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Kids in the new kitchen. That’s Tara in the middle.

I did not expect that when I spent this summer jobless I would be busier than ever, but it’s true! I thought that those hours when I used to be glued to the computer I would now spend more time in the garden, or just relax on the deck with my kitty. What happened is that I just filled up all the rest of the spaces. Looking back, I realize my 10-hour work days might have been the closest thing to physical rest I got, other than when I was sleeping.

One of the most fun things I did this summer was to finally show off my new kitchen. You remember my whining about the remodel woes earlier this year. It took 10 months instead of the projected 2-4 months. The Project Manager TRIED to charge me double the estimated price, but he didn’t realize that the person he assumed was a dumb girl, that he had been ignoring and disrespecting the whole year is actually a wildcat. I got advice from a lawyer and submitted a letter to the PM with a corrected invoice, and a check for what – in my opinion – was the correct balance. …and then I sent a copy to his boss at the parent company. A month later I received a response accepting all my corrections except one. No apology. But whatever. It saved me over $10,000!! Gold star for Crystal.

Now it was time to have people over. First let me show you a before and after:

This photo is from last spring. I’m standing in the front room, facing a wall that holds a utility closet and a pantry. Behind all that (you can see the stove and microwave) is the tiny galley kitchen.

A photo of what it looks like now, while standing in the same place.

Tara wanted to have a big 22nd birthday party at my place in July, and said it was ok if I invited a bunch of my friends (since most of them know Tara anyway) and had a kitchen-warming party at the same time. Tara’s partner, Brynnen (orange hair), came over, and Tara’s best friend also came over the night before, and they insisted on making dinner. I unhesitatingly agreed.

We had the party on a Friday, and I told people it would go from 3pm to 8pm. That way, people could come and go all day long. A few of my friends stayed the night too, and so obviously the party really went till 1am or so. We had a fire in the fire pit and talked and laughed till we were finally spent.

While the photos of the perfectly clean kitchen are lovely, I like the following pictures better because this is the whole point of a kitchen: to gather and eat and drink and laugh.

The kids filling their plates after they finished making dinner.

Friends in the kitchen. My front room is still dark, but believe me it is so much lighter now after the remodel.

Three of my best friends and former co-workers.

Hosting parties is not typically my thing, and this part where people just break off and talk to each other without my help is magical to me.

Tara’s friends rigged up the TV to play video games and spent their time in that room.

Tara and a couple of my friends.

Here are the same two friends, who are also newly married, and took the opportunity to go for a long walk.

Speaking of friends… earlier in July I had the chance to spend a day with a blogger friend, Marlene, and help with her yard sale. I am fortunate to call several of you friends, and I lucked out when one of you bloggers turned out to be a neighbor (she’s an hour and a half away, but that’s pretty close). Anyway, I spent one of the best days of my whole summer with Marlene and a few of her beautiful family members. If any of you follow her at insearchofitall, please let me assure you that she is even more sincere, generous, and wise in person than she seems on her blog. Marlene wrote a great post about the yard sale. She also handed over some bowl cozies that she made specifically for Tara and Brynnen. These are bowl-shaped hot pads that you set your bowl into before you put it into the microwave. When your soup is hot, you can just wrap your hands around the cozy and pull it directly from the microwave without burning your hands. Brilliant! Tara and Brynnen are huge fans of soup, and use the cozies constantly.

Marlene wears a great apron that of course she made for herself.

Customers survey the treasures for sale when two homes get merged into one.

Blue and green leaf pattern chosen specifically for Tara’s cozies.

Another thing I did with Tara and Brynnen in honor of Tara’s birthday, is take them to see the Broadway show Wicked, a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. Tara is a huge fan of Broadway. They listen to the Broadway Pandora channel and know most of the songs for most Broadway shows by heart, despite only having seen a few of them. Tara has been dying to see Wicked for years, but it took a very (very) long time to come to Portland, then it sold out the first two years before I could get tickets, then we were busy, but finally it all came together. I read the original book by Gregory Maguire (based on the original original by L. Frank Baum) and couldn’t imagine a Broadway show of that book. However, the performance takes only some of the key ideas of the book, and to my delight, keeps a lot of the creepiness of the uncomfortably strange world, while also showing a way to connect with that world.

The Keller Auditorium in Portland, with crowds of people who want to see Wicked.

Merchandise for sale in the lobby. I’ve always liked the artwork and design for this show.

Though not allowed to photograph performances, I always try to get a shot of the stage before shows that I see. This one is one of my favourites ever because…. Yes! the DRAGON! (It’s eyes lit up and its head moved, too)

If you don’t know, Wicked is about the days when Glinda (The Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz) and Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) were college students together. How they started out as friends, but how politics and society told them that in order to pursue their dreams they had to present as enemies. In a way, one ended up on the right, and one on the left, and society didn’t allow them space to respect each other (sound familiar anyone?). Though they always cared about each other, publicly they were forced to denounce each other, and privately they didn’t really understand each other. There was also a very strong story line about discrimination of a group of citizens that the people of Oz felt were too different to be welcomed into society. And a third strong story line about how Elphaba didn’t fit stereotype of a pretty and desirable woman (her skin was green after all), and how handsome party boy Prince Fiyero not only falls in love with who she is, but is also motivated to become a better man after watching her example. The show makes us reconsider everything that the beloved television special The Wizard of Oz taught us, and makes us realize that the “truth” of history is a function of who gets to tell the story.

A whole string of good advice, wise warnings, biting criticism, intentful introspection, and positivity with tolerance. Great songs, great actors, and all of us went home very happy to have seen it.

We were, however, curious about the strange sights in the parking garage as we entered and left.

This sight on the wall near where we parked inside the parking garage. So creepy we actually laughed out loud!

On the way down the stairs to street level, we laughed again. It’s a play on a famous line from the 1977 film Star Wars.

Stage set for the opening scene of black odyssey, as the audience waits for the show to begin.

{All photo credits except the image above are by Mark Turek, courtesy Trinity Repertory Company.}

While I was in Providence, Will and I attended a show at Trinity Repertory Company, just a few blocks from where I stayed at the Biltmore hotel. Black odyssey plays from January 3 through February 3, and if you get a chance to go, you must do it! This is not Homer’s classical story of The Odyssey, but a political and historical piece that resonates when viewed against the backdrop of Homer’s work.

The audience finds out pretty soon that the gods are toying with the humans. Paw Sidin (Poseidon) sucking on a knight chess piece reminded me of the scene in that 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, when the gods loomed over tiny clay models of humans. In the movie, when the gods damaged the clay models, the actual people suffered. As Paw Sidin sucked on the knight, the human was drowning in the ocean.

Ulysses (Odysseus) was returning from duty in Afghanistan to his home in Oakland, with the weight of a murder on his soul. Paw Sidin was angry beause the man Ulysses killed in Afghanistan was his son. He knocked Ulysses into the water, vowing vengeance. Ulysses is barely kept alive by Aunt Tina (Athena) who begs her father Deus (Zeus) to spare him because he is her nephew. The play is the story of the gods battling in a game of chess over how to resolve this dispute.

The stage is painted as a chess board, so that you never forget that theme.

Costumes, shoes, and songs wowed us.

When Circe enraptured us with the pure pleasures of eating, the entire audience was salivating. And maybe not just for food. 😉

On the far right and left of the stage sit piles of old television sets that at first didn’t make much sense to me as a prop, and then became integral. The sets are different sizes, one tipped onto its side, and each displays a different scene, so the message isn’t always obvious. When Ulysses is drowning, for example, the scenes were all of rough ocean waters – that was pretty obvious. But at other times during the show, there are scenes from Oakland city, news broadcasts of historical events, or other evocative imagery including contemporary events like flooding during Hurricane Katrina and recognizable police camera footage, that help the audience put pieces together.

I’m one of those people that needs help in a story. I’m not very good at inferences from imagery in art, in acting, or in words. I’m oblivious to song lyrics. The screens brought it home for me.

I read The Odyssey a few years ago. A lot of you have read it, and you might remember that Odysseus was just trying to get home to his wife. The trials he had to endure crossed the line into ridiculousness and are only believable in the context of gods. He is captured by a Cyclops, the crew is turned into pigs, they are subjected to Sirens, Odysseus is trapped on an island and when he gets away his raft is destroyed. Come on!

Marcus Gardley wrote the play black odyssey based on The Odyssey to tell the story of a black man in America. In the play, Ulysses can’t find his way back to his wife and son for 16 years (turns out she was pregnant when he was shipped to the desert to fight). So many terrible things challenge them. The trials they all endure while he battles his demons and his wife raises their boy alone, cross the line into ridiculousness. Their story would only be believable if set in the context of, well, being a black family in America. Ouch.

Left to right: Omar Robinson as Paw Sidin, Julia Lema as Aunt Tina, and Jude Sandy as Deus.

Ulysses was lost at sea, so there are a lot of scenes with water, and rain.

Poverty, oppression, despair, manipulation, aggression and greed seep through the lives of these characters and try to destroy them. Ulysses is dragged and dropped by the gods Paw Sidin and Deus from one pivotal historic moment to another, teaching him that who he is has been shaped by his ancestors. There is a trail of pain and betrayal.

But there was so much love, too. It’s the emotion that seemed to catch my attention most often: love.

Ulysses would be lost many times, but for the power inside him. He and his family have reservoirs of love, and hope, and pride, and stubbornness that never let them give up. Against the careless whims of the gods, Ulysses somehow continues to survive. He learns to reach back in time to his ancestors and to use their love for him to fuel his efforts. The central message in the play is that we are a product of our ancestors, even when we don’t know anything about them, and that we should use our ancestors as a source of strength.

Another message is that our battles seem to be with outside forces, like gods playing chess, or the police, or the projects, but our theatre of war is actually within. Those battles need to be fought inside ourselves before the catastrophes on the outside can be resolved. Ulysses says, “We are who we have been waiting for.” That sentence was a jolt to me because I had already heard it in my own life, applied to me. At a Cherokee meeting two years ago, rapper Litefoot told us those exact words.

The show’s opening chorus was not a standalone musical event, but rather ushered us into a performance filled with song. I wasn’t expecting all the singing, or what a great vehicle it is in this case to help tell the story. There were some fun scenes as Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and James Brown performed. We heard African-American and Afro-Cuban spirituals and chants, lullabies, work songs and civil rights anthems. Many were known to the audience and the actors persistently asked us to join in singing and clapping.

Engaging with the actors helped to blur the wall between us, and I could not avoid yet another powerful impact of this performance, when I realized this story was about my path too. I couldn’t relate to Ulysses, but his journey – through all those ancestors – was beside me, and I saw my part in his story. I am not separate from him, and I need to know his story as well as mine.

Joe Wilson, Jr as Ulysses, and Julia Lema as Calypso.

Supa Fly Tiresias and his entourage.

The play is intense. I cried. In fact, the end of the first act was such a shock to me that in the first minutes of intermission I numbly put on my coat and stood to leave, thinking it was over. Will had to snap me out of it.

And the play is funny! It’s a delight of colour and texture and noise. It’s absolutely relatable. The costumes are out of this world. Will and I went crazy for the shoes. The SHOES! Ha ha ha. There’s a constant play on words for those of you who want a dozen little secret jokes. A couple of times the actors acknowledged someone in the audience who had become very engaged, and those moments made it more of an event than a show.

Every single actor is outstanding. They play multiple roles that overlap, such as the actor playing Paw Sidin also plays John Suitor, who tries to lure Nella Pell (Penelope) away from her dedication to her missing husband. The actress who plays Benevolence (Nausicaa) was such a convincing 10-year-old that I tried and tried, but could not figure out who was playing her until the end!

There is a happy ending. After the first, awful death, no other character dies. The gods leave Ulysses alone and are restored to good temper. For now.

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