Monday, January 29, 2007

The Dead of Winter

Ever since visiting Bella Flora, I’ve found myself vastly more appreciative and attuned to the marvels of desiccation, and I’m suddenly seeing it everywhere. Check out these skewered shrunken heads I discovered lurking in someone’s garden.

Shrunken Heads

How’s that for winter interest? Less gruesomely, I’ve been admiring the random scatterings of seed pods and tendrilly ornamental grasses that seem to be everywhere. I’m also very partial to this scarlet heather (even though it’s neither dead nor dried out).

Scarlet Heather

Totally unrelated. I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of On the Road. It’s such a landmark of American literature, and yet I’ve never read it or anything else by Jack Kerouac.

I’m liking its breathlessness and aimlessness, but I can’t decide if its hallowed reputation is quite deserved. (Not that I’m qualified to make that kind of judgment.) The narrator is always succumbing to “blondes” (which irks me for some reason) and uses the word swank a bit too frequently. It’s so very obviously the work of a young man. He thinks that because he’s criss-crossed the country via rail and thumb, hobnobbing with hoboes and drunks, that he’s seen it all. Kerouac was 29 when he typed it up (in three weeks!) and even younger when he wrote the journal on which much of the novel is based. It’s hard to take seriously the world-weary attitude of such a youthful narrator.

And yet Kerouac manages to write quicksilver passages like this:
The ride I proceeded to get was with a skinny haggard man who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health. When I told him I was starving to death as we rolled east he said, “Fine, fine. There’s nothing better for ya. I myself haven’t eaten for three days. I’m gonna live to be a hundred and fifty years old!” He was a bag of bones. A floppy doll. A broken stick. A maniac. I might have gotten a ride with an affluent fat man who’d say, “Let’s stop at this restaurant and have some pork chops and beans.” No. I had to get a ride that morning with a maniac who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health.
Hilarious! Stream-of-consciousness at its best. Why can’t I ever tap into an internal monologue like that? I so much admire writing like that that has a frenetic, spontaneous feel to it—and the above passage conveys the narrator’s barely contained exasperation just perfectly.

Ugh. This blog entry is starting to sound like a 10th-grade English paper (“conveys”)—the kind of thing guaranteed to bore everyone (myself included) to extinction.

Lone Shrunken Head
“I’m bored!!!!!”

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Magical Reward

Magical Reward
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
If you’re in the market for a pair of gossamer wings, I’m here to tell you that you can buy them right here in Portland, Oregon on NE Fremont at a magical little shop called Bella Flora. I’ve been walking by Bella Flora ever since we moved to Portland five years ago, but my walks never seemed to coincide with the shop’s somewhat irregular hours. Still, I always stopped to peer in the window at the most amazing merchandise: baskets made entirely from plump-budded pussywillows, silvery wreathes fashioned out of money plant, mammoth paperwasp nests, and a full range of fashions and furniture for fairies and sprites.

Bella Flora

A few days ago, I decided to treat myself to one of the fabulously wild wreathes from Bella Flora—I’d been wanting to get one for years, but I move very haltingly and skittishly when it comes to home décor. (I’m terrified of making a regrettable mistake.) But after getting up at 6:00 AM to work on the marketing of my business (ugh!), by early afternoon, I was in dire need of an antidote and a reward.

I took a walk and found myself in front of Bella Flora. It was open. Stepping across the threshold was like entering a Grimm’s fairy tale (not one of the ones with a grisly ending, though!). I ducked under a garland made of mottled oak galls and took a deep breath of the earthy and enchanted air. No fairies immediately apparent but plenty of evidence of them—cast-off wings, tulle skirts, and a pair of shimmery but impossibly narrow antique shoes. The fairies must have stepped out for a moment, possibly they nipped down the street for a soymilk latte or a pint of pale ale.

As I was taking it all in, Elaine, the cheerful and sprite-like owner, emerged from her workshop to say hello. We started chatting as I flitted (the only acceptable form of locomotion in a shop like this) about. I loved seeing all the raw materials right there in the shop, waiting—arranged ever so artfully—for Elaine to work her magic on them.

Raw Materials

Sheaves of gnarled sticks and knobbly branches form a makeshift thatch roof over her workspace. There were also buckets of dried lavender, sea holly, grasses of every description, and a stack of delicate skeletonized magnolia leaves. So ephemeral and, I’ll say it again, magic. Yep. We were throwing that word magic around left, right, and center.

The magic happens because Elaine knows how to use death and decay to advantage. She's a modern-day hunter-gatherer, scouting the forests and thickets for decomposing treasure. That morning she’d been out checking the progress of pussywillow buds. We should all spend more time doing that sort of thing.

I bought myself a wreath. I was really drawn to a massive wreath fashioned mainly of sinuous manzanita from southern Oregon, but there’s no way it would have fit over our fireplace. It was magnificent, though. But I’m thrilled with the one I did choose. Here’s a close-up.

Close-up of Wreath

Click on the photo if, like me, you simply must know the name of every plant Elaine wove into the wreath.

It looks stunning up on the wall—a huge improvement over the nondescript mirror from Bed, Bath, and Beyond that was there before. It makes me happy just to see it. I think it makes a suitable backdrop for the photos on the mantel of my grandmothers—especially my paternal grandmother whom, I think, looks remarkably like a wood nymph.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Homeonerous Chores

As I’ve often mentioned, B and I are not cut out to be homeowners. We don’t have the tools or the know-how to fix anything that breaks or needs replacement. Yesterday afternoon got sucked out from underneath us when I discovered that the dryer duct had come detached from the back of the dryer.

I pushed the dryer away from the wall, only to discover a revolting build-up of dryer lint and cat litter (who knew it was so well traveled?) that would first have to be vacuumed up before I could prod at the duct with one of the three screwdrivers we possess.

What’s even more embarrassing than the lint-litter amalgam is that the duct should have been replaced long ago, that is, it should have been replaced as soon as B and I discovered that the Boss (our cat who has been dead for three years) had walked all across the duct, trampling it flat. Rusty (our current cat), of course, has carried on the tradition, so I’m sure the duct hasn’t been truly effective for years. But did we do anything about it? No way. Why? Because it’s behind the dryer and easy to ignore and because, as previously noted and blogged about, our motto, which we follow until forced to face reality, is: If it’s broke, don’t fix it.

It Looks Fine to Me!

It looks fine to me!

So yesterday, we faced reality, which meant that we had to prepare ourselves for a trip to Home Depot. We don’t even know exactly where it is. Out by the airport somewhere. See? We’re in total denial about being homeowners.

To his credit, B made only one wrong turn and we soon found ourselves in the caverns of Home Depot, wandering without map, compass, or divining rod.

We somehow managed to find what looked like the right stuff—lengths of duct tubing, connecting widgets, and clamps. An Orange Apron came up belatedly and confirmed that we had everything we needed. I have to admit that when I showed him what we were going to buy, I spoke with great confidence and I think convinced him that I knew what I was doing. He just went along with me. He looked like William H. Macy and seemed like one of those people who is easily led/cowed.

We got home and got down to business. This is the kind of thing that would take most people 10 minutes, tops. It took us more than an hour. And when I say “us,” I mean that B lost patience after the first five minutes, subsided into profanity, and went to take a nap, leaving me to complete the job. And a good thing, too. As crap-ass of a handyperson as I am, B is a million times more crap-assy.*

I resorted to duct tape when I couldn’t get one of the clamps to clamp properly around the pipe thing that vents outside. How often do you actually get to use duct tape on ducts? That’s what it’s for, right? I presume that one of my DIY readers will set me straight if you’re not actually supposed to use duct tape on ducts. Wouldn’t that be the irony of all ironies?

To be honest, I think I did an OK job. I turned on the dryer and tested for escaping air at the back of the dryer and at all the joins (including the half-assed taped-up segment). Nothing. Well, very little. Then I went outside and checked the vent. Hot air was blasting out of it in true Rush Limbaugh fashion. Yay! Success! Hoo-raw and yee-haw!

*Boy, can he fix anything that goes haywire with a computer, though—he’s that kind of a guy. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s completely useless.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Some Harmless Vandalism


I wish I was clever/immature enough to have created some harmless vandalism of this caliber. Hee, hee, hee!!! At least I was clever enough to have my camera in my pocket.

Apparently this is how Portlanders who have a snow day fill their time. I wholeheartedly approve.

The one thing that sucks (just a little) about working from home is—no snow days! I consoled myself by working at the dining room table, so that I could monitor how other Portlanders (Portlanders with a snow day, that is) coped with five whopping inches of snow.

Snow Cycle

This guy thought it was the perfect day to haul out his dirt bike (I doubt it’s street legal) and ride it slowly yet noisily and stenchily up and down the street. He was out there for hours. No helmet or coat or anything.

Skiing the Streets

Now this guy had the right idea! After seeing him, I decided I’d better take a little break and get out there myself. (And thank god I did, or I would have never known of the existence [the fleeting existence] of the fabulous Penismobile.)

I put on my boots and my woolies and went out to for a walk. One of the first things I saw was this Tri-Met bus, idling impotently at the bottom of a very small hill. A guy in a Subaru (with chains on the tires!) creeping gingerly down the hill yelled out to me that the bus had been stalled there since 7:00 AM. It was about 2:30 PM. Wow. The driver was still in the bus, too. What? Does he have to go down with the ship?

I had hoped that the streets would be completely devoid of cars and trucks. That would have been great to experience, but the city had tossed some black stuff (pulverized lava?) on the main and semi-main drags, so a few people were out driving—exceptionally cautiously. Others made no attempt to drive.

Car for Sale

I love this! Apparently, someone’s pretty eager to unload this car, but a bit too lazy to actually clear off enough snow so that prospective buyers could actually see the car. That plan was not fully baked.

Lots of people were out on foot. Everyone and his or her dog(s) it seemed like. Dog Day Afternoon! There were way more people out romping with their dogs than there ever are on a nice summer weekend. Interesting.

People were out having fun, no doubt about it. As I headed back home (and back to work), I walked up a street that was so steep no cars dared attempt it. People in the neighborhood turned it into a sledding hill. This guy, a fully grown adult, came careering toward me at a rather alarming clip.

Sleddy Thing

When he saw me photographing him, he raised his arms above his head like he was Lance Armstrong or similar. A second later, he was grabbing frantically for the steering mechanism so as not to crash into that stone retaining wall. By the way, this was mere yards from the Penismobile, so I’m gonna say this guy was responsible.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Snow in Chicago
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I got up at 5:45 AM today to drive B to the airport, so he could fly back to Chicago for the first time since we moved to Portland five years ago. It’s his dad’s birthday today—a milestone birthday—so B decided he should make an appearance at the party. He doesn’t get along all that well with his dad, but I’m glad he went.

But it’s weird. I realized that I have not once in all the years B and I have lived together had the house to myself for more than a few hours at a time. Tonight will be the first time I’ll sleep alone in my bed in something like 12 years. Sure, I’ve gone on vacations by myself, but that’s different.

I’ve been feeling uneasy ever since I got back home and it’s mainly because of this.

Chicago Forecast

That's the weather forecast for Chicago. Yikes!

The party is way the hell out in the western suburbs at a place called The Flame,* a place that looks to be more artifact than restaurant. To make up for/cancel out the awful meal B expects to have at The Flame, he has planned to drive into the city tomorrow to meet up with my brother, sister, and my sister’s husband for a meal at one of our favorite Chicago restaurants.

But the weather report just keeps getting more and more ominous. (It's a lot worse now than it was this morning when I checked.) On top of all the snow and sleet, there’s a freakin' Bears playoff game tomorrow, which will only exacerbate any drive from the western suburbs (where tons of Bears fans live) into the city. Add to that the fact that B will be driving a rental car (a compact deathtrap, no doubt) and that he told me he’s forgotten a lot of the intricacies of Chicago’s expressway system. He printed out some Mapquest maps, but still.

The trip into the city to have dinner with my sibs was going to be the one bright spot, but now I hope he doesn’t attempt it. He's an excellent driver, but I worry anyway. And I don't even want to think about the fact that he might get stuck in Chicago longer than the 44 hours he's planned on if the weather deteriorates further. That would send him around the bend.

And here’s another weird thing. B and I are not the kind of couple who feel it necessary to remain in constant contact when we are apart. Are you ready for this? We don’t even have cell phones. Nor did B leave me the phone number of the hotel where he’s staying nor did he take a laptop with him. We're completely incommunicado. I think he’s staying at a Red Roof Inn (classy!), but I’m not sure which suburb it’s in. Does that strike anyone as insane that neither of us thought to sort out these details before we said adios? (How do you like all the mock Spanish I'm throwing around in this post?)

I’m thinking that I should quit blogging about this topic right now, as it’s only making me edgy and paranoid.

According to my friend P, I should be rejoicing in my B-free house and doing fun “me” stuff, but so far all I’ve done is work (yes, on a Saturday—blech), go to the post office, buy a Swiffer (love at first sight, by the way), Swiffer the kitchen floor, and go grocery shopping. A pretty lousy day, really, except for the satisfaction of seeing the kitchen floor looking cleaner than it has in a long time.

I’m thinking, however, that it might be a good idea to order myself a pizza, pour myself a glass of Broken Halo IPA, and watch an episode or two of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Not really "me" things, per se, but about all I'm up for after getting up so early and squandering about two-thirds of the day working.

*Apparently, B spent every Saturday night of his childhood trapped in a steak-or-fish restaurant of The Flame ilk, as the adults pounded back Manhattans and Singapore Slings. And in those days, of course, everyone smoked cigarettes like they were going out of style, which, of course, was great for B's asthma. Happy memories. Not!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Toothy Tony

B and I went to see The Queen last night. It could have just as easily been entitled The Prime Minister, because it’s pretty much all about Tony Blair—in fact, he’s practically deified by the end of the film for taking time out of his busy career as prime minister to gently badger the House of Windsor into realizing that they’d better acknowledge Princess Diana’s death in some public way. I ended up hating his character.

First of all, the teeth. Holy cats! Every time the Blair character smiled, I recoiled in horror. Those choppers are huge and sinister. I don’t trust them. I just spent some time Googling photos of Mr. Blair to see if the portrayal of his teeth in the film was accurate. Based on this photo of him on a site for some company named Fibrowatt, the movie teeth were spot on. That is some megaFibrowatt smile, Tony!

I imagine (hope) the actor playing him was wearing prosthetic teeth. Britain isn’t large enough for two sets of teeth like that.

Another thing that made me hate his character was that he was a big dork. At one point, he’s roaming around his flat dressed in a striped soccer jersey with “Blair” and a big "10" (for Number 10 Downing Street, get it, get it?) emblazoned on the back. Black and white vertical stripes, by the way. What? Is he a referee in his spare time? I don't get it. And he’s paired the jersey with a pair of what look to be black sanzibelt slacks. Ew!!!

Of course, this was just (at least I hope) a costume designer’s bad call, but I couldn’t help wondering...what if the real Tony Blair dresses like that when he’s just knocking about his flat with his family?

Do I care? I used to really like Tony Blair—the real Tony Blair. He seemed so articulate and sincere. A committed idealist. But he’s been a massive disappointment ever since he got so chummy with George W. Bush. What is that about? Blair’s the head of the LABOUR party and should be just about as far left of Bush as he can get himself. I was so disillusioned and confused by his unquestioning alignment with Bush’s agenda that I think I probably prejudged his character in the movie. Not that it really matters—it was just a movie and a Disney movie at that. I give it 2.5 stars.

Gosh. Two negative and intolerant blog posts in a row. An upbeat and nonjudgmental (or at least neutral) one next time. Promise!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Return to Lard Lake

I grew up in a place I’ll refer to as Lard Lake,* one of Chicago’s farthest-flung suburbs. When I was a kid I could hop on my bike and be out among cornfields and horse farms in about 10 minutes. And, of course, there was Lard Lake. You could swim in it, or if you didn’t want to risk a case of Swimmer’s Itch, you could sail on it or water-ski on it. It was pretty, too. By the time I was in high school, however, I was champing at the bit to get the hell out of Lard Lake and go live in a big city that had culture.

Last week I returned to Lard Lake to visit my dad. Knowing that there was no chance I’d get any exercise, I told my dad not to pick me up at the train station—I’d walk to his house. That gave me the chance to walk through the old downtown.

Lard Lake now has culture—of a sort.

Leonard Nimoy Is Coming to Town!

Nimoy Fest

I was also surprised to see that the shoe store (or “bootery” as its owners called it), where my parents bought my hideously ugly corrective shoes was still going strong. I remember the unctuous shoe salesman trying to tell me that the frumpy brown oxfords I was forced to wear were “hep.” I didn’t know what “hep” meant (not having been alive in the 1940s), but he couldn’t fool me. I mean, the shoes looked like something Frankenstein’s monster would have worn. The merchandise hasn’t changed a bit since I was a kid. How can a store like that possibly still be in business? But you know what? I was glad it was still there. Especially in light of the rest of my visit.

Before I pull out all the stops on my rant, let me just say that it was great to see my dad and my little brother. I just wish they didn’t live in Lard Lake. Apart from the downtown, which really isn’t terribly quaint or particularly well-preserved, the place could be any suburb of any city anywhere in the United States. Malls now surround the entire perimeter of the town like a giant, toxic Dunkin’ Donut. There’s Olive Garden, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Home Depot, Office Depot, Lowe’s, and Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks, Starbucks—all the mediocre places I try to never patronize. Behind the malls are identical crackerbox townhomes as far as the eye can see, where there had once been red barns and fields of soybeans.

My dad’s health doesn’t allow him to do much walking, so we drove from mall to mall in his big white Buick. It seemed like we were going out to eat a meal every two hours or so. One night we had dinner at an Outback Steak House. The place was packed at 5:30 on a Thursday (why?????), and we had to wait for 25 minutes. Imagine actually waiting for food from that place. But my dad loves Outback, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings so I just accepted his choice like the saintly daughter I am.

As I perused the menu trying to find something appealing, my dad declared that they had the best clam chowder in the world. So I ordered a bowl of that. The chowder was OK, but I’m sure, like everything at these corporate restaurant chains, it was larded up with a whole lot of extra butter and cream, or—more likely—butter-flavored oil and kreme. The worst part, however, was having to sit through the wait staff’s relentless upselling and their recitation of various scripted lines about the food. I felt sorry for the staff, actually. I’m sure they get read the riot act if they deviate from the script or fail to ask customers if they want to order a Bloomin’ Onion to go with their 4,000-calorie steak dinner. My liver and gall bladder are wincing just thinking about the greasy prospect of a Bloomin’ Onion.

By the end of my visit, I truly felt like I was being driven around in a foreign country. No comprendo that mall-o-centric culture. Lard Lake is just so different from the way it was when I was a kid (not that it was any great shakes back then) and from the place I live now.

I left Lard Lake after two days and returned to Chicago to visit my other siblings and friends. I have some issues with Chicago—issues that eventually drove me to move to Portland—but I felt nothing but relief and appreciation to be back in an actual city—a large city, with independent, locally owned restaurants like this one.

Big Buns & Pita

*I happened to Google "Lard Lake" just now and discovered that there's a real Lard Lake—right here in Oregon! What on Earth could people have been thinking when they named it that?