Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Unrealistic Fantasy #2

I am hiking the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Mexico to Canada--2,655 miles. Yep. In my dreams.

I have always liked the idea of long-distance travel by foot. I remember as a kid, I'd get squirmingly bored while visiting relatives in Evanston, IL or Oak Park, IL and my lenient mother would let me and my sibs escape the tedium of their after-dinner grown-up talk. We'd head out the door and start walking. I remember the first time we crossed the border into Chicago. I was ecstatic! It was like we'd crossed over into another country! In reality, we'd probably covered less than a mile, but suddenly we were in a big name-brand city. Amazing to think that my mom let us just wander into Chicago like that and trusted that nothing would happen to us and that we'd be able to find our way back. I am at this very moment awarding her posthumous brownie points for not buying into the culture of fear.

Years later, I found out about the Appalachian Trail and for a while had an unrealistic fantasy about hiking that, which was supplanted once I discovered the existence of the much more exotic and entrancingly named Pacific Crest Trail.

Now, I have hiked portions of the PCT on day hikes, and in fact hiked a measly three miles of it (about 0.1 percent) on Sunday. And who did we see but about 8-10 thru-hikers living out my fantasy! It just so happened that if you'd started out in Mexico in April, by August 29 you'd be just crossing over into southern Washington. It really made my day to see these folks. We stopped and talked to one of the guys; I almost wanted to ask him for his autograph I was so in awe of his accomplishment. On our way back to Oregon, driving over the Bridge of the Gods (which spans the Columbia River between Cascade Locks, OR and Carson, WA), we saw some thru-hikers walking over the bridge. I was outraged to find out that they have to pay a 50-cent toll to cross that bridge! There's not even a sidewalk or a pedestrian/bike lane on it so they have to slimpse along hugging the railing with all the car and truck traffic whizzing by. C'mon--they've hiked all the way from Mexico, the least the state of Washington could do is give them free passage into the state.

So here's why there's only a microscopic chance that I will ever realize this fantasy:

  • I have never carried a backpack weighing more than 20 lb.
  • I have never camped (unless you count the time I was forced to set up a tent on a tennis court at a YWCA camp, every moment of which I loathed).
  • I am a wuss about fording streams, and on the PCT I'd have to get both myself and my gargantuan backpack across some really treacherous ones. Note: It sometimes takes me a good ten minutes to psych myself up to get over a tiny trickle that most people don't think twice about. Pathetique!
  • I like flush toilets.
  • I don't like ramen noodles or other desiccated "food."
  • I'd have to take six months off from work.

Yeah. I know some people would say, "It's your dream. You should just go for it. Think of how empowering it would be," blah, blah, blah, but...really I can be content just knowing that it's out there as something I might do if pretty much everything in my life were different and/or I was a different person.


Monday, August 30, 2004

Unrealistic Fantasy #1

Shetland Sheep
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
This weekend I was reminded of two fantasies I've had rattling around in my brain for at least the past decade.

Here's Fantasy #1:
I am a shepherdess and the owner of a Shetland sheep farm. This farm is probably in Scotland, although it could be in Yorkshire or Wales. I live in a stone cottage that is approximately 300 years old, but, of course has central heating, flush toilet, fridge, and broadband Internet. I would say I have about 200 sheep in the full range of possible Shetland sheep colors. These sheep spend the day nibbling grass in the vast, hilly fields in the vicinity of my cottage and baaa-ing randomly in a pleasing and winning manner. After a full day of this indolent behavior, my two border collies, McTavish and Dougal, leave the cottage and go herd all the sheep back into their corrals (or whatever the correct term is for a sheep enclosure) with no help from me. It's a bit unclear what I'm doing all day if I'm supposed to be a shepherdess and am not spending any time with the sheep. I'm sure I do do some sort of shepherdess work like shearing the sheep or wandering around from time to time in Wellington boots with one of those shepherdess crooks. Perhaps I am also busy turning their wool into cash money by carding it and spinning it into yarn, although that sounds a little too manual laborish for me. (Nothing against people who do manual labor; I'm just bad at it. In high school aptitude tests I scored so low on manual dexterity tests that I was told that the worst possible career choice for me would be cherry picker.)

Clearly, I have only the vaguest and most fanciful notion of what being a shepherdess would actually be like, but I do realize that in reality it would be a lot of hard physical labor, which is why the whole thing is a fantasy. I am not exactly cut out by nature to do a lot of hard physical labor.

So. This unrealistic fantasy was originally inspired by a trip I took to Scotland and Wales. I was out walking down a deserted country road in Wales and was nearly run down by a herd of sheep. Not a human in sight. Just a couple of incredibly capable Border collies driving them back to their evening quarters. It is true that sheep are dim bulbs and hundreds of them will willingly allow themselves to be herded anywhere by two dogs nipping at their heels.

The fantasy was reignited this weekend at the Oregon State Fair, when we toured the sheep barn. I guess I'd never seen Shetland sheep up close before. They are compact and friendly with toothpick legs and copious amounts of wool. They are far superior to all other breeds of sheep--especially those big lummoxy sheep with unseemly, dangling grapefruit-size balls.

Stay tuned for Fantasy #2. It will be just as enthralling as this one.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Deep-Fried Fun

Yesterday B and I embarked on another half-day vacation. We headed down to Fun, Oregon, Pop. 10,000 (normally known as the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem).

B says that "Fun" stands for Fried-Unusual-Nourishment. That's pretty apt. The fair is mainly about food--fried food. Sure there's family entertainment, animals, exhibits (more on that stuff maybe in another blog entry). This entry is devoted to fried food.

The most inventive deep-fried treats were deep-fried Twinkies, Snickers bars, Oreo cookies, and Rocky Road bars. They all looked pretty much the same, kinda like corndogs. I was fascinated. I worked up the courage to ask the vendor to identify them for me. She said, "The Twinkies are the ones with the syrup on them," and indeed they did have some sort of red drizzle on them (probably the same syrup used to make sno-cones). What I wish I would have asked was how well these items were selling. I saw people oogling them, but I think they were like me--horribly fascinated. See--we Oregonians do draw the line somewhere!

So maybe the deep-fried Twinkies and their brothers-in-toxicity weren't selling but plenty of other deep-fried things were. And what a wide assortment there was too: Deep-fried onion rings, battered and double-fried french fries, deep-fried zucchini, tempura, donuts, funnel cakes, elephant ears, bloomin' onions, corndogs, and more that I've probably blocked at this point.

I am proud to say that I had a relatively healthy gyro; although less proud to say that I later had an ice cream cone with enough ice cream in it for three people. I ate it all.


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Late Bloomer

My previous post may have given the impression that I've not done much with my life. That may be a fair assessment of my twenties (unfortunately), but after I jettisoned the Dumb Dummkopf (a real albatross around my neck) life improved dramatically.

At some point I might try to make a list of how I expended my free time in my thirties, but not today. I have paying work to do!

I have much to be proud of these days, but I still do need to channel more energy toward creative pursuits.

Stuff I'd like to try:
  • Baking beautiful loaves of bread (will need to wait until fall/winter)
  • Learning to knit again (third time lucky?)
  • Making, sending, and receiving mail art (mucho excited about this)
  • Doing home decor on the cheap
  • Landscaping the backyard (work-in-progress); landscaping the frontyard (blank slate)
  • Cooking at least one grown-up entree a week
  • Publishing my own book or magazine of some sort
On to that paying work!


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I've Got to Make More of an Effort!

I just read a blog that I thought was pretty good, and it turns out it was written by a 17-year-old boy!

I just do not know what the heck I did with my teen years and twenties. Can I be excused because the Internet, as an outlet for creativity, did not exist back then?

I used to think that I had no regrets about the past, but now I really wish I would have pushed myself to do a bit more than just hold down a job.

So in my free time what did I do from age 20-29? Let's assess:

  • Went running every evening after work until I decided I wanted to still have functional knees after the age of 35.
  • Learned to play the guitar but lost interest after learning to (sort of) play "Stairway to Heaven."
  • Built up my music collection.
  • Frittered away more than a few Saturdays taking two hours' (each way) worth of public transportation to the Mall at the End of the Universe (Cringe!).
  • Worked as a hotline volunteer for a nonprofit tenants organization, saving countless tenants from the clutches of their evil landlords.
  • Took a solo trip to Scotland that was one of the most empowering things I've ever done.
  • Managed to not advance at all at my job.
  • Smoked clove cigarettes.
  • Got ripped off by my Dad who sold me a completely unreliable Dodge Omni for the outlandish price of $1200.
  • Relinquished my self-identity to the Dumb Dummkopf (passive-aggressive, militant vegetarian boyfriend) for 2.5 years.
  • Dumped the Dumb Dummkopf and sailed into my '30s a new woman.
  • Discovered and cultivated my love of hiking.
Not completely pathetic, but I am aware of so many people in their '20s accomplishing far more than I did, like publishing worthwhile magazines or at the very least, funnier, more compelling and arresting blogs than this one.

Do better!


One-Day Vacations

One of the (many) great things about living in Portland is that it is possible to take a vacation in one day or less.

B and I first discovered this in April 2002, about five months after moving to PDX. Our first one-day vacation was really only a half-day vacation and the first half of it was spent at the decidedly unresortlike DMV offices on NE 82nd.

We'd waited just about until the last minute to get new driver's licenses and OR plates for the car before we'd start getting socked with penalties so we left early on a weekday, figuring that would minimize the amt. of time we'd have to spend at the DMV. Of course, there were about 100 people ahead of us. After a couple of hours, it was finally our turn to take the "written" test (administered on a computer touch screen), which we'd actually had to study up for! I'm pretty sure the last time I took that was when I first got my driver's license at age 16.

I aced it, getting only one wrong. Then we had to pay a bunch of money for this thing and that thing and for new plates. By the time we got out of there, it was about noon and it had turned into the most gorgeous day we'd seen in Oregon to date. It was sunny and about 70 degrees. The thought of going back to work was totally unappealing. As we drove home, I began formulating the radical idea of taking the rest of the day off (!) since half of it was shot already.

We decided to do it and head out to hike Eagle Creek, a hike I'd heard was really lovely but had never done before. The drive out to the Gorge was glorious and I felt really happy and excited about ditching work to hike! I'm sure we didn't even get to the trailhead until 1:30 or 2:00, but it didn't matter. April is a great time to hike Eagle Creek--lots of wildflowers are in bloom, the ferns are all really green and lush, curtains of water are dripping off the mossy walls of the canyons, and the waterfalls are all at full flow. We only hiked up to Punchbowl Falls that day, which is less than five miles, but I still felt like I was in vacation mode. Probably because I used to have to get on a plane and actually "go on vacation" to do a hike of that quality. Now that we live in Oregon, there are numerous one-day (or less) options. Just one of the many reasons I love living in Oregon.

Once we were done with the hike B and I continued in vacation/tourist mode and drove back on the Old Columbia Highway, stopping off at Tad's Chicken 'n Dumplins, a time-warpish place straight out of the '40s. I'd noted its neon sign several times before and had always been intrigued even though chicken and dumplings is very low on my list of tasty foods.

Well, the place delivered exactly the ambiance I was looking for. It was filled with dark wood, fireplaces, and senior citizens. I ordered the chicken and dumplings, which were bland and library pastish. I remember making liberal use of the salt and pepper to no avail, but this is one of the few places that I didn't go to for the food. I went there to extend my "I'm on vacation" mood and it really filled the bill.

B and I have since taken a number of these one-day vacations, and they are always wonderful.

Sunday, August 22, 2004


Originally uploaded by la_picina.
Here's a very poor photo of some nice, big Cherokee Purple tomatoes and some strawberries I grew. Rusty provides scale.

Home-Grown Talent

Last night B and I went to the Portland Mercury's talent show at the Aladdin.

As this seemed to be the latest incarnation of the Mrs. Portland Mercury Contests we attended the previous two years, we were expecting some unusual talents. Past contests have featured a woman reciting "Jabberwocky" and punctuating the recitation with a few squirts of breast milk and an interpretive dance done to rap music by a woman dressed up in a fuzzy giant gingerbread man suit. We were hoping for more along those lines this year.

We weren't disappointed. For a mere five bucks we got a line-up of 14 talents--both "straight" talents and "wacky" talents--and about two hours' worth of entertainment.

The evening started out with Wm™ Steven Humphrey, so-called editor of the Mercury, bounding on stage accompanied by the Pizzazz dancers, three fat women dressed in cheerleader costumes that did a rap/hip hop dance while the Hump rapped. Pretty good.

The 14 talents then all performed (no intermission) and the judges (who had no particular qualifications, with the exception of one guy who is a talent scout for some local company that casts commercials. He swilled down at least six beers during the show, which I believe interfered with his judgment) chose the winners.

And the winners were:

3rd Place: Two members of the Drag Kings who dressed sort of like heavy metal guys and lip synched and played out a little scenario about these two mulleted guys falling in love with each other over cans of Bud and a heart-shaped box of Hershey Kisses. It was much funnier than I'm making it sound.

2nd Place: Ricky Duran. This was a 15-year-old boy who did stand-up. I do think the kid maybe had some potential to eventually be a competent (never outstanding) amateur comic, but at this point in his life that potential is far from being realized. His jokes were either unfunny, age-inappropriate, or in poor taste, e.g., "I was getting too fat, so I lost 80 lbs. My anorexic girlfriend died." A lot of his jokes were about sex or drugs, and, I'm sorry, but it is painfully apparent that these jokes could not have been drawn from the kid's own experience, which I think is fundamental to good comedy. I can only assume that the judges awarded this kid 2nd place out of pity.

1st Place: Two rappers. I did not agree with this at all, but I knew that they would win because I could see the judges going crazy for their boring, repetitive, overly long performance. Here's what these two white guys did. One supplied the "music" by holding the mike very close to his mouth to achieve various sounds and noises. That was entertaining for about 15 seconds. The other guy rapped in an extremely white boy way, at one point throwing in a line from a John Mellancamp song and thus exposing their real roots. I admit that I have no tolerance for or understanding of rap, but I really don't think that any real African American rapper would have found this performance anything but laughable. But what do I know? One of the judges was African American and she seemed to be really getting into it. Whatever.

Now if I were judging the talent, things would have played out very differently.

3rd Place: Jackie Night. This was a woman with long corkscrews of red hair who looked like a cross between Tiny Tim and Sandra Bernhard. As a self-taught electric guitar player, she played an original composition that relied very heavily on reverb, harmonics, the whammy bar, and unorthodox bar chords. I don't think she even knows basic chords. I quite liked it, though. Plus, it was very clear that she was a truly strange person. She really got into her performance and had no self-consciousness about her playing even though it was really nothing more than noodling around with the fun bells and whistles on an electric guitar--something most people would be too embarrassed to do in public.

2nd Place: Leggs Malone. Leggs, a chubby late thirtyish woman dressed in torn fishnets, a black leotard, and a red fedora, did an interpretive "jazz" dance to Van Halen's "Panama." She made no attempt to do anything remotely challenging (fine with me), but she did quite a few David Lee Roth-inspired moves, which I found hilarious. At one point she incorporated a streamer flag into the mix, which was reminiscent of Edie's dance in Grey Gardens. Classic.

1st Place: The two Drag Kings. See above. These two women managed to sustain my interest throughout their performance better than any of the other talents. Also, they tossed some of their Hershey kisses out to the audience, one of which landed at my feet. That may have been a factor in their edging out Leggs Malone.

Also Rans (in no particular order):

A guy that played some '80s tunes (e.g., Hall and Oates) on the ukelele (which he totally whaled on). Quite good. I maybe would have put him in 4th place.

Black Venus. This guy was a cross-dresser in thigh-high vinyl platform boots, a corset, a long black wig, troweled-on makeup, and red bikini underwear with augmented package. His (her) main talent seemed to be strutting. He (she) was definitely the best dressed.

An African American female rapper who sang a song that was, according to her partner (a fat white guy) "all about her." Repetitious and boring (to me) like all rap. Featured a refrain that went like this: "me, me, me, me, me." One of my least favorites.

A 19-year-old girl who (seriously) sang "To Sir, with Love," which the Hump claimed was his favorite song of all time. She seemed like a sweet girl and sang the song competently enough, accompanied by the earnest guitar strummings of her boyfriend who was twice her height.

A woman who did "mental gymnastics." The Hump or the judges would give her a word and she would respell it in alphabetical order--practically instantaneously. Hard to know what to make of her talent. BTW: She refused to do supercalifragilisticexpalladocious.

A man who played "Mapleleaf Rag" on an electric keyboard. He did a reasonable job.

A guy who played the musical saw. This guy was sitting in front of us before the show started and his appearance and comments rubbed me the wrong way. He was one of those guys who wears a porkpie hat and dresses in baggy 1940s-style trousers and Converse high-tops, but doesn't realize that cultivating that look is about 20 years out of date now. Also, he felt it necessary to try to make humorous comments in response to what the Hump said. His comments were not in the least humorous. Final, nail-in-the-coffin turnoff? His stage name was "Squish." He was not particularly good at playing the saw either (if it is even possible to play the saw well).

Two really unfunny clowns. One strummed away on the banjo and the other one blindfolded him and guess what? He could still "play"! So uncreative. At one point he laid down on crushed glass while the other one stood on his chest. Huh? What's funny about that? Their whole act was tiresome and pointless.

That's all I care to comment on.

I should note that the audience was very kind, giving goodly rounds of applause to everyone--even the "straight" acts like the "Mapleleaf Rag" guy and the "To Sir, with Love" girl.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Got What I Wanted

I may be slightly breaking my rule, but since I make 'em I can break 'em.

As a freelancer, I need to keep my workflow steady, which means I need to book up my time in advance. For two weeks now, I have been trying to find out if this big project, which I rather loathe, is going to be over on Sept. 3. Unfortunately, the only person who can answer that is The Most Uncommunicative Woman in the World (TMUWITW).

This AM I called my contact on the project to see if he had any info. He was rather curt with me and, as I should have expected, told me the best thing to do would be to contact TMUWITW myself. He seemed in a very big hurry to get off the phone with me, which helped stoke the growing suspicion I have been having of late that he thinks my work is crap. Not a good mindset to be in. I know for a fact it has been impacting my attitude and productivity on this project.

So one again it was time for me to start kicking ass and taking names--something I have had to do every time I needed an answer out of TMUWITW. I sent a carefully crafted e-mail asking if there would be any further assignments after this one is over.

I have gotten probably six or so queries about my availability in September and, guess what? Despite not knowing the status of this project I've gone ahead and accepted the choicest ones. I accepted one more this AM in fact, which was what spurred me to finally try to find out.

Anyhoo. Shockingly, TMUWITW called me only a few hours after I sent the e-mail. (I think my contact may have put a bug in her ear as well.)

Here's what she told me:

A) They are "really happy with my work." I had no idea and had convinced myself of the opposite. But let me tell you that that makes a huge difference in my whole perspective on the project. I need approval; I can't help it.

B) She would like to offer me a poetry unit, but isn't sure how I feel about poetry, which thus gave me a way to gracefully say "no" to that and be done with this goddamn project as soon as I finish the current unit.

C) So I thanked her nicely and did two things that I am normally too timid to do: I turned down the unit and I "educated" her a bit about how I need to keep a steady workflow. Because I hadn't gotten a prompt answer from her when I asked two weeks ago, I actually was forced to take on a few small projects. (I phrased it a lot more tactfully than that though.)

D) She claimed she understood and urged me to keep in touch with them because this project is going to go on "forever until we all die" so there will probably be work for me later if I want it. One thing I will say for TMUWITW is that she has a good sense of humor.

End result: No bridges were burned and I got what I wanted--closure for with this project! Plus, B. and I can now for sure take a few days off in early September to go down to Bend for a vacation. Yay!

Lesson learned: Be more assertive.

Sidenote: While researching something else today, I ran across a blog for an IT guy in Knoxville, TN who has been out of work since the beginning of the year and who has a family to support. Apparently, they are literally down to their last roll of TP and the phone is about to be cut off and there isn't enough money to buy another tank of gas. Very sobering. This is clearly a very well-educated, qualified person who is desperately trying to get a job and it just isn't working for him, probably because all those IT jobs are being outsourced to India.

I, indeed, need to remember how *incredibly fortunate* I am.

Creepy Man at Our Door

Around 2 PM yesterday, our doorbell rang, like a minute (or less) after I had retrieved a FedEX envelope containing a check from a client. I don't know if that's just a coincidence or not.

Anyway, the guy at the door was white, 30ish, and neatly dressed (kind of business/casual). As soon as I saw him I told him I was in the middle of my work day, but he still launched into this little speech along the lines of "This is kind of crazy, but I have an office in Jantzen Beach and I'm expanding and I'm looking for people who might need a job, part-time, full-time, flexible hours..."

Who on earth recruits employees by randomly ringing doorbells like that? He'd never given me his name or even explained what type of business he was in! I cut him off and asked him what sort of business and he said "Financial, mortgages, insurance, stuff like that. No experience necessary, I'll be willing to train people."

OK. I told him I didn't know anyone and he left. Dumb me--I didn't look to see where he was going or anything, but I think he headed off across the street.

Now what was going on? At the very least, he was trying to recruit people for some scam business that would end up taking money from them, but maybe it was more sinister than that. Maybe he was trying to ascertain who was home during the day or what kind of person lived in the various houses (e.g., single woman, senior citizen). Anyway, the more I thought about it the more I wished I had watched where he went and then called the police.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Free Food!

I've been a real winner this year one way or another.

Back in May, B participated in the Movie Jeopardy contest put on as a fundraiser for the Hollywood Theater. Unfortunately for the Hollywood, but fortunately for me, there were a lot of valuable prizes to be given away but so few people in the audience that almost everyone was practically guaranteed a prize.

I went to two of the rounds and won three prizes: a $5 gift certificate to Delphina's bakery (conveniently located around the corner from our house); a $10 gift certificate to the Beaumont Market; and a $25 gift certificate to Poor Richard's, a steakhouse famous for its Two-fer specials and winner of the National Restaurant Association's Best Menu Award--for 1964. More on Poor Dick's below.

Also, having purchased 12 pizzas from Pizzicato, we are now entitled to a free one. Yay!

And having recommended our realtor to TW and RS, through home they bought their house, we received a $25 gift certificate to Alameda Cafe from her. Not to mention the $5 Coffee People gift card we got from her shortly after she first met with them.

Oh yes. One more thing. Delphina's has a daily trivia question, and if you guess it you get a free pastry or artisan bread. I don't go over there ever day, but I always attempt the trivia question and I think I've probably been correct about 60-70% of the time. Not bad. Last Monday there was a "man" question about engines and something told me that the correct answer was probably turbine engines. I was right and helped myself to an unmanly apricot danish.

I don't think I've ever amassed this much entitlement to free food, but I am reveling in it for some reason (which probably shouldn't be scrutinized too closely).

Like a miser I have been hoarding these various certificates for months, but yesterday decided it was high time to go to Poor Dick's and see what it was all about.

Recall that this place won an award for best menu in 1964. I don't think the place has changed its decor or menu since then either. This parking lot to this place is always full on weekends, and you often see overweight people with walkers emerging from it, so for a certain group of people--especially the Hollywood [read senior citizen] crowd--this place is highly favored.

On a Wednesday night after 8 PM, though, we had no trouble being seated immediately and time traveling (twice in one week) back to hmmmm about 1964, I'd guess. The place is cavernous and open with maroon naugahyde (or similar) and velvette booths, lace curtains at the window, a big fireplace, Hogarth's allegorical 'Marriage a la Mode' and 'Gin Lane' engravings on the wall (very unexpected given the nature of the establishment), and Lions Club mints for sale (haven't seen that in ages).

I thoroughly enjoyed being there.

Of course, when in Rome...so I ordered a cocktail (something I rarely do). I was tempted to order a White Russian, or a "Caucasian" as the Dude would say, but instead went for a Black Russian, figuring I would be absorbing enough fat with the meal. It was darn tasty, and not at all weak.

Since I don't like steak B. and I went for the grilled pork two-fer, which in true 1960s style comes with your choice of soup, salad, or cole slaw, garlic bread, baked potato, fries, or rice pilaf, and dish of soft-serve ice cream.

The cole slaw was definitely above average. It has a bit of horseradish in it I think. Being a fan of cole slaw and horseradish, I approved. Garlic bread was good, too, mainly because they didn't stint on the butter. Baked potato: good.

The award-winning menu, however, did not disclose to me that the grilled pork would arrive "smothered" in mushroom gravy. Not so good. The pork was a bit tough and chewy, I have to say. Oh well. We didn't have to pay for it.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Home Movies

Last night B and I sat down in front of the TV with some bicolor corn on the cob, some beer, and the DVDs of B's family's home movies, which had just arrived in the mail.

All these movies date from the 1950s and 1960s. It was B's mom (not his dad) who owned and operated the camera. She was ahead of her time, for sure. She did a pretty good job. Things were usually in focus and they seemed a lot less choppy and fraught than the footage my dad took. There's a famous shot in my own family's home movies of my dad's slippers tromping down the hall. Apparently, he'd forgotten to turn the camera off and was on his way to the bathroom or the bedroom. Hilarious (to my family anyway).

So like most home movies, there is a lot of footage of Christmases, birthdays, New Year's Eve Parties, and vacations to Florida (and Cleveland). Home movies are one of those things that people either find deadly boring or fascinating. I am in the latter category. It's a window into the past, esp. since most of these were made before I was born. There's even some footage of B's great-grandparents. He FF'd through a lot of it, but we got the gist of it.

What struck me the most, perhaps, was the surfeit of toys B and his brother got when they were practically still in diapers. Christmas 1964 went something like this:

  • Rock'em Sock'em Robots
  • Casper the Ghost jack-in-the-box
  • Machine gun and assorted other guns
  • Remote control tank
  • Printing press (!)
  • Inflatable punching clown
  • Magnetized car thing
  • Train set
  • Army uniforms complete complete with name tags
  • Mechanical monkey that begs for coins
  • Colorful building logs
  • Mechanical man
  • Remote control dog
  • Rocket launcher
  • Cannon
OK. I might be merging a few Christmases together, but you get the idea. These kids got a lot of toys. According to B, there was some sort of rivalry between some aunts or grandparents of some kind and they engaged in some oneupsmanship when it came to gift giving. B and his brother didn't complain.

Note the warlike nature of many of these toys. Also the family must have constantly had to replenish its D battery supply.

Those Army uniforms appeared in quite a few home movies. B really liked to wear his it seems and since he was sort of a sickly, scrawny kid, he didn't outgrow it for a long time. At one point B and his brother are sitting in an Army jeep because the Army Reserve fiance of some relative was trying to get in good with the family. B and his brother are wearing their uniforms and so is the fiance. The guy bought the kids the uniforms or maybe he got them for free? It isn't that much of a stretch of the imagination to think that the Army might have supplied free mini uniforms to kids at that time. It's kind of cute, but it's also kind of scary and shows how the attitude toward the military has changed. This was pre-Vietnam War.

Like all home movies, there is some stuff that seems practically universal to white, middle-class America. Like the obligatory shot of a new car. One of the segments was entitled "Benson New Car," and "B's Arrival." Guess which gets more footage? The car. It's not even his parents' car, it's his grandparents' car. It's red with fins and pretty cool, I have to admit, but still. Cut to B. It's just sort of a cursory pan of B as a newborn being carried out of the hospital bundled in blankets. He's being carried by a harried looking nurse for some reason. Maybe because his dad has a broken arm. Anyway, no close-ups of the new baby's face or anything. He's put in the car and then it shows him being brought into the house. End of scene!

B was quite annoyed. That's what happens when you're the second-born kid. The novelty has worn off. I'm basing this on personal experience. I was the first-born and there's way more home movie footage of my first years than there is of Mary's or John's.

Odd stuff: There's a New Year's Party where the adults are playing some sort of game that involves--if you're a woman--threading something on a string down the front of your dress and retrieving it from the bottom of your skirt (hopefully revealing a bit of petticoat in the process). The men actually put the thing down the front of their trousers! Too fucking weird! No one seemed to thinks so at the time. Even older ladies are happily dropping this thing down the front of their dress. What on earth could be the object of such a game? Is it just an icebreaker?

I also enjoyed seeing some footage from Santa's Village--a very rinky dink Christmas-themed amusement park that I thought was great when I was, like, 7 years old. We'd drive by it in later years and it was clear to me that the place was falling apart and that the rides were probably not safe. I remember that there were these aluminum or plastic Xmas trees lining the perimeter of the place and that the "ornaments," which were kind of like bubbles protruding from the tree, were all "popped," kind of like you'd pop bubble wrap but on a larger scale. I can't believe it hasn't gone out of business. It was still there in 2000 when we drove by it on our way to the hospital when Dad was having heart surgery.

Anyway, I got the chance to time travel back to Santa's Village in the early 1960s. Boy, were the rides cheap. There's a little kids' Ferris wheel in which the only thing preventing the kids from falling out of the cars and plunging seven feet to certain death is one of those slide fasteners like you see on garden gates. Sheesh!

B pointed out that his dad was wearing a suit (at an amusement park in summer). It didn't seem out of place for that era, though. Another thing that wouldn't be seen today--at least I hope it wouldn't--was a cart filled with kids being pulled by reindeer (or maybe regular deer). PETA would be all over that.


Monday, August 16, 2004

Highly Satisfying Summer Sandwich

Harvest ripe Brandywine tomato from garden.
Spray pan with canola oil.
Place two slices dill rye bread in pan.
Place slices of extra sharp white cheddar on one slice.
Turn on heat to allow cheese to melt and bread to brown.
Slice tomato.
Peel off some leaves of butterhead lettuce.

When cheese is goozly and bread is browned, remove from pan and place lettuce, then tomato slices on cheeseless slice of bread. Slice sandwich in half and consume while gazing at garden.


Thoughts Burbling Around After Midnight

Took some Excedrin around 6 PM and the caffeine is keeping me up, so I might as well write for a bit to clear out the thoughts and to wait for the melatonin to kick in.

I've been thinking a lot about how the kind of writing I do saps my creativity and dwindles my vocabulary. I'm hoping that in this blog I will eventually be able to recapture or create some sort of individual style. So far there is no evidence that that is happening, but I'm willing to wait and keep trying.

The past couple of weekends when B and I have gone hiking, we've listened to Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. I love his writing. He just has such a funny, original way of expressing himself and uses words that have withered away out of disuse from my own vocabulary like "surfeit" and "confound." Why don't I use the word "confound" instead of "confuse" from time to time? It conveys so much more. "Convey"--that's a word that I find myself using over and over and over and over again in this dumb lit project. I guess there could be a few synonyms, but most of them would be off limits.

Anyway, I don't want to wander over into the boring territory of work, which I promised myself would have no place in this blog.

I also read excerpts from John Fowles' journal about the process of turning The French Lieutenant's Woman into a film. Again, here is a person who can really write an evocative (another term that pops up in the lit project--see how I limit myself?) description of the events of his life--even the mundane ones--in a seemingly effortless way. Hard to believe that he spent hours agonizing over a journal entry. There's something about the way those Oxbridge types were brought up--is it the grounding in Latin or the memorization of countless poems, etc early in life that gives them such a wonderful facility with language? I am sorry to report that for my whole life I equated education with getting a grade. I pretty much just crammed whatever I needed to know for the test into my short-term memory (which is very short) and then jettisoned it as soon as I'd garnered that A. What a terrible thing to have done to myself. I still do it. I'll write a chapter or a unit on rocks and minerals or a book about whales and a few months later...what do I remember?

Of course, when I compare writing to Bryson's and Fowles' I'm bound to find my own wanting.
Both of these men are very successful, dare I say, internationally famous, writers, so if I could write as well as they can, I'd definitely not be writing kids' textbooks. Still, aim high. I am going to make concerted effort to maybe write one good anecdote or commentary a day. Hopefully, that will eventually help me get out of this rut I feel I'm in with my profession. Or--this would be great--help the words flow faster and the work get done sooner.

At any rate, I think it will be good for me to force myself to write as me, not as the work-made-for-hire me.

On another topic. I've been thinking about the garden, and what I need to do to whip it into more satifactory shape. There's not much I can do at this point, but next year I will definitely make sure I spread compost in fall and/or spring and make sure I don't skimp on the water.

Lots of plant moving is going to have to happen once again. In fact, almost every plant is either

  • the wrong height for its location in the garden and is either lost behind an taller plant or obscuring a shorter plant
  • getting too much or not enough sun
  • a type of plant that I really do not like
  • part of an unfortunate color scheme or a color that I really do not like
So. This fall I have my work cut out for me. I am thinking of adding some stuff. I need fairly tall stuff for the section behind the arch--something that will start or still be blooming in late summer. Options I've been thinking about include yarrow, dahlias, and a type of rose called a hybrid musk rose that can apparently stomach some shade. I hope they don't mind an afternoon blast of sun, though. Anyway, they sound like a choice plant--everblooming, fragrant, disease resistant. Heirloom roses has them, but I don't want to start with their spaghetti strand plants. I may be able to mail order some. I doubt Portland Nursery has them. Maybe Jackson and Perkins sells them though they're catalog. Gotta look right now. 'Moonlight' looks like an excellent choice--it's white and blooms profusely. I feel like purchasing one online right now! Will wait. 'New Dawn' also looks like it might be a good candidate. That one's pretty common s/b available at Portland Nursery or from J&P for sure.

12:59 AM. Think I've got all this out of my system. Will head back to bed


Friday, August 13, 2004

Tomatoes: They're What's for Dinner

I was informed yesterday by Tony our neighbor that my tomatoes were ripe. I have to wonder how closely he's been monitoring them because he seemed to know the status of each plant.

Well, he was sort of right. All the tomatoes are heirlooms, and it is hard to tell when they are ripe. Both the Purple Cherokee (Cherokee Purple?) and the Brandywine are the types that are ripe when they are a sort of undetermined muddy color. Some of the Cherokees looked like they were getting mushy so I decided I'd better pick them. Picked three of them and a Brandywine.

Verdict: Good but not great. The Brandywine probably wasn't completely ripe and the Cherokees were mushy and a bit lacking in flavor. They had gotten majorly scorched a few weeks ago w. the 100+ degree weather, which was surely a contributing factor.

I have one other plant that is supposedly an Old German, but I think it must have been mislabeled. Old Germans are supposed to be striped and large. These tomatoes are smallish (although plentiful) and I have a suspicion that they are going to be yellow or orange when ripe.

I'm still in the trial-and-error phase with tomato gardening. Next year I am going to plant some if not all hybrid tomatoes like Celebrity, Champion, or Better Boy. For one thing, you can tell when they are ripe, also hybridization was done for a reason, I need to remind myself--to breed for tomatoes that will be disease resistant, flavorful, attractive, and a host of other reasons. I think this whole heirloom craze is a bit overrated. It's true that one of the best tomatoes I ever had was an heirloom, but I think they do not produce as many tomatoes and are a bit more prone to problems.

I will re-evaluate when the season is over to see if I can get good ripe tomatoes out of the Purple Cherokee and the Brandywine.

On a sidenote, the tomatoes growing in the raised bed in the back were pretty much of a disaster w. the exception of the Sungold cherry. It did pretty well and the tomatoes were good, considering I'm not much of a fan of cherries, but I still think production was on the low side. The Black Krim and Legend did almost nothing. Each has about half a dozen small tomatoes. The Black Krim got blossom-end rot pretty badly and the Legends are small and sort of dry and mealy. Legends, BTW, are supposed to have been bred esp. for the PNW, so I think there is either a problem w. the location, soil, watering technique, or all three.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Perseid Failure

So last night B and I headed out to Rooster Rock State Park to be wowed by the Perseid meteor shower. We went last year, and saw quite a few "shooting stars." It was crowded, too.

Heading out we stopped at Stop & Save (or whatever it is called) and B bought a bag of Lays BBQ potato chips, which we really didn't need. We arrived and there was no line of cars to get into the park. Hmmm. That seemed weird to us.

In the parking lot by the river, there were only a few cars and since the sun had recently set most people seemed to be on their way out. We didn't see any folks w. telescopes nor--the biggest clue--were the folks from the Rose City Astronomy Society anywhere to be seen.

Nevertheless, we set up our blanket and snarfed down the bag of chips. BTW: Lays BBQ potato chips are among the worst of their breed. Somehow that didn't stop me from eating them, though.

We scanned the skies and saw what I like to think were some satellites but they might have just been planes flying at high altitude. I saw one meteor. B saw none. At about 10 we gave up and left. A bust, more or less, but we did get out of our hot house, although I kind of wish we would have taken a walk and not eaten those chips.

One cool thing--we saw a skunk! It crept up from the rocks and peered at us a couple of times. It was cute. I don't think I've ever seen one (alive, that is).


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

New Rule

No more whining about work. Boring and unattractive and completely counter to my goal of using this blog as a place to try to get myself to write interestingly and more creatively.

No doubt the rule will be broken from time to time.

So yesterday evening PF and I went to the Cracked Pots garden show at Edgefield. What a fabulous setting for the show. The various pieces of art were set up throughout Edgefield's extensive gardens and people wandered through beer or wine in hand. Yet another example of Portland's high quality of life. I notice that whenever I designate something as fitting the Portland high quality of life category it usually involves being able to drink beer or wine in a setting where it would not be allowed in Chicago.

All the art was made out of materials that had been recycled or reclaimed from the "waste stream." I found rusty trellises of various types to be the most intriguing. I can't really envision on the spur of the moment how I would use such a thing, but I took a card for future reference. The prices were reasonable, too.

One of the coolest things about the show was finding out that there are more gardens than I had realized at Edgefield. An area I had written off as a "golf course" turns out to be basically a sort of amateur putting green and is surrounded by gardens plus a little shed with a roof that is seemingly made of roses, clematis, and blackberries. And guess what? If you go in that shed, you can buy beer and wine? Had we discovered that earlier, we'd have been strolling around with beer.

As it turns out we had planned to eat there, so after a bit we went into the Power House Pub and had some beer and I talked PF into splitting an order of Tater Tots™. It wasn't hard to do. Darn tasty they were too.


Monday, August 09, 2004

Weekend Round-Up

The weekend began with a trip over to TW and RS's new house, which is incredibly spacious. We then headed over to the Widmer Gasthaus, which B. and I had (incredibly) never been to. We waited at least 45 minutes for a seat, but we were all feeling pretty mellow about it. It was a good chance to catch up anyway. The hamburger I had seemed quite outstanding, but I could only eat half of it. Was it, perhaps, fried in butter? That would explain why I thought it was so good.

I cannot say that the service was good. TW's beer sat on the bar for a really long time before the waiter w. attitude decided to deliver it to her. In the end, their beer was comped, but still. Also, we were never given any water. I'm sure that's to encourage people to order more beer.

The next day that lack of water came back to haunt me. I never drank anything once we got home and then I had coffee before heading out at 8 AM for a hike. The whole way out to the ~ 10-mile, 2500 ft elevation gain hike, I had no water. Then I hardly drank much on the way up. Not surprisingly, I felt a headache coming on by lunchtime. Plus it was the tail end of my period, so who knows if much could have been done to prevent a headache.

The hike itself was glorious. It was the Mazama Trail, and I went w. the Columbia Singles. There were a few familiar faces as well as some new folks. Always a good group of people. Since last year, is seems some of them have actually paired off. So good for them. Anyway, the hike starts off in pretty, open forest and climbs for the most part not too steeply with some level sections. Eventually, we reach a sort of rocky area and then we head through alpine meadows with Hood looming straight ahead. I really think this hike may have my favorite view of Hood, although it was somewhat in cloud. I really don't mind; it makes it more atmospheric. I don't know if the flowers were at their peak, but we saw: beargrass, lupines, paintbrush, gentian, pasque flower, buttercups, pearly everlasting, and a few others.

We climbed a bit more to the McNeil Point shelter, a stone hut, on a ridge. However, the group had split up a bit and my little group somehow missed seeing the shelter and climbed a good several hundred feet higher than we needed to. Doh! Just as I was thinking that I didn't recall this steep climb up the ridge, we heard some hollering down below and turned to see the shelter and the rest of our group down there. We decided to go just a bit higher anyway since we'd already invested effort in getting to where we were and there seemed to be a veiwpoint just ahead. It is an incredibly view. Yocum ridge is right across. Hood is right there and there are glaciers and green, green, green, green slopes all around. Adams and Mt. Saint Helens as well as numerous other Cascade ridges are visible. I think the Mazama Trail is one of those hikes that should be done every August, along w. McNeil Point via Bald Mountain, which B. and I did last week.

When we got down to the hut, one of the guys pulled a watermelon (a small one) out of his backpack and started handing slices of it around! This guy won major bonus points from me because he also brought a cache of chocolate that he shared.

We hung out at the hut for almost an hour, which I found very enjoyable. Kristin brought her two golden retrievers and it was neat to see them enjoying themselves. There were a couple of people I didn't get much chance to talk to unfortunately.

We headed back down and I was more or less OK, but on the way home I started to feel crappier. I was in the backseat of a van and I was feeling carsickish and headachey. I switched seats and was a bit better off in the front, but still had to bag going out to dinner w. "the gang," which I would have liked to do even though it was Applebee's in the Gateway parking lot. It wasn't a huge sacrifice, really. They all say that Applebee's is good. I find that hard to believe, but who knows. One day, I'm sure I'll get the chance to find out.

Anyway, I couldn't get home fast enough. I took some headache stuff and took a shower and felt quite a bit better and managed to eat something.

Lesson Learned: On days that I leave for strenous, early AM hikes, do not have any coffee in the morning. Instead have a glass of ice water and make sure to drink plenty of water the night before. Also, perhaps take Gatorade with on the hike.

Yesterday, I felt pretty wiped out all day. Did manage to walk around Trillium Lake (2 flat miles) w. B. but that was about all I could handle. Very pleasant I must say though. Had that mini vacation feeling, because I had never been there in the summer before. The headache returned and is still with me today. So annoying.


Friday, August 06, 2004

Classic Pacific Northwest Weather

It feels like a different season today. The weather's windy cool and "changeable." There's a smell I associate with the PNW in the air as well. Glad I got out for a bit. Need to do something about the listing tomatoes and delphiniums though. Will do that when done working.

Note to self about garden for next year:

For color and tall blooms after July 1, try some dahlias and shasta daisies. Further note to self: Shasta daisies do not bloom that long but they do have impact. The cultivar I like the best is 'Alaska' Tall and simple. No doubles.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The collaborative "novel" T, L, and N and I wrote during working hours back at EB, called (ironically) "Take Pride in Your Work" because we wrote it on pink phone message notes that had that motto on them, still exists. T has been lamenting for years the fact that L left EB with that in her possession. We all sort of had a falling out with L so we thought it was gone forever. Lately, L has been working at EB in some sort of temporary/freelance capacity. Anyway, L interviewed with T for a permanent job and he managed to ask her about TPIYW. Guess what? She still has it!!! Unbelievable. She told T she would bring it in so he could photocopy it, although she said she wants to continue to keep the original (odd). He is absolutely ecstatic and so am I and so will N be.

Can't wait.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Word of the Day: Francomerde

describes something shitty that is of French extraction. Expamples: movies starring Gerard Depardieu or Audrey Tatou (sp?)
After nearly a two-year hiatus...

I'm trying again. We'll see if I can sustain. Right now I'm procrastinating getting started working. Not good. I'm also wondering whether the itchy bites that mysteriously appeared on my legs last night are mosquito bites or flea bites. The former, I hope.