Winter Wonderland

I’ve slipped in snow and plummeted headfirst into an icy road with cars coming, but I still can’t quite bring myself to adopt the same dread regarding snow that a lot of my friends have.

Growing up in California, snow was always a special treat requiring a several-hour drive up the closest mountain. It was magical and also one of the few times I was permitted to eat instant ramen, clustered around steaming cups with my cousins, our cheeks red from chill. I was already looking forward to Portland’s actual seasons instead of 365 straight days of heat, but I was gently warned not to have high hopes of snow. I moved here in September 2016, and that winter was one of the biggest snowfalls Portland had experienced in a while. I was nothing short of elated being able to walk out my front door and jump into a snowbank.

Snow also meant stress: being stuck downtown during rush hour after a shift at the restaurant I worked at, realizing it would cost several hundred dollars and take several hours to get an Uber, because the buses had stopped running. I eventually went home with a coworker for the night and the next morning one of her saint-like roommates volunteered to drive me home from North Portland to West Linn, cheerfully chatting with me as we skidded on ice and I feared for my life. It can mean missing work, which seems fun until you remember you’re a self-supporting student and your paycheck is kind of important, but I don’t think I’ll ever truly gripe about it.

When the first few flakes start to drift down, even if they don’t stick, snow holds a timeless kind of magic for me. I secretly hope for another absolute coating, but we’ll have to see.

Turning Over a New Leaf

Last spring was the first time I’d had a backyard since moving to Portland. Packed away in my boxes from California, I found a large seed bundle that my mother had gifted me before I left, carefully protected from moisture in a plastic bag. She always enjoyed gardening and my fond memories of stuffing my cheeks like a squirrel with sun-warmed tomatoes as a child compelled me to try gardening myself. I also love to cook, which was another incentive to have fresh herbs and veggies at my disposal. 

My first plants were started on the windowsill in an egg carton, lovingly labelled with popsicle sticks. The soil wasn’t nearly as deep as it should have been, and they dried out quickly, the popsicle sticks becoming a little moldy when I overwatered. As a perfectionist that does not often start a new hobby, I was absolutely devastated. My maternal feelings that I’d poured into these little plants were severely hurt. 

My partner helped me research what I’d done wrong and gather more information like how much water I really should be giving them, how much space and light the seedlings need and that I should use plastic markers instead of wood. I invested in a grow light and proper seed trays with a good, organic starting mix. I was able to find about fifty pots of various sizes on the neighborhood app Nextdoor for free. 

My second attempt went incredibly well! I figured all of this out a bit late in the season, so my plants grew big but didn’t really produce anything. I still got some herbs out of it, though, and the knowledge about what to do this upcoming spring! As soon as it’s warm enough outside, I’ll be ready to go! 

It was an incredible feeling to watch the shoots poke through the soil, and like my tomato plant, grow into a massive thing that came from a little seed. I would often take my phone calls outside and pull up a chair next to the plant, rubbing a stem between my fingers to elicit that addictive smell. I may not be perfect at gardening, and I probably never will be. In that way, it’s a good hobby for someone like me to have.

The Other Side of the Tutoring Table

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Today marks my 10th week of working in the PSU Learning Center, and I can say without hesitation that it’s the best job I’ve ever had. If you haven’t heard of the Learning Center, check it out! It’s a free service for PSU students and offers academic coaching and tutoring in nearly all subjects. You can visit on the second floor of the library…and be sure to come say hi if you do!

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Photo copyright The Learning Center. Psst…I’m on the left!

When I was in College Algebra, my required math course, I pretty much lived in the Learning Center. See, I’m a French major…which means I’m good with languages, but not-so-good with numbers. I became familiar with the student side of the tutoring table (and it saved my grade!) It was a completely different experience being the tutor, but one that I find extremely enjoyable and fulfilling.

Being the French tutor has allowed me to help other students learn this amazing language. I’ve gotten to help with verb conjugation, adjective agreement, conversation practice, and more…all of which has improved my own knowledge of the subject. If I don’t know the answer to a question, then the student and I get to learn together. It brings me immense happiness when the lightbulb goes on for somebody, or the way I explain a concept helps them understand it.

Tutoring can seem scary if you’re unfamiliar with it. But trust me, tutors are nothing more than fellow students who want to help you learn. There’s nothing scary about me, an overexcited French nerd. So come by the Learning Center and say bonjour, or guten tag, or whatever your greeting of choice may be. We’ll be happy to welcome you!

A Novel Concept

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I recall really starting to get into it as a hobby around the sixth grade. I keenly remember being confident that I’d have at least one novel done by the time I was eighteen, maybe twenty if I was busy as an adult. It definitely makes me laugh to look back on my perspective at that point! My dream career has always been to be a therapist, but I really want to pursue my writing on the side, and being a novelist in the future is an important part of my identity.

     I’ve entertained several different novel ideas, but the first one I settled to work on has been time-consuming, stressful, and tough. But I’m so in love with the process and project. Crafting a story that has strong female characters, a complex setting that tackles tough issues, and equally funny and heartbreaking moments is one of the best things in the world to work on.  I’m about fifty thousand words into what I’m aiming to be a hundred thousand word first draft. It feels really weird to be so far into a project, as I’ve written many short stories but never something this long and complex. The biggest challenge is finding the time and energy to work on it. Sometimes, I have unorthodox weeks where I write ten thousand words, and sometimes weeks go by with nothing new. Often, my time to write is after I get home and after a long day of classes, work, and sports, I’ve still got to do homework and make dinner. I’m usually drained. It’s tough, as I remember wanting to be done with my first novel at eighteen, and I’m twenty-one and only halfway through the first draft. But I’m persistent and trying to be more realistic about my time and energy. I’m passionate about it and know that I’ll get there eventually! I’ve got a couple other novel ideas now, and even tried competing in a writing competition again for the first time in years, and my success has been really encouraging. Hopefully you’ll see my books on the shelves one day!

What I’ve Learned From 10 Years of French Classes

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I started taking French in sixth grade, which makes this my 11th year of studying it. But I’ve learned way more than just how to conjugate verbs. Studying it has made me more empathetic to people from different cultures and who don’t speak English as their first language.

When you start a new language, the first thing you realize is just how much there is to learn. Although this can be intimidating, it’s pretty cool to think about all the stuff you’re about to discover. Still, it’s made me much more humble by helping me realize how little I know in the grand scheme of things. America doesn’t value multilingualism the same way other countries do, which is a shame because speaking another language increases a person’s worldview so much. 

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When I was a teenager, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Canoe Island French Camp, a French immersion summer camp in the San Juan Islands. Several years later, I spent a summer working there as a program assistant, and those were the best summers of my life. We kayaked, swam, sang campfire songs in French, fell asleep while watching meteor showers, and feasted on French food. I even learned to like le fromage bleu. It was une opportunité merveilleuse to put my French to use in real life.

Learning a second language actually helped me appreciate my first language more. When I’m struggling to express a thought in French, it’s a relief to later be speaking English and easily say what I’m thinking without a struggle. It’s given me a much greater appreciation and respect for people learning English as a second language. Learning a language isn’t easy, and it’s important to be patient and kind.

The French language has also taught me to appreciate that English doesn’t have a subjunctive tense. If you don’t know what le subjonctif is…consider yourself lucky. French has a lot of verb tenses.

Roof With a View

The fact that the city is filled with numerous food carts is one of my favorite things about Portland. Predictably, since starting at PSU, they’ve become slightly dangerous for my paycheck. The wealth of options for lunch and quick snacks around campus is really tempting. I find myself most often visiting the food cart pod on Fourth Avenue, hunting gyros or beef kebabs over saffron rice. It’s really amazing to be able to sample so many different cultures and try things that I ordinarily wouldn’t. Persian food was always in my rotation when I was younger but I hadn’t really found a good spot again when I moved away from my hometown. Luckily, there’s many Persian food carts around Portland — and they’re all mouthwatering. I was worried about having the same quality of Mexican food coming from California, but you guessed it, there’s multiple incredibly delicious food carts for that. Satisfying my desire to eat sushi as often and as on the go as possible? There’s a sushi burrito food cart for that! 

I still haven’t tried everything in the pod and around campus but it’s definitely on my to-do list by the end of the year. After an hour-long process to finally decide which cart to sample, the only decision left to make is where to enjoy my bounty. I am a proud and careful lunch-spot hunter. I like being somewhere semi-quiet and with a spectacular view. I haven’t been disappointed at all by PSU’s campus, and the downtown buildings have conjured a new option — a rooftop lunch. The best view I’ve found has to be on the fifth floor of the Academic Student Recreation Center. It’s nothing short of breathtaking to be able to see the changing fall colors and almost all of campus. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t before! It may be getting pretty cold, but I’m excited to see the changing colors of all the trees as the year goes by.

B.A. in Crochet

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

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My backpack is full of everything you might expect from a college student: textbooks, notebook, three-ring binder, a few candy wrappers, and a purple crochet dinosaur. Wait, doesn’t everybody have that last one? This particular dinosaur serves as my pencil case and has been an excellent conversation starter. That’s just one of the many benefits that crochet has brought me in the eight years I’ve been doing it.

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A lot of people hear “crochet” and think lace doilies or itchy sweaters. But crochet has come a long way since its early days, and it’s an amazing hobby. Crochet is my way of de-stressing after a long day of classes. When I sit down with a ball of yarn and a hook, the familiar movement of the stitches calms me like nothing else does. I love creating something out of nothing more than a ball of yarn, whether it be a sweater, hat, or dinosaur pencil case. Now I even have a job designing patterns for a popular crochet website.

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Crochet is perfect for a college student because it doesn’t take a lot of money to get started. You can get a crochet hook and a ball of acrylic yarn for less than $10, and there are plenty of YouTube tutorials to guide you on your journey. Crochet is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I encourage you to give it a try. Who knows, you might just discover a new favorite hobby.