I rented in Sullivan's Gulch for four years and was looking for a house to buy. I lived one block away and walked the neighborhood regularly looking at houses. My previous home in New England was built in 1917, and I was interested in owning an older house again. My house was for sale by owner and, when I looked at it, I could see that it had excellent bones and nothing had been structurally changed (remodeled) since it had been built, meaning the house was in its original 1907-built state. I was in graduate school at the time and the owners were willing to sell it to me on a contract.
Since moving in I’ve done lots and lots of cosmetic work—refinishing floors, repainting everything, updating the bathroom, taking out a massive wood stove in the living room and installing a gas fireplace in the firebox. Nothing major, but all to make it feel like a home, rather than a rental as it had been for 40 years. That said, the owners took excellent care of it as a rental. I was fortunate to buy a house with a lot of integrity. I like to think that I have been true to the spirit of this house.
Sullivan’s Gulch is a fabulous neighborhood. Eclectic, a bit eccentric, and you get the feeling that many people in this neighborhood are good friends. My immediate neighbors are excellent—we share fences, all have dogs, and share expenses when it comes to sewer lines, fences, even a big tree that needed pruning. Our neighborhood has a soup night where neighbors get together at one house on a Sunday night for a big pot of soup and potluck. It's fun and casual and short—just long enough to say hello, share a meal, catch up and laugh.
The paintings and prints in my house are mostly gifts, and the objets d'art are things that remind me of someone or something. For instance, the tiny mural above the pocket door was painted by my son. The glow-in-the-dark Mr. Mysterioso who stands in the alcove symbolizes Greek household gods, something I was thinking about when I studied epic poetry. I like the idea of an everyday household god, so there it is.
When people visit me, they often comment that my house is “homey.” I feel that way too. There isn't much of value at my house, so I'm not sure what it is that feels comforting but I am definitely glad to come home. It is a sanctuary for me and gives me a sense of stability and well being.
The strongest room, the most sure hand in my house is the kitchen, and it is where I am most at ease. Each room is a little less certain, with the least confident room where the tv is located. At the television is not where you'll find me in my house—I'm more likely to be at the chopping board or working out something over a gas flame.
I have a background in journalism and writing creative non-fiction. I don't love to read food writing, but I like very much to write about the deliciousness of food or to use it in fiction to give some insight into a character. I love to create food distractions in a scene—a man picks up his plate to lick it like a dog—food is the best in so many ways.
There are a lot of ways to interpret the world. Food is an important way to understand. To me, cooking is hopeful – I know what I'm doing in the kitchen, and there is a lot of satisfaction in preparing food. Sharing a meal is often the best way to learn and understand someone else's point of view. Food is a daily pleasure and for many of us, a luxury. It is central to my life, in part, because I grew up in rural Washington, poor, and often hungry.
In my work at Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon I help connect individuals and families with nutritious food who would otherwise struggle to find enough to eat. I am very lucky to have slipped out of the grip of poverty, but many people have not. I'm fortunate in my role as Development Director to participate in the mission to make a difference in the lives of Oregonians who are food insecure and additionally seek to implement and improve systems that will help lift people out poverty.
Oregon is in the top ten states in the U.S. that are food insecure. That's appalling, considering the tremendous agricultural resources of this state. This may be attributable, in part, to rapid growth in the Portland metro region, but it also reflects the lasting damage caused by the recession that urban and rural Oregonians are still managing. Eliminating food is often the easiest way to save money when other necessities—car repairs, rent—increase. We are continuing to see that the growth which benefits many of us increases the hardship of those already on the margins.
Jackleen is the Development Director at Partnership for a Hunger-Free Oregon. She is also working on a memoir about her childhood experience of food insecurity and her love of cooking.