Thursday, April 26, 2007

Seattle: I Still Don't Get It

Here I am in Seattle, and I still don’t get it. I don’t know what it is about this city, but it leaves me nonplussed. I just can’t get the hang of it. Whenever I visit, I end up feeling and behaving like a wide-eyed hayseed. For example, I arrived at my hotel this evening and noticed that right across the street was a Korean/sushi restaurant. Perfect. I love Korean food, and there's a dearth of it in Portland. Plus, what could be more convenient? But somehow I didn’t see the entrance to the restaurant (thought, as it turns out, it was no more than 50 feet from the lobby of my hotel) and wandered cluelessly around to the back of the restaurant and started climbing a flight of stairs. About halfway up, I looked down to see a snoring, open-mouthed homeless person conked out below the stairs. I concluded that the restaurant was no longer a going concern and scurried back down the stairs and sought refuge (and dinner) at Whole Foods.

Recall that I spent most of my adult life living in Chicago (a much, much larger city than Seattle)—and lived not in the swankiest of neighborhoods. Homeless people shouldn’t freak me out, and normally they don’t. I mean, the guy under the stairs didn’t exactly freak me out, he just confirmed for me that somehow whenever I’m in Seattle I manage to always miss the “cool/hip” stuff Seattle is known for, being drawn by some unseen force toward the rapidly disappearing seamier aspects of it. How do I do it? Walking around for only 15 minutes this evening, I witnessed a strange quasi-sexual encounter between some weirdo and a modish statue outside of Whole Foods. A mere five minutes later a garbage truck blasted me with the most toxic garbage fumes I’ve ever had the misfortune to inhale.

I’m in Seattle for a meeting with clients, so I won’t have much of a chance to explore and see if I can actually find some reasons to justify Seattle's existence. Instead, I'll be sitting like a lump in a sterile fluorescently lit conference room that could be in Anytown, USA.

I don’t have much practice with business meetings. It’s relatively rare that I ever meet my clients in the flesh—it’s happened only two or three times in the nine years since I started my own business. When I have to meet clients, I’m thrown into a bit of a tizzy, mainly because I have to cobble together some sort of business attire from my meagre wardrobe. I can’t very well show up in second-hand sweatpants and 10-year-old T-shirt advertising the Mount Hood Brewing Company’s Ice Axe IPA, can I? So, what to wear is Tizzy #1. I did sort that out, although I’m still not sure if I can get away with wearing Danskos on my feet. It is Seattle, but the clients are from Texas and one guy is from Alabama. Will he think I borrowed my footwear from Herman Munster?

Tizzy #2 is how to comport myself. Part of the reason I went into the business I’m in is because I’m not really a “people person,” and, fortunately, I’ve been able to make my living in a job that requires almost no face time with anyone--ever. It’s e-mail and FedEx all the way. A good thing, too. I don’t come off at all well in real life. In an e-mail, I have time to think through what I want to say and recast, recast, recast until my communication has reached near perfection, but in person? I’m likely to ramble and sound like a total dunce. Oy! I think the best course of action is to sit quietly, nod frequently, and take lots of notes. And keep my mouth shut!

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Merry Grilled Cheese Month!

Saturday's Lunch
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I feel it’s my duty to spread the word about it being National Grilled Cheese Month. Hurry! Only one week left. Thanks to Sphincter for alerting me!

You might think that upon finding out it was NGCM, I would have dropped everything and fired up the griddle to start celebrating, but, alas, the fridge’s cheese drawer was emtpy—save for a moldering rind of Parmesan. (I think it was Parmesan but, given its geriatric age, who could say for certain?)

I told myself that it was just as well, since I was recently informed that my cholesterol level is 253 (!), and I’ve been trying (but only when convenient) to avoid cholesterol-laden foods, e.g., cheese. But we all know that as soon as you decide to eliminate or limit eating a certain food, you suddenly want to eat it all the time.

By Saturday, I’d figured out a rationale for a modest NGCM celebration. A) I had yucky menstrual cramps that were making me cross. B) It was raining. C) My doctor’s office never instructed me to avoid cholesterol—they simply reported the number to me, so I guess they weren't that worried, so why should I be? D) I’d walk to the grocery store to get the cheese—exercise lowers cholesterol, right? E) Studies have never definitively linked high cholesterol to cardiovascular disease, according to some Web site I read somewhere.

So I walked over to the grocery store and bought the smallest wedge of two-year-old sharp cheddar I could find (only enough for two sandwiches--no need to go hog wild) as well as some Sea Salt and Vinegar Kettle Chips, which are cholesterol-free, all natural, manufactured in Portland, and totally good for you. Then I went home, buttered some oatmeal bread, and created the masterpiece pictured above.

It was pretty darn tasty, but nothing can touch the unorthodox grilled cheese sandwiches of my youth, invented by my father and refined and perfected by myself. These sandwiches were made in a horrifying old waffle iron that, I believe, had been picked up for a song at a garage sale or may even have been one of my parents’ wedding presents. At any rate, this waffle iron had seen a lot of service.

This was our magic formula. Place a slice of bread, preferably Russian Rye,* on the waffle iron. Place a generous layer of New York Herkimer** cheese on the bread. Put another slice of bread on top. Then lay one or two partial slices of New York Herkimer on top of the top slice of bread—this was one of my innovations. Turn on the waffle iron and close the lid on the sandwich.

The heat and the weight of the waffle iron soon caused the cheese to ooze out the sides of the sandwich and to seep up through the bread—this seepage was key, because it would eventually encase the sandwich in a shell of Crispified Ooze™. My innovation of placing cheese on top resulted in extra Crispified Ooze™ that made the sandwich even crunchier and more delicious. Also key, of course, was the neato waffle pattern imprinted on the sandwich. The best.

But here’s the gross part. We never cleaned that waffle iron. Sure, we might have chipped off any Crispified Ooze™ that would have burned the next time around if we left it, but we never washed the waffle grids with soap and water. I don’t even recalled wiping it down with a damp dishrag or anything. We just left all that “cheese oil” on it forever. We euphemistically referred to the waffle iron as being “seasoned.”

And we’re all still here, not once (as one might have expected) having succumbed to stomach cooties caused by the weird cheesophilic microorganisms that surely must have made their homes all over that waffle iron.

*Russian Rye was a brand of rye bread that came in an odd, blue-plaid wrapper (not a pattern you normally associate with Russia). I haven't seen a loaf of Russian Rye bread in ages.
**New York Herkimer is what my dad called all extra-sharp white cheddar cheeses. I don't know why.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Heil, Myself

My First Sock
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
For a few days now--ever since it became clear that this sock was actually going to turn out well—“Heil, Myself” from The Producers has been playing in my head for some reason.*

It's because I'm pretty ding-dong proud of myself for being able to knit this sock. Not only have I never knit socks before, I boldly deviated from the pattern and added in a mock cable (something else I’ve never done). I deviated again by knitting the socks on two circular needles (instead of accursed double pointed needles), which required extra brainwork to convert the instructions accurately.

I must admit that I would have screwed up for certain if the Knitting Help videos (thanks, Cagey!) didn’t exist, but with their help I had no problem turning the heel or making the gusset—the two tricky bits to sock construction.

However, I am not quite the hotsy-totsy sock nazi I would like to think I am. Yeah, I kicked butt on the heel flap and gusset, but somewhere pretty early on I dropped a stitch and didn’t realize it, so there’s an unsightly ladder running from the ankle to the cuff. Sod it! I don’t think it’s fixable. Also, the placement of the mock cable could have been better. It’s a bit too close to the instep.

Still. For the first sock of my career, it’s not bad. And I’ve still got the second sock to do, so I should be able to do better with that one. Then perhaps I’ll move on to something more feminine and less lumberjacky. Maybe these.

*I always feel uneasy/guilty about the fact that I find The Producers so hilarious. Is it too easy to just accept that comedy is tragedy plus time? I wish I could get someone like Elie Wiesel to give me permission to enjoy The Producers without guilt.



Sunday, April 15, 2007


I need to end a friendship with someone who’s been a fairly close friend since I was in my mid-20s. Really, I’ve known I need to do it for well over a year, but being the conflict avoider I am, I’ve been in denial about it. This friend, Y, is self-employed like I am and is more or less in the same business as I am.

Unlike me, she has never devoted time and effort into developing a solid client base. Unlike me, she misses deadlines routinely. Unlike me, she spends entire paychecks the moment they come in, never setting aside money for health insurance, savings, or even taxes (!). Unlike me, she flies into a panic if a check is late because she has no funds to get her through even the briefest of dry spells. Recently, she sent a client’s accounts payable department an e-mail demanding, in shockingly unprofessional terms, “a staright [sic] answer” about when she might expect her check—a check that in reality was only a few days late. In short, I run a professional, responsible business and she does nothing of the kind.

The other day, I finally reached the end of my tether with her. I’d just finished up a series of projects and planned to take the day off. One of the first items on my to-do list was to respond to a bunch of personal e-mails that had been stacking up including one to Y. In my e-mail to her I happened to mention, among other things, that I had no work at the moment and was “trying not to panic.” Big mistake.

Within an hour of sending the e-mail, the phone rang. It was Y. The first words out of her mouth were: "We're in the same boat!" She went on and on about how the kind of work we do is drying up everywhere and that she hasn’t had more than a dribble of work in the last few months, blaming everything from the Internet to George W. Bush for her lack of work. I actually think she found it reassuring that I didn't have any work, because it could be viewed as evidence for her theory that forces beyond her own control were responsible for her predicament. In other words, she wouldn't have to take a long hard look at the way she operates.

Lately, the work situation is the only thing she ever talks about and it makes me so very uncomfortable. I always feel that, if I were a "real" friend, I'd be offering her some kind of financial help. I also feel that without coming out and asking point blank, she’d like me to share some of my clients with her. The work I do is for a niche market, and Y doesn’t have the experience or qualifications to do it, although she thinks she does. It irks me that she thinks that what I do is something she could just “pick up.” But all that aside, I would NEVER recommend someone as unreliable and unprofessional as Y to any of my clients. I’ve worked too hard to earn their trust and loyalty and to build my own reputation.

Anyway, after talking to her that morning, the rest of my day off was ruined. I felt like she was trying to drag me down into the boiling-over cauldron of chaos that is her life.

The problem is that for years I’ve been less than honest with her about what I really think of the way she runs her business and, more importantly, her life. She is a traveler. Whenever she can scrape together a bit of money (which is a lot easier to do if you don’t put any of it into health insurance premiums or savings), she’ll take off for a place like Mongolia or Siberia and live there for months.

She’s an expert at getting kindly people she meets on her travels to offer her free lodging, food, and transport, and she always takes them up on it. To be fair, she’s also the ultimate shoestring budget traveler, and on several occasions she's shown the same type of hospitality to foreign travelers on her own turf. In a way it’s sort of admirable that she has all these amazing experiences and doesn’t just fritter away her life working, but I’ve finally realized how very much she depends on other people to support her travel habit and extract her from harrowing scrapes. For example, she was once stranded in China with no money to get home. Some “Russian businessman” she had just met lent her the money for a plane ticket back to the U.S.—probably close to a thousand dollars. I didn’t delve too deep into exactly why he was so willing to lend money to a total stranger. I wonder if she ever paid him back.

Anyway, I just cannot imagine living my life the way she does, but I’ve always tried to play the role of the supportive friend. I haven’t spoken up when I thought she was about to make a foolish choice.

For example, a couple of years ago, she married a man she met in another country so that he could come live in America and avoid being drafted into his country’s army--a marriage that, predictably, has proved to be a disaster. Not because the guy’s a shit heel. Not at all. He works long hours at minimum-skill jobs, and she treats him like an indentured servant. Not long after they married, she took off on one of her months-long trips, leaving him to pay the rent on her apartment, take care of her cats, and figure out on his own how to navigate the intricacies of life in a big American city. Is it any wonder the guy resents her—BIG TIME—now?

I’ve misled her in other ways, too. One of the reasons she thinks “we’re in the same boat” is that I never tell her about lucrative assignments I’ve gotten or successes I’ve had in landing new clients. When she called I didn't tell her that, though I was taking that day off, I have several projects lined up that will be starting in a few days. It’s my own cowardice. I’m afraid if I were to reveal that my business is doing just fine, it would prompt her to ask for a loan* or for work leads from me, and (see above) I don’t want that.

Also, she’s always telling me how much she hates living in Chicago (even though she’s not even there all that much), and I’m terrified that she’ll decide to move to Portland. When I talk to her I play up Portland’s gray, rainy weather, knowing she hates rain. I pretend I hate it, too (even though I don’t), just to make extra sure she gets the message--"It rains a lot here; you would hate it." I’ve never mentioned all the lovely sunny days we have or the gorgeous springs and summers. Isn’t that fucked up of me? I mean, I’ve often dreaded her phone calls and I don’t want her to move out here, so what kind of friendship is that? Heck, I don't even want her to come visit! Clearly, I don't want her encroaching on my life or trespassing on my time anymore, but I'm afraid to tell her. I really should take some blame for contributing to the dysfunction of our relationship.

I now wish I would have been honest with her, because it’s going to make “breaking up” with her that much harder. It will seem to her like a bolt out of the blue. Time and again she’s told me I’m a “true friend” especially as I’ve hung on so long, while almost all her other close friends have suddenly and inexplicably (according to her) cut ties with her. I guess I'm the last one to catch on.

Ugh. Will this post never end, you may be wondering. You may also be wondering why on Earth I didn’t ditch her long ago. She does have some good qualities, and it's all just so much more complicated than even this extra-long blog entry can convey, but, yes, she’s toxic and I’ve had it with her refusal to take responsibility for her problems and her negativity and blame laying. I’m sure there’s some self-help book out there that has a name for people of her ilk.

I’ve been mulling over how to rid her and her poison from my life without it seeming like I’m kicking her when she’s down. Her financial situation really is dire right now (albeit entirely of her own making) and her personal life sucks, too. But I can’t let that stop me or delay me. My sister, who knows Y and is not a fan of Y’s (my sis caught on to Y’s m.o. long ago) gave me this point-by-point strategy for disengagement:

Stop giving her your time and don't make her a priority in your life. If she emails, don't respond immediately, let it sit for a few days or a week. Then keep your response as short , succinct and neutral as possible. Don't offer sympathy and solutions. If she calls you, tell her you're very busy with work (whether you are or not) and can't talk. Not can't talk long, just can't talk period. Keep her at arm's length. She's not stupid--she'll catch on. Wait for her to ask you if something is wrong, don't initiate a discussion of her foibles. Let her call you out, then tell her that she has exhausted your patience and that you just cannot shoulder the burden of her problems anymore and that discussing her troubles is not a good foundation for friendship and she's going to have to get along without the benefit of your sympathetic ear. Don't go into details, don't let her try to patch things up, just end it. Believe me, she'll find someone else to accommodate her needs. You've had more than enough. You don't have anything in common with her. She'd like to think you're in the same sinking boat, in which you're bailing frantically while she throws the oars, compass and food supplies overboard.

I love how my sis put her own spin on Y’s boat metaphor. Very apt. My first reaction to my sis’s strategy was that it was too harsh. But I’ve been thinking about it (I actually printed out her e-mail and have read it over half a dozen times in the past few days—that’s how much this whole thing has been preying on my mind) and, you know what? I’m going to follow my sister’s strategy. To the letter. Y is not a good friend and doesn’t know how to be. I need out of this relationship—now.

*I did lend her some money once. She got herself into the position where she couldn't pay the rent on her Chicago apartment. About six months after I lent her the money, she e-mailed me to excitedly tell me about this cross-country road trip she was about to go on. She has money to go on a trip, but not to pay me back? WTF? I sent her a terse e-mail asking when she might be thinking of repaying me, and she did send me a check the next week, but if I hadn't asked I'm sure she would have blown that money (my money) on her road trip.

Edit: I remembered today that I'd blogged previously about some of my issues with Y (using the pseudoinitial "C"). Here's the post. It's interesting how much more slack I was cutting her a year ago. Totally in denial about the situation. Plus, I know for a fact I omitted some of the harsher criticisms I had even back then. No more.



Monday, April 09, 2007

Slacking and Basking


To me, this photo perfectly depicts what living in Portland is all about—slacking and basking like an iguana on a sunny Friday afternoon instead of working. B and I passed this dude and the disembodied feet of his companion as we trekked 1,500 feet up to Angel’s Rest, which overlooks the mighty Columbia River.

Angel's Rest

It was gorgeous up there, but so windy! I could barely hold the camera steady long enough snap a few photos. Frankly, I was lucky that the wind didn’t snatch the camera from my hands and fling it into an early and watery grave. My hat was not so lucky. Soon after I reached the top, it was whisked off my head and into some brambles growing out of an outcropping about 40 vertical feet below me.

There was no way I could retrieve it. Unintentional littering. At least the hat was 100% cotton and will biodegrade in one to five months,* rather than the 30 to 40 years it would take if it had been made of nylon or the 800 years it would take if the wind had somehow managed to extract a sanitary napkin from my person and loft it over the cliff.**

The basking dude was still there as we made our way back down to sea level. He hadn’t moved a micron and neither had the disembodied feet. A bit creepy, but a bit glorious, too. Slacking I can do, but basking is not my forte. I think the guy may have been a professional.

I actually had a great weekend—it didn’t hurt that it started at noon on Friday. Nor was it marred by the fact that I spent all of Saturday morning inhaling overpowering Yankee Candle Company-like fumes and battling the smoke alarm as I attempted to remove the contents of about half a bottle of Palmolive dish detergent from every possible surface inside the oven, including the broiler pan (a saga I’d rather not go into right now, but it was a right kerfuffle).

Saturday afternoon my friend P came over. We had planned to go for a walk, but as soon as a few raindrops started to fall (about a half block after we left my house) P suggested we detour and take refuge in a nearby brewpub. In fact, we settled for Cha, Cha, Cha, which was about 20 steps closer. It should be called Cheap, Cheap, Cheap. The food is really fresh and tasty, too. Score! I don’t know how they can charge so little for it, especially given the neighborhood. The rent has to be fairly spendy.

By the time we finished eating, the rain had stopped, so we ended up taking a walk of respectable length.

I went on yet another hike on Sunday morning. This time in Forest Park with three friends, a Rottweiler, and a Corgi. The Corgi insisted on being in the lead at all times and set a fairly brisk pace for the entire 5 miles, despite the fact that his legs are only 3 inches long. Go figure.

Trillium, Ferns, and Violets

Forest Park is such a treasure, and I’m so glad Portlanders appreciate it and use it. We started at what I had thought was a little-used trailhead, but there were swarms of hikers, trail runners, and cyclists there, happily worshiping nature. The great thing is, though, that there are so many trails and hiking options that soon we had the ferny, trillium-lined trail to ourselves. The bigleaf maples are in flower and impart the forest with this otherworldly glow-in-the-dark light. They’re lovely, but I have to admit that I find the their drooping flower clusters somewhat ghastly. What do they remind me of?

*This seems optimistic.
**My source here is Wikipedia, so if you were planning to cite any of this in your doctoral dissertation, don't do it.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I stayed up until 2:30 AM reading a friend’s screenplay last night. It’s 128 pages, formatted according to strict screenplay protocol. She told me it would take me about half an hour to read it. It took me more than three hours. Granted I was jotting down notes, but am I a super-slow reader or what? I’ve always suspected I am. How long would it take you to read 128 pages of screenplay?

As a consequence of my nightowlishness, my brain and eyes are now shutting down. I’m not really up to writing much in the way of a blog entry, but please feel free to share my mania for local flora. There are these pink violets that have been popping up all over my garden. Where do they come from and what do they want? I certainly never planted them. But I like how this clump situated itself next to this Thalictrum flavum ‘Illuminator.’ (And very aptly named it is, too. It really illuminates some of the dimmer corners of my garden.)

Thalictrum and Violets A few more snaps from my garden (taken today) are here.

Portland’s fantastic succession of flowering trees continues as well. The (crab)apple blossoms are in full swing now (at least I think that's what they are).

Apple Blossoms

Apple Blossoms

Even B—the chap who doesn’t know a hydrangea from a rhododendron—is getting into it.

One last thing. I finished this Smurfy sweater this weekend.


I know it looks somewhat deformed and lumpen in the photo, but it actually fits perfectly and is my most successful knitting project to date. I’m quite pleased with it, and should the Blue Man Group ever decide to hire a woman, I think it’s safe to assume I’ll be a shoe-in.

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