30 December 2007

The Sunday Supplements

I don't take prescription drugs on a regular basis. In fact, knock wood, I can't remember the last time I had to have a prescription filled. Jerry lays out tabs of B and C plus a multi-vitamin every morning. I gulp mine down with orange juice, unconsciously. On those rare occasions when one of us is away, I don't take, or miss, them. Considering what some of my friends have to deal with, I'm damned lucky, I know.

Even back in my tie-dyed granola days, I never got into spirulina, kelp extract, bee pollen, brewer's yeast or any of the other miraculous dietary supplements you could scoop out by the ounce from the dusty bins at the natural food store or the Co-op. (Has anyone ever done a public health study on hippie health food store bins as a vector for food-borne illness?)

Eventually, middle age and the onset of menopause led me to soy and calcium supplements, for hot flashes and bone loss, respectively. I finished a bottle of the soy stuff last week and decided to forego it unless I start flinging off clothes without warning again, which Jer is kind of hoping that I do.

About a year ago, though, arthritis began interfering with my carefree, cartwheeling, extreme-sports (just kidding) lifestyle. It hurt to turn my neck, okay? I went back to physical therapy, did (and continue to do) the prescribed exercises, and acquired my very own traction device. All of this helped quite a bit. My primary care doc was of the opinion that glucosamine/condroitin wouldn't hurt and might prove beneficial; MoveFree (tm) brand at Costco, he told me, was the cheapest source for that. So now I'm taking the same joint meds as our geriatric cat.

It takes a month or more, apparently, for glucosamine/condroitin to kick in. I felt no improvement after six to eight weeks, and was on the verge of giving it up, when I read in The Oregonian that golden raisins steeped for several days in gin were a proven folk remedy for arthritis. The dose -- I love the precision here -- was nine raisins per day. I knew I was adding another X variable to my experiment in arthritis relief, but what the hell. I could take them at cocktail hour; it would add a festive note to the day.

Here's the weird part. Almost immediately, like within two days, the pain and stiffness in my neck was 90% gone. I don't know whether the MoveFree (I always want to say MoveOn, but that's a curative force in another sphere entirely) had finally kicked in, or some synergistic effect was at work, or the gin-and-raisin nostrum, in itself, actually has some near-miraculous powers. The researcher in me says "do a controlled experiment," but I don't wanna. I feel better now than I did for months; why mess with what might be an effective, albeit delicately-balanced, therapeutic regimen?

Actually, there's a third variable. A couple of months ago I got email from a friend touting her son-in-law's company's anti-aging breakthrough: a protein derived from jellyfish. I can hear your eyes rolling; mine did, too. But Linda offered to send me a sample (I'm a sucker, no pun intended, for freebies), and I'll be damned. Within a week, I felt perkier, less sluggish both physically and intellectually, and my residual neck angst was down to maybe 2%. This isn't an infomercial, but it's called Prevagen (tm), and if they'd like to send me a truckload, I wouldn't object.

27 December 2007

Send me dead flowers


I didn't know til I got congratulatory email from a friend this morning that I'd "placed" in The Oregonian's annual garden photography contest. Out of nearly 2,000 entries, there were five top prize winners and 20 to 25 runners-up, including this one of mine. They cropped it, printed it quite small and, of course, on newsprint, which does nothing to enhance detail. Here's the original. I took it in late August, when many flowers are drying out, going to seed, giving it up for the season. I think they're still beautiful.

22 December 2007

The year of reading books

One of my intentions for 2007 -- I don't do "resolutions" anymore -- was to make more art quilts. I'm in awe of friends like Terry and Gerrie who are so insanely productive. I started out strong, but by the time spring rolled around, the lure of the garden was stronger. By summer, I was spending entire afternoons in the back yard, simply reading for pleasure.

That's an accomplishment, too, I've decided. I was one of those nose-in-a-book kids who had to be coaxed to go outside and play. After I started my own business in the '80s, I had no time for anything but professional journals, user manuals, manuscripts I was editing, and other required reading. Reading for pleasure -- and books in particular, as opposed to just magazines -- had somehow drifted to the bottom of my priority list. This year I gave myself permission to read -- obsessively, if I felt like it -- again.

For whatever reason, I decided to keep track of the books I read this year. Here they are in chronological order, fiction and non- intermingled. I've put asterisks next to the ones that I particularly enjoyed or that resonated with me for some reason.

When I reviewed the list just now I was struck by how little fiction I'd read -- just seven books out of three dozen. I would have guessed more. I was also surprised to realize how many of the nonfiction titles are biographies or personal memoirs. I never used to be drawn to biography. Perhaps opening yourself to the possibility of learning from other people's lives is another function of getting older. Or maybe it's a matter of seeing how their experiences stack up against yours. I've gotten into the habit of reading the obituaries in the paper, too.

The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
I Feel Bad About My Neck (Nora Ephron)
Mycelium Running: how mushrooms can help save the world (Paul Stamets)
The Mayor of MacDougal Street (a memoir by Dave van Ronk)
1000 Places to See Before You Die
The Beast in the Garden: a modern parable of man and nature (David Baron)*
Out (a novel by Natsuo Kirino)*
Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)*
Photoshop Elements for the Digital Photographer (Beckham)
Digital Photography with Photoshop Elements (Cromhout & Fallon)
Songbirds, Truffles and Wolves (Gary Nabham)
Island of the Colorblind (Oliver Sacks)
Complex Cloth (Jane Dunnewold)
Transforming Fabric (Carolyn Dahl)
The Happy Isles of Oceania (Paul Theroux)
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse (Thomas McNamee)
Not Buying It: My year without shopping (Judith Levine)
Infidel (Ayann Hirsi Ali)*
Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (Rebecca Wells)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter (Kim Edwards)*
Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen (a cookbook; Eric Gower)
The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden (William Alexander)
Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bill Bryson)
Bee Season (Myla Goldberg)*
Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses (Falk & Guy)
Plant This! (Ketzel Levine)
The Breakaway Cook (cookbook; Eric Gower)
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Bird & Sherwin)*
Children of Men (P.D. James)
An Exhaltation of Larks (James Lipton)
The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine (Rudolph Chelminski)
Not Enough Indians (Harry Shearer)
Final Gifts: Understanding the special awareness, needs, and communication of the dying (Callanan & Kelley)*
Bush on the Couch: Inside the mind of the president (Justin Frank)
Dishwasher: One man's quest to wash dishes in all 50 states (Pete Jordan)

I'm still reading the last two; an interesting juxtaposition.

Looking back on my year of reading books, I suppose I actually have accomplished something. Portland has many fine independent bookstores, which I patronize especially when buying gifts or books by friends. But I also bow deeply in the direction of the excellent Multnomah County library system and the ability to browse the catalog and reserve books online. Also, I've found that due dates, like the deadlines that used to drive my professional life, are an enormous incentive to productivity.

Maybe next year will be the year of doing art. I'm thinking seriously that imposing some deadlines in the studio might be the key to making that happen.

16 December 2007

Sometimes art DOES match the sofa

In New Mexico this past summer, we visited our friends Mary and Gary, who moved there from California several years ago. Mary is a painter, a surrealist, who's developed a body of work featuring human-esque or hybrid human-animal forms floating through space. I fell in love with several of the pieces in her studio.

Shortly after we got home, my husband -- who, you might recall, got me good last Christmas -- started secret negotiations with Mary to buy one of her paintings. About a month ago he presented me with a detailed printout of their scheming. (Whatever did we do before email? Clandestine phone calls would have been so much harder to conceal.) It was all there -- the clever but ultimately futile effort to induce me to look at the new work on Mary's web site -- which I did -- and articulate my exact desires -- which, to their apparent consternation, I didn't -- as well as the practical details of dimension and of price.

The only item they couldn't pin down without my buy-in (my husband is a very wise man) was... which painting. So I got to pick, and I believe that Jerry was absolutely sincere in his assertion that his first choice had been the same. It's called The Swimmer. She arrived on Friday, after some in-transit shipment-tracing angst, and we got her uncrated and installed yesterday morning.

We're both thrilled to have one of Mary's paintings in our home. Every time I walk into the living room and glance at that wall, I smile. She looks absolutely perfect in that spot. Yes, I've seen the slogan on t-shirts and posters: "Good art doesn't have to match the sofa." But sometimes it does, and I count that as a bonus.

06 December 2007

Good food, good company, medical fu, and the storm of the century, again

After Thanksgiving, Jer and I hunkered down in an effort to focus on his prostate cancer diagnosis and the pros and cons of various treatment modalities. If there's such a thing as too much information (and I know from my past professional life that there can be), Planet PC and the dense atmosphere of contacts, articles, software tools and discussion forums that surrounds it is a fine example. Not that we're complaining. We're just beginning to thread our way through all this, and I'll keep you posted.

A couple of powerful storms -- wind, rain, enormous destruction out toward the coast and elsewhere in the state, though Portland was spared the worst -- gave us even more reason to hunker down. Monday we bore the brunt of it. That morning we walked down to Johnson Creek right around the time it hit flood stage. The water looked like chocolate milk in a blender. Forgot my camera; dang. I took this pic about 24 hours later, after the water had subsided several feet. It was still pretty impressive.

On a totally different subject, we had dinner last night at Toro Bravo with our friend Adele. Man, was that good. It's tapas, with small plates ranging from $2 to $8, and larger, meatier dishes in the $10 to $14 range, plus paella at $18 and fideos at $19. The catch, of course, is that the menu's structured to encourage you to order several dishes, not just an app and an entree. We definitely over-ordered but, even with cocktails, wine and dessert all around, our bill was commensurate with what you'd pay in a middlin' nice white tablecloth place like Lauro Kitchen, Fife or Castagna. Among the three of us, we ate marinated sheep's cheese with rose petal harissa and mint; fried anchovies with fennel and lemon; boar rillettes with orange marmalade and caramelized onions; griddled bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds; chicken and pork croquettes with salsa verde & roja; lamb and fig stew with toasted couscous; and Moroccan marinated tuna with dried cherry and apricot couscous. For dessert we shared around molten chocolate cake, lemon curd crepes, and housemade almond ice cream with espresso. Must go back; there's so much more to try!

Lunch today was non-trivial, also. My fiber arts group STASH met at the Contemporary Craft Museum and then walked down to Park Kitchen for lunch. Mine was a radicchio salad with pomegranate seeds, butternut squash, and goat cheese. It was exactly what I wanted after several days of not enough green veggies -- although, come to think of it, nothing in my salad was actually green. Our waitperson literally bent over backwards to get a group shot.

Inertia is a powerful force in my life this time of year; all I want to do is stay inside and cocoon. So I took advantage of our scheduled outing to check out not only the exquisitely creepy Kurt Weiser ceramics at Contemporary Craft, which I've been wanting to see since the exhibit opened in October, but also the Chuck Close (I always want to say Glenn Close) show at "the" Portland Art Museum. I saw his paintings at MOMA in New York years ago. His work doesn't move me emotionally -- I'll never forget my friend Linda, who's a painter married to a painter, dragging Paula and me downstairs to the Cezanne exhibit that was on at the same time, saying "Here! Here's a painter!!" -- but the various print processes he's experimented with add layers of complexity and interest. To me Close is all about technique, but the obsessiveness with which he goes about exploring the possibilities is fascinating in itself.

After lunch I stopped in at Lumen Essence, next door to Park Kitchen, and got to schmooze with our friend Larry for a while. Then I sauntered up to Portland's so-called Fiber Arts District, half a dozen fabric, yarn and embellishment stores spread out along SW 11th in the vicinity of Taylor and Alder Sts., and bought a few inconsequential, mostly cat-themed, things along the way. I totally forgot to get my parking lot ticket validated anywhere, which was moderately annoying and something I'd rag on Jerry for neglecting to do. My bad.

Now I'm home with a cat on my lap. Often, this time of the evening, we can declare kitty bingo -- three in a row, not counting humans. (Thanks to Rubi for pointing out the phenomenon and the terminology to describe it.) While I was gone, Jerry vacuumed the rugs and cleaned the bathtub grout, in addition to putting together a turkey chili that's starting to emanate (is that a transitive verb?) good smells from the kitchen. Maybe I should leave the house more often. Nah.

24 November 2007

Thanksgiving week

My brother Larry and his son Josh have been here since last weekend. My sister Karen visited from Wednesday til yesterday; she and her helper Daria -- Karen has Down syndrome -- stayed at a motel not far from the airport.

I'd count Thanksgiving a success. The extended time with the guys hasn't been nearly as stressful as we'd feared (having the run of the entire downstairs takes a lot of pressure off us old people on the main level). Daria, the "stranger" at our table, turns out to be an interesting young woman with a deceptively little-girl voice.

We definitely missed the Arcata clan; this is the first time in decades that we haven't celebrated Thanksgiving together. But the turkey, and dinner in general, was one of the best. I brined the bird (a 23-lb. Diestel turkey from New Seasons), did the standard gravy, and made two dressings from recipes that appeared side-by-side in The Oregonian a couple of weeks ago. One was fairly traditional, including a big handful of fresh herbs plus a few extras, like celeriac, that I happened to have around; the other was made with whole-grain bread and featured dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts. Both are keepers. I also did red cabbage with apples. Jer made garlic mashed potatoes and the marshmallow-topped sweets that he insists are his birthright as a Southerner, plus Susan Stamberg's and now our traditional cranberry relish, which includes horseradish, sour cream, and a stint in the freezer before serving. He also tried a green bean recipe that turned out wonderfully, with shallots, orange zest, and pecans candied in maple syrup. I made Josh's favorite pie, pumpkin eggnog, and my favorite, pecan. Jer made everybody else's fave, bourbon black-bottom chiffon. Six people at the dinner table, and three pies. Sounds about right to me.

Sure, a certain amount of wear and tear goes with hosting Thanksgiving, but it's really nice (and getting nicer by the year) to be the ones who get to stay home. Speaking of which, earlier in the week, a couple of guys from the Urban Forestry department showed up with a woodchipper and made short work of the big branch that fell in last Monday's windstorm. The city actually took care of it; we were pleasantly amazed. One more thing to be thankful for.

13 November 2007

Back in the studio, finally

One indication of how little time I've spent in the studio lately is the number of podcasts queued up in my iTunes library. I subscribe to This American Life, Livewire! and The Writer's Almanac, among others, and I listen while I work. When I'm feeling productive artistically, I'm almost up to date. As of a couple of weeks ago, I was months -- nay, entire seasons -- behind.

But I did finally attack one of the fabric pieces I discharged in Jeannette's workshop several months ago. What I did originally was apply a thickened bleach solution to a piece of salmon-colored fabric using squeeze bottle and bubblewrap. It was purely an experiment; I didn't think much about the composition at all. Later, at home, I brushed the fabric here and there with a dilute solution of turquoise Procion dye. Dang; blew it. I hated the results. But I liked the color combination, and decided to use the discharge pattern as a loose guide for some reverse applique. (For the non-quilters: applique = layering a cut-out shape of another fabric on top of the main piece and sewing it on. Reverse applique = layering a chunk of different fabric under your main piece, stitching an outline of the desired shape on top, then taking a sharp pair of scissors and skillfully cutting away the top layer within the stitching lines to reveal the underlying fabric.) I enjoy reverse applique because the result is always somehow surprising.

So I seamed a piece of medium-turquoise hand-dyed Kona cotton to a piece of dark turquoise silk that used to be part of a jacket lining (thanks again, Francine) and used this as the backing fabric. Some freemotion quilting, some snipping, and... it looked like a dropcloth that had been folded down the middle while wet, then unfolded. Better vertically, maybe, kind of a sky-sea suggestion? Nah, not really. I considered overlaying portions with organza or another translucent fabric to get some movement, some kind of interest, going. Or maybe chopping it up, just treating the fabric as background, and piecing it together with a strong design element -- for some reason I'm picturing a heavily skewed X shape -- in the foreground.

But a comment from my amazingly astute husband led to the realization that some dark blue spots needed to migrate to the lighter side, and vice versa. So I patched additional fragments of the silk and cotton on the back of the cotton and silk sides, respectively, then cut through, selectively, to the third level. Subtle differences, but much more interesting, and the horizontal orientation works better now, I think.

I took the piece to Jeannette's house the other morning -- she'd invited the OCAC critique group she spawned a couple of years ago for tea and pastries and to meet the lovely and talented Ailie Snow. Surprise, my meager show-and-tell received considerable praise and comment. Definitely horizontal, keep the rough edges, and hey, look what happens (I'd already noticed) when you hold it up to the light! It reminds me of one of those heavily embroidered Indian fabrics with tiny round mirrors worked in.

The current plan is to back the piece with organza or something equally sheer. (I've targeted as raw material a huge but unspectacular gauzy shibori experiment; yep, I have a rotary cutter and I'm not afraid to use it). That way it will meet the Official Definition of a quilt (three layers held together by stitching). More important, the backing will help stabilize the patchwork of fabrics on the reverse, not to mention hiding some of the ugly quilting stitches.

Then I guess I'll hang it in a window. With light shining through it, it actually looks kinda swell.

12 November 2007

When the bough breaks

A major windstorm cranked it up good today, and one of our sweetgums took a direct hit. A huge branch came down and snagged on several wires, blocking the street completely. I called the city's emergency tree number and spoke to a very nice woman. When I commented that the crews must be busy today (a holiday, wouldn't you know it), she replied "there'll be half a dozen trees left standing in Portland once this storm is over." Shortly after I made that call, the power went out, but the cause apparently lay elsewhere. Not our tree's fault, greater Southeast Portland. Really.

A guy in a city pickup was here within the hour, assessed the situation, then chainsawed off enough secondary limbs to clear a lane for traffic. Comcast put in an appearance but bowed out when PGE showed up with their biggest rig and put a crew on it. One of them looked like Mark Ruffalo, which added to my viewing pleasure. They approached the problem by deploying a tiny chainsaw-on-a-stick (the first time I've been tempted to describe a chainsaw as "adorable"), delicately severing specific twigs on which wires had gotten hung up, unsnagging them one by one. Finally the main body of the branch was all that remained, riding by one short stump on an ever-sagging phone wire. Mark and a pal gave it a flip and it thudded to the street. "You might want to see if you still have a dial tone," one of the guys suggested. It occured to me that the phone company hadn't put in an appearance, but just as I was finishing this post a Qwest truck pulled up. So we had a utility trifecta on Rural Street today, plus, for extra credit, a municipal show of force. I'm impressed by the response. "The City that Works," indeed.

Power was restored about three and a half hours into the unscheduled tree surgery. Yay. It's so nice to live in civilization instead of at the far reaches of the electric grid. If we were still on the coast, I'd be straining my eyes to read by oil-lamp light, instead of blogging right now.

Tomorrow we'll have to figure out how to deal with the massive debris pile in the street. On the bright side, though, that's one load of leaves we won't have to rake this fall.

11 November 2007

Just another fall weekend

This weekend was Wordstock, and I timed my visit to hear Harry Shearer talk about his new book. I've had a low-key mini-crush on him since the last time I saw Spinal Tap, several years ago. He's adorable, smart and wry, a killer combination, though for whatever inexplicable reason he is not on The List.

Our friend Jen took Amtrak to Portland this weekend. Her daughter Laura is a sophomore at Reed. I remember when Laura was an infant. She delivered Jen back to our door this afternoon wearing high lace-up combat-ty boots (though I'm sure I'm missing a style nuance or two here) and a white terrycloth bathrobe. It's a look. It says... stayed up til 4:30, slept til noon; what do you want? I had a clueless mom (referring to my mom, rest her soul) moment, but bit back the impulse to say "Hey, Hallowe'en was last week." Needless to say I did not take a photo. I'm not that uncool. Here's another picture of Harry instead.

03 November 2007

Unicordions, planetwalkers, wizards

We have absolutely no plans for this weekend, but I can use some down time. Here's what we did in one four-day period last week:

Went to a talk at Reed by John Francis, the planetwalker. I knew John, slightly, during my college days back in Philly. He was a lanky, charismatic black dude who was never at a loss for words. He's still all that, plus a few pounds and gray hairs. Our paths would cross occasionally in Rittenhouse Square and, now and then, at the apartment of one or another of Mitch and my bluegrass buddies. He might even have been at our place once or twice (it was the '60s; I can't quite recall). I remember hearing, several years later, that John was on some kind of enviro-spiritual trip and, as part of that, had stopped talking. As it turned out, he also gave up driving and riding in motorized vehicles, choosing to walk, often great distances, instead. The silence lasted for 17 years, the auto-ban for 22. He explained the other evening why he did both, and why he gave it up. No, I didn't go up to him afterwards and say "I knew you, kinda, when..." but it felt good, on some deep level, to reconnect.

Attended Pizzazz, a city-wide talent show sponsored by the Portland Mercury, the alternative weekly I'm (sorry) not in the habit of reading, and Pabst Blue Ribbon (barf) beer. Our friends Kristin and Eric were among the ten finalists and, as it happened, the opening act. They sang and played an accordion duet while a lithe male dancer in a skin-tight unicorn costume did an interpretive dance to their rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart." At the climax, the dancer squeezed a heart-shaped sponge full of stage blood over his pristine white satiny self. The audience loved it, and applauded wildly. It was a raucous, fun evening, despite the fact that our pals did not win a prize. The crowd was friendly, the venue (Wonder Ballroom, with a surprisingly good cafe next door) very pleasant, and the pacing of the show so crisp that we were out the door in two hours flat. We geezers so appreciate efficiency in our wacky entertainment ventures.

A long and fairly strenuous hike on a perfect fall morning with Mike Houck, one of the city's major environmental activists (I've blogged about him before). We started at the base of the aerial tram (I posted a set of flickr shots shortly after it opened earlier this year), trekked south along the Willamette (who knew there was a continuous bike and walking trail from South Waterfront to Willamette Park and possibly beyond?), then headed west and uphill through George Himes Park -- big trees, lush ferns, lots of switchbacks -- to Terwilliger Blvd. From there we ambled north to OHSU and the upside tram terminal. As the photo suggests, we still faced quite a hike from the entrance up to the tram itself. They only collect tickets on the upward leg; the ride down is free. By that point we figured we'd earned it.

Dinner at Portofino, a restaurant in Sellwood that we'd passed countless times thinking "Eh, generic old-style Italian restaurant. When we're in the mood for that, Gino's is right up the street." A couple of months ago, though, they put up a spiffy new sign, which put the place on my radar. So we went one evening with Libbi and David and our mutual friend Angie, who was visiting from the Bay Area. The friendly proprietor, who'd worked there as a kid, shared the history of the place, and the food and wine were delicious. Another good, unpretentious neighborhood restaurant to add to our list.

That's four days in a row of Portland synergies, delights and revelations, and it's just an arbitrary sampling. I haven't even mentioned breakfast at Toast with Angie and Libbi, or a delightful pre-Hallowe'en party with artsy and literate folks in the Hawthorne 'hood, or, for that matter, Hallowe'en itself. Jer and I channeled a wizard (his usual persona) and an autumn tree sprite, respectively. Trick-or-treaters on the block included a clever mom-made ram and his brother, an equally fine bat (bat-tering ram?), a piece of pie/pi (this was the same kid who went around last year as an e coli bacterium), two fairy princesses, a diminutive Boston Red Sock, a Boston (no relation) terrier in a skeleton outfit, and an electric plug. No unicorns, but that's okay; our earlier encounter will live in my memory for quite a while. Whether I want it to or not.

24 October 2007

Things change

As far as I know, the little store, as everyone in the neighborhood calls it, is Eastmoreland's only storefront retail presence. Officially known as Eastmoreland Grocery and Market, it's been in business since the 1920s. Carol and Gary, who've run it for the past 20-some years, just sold it to a couple of local residents who plan to remodel and reopen as Eastmoreland Kitchen, a combination food store and deli. Last Saturday was closing day; the new owners hope to debut their revamped operation in about six weeks. I'll miss the funky ol' store with its year-round shelves of Santa Clauses, but I wish the new people well. I'm fantasizing a neighborhood hangout -- coffee in the morning, wine in the evening -- as well as a place to pick up emergency eggs or whatnot in the midst of dinner prep.

Last year we ordered our Thanksgiving turkey from the little store. This year it'll be New Seasons, I guess. Thanksgiving will be different in other respects as well. The Arcata clan won't be joining us. Victor's gone, and so's my mother. This will be the first Thanksgiving at our house without her. The plan is for my sister Karen to fly up from the Bay Area with a companion, and for Larry and Josh to wing in from Oahu and San Diego, respectively. Barring last-minute additions, there'll be just the six of us for dinner, the smallest Thanksgiving dinner Jerry and I have experienced together.

Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays. It was all about inclusion, sweeping in the strays. And about food, of course -- feeding the multitudes, as Jer likes to say. Sometimes we had 25 or 30 people in for a sit-down dinner. The last few years, though, Thanksgiving time has seemed fraught for one reason or another. This year feels like a turning point, and small seems appropriate for right now. Next year I think we'll invent a new tradition.

23 October 2007

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for E-Flat

Last week we had the privilege of hearing Oliver Sacks lecture on music and the brain. He's touring on behalf of his new book, Musicophilia. After reading so many of his books and essays, it was a pleasure to see him in person. I knew he was British but his accent is stronger than I'd imagined it in my mind's ear. He writes so well that his rather diffident, professorial manner onstage was a bit surprising. But even in the freewheeling (and too long) Q&A period, he never had trouble finding the right phrase, the perfect metaphor. The printed program included an interview conducted by our friend Steve Silberman that appeared originally in Wired; how cool to see Steve's byline in this unexpected context.

About three weeks ago, my brother fell at work and suffered a concussion. Tests revealed no bleeding or gross injury to his brain, but he's definitely not himself, whatever that means. He speaks very slowly and hesitantly, and is much better at remembering events from before the accident than what's happened since. There is a There there, which is a very positive sign, but it'll be a while (weeks? months? years?) before Larry's fully functional again.

At the lecture, Jerry happened to sit next to a neurologist (not surprising, considering the occasion) and, in the context of small talk about the amazing resiliency of the brain, mentioned Larry's injury and how he seems to be coping with it so far. "I'll bet he's scared," she volunteered, "really really emotional. 'Labile' is the term for that. And he's probably reluctant to go very far outside his normal routine because stuff is coming at him faster than he can process." Yup, she pretty much nailed it.

Sacks made the point that heavy involvement with music induces visible changes in the brain, and that musicians are the only profession that can be distinguished in this manner. Catatonic patients have been shown to respond to music; otherwise mute individuals can sometimes sing fluently; music temporarily alleviates the tremors of Parkinsonism and the fog or agitation of Alzheimers. It acts on the brain in profound and powerful ways that we don't fully understand.

Larry's friend Kate has been trying to get him to practice guitar every day; it seemed intuitively like a good thing to do. It certainly couldn't hurt.

18 October 2007

Travels with Debbie

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Jerry’s new girlfriend. Her name is Debbie, and she's the voice inside the GPS navigator that I gave him for his birthday. We named her Debbie because, years ago, when I worked at Information on Demand, "Debbie" became our generic term for somebody's administrative assistant, as in "He was out of the office, but I left a message with his Debbie." We took Debbie along on our recent trip to Michigan. Jerry put her through her paces, Annette driving, en route to her and Lauren's place from the airport (Gerald Ford International in Grand Rapids, official abbreviation GRR). He did not activate her, I noticed, on our way back to the airport, when Colleen’s friend Larry, a male, was driving.

Debbie also went with us to Sea Ranch a couple of weeks ago, where she did a fairly good job of getting us around the network of twisty byways and cul-de-sacs that we'd never completely mastered while we lived there. On the drive up from Oakland, though -- a route I know very well, thank you -- she and I disagreed repeatedly. I found myself developing quite an attitude with regard to ol' Deb. If you disregard her directions, she says "Recalculating..." in a long-suffering, put-upon, passive-aggressive tone.

I'm not perfect, but neither is the Debster. She's encouraged us to take non-existent highway entrances, referred to exits by names that don't correspond to actual signage, and led us onto roads alleged to lead straight to our destination, but that turn out to be discontinuous or unpaved. In Debbie's database, the abbreviation "Br" apparently stands for "Brother." It didn't take long for this fluke to surface in Portland, the City of Bridges. I couldn't believe my ears when she suggested, in her calm yet earnest manner, that we get onto the Morrison Brother. Debbie, you silly goose.

I don’t have a picture of Debbie; she’s a Garmin Nuvi 350, if you’re curious. But here’s one of G√ľnther, who lives in Lauren and Annette’s back yard. Wouldn’t you like to know what he looks like from the neck down?

Michigeese and Michiganders

We just spent a few days in southwestern Michigan, a couple of blocks from the lake, visiting Jer's daughter Lauren and her partner Annette. We also got to see Colleen, Jerry's favorite ex-wife, and meet her new guy, Larry, as well as reconnect with Bill and Alan, who were good friends of Lauren's late brother, Marc. Confused yet? A diagram would probably help. Ages ago, when Lauren lived in San Francisco, she and Marc, Colleen, Jerry and I went out to dinner at Khan Toke, a Thai restaurant in the Richmond District where Lauren was a regular. She introduced us to the proprietor as follows: "This is my brother, my mother, her second husband, and his third wife."

L&A have a lovely home with a huge, meandering deck on eight acres in the midst of dense woods. It's a ten-minute stroll to Lake Michigan. In their 'hood, modest lake cabins coexist with vacation McMansions but mailboxes seem to be a universal form of self-expression.

Lauren and Annette took us to two or three excellent art galleries. They fed us well, and we made serious inroads into their wine cellar and their schnapps collection. Colleen invited us to her house for dinner one evening, and we also sampled a few local eateries and drinkeries. We pretty much closed one fine establishment, The What Not Inn, where we dropped in for a drink after dinner in downtown (ha) Douglas. When they get out the vacuum cleaners and start stacking the chairs, you know it's time to go home.

By some miracle of scheduling, our visit happened to coincide with the Fennville Goose Festival, a classic small-town celebration. That's Mother Goose herself on the Lions Club float. What a thrill; we were this close to her.

Every morning (except for the day we left, when it was raining heavily) Jer and I took a long walk along the lakeshore. If you've never seen Lake Michigan, think "ocean" instead. It's enormous; you can't see the opposite shore. The beach was almost deserted. Some vestiges of summer activity remained but, for the most part, the cottages along the bluff seemed uninhabited; the season's over.

I put a few artsy beach shots up on Flickr, but here's a gratuitous shot of construction fencing, just for Gerrie. Ladybugs had gathered on it for no reason I could discern. Color-camouflage, maybe?

04 October 2007

Tart to Tart

Inspired by our backyard plum tree's bounty, I made this ginger frangipane tart as our contribution to dinner at Libbi and David's several days ago. It looks just like the picture in the Oregonian food section, and it tasted wonderful.

I had leftover puff pastry, so I adapted a recipe for a savory tomato tart that called for filo dough, and came up with this little number. Pretty darned tasty as well.

Plums and tomatoes; end of summer. Fall fell like a curtain last week.

Speaking of tarts, Portland Center Stage's production of Cabaret is not not not to be missed.

03 October 2007

The Wedding Unit

Jer and I just spent a couple of days at Sea Ranch, our first trip back since we moved to Portland. We lived there, on the northern Sonoma county coast, for almost ten years. It's a very beautiful spot, and very remote. It felt even more remote, this trip, by virtue of our not having driven California Highway 1 in more than two years. Sea Ranch is three hours from Oakland Airport; by contrast, we can get to PDX from here in 18 minutes. You can see why I stopped traveling for business not long after we moved there.

When we lived at The Ranch, we'd decide whether to make a trip to the Bay Area on the basis of "wedding units." If a close friend was getting married, no question; that's one full wedding unit right there. An important party -- a zero-th birthday celebration or a major WELL shindig -- would constitute a significant fraction of a wedding unit. Add to that a lunch or dinner with friends, a singthing, a visit with Mom, or some combination thereof -- et voila: a wedding unit; the drive down and back was justified.

Subconsciously, we've been employing a similar calculation, since we moved, with regard to trips to California. This time, our good friend Jackie was marrying her sweetie Tom, so of course we had to go. The opportunity to see other friends, at and around the wedding, and to check back in with the Sea Ranch itself and some of our favorite locales, bumped our excursion comfortably into the 1+ unit range.

Both Jer and I were struck, on the drive up, by how arid the landscape looked -- those golden rolling hills of northern California. It's always this way in summer and early fall, before the rains begin. California is fundamentally a desert, compared to western Oregon's verdant rain forest.

We stayed with our friends Rich and Dean, whose spectacular house, aptly named Wind & Sea, sits right on the bluff toward the north end of Sea Ranch. They have what must be a 270 degree ocean view, with pelicans, cormorants, gulls and the occasional osprey whirling by in the breeze. They'd invited another couple whom we knew for dinner the night we arrived, plus, as it turned out, a surprise guest, our friend Jane, whom I knew from The WELL before she moved to The Ranch and who, last I heard, was still consulting for the UN in Kosovo. Jane doesn't do small talk, and Charles and Kathleen are at the other end of the political spectrum, so it was a lively evening.

Sunday morning we walked a couple of miles along the blufftop trail to our friends Rob and the-other-Jackie's house. (They're the folks who visited us in Portland about a month ago, Casa Jereva's final houseguests of the summer season.) Rob led the tour of their dramatically redone garden, and then set about preparing a delicious brunch (the asparagus omelette depicted here, plus buckwheat pancakes and fruit salad featuring peaches and fresh-picked blackberries and raspberries) while Jackie showed us around her new, beautifully designed and decorated two-storey office/studio/guest cottage, which was originally the garage. They also built a new garage on the other side of the garden. We're talking major additions and alterations here; I literally did not recognize the house from the street.

The wedding was that afternoon, and what a joyful affair it was! Guests had been encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts and jeans; of course we complied, no problem. The bride and groom wore matching shirts, though hers had been tailored down, by our skillful friend Donna, from a men's extra-extra large into an elegant collarless blouse. There was enough fabric left over for a matching shoulder bag just big enough to hold a few Kleenex (useful at a wedding) and maybe a cell phone.

The ceremony was outdoors, on Jackie's good friend Carol's deck, on a hillside overlooking the Pacific. The wedding party had their backs to the ocean; the guests, seated on hay bales (actually alfalfa, we were told, which will go to feed the groom's son's flock of sheep, which is a whole 'nother story), had the full panorama. The "altar" was decorated with dramatic flower arrangements done by another friend, Claire.

Their vows were funny and heartfelt; Jackie has a wonderful way with words and the entire ceremony reflected her style. Jackie's therapist officiated. There was a Best Woman, and two Best Sons to give Tom away, plus four Best Dogs, who assisted. Texas John, on guitar and vocals, opened the festivities with "Give Yourself to Love," which seems to've become THE wedding song of our generation, and closed it with an original composition about not laying your expectations on your loved one that included the refrain "Don't Should on me and I won't Should on you." Very clever, and perfect for the occasion.

There was crying, there was laughter; it was swell.

Afterwards, the MTA (Mendocino Transit Agency) bus-lette shuttled us down to Del Mar Center, one of the Sea Ranch community meeting halls, for the reception. Great food, with a Mexican theme, prepared locally and by friends. Good wine, and just the right music at just the right volume for both dancing and schmoozing. Jackie did the table decorations, which included rounded river rocks and personalized yellow and green -- the wedding theme colors -- M&Ms spilling out of miniature tin pails. Some of the rocks were painted with yellow or green dots. It was Andy Goldsworthy by way of Martha Stewart; it rocked (no pun intended).

Jer and I talked to about a gazillion people, answering mostly the same question (Do you like Portland?) over and over again. It felt good to reconnect with folks who weren't necessarily our closest friends there (those we've kept in touch with), but who were part of the fabric of the community and clearly valued their connection with us as well.

In true Sea Ranch fashion, the party broke up early (though a bunch of the kids went on to after-party at the Gualala Hotel), and Jer and I were back at Rich and Dean's and in their hot tub by 8 PM.

Monday morning we took another long walk on the bluff, in the other direction this time, running into more folks we knew along the way, and then drove to our friends Francine and Bob's for bagels and coffee. After that, I delivered Jer to yet another pal's house (a guy he loves talking science and engineering with), said hi to George and Sandy myself, met their new-to-me kitties, who've been carrying on a snailmail correspondence with our cats (don't ask), and then dropped in at my old weekly quilting group (I sure miss that unique collection of "ladies") til it was time to leave for the airport.

Being back at Sea Ranch felt almost dreamlike. Everything was familiar, and we felt comfortable and content to be there, but it had less emotional resonance than either of us expected. We felt a little tug when we visited the community garden and saw the stepping stone we'd donated, inscribed "Jereva" and set among all the others there. Another tug at the Arts Center, which Jerry helped build (his name is on a roll of Distinguished Volunteers on permanent display in the foyer). The landscaping that was in the planning stages when we left is in and established now, and looks gorgeous. But what got to me most was glancing out Rich and Dean's kitchen window one morning and spotting three deer, a doe and two yearling fawns, so similar to the little groups that used to hang around our house on Timber Ridge Road (pictured here, post-us), eating every shrub in sight. I do miss the deer.

Now that I've traveled through some sections of the Oregon coast where development's run rampant, I have a much deeper appreciation of that stretch of the California coast and of how well Sea Ranch blends into the landscape, as it was designed to do. But our visit felt like just that, a visit, not like coming home again. By contrast, our brief stop in Berkeley on the way up -- we picked up Jer's favorite multigrain cereal at Country Cheese and then drove up San Pablo to grab lunch at Kermit Lynch's Provence-in-the-parking-lot celebration -- felt like a visit to our other home; it always does. We've left some dear, dear people on that lovely, isolated ten-mile stretch of the Sonoma county coastline. But we were pinin' for civilization, and now Portland feels more like home, after just two-and-a-bit years, than Sea Ranch ever did.

22 September 2007

I can't get no spinal traction

Actually, it appears that I can. With any luck, insurance -- crossed fingers -- will cover most of the cost of this dee-luxe home traction machine.

When the osteoarthritis in my neck worsened a couple of months ago, I went back to my Jewell of a physical therapist, and we experimented with several traction devices, including a couple of dinkier and far less effective models. The relief, after a few minutes hooked up to this baby, was immediate and dramatic. I've always had expensive tastes.

The machine works like a bicycle pump, basically, extending a cylinderattached to the underside of a metal arm attached, in turn, to one's roped-down skull. I lock it in between 10 and 15 pounds of pressure and lie still, oblivious to distractions such as the one shown here, for about 10 minutes. After a short time my neck no longer feels like any force is being exerted on it, but at the end of the session, when I turn the valve to "release" and gravity takes over again, it's clear that I've been in traction.

The result of the neck-stretching is a lovely feeling of space where the pain used to be. The relief typically lasts for several hours. Traction also relieves the burning sensation in my feet -- those cervical nerves travel a long way -- that I sometimes experience after neck-crunching activities like cleaning house, gardening, stargazing, or prolonged standing and walking. What's cool is that I can factor in a traction session after doing chores I know will stress my neck.

The things that excite us these days; it's pathetic, I know. Plus I realize that I've just given up any last shred of sex appeal I might have retained up to this point. Although there are undoubted weirdos out there for whom this sort of thing holds some attraction.

19 September 2007

Playing Tourist

I found the Portland Walking Tours site back when I was in research mode, before we moved here, and filed it for future reference. It seemed like a fun way to get to know more about our new home town, and I envisioned taking time off from unpacking and organizing our nest (in retrospect, whom was I kidding?) to unwind with a tour now and then.

Finally, two years after settling in, we've done the Best of Portland tour, the Underground (a.k.a. Worst of Portland) tour and the Epicurean Excursion, all within the last month. I can recommend each one, and will regale you with random factoids about the city for as long as I can remember them. But the Epicurean was, by its nature, the most entertaining. They promised at least 30 different tastes along the way, and I believe we hit 40 easily, starting with tomato-orange soup at the Flying Elephants deli, and ending up with gelato, coffee and chocolate nano-truffles at Via Delizia in the Pearl. In between: three varieties of Bridgetown beer poured on site by the brewmaster, a selection of PaleyBars (tm) (100% natural energy bars in various flavors, formulated by one of Portland's top chefs, Vitaly Paley, which is a great name for an energy bar impressario), thinly sliced Walla Walla onions marinated in rice wine vinegar, plus three boutique mustards and a sip of pinot noir at In Good Taste; slices of baguette and levain with EVOO behind the scenes at Pearl Bakery, where I took these shots (note the rakish angle at which Damon, our guide, wears his hairnet), followed by tastes of croissant, gibassier (perhaps the revelation of the trip, a Provencal breakfast pastry flavored with anise and orange peel), and melt-in-mouth chocolate bouchon, oh my. (This is starting to sound like an infomercial, but nobody is paying me, I swear. Note lack of hyperlinks when I could easily have done so.)

So. After all that carbo-loading, we headed briefly in the direction of Zenlike simplicity with a stop at the Tea Zone. There we sampled three perfectly-brewed teas -- Dragon Pearl jasmine, an oolong, and a lychee-flavored black tea, accompanied by tiny hazelnut and lemon-flavored cookies. We leaped back on the carbo bandwagon at the Ecotrust building, with Hot Lips roasted garlic pizza and blueberry soda, and an apple taste-off, organic vs. not. Finally, we wound down with the aforementioned gelato (three flavors -- orange cream, almond and someberry) plus chocolate nibbles and an extremely welcome cup of coffee.

En route, I got to fill in more of my mental map of downtown, especially the Pearl. Amazing how much construction is happening in the area. I assumed this was yet another condo complex going up, but apparently it's going to be a humungous new Safeway.

Hmmm, unless I've forgotten a stop entirely, I get almost exactly 30 different tastes, depending on how you count. Well, it sure felt like 40.

15 September 2007

Pretty swift

For the last 25 years, a huge flock of migrating Vaux's swifts has roosted for several weeks in the Chapman School chimney in Northwest Portland. Toward sunset they gather for the night and spiral into the chimney. The peak period is now, in mid-September. I thought this phenom -- "the Chapman School swifts" is how everybody refers to it -- was so cool when I first heard about it, shortly after we moved to town. Jer and I finally got off our butts the other night and drove over to see it for ourselves.

I'm bad at estimating crowd sizes but, according to Portland Audubon, the Chapman School colony typically numbers 10,000 to 15,000 birds. Some years the count's been higher than 30,000. I took these photos at highest resolution so you should be able to discern a few hundred swift-like specks if you click to enlarge them.

I've seen masses of birds take to the air before; it's always a dramatic sight. But the Chapman display was particularly striking because of the chimney as a focal point and the swirling aerobatics that accompanied the ultimate funneling-down. The drama was enhanced by a hawk (Cooper's?) that perched on the rim of the chimney itself and, before too long, snagged a swift for supper. Oops; make that 9,999. A while later, another raptor rocketed through the swarm but emerged empty-taloned and sat watching from the tip of a distant tree. Raptors put in an appearance most evenings during the season, according to the Audubon Society. They're no dummies; for predators, this is like buffet time on a cruise ship.

The surrounding scene, a gaggle of non-migrating humans numbering 200 or so, was quintessential Portland -- young parents picnicking with their kids, hipsters and skateboarders, Tilley-hat-wearing birders and old farts like us -- low-key, friendly and appreciative.

It was a misty evening, on the verge of rain, and after the last of the swifts had spun themselves into the chimney, Jer and I were happy to get back in the car and turn on the heat til we dried off and warmed up a little. What a contrast with the day before, when temps were in the high 80s and we'd closed the house and lowered the blinds to keep it cool. We cruised down NW 21st Ave. and, after turning thumbs down on a 40-minute wait at Cafe Mingo, ended up at Serratto a block or two away. I'd never even heard of the place, though it turned out that the Food Dude gave it a pretty good review two years ago. We'd give it a couple of stars, too. I didn't even considering ordering something with wings for dinner.