Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Dung Domes Here I Come!

Back in September 2004, when this blog was but a one-month-old stripling, I wrote a post lamenting the apparent absence of a local mycological society, which could help me finally realize my long-deferred dream of foraging for wild mushrooms that I could eat—with confidence. Well, I must not have been very rigorous in my search for such a society, because the Oregon Mycological Society has been here all along—since 1949, in fact. Do click on the link and then keep your eye on the basket for a few seconds. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Well, you can bet your boots that the moment I found the OMS site, I immediately placed a phone call to Hermann (two “n’s” in Hermann and a Germanic-sounding surname—very promising) to find out about becoming a member. I attended my first meeting last night and flung myself into a subculture where you can buy a T-shirt that is part of a campaign to get the U.S. Postal Service to issue mushroom stamps; where drawing a mushroom out of a brown paper bag will bring an instant audience of people, who will make excited exclamations like: "It’s the Prince!" "That looks like the Prince!" "Eat only half a cap first." "Some people are allergic to the Prince.”; and where you can peruse the society newsletter, Mushrumors,* which features articles like “From Forest to Fork” and “Solstice Craterellus Hunt: All’s Well That Ends Well.”

These are my people!

While waiting for the meeting to start, I browsed some of the books on offer and was naturally drawn to All That the Rain Promises and More... by the legendary David Arora. (Again, I’m going to insist that you click on the link. You’ll be missing out if you don’t.) I don’t know how anyone could pass up a book with a cover like this.** I certainly couldn’t. I first saw this book in the hands of the one and only mushroom hunter I have ever encountered while hiking in Oregon. It took all my breeding not to snatch it out of his hands and dash off with it. I just knew it had to be the ultimate mushroom field guide for the Pacific Northwest (but one I’d never seen in bookstores). And it is. And I now have my very own copy. And I got it at a discount since I am now a card-carrying member of the OMS. Whooo hoo hoo hoo hoo!!!!

I spent a bit of time paging through the book before the main event—a lecture on boletes—started. I already own several mushroom field guides and I never tire of looking through them, but this book somehow manages to balance excellent, accurate identification information with generous lashings of whimsy. My kind of field guide! For example, there is a recipe for “mushroom toast” (Cut a mushroom cap into a square; stick it in your toaster; don’t be alarmed when it starts “steaming like it’s on fire,” and enjoy. A rather thought-provoking footnote states that mushrooms conduct electricity, but fails to give further details!) There’s also a sidebar on a hackysack-like game you can play with a puffball—reputedly invented centuries ago by Native Americans—and a photo of the author clothed in a birch bark jacket and kilt and a mushroom beret, with, of course, mushrooms in each hand—you can’t get much more whimsical than that. I wish I could reproduce the photo here. You need to see the gleeful/maniacal gleam in his eye.

So that’s a glimpse of the whimsy. Actually, the whimsy carries over into the more strictly informative aspects of the book, e.g., the common names of the mushrooms. I find these names endlessly fascinating. And this book lists quite a few I never ran across in my east of the Rockies-focused guides. To wit:

Dung Dome (Edibility: Not recommended—what a relief!)
Dung Bell (All right already! Another that grows on dung and is not a recommended edible)
Ma’am on a Motorcycle
Dead Man’s Foot
Fat Jack
Slim Jack
Satan’s Bolete
Hideous Gomphidious (Edible if you’re motivated enough to peel off the slimy skin first)
Poison Pie (Edibility: Take a wild guess.)
Cowboy’s Handkerchief

I enjoyed the lecture on boletes as well. Despite the fact that I am an amateur armchair mycologist (very amateur), I was able to follow along and found it quite informative and interesting. What I’m most looking forward to, however, are the forays that as a member of the OMS I am now entitled to go on. I’ll finally be able to hunt with experts and gather some wild-as-hell mushrooms and, of course, eat them. I can’t wait!

*The title of the newsletter alone is worth the annual dues!

**I can’t give you any background about the kooky cover photo and the significance of the trombone or the tux or even the name of the fungi he’s holding. I find no reference to it or accreditation (as is usual) on the copyright page or anywhere else in the book.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Blueberries: Yet Another Reason Why I Love Oregon

Blueberries Grown by Me
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Blueberry season is here! And I couldn’t be happier, as blueberries are my very most favorite fruit. Until I moved to Oregon, I was never able to adequately address my blueberry needs. My mom—an organic gardener—put the kibosh on growing blueberry bushes in our garden, because we would have had to add a crapload of aluminum sulphate to the soil to make it acidic enough for blueberries. And she never bought them either because they were expensive.

As an adult, of course, I was free to buy blueberries, but at $3.99-$4.99 a pint, I could see what my mom was talking about. I’d buy one pint and ration the berries out over a week’s worth of cereal. One of the reasons they cost so much is that they hadn’t been grown anywhere near Chicago. They were picked (probably while still green) in Maine or even Nova Scotia and “ripened” while aboard a truck on some interstate. They were never any larger than peas; there were always a few wrinkly, moldy ones; and at least half of them were cheek-puckeringly tart. In short, they were blueberries destined for people who—through no fault of their own and an accident of geography—didn’t know any better.

Now that I am lucky enough to live in primo blueberry-growing country—our soil is naturally acidic from all the conifers that grow out here—I’ve planted three young, but promising bushes. The berries I’ve harvested so far have been excellent—juicy, sweet, and as big as marbles some of them (as you can see from the photo above). It will be a while before they offer up more than a handful of berries every few days, but that’s OK. All I need do is drive 15 minutes to a U-Pick farm, where there are rows and rows and rows of blueberries just waiting to be picked by me. I did that yesterday, and came home with more than five pounds of blueberries. Plenty to snack on and still leave enough to bake a pie!

Yes--emboldened by my recent (and unexpected) baking success, I decided I would attempt a pie, even though for me making pie crust may rank even higher than yeast breads on my scale of scary baking adventures. The last time I made pie crust (the only time, in fact), it turned out as tough as old boots. Inedible. Laughably so. I couldn’t even saw through it with a sharp, serrated knife. The pie went straight into the wheelie bin.

But blueberry pie—it is just my favorite thing ever and I had to try it. I found a crust recipe that was billed as “foolproof” and sallied forth, despite the fact that I don’t own a rolling pin, a pastry cloth, or one of those marble slab things. I just made do. This is what came out of the oven this morning. I had hoped my pie would be something that I could preen and swagger over, but clearly it is not going to win any prizes at the Oregon State Fair or any other state fair—not even one with lenient standards. I will say that the crust was pretty good, but when I cut a wedge of the pie, a massive, lumpy tide of blueberriness rushed out of the rest of the pie to fill the void. That isn’t supposed to happen! And it is too sweet, although I will shift the blame for that to the cookbook I was using, a 30-year-old piece of stodge from Iowa, where I’m sure the tired old tarts they had/have to use need a whole cup of sugar to make them palatable.

I will regroup and try again in a week or two. In the meantime, I will just gobble raw blueberries (so tasty!) and hope I don’t turn myself into Violet Beauregard from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In Lieu of Flowers

Mom and Her Sousaphone
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Here’s a photo of my mom taken many years before I was born. I’m not quite sure why she’s blatting away on a Sousaphone. She played clarinet, flute, saxophone, and could fake along on the upright bass and the piano, but I never heard her mention any brass instruments, let alone the grandaddy of them all. I will have to ask my dad about the story behind this photo.

I can’t ask my mom. She died 10 years ago today. A devotee of wheat germ and yogurt other foods of that ilk, she always claimed that she was going to live to be 100. She assured us she was fully prepared to spend decades as a “widdy woman,” presuming that my dad—frequently guilty of polishing off 1/2 gallons of Neapolitan ice cream in one sitting—would kick the bean long before she would. As it happens, my dad is still going strong at age 82 and eating more bad food than ever. The irony.

To hear my mom tell it, she and my dad got married without giving much thought to whether they would have kids. Then one day more than 10 years into their marriage, the priest at their Episcopal Church called them into the vestry (or whatever sort of ecclesiastical cubbyhole priests occupy) and said, “How ‘bout it? When are you two going to have kids?” Here they were pushing 40 and no kids. That sort of thing just wasn’t done (not done?) in the small Central Illinois town where they lived. So my Mom threw away her diaphragm and had her first kid at the age of 39 and her last when she was almost 50. (I have to say I still find it appalling that they allowed a priest to make such a life-changing decision for them.)

Ten to twenty years older than all the other moms with little kids, my mom threw herself into motherhood with gusto, determined to do everything exactly right. She became a disciple of Adele Davis, which meant that sugar and white flour were right out and blackstrap molasses and soy flour were in. We didn’t like it. Not one little bit. We wanted Wonder Sponge Bread and bologna and Doritos and Chips Ahoy cookies just like everyone else. Nor could we watch much TV (AKA "the plug-in drug"), which it was labeled a “time waster” and likely to give us bad dreams. Even Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and The Waltons were rationed out. I often wonder if we’d been allowed to watch Gilligan’s Island and Three’s Company willy-nilly if we’d have become the readers we are today.

My siblings and I were certain we had the weirdest, most off-kilter mom in the whole country. But in hindsight I give her an A+. Yeah, maybe she was a little extreme in her restrictions, e.g., a Chips Ahoy cookie or two would have gone a long way toward making us feel more normal, but it’s not like the lack of Nabisco scarred me for life or anything. And I couldn’t agree with her more—now—about TV being a HUGE time waster.

There’s lots and lots and lots more I could say about my mom--about who she was before she had kids and who she became after most of us left the nest. And most importantly about how she always loved us and supported us 100%. I will say more at some point. One of the reasons I started blogging was to record some reminiscences before my sieve-like memory develops even bigger holes—but this will have to do for now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Little Song, a Little Dance, a Little Solstice Down Your Pants

It’s the solstice today, I do believe, although my calendar says it occurred at 6:46 A.M. GMT, so maybe that was actually yesterday here in the PST/PDT. I’m a bit too braindead to do the calculations.

Yesterday evening, because it was somewhere in the solstice zone, I decided that it would be a good idea to take advantage of all the daylight and walk down to a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch gathering at a newish cafe and accomplish several (admittedly modest) goals: A) get some exercise; B) find out if a four-mile walk in new sandals would leave my feet blistered and raw; C) make some progress on my long-neglected afghan; D) eat a tempting dessert; and E) meet some new people.

I would say I was fairly successful in meeting all my goals, most notably the eating-a-tempting-dessert goal, which I accomplished with almost professional finesse. I’m also very pleased to report that my feet were not bloody by the time I got to the cafe. I’m quite excited about this breakthrough, because never before in my life have I been able to walk in sandals without my feet turning to pulp. This means I can now proceed with yet another modest goal: wearing more skirts and sundresses.

The skirts and the sundresses are a bit of a compromise, though. What I’d really like to have the opportunity to wear is a posh frock like this or this. Posh frocks like these are just the last word in high glamour. Plus--big butt? Pooky tummy? Chubby thighs? Stubby legs? Thick ankles? They are all discreetly hidden beneath the enormous bouffant New Look skirt. And that’s the way it should be. If posh frocks like these were still the norm, poxy control-top pantyhose need never have been invented.

I’ve worn exactly one posh frock in my entire life,* and it really wasn’t that nice (or that posh). Very clingy, cut in such a way that it was impossible to wear any kind of a bra—not even one of those every-which-way-but-loose convertible bras, and so narrow in the skirt I couldn’t walk—I had to mince. Not a positive posh frock experience. I really wish the New Look would come back and that some occasion would arise in which I would need to acquire the poshest of all posh frocks. I know it’s very girly, and in general I am not the most girly of girls, but I do want to have the chance to wear a posh frock before I die.

*I’m not counting a hot-pink bridesmaid dress with puffed sleeves and a sweetheart neckline that I was once forced to wear. In my book that qualifies as a ticky-tacky frock. From Hell.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Pretentious, Moi?

I’ve never been able to drum up any enthusiasm for poetry. How well I remember dragging my ass through several required poetry classes in college, bullshitting my way to the end of the semester. To this day, I’ve never quite gotten poetry, with the possible exception of William Blake and one or two of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself just itching to write poetry after I read a marvelously evocative little poem LeLo wrote with the help of a nifty plug n’ play poem template. All you need are some family memories and you’re ready to roll. Note: This is probably the only poem you will ever encounter on this blog (this isn’t the beginning of an alarming new trend). Poem may well be too strong a word. What I've written below is quite possibly just narcissistic malarkey, but it sure was fun to write!*

Where I’m From
I am from Lower Thermostat (Motto: “Put on a sweater!”), from orange Tang and Carnation Nonfat Dry Milk. Never the Real Thing--not in our house anyway.

I am from sloppily painted yellow kitchen cabinets, orange draperies dreadful with dust, and scratchy burlapesque upholstery. From rye toast with butter, Hurricane Duck, and failed fondant.

I am from the six silver maples, the half-finished compost heap of grass clippings, orange peels, eggshells, watermelon rinds, and volunteer Beefsteak tomatoes.

I am from spark-spitting sparklers on birthday cakes and family bike rides to the outer fringes of suburbia, where the riding mowers and station wagons ended and the soybeans and horses began. From Evangeline and Buzzie and Unk.

I am from the county of Conflict Avoidance and the territory of Treble Clef.

From “many hands make light work” and “cleaning up is half the fun.”

I am from Catholicism Lite: Less guilt; more Holy Days of Obligation.

I'm from Hell with Humidity: crackling cornfields and neglected antique shops--by way of the doomed tenements of the Gorbals.

From Joanne, lead tenor sax in the Musical Sweethearts all-girl dance band, who traveled the South in a bus so old and feeble the girls had to get out and walk whenever the bus encountered a hill. And from Father William who walked 80 city blocks for a dozen fresh donuts and ate them all on the way back home.

I am from the middle drawer of a battered coffee table, the top shelf of a haunted closet, and the core of a ripening Macintosh.

Intrigued? Nonplussed? Confused? In need of the Cliffs Notes? Then, I encourage you to take a look at the template and try writing your own version. If nothing else, it will give you an excuse to take a stroll down Memory Lane.

*I know I went a bit overboard with the alliteration.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Working Late


Ugh. Still working at 9:30 PM, but I took a wee break and discovered that this is what the sky looked like. Neato, huh? I'm glad I raised my nose from the grindstone long enough to experience the sunset and snap a photo. We get some pretty good sunsets out here, but this one is rather exceptional. It's even got a few mammatus clouds in it, which the Univerisity of Illinois's Department of Atmospheric Sciences refers to as "sagging, pouch-like structures," but which I refer to as big, blobby boob clouds.

While I'm thinking of it, did everyone who wanted the pissalaladiere recipe get it? If not, let me know.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Smokin' Pots

Garden (looking northeast)
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
My garden, which consists largely of perennials that bloom in early summer, is about at its peak right now. It seems that each year I recognize a new gardening blunder I’ve made. Last year, I had height issues: tall things obscuring short things. Mucho moving of plants occurred last fall to try to rectify that error. The problem isn’t completely solved, but I can live with it. This year I’m in a tizzy about the fact that the garden has pretty much shot its wad and it’s only mid-June. The columbines are history; the delphiniums and bellflowers are looking skeletal; and the foxgloves will soon be kaput. It’s mostly downhill from here on out.*

Sure I’ve got a few stalwarts--hardy geraniums, wallflowers, and African daisies--that will hang in there until December. And there’s a handful of things that are yet to come. But there’s no getting around the fact that by mid-July, there will be great whacking swathes of crispy, unremarkable foliage in much of my garden.

Unless...I were to go out and buy some annuals to fill in the soon-to-be-bare spots.

I’ve actually been planning to do that very thing for a couple of weeks, but ongoing cluttery weather had sort of killed my motivation on the nursery-cruising front. Today, we had an isolated day of fine weather, which just happened to coincide with my meeting a rather pressing deadline, so out I went this afternoon to reward myself with some greenery.

Wrong word. Chartreusery would be more like it. Reading a chapter in the Urban Gardener last night about all the splendid chartreuse plants that exist, I was reminded of just how very fond I am of plants that are not quite up to snuff in the green department. Chartreuse plants are such a great foil to blues and purples and dark reds, plus they brighten up dark areas. I’ve already got quite a few chartreuse/viridian plants: Lady’s mantle, meadow rue, creeping Jenny (which I absolutely love), and Audrey II, AKA the Little Hop of Horrors, pictured here attempting to throttle poor ‘Nancy Reagan.’ I do not plan to intervene.

Anyway, operating under the very American notion of “if a little is good, a lot is better,” I went out and purchased the following chartreusey plants today: licorice plant—in an assertive, dayglow yellow-green; ‘Kent’s Beauty’ oregano (a plant I’ve been seeking for years and that--thanks to a tip-off from LeLo—I was able to locate); and ‘Golden Wizard’ coleus. I’ve had to rethink coleus, a plant I used to despise, largely owing to some photos I saw on LeLo’s gardening blog that made it clear that coleus have come a long way since I last took any notice of them. No longer are the choices limited to those awful watermelon-slice varieties. Coleus will be figuring prominently in my midsummer rebeautification scheme. Bonus: They do well in sun or shade. An uncommon enough attribute.

After purchasing my reinforcement plants, I repaired to the Pot Shop. It’s the place to go if you need an outsized terra cotta loafer or cowboy boot to plant your petunias in. For some unknown reason, in the 3+ years I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve never visited the Pot Shop, even though I love these kinds of places and was constantly screeching off the road to visit them when I was on vacation in New Mexico.

The name of the place, I found out, is actually Little Baja. They have a fantastic selection of terra cotta pots—you can’t go wrong with terra cotta—of every description and size. I bought three huge pots and one of those pocket pots to hang on the garden gate. The prices are loads cheaper than Portland Nursery, just FYI. I was pretty darn psyched driving home in my aged Honda Civic, full of nifty chartreuse plants and smokin’ new pots. The sun was out and the temperature was about 72. It felt like summer—finally! Even the weather report, “The rain will be heading back in tomorrow” did not dampen my spirits.

*Sometimes I think I’m a little (a little?) too critical of my gardening efforts. I have to say that I’m quite chuffed that I have been able to create a cottage garden in a yard where I was told by a gardening expert that it would be impossible—not enough sun, two massive Douglas firs competing for water and nutrients, clay soil, this shortcoming, that obstacle...I’m glad I ignored her.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A Few Choice Words

I think these forgotten words should be resurrected.

comfoozled: overcome, exhausted

all-overs: the shivers, the creeps, nervousness; Southeastern U.S.

scroyle: a mean wretch, probably applied to one afflicted with kingsevil (a swelling of lymph nodes in the neck).

ill musick: said of any unwelcome or unpleasing news

churchyard cough: a bad, chronic cough

logolatry: worship of words; unreasonable regard for words or for verbal truth...hence logomaniac, one who is insanely interested in words.

pissing-while: short time. The phrase was formerly common enough. He had not been there—bless the mark—a pissing while, but all the chamber smelt of him.

cluttery weather: describes rainy weather with thick clouds all around

spending cheese: cheese of a middling quality used for family consumption in the dairy districts of Suffolk, considerably superior to the Bang or Thump but by no means equal to Gloucester.

sawdust parlance: circus language, in allusion to the sawdust strewn in the arena of a circus

I don’t know if I could be clinically diagnosed as a logomaniac, but I would say I am borderline insane about words. What I love about a lot of these words is how extremely specific and rich in character their meanings are, e.g., spending cheese and scroyle. Sadly, my brain seems not up to the task of storing gems like these for future use. There are just so many terrific words in the English language--it is a shame I don't get more use out of them.

I hate to admit it, but I have been tempted on occasion to get one of those (spending) cheesy “Improve Your Vocabulary” books. The only thing really stopping me is that I feel that with all the reading I do (and have done) exposure should be enough. Why isn’t my brain doing a better job of absorption and storage? I wish all the cool words I come in contact with would ensconce themselves in some back alley of my brain and present themselves to me at opportune moments. There are people whose brains operate that way, and it just dazzles me!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Brag, Boast, Crow!

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
One of the best things I’ve ever eaten was an onion tart thing that I found in a bakery in Italy’s Maritime Alps. Whenever my Italy trip comes up in conversation, I never fail to mention the divine onion tart—for going on 10 years now. B, for one, is probably getting heartily sick of hearing about it, but it was really just that extraordinarily good and memorable. It deserves to be canonized: St. Onion Tart the Delectable.

The photo shown here is not, in fact, the legendary onion tart, but my own re-creation of it. Now, as I have mentioned before, baked goods of this caliber are not often sighted in my kitchen or, if they are, they were made by someone other than myself. Yeasty things daunt me, you see. However, when I was browsing through the cookbooks at the library last week, I found Anne Gardon’s Comfort Food Fast, which contained a photo of what looked almost exactly like the vaunted onion tart of the Alpi Marittime. I knew I had to attempt it--yeastophobia be damned!

It turns out that the tart in Gardon's book is a traditional French dish called a pissaladière.* I’m pretty sure it is what I had in Italy since the Maritimes are so close to France. I was really psyched to try making it, even though I do not possess culinary conveniences like a dough hook or a food processor. I cut up all 8 (!) large onions by hand and used a wooden spoon and elbow grease to prepare the dough. I’m sure it took me two to three times longer than it would take most people. The results, however (crow, crow, crow!!!!), were fabulous! The crust is just as light and crisp as can be and miraculously unsoggy--I can hardly believe it! And the onion-olive topping--scrummy! The caramelized onions and the salty black olives provide a really nice, full-flavored contrast. It is absolutely the very most perfect thing to take on a hike and eat while surveying an unbroken expanse of forested mountain ridges in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness—infinitely better than the usual peanut butter sandwich. And it travels well! And it is wonderful reheated! And it’s magnificent straight out of the fridge! I just can’t say enough good things about it. (You see how aptly titled this post is.) I may now be able to finally stop talking about that tart I ate 10 years ago, now that I have one I can actually take credit for. Expect to hear about it for the next 20 years--at least!

* This totally sounds like something Jamie would make (and probably has made). Had I been able to predict last week that I was going to get it into my head to make a pissaladière, I would have offered to guest blog at her site (since she is away at the moment), where this post would seem a lot less out of place.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Selfish and Begrudging

How selfish and begrudging of me is it to want to give priority to geekish and nerdly activities over having drinks and dinner with B’s Aunt Helga and Uncle Slim tomorrow evening?

Tomorrow is the annual George Morlan Plumbing/1190 KEX Festival of Bands, a high school marching band competition that is part of the Portland Rose Festival. I know it is a completely uncool thing to be interested in, but since I competed in many a high school marching band competition myself--bring on the shakos, busbys, and white shoes! I need my fix!

Not only am I going to miss all the “fancy footwork”* and the grand finale massed-band rendition of "America the Beautiful," I am also missing the opportunity to go to a one-night-only screening at the Hollywood Theatre of some very intriguing local documentary-film shorts:
  • The Secret Life of Clowns by Seth Ring
  • Sweetly Dispensed: The Heart of a Pez Collector by Parisa Akbari, Kathy Schaeffer, Alina Wrona-Eden
  • Diggeridu Didjeri Who? by Christopher Reed
  • Finding Rev. Phil by Marie Deatherage
Don’t those sound great?


Instead, I will be the dutiful girlfriend and help B entertain Uncle Slim and Aunt Helga while they are here in Portland. Actually, I like both of them, it just would have been nice if they breezed into town on a night when there wasn’t such an embarrassment of entertainment riches on offer.

We will probably have dinner at an indifferent steak-or-fish restaurant and witness Uncle Slim get muy tostado on Manhattans. He’s a garrulous, entertaining drunk, not a surly one, and we’ll be the ones driving, so I guess we might as well let him. I don't think we have a choice. The last time we got together (about five years ago), a parboiled Uncle Slim spent most of the time trying to persuade me to write a history of the Democratic Party, “because no one’s ever written one before” (?!) and I, Rozanne, “would be the perfect person to do it.” A completely preposterous idea--I have no interest in writing such a book (nor am I qualified)--but I humored him.

Knowing that it takes Uncle Slim 18 months to get around to answering an e-mail, I was pretty sure there was little chance he'd ever get around to sending me the Democratic Party research materials he’s been storing for decades--probably in the room where he keeps every issue of Time magazine published since 1963. (Think of the silverfish problems that must exist in that room!) Sure enough, I've never heard another word about it, although, who knows? Maybe he'll show up tomorrow with a sheaf of silverfish-infested research documents for me.

I'll let you know.

*I always get a kick out of how the whole marching band thing baffles writers or announcers who are dragooned into writing or talking about them. Announcers invariably refer to the bands as “teams,” and writers come up with locutions like “fancy footwork.” Huh? It’s not hopscotch or interpretive dance! It’s marching. There are basically two steps involved. Marching (pistoning your knees up and down while standing in place) and moving, which is done (in layman’s terms) by walking forward, backward, sideways, or diagonally. Not so mysterious, really.

**Thanks to Average Jane for reminding me of this fine G-rated expletive.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Celebrities in My Garden

'Nancy Reagan'
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Front and center is Nancy Reagan, smelling like a rose, because, you see, she is one. Please believe that I did resist buying a rose named after a person whom I do not hold in particularly high regard, but she was just so peachy and perfect-looking in the photos I kept seeing. After two years of holding off, I broke down and bought a one-gallon pot of Nancy. The irony is, of course, that in my garden the ‘Nancy Reagan’ rose is stingy, scrawny, and quick to fade. Rather like the woman herself, I imagine. I took the photo shown here yesterday; today she's already looking a bit shabby.

Nancy is not the only celebrity in my garden. I’ve got a ‘John F. Kennedy’ rose (white but stippled with rather unattractive red, pimply blemishes). There’s a garden gate separating JFK and Nancy Reagan—in case anyone’s worried about the potential for partisan violence. I’ve also got a 'Prince Charles' clematis, which is a gorgeous lavender color and, unlike the real prince, is not in the least fuss-pottish or petulant.

It have always found cultivar names--especially those for roses and clematis--highly amusing. If one were so inclined, one could turn her garden into the cocktail party from hell, planting the Prince Charles clematis, the Princess Diana clematis, the Barbra Steisand rose, the Ronald Reagan rose, the Dolly Parton rose, the General MacArthur rose, the Elizabeth Taylor rose, the Pope John Paul II clematis, the Charles Darwin clematis, the Nero clematis, the Mary Magdalene clematis, the Kaiser Wilhelm clematis, and the Madame Chiang Kai-shek rose. And for good measure--the Betty Boop rose, the Tinker Bell rose, and the El Pinko clematis (to get Ronnie’s dander up). One would have to be ready for the garden to spontaneously combust at any moment.

I’m not rushing out to add more celebs to my garden, but I am very tempted to find a place for the Jude the Obscure rose—brought to my attention by LeLo at her Sassy Gardener blog.* Even if it weren’t such a knockout (and fragrant, too), I’d be on the lookout for this rose just because of the hilarious inappropriateness of its name. Is it named for St. Jude the Obscure, patron saint of lost causes and hopeless cases? Or is it named for Thomas Hardy’s exceptionally gloomy, fatalistic novel? Take your pick!

You have to wonder what the rose-naming folks were thinking giving a name like Jude the Obscure to such a nice rose. Did they do their homework? I think not. My theory is that someone just got it into his/her head to name some roses after Thomas Hardy novels (there’s at least one other I know of--Tess of the d’Urbervilles). I’m sure protests (if any) about naming a rose after a novel that ends with Jude’s young son, known as “Little Father Time,” hanging his mother, his siblings, and himself fell on deaf ears. Then again, there's also a Benson and Hedges Gold rose. Yep--a rose named after a cigarette. That just ain’t right.

*I just checked the Sassy Gardener blog to get the link and found that LeLo has a wonderful new post up about roses and the stories they tell. Check it out!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Clam Chowder for the Soul

Sea Stars Holding Hands
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
My solo trip to the Oregon Coast met and/or exceeded all expectations. I spent four days in Yachats (pronounced ya-hots, as in, “when ya-hots, ya-hot,” although it was anything but hot), a town somewhat lacking in tourist charm and tchotchkes—only one fudge/saltwater taffy shop and not a T-shirt in my size to be found. But that’s OK by me. I wasn’t there for that crap.

Yachats is just a couple miles from the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, which boasts 26 miles of hiking trails and almost no frickin’ people, save for the benighted souls who drive to the top of Cape Perpetua, snap a photo, drive back down, and head to the next must-see stop listed in their AAA guides. Tragic! I’m sorry, but it pains me that so many people experience the natural beauty of the landscape through the postage-stamp-sized viewfinders of their cameras.

Being the holier-than-thou outdoorswoman and lunatic hiker that I am, rather than drive I hiked 800 feet up to the top of Cape Perpetua (even thought it was pissing rain). So much better than driving! (You see, I am nuts!) At the top there was a short hike to a rock shelter built in 1934 by a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew led by one Mr. Bud Hinshaw. Every day Bud and his gang hiked the 800 feet to the top to work on the shelter in January—the height of the storm season. To keep hypothermia at bay, Bud would toss a handful of (no doubt) godawful coffee grounds into a pot, boil the heck out of it, and—voila—a stone shelter was built in record time. My heartfelt thanks to Bud and all other CCC workers. These guys are responsible for so many of the hiking trails that exist today in the United States. Most of all, my heartfelt thanks to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for creating the CCC (and the WPA); he’s one of my heroes.

Probably my favorite hike of the six or so I did was the Gwynne Creek Trail. It was so ferny and cycad-esque is was positively Jurassic! See what I mean? I also really tripped out on the Cummins Creek Trail—very misty and Middle Earth (cue the Enya). Just as I was envisioning hobbits and so forth frolicking in their simple-minded way, a bear* (not more than 10 feet from me) poked its head out of the trees, gave me one look, and thundered away into the backcountry. I am just too scary, apparently. To make sure he/she was thoroughly intimidated, I let out a Canadian yodel at the top of my lungs—COO LOO COO COO COO COO COO COO; COO LOO COO COO COO COO COO COO,** as recommended by the old salt of a ranger at the Cape Perpetua Interpretive Center.*** I’m sure the bear was shaking in his/her boots.

I then headed up a steep incline, dodging oodles of banana slugs that looked exactly like freshly extruded cat turds. The banana slug to human ratio was at least 200-1, I would say. It was only though an act of god that I didn’t step on one. By the way, you don’t want to step on these shell-less mollusks. A) You don’t want to kill an innocent creature that’s doing nothing more harmful than impersonating a cat turd and B) slug guts are impossible to remove from the bottom of a boot. Their ooze is so tenacious the big wigs in the adhesive industry are looking into slugs as an ingredient for the next ultra-amazing incarnation of super glue. Or so I have been told.

A totally unexpected serendipity of the trip was the tidepools. Landlubber that I am, I have to admit that I really had no idea what a tidepool was or why it was supposed to be such a big freaking deal. Weren’t tidepools just sort of decorative little indentations in the sand that became visible at low tide? Who gives a shit about that when there are forests of old-growth Sitka spruce to be hiked? Well--as it turns out--I do. Tidepools happen to be full--as in jam packed, cheek-by-jowl--of fascinating sea creatures, including sea stars that range in color from coral orange to bright violet; neon-green sea anemones; amethyst sea urchins; hermit crabs a-scurrying; mussels of all sizes; sponges, whelks, limpets, nudibranches, and barnacles. BARNACLES!!!!

May I just say: Barnacles freak me out! That same old salt that told me to yodel also told me to just crunch right on over all the mussel-and-barnacle-encrusted basalt to get to the good stuff in the tidepools. Naturally, I assumed that if it was OK for me to tromp across the barnacles with my big old Gore-tex hiking boots, the barnacles must be dead as doornails. Hell, they sure look it. They look like they’ve been fossilized for about two billion years. Wrong! These babies are alive! See those little beak-looking things? They move!!!! And in the most eerily, sci-fi, robotic fashion imaginable. Then--from time to time--they open up and click like little baby birds or something. It was the clicking that I kept hearing that made me stop and stare at them for a while and discover their freakish behavior. How can it be OK, I had to wonder, for people to clomp back and forth all over them on their way to ooh and ahh at the sea stars? I asked about this at the Interpretive Center, and the naturalists assured me it was fine. I guess if the barnacles can withstand the crashing weight of monster waves during a February storm, they can withstand the piddling 118 pounds of yours truly.

I think I should wrap this up pretty soon, as I am getting very close to the critical mass of 1,000 words. But I must speak briefly about clam chowder and its importance to me.

When one is on vacation, one must eat and because I am always (always) on a quest to find excellent clam chowder (perhaps my very most favorite soup—New England [not the bastard Manhattan incarnation]), I decided to sample as many versions as I could while in Yachats. Since there were only about eight restaurants (counting a laundromat-pizza parlor hybrid), this was quite do-able in four days. I didn’t find the holy grail of clam chowders (bummer), but I did discover a great little place called the Drift Inn (cringe, shudder, wince at the unoriginality of the name). The food was no better than acceptable, but the conviviality factor was 10 out of 10. They had an excellent selection of local beers on tap (very important to moi) and live music every night. The first time I ate there there was a really outstanding jazz combo with a guy on reeds who played clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and soprano sax—not the clarinet-looking soprano sax vilified by Kenny G., but the kind that looks like a toy saxophone a kid might find in her/his Christmas stocking. I’ve never seen one of those before! They’re a bit ludicrous, I must say, but they have their place in the jazz idiom.

These jazzers were old guys who really knew their way around tunes like “Stella by Starlight” and “Cherokee.” I appreciate that so much. Remarkably, the singer was a young (20-something), stubby, geeky, bespectacled Trekkie-looking person who had (despite her youth and inexperience) a classic voice and spot-on phrasing. She was the daughter of the piano player it turns out. The band invited everyone in the restaurant to stay to the “bitter end” of their gig (9:00 PM--so not so difficult to pull off), and I most certainly did. Another great thing about the band was that all the people in it were local. Like most coast towns, Yachats has some big, depressing blot-on-the-landscape resort hotels that suck tourist dollars out of the community, while offering locals only crap dead-end maid and waiter jobs, and putting smaller, locally based operations out of business. Yuck. I refuse to give my money to places like that. So it's very nice to find a locally owned place that provides a venue for local people to do what they love and get paid for it.

OK, I’m ramping up for a rant, so I’d best stop before I’m off and running and you’ve got another 1,000 words to plow through.

BTW: If you’re interested in viewing a not-too-exhaustive slide show of pix (15 photos) click here. It will take about a minute of your time, I think, to view them all.

*I was later to see another bear on the trail, but from a much less worrisome distance.

**Those of you old enough (or Canadian enough) to remember the movie Strange Brew or Bob and Doug from "Second City TV" ("SCTV") will know exactly what my yodel sounded like and just how frightening it can be.

***OK. So the ranger didn’t actually specify the type of yodel. He just said to yodel if I saw a bear. Since I am here and alive and able to type this blog entry, I can testify that my yodel was extremely effective.

Friday, June 03, 2005

And the Winners Are...

Thanks for playing everyone!

The two things I have not done are:

1. Get kicked out of a guitar store for playing "Stairway to Heaven." I can, in fact, play "Stairway to Heaven," and I was in a store where they had a sign posted saying anyone who played "Stairway to Heaven" would be asked to leave, but for some reason I didn't want to find out if they'd enforce that.

2. Publish a book about tarantulas. I've published books about whales, dolphins, seahorses, but not tarantulas.

The Recovering Straight Girl and Cagey were the first to guess correctly, so they will be getting chocolate. Send your snail mail addresses to me at: rozanne@partlycloudy.com.

I know a lot of you are wondering about the whole assassin thing. Here's how I pulled that off. Back when I was a kid, my school band went to this annual Cherry Festival thing in Traverse City, Michigan. Ex-President Gerald R. Ford attended, and they were worried that someone might try to finish him off, so they made all us band kids serve as something they called an "honor guard." We formed a sort of human/musical instrument moat around Ford. Personally, I found this quite alarming. I didn't want myself or my saxophone to have to take a bullet for an ex-president that hadn't even been elected to office in the first place--but I had no say in the matter. Perhaps he is alive today because of my service in the honor guard. We shall never know.

Here's a quick rundown on the rest of the things that I have, in fact, done:

I learned to drive in a Checker cab. Within a week of getting my license, I jumped a curb with the big, unweildy behemoth and crashed into a tree. The car was unscathed; I got a bloody nose.

My 4-H club (the Junior Wonder Maids--we were named after a training bra!) competed in a choral event at the Illinois State Fair that involved singing "Climb Every Mountain," while pushing two halves of a rainbow together. Each of us sported a sash with the name of a different country on it. I was Sudan. The judges found it so meaningful and symbolic of WORLD HARMONY that were each awarded blue ribbons.

I was really into mushroom hunting when I was a kid, and had a lot of mushroom books and no practical experience hunting mushrooms with an expert. I found some mushrooms in our yard that I was pretty sure weren't poisonous according to my (no doubt very incomplete) books. My brave family trusted me enough to eat the spaghetti dish I made with the mushrooms. The sauce tasted very metallic, but we all survived.

I've refused two marriage proposals. Had I accepted, I'm pretty sure I'd be a divorcee twice over.

I met Shelley Winters at the Musicbox Theatre in Chicago, where they were screening one of her old movies. She's one of the ditziest people I've ever met. I cannot begin to imagine how she ever memorized lines. (And Denise, I think you are a bit mixed up with your seasons. Suzanne Sommers is the thighmaster person. I don't think Shelley Winters has ever gotten within 100 feet of one.)

I quit a very miserable job after I had a dream (in December of 1996) that "told" me I should quit in May 1997, which I did--even though I had nothing else lined up.

Pig's blood is the main ingredient in black pudding (AKA blood sausage). I ate some out of politeness when I was in Scotland.

BTW: I had a great time at the Coast. I'll post some highlights and photos soon.