"Downtown" Durham

Greetings! We're slowly finding our way around our area. We thought for sure we would want to settle in Chapel Hill, the little town by UNC, full of "progressive politics" and some walkable areas. We do like Chapel Hill...but so do a lot of people so rents and house prices are a bit steep in comparison to Durham. And honestly, Durham is shaping up to be an interesting city and we're looking into houses around the fringe of the downtown that would allow us to walk and bike around the "city" and the Duke Campus. Traditionally these houses have been left to neglect as people fled to the suburbs but it reminds me a little of maybe a Strathcona neighborhood in Vancouver, with a lot of potential. Where else could you find a house for $40,000 anyway?

I went to the Durham Farmers Market on Saturday morning to check out the local food and the people too - so involved in people watching was I, that I forgot to take pictures. At this moment, tomatoes are king in NC. Huge, delicious and in many different varieties and colors - pinks and yellows and reds and greens. We also got some sweet corn, eggplant and baby potatoes. Beans are big here - broad, butter, dozens of varities that I've never seen before, that I don't know what to do with. I was busy selecting some butter beans when a woman sidled up to me and whispered "The beans are better at the stall next door". I took her advice and dropped the beans...but got distracted by cinnamon croissants and forgot to pick up some more. Fruit-wise, melons are the main event right now - giant cantaloupe and watermelon of course. I'm curious to
plant some berries here next summer and see how they grow. We have our first plant on the balcony, a very healthy basil plant to supplement all our tomatoes. Let's see if my black thumb has followed me to NC...

I then walked through downtown Durham to meet Sergio - here is where we see a lot of potential. Many of the old buildings, like these in the picture have been left alone for years and are just ripe for new businesses to move in. I wish I had a business-like bone in my body because I would be snapping up one of these storefronts. Hopefully, somebody will.

Here is the complex where Sergio works - the American Tobacco Campus, so named because Durham used to be based around tobacco companies and warehouses. And now the city is
renovating these old empty brick warehouses into businesses and homes. It's a little more picturesque than your typical office park and right next door to the Durham Bulls baseball park (where the movie Bull Durham was filmed, of course) where we have been trying to catch a game - our latest attempt foiled by a dramatic thunderstorm that rolled in Friday night and caused everyone to flee in panic. Maybe next time.

Sunday we walked around the Duke Campus, visiting the Nasher Art Museum which had an exciting exhibit of new artists using cities as their material and then down the street to the Botanical Gardens. Beautiful gardens that go on forever, it was hard to believe we were still on a university campus. And in response to a request from my sister Glenna, in the gardens I posed for some pictures showing our latest project in development - Baby Sweet-Chavez.
Yipes. This is at 19/20 weeks so it looks like we're shaping up for another record size Sweet pregnancy. Awesome.


Wish You Were Here

You're looking at the beautiful apartment where we currently reside in Durham (note the sarcasm - also note the luggage - this was the night we moved in). Black vinyl furniture and beige carpet may bruise my aesthetic soul but it will do for now. And I suspect very few furnished short-term rental apartments are done up in my particular "style".

My aesthetic soul has undergone lots of bruising lately; Toto, we're not in Portland anymore. Those leafy streets and sprawling old homes and independent businesses in cool old buildings - it's hard not to think of them without sighing heavily. North Carolina itself is not ugly, not at all. But the city planning and retail developments leave a lot to be desired. I guess I just didn't think college towns would mean strip malls everywhere but it seems to be so. And make no mistake - despite the progressive, liberal, hippie-ish politics (especially of Chapel Hill) the car is a necessity here. Particularly where we currently live, tucked to the side of Durham, edging the Duke Forest. But it looks like it's not going to get any easier no matter where we live - this area is both small and spread out, a rather disturbing combination. Looks like I'll finally have to take the plunge and get my license at last, though I draw the line at becoming a two-car family. We used to be able to leave the car for days at a time, weeks at a time if we wanted, using it only for weekend trips. We'll do our best to work around it, but local public transit has a long way to go.

The benefits of small-ish town living? (and believe me, this is the smallest town either of us have either lived - and we used to make fun of Portland for its small stature! What did we know...) There are some. Trees and wild life are rampant. Here is a shot of my daily walk in the Duke Forest, just outside our back door. Note the blue sky - boy, does that make my heart happy:

And here is a close-up of the bark of one of my favourite new trees, the Loblolly Pine. Besides it's excellent name, it's tall and thin with clouds of needles at the top and a bark that resembles the skin of a python:

The birds are incredibly colourful - orange finches, tiny yellow birds, and yesterday I saw my first bright red cardinal. Hopefully when I get a zoom lens, I can capture some of these beautiful birds and also the giant, brightly coloured butterflies. I need a guidebook to start identifying them all properly.

The wildlife also gets a little bit bigger than the birds. Taking a load to the laundry room the other day, I surprised a doe and her tiny spotted faun, grazing outside our door. And today, on my walk here- I came across this fellow:
We examined each other quietly for a while and I decided to head in the other direction so as not to disturb him too much.
But he decided to follow me down the path a spell, freezing every time I turned around, as if I wouldn't notice.
Guess that wouldn't happen in the city.

So - we're in a mild form of culture shock but there is plenty of beauty to be found and we look forward to finding some more. Plus, we just came back from the pool for a dip at 8 pm in the fading sunlight and warm night air. The crickets have started up their nightly song. Now this is the summer I've been dreaming of for so many years!


Road Trip - Part 3

At last - the furthest East and South I had ever been. Even in the North, Louisiana looked swampy and mysterious. We crossed the Mighty Mississippi, one of many rivers I would have given my eyeteeth to be floating down on a raft or a in a canoe. A short easy drive day with no drama, which is exactly what we needed, and a welcoming reception in Pearl, Mississippi, the new home of Sergio's sister Elena and family. It was great to see them on their home turf and we had the added bonus of the Elder Chavez's being there as well, on their way back home from Chicago. Christian and Gabriel were a hilarious team of brothers and great fun to hang out with. And we were spoiled by everyone, including a much needed and much anticipated book "The Road" by Cormack McCarthy. Thank you all!

All too soon we had to head out. I had read about a restaurant called Niki's West in Birmingham, AL, tucked in amongst the produce warehouses. We pulled in and it was hopping. People in the South are indeed friendly and hospitable but when it comes to food, you better know what you want, no time for questions. Niki's is set up like a cafeteria, you get in line with your tray and a line of servers hustle you along. What do you want? A meat and three veg is a good choice - but then you have to choose the meat. I got baked chicken and Sergio got catfish. Then our vegetables: but there were dozens of dishes, no labels and no time to find out. Collard greens and fried okra seemed like a good choice (they were!) and what do you know, mac n' cheese counts as a vegetable. Black eyed peas taste a little like the English mushy peas. The whole thing was delicious. Waitresses circulated with pitchers of sweet tea, refilling when needed. My only regret was not snagging a piece of chocolate silk pie on the way out.

One of the reasons Sergio got me the digital camera is because I take so many pictures of food and he was getting a little tired of developing whole rolls of film taken of a bowl of strawberries. So of course the next picture is from the next day, when we made our way from Atlanta through South Carolina. Another recommendation from Road Food, Beacon's Drive-In in Spartanburg, SC was another restaurant where you had to hit the ground ordering. Another long line, a man saying "Call it!" and you had to spit out your order and move right along to pick it up as dozens of people in the open kitchen fried burgers, made onion rings, scooped BBQ. They have a car-hop there who has worked at Beacon's since 1957. They still have car hops, even. This is a picture of my Pimento Cheese A-Plenty. I'd been reading about the Southern food pimento cheese, basically a cheese mix with - yes pimentos - and the A-Plenty meant a heap of crispy, slightly sweet onion rings and fries piled on top. Far more than you could eat in one sitting, even washed down with my gallons of sweet tea. And so my Pie Jones remained unfulfilled again.
And suddenly, we were in North Carolina. And the road trip was almost over. And our new life was starting.


Road Trip - Part 2

Sergio had warned me that the road to Dallas was dull. It was indeed hot, but not at all dull. I-40 takes you straight along old Route 66 territory and rather than a view of concrete and other cars, you actually get to see small Texas towns and businesses. Hardly a chain in sight, except for Dairy Queen which Texans seem to adore. We stopped in Amarillo for lunch, at The Golden Light Cafe, recommended by Road Food, where we had great greasy diner food, old cranky regulars at the counter, young waitresses who still called you "Hon" and a bill of $11 for two meals, two beers and an endless refill of iced tea over chipped ice. The thrift shopping was just fine in Amarillo too. Much cheered, we hit the road again and made good on our promise to stop when we felt like it and not become driving machines. The sack of peaches in my lap shown above was the result of a quick stop at a little farmer stand. Summer air and fresh peaches - is anything better?

We were happy to see some gathering clouds on the horizon, wanting a break in the endless heat. But little did we know, we were hitting the Tornado Alley of the Texas Panhandle which in our case just brought severe thunderstorms. I'm from Alberta - I know thunderstorms. Or I thought I did. With bolts of lightening and thunder crashing all around us, the wind suddenly whipping heavy rain every direction, the visibility was literally nil. I've rarely been more scared in a car. We crawled to a stop on the highway along with the other cars and semis and finally spotted an exit where we could wait out the storm. It put us directly in front of a hotel. This, I realised later, was a sign from the universe: Stop Now, Sleep, Have a Shower. We didn't listen.

When the storm passed, we soldiered on to Dallas, hitting their very frightening freeways in the dark, tired and sticky, Sergio haven driven for over 12 hours. I literally have to close my eyes on Dallas freeways - the German autobahns have nothing on them or their drivers. Reckless lane changes, speeding cars, no signals, multiple merge lanes - it's barely controlled chaos of the automotive kind, which is my least favorite kind of chaos, it turns out. We were within one exit and 1.25 miles of Jaime and Jeanne's home when the inevitable problem occurred: two speeding cars had passed us earlier, racing each other, and we ran smack into their fresh accident, police not even on the scene yet but the lanes blocked so we had to get to the side of the road. And our big heavy car ran over some of their accident debris. And immediately got a flat tire. The 4 minutes spent maneuvering our car off the freeway and onto the nearest exit rivalled the thunderstorm for adrenaline production. It's after midnight. We have a flat tire. We're parked in the driveway of a very odd and sketchy apartment building. Mosquitoes are eating us alive and I'm stripped down to my camisole, too hot to care who sees me in my virtual underwear.
But look at Sergio! Still smiling, though I assuredly was not. Sergio's brother Jaime to the rescue! He has an excellent jack and a spare tire - which doesn't fit our car. He goes home for another. The police cruise by. Jaime comes back with spare tire #2. It doesn't fit. We concede defeat and unpack the jigsaw puzzle of our back hatch to unearth our own spare tire, then put everything back again. At 2:00 am or so, we make it to bed.

We had planned to leave the next morning for Mississippi but clearly that was not to be. New tires had to be found, the oil had to be changed and we had a new nephew, Anthony Cooper to hang out with. He was a little busy sleeping and eating so we spent considerably more time with in the world of Daniela which was great. We don't get to see our nieces and nephews enough. Here's Jaime and Jeanne and Daniela.
It was lovely to spend more time with them, though they were in the middle of their own packing and remodeling - but Dallas was a tad unwelcoming. Besides the flat tire. The flooding and heat created swarms of mosquitoes which bit all exposed areas immediately and I even managed to get some crazy fire ant bites on my foot that are still blisters. This made me fear North Carolina - if the mosquitoes are bad in Dallas, what would they be like out there? We were on our way to find out, via Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.


Road Trip - Part 1

Let's begin with The End, okay? We made it to North Carolina and we are here in one piece and a little startled to find We Live Here Now. But it's only been 3 days, so give us some time.

To the left you will see a picture of our car, outside of our former apartment the morning we left Portland. I wish it was a close-up so you could see how entirely Hillybilly'ish the back of the car looked - stuffed to the gills with all the leftover stuff you find yourself with after the bags and boxes have been packed, things you probably don't need exactly but don't want to throw away either and that don't have a natural place to put them: guitar straps, shoe polish, pillow slips, etc. Also, enough clothes to last us a month. And food. And some kitchen stuff and a quilt and pillows and an airbed and all our cleaning get the idea. It was a mess. Look at the top of the car - there is a hastily strapped on storage container that only our good thoughts and about 18 bungee cords kept on top of our car. And look on the back - a bike rack holding Sergio's sensible modern mountain bike and what's this? My rusty Red ancient Schwinn with two flat tires? Who would drag that across the country, bouncing perilously with each pothole? The morning we left ( a day later than scheduled, exhausted and sore with seriously dishpan hands from all the scrubbing) we installed the bike rack for the first time and discovered that modern bike racks don't take into account the gloriously curved crossbars of 60's era purple Schwinn Hollywood's with streamers and I had to leave my bike behind in the custody of a kind neighbor. A few tears were shed, let me tell you. Perhaps it is the universe's way of telling me to finally get that Euro-style commuter bike I've been pining after for years now. We also had to leave behind our vacuum and our beloved yellow kitchen step-stool thingy that I hope to replace, along with the rest of our shed furniture.

Anyway! We were on the road, creaking along in our heavy and hot car. Oregon is beautiful but long. Idaho is not beautiful and long. We hit the final stretch of Idaho, a barren and dark road of over 120 miles, with very little gas and a raging forest fire glowing eerily on the horizon. Things improved little in Utah, where the first 7 hotels we hit, many miles apart, had No Vacancy. Finally we found a very fancy Best Western and 6 or so hours later, we were on the road again.

Southern Utah, usually so beautiful with the mountains and the rock formations, was blanketed in smoke from forest fires. It was terribly, terribly hot in the desert. And there was endless stretches of road work, where we had to wait in long lines in the baking sun to follow the pilot car at ten miles an hour. We had never truly tested our cars AC ability and it turns out it doesn't work so well when a) it's too hot and b) idling in a road work line. Too bad for us! Thankfully Colorado doesn't have as much money to spend on road improvement and the construction ended right at the border.

In New Mexico, we headed straight for a Green Chile Cheeseburger at Blake's Lottaburger (Actual slogan: "If you are what you eat, you are awesome") and on to a quick sleep at Sergio's parents deserted house, as they were on vacation themselves. Later, a concerned neighbor would report to Mr. Chavez that " a strange bearded man had been seen going in and out". I would hope an actual robber would choose a far less conspicuous get-away-car than our swaybacked Subaru, but it's nice to know that Neighborhood Watch is alive and well. The next morning kind friends (Hi Nick and Amy!) and family (Hi Grandma and Patsy!) rose at the crack of dawn to watch us eat breakfast (for me, cheese enchiladas with green chile at The Frontier, likely my most favorite meal, ever). And so, on to Dallas.


Carolina on our mind

0ur newly empty apartment

What is Idea Jar Inc.'s long awaited new project? Let's see: We're moving across the country to North Carolina for starters, leaving our true love city Portland on July 8th. Kyla will be attending Grad School at UNC, going for her Masters in Library Science. Sergio has a job in IT at Duke University and looks forward to not sending Spam anymore. And oh yeah, a Baby Idea Jar is due in January. So in other words, not much, the usual.

Boy will we miss Portland. We've spent time at some of our favorite PDX haunts over the last few weeks like:
The Laurelhurst and Bagdad Theatre (who knows when we can have beer and a movie again?)
The Hedgehouse for a PABST sandwich and a pint of C-Note.
Right next door to Pix Patisserie for an Americano and a delicious chocolate treat.
Amnesia Brewing for the sausage platter and the Copacetic IPA (Ethiopian Iced Tea for Kyla).
My Father's Place in memory of hungover breakfasts with Bloody Mary's in one hand, coffee in the other and chicken fried steak served by the best waitress in town.
Powell's Books where we made a commemorative last purchase, including a print showing the bridges of Portland.
Sauvie Island where we picked blueberries and the best strawberries on the planet, Hoods.
VooDoo donuts for a Bacon Maple Bar and a latte from Mojo's, waving at our old neighborhood bar The Goodfoot as we left.
Another commemorative wave to The Bar of the Gods.
The Basement Pub for a final round of trivia. We did not win.
A final good-bye to Kyla's school, Portland State University, home of the mature student.
Cancelling our holds at Multnomah County Library, a sad, sad day.
Pok Pok, which has the most amazing green papaya salad, cool and spicy at the same time.
A final practice of Knife and Son, complete with clove cigarettes.
The back garden of the Pied Cow for a summer sundae.
The gift of treats from the Pearl Bakery, courtesy of Matt. Thanks Matt!
A trip to Bagby Hot Springs.
A hike in the Gorge with a picnic next to a river and a beer outside at Edgefield.
Just walking around the Buckman and Sunnyside neighborhood, the best houses and yards and porches we've ever seen.
We are so glad that so many friends and family could come visit us and the city before we left and share some of these memories.

We can only hope Chapel Hill is one-tenth as cool as Portland. And we'll be letting you know about our trip out East and what it's like to settle in the South right here on this blog. Stay tuned for posts from the road and wish us luck!


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