29 December 2006

Another thing I'm not going to do again ever

We're having the Three Cs on new year's eve -- crab, champagne, and crusty bread. This is the first time I've cooked the crabs myself. (If I've ever done it before, I've repressed the memory.) The process couldn't be easier, but I hated doing it. I was hoping to be able to buy the crabs already, um, red and folded, but live was all they had.

I think of myself as a fishi (a? e?) tarian, but then, I don't generally buy my seafood while it's still wiggling and waving around. A couple of hours ago, one of these guys was skittering on the floor of Om Seafood, trying to get away from us.

Don't give me the argument about pea-sized brains and primitive nervous systems, please. Maybe I'm cursed with an overactive imagination, but these critters displayed more personality, albeit rudimentary, than some humans I've met. If I were a truly moral person, I'd be one more giant step down the road toward vegetarianism this afternoon.

26 December 2006

How I spent Christmas eve

For Christmas, Jerry gave me three envelopes, each one tied with a ribbon. One was marked "Open at 10 AM Sunday," the others "Open at 3 PM" and "Open at 5 PM," respectively. On Christmas Eve morning, I obediently opened the first one. It was a long, accordian-folded missive from Jerubic Tours, Ltd., with a made-up -- I assume, though I suppose I could try Googling it -- London address. Subject line: Portland Highlights - Phase I. It went on to say, "Dear Ms. Basch: We are delighted to inform you that you will be treated to our Portland Highlights adventure on December 24, 2006. Your escort, J, will provide transportation and take care of all financial details. Your role is simply to sit back and enjoy the ride."

The document revealed that the first event on my itinerary would be a matinee of Susannah Mars' "Mars on Life: The Holiday Edition." Cool; I'd actually considered getting tickets earlier in the season but decided there'd probably be too much else going on around now (ha), so we passed. The letter from, ahem, Jerubic Tours went on to say "Subsequent events will be revealed in due course. However, for pragmatic reasons, certain facts must be made known to you at the outset. Since you will not be returning to your home until mid-morning on Monday, you should make the needed preparations - toiletries, robe, etc. The evening will include an opportunity to dress in your best. For your guidance, be aware that your escort is required, by our house rules, to wear a tuxedo. And oh yes, bring a bathing suit. And your computer. Ta ta!"

So my escort and I packed as instructed, took care of the kitties, and set out for the theater. It was a delightful show. Susannah had invited a rotating lineup of guest performers to join her onstage during the run; for this performance, it was Rebecca Kilgore, a jazz vocalist, also a local, who was terrific, too. Interesting, we learned that Susannah is Jewish, and during the 8 days of Chanukah had actually brought a menorah onstage and, during the show, lit the appropriate number of candles. Along with the traditional carols and funny Christmas / seasonal songs, she did a surprising number of Chanukah tunes; more than I knew existed, actually.

During the intermission, I opened my "3 PM" envelope. It was another long, festive-looking document from Jerubic Tours, Ltd., heralding Portland Highlights - Phase II, and informing "My dear Ms. Basch, From the theater you will be going on to your accomodations for the evening." Then followed several color pictures and a description of the historic Multnomah Hotel, now the Embassy Suites at 4th and Pine.

The communique concluded "Relax and enjoy the amenities. And keep in mind that J, your escort, is always at your call and is thoroughly trained to be able to take care of all your personal needs. Your pleasure is our reward. Jerubic Tours, Ltd." Heh heh. Every time "Jerubic Tours, Ltd." appears throughout this adventure, it's in Olde English type, which makes me chuckle, too.

After the show, we drove to the hotel, checked in, soaked in the jacuzzi for a while, did the hot hot dry sauna for about 30 seconds, which was as long as I could stand it, and then had a couple of cocktails in the Arcadian Garden Room, which must've been quite a swanky venue in its day. According to a coffee-table history of the hotel that we found in the room (quite an impressive hardbound book), luminaries like Charles Lindberg, Elvis, Queen Marie of Romania, and John and Bobby Kennedy either stayed or were feted there, or both.

Before going downstairs for drinks, I opened my "5 PM" envelope, which was all about dinner, of course. Portland Highlights - Phase III was addressed to "My dearest Ms. Basch" (Notice how the greetings have become progressively more familiar?) "You and your escort will be dining this evening at The Portland City Grill." A veritable cornucopia of folded paper spilled forth (basically a printout of the entire menu), and the missive concluded "And this will bring to an end your Portland Highlights Adventure. On behalf of all of us here at Jerubic Tours, Ltd , and your escort J, we wish you a Very Merry Christmas. It has been a pleasure to serve you. Portland Highlights Adventure is a production of Jerubic Tours, Ltd. " So we duded up, Jer in his tux, and me in a lovely burnout-velvet-and-sparkles tunic affair that was a gift from him on a previous occasion, and walked a block and a half, in a major downpour, to the restaurant.

The main attraction of Portland City Grill is its altitude and the view that that implies. It's on the 30th floor of the US Bancorp Tower, a.k.a. Big Pink, which I'd guess is the tallest building downtown. Of course the view from our windowside table was spectacular. The service was efficient, though totally scripted; it's the kind of place where anything you might order is "an excellent choice." Like, would they tell you if it wasn't? Not if our meal was any indication. Jer had a Caesar salad and blackened ahi; I had a few pieces of sushi followed by pasta with seafood. This isn't a restaurant review so I'll spare you the details, but it was one more data point in the theory that the elevation of the restaurant is in inverse proportion to the quality of the food. I'd go back for drinks, though, especially with out-of-town guests.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel, and at that point discretion dictates that we draw the curtain on our happy couple. The next morning, after a very decent complementary breakfast at what I'd much rather think of the Multnomah Hotel than the Embassy Suites, we packed, retrieved the car from the lot across the street, and were home in less than 15 minutes. The cats seemed happy to see us, or at least our opposable thumbs.

I just have to say I love my romantic guy for orchestrating all this and making it happen.

P.S. The note cards in which he enclosed the three installments of our adventure were very cool as well -- all familiar Portland views (the Powell's corner at 10th and W Burnside, the Bagdad Theater on Hawthorne, and the stretch of Milwaukie Ave that includes the Moreland Theater and Fat Albert's) by a local painter named Tom Rettig. Not the guy who played the kid in Lassie; I did Google that.

25 December 2006


Mossy brick in the herb garden
Originally uploaded by revalani.
Portland has many nicknames -- City of Roses, Stumptown, River City, Bridgeville. I've never lived in a place before where the moss grew moss. It's so incredibly plushy, lush and luxurious.

Living here, how can you not like green?

I took a bunch of pictures on my walk this morning, and discovered later that I'd photographed a couple of the identical mossy outcrops around this time last year. Evergreens, in a manner of speaking. Much more mossiness at www.flickr.com/photos/revalani/sets/72157594438359372/

23 December 2006

Timber Ridge

When we lived on the coast, we had a huge window seat -- it would sleep four adults comfortably, we always said -- facing west. The view was meadow, then trees, and beyond, the blue of the Pacific. No crashing surf, nothing truly dramatic, but the ocean was palpably there, in the distance.

In 2002, after I'd been quilting for about a year, I was moved to depict that view. I was still working fulltime, and the hours I got to spend on the window seat, reading for pleasure or just spacing out, were a measure of the degree to which my life was in balance, or not. Most of the time it was not.

I drew the landscape, simplified my drawing, figured out how to piece it, made a pattern and, using the commercial fabrics in my stash, went for it. I knew at the time it would be one in a series -- a series of two, perhaps, but a series nevertheless. The light outside that window was so remarkable, so changeable, that one "Timber Ridge" couldn't possibly define the view.

Three years later, I took a class from Ruth McDowell, and realized "I've already done this." My job in the workshop, I figured, was to complexify what I'd done. Hence, Timber Ridge 2. This one sat, unfinished, for more than a year while we got ready to move and, eventually, made the transition from the window seat house up to Portland. A week or so ago, after finishing the Flatirons commission (see below) -- another landscape quilt, but one that reflects what I've learned in the interim about value and curved piecing, among other things -- I exhumed TR2 and, in a two-day frenzy, quilted every blessed centimeter of it. This evening I sewed on the sleeve and, ta da, the label. So it's finished.

I actually think the earlier version is more successful, though this one is more of a tour de force, I suppose. TR1 feels more dynamic, somehow, and the double border, traditional as it is, adds balance and a sense of completion. Maybe I can still add some yellow... nah. Whatever. It's like Grandma Moses (i.e. naive primitive-ism) versus Over-Complexification, and guess who won? Well, that's a lesson, too.

20 December 2006

Living in Mayberry

I often marvel at how sweet and small-townish our neighborhood feels to me. Kids have a lot to do with it. There were very few children at Sea Ranch; we had no -- zee- ro -- trick-or-treaters the entire time we lived there, and Christmas was a whirl of cocktail parties and potlucks, plus a fast hour of caroling in the old barn. Pleasant, but definitely an adult holiday in its observance. Before that, in Berkeley -- much as I love the place -- there was (and, I assume, still is) an element of cool and political correctness that encouraged solstice celebrations and the recognition of Chanukah, Kwanzaa and other alternative observations, but not the whole Santa Claus, reindeer, snowman, red-and-green, go-for-it aesthetic that Jer and I see on our morning walks about the 'hood.

I answered the door three times today. First, Maddy and Hannah (I think I have the names right), who live up the street. Hannah's in the middle single digits; let's say 6 -- I'm bad (but getting better) at guessing kids' ages. Maddy's a gangly pre- or early adolescent (12? 13?) whom we met at the block party last summer. It was her idea, that day, to get all the kids to lie down in the street in creative poses and have someone else trace them in colored chalk. We admired their work the next morning; it was like CSI Eastmoreland.

Anyway, today the two of them were collecting for the Oregon Humane Society. They had a homemade donation box. Maddy did the spiel -- it didn't take much to convince me to contribute (again) to that particular cause -- while Hannah sang Christmas carols, consulting a lyric sheet but singing con brio. Maddy's braces were red and green. How do they do that? Will she do yellow and purple for Easter?

An hour or so later, another knock. It was Joseph, the older of the two boys from up the street. I hope I have that right; Lewis is the younger, if I remember correctly (always a dubious assumption), but it's hard for me to tell the brothers apart when they're not together. I'm sure old people all look alike to them. He was bearing a cookie tin -- "Bearing" is the word; he held it out, on flat palms, an offering. I oohed and thanked him but he stayed at the doorway, expecting something. "Um, do you know what it is?" he asked. "I'm guessing cookies. Did your Mom bake 'em?" "Yep, and my brother and me." I realized afterwards, dang, I should've opened the box while he was there. It was quite an array. Among other things, lemon bars, chocolate chips, those confectioners' sugar-covered balls that're either pecan puffs or Mexican wedding cookies or maybe pfeffernuse; we'll find out soon... Thanks, Lanell, Hans, Lewis and Joseph!

The third knock was from the UPS guy. I'd ordered a new iron after reading about it on the QuiltArt list. Happy holidays, Reva. I'm not going to mention the brand name here; you can discern it if you click on the photo. It does the coolest thing (okay, we're talking about an iron here, but still); it senses your touch on the handle and lowers into business mode; otherwise, it rises up onto retractable feet (with a cute little R2D2-ish sound that one might find annoying before getting used to it) to keep from scorching. Bottom line, it's happy resting horizontally, so much more stable on the ironing board, don'tcha know, which is important to someone who's sent an iron toppling to the floor on more than one occasion. Plus, it steams in 3 or 4 different modes, and it's just so cute. It looks like a cross between a first-generation iMac (the Bondi blue one, before they offered a choice of strawberry, blueberry and other fruit flavors) and a high-tech running shoe. It ships with an adorable little watering can, skinny and elegant, that's one of the most satisfying utilitarian shapes I've ever encountered (Excuse me while I drift off into one of my fantasy lives as an industrial designer...).

Ahem. I'm back. And I can't believe I'm rhapsodizing about a f*#@ing iron. Maybe I really am living in Mayberry.

18 December 2006

Children of the Martyr Race

This afternoon, we walked up to Reed for the Portland Gay Men's Chorus holiday show. They did several Chanukah songs, including Rock of Ages -- not the "cleft for me" version that my husband the goy grew up with, but a translation of the Hebrew one called (well, transliterated as) Ma'oz Tsur. We sang it every year at this time when I was a kid growing up in a marginally-observant Reform Jewish family.

I was surprised, and intrigued, when the Chorus sang "children of the Maccabees," where I clearly remembered the line as "children of the martyr race." Surely this wasn't a 50-year-old Mondegreen? "Maccabees" works, and I thought it a masterful re-edit, if that's what it was. If you're unfamiliar with "Maccabee," Google "story of Chanukah" for the basics.

I did some Googling when we got home from the concert, enough to convince me that I hadn't hallucinated the memory. "Martyr race" is obviously un-PC, not because of "race," although that gives one pause also, but because of Zionism and the bloody intractable mess of Middle East politics since 1948. Interesting. I think I'd better leave it at that. But don't get me started on the spelling of Chanukah.

15 December 2006

Wind Throw

When I lived on the coast, I became familiar with the term "wind throw." A particular combination of topography, wind, soil, and vegetation made for predictably hazardous winter storm conditions in certain areas. These neighborhoods were identified as "wind throw zones." "Wind throw" strikes me as a euphemism for "trees waiting to fall." In that region, Grand Firs, which can be surprisingly shallow-rooted, were the most vulnerable species.

I have no idea whether the concept of wind throw applies here in the city. But in our heavily-wooded neighborhood, the wind really howled last night. Our lights dimmed and flickered much of the evening, though we never lost power. Jerry moved the car down the street, out of the reach of falling tree limbs, just in case.

As we left the house this morning, we heard a symphony of chainsaws and chippers. Three blocks away, a giant tree (one of the 'hood's original elms, I'm guessing) had pulled out of the pavement and crashed to the street. We spoke to the owner of the adjacent home, who told us they'd heard a whooshing sound last night and run to the other end of the house. Fortunately the tree fell in the other direction.

12 December 2006

Occasional Sunbreaks

As we settle in for another gray, wet Northwest winter, I'm amused by the variety of phrases the daily paper trots out for the 5-day forecast: Rain. Light rain. Showers. Possibly damp. Wet in the AM. It may rain. And my favorite, occasional sunbreaks. "Sunbreaks" wasn't a word I'd encountered before moving to Portland.

In quilting, a so-called "challenge" usually involves making a quilt on a given theme or incorporating a particular, often problematic, fabric. It's supposed to be fun, to help you stretch as an artist, get you outside your comfort zone, and think beyond your usual aesthetic. So. The current challenge for a group of art quilters I belong to involves a beautiful coppery metallic fabric. It's showy, intense, and heavy. I hung it on my design wall and meditated on the possibilities for a couple of weeks. Finally I realized what my subconscious was trying to tell me: Sunbreaks.

I worked quickly and improvisationally on this one. It came together in three or four days. It still needs to be layered and quilted, but I'm pleased with it so far. Guess I was just ready for a sunbreak.

07 December 2006

Flatirons, Finally

This was a commission that I began this summer for a friend and colleague who has a view of the Flatiron Mountains from her home in Colorado. I finished it last week, entrusted it to FedEx, and waved it good-bye. I'm happy with how it turned out and, more importantly, so is she.

It measures about 50 by 42 inches, and is entirely machine-pieced and quilted from my design, using both commercially-printed and hand-dyed fabrics. Read all about it -- probably Too Much Information unless you're a quilter -- including many more photos than I wanted to upload here, at my Flickr site.

04 December 2006

Slow Food, Fast Movie

Another of those contrasty urban experiences that I love so much about living here. Last night, we attended Slow Food Portland's annual potluck, ate an amazing variety (and quantity) of delicious, imaginative, healthy, impeccably prepared food, and schmoozed with interesting, like-minded folks.

This afternoon, we went to a matinee of Casino Royale. The older Bond movies had a gadgety, glam-techno aspect that seemed way out there, futuristic and faintly ridiculous. Casino Royale relies on nothing that doesn't exist today -- cell phones, laptops, PDAs, GPS, microchip implants and, oh yeah, auto-defibrillators. Ho hum. Plus a few steak knives.

I loved it, okay? It works perfectly as a prequel, as long as you overlook the fact that it's set in modern times and not back in the early '60s, or whenever the Bond movie franchise got started. Plus: the title sequence rocked. If I were a true movie geek, I'd need to watch it again to see if it paralleled the plot. But I'm not, so I can just admire the graphics.