28 February 2007

New and Used

I've been wanting to blog for the last few days but, aside from quick trips to Gig Harbor and Berkeley to visit old friends and intentional family, life's been fairly uneventful.

I have accomplished a lot on the domestic front, including hiring a gardener/landscaper to help me turn our scrabbly front lawn into a thing of beauty, and contacting an accountant to get our taxes done (Thanks to Libbi for both referrals). The ever-practical Jer pointed out that it would make sense, before spending megabucks on landscaping, to have the sewer line, which runs under the lawn, inspected. So I set up a sewer-scoping appointment; the guy came out the next day and gave our pipe a clean bill of health, yay.

See what I mean? Uneventful. There is one bit of real news: We finally have neighbors next door, a couple from San Francisco. That's kind of a big deal, since the house has been vacant since we moved here more than a year and a half ago. We're looking forward to having them over for a drink and a schmooze.

I'd also jotted myself a note to say something about the two CDs that haven't been out of my changer since I bought them, except for the few minutes it took to load them onto my iPod: John Callahan's (yes, the outrageous cartoonist) Purple Winos in the Rain, and Casey Neill's Memory Against Forgetting. I hadn't heard of Casey til he blew us away at WinterFolk with a flawless and powerful mix of protest, punk and Celtic (generally not all in the same song). Great set, great singer-songwriter. R-Bob sez check 'em both out.

This morning I heard an NPR interview with Susan Patron, who wrote The Higher Power of Lucky, a Newbery Medal-winning children's book that's set off a huge brouhaha in library-land because it uses the word "scrotum." According to the author, this isn't the first work of juvenile fiction in which the word appears. But "scrotum" is right there on page 1, and the Newbery is the kiddy-lit version of the Nobel Prize for Literature, so no wonder the issue's held sway (I can't resist) in the media, including the New York Times' semi-clueless take. I'll spare you my own further thoughts, since I'm sure the library blogosphere is abuzz with opinions more fact-based than my own.

But books and, I suppose, scrota, were on my mind as I walked up to Reed this afternoon. I was headed for New and Used, the current exhibit in the Cooley Gallery. The photographer, Marc Joseph, takes as his theme old books and records and the stores that sell them. The images are large-scale, color, evocative. Several were very compelling, as was the turntable set up in the middle of the gallery -- Nico's Chelsea Girl was playing when I walked in -- with another half dozen LPs (The Mekons, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith) on a shelf below, and a sign inviting visitors to bring in albums of their own and play them at a respectful (I think that was the word) volume. There was also a bench and a browsing copy of the much-more-than-an-exhibit-catalog, full of essays about old books and bookstores and record-collecting, that sucked me in immediately. I meandered over to the campus bookstore to buy a copy. "How's it going?" asked the clerk. "Very self-indulgently," I replied, as I handed over $45. I'm sure the call to publish in hardcover was a medium-as-message decision on the artist's part; the book as artifact, and all that. Good for him.

As I left the bookstore, headed for home, a glint in an archway caught my eye; another Reedie art project. Ten or so metallic silver-blue objects, ranging from in-your-dreams life-sized to the dimensions of a 30-gallon Hefty bag, all hanging in the breeze, gently swaying. Male-italia. Ball sacks. Scrota. Sometimes life is just too congruent for words.

22 February 2007

The Man Who Talks to Crows

Jerry typically carries a small supply of dog biscuits when we go for a walk. Lately, he's been feeding more crows in the neighborhood than dogs.

He's developed a little routine, a line of patter to attract the corvoid flocks: "Look, Mr. Crow! Yo! Pay attention! Here you go!" As if they needed to be told.

Some are a bit leery, waiting til we're well down the block before cautiously approaching the fragments of Milk-Bone (tm) scattered on the sidewalk. Others are downright bold, swooping over our heads and landing right behind us to feed the moment we walk away.

I think we've officially joined the ranks of eccentric but basically harmless retired people. In fact, I know it. Apparently the crows do, too.

11 February 2007

Road Trip, Sky Trip

It's been a busy couple of days. I finally made it down to Coos Bay, with my friends Beth and Mary, to see a pair of art quilt exhibits, Speaking in Cloth and Fine Focus '06, at the museum there. Mary's husband Farley drove, and we made a two-day art tour of it, taking in the Coos Bay art walk (such as it was) on Thursday night and some galleries in Eugene en route home on Friday, after breakfast at the excellent Zenon Cafe.

Speaking in Cloth was co-curated by two local textile artists, Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer (with whom I've studied) and Ann Johnston, and includes their work and that of four other artists. Fine Focus consists of small works (no more than a foot or so on a side) by 50 different artists. Both were inspirational in the very direct sense of making me want to get back into my studio and create.

Apart from the art, the Coos Art Museum has, in its lobby, the largest angelwing begonia plant I've ever seen. A typical leaf was six or seven inches long, about the size of an entire plant, in my experience. As I was oohing and aahing over it, the volunteer receptionist pressed a cutting on me, which of course I had to baby for the rest of the trip. I'll try to make a good home for Little Bertha.

Speaking of large plants, we called in a tree guy to prune some low and otherwise iffy limbs from the two sweetgums on our parking strip. Most of the work happened before I got home on Friday. It sure makes a big difference; lots more light in the living room, for one thing -- and, I hope, fewer of those hateful spiky seedpod balls to deal with during the fall and winter. We also gained some firewood, which Jer toted around back and I spent an hour or so stacking. Yes, I did ache the next day.

The city is still offering free aerial tram rides on Saturdays during February, so yesterday we decided to check it out. The new tram connects the South Waterfront area with the OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) complex on Marquam Hill. It was a controversial project for all the obvious reasons -- cost, neighborhood impact, and so on -- but, from what I've read, it's quieter and less obtrusive than originally feared, and most of the neighbors seem to have made their peace with it. The line was long-ish, with lots of kids and a definite Disneyland vibe. It moved quickly, though, since the ride is just three minutes long and each of the two cars (cabins? capsules? gondolas?) holds more passengers than you might imagine.

The view en route is spectacular, and the structure itself a gorgeous piece of engineering. I took the equivalent of two rolls of film and posted a bunch on Flickr. At the top, we strolled along the observation deck, which is studded with sculpture. The adjacent corridor is hung with some interesting paintings and prints. Who knew? Obviously we'll have to add another stop to our standard tour-guide itinerary: "We'll take you to the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, the Classical Chinese Garden, Powell's Books, and then we'll go to the hospital."

05 February 2007

Dealing with those UFOs (UnFinished Objects)

At long last, I finished the 4-year-old quilt top I blogged about on 25 January (following the rhapsody on Jerry's cooking). Jer saw an infinity sign in it, so I decided to orient it horizontally and call it "Infinite Africa." I used some metallics, and quilted it pretty heavily throughout. It's roughly 2 x 3 feet in dimension. Above is the whole quilt; the other pic is a detail.

I ran out of binding fabric but pieced in some similar-feeling ethnic material, which looks okay and actually adds, I think, to the energy of the piece. Then I remembered that, when I picked up this project to complete it several weeks ago, I'd cut and pressed more than enough of the original binding fabric and set it aside in a Zip-Loc. Damn. Sometimes I'm too efficient for my own good.

Incidentally, I realized that I'd never photographed, for the record, a small (maybe 18 inches square) Hawaiian applique and hand-quilted piece that was my constant companion for many months'-worth of Monday Quilting (my small group in California) meetings. Nothing says "I'll always have something to work on while I'm schmoozing" like needle-turned applique and contour quilting. The background is my own hand-dye; the applique is commercial batik.

Anyway, as soon as I finished "Africa," I went back to "Occasional Sunbreaks," the paean to Portland winters that I described in my 12 December post. I finally figured out how to deal with loopy stitches on the back by tightening the top tension much, much more than I'd ever dared before. I also got to the point of grokking what that slick, silky-finish thread (some Mettler, some Sulky, some Superior), and even some metallics, really want, needle-, tension- and sewing-speed-wise, to be happy. Here's a shot of the entire piece, which measures about 25" wide by 27" high, plus details of the four main blocks. There are some pins around the edges because the binding isn't yet sewn down in back. Also quite a bit of cat hair that I'll brush off when it's really, truly finished and ready to hang -- at which point it'll collect ambient cat hair from the atmosphere, like everything else in this house.

Why doesn't everybody eat bananas this way?

A couple of weeks ago, my husband, who doesn't even eat bananas in the rough, pointed out that, for those of us who do, it made more sense to peel them from the blossom end -- the one with the puckery rough brown spot on it -- rather than the stem. I often ignore his engineering-based observations since they have very little practical application to actual human behavior, but he claimed that monkeys do it this way. So I struggled hard to overcome years of ingrained banana-peeling habit and tried it his -- and the so-called lower primates' -- way.

Dang, my husband was right. Stop the presses.

For one thing, the stem provides a convenient handle, an elegant marriage of form and, once you look at it, function. (See Figure 1) In addition, the blossom-down method avoids the annoying banging against wrist and forearm of the hard, fibrous stem as it swings freely at the bottom of its section of peel. Aesthetically, it's far more pleasing, since you end up with three or four balanced and relatively symmetrical peel segments.

My life will never be the same.