Monday, October 31, 2005

21st-Century Trick-or-Treaters

So far five groups of trick-or-treaters have come to our house. A record, I think. We usually get one or two groups--or zero. The weird thing is that, apart from one skeleton and one pink princess, hardly any of the kids were wearing costumes and in several cases the grown-ups that were escorting them had their own bags and fully expected to get a treat! I guess I’m OK with that. I mean do I really want to have a bunch of Hershey bars (not my chocolate of choice by a long shot) left over? But isn’t it just a smidge presumptuous and brazen for the adults to belly right up to the bar like that?

I couldn’t restrain myself from asking the kids where their costumes were, because I think I subconsciously feel that they need to “earn” their treat with a diverting costume. After the last batch came through a few minutes ago, I decided I’m not going to ask that question anymore because one kid told me “My mom didn’t get me one.” These kids had no real adult escort with them—just a girl of about 13. Worse, one of the kid’s bags (a flimsy plastic WinCo bag) broke and he had to ask me if I could get him a new one! Jeez. That’s just sad. I mean I always thought it was a bit unnecessary to go around collecting your candy in a special plastic Jack o’Lantern, but I wish someone would have taken the trouble to get these kids a sheet to throw over their heads or to put some makeup on their faces. Anything no matter how minimal. Just so that the kid wouldn’t have to feel awkward and deprived of the admiration of strangers (admiration and attention that I’m going to guess they don’t get at home).

We’re down to four Reese’s peanut butter cups now—candy that, I'll admit, I’ve been holding in reserve, hoping they’d be left over and I could have them for myself. It’s after 9:00 PM now and the big kids are out. A teenaged girl and her boyfriend just showed up—in costume (thank god), a damsel in distress and a sort of Zorro/Batman. I had the gall to ask them how old they were. Not because I believe there should be a cut-off, but (guilty secret) because as a teenager I devised an elaborate subterfuge (involving blue face paint and a hunchback) so that I could go out trick-or-treating and not be recognized as the ancient 16-year-old I was. I had to go alone, too, because all my friends were “too old” for Halloween. But I didn’t care, and my disguise worked brilliantly. No one had a clue who I was—not even the people I babysat for. I sure pulled one over on them!

But now, apparently, I could just wander down the street in sweatpants and an anorak with a Fred Meyer bag in my hand and plunder the entire city of Portland. And I might just have to do that since a gaggle of teens just came by and we are now right out of candy. There were five of them, too, so that meant one of them had to do without. I offered up a green tomato in lieu of chocolate and was met with scoffs. I hope I don’t wake up tomorrow to find our two miserable lollipop trees draped with soggy toilet paper.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Doomed Forever to Have Boring Hair

It’s been a couple of months since my last hair lament, so I thought it was about time for another. For the past three years or so, I’ve been getting my hair colored a sort of red/auburn. It’s a nice enough color and everything, but it was time for a change. Anyway, that’s what I told my stylist, M, when I showed up for my hair appointment Friday evening.

I thought it might be pretty neat to get it dyed dark brown and then have some nifty red streaks put in it. I chose some shades and M got going. Three and a half hours later and more than $100 poorer, I walked out of there with hair just as nonexciting as ever. Check it out. Do you see any headturning, va-va-vavoom red streaks in my hair? No, you don't--because, unless you take a microscope to my head, you’re not going to see that some strands of hair are red in color and some are dark brown. They blend so perfectly that the net effect is dark auburn. It’s not that the color looks bad, but it’s not at all what I had in mind. I just wanted to have my hair look a bit edgier or something. I know it’s ridiculous, but I wanted a new look that would, I don’t know, maybe knock about 10 years off my age; solve all my problems; end the war in Iraq; and get the rest of the world to stop hating America. Is that too much to ask?

I suppose I should be grateful that hanks of hair aren’t breaking off in my hand. And given the color scheme I chose, perhaps M saved me from looking like I had a bunch of wooly-bear caterpillars hanging off my head or from looking unintentionally and unseasonably Halloween-y year-round.

I’m sorry to say it, because I like M as a person, but she let me down. I very, very carefully described what I wanted, but there was some sort of cock-up in the dye/tinfoil tiara application process, and when the tiara was removed all my hair looked red. M started over and added more of the dark brown shade. After the second tiara was removed, there was nearly no trace of the red left.

Hoover Dam!

So I spent a lot of money (and time) and, now that my hair’s dark and not at all earth shattering, I’m pretty much stuck with it unless I want to enter the bleach, strip, and recolor danger zone where, worst-case scenario: my hair really will start falling out, or best-case scenario: my hair will remain rooted in my scalp but it will be all frizzle-frazzled and the color of pond scum.

What to do? I mean, clearly, it’s not the end of the world. But it is disappointing when I’ve decided, yeah, I’ve made up my mind, I’m going to try something a little out of my comfort zone and then I end up with the same old ho-hum hair and there’s no way to remedy it without doing something radical and potentially destructive.

So do I dump M? I would, if any of my friends could recommend their stylists, but their opinions of their stylists range from lukewarm to disenchanted. And picking someone at random is way too risky. What if the randomly selected person botches the job? Then what? Run, crying, back to M? How do I explain the lousy scissorwork/dyework I want her to fix? I'm not good at lying. In fact, I’ve thought of ditching M before—this isn’t the first time I haven’t been happy with her work—but for the above reasons, I haven’t done it. In addition, I've cut her some slack for a few haircuts that weren’t all that they should have been, because she’s had a lot of personal shit to deal with recently (a divorce, a remarriage, her mother dying). Plus, I like her, and she’s a nice person. And I’m a champion conflict avoider, so even when I'm not happy with her work, I, of course, smile and say I like (or even love) the cut or the color or whatever and hand over a check and a big fat tip. Why is it I can manage to lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings but can’t do it to protect my own interests?

Gah! I can’t believe I’ve just written a huge blog entry about something so trivial.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Autumnal Palette

Red Maple Leaves on the Ground

Orange Maple Leaves on the Ground

Ginkgo Leaves on the Ground

As a change of pace from the mushroom fixation, here’s another one of my obsessions: Fall color! All these photos were snapped as I rode my bike down to my bank this afternoon. I’m feeling rather inescapably in the grip of my obsessions this week. Don’t know why. I checked my horoscope to see if that could “explain” anything, but it just suggested that I think seriously about wearing a butterfly costume in nine shades of blue for Halloween. Hmmm. Although I do notice that the blue butterfly horoscope is for the week of October 27, which doesn’t start until tomorrow. Is that allowed? To work ahead like that? It seems suspect. If only I could get my hands on the horoscope that covered last week, all might become clear.

Actually, I don’t put a lot of stock in astrology, but checking one’s horoscope is always good for wasting a few minutes of time when one doesn’t feel like working. Not that I ever waste time or don’t feel like working. Anyway, I don’t seem to have a blog entry in me today. Why don’t I just post some more photos of the incredibly luminous trees I saw on my way to the bank? OK, I will.

Maple Leaves (Red)

Maple Leaves (Orange)

Ginkgo Leaves (Yellow)

Hey, I just found the horoscope archive. And here’s the ‘scope for October 20 through today—the time period during which I've been allowing myself to be almost entirely governed by my obsession with wild mushrooms.

It's high time for you to lose control--in the most constructive way possible, please. You can no longer afford to be as tightly wound as you've been lately. To get yourself in the mood for breakthroughs that will prevent breakdowns, consider carrying out some of the following acts. Fingerpaint on your TV screen. Dance on your bed, imitating a black bear that has drunk a bottle of vodka. Ask an intimate friend to use lipstick to write "I am inscrutable" on your belly. Have dinner with a person who makes you uncomfortable in an interesting way. Buy a bull penis walking stick at and use it on a stroll to the corner store. Write candid confessional letters to people from whom you've been hiding an important truth, but don't mail the letters.

That sure doesn’t sound like any Virgo I’ve ever met (least of all me), although it could be argued that in a way I did lose control last week, skipping my Saturday cleaning chores to go on a fungus foray that lasted from dawn til dusk. Whether I lost control “in the most constructive way possible” I cannot say. But how, I would like to know, is buying a bull penis walking stick a constructive thing to do? I do believe this astrology guy might have a bit of a leak in the ol’ think tank. (She says in her most Virgoish and disapproving voice.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Walking the Walk

Basket of Inedible Mushrooms
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Here are the fruits (of the forest) of the official mushroom hunt I finally went on on Saturday (after endlessly posting about wild mushrooms and not getting off my duff to go look for any).

Pretty ding-dong pathetic. What you see in the basket are three inedibles. I had very high hopes for the hunt, I admit. I had pictured myself being shepherded around by knowledgeable codgers and envisioned myself coming home with a basket brimming with chanterelles and other choice edibles. My experience was nothing like that. Nearly everyone who showed up didn’t know (slippery) jack about mushrooms. The two or three knowledgeable codgers who led the hunt were spread very thin. Being the kind of person who emanates a mantra that goes something like "Please ignore me; I do not exist," I waited patiently for about half an hour, hopefully clutching my basket, before finally attracting the attention of one of the codger-experts—only to have my hopes dashed as a cursory inspection revealed that my basket contained nothing but loathsome toadstools like the Hollow-Stemmed Tamarack Jack (Suillus cavipes) and the Scaly Chanterelle (Gomphus floccosus).

After several hours of fruitless hunting and not getting the kind of at-my-elbow expert guidance I had hoped for, I was feeling discouraged, dejected, and demorelized. I knew that I’d probably had unrealistic expectations. But I guess I’d just been so excited about the idea of finding wild edible mushrooms for, oh, about the last quarter century that now that I was out with people who actually knew what they were doing, I just couldn’t help feeling very, very let down by my lack of success.

A few of the other people did find some great stuff including the couple I was hunting with. Despite being complete novices—unlike me they don’t even own a single a mushroom field guide—one of them found a rare Blue Chanterelle (Polyozellus multiplex) and the other found several White Chanterelles (Cantharellus subalbidus), both of which are choice edibles. I can only take comfort in the fact that I correctly identified them for the the couple with my field guide and that my IDs were confirmed by the knowledgeable codgers.

At about 1:30 PM, the hunt leader declared the trip officially over. I felt I had to somehow salvage the day.* There I was on the west side of Mount Hood on a stunningly beautiful, clear autumn day. We don’t get that many of those. I could take a hike. That would make me feel better, and who knows? I might even find some mushrooms.

I drove to one of my favorite trailheads and set off. There were mushrooms all over the place! Far more than I’d seen in the supposedly mushroom-rich part of the forest I’d been in earlier in the day. Before I'd taken even a few steps on the trail I saw what looked like a Zeller’s Bolete (Boletus zelleri), which is “esteemed for its edible qualities” according to one of my field guides. Go me! I meandered down the trail stopping every time I spied a mushroom. I’m sure I looked like a total fungus geek with my basket and my field guide and my woolen knickers, Wellington boots, and deerstalker cap. OK. I wasn’t wearing woolen knickers and Wellington boots or a deerstalker, but my behavior was indistinguishable from that of a person who would be so attired. I took lots of pictures.

Raft of Mushrooms

I have no idea what the above are, but I’ll tell you one thing: There were a lot of them.

I kept on along the trail and didn't turn back until it started to get dark. On my way back, I found what I believed was an edible chanterelle. Finally!

The next day, B and I went on a hike in the Columbia River Gorge. Supposedly, we were going so that we could gawk at the bigleaf and vine maples that turn lemony yellow at this time of year, but for me it turned into another obsessive mushroom quest. I’m sorry to report that my eyes were scanning the ground far more than the golden treetops. Eventually my stop-and-go hiking pace exhausted B’s patience (something that is never in abundant supply as it is) and he hiked ahead and told me he’d meet me back at the car. Highlights of what I saw included another chanterelle, an earthstar (not edible but very cool and something I’d never seen before), and massive quantities of what may or may not have been Honey Mushrooms (Armillariella mellea), which my old college roommate and fellow mycology buff says are her absolute number-one favorites. (Edit: Instead of going straight to bed last night after writing this post, I spent a good 45 minutes looking through my mushroom guides and I am now certain that they aren't Honey Mushrooms. They are probably the Sulfur Tuft [Hypholoma fasciculare]—an extremely bitter mushroom that "is reported to have caused deaths in Europe and the Orient" but only gastric distress in North America according to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Good to know. I believe I will be giving the Sulfur Tuft a wide berth.)

I spent entirely too much time this weekend hunting mushrooms and when I wasn’t hunting them I was obsessing over them (e.g., even dreaming about them, for crissake) or poring over my four guidebooks and inspecting the ‘shrooms I had collected. (I didn’t pick many, as I am still a novice and there’s no point in picking stuff that you’re not going to eat or not going to have time to study.) Consequently, I got almost none of the normal weekend chores done and am now feeling all out of sorts and behind. That still didn’t stop me from taking time out this evening to go to an Oregon Mycological Society class to have some experts verify the tentative identifications I’d made of the samples I collected. I must take a moment to boast: I had three different species and I correctly identified them all.

Let’s also not forget the shiitake mushroom chassis. Here’s what it looked like yesterday.

Mushroom Chassis (One Week Old)

(This is what it looked like only a week ago.)

Most of the larger shiitakes on the chassis, along with the two chanterelles I found in the woods, are currently residing in this spinach-leek-mushroom quiche I baked tonight (after getting back from the mushroom class).

Spinach-Leek-Mushroom Quiche

Why I am baking quiche and writing a blog entry right now is beyond me, quite frankly, as it is after midnight and I still have a little bit of work (paying work that is due in a few hours) to finish before I can go to bed. The only possible explanation is that I am out of my mind.

Note to LeLo: I put a mushroom pun in this post just for you. Did you find it?

Note to anyone else who made it to the end of this post--congratulations!

*I realize now that even though I didn't find any edibles during the official hunt, I did actually learn quite a bit about what not to pick, so in retrospect I'm very glad I went on the hunt.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fade Out Into the Astral Blue

While attempting to de-clutter my dresser drawers, I stalled out completely when I found a copy of my great-grandfather’s family history and a number of his letters beneath a stack of T-shirts. Of course, I started reading through the stuff. No further progress on the de-clutterization front was made.

This is part of the preface to the family history he completed in about 1947:

What a curious world this would be if each and every generation would as it were close its books, draw the curtains, lock the doors, and fade out into the astral blue as some say we do, leaving you and I to peer through the dim mist of the past. Then some say do not go too far back on our family tree as you may find someone hanging on it and this may have proven a retard to many on the same quest as I am.

Wow! Who writes like that anymore? Reading it, I really do feel like I’m peering “through the dim mist of the past.” I don’t know all that much about my great-grandfather, really. He gives only the bare essentials of his own life in his history. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1870 and emigrated to the United States when he was about 11 or 12. He may or may not have finished high school.

The letters were the most fascinating thing in the T-shirt drawer. My great-grandfather wrote them in the late 1930s and early 1940s to a cousin of his who was also a genealogy nut. They’re mostly about the progress of the family history, but from time to time—without warning—he’ll launch into an analysis of current world events and that is what I found absolutely riveting. The following is from a letter dated September 15, 1939.

Well James, the Hitlerites are on the march. Will the elements stop him or will The Almighty stop him for his murderous prosecution of His People when in years gone by Poland was equally as guilty? Or will Britain with her better sense of Justice? Or France with her frontiers always menaced? Will they prevail? You know we as Scots should be proud of the blood that flows through our veins, as the Jew when looking at the map of the world will point to Scotland and say “There is a country that never persecuted me.” And as a Scotsman, I say, I don’t have to take my hat off to anyone.

From a letter dated February 11, 1941

“There will always be an England.” What faith. I am more optimistic than ever. We certainly have a lot of bananas here (yellow skins) and that the third termite so called will go down in history’s pages as one of the greatest ever known and Churchill give us the tools and we will do the work. The dagos like to stick a knife in your back but he can’t take it in his guts; dissension and starvation will do its work, and I think the persecution of God’s chosen people will play its part. Well Wilkie done as he was told. Never liked him—his German antecedents too close. We have not got the men of the blood and birth such as fought and signed the constitution and born under The Union Jack seven of whom served as Presidents of this The U.S. in A.

There it is. An ordinary man’s stream-of-consciousness musings on the events of World War II as they were unfolding, complete with all his biases and his prejudices. I find the language he uses fascinating—the way he shifts back and forth from the lofty to the folksy. And what about those bananas and the mysterious "third termite?" My interpretation is that when he refers to bananas he’s suggesting that there are a lot of people too cowardly to take a stand against the Nazis and that the “third termite” is a reference to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s third term as president—that would make sense given the date and the reference to Wilkie [sic] who ran against Roosevelt. Anyway, apart from the ethnic slur and a double dose of jingoism (which should be considered within the context of the time), I think he comes across as an upright, principled, and intelligent man. And that's a relief. You can be sure that if his letters had revealed that he thought Hitler and Mussolini were great men or even if he had nasty things to say about FDR, I wouldn't be so eager to share.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hamburgers and Battle Fatigue

East Wind Drive-In
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
This is the East Wind Drive-In, located in the charming hamlet of Cascade Locks, Oregon. As we drove through on our way to a hike a couple of weeks ago, I knew that B and I would be "dining" there post-hike, or at the very least stopping for an ice cream treat. I can’t pass up a place with a sign like that. Note how chipped and weather-worn the ice cream cone is. And could the penguin possibly be any cuter? Here’s a close-up to help you decide.

I really love primordial fast-food joints like this. (I use the term “fast food” loosely, because the laconic teenagers running the place were not too swift.) I had a burger (thin and concave) that came with a wad of shredded iceberg lettuce; a slice of pink tomato; generous glops of secret sauce (AKA Miracle Whip), ketchup, and yellow mustard; and three flabby pickle chips. It was sloppy, squishy, unassuming, cheap(ish), and totally delicious in my opinion. Of course, I was semi-ravenous, having just come off of an 8.5-mile hike.

I don’t often seek out this sort of low- to middling-quality burger, but sometimes it just hits the spot. Plus, these places always seem to have an astonishing variety of milkshakes including abberrant flavors like peanut butter or marshmallow. Who orders those, I wonder? I think they sound gross—especially the marshmallow. Still it’s nice to have options.

I could at this point launch into an extended rant bemoaning the fact that the East Wind Drive-In is in danger of being bulldozed to make way for a hellacious mega gambling casino in Cascade Locks, which would not only be a terrible thing for the small business owner of the drive in, but a terrible, terrible, terrible thing for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area—a truly unique place of wildness and beauty. The environmental impact would be catastrophic. And it infuriates me that the main reason such an outrageous idea is even on the table is that it is being offered up as a “solution” to Oregon’s perpetual budgetary woes. I think we can do better than to prey on people’s addictions and to flush the environment down the crapper while we’re at it. So, yes, just a brief rant. A good summary of the issue is here at Onward Oregon’s Web site.

I believe that for the moment, anyway, the casino plans have been blocked—a small and probably temporary victory. It’s hard to take much comfort in it, though. I am really tired of being continually bombarded with e-mails and phone calls reminding me of the awful state of the world and asking me to please donate money to fix it or call freakin’ Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) to ask him to please vote against some heinous piece of legislation that he’s going to for sure vote for anyway. It’s not that I don’t support the sundry organizations sending me the e-mails and making the phone calls, and I’ve been signing the petitions and making the calls and, yes, even sending some donations, but it’s all so overwhelming. And there isn’t much good news or evidence that any of my efforts (and the efforts of millions of others who are trying to take part in the so-called democratic process) are doing any good. I have battle fatigue. I also think that I am brewing up a cold, which makes everything seem approximately 10 times more intractable. I'd best shut up, finish my mug of herbal tea, and go to bed.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Experiment Begins

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I’m trying to decide what to compare this thing to. More than anything it looks like a massive roasted marshmallow that burst into flames, and then dropped off of its roasting stick onto the forest floor where it picked up a considerable coating of duff. It is rather hideous looking, yes. I picked it up today at the Oregon Mycological Society’s annual mushroom show. It cost me only five simoleons and is supposedly going to provide me with no less than 1.5 lb of shiitake mushrooms, so I am treating it with the utmost respect.

I am to keep it outside as long as daytime temperatures don’t fall below 55 degrees. I will also need to spritz it twice a day with water and keep it out of reach of the rasping jaws of slugs. Never fear. If I notice any green mold (ewwwww!) developing on it, I am to scrape off the crud with an old toothbrush. Since I don’t keep old toothbrushes around the house (ewwwww! again), I may have to buy a special green-mold toothbrush, but I’m crossing my fingers that that ghastly possibility won’t present itself.

You can be certain, I am going to be monitoring the mushroom chassis very, very closely for signs that "the bumps" are “breaking out through the brown crust” (how very appetizing), indicating that I will soon have my first crop of shiitakes! This sort of thing is right up my street—I love playing a role in any biological or chemical transformation.

Speaking of biological and/or chemical transformations. B has a huge swarm of bees in his bonnet about fall color and has been doing things like calling a “Fall Color Hotline” he somehow found in an attempt to discover where we should go hiking in order to get maximally dazzled. The leaves are changing early this year, and I have to admit I have been feeling a little pressured in regard to the Columbia River Gorge, where the color may be at its peak at this very moment! Or not—we hiked the Herman Creek Trail in the Gorge last Sunday and the bigleaf maples and vine maples were just starting. But change can happen fast, so maybe we should have gotten our asses out there this weekend! However, today I had to pick up the mushroom chassis (reserved in advance and available this afternoon and this afternoon only), plus I wanted to check out the mushrooms at the show. So--ARGH! What to do? I know it’s silly and insane to fret about this, but I do. B has only recently become a fall color freak, but I am a fall color freak (self-diagnosed) of long standing, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Anyway, my solution was that we should hike at the Hoyt Arboretum—a great place for fall color—located right next to the World Forestry Center where the mushroom show was being held (how convenient). I told B I would just nip in and pick up the chassis and then we could go on our walk. It was hard to tear myself away once inside, but because B had zero interest in paying $4 to be in the same room with a bunch of mushroom geeks, tear myself away I did. We headed off on our walk, which was nice although not terribly taxing. It will be another week or two before the really spectacular trees are blazing away. Still, a walk/hike around the arboretum is always pleasant. FYI: The black tupelo trees look stunning just now.

When we finished, I mentioned that there were still 40 minutes left of the mushroom show and B, like the good sport he almost always is, told me to go on in. There were hundreds of different fungi species displayed on tables that had been lovingly dressed with moss, leaves, bark, ferns, and dirt to make the mushrooms look like they were in their natural setting. Here’s Boletus edulis, a type of porcini mushroom and a highly prized edible. Hard to tell it’s “growing” out of a laminate-topped table, isn’t it?

While there, I had a bit of a chinwag with at guy at a "lookalikes" table, who told me to take a “toke” of a certain mushroom and then told me that it would kill anyone who touched it or smelled it—both of which I'd done. I fell for his little joke, too, and let out a semi-stifled squawk—much to his delight. What a pathetically gullible person, I often am. The mushroom was poisonous, but I would have had to ingest it to get the liver-damage ball rolling. (I did wash my hands really well afterward, though.) At the cooking demo, I ate a (nonpoisonous) mushroom concoction, and I picked up some literature on drying and freezing wild mushrooms. Before I knew it, the 40 minutes were up. Poor B had been wandering around outside the entire time. Oops! Time flies when you’re having fungus!

Fungus Kitsch

I did not buy any of these lovely items. Actually, they may have been from someone's private collection and not for sale.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Big Amorphous Blob of Clutter

Amorphous Blob
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
What a frickin’ disaster. I seem incapable of keeping my office tidy for any noticeable length of time. What is perhaps most puzzling is why I hang on to empty FedEx boxes and envelopes for weeks and months before tossing them. And notice also the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of books on the lower shelf and the neglected “In Box.” There are even things that have nothing whatever to do with my job, residing in the amorphous blob, like the Collegiate Cheerleader Doll I “won” at a party a year ago and cannot bring myself to get rid of because I think that it might be worth something if I put it on eBay. Not that I’ve ever checked eBay to verify that it’s worth more than 99 cents. Not that I have any idea how to sell stuff on eBay. Not that I would ever get around to it, even if I did. So there the doll remains snug in her box with her diploma in Cheerleading, sandwiched between several gigantic 3-inch locking ring binders sent to me by a client and filled with crap left over from a project I worked on a year ago.


Why the hell don’t I drop-kick all this stuff into a gigantic dumpster and/or the mother of all recycling bins? Because I can’t. I might need it someday. But, you know, I really won’t. And this realization a MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH for me. It is OK to throw stuff away. I think the reason I have this clutter-amassing problem is genetic. My dad’s house overflows with New Yorkers, Sports Illustrateds, and tchotchkes related to his many hobbies. His girlfriend, I’m sorry to say, aids and abets by bringing him purportedly cute little presents all the time. You have to tunnel your way through a mountain of Beanie Babies—which, as we all know, are going to be worth a fortune one day—to get to his kitchen sink. Think I’m kidding? You don’t even want to know. He has a garage sale every year, but it doesn’t even make a dent.

My mom had clutter issues, too—she was a fanatical clipper of articles and coupons, which were “organized” into various tattered folders held together by fetid, disintegrating rubber bands. My mom, at least, at some point recognized her clutter problem and tried to do something about it. I remember library books with titles like Clutter’s Last Stand appearing in our home from time to time. Anti-clutter crusades were embarked upon. Rules were made, feebly and briefly enforced, and then abandoned. It must have been a real uphill battle since her husband and all four of her kids suffered from the same malady--and weren't ready to help themselves. (You have to want to get over your clutter addiction!)

The photo I’ve posted is really the biggest trouble spot in the whole house. I actually don’t have that much stuff. If you were to go into the living room, you would be stunned by its starkness. A couple of sticks of furniture, a row of photos on the mantel, two or three pieces of art on the wall. I’m quite proud of the lack of enervating clutter in that room. It’s the closets and drawers in other rooms that reveal the true depth of the problem. It is in these places that you will find the lawn debris pickup schedule from 2002, the cosmetics that were used only once, and the Christmas gifts that were spectacularly inappropriate for me but that are brand new and therefore too “good/valuable” to be thrown out or donated.

I need help! So, like my mom, I have turned to a library book for salvation. My book is called Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter by Michelle Passoff. I mean, I can figure out that the lawn-debris schedule needs to go in the recycling bin, and I think I will be able to rid myself of that without enduring any prolonged mental anguish about whether it was the right thing to do. But what I’m hoping the book can do is provide me with a systematic framework for getting the task done efficiently, without my collapsing into despair over the enormity of it. I’m hoping also for some pointers on how to deal with the currently undealable things like those Christmas presents. In a nutshell, I need her to give me permission to purge and to outline a workable game plan.

I haven’t gotten very far into the book, but there are some cringeworthy New Agey aspects to it. For example, she suggests contemplation and visualization exercises to help you “begin to see yourself taking steps toward where you want to be....Breathe in thoughts that do not support you and breathe out vibrant and creative thoughts. Good!”

Holy crap! At least I’m not that mentally crippled by clutter. But she does have a point, there is a mental/emotional baggage component to clutter. And she does have some very valid and enlightening points to make. They may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s helpful to have your face rubbed in them, for example: “In its most basic form, clutter is garbage. On average, three-quarters of the piles of paper on desks and tabletops are things that just have not yet been tossed.” Brilliant!

Another that really hit home with me is: “Indecision turns into clutter.” There is so much stuff that I really don’t know where to put or what to do with. The amorphous blob pictured above is a perfect example. What I think the book will do is give me the tools and motivation to address the blob (previously too overwhelming) and dispatch it forever. And that will be very, very freeing.

Even more freeing (my...this post just goes on and on) will be tackling the spare bedroom—a beautiful room that looks out on the garden and is currently—and appallingly—being used as a junk room. Clutter of the indecisive variety is stored all over the floor of that room and on the bookshelves. I hang my head in shame over that, because I’d really like to use that room for my office instead of this windowless basement office where I spend the better part of my waking hours. It is just pure lunacy that I haven’t done anything to make that happen in the four (nearly five) years we've been living here!

OK. I will now this very minute start “taking steps toward where [I] want to be.” I’m off to make an inventory of each room and its clutter, but before I do that, I am going to take this box of paper (which weights 35 lb [if you must know], left over from a project I finished two years ago, but which I had been thinking might possibly come in handy for some other project that may sometime in the future cross my desk) and put it in our recycling bin. And that will be supremely satisfying.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Shameless Copycat Post

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I’ve never posted a current photo of myself, so I thought it was about time. As many have no doubt suspected, I am a stiff-upper-lip schoolmarm who rules her class with an iron rod. I’m also the Muslim world’s answer to the Barbie doll. Playing with me builds character!
OK. Not really. But these are just two of the rather surprising images that came up when I did a Yahoo image search on the name “Rozanne.”

I must give credit where credit is due. This brilliant new way of wasting time was not my own idea. I got it from Nancy by way of Alda. Nancy typed the names of her favorite bloggers into the Google image search engine, with hilarious results. I had to try it--and copy it. But in an effort to be just a tiny bit original, I am using Yahoo instead of Google. Also, since I don’t have “favorite” bloggers—I love every one the exact same amount—all the people who happened to comment on yesterday’s post get to be featured. I hope you all have senses of humor!*


Diana (Diana, before you blow a gasket, please understand that this is the “top puppy of 1999” [and a female, despite appearances to the contrary]. She’s also Johnny Depp’s co-star in The Libertine, where she “was well well admired by all the people there, but the peacocks were in grave danger.”)



Shelley (Doesn’t this capture the experience of studying for the bar exam perfectly?)

Teri (It was really hard to find a non-pornographic image of Teri. Why should that be, I wonder? Look at the ramrod posture. And what’s with the cell phone? You’re going to take calls in the middle of the half-time show? Forsooth!)

Alda (I know you’ve already been “done” but I didn't want to leave you out. Be thankful I didn't choose a photo of Alan Alda.)

*If anyone doesn’t want her name associated with the image I found, I will gladly remove it. It’s all meant in fun, but I certainly don’t want to offend anyone.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Devouring Hand of Time

Sometimes I think about what it would have been like to have been born in a different era. When I was in high school, I remember wishing that I had grown up in England, sometime between the 1880s and 1920s. I think my reasons had mainly to do with the possibility of wearing of posh frocks and attending swanky parties and balls. (Clearly, I didn’t spend much time thinking about what my life might have been like if I hadn’t been to the manor born.)

I’ve gotten over that. But ever since I returned from our trip to eastern Oregon, I’ve been sort of wishing I could go back in time maybe 30 or 40 or 50 years. Some of the itsy-bitsy towns we visited seem to have escaped the devouring hand of time. The downtown business districts with their family-owned shoe stores and stately old banks brought back nearly forgotten memories of the the downtown in the community I grew up in. It was always an event to go “downtown”—it was only about three square blocks but it seemed glamorous to me. There was an expensive (compared to Sears where we shopped) children's clothing shop, a shoe store that billed itself as a "bootery," a bookstore owned by people we knew, a funky store that sold blue jeans and similar items like overalls and painters pants, a guitar store, a hardware store that hadn't changed its window display since the Depression (they sold washboards!), a ballet studio, and a paint and wallpaper store that I found oddly mesmerizing.

I remember walking downtown to do my Christmas shopping when I was like 9 or 10 and then using up most of my allowance to buy myself a sundae (for some reason referred to as a “Tulip Sundae”) at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. I felt so grown up! A few years later they built a mall on the edge of town that stabbed the business district right in the heart. Most of the shops closed their doors within a year. I think the only things that survived were a Baskin Robbins and the movie theater, although the theater was given a catastrophic makeover—the classic mid-century facade was ripped off; the quirky baroque details on the wall were draped over with fake velvet; and the balcony was divided into several characterless screening rooms. Very sad.

Of course, the mallification of America (and much of the rest of the developed world, I’m sure) has been going on for decades at this point, and until our trip, I had thought it was pretty much a done deal. To tell the truth, I had sort of accepted it. For most of my life malls, rather than downtown business districts, have been the norm (I’ve never lived anywhere rural or I’d probably have a different perspective). But visiting eastern Oregon gave me some hope, (probably false) that not all of it has slipped away forever.

Part of all this nostalgia, I’ll admit, is totally superficial. I just think a downtown business district is more aesthetically appealing than a bland, beige indoor shopping mall. But I also know that one of the reasons I want to fire up the Tardis and go back a couple of decades (as long as it doesn't plop me smack dab in the middle of the McCarthy Era) is that it seems to me that life was less hectic, scary, and uncertain. Clearly, I’m romanticizing to a certain extent. There was no Osama Bin Ladin or George W. Bush, but people were probably just as scared of getting nuked by the Soviets or of contracting polio. (Hmmm. What’s worse? Spending your life in an iron lung or enduring two terms under President Bush? Tough call.) In addition, I’d probably be slaving away in a pink kitchen, wearing a torpedo bra, and baking meatloaf for a husband named Frank. So, yeah, I guess I wouldn’t want to go as far back as the ‘50s.

But what about the ‘60s or the ‘70s? Having not experienced these decades as an adult, I’m bound to have a somewhat inaccurate impression of them. But I suspect that the individual character of communities was still pretty much intact.* More importantly, I think the people were less driven by greed and selfishness and more united on what the nation’s ideals should be. There were galvanizing leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy. They inpired a tremendous amount of hope and, of course, an equal amount of grief when they were assassinated. I don't think there's been another U.S. leader with that sort of sweeping influence since. Sure, there was plenty of conflict--race riots, the Vietnam war, Kent State. Still, somehow—despite all the turmoil—defining pieces of legislation were passed during the ‘60s and ‘70s—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. There just can't have been the same degree of vicious acrimony between Democrats and Republicans that there is today--and the accompanying sense of despair.

I don’t know. I always get myself into hot water whenever I try to be analytical (I’m not so good at identifying and weighing all sides of an issue or argument), and I know I’m probably viewing the past through rose-tinted spectacles (such as might have been worn by Elton John)—ignoring things that are best forgotten like vertically striped bell-bottoms, AMC Gremlins, the BeeGees, wide neckties, and chia pets.

*One of the many reasons I love living in Portland is that it has a very definite identity. Its citizens value that identity and we fight to retain it. Keep Portland Weird! So many communities seem to place little value on their history or culture. Chicago, for example. When I moved away from Chicago one factor that made me want to leave was that Chicago’s personality was eroding rapidly. Every time I go back, I’m depressed by how many more old buildings and longstanding independent neighborhood businesses have been leveled to make way for expensive condos, townhouses, and corporate shopping developments. Chicago was once a city of neighborhoods. They are starting to all look the same—even my old neighborhood, which was, until recently, fairly immune to development. No more. My sister just broke the news to me that one of my favorite haunts, a Mexican restaurant called El Tipico (I loved that name), has been demolished. B and I spent many a Friday night there, unwinding from the workweek over a couple of Margaritas and a plate of chile rellenos.

Monday, October 03, 2005

TMI About My Tomatoes

My Tomatoes, In Happier Days
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
What you see here are a lot of ‘Yellow Taxis,’ a ‘Big Beef’ or two, and maybe one ‘Arkansas Traveler.’ This is the kind of tomato harvest I was getting every few days in late August. Sadly, we left on vacation for nearly two weeks just as the tomato avalanche was at its peak. I gave at least five pounds of tomatoes away as we were heading out of town and instructed friends to stop by periodically and help themselves.

By the time we got back on September 18, the tomatoes were definitely on the wane, which was really too bad, because, unlike last year, my tomato harvest was excellent this year. It’s kind of a crap shoot to grow tomatoes in Portland, since it just might not stop raining and warm up until about July or so (like this year) or it might stop raining in May and the tomatoes might start developing blisters and heat prostration when the temperatures rise up above 100 º F (like last year).

This year I tried to avoid heirlooms since they performed dismally for me last year. ('Purple Cherokee'--boo, hiss; 'Brandywine'--Take your talents elsewhere.). I planned on planting nothing but thoroughly road-tested hybrids, but as it happens the only hybrid I planted was ‘Big Beef,' which in my estimation was the least successful. Flavor was acceptable but not outstanding and production was only moderate, although the tomatoes the plant did produce were pretty big and, I suppose, beefy. I had been under the impression that ‘Yellow Taxi’ was a hybrid, but apparently it’s an heirloom. Boy, did that thing put out, and early, too. I think I had my first tomato during the first week of August, which for Portland is pretty darn good. The tomatoes were medium-sized and very tasty and juicy, and I'm sure I harvested well over 100 of them.

I also planted ‘Arkansas Traveler,’ a known heirloom and potential thorn in my side. The buzz on ‘Arkansas Traveler’ was that it stood up well to heat. Of course, this year we had a relatively cool and late-to-begin summer, so the Trav suffered mightily from blossom drop, a condition that occurs when the evening and night-time temperatures are markedly cooler than daytime temperatures. I held out little hope for that freakin’ prima donna. It must have produced and dropped hundreds of blossoms. Somehow, maybe around the end of July/beginning of August it did start setting some fruit. Although I don’t think I got more than about three dozen medium to large tomatoes off the Trav, they were the absolute best. Sweet, juicy, and meaty (but not beefy--more like elk chops or saddle of hare, I’d say).

To summarize: ‘Yellow Taxi’ is a definite keeper. ‘Arkansas Traveler’ I will try again, simply because it is so flavorful. ‘Big Beef’ doesn’t make the cut because of its tardiness and the unimpressive quantity of average-tasting tomatoes it produced. Also, what an untidy plant it was—hanging sluttishly out of its cage and sending out weak, gangly branches that thought nothing of allowing ripening fruit to rest on the soil where icky worms and so forth could feast and destroy. I was constantly having to rig slings out of old pantyhose to shore that thing up, which only made the whole tomato cage/tomato plant apparatus look even more slatternly.

Final note: I am well aware that this post may be of zero interest to anyone but me, I must document my gardening successes and failures for future reference because my memory is appalling.