My spring break is going by way too fast. I'm writing, reading, cooking, and enjoying the beauty of Fresno in the spring. My wisteria is just about to burst into bloom, the seeds I planted are starting to sprout, and all is right in my world.

Last Sunday, I had a perfect day. I wrote all morning--7 pages of an article I hope to finish by early May. I was in a city that I love doing things that I love; I ate good food, shopped, walked forever, saw a movie, and ate more good food. In the movie, Ginger and Rosa, there's a line that describes how I felt. A young girl, Ginger, returns home late and her mother asks angrily where she's been. Ginger replies dreamily, "We were just roving about, being free." Of course, the movie complicates that line, but I'll save the serious for another post.

Yesterday: different city, activities, circumstances--but still that same feeling of freedom. I rode my bike to a friend's house--and then we biked downtown and met another friend to talk all afternoon. Our conversation moved from books, to music, to writing. And my friends gave me ideas about where to move next with a project that has been teasing at me since last summer. I want my summer to be like these past few days, full of the freedom of exploring ideas in many different forms.

And then I went home and made recipe #2 of my cooking with Janet week: french onion soup. It took 90 minutes for the onions to cook down, so I stirred and listened to my friend's radio show before finally eating a fantastic bowl of soup.

Ah, spring.


I found out this morning that a dear friend, Manuel Sousa, just passed away. He lived in Setubal, Portugal, had a wife and two daughters, and was just 44 years old. I met Manuel when he was 17 and I was 21. He was a beautiful young man who had such deep sincerity, warmth, and joie de vivre. What a loss.

Tom, Andre, and I have a long tradition of turning into foodies whenever we're together. This dates back to my visits to their apartment in Brooklyn. They knew so many great, moderately priced restaurants in New York--and I happily went to whichever restaurant they suggested. I was never disappointed.

A couple of years ago, Tom and Andre moved to Phoenix. I love that they live closer to California and that they live in what still feels like my hometown, and they've discovered some really great restaurants in central Phoenix. I recently went to visit them, excited to finally see the house they had purchased last winter--and to eat with them.


The first night I was there, we went to St. Francis, a new restaurant on Camelback. I love restaurants with dark wood, brick, and soft lighting, and there was a nice outside bar that projects episodes of Julia Child's cooking show.

I like a small menu--I guess because it seems like the chef (in this case, Aaron Chamberlain) can focus on making a few things really, really well. Big menus make me crazy--it's usually hard for me to decide and it feels like the restaurant is trying too hard to please everyone. St. Francis is the kind of restaurant that just concentrates on getting a few dishes absolutely right.

Andre had a dish called "Forbidden Rice," composed of sauteed vegetables, ginger, garlic, and a sweet and spicy dressing. He loved it--and it looked so healthy to me.


Andre and I both had the corn chowder. I especially loved the veggies that were used to garnish the soup.


I also had the chopped romaine salad: romaine, summer vegetables, and smoked bacon dressed with buttermilk cheddar dressing. I loved everything about this salad.


Tom had what I would have ordered if I'd been hungrier: the french onion burger topped with smoked bacon, gruyère, and crispy onions. He gave me a bite--and it was fantastic.


I recommend this restaurant. It has a comfortable ambience, attentive wait staff, and delicious food.

St. Francis
111 E. Camelback
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Tlf. 602-200-8111

1

My friends and I hang out at Sequoia's every so often. Recently, it was my birthday, and I decided it was time for another Sequoia expedition. I didn't tell people it was my birthday--I didn't want a fuss--I just wanted to spend time with people who make me laugh and bring happiness into my life.


So we met at Sequoia's and eventually migrated to Livingstone's. I stayed out way late, laughed a lot, and had a really great birthday.

I also ate my favorite Sequoia meal: sliders with garlic fries.

1



My friend Bo bought her first home last fall and has been busily nesting ever since. She loves her new home . . . and for good reason. It's beautiful--with a big backyard, shady patio, and really beautiful interiors. I'm especially envious of two rooms: the laundry room (my washer/dryer is in my spidery, dusty garage) and the kitchen (which is a perfect size with gorgeous appliances).

Last weekend our mutual friend Sam was in town. Since Sam wanted to see Bo's new home, we invited ourselves over for dinner. Unbeknownst to us, it was Bo's first dinner party in her new home--and what a great meal it was!

Bo is an amazing cook, as I've already blogged about here; she is creative and seems to always be making something new. She's started a new habit of going to the Farmer's Market each week to buy the freshest, in-season produce.


Saturday, she started us off with two appetizers: chips and guacamole and brie and crackers. Sam and I happily ate while Bo prepared the rest of the meal. The first dish that Bo finished was a mix of green peppers, carrots, and potatoes. Next, Bo poached trout in her wok with ingredients that included soy sauce and ginger. Lastly, she made kale and garlic.


As always, all three of these dishes were delicious: flavorful, healthy, and delicately made. I'm not sure how she always manages to create such interesting meals. I'm just glad that I occasionally get to benefit from her mad cooking skills.


The Johns, Tanya, and I decided to get together this weekend for dinner and Scrabble. John B. suggested we repeat our pizza night which you can read about here and here. I was more than happy to oblige.

We noshed on olives, bread, tapenade, and dolmas while we made 3 pizzas. I insisted that we do our gruyere wonder (gruyere, garlic, tomato, and rosemary) again and bought some heirloom tomatoes for it. I still LOVE this pizza.


I also had found a recipe for an artichoke, sun dried tomato, pine nut pizza that sounded really good. We used about 3 tablespoons of sauce and a bunch of fontina cheese. I really enjoyed this pizza, too, although next time I'd chop the artichokes into smaller pieces.


Our last pizza was John B.'s invention: mozzarella balls cut in half, fresh oregano from my backyard, and chopped basil added at the end. This was also a really delicious pizza.


Scrabble was, as always, great fun. John J. has been preparing and ended up coming in second twice. John B. wasn't focused on the game, so I won both times (I think he was throwing the games). And we all laughed a lot and otherwise had a great time.


Stay tuned for volume 4. Definitely in June if not before.

11

Fresno. When I lived in southern California, we called Fresno the "armpit of California." I'd visited the city because my dad was giving a lecture and spending time with his sister and her family who used to live in Fresno. All I saw of Fresno back then was my Aunt Eloise's house and a Mormon church. When I had my interview in Fresno, my flight was canceled so I ended up spending less than 24 hours in the town. I didn't see much of Fresno, but I was quite sure that I didn't want to spend my life in small town Texas, that I wanted to be back west, back in California--so I accepted the job, packed up my things and moved to Fresno. I've lived here for 10 years now and, after a year in Norway, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to me to have made my home in Fresno.

Fresno is a city with an inferiority complex. The most common praise for the city is that it takes only 3 hours to drive to the Bay area, Los Angeles, the coast, national parks. Yeah, the best thing about Fresno is leaving it and going somewhere else. But I think Fresno has more to offer that that.

Let me use this weekend as an example. Thursday (I know, not technically the weekend, but I'm starting there), our former colleague Steve Yarbrough who left this year to teach at Emerson College in Boston was in town. He gave a reading on campus, and then many of us went to Connie and John Hales' house for a party. I arrived there at about 10 p.m. and the party was in full swing. I sat in the living room talking with Samina, John, Alex, Tanya, Linnea, Matthew, and others about the reading (which I had missed), about the Young Writers Conference, and about Fresno State's upcoming intersession in London. Living in Fresno has brought writers I hadn't heard of before into my consciousness, including my wonderful colleagues past and present: Steve, Alex Espinoza, David Anthony Durham, Liza Wieland, Connie, John, Steven Church, Tim Skeen, Ruth Schwartz, and Lillian Faderman (to be fair, I had heard of Lillian, a seminal theorist of lesbian history, before I arrived here). Last night, I went to a reading at Palominos with some local poets: Tim Hernandez, Mike Medrano, Marisol Baca, Lance Canales (I may be mis-remembering his name) and Connie. Mike mentioned Juan Felipe Herrera, who spent years here, and all the poets celebrated the local experience. Also last night, I went to Audie's Olympic where a local band, the Suppressors, performed, including a piece about the Marcus Wesson ska (an infamous local who fathered children with his children, many of whom were killed or committed suicide together). So, what's my point here? The Valley is a fertile place for creativity and self-expression. Locals and transplants both find inspiration in this agricultural, sometimes dysfunctional, but always interesting town. So, that's one reason I love Fresno.

Another reason I love Fresno is embedded in the previous paragraph: I have great friends here. Staying in Fresno as long as I have has allowed me to develop friendships over a long period of time. I've always made friends easily (a skill learned from moving around a lot), but the great thing about living somewhere so long is that I've had the chance to really find friends who stick, who I trust and love, who I hope will be in my life forever. These last few years in particular have been quite rich in terms of my friendships--and after a year away, I'm also making new friends and deepening relationships with people who have been in my life for years. I appreciate the openness of people here--it feels easy to socialize with old friends and new. Friday night, John and John invited Tanya and I over for game night and dinner. John, a fantastic cook, made a cheese souffle, sauteed green beans, salad, and roasted potatoes. It was all so good. We also played Scrabble. John B. won, as he always does, and, even though I get rather competitive with games, I still was so happy to lose . . . because it meant I was hanging out with people who are really important to me. . . . oh, and because I love playing Scrabble and I don't get to do it enough. Last night, Kristie and I met in the Tower district: we went to the aforementioned poetry reading at Palominos, ate dinner at Veni, Vidi, Vici's, saw the Suppressors at Audie's, and hung out at Livingstone's until about 1:15 a.m. Kristie and I have known each other for years, but in some ways, she feels like a new friend, new because we're getting to know each other better. We laughed a lot and I had so much fun jumping from one place to the next in the Tower. So, yeah, there are amazing, wonderful people who live in Fresno, and I'm lucky to count so many as my friends. I think Fresno's inferiority complex adds to the sense that people who are interested in the arts want to stick together, to support Fresno's efforts to celebrate the arts, and to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that Fresno offers. I can go to events by myself and encounter people I know, even though Fresno has a population of almost a half million people. Sometimes, Fresno feels like a small town that way.

This morning, I slept in late, skipped my morning walk (which is another thing I love about Fresno, walking around the Fresno High/Fig Garden area), mowed my lawn, trimmed some trees/bushes, and picked up fallen fruit in my backyard. I love my house--it's comfortable, pretty (at least I think it is), and homey. It was built in about 1945 and is in an established neighborhood with quiet, tree-lined streets, friendly neighbors, and beautiful yards. I'm grateful that my job has given me financial security, allowing me to be a home owner in such a charming neighborhood. I don't know if I would have ever been able to afford a home if I'd stayed in Huntington Beach.

Recently, a friend posted a great Facebook update: "John Jordan loves Fresno--maybe for no good reason, but he does." Many of us agreed--and some posted good reasons why. I guess this blog entry illustrates some of the reasons that I love Fresno.


For a long time, I've wanted to include a photo reference guide to the people I mention in my blog. I especially wanted to do this last year since so many of my friends back home didn't know my friends in Norway. Better late than never, I say.

Lixian and Jeff:

Lixian and Jeff
Lixian and Jeff

Lixian was the person I hung out with most frequently. She's always fun to talk with and I love how committed she is to making the world a better place. My 10 months in Norway would have been so much more lonely without her. I hope from some of my other posts, it's clear how much Lixian has meant to me this year. Jeff has so much energy and curiosity about the world. He was great fun to talk politics with. I love that this picture shows what close friends these two are. I enjoyed hanging out with them both separately and together. And I'm so excited to see Lixian next week in San Francisco!!!!! I promise to take a better picture of Lixian to post as a follow up.

LaReesa:

LaReesa
LaReesa

I don't know what I would have done without my occasional get togethers with LaReesa. She reminded me of my friends back home and was great to talk shop with. We joked about how nice it was to spend time with someone our own age. I also really enjoyed LaReesa's family and wish that I had a picture of all three. John is a great cook and person, and Zach is one of the most intelligent and fun kids I know. I miss you guys.

Tove (and Jeff again):

Jeff and Tove
Jeff and Tove

Tove and I became friends far too late in the year. She worked at the Fulbright office, so I always assumed that the last thing she'd want to do on the weekends was see more Fulbrighters. When she got a new job, I decided to ask her if she'd like to have dinner--and that began our far too brief friendship. Tove is a great conversationalist and I love how independent and together she is. Tove, I wish we'd had more time to get to know each other.

Ben, Susie, Cathrine, Stine:

Ben, Susie, Cathrine, and Stine
Ben, Susie, Cathrine, and Stine

These four came to my New Year's Eve Party (in addition to a few other folks). I love Ben and Susie's yummy cooking (Ben, I still need the chicken tikka masala recipe!). They are both so talented, and I admire how well they seem to forge strong relationships. I met Cathrine through Stine--she is funny and smart . . . and I hope that she really will come to grad school in the U.S., preferably in California. 🙂 Stine was a teacher who invited me to her class last fall. She was so fun to hang out with then that I decided she *had* to be my friend. She's off to Spain on her own great adventure in August.

Hilde and Renate:

Hilde and Renate
Hilde and Renate

Hilde and Renate are teachers that I met at the first Fulbright reception. They have both done the Fulbright summer program for teachers in the U.S. They each were great friends to me and the other Roving Scholar. They have always been supportive and kind to me. Hilde, I hope you love your new house. Renate, love your posts to my Facebook page!

Ann:

Ann
Ann

Ann is an amazing teacher and avid learner of all things technological. Although she suffers from a devotion to Microsoft ;), I can't believe everything she can do with the computer. Ann and her husband Henning have been so generous and willing to teach me about Norwegian culture. I only wish we'd been able to spend more time together!

I look at these pictures and think about my fears when I moved to Norway. I worried that because I traveled so much, I wouldn't make friends and that I would have a very lonely year. I'm sometimes amazed at how quickly we can feel connected to other people. It isn't always clear at first meeting who will become a part of our lives, nor is it clear how long friendship will last. I'm so glad for the time I was able to spend with each of these people. Thank you.

Yesterday I attended the Tamejavi Festival with my friend Samina and her two children Maya and Cyrus. According to the Tamejavi website, "Tamejavi is a word meaning 'cultural market' whose origin is in the concept of 'plaza' or place of exchange. It is derived from the Hmong and Lao TAj laj Puam, the Spanish MErcado, and the Mixtec nunJAVI." Each year, this educational event creates an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of the many immigrants who have made their homes in the Central Valley.

I blogged about the food we ate there on Cakeypal's Savory Morsels, so here I'll blog about the children's dance performances. The program began with a group of Persian dancers. I enjoyed witnessing the cultural pride they displayed as they shimmied and twirled . . . it was also fun to see parents and grandparents beaming with pride. Another group performed traditional dance moves to more contemporary Hmong pop music. These little ones were so cute with their synchronized moves and shy smiles. Although the M.C. commented on his own "Asian bling-bling," the girls' outfits were also charming.

Two young couples danced a Oaxacan number and then all the performers gathered on stage. After brief comments from Fresno City Councilmember, Blong Xiong, the group sang "This Land Is Your Land" led by the Mujeres Valiantes. The Woody Guthrie song took on new meaning for me in this context; it celebrated the immigrants whose descendants make up much of the American population. The Mujeres Valiantes sang another number on their own, "Brown Eyed Children."

While we wandered around Radio Park looking at art and waiting in line for the Time Tunnel, Armenian and Filipino dancers took the stage. I walked towards my car to the tunes of those displaced by the Dust Bowl. The crowd yesterday was fairly sparse--I hope that this event continues to grow. It is a unique Fresno celebration which represents and honors the rich traditions of the Central Valley.

1

Cynthia, Blog.jpg

For the last few years, I've been getting my hair cut by Cynthia at KAOS. In fact, she was the person I trusted enough to cut my hair short. The first time I went in, she took the time to look at my hair closely, to examine where i had cowlicks and other oddities that make my hair unique. Since then, she's guided me through a number of hairstyles, including the longer hair that I have now.

Aside from the fact that she always gives me a great haircut, she's also really fun to talk with. Cynthia LOVES Debbie Harry and Blondie. She's a fan with capital letters. When they tour California, she goes to every concert. She brings the band gifts. She takes pictures which she proudly displays in her shop. She even campaigned to get the band a star in Hollywood. And when they finally did get honored, Cynthia was there videoing the event. If you look closely at this picture, you'll see that her tattoo is Debbie Harry's signature. Cynthia has great stories to tell about Blondie concerts (and concerts by Charo, Celine Dion, and others).

Cynthia and I also talk about politics, astrology, movies, love, families, and music. I generally leave with not only a good haircut but something to think about. She's a bit of a cynic about politics, more so even than I am. She is concerned with spirituality and relationships and has great insight into both. Once I was dating a good guy . . . but I realized one day while getting my haircut that I had better conversations with Cynthia than I did with he who shall remain nameless. The result: I'm still "seeing" Cynthia, but "he" is no longer in my life.

Going to get my hair cut is like going to hang out with one of my friends. We laugh, we talk, we philosophize. Cynthia rocks!