Friday, July 29, 2005

Last Hurrah for the Alberta Clown House

What with Alberta Street’s* balls out sprint toward total gentrification, it was only a matter of time before the Alberta Clown House became a casualty. The clowns can no longer afford the rent on their scruffy house and so they must pack up their tall bikes, their stilts, their greasepaint and red noses, their banjos and cowboy hats, and their big red shoe bike, and vamoose. Yesterday was the last Last Thursday Art Walk to feature the Clown House as an “attraction.” The last time in which to gather around the chainlink fence and witness unbridled, madcap exhibitionism in the Mud Wrasslin’ Pit o’ Doom. I’ve documented a bit of the wrasslin’ here for posterity.

Wrasslin' Pit #1

Wrasslin' Pit #2

Wrasslin' Pit #3

Wrasslin' Pit #4

I have mixed feelings about the gentrification of Alberta Street. As I’ve mentioned before, I love the idea that the Clown House exists, although admittedly I would be whistling a very different tune if the Clown House were my next-door neighbor. It’s sort of an eyesore; it blasts loud music; and it harbors clowns. But there’s something so wonderfully defiant about that house full of clowns and its yard littered with bikes of every size, shape, and description sitting there as shiny new condos and upscale bars spring up all around it. It’s in a primo location on a double lot, and I can just imagine how galling it must be to all the real estate developers in town to see banjo- and accordion-playing clowns with their pants riding so low you can see their butt cracks in control of that prime piece of real estate.

However, I cannot deny that I patronize many of the newer restaurants and businesses on Alberta, like the yoga studio, Bella Faccia pizza, Buffalo Gardens, and the Tin Shed. They were part of an earlier wave of gentrification that brought funky, affordable, pioneering businesses built up from scratch by local entrepreneurs. And I must admit that I am psyched that Alberta will soon have it’s very own yarn shop, an Indian restaurant (!!!!), and a brew pub. And although I mourned the demise of the semi-scuzzy Chez What, there’s no doubt that Ciao Vito is a vast improvement as far as cuisine and hygiene are concerned. But it’s not affordable, and it attracts a more monied crowd from out of the neighborhood. Sadly, places like Ciao Vito seem to be the gentrification wave of the future. Big developers are moving in for the kill.

What’s to become of some of the businesses on Alberta that were around back before anyone dreamed up the idea of the Alberta Arts District—back when Alberta was just part of the ‘hood? Will the Mr. Jesus Christ storefront church, the Majestic Styling Studio, Earl’s Barber Shop, the Alberta Washhouse, Joes’s Place, Bantu Towing, the Appliance Hospital, and the Don Pancho Taqueria survive? I hope so, but I fear not.

I guess I should dismount my high horse. It’s not like I’m personally doing anything to keep these places around, and it’s not like I’m calling attention to a phenomenon that hasn’t been dissected and passively bemoaned (ad nauseam) in all Portland’s media. There’s even a documentary film about it.

I do hope that Alberta will retain some of its soul (and weirdness and funkiness). I hope there will always be a Last Thursday Art Walk. And I hope that it will always be open (for FREE) to any artist or vendor who wants to set up a table and sell skirts made from neckties, dolls made from pantyhose, or fire up a portable mini grill and sell hot dogs (for $1) that they bought at WinCo.

*Street/District within walking distance of my house that has an increasingly large number of art galleries, funky/chic shops, and restaurants. Famous for its Last Thursday Art Walk.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Eluding the Fashion Police

Back in the late 1990s when I worked in an office, one of my co-workers, a woman in her early 60s, would sometimes show up in a bright-green belted polyester pantsuit (circa 1976) that I secretly thought of as her “Girl Scout Leader Outfit.” I vowed that I would never allow myself to become that befuddled by fashion.

Then I quit my job and started my own home-based business. No longer was it necessary to buy work clothes. Then I moved to Portland. No longer was it necessary to buy clothes. So here I am with a wardrobe consisting of a few lingering relics from my days as an office drone, quite a few cast-offs from friends, and a nice cache of finds from Naked Lady Parties. I’ve bought very little in the way of new clothes since I moved to Portland at the end of 2001.

For all I know, some of the stuff in my dresser and closet may now be in the Girl Scout Leader category. But how am I to ascertain this? I live in Portland. Pretty much anything goes here. For example, is this the height of fashion? And if so, where on the spectrum of au courant to passé do those three Indian sundresses I bought at a street fair in 1998 fall? I can’t even begin to extrapolate or compute something like that.

You see, the real problem is I don’t want to put any effort into finding out what is in style. And I don’t really care about being trendy or hip. I just dread--and want to avoid at all costs--Girl Scoutiness. So here’s my half-assed stab at a solution: I’ve instructed my youngest friend (age 28) to let me know if she ever sees me wearing something that she thinks should be filed under Girl Scout.* Also, I decided to actually get myself some new clothes and by “new” I mean new to me.** Last Sunday off I trotted to Goodwill where I scored three skirts and two pairs of shorts for $23.*** Wasn’t this rather a risky move? Mightn’t I have unwittingly bought the mother of all Girl Scout Leader Outfits? I think I managed to avoid that. I applied my usual conservative (read: boring) clothes-buying guidelines, which are to stick with solid colors and avoid styles that have details (like ruffles or embroidered pockets) that age badly and might as well blare “1987” in huge, rhinestone-encrusted numerals!

One last thing, here’s a fragment of a meme (from Diana) that’s fashion/clothes related. I’ll let you be the judge of whether I’m on the right track or not.

Five Things I’d Never Wear
Thong underwear
Control-top pantyhose (heck, all pantyhose)
Capri pants
Shorts and pants with pleated fronts
Cowl-neck sweaters

*I have to admit, though, that I don’t know if she’s a reliable judge. I sort of arbitrarily decided that since she’s the youngest person I know, she must be the hippest, but then again, I’ve seen her sporting brown, wide-wale corduroy slacks. Is that a good sign or a bad sign?

**I know that if I really wanted to avoid the Girl Scout Leader pitfall, I would buy new fresh-out-of-the-sweatshop clothes from Banana Republic or similar, but I’m through (for the most part) with buying new clothes. I just don’t need them for my job, and I’d rather spend my money on beer and gardening supplies.

***Actually the clothes were less than $23. The $23 price includes two very nice glass flower vases.

Monday, July 25, 2005

My Sorry Ass

Bench on Banks-Vernonia Trail
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
See this bench made out of a log and topped with an old rusty railroad doodad? This is where I parked my clanked-out ass after riding approximately four miles on the Banks-Vernonia bike trail, one of Oregon’s few rails-to-trails bike paths.

Before last Saturday, I hadn't ridden my bike since Labor Day, 2003. Nevertheless, I had no idea that getting back in the saddle after a nearly two-year hiatus would be such agony. As soon as I started pedaling, my vastus medialis started screaming blue murder. I could hardly believe it. The trail was flat and I was not in a particularly high gear. What the H-E-double-hockeysticks was going on?

I do not consider myself to be terribly out of shape. I hike. I walk. I do yoga. What's more, I used to routinely do 30-50 mile bike rides every summer weekend. Heck, I even rode two centuries (100 miles in a day). What happened? I moved to Portland, Oregon, surely one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S., and almost completely stopped riding my bike. I nixed cycling in favor of hiking, but still...the irony.

I have to admit it was a huge blow to my ego to discover that I have somehow turned into such a duffer as a cyclist. So I simply went into denial and just soldiered on, determined to make it the six miles to the vaunted railroad trestle to nowhere, an abandoned trestle that just ends in midair and sounded—at least on paper—like something I’d like to see. B was with me, being silently miserable, having ridden his bike perhaps a total of one mile last year. On and on we pedaled through dense forest on the bone-rattling path. Before long my derriere began to wincingly register every shard of gravel and cobble I slogged over. My supposedly comfy cutaway saddle was sadly inadequate.

My interior monologue blathered away as I rode, reassuring me that, contrary to all indications, there had to be some explanation as to why I was finding this flat path so difficult. At the same time, I resolved to start riding my bike to yoga every week—a ride that involves climbing a giant hill. I just cannot accept that I have turned into such a rubbishy cyclist.

We never did get to the railroad trestle to nowhere, because we encountered a mud slick and B point-blank refused to go any further. So we turned around at about the six-mile mark. To our great surprise, however, we were able to coast the entire six miles back. Absolutely no effort required. The path had not been as flat as it looked, but in fact followed a not-so-slight incline, which of course was a slight decline all the way back. I think we covered those six miles back in about 20 minutes, feeling more cheery and capable by the second. I believe I might have said something about giving Lance Armstrong a run for his money. We later calculated that over the course of our ride we had climbed about 600 feet, which is nothing really, when you consider that riders in the Tour de France typically do climbs of 5,000 feet, but still it helped us feel like we weren’t completely hopeless and ready to be tossed on the slag heap. Nonetheless, I am going to stick to my resolve to ride my bike to yoga. Cross-training = good.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Got My Tots

Morning Glories and Sunflowers
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Morning glories and sunflowers. Nice combo, don’t you think? It’s really sort of an accident that these exist at all. Earlier this year, but probably not early enough, I planted some ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory seeds and some 'Italian White' sunflower seeds in little peat pots. The germination rate was dismal. Out of 24 pots, I got three sunflower sprouts and zero morning glories. Morning glories and sunflowers are both supposed to be super easy to grow from seed—the kind of thing a kid can grow.

The three sunflower sprouts keeled over and bit the peat without making it past cotyledon stage. I vaguely considered purchasing some starts but then never did it. A few weeks ago, however, I discovered this lone morning glory volunteer in the very place I would have planted my seedlings had they had the fortitude to make something of themselves. I’d had some morning glories in that spot last year that produced a jungle’s worth of leaves but a pittance of flowers. This morning glory is quite different, as you can see. Plus, it’s a totally different color from its parent—no idea why. The ones from last year were the sky blue ‘Heavenly Blue’ variety and this one is a plush deep violet. (I can’t get the true color to photograph accurately. It's much more purple than blue in reality.)

As long as I had that morning glory, I decided to follow through with my original plan and add some sunflowers, especially since I just happened to be at Fred Meyer one day last week and they just happened to have blooming sunflowers attractively priced at 3 for $4.99.

Morning glories are one of those flowers I’ve loved since childhood. Why? I’m not exactly sure, but--if you haven’t noticed—I am a sucker for blue flowers. I also have a weakness for trumpety-looking flowers and a fondness for vines. So there you are.

Speaking of weaknesses--I finally got those tater tots I’ve been jonesing for since Sunday when the tater tot rug was pulled out from under me. You see, yesterday was the annual Cracked Pots Garden Art Show, which is held at Edgefield (repurposed poorhouse, hotel, pub, winery, distillery, and purveyor of tater tots). What a quintessential Oregon event this is. It is open only to local artists who make garden art out of recycled and reclaimed materials. Oregon is probably one of the few places in the United States where enough artists like that could be scraped together to assemble a kick-butt show. And, of course, there was another Oregon essential on tap--beer! You can be sure I availed myself of that option, strolling along at a very leisurely pace, sipping a pint of one of their seasonals, Firefly Kölsch. The artists and their work were tucked here and there among the charmingly decrepit buildings, landscaped lawns, and marvelous gardens of Edgefield. It was just a delightful way to spend an evening. And I bought this!

Rusty Astrolabe

I like to think of it as a sort of rusty astrolabe, although, of course, it’s really more of a rusty antique globe. Astrolabe is a far more melodious word, however, so that is what I’m going to call it from now on. Before it became a rusty astrolabe on a rusty astrolabe stand, it was industrial wire, a gear from some kind of machine, and the strapping that holds wine barrels together. So cool to know its history, I think. I really liked the artist, too. We had a bit of a snarky chat about people who don’t get her art and therefore should not be allowed to buy it. I, of course, did not fall into that category and for my keen ability to understand where she was coming from with all that rust, I earned myself a discount and a hug!

Next planting season I envision putting in some plants that will twine up and entangle themselves in the rusty astrolabe. It definitely needs to become more intimately acquainted with the rest of the garden, but for now it will have to remain a piece of pure garden art.

So, as mentioned above, I got my tots. But not at Edgefield. Too many other folks had the same idea. No problem. There’s more than one place to get tots in Portland--including the Kennedy School, which is within walking distance of our house. I drove back home and ensconced the astrolabe in the garden, leaving it to be admired by B and various neighborhood cats, while I trundled off to demolish an order of tots. That had better hold me for a while, because--let’s face it--those things are little double-fried nuggets of unhealthfulness. So tasty and crunchily satisfying, though.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Mystic Seer
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I was busy whittling away at the stack of e-mails in my In Box this evening when I happened to glance over at the TV and see this hideous freak staring back at me out of his one good eye. Turns out B was watching old reruns of The Twilight Zone. Ever thoughtful, B was using headphones so as not to disturb me. But disturbed I was by the leering “Mystic Seer.”

I wasn’t even going to write a blog entry tonight, because I am so far behind with nearly every aspect of my life, but after getting the hairy eyeball from this thing, I just had to document its existence in the Twilight Zone (and sometimes on eBay if you’re lucky).

Turns out that The Twilight Zone prop people modeled this dreadful Old Scratch on a Halloween candy dispenser—I’m thinking Pez—probably changing just enough details to not infringe upon any copyrights or patents. Then they affixed it to a Swami Fortune Machine, apparently a common item in diners of the 1950s. Why don’t they still have stuff like this around in restaurants? It beats the crap out of video poker machines. I love cheap props. Dr. Who was great for cheap props. Need a shot of a distant planet? Just use an orange or a grapefruit and then have it for lunch when you’re done. My kind of special effect—and infinitely preferable to CGI.

Back to mystic seers and fortune telling. As it happens (and let's not read too much into this), today I had Vietnamese food for lunch. It came with a fortune cookie that contained what has to be the lamest fortune ever. One of those "fortunes" that has absolutely no prophesying element to it whatever. Here it is in all its limp glory:

“When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Huh? It’s not even possible to improve it by adding the “in bed” ending to it. Feeble and unsatisfactory.

Here’s one I like much better that’s been on my fridge for the past six months or so:

“Your talents will be recognized and suitably rewarded.”

That's more like it.

Monday, July 18, 2005

So Much Better Than Chicago

I know I’m prone to frequently trumpeting the charms of living in Oregon in general and Portland in particular. And here I go again. Get a load of this: Mount Hood! Looming hugely right in my face this afternoon as I ambled through spectacular technicolor wildflower meadows on the McNeil Point Trail.

This is without a doubt one of my favorite hikes in Mount Hood National Forest. The first time I did this hike I had no idea what was in store for me. The hike starts out uphill through some woods. Nice...but nothing that would even remotely knock your socks off. After maybe three-quarters of a mile, you pop out of the woods onto a ridge, round the corner, and BOOM: there’s the massively massive Mount Hood staring back at you—Oregon’s tallest mountain (11,237 feet; 3,426 m) and (yikes) a “potentially active” volcano! The views just get better as you hike along the ridge, gaining elevation and closer views of Mount Hood--up, up, up into magical subalpine meadows and ending at a peaceful little pond with a side view of Hood.

Good for the soul. And a darn good bang for your effort buck. Only 6.8 miles round trip and 1,500 feet of elevation. My only disappointment was that my hiking pal was too pooped to stop (as promised) at Edgefield afterward for tater tots and a pint of IPA. We’d managed to thoroughly wipe out her hyperactive dog, too. So I got dropped off at home without the eagerly anticipated fried food and beer fix. I suppose I’ll survive.

As soon as I walked in the door, the phone rang. It was my good friend MK who lives in Columbia, Missouri. He’s a new father, so it’s not often he can steal a moment to chat on the phone. I happily delayed a much-needed shower, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and settled down on the patio for a bit of a chinwag. Of course, I immediately told him I’d just been on a fabulous hike. He replied that he hadn’t been outside in two months! The wistfulness in his voice was painful for me to hear. If I was forced to stay indoors for two months, I would very quickly become a raving lunatic and have to be barricaded in an attic, which would only make me even more of a raving lunatic. What I found painful is that MK is a person who loves to hike and walk and would brave the hellish heat and humidity if it weren’t for the fact that he does the lion’s share of childcare for his one-year-old son, whom, I guess would melt or evaporate or possibly even sublimate if exposed to full-on central Missouri in July. I guess MK was going a little crackers, though, because he mentioned that he took a “hike” in a mall, weaving a stroller in and out and around throngs of bored teenagers! That didn’t pan out too well. Well, duh!

I’m glad I’m not MK. (I’m so not cut out for parenthood.) But I will say this. Of all the people I know, no one is more suited to parenthood than MK. He’s always loved babies and kids, and when his wife and he were figuring out how to divvy up the child care, it was MK who ended up cutting back his work hours to part time and devoting pretty much all his nonworking hours to caring for his son. And he loves it. And I think that’s great.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Flashback to the '80s

Per Random and Odd by way of LeLo in NoPo, today is Stuff Portrait Friday and today’s three-part photo assignment is:

#1: A picture of you from the 80s
Guffaw circa 1989

Here I am--mid-guffaw--goofing off at my first job, circa 1989. Note the Madonna-style hoop earrings and the perm! Some things change: I ditched the perm. Some things don’t: My desk is still utter chaos.

#2: Something from the 80s you can't let go of
Brown Cardy

That would have to be this unflattering brown cardigan, a “oh no it’s her birthday and I forgot to get her a present and we’re stuck in rural Nova Scotia so I'll just leave her at the side of the road and drive til I find a gift shop and then buy her the first thing I see” birthday present purchased by the Dumb Dummkopf (creepy passive-aggressive ex-boyfriend), in the (apparently for me) landmark year of 1989. Reasons I still have it: 1) It’s unbelievably warm. 2) It’s made of 100% virgin wool from sheep born and bred in Nova Scotia. 3) It was hand knit by a Nova Scotian using a traditional Nova Scotian pattern. 4) I’m too lazy to find a comparable replacement. Reasons I should get rid of it: 1) It was a gift from the Dumb Dummkopf for crissake! Why would I want to be reminded of him? 2) It’s brown, possibly my least favorite color. 3) It is not stylish. 4) It has some holes in the cuffs--albeit fairly discreet and easy to miss among all that brown.

#3: A CD or movie you have from the 80s
Yo-Yo Rah! Rah!

This is my beloved recording of the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites performed by the one-and-only Yo-Yo Ma.* I never get tired of listening to these. Sidenote: If you ever get a chance to see (and hear!) Yo-Yo in person—go. I’ve been to a lot of classical music performances in my life and never have I seen a musician play with such obvious joy and with such an incredible understanding of the music. Yo-Yo, rah-rah!

*I’m probably not following the rules to the letter with this one. I bought the CD in the ‘90s, but it was recorded in 1983, so I think that counts. I can’t, in fact, post a photo of any of the potentially embarrassing CDs I had in the ‘80s, because they were all stolen—every single one of them. That was a sad day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Big Sexy Waste of Money

I am eternally on a quest to give my fine, limp hair more curl, body, and loft. Actually, I’ve been quite happy with a rather ludicrously named product: TIGI Headbanger Way-out Wax for Rock Stars. However, it costs $19.99 a can. The Scotswoman in me, of course, bristles at shelling out that much brass for a hair product. When I ran out of Headbanger the other day, I was just going to just buy another can, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were many other “volumizing” products on the shelves at Fred Meyer.

Dazzled by the glittering promises, I ending up buying something called Big Sexy Hair: Property of Michael O’Rourke. I have no idea who this O’Rourke jaboney is or what his credentials in the hair-care world may be. I do know this, though, Big Sexy promised volume in three different languages: volume total, volument mayor, and totalles volumen. I got sucked right in by the Europeaness and high-end salony-ness of the product, not to mention the more attractive price of $13.99 for a huge, honking, metallic-red phallus of product.

I used the stuff this morning. Turns out that it is nothing more than a wussy species of '80s-style mousse. And it smells like freakin’ Aquanet! And it does nothing for du volume a la coiffure—at least not for my coiffure.

Will I never learn my lesson? That Headbanger stuff really does rock (as advertised)—and I should face facts and acknowledge that, given what I have to work with, I am never going to achieve Liz Taylor-impersonator-style volume. (Not that that’s really the look I’m going for!) Plus, though Headbanger is spendy, it lasts such a long time, it works out (according to my crude calculations) to about 16 cents a go. Moral: Cheese-paring always ends up biting you in the arse.

Big Sexy will now be relegated to the Drawer of Rejected and Abandoned Products and will have to make friends as best it can with Vidal Sassoon Color-Secure Pre-Wash Spray, Olay Complete Defense Daily UV Moisturizer (SPF 30), and Avalon Therapeutic Mint Thyme Revitalizing Shampoo (56% Organic). Unless, of course, I can unearth the receipt (whereabouts currently unknown) and convince Fred Meyer to give me a refund for that can of false promises.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Surrender the Pink!

Pink Hydrangea
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
This hydrangea played a role in persuading us to make a bid on our house. Apparently, it is one of the finest specimens among the many fine specimens to be found here in Portland. I discovered this the first summer we moved here. I answered the doorbell one day and there stood a Latino man. He wanted to know if he could have some of my hydrangeas. Never before in my life have complete strangers come to my door asking if they could have some of my flowers. I was caught off guard, so I just sort of stammered, “no.” He said “thank you” anyway and skedaddled.

A few weeks later, another Latino man came to the door wanting some of my hydrangeas. Again—I was totally nonplussed. After refusing the previous guy and feeling that I had behaved churlishly, I asked this guy how many he wanted. I was prepared to honor his request as long as it was modest. Somewhere between his asking and my asking him “how many,” there was a communication breakdown. He left without taking any.

Spanish-speaking men, women, and children continue to ring our doorbell at least a dozen times each summer, asking for hydrangeas. I feel a bit bad about this, but after that “how many” debacle, I’ve always just said “no” when they ask. Seriously, though, if I let everyone who asked have some, my hydrangea would be a pathetic, bald-headed thing. I have absolutely no idea why people want them. Is it just for bouquets? Do they want to take cuttings? Do hydrangeas have some sort of special festival-related significance in the Spanish-speaking community? I’ve asked other hydrangea owners if they’ve ever had hydrangea supplicants at their door and no one I’ve asked so far ever has. I’d love to know more about this siren song my pink hydrangea apparently sings (presumably in Spanish).

That siren song's days may be numbered, as I’m currently attempting to turn the hydrangea blue,* a color I much prefer to pink. If my experiment succeeds, it will be interesting to see whether the blooms are still in demand. If not, I can infer that it was their pinkness (slightly [but only slightly] less common than blue here in the Pacific Northwest, where the soil tends to be acidic) that emboldened the folks to knock on my door. Or, alternatively, by the time they turn blue (next year at the earliest), word will have circulated among the hydrangea-requisitioning community that I am one cold-hearted dame who will never--not ever in a million years--part with one of her precious hydrangea blooms.

*Here’s the deal with hydrangea color: acid soils yield blue blooms; alkaline soils yield pink blooms. By widgeting around with the soil pH, you can (supposedly) change the color of your hydrangeas. I’ve applied some elemental sulfur to the soil, which is supposed to blue them up and is purportedly less likely to assassinate the hydrangea than the old stand-by, aluminum sulphate.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Garden Frolic

Caged Head
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Check out this disembodied head in a cage (click for larger view)! It was just one of the many, many cool, freaky, weird, wonderful, and whimsical sights on the Gardens of Natural Delights organic garden tour held today in the Portland metropolitan area. I have the naturally delightful gardener (and blogger) LeLo to thank for getting my ass out on the tour. If she hadn’t invited me—taking the risk that I might not be who I claim to be on my blog and instead be some guy named Bob who lives in his parents’ basement and changes his underwear once a month (if that)—to go on the tour I probably would have stayed home and weeded my own garden. Read on, and you will see how tragic a fate that would have been.

I walk around Portland a lot, so I already knew that I live in the midst of some world-class gardeners, but “walk-bys” tell only part of the story. The great thing about garden walks is that you get to visit the inner sanctum—usually the backyard. And the inner sanctum is where all the good stuff is (including refreshments!)

I have to start with “Nancyland,” the site of the caged head and a perfect example of why a walk-by is not sufficient. Nancyland’s front garden is indeed striking and I always pause and marvel at the mosaics laid into the sidewalks and the jungle-like profusion of plants that practically blot out the house. But today when I got the chance to head back into the inner sanctum I saw why the gardener/artist/creator calls her garden Nancyland—it’s a perfect expression of her personality. As we entered, Nancy pointed up at a plank with a Latin inscription and told us that it translated to “My garden kicks ass!” And it does--in a major way. Every nook and cranny is occupied with plants and/or art in the most glorious color combinations. There’s whimsy and inventiveness galore, from the rusted steel T-shirts hanging on a “clothes line” to the rusted bicycles being overtaken by viny vegetation. Lots of rusty things. Not everyone may like rust, but I do.

One of my favorite things was her stiletto planters. If you’ve got some old dyed-to-match bridesmaid shoes moldering away in the closet, why not repurpose them like this? I was also enamored of this extremely organic chair, made, I’m quite sure, from the windfalls from her corkscrew mulberry in the front garden. Very, very cool, although how comfortable or confident would you feel leaning back in such a chair?

“Organic” is the common denominator for all the gardens. Gurgling barrels of compost tea were on display at several, but for the most part the gardens were all very different. One was almost all fruit and vegetables and featured thousands, if not millions, of honeybees living in neatly stacked white beehives--and "Caution: Bee crossing" signs. Cool! Cool! Cool! There were also a good number of mason bees sealed up in their little wooden hollows. Note to self: Buy mason bee log! Another stop on the tour was a huge, rather formal Victorian garden that had no weeds. None. We looked—with a microscope. (OK not a microscope, but we did look very, very closely. There was a carelessly placed pack of cigarettes sitting on a shelf, so there was one thing detracting from its perfectness, but other than that....) It was there that I saw what has to be the most beautiful blue lacecap hydrangea on the planet. Fabulous and to die for. Our final stop was at a superquirky garden where the gardener claimed to have been gardening for 53 years, which we estimated would mean that he started gardening while still in the womb or—at the latest—as a toddler. I should have taken more pictures, but this is what the front of the garden looked like. It looks like most of it was hoised out of a river. This gardener’s claim to fame was his ability to cover every inch of soil with plant material and garden art. I think he succeeded quite well—if you don’t mind a few plastic and silk flowers here and there.

Upon arriving home, I felt elated and just a trifle deflated. I’d seen a ton of gorgeous and creative gardens and I couldn’t help but look at mine with a critical eye. My garden is very far from having every square inch of soil covered with plants and garden art; there are weeds and pests; I have no compost system in place, let alone the multiple systems some folks have; and I don’t have (and never will have) the eye for color, form, and structure that some of these incredible gardeners have. That’s OK, really. I know it’s ridiculous to measure my three-year-old garden against gardens that have been created by such talented and experienced gardeners. I’m over it now. And ready to start stealing adapting ideas.

UPDATE: (Check out the movie of the tour LeLo put up on her blog. Snazzy!)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

All Play, No Work, and a Smidgeon of Toxic Waste

For the past four days, I enjoyed an exceedingly pleasant existence of all play and no work, while hanging out with my brother and his girlfriend who were visiting. My brother's girlfriend brought with her a wonderful and strange new book—Portland Hill Walks: Twenty Explorations in Parks and Neighborhoods by Laura O. Foster. It is a very poor reflection on me--a gung-ho walker of Portland neighborhoods--that a person who lives in Illinois discovered this book (in Illinois!) before I did, but there you are. You can be certain I will be acquiring my own copy very soon.

In my opinion there is no better way to experience a place than on foot. I happen to think that when you sightsee in a car you miss 85% (at least) of what there is to see if you are a passenger and 98% if you are the driver. My brother and his girlfriend heartily agree, so we spent three of the four days of their visit taking walks described in the book. These walks are not going to be up everyone’s alley. They are, as the title suggests, hilly--one we took had close to 1,000 feet of elevation gain over five miles or so. That’s OK by me, though. It’s a fine way to work up an appetite for a pint of microbrew or a slab of chocolate cake.

I consider myself to be fairly familiar with the territory covered in two of the walks we took—Mount Tabor and Washington Park—but I realize now how much more there is to see and learn about the areas. Foster definitely takes you off the beaten path, although fortunately the directions she gives are so Germanic in their precision it is impossible to get lost, even when you’re or skulking alongside a chainlink fence encircling one of Portland’s several reservoirs. (If I have one criticism of the book, it would be that Foster seems rather reservoir-obsessed—in both the Mt. Tabor and Washington Park walks she had us circumnavigating reservoirs and regaled us with more information about Portland’s water supply than even I could tolerate—and I have a high tolerance for that sort of thing.)

Anyway, back to the positive. The Mt. Tabor walk was absolutely superb! It took us through secluded neighborhoods on all sides of the (extinct) volcano’s flanks and afforded us splendid views that I’m sure very few people in Portland know about. Not only that, the book is jam-packed with quirky little factoids about sites/sights on the route. For example, if you’d like to know where the first woman to get an Oregon driver’s license lived, I am now in possession of that bit of knowledge. I am also privy to the fact that it was once thought that “pure milk” should be sold from a concession at the top of Mt. Tabor (probably where the restrooms are now) and that it would be just the thing for wheezy, possibly tubercular infants.

The walk I was most eager to try was a tour of St. John’s, a neighborhood in North Portland that, until yesterday, I had only a fleeting acquaintance with. St. John’s business district seems not to have changed since the 1940s or 1950s, and I wanted to take a closer look at those places, and possibly, as long as I was there, sample an egg fu young burger at this place. However, the walk first had us strike off in the direction of a sketchy strip of undeveloped land along the Willamette River. Before long, we came upon a graffiti’d sign informing us that we were in the vicinity of a Superfund site. The book--which has an uncanny way of anticipating every question you might have--cheerfully informed us that, well, the site isn’t completely cleaned up yet, but that there is an amazing diversity of tree species growing right next to all that toxicity. Scenic though the book suggested the Superfund site to be, we decided (wisely, I think) to skip that part of the walk. We continued on along the river past a road lined with scrap metal, truck differentials, and barbed-wire fencing to the Water Pollution Control Laboratory, which has won all sorts of awards for its ecofriendly design and so forth. It is quite handsome and definitely something I would never have stumbled across on my own, but I have to say this particular route has got to be something of an acquired taste. Suggested attire: Hazmat suits. We finally made it to the retro business district on Lombard. Unfortunately, by then we were rather pressed for time what with the Superfund debacle and my brother’s inability to ever pass a Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store without entering, so I didn’t get to even pop my head into the fencing (as in en garde and touché) shop, the Blue Balls Pub, or--the biggest tragedy of all—the Tulip Pastry Shop.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Scenes from the Last Thursday Art Walk

B and I checked out the Last Thursday Art Walk last night. Below are some photos. I blogged about it last year--but that was before I had my amazing itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny digital camera. If you want to read about the one from last year, click here, but I think it would probably be more fun--and much easier on the old noodle--to just look at these photos.

Beaded Car Hood Dog
This dog (I think it's a dog), "driven" by Wonder Woman, is a sort of massive hood ornamament on a really cool beaded art car (an old station wagon) that happened to be parked on Alberta.

Alberta Clown House
The Alberta Clown House, where vegan dog treats are manufactured and home to the Wrasslin' Pit o' Doom (a giant mud puddle), numerous tall bikes, and lots of clowns (permanantly in makeup and costume, I believe). Can you imagine the magnificent sort of rants I could spew if I lived next door to the Alberta Clown House? Since I don't, I love it.

Mushroom Logs

Girls With Glasses
Art imitates life? Life imitates art?

Painter Chaps
Some painter chaps and their works in progress.

Random Order
Pie and coffee.

Want more?