a clock is ticking and time feels quick as it slips by. It’s a year that brings a new administration that leaves many unsure of what the future may hold for our country. How to navigate into a new year is something I grapple with. Some years I put thought into it; during others, January 1st is just another day. The transition into this year has felt awkward and bumpy. Unsettling weather, sickness, children shifting through change and growth, and all sorts of other twists and turns to navigate have thrown me a bit off balance as I pin my new calendar on the wall. Ironic when you consider my last post of 2016 reflected on the struggle to find it. I think we all know that the slate really isn’t wiped clean when the clock strikes midnight; the baggage we carried doesn’t mysteriously disappear. Yet perhaps we can re-think the way we carry it.