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.

11 September 2007

Whoosh II

Whenever I post a catch-up entry like this one, I realize that I'm channeling my mother. She felt compelled, whenever we spoke on the phone, to enumerate everything she'd done since our last conversation. I could picture her standing in her kitchen, talking and talking, glancing for reference at her copiously annotated wall calendar. In her last few years it was all about bus connections, doctors' appointments and old friends' infirmities and deaths. I love(d) her dearly, and I'm fully cognizant that her kitchen calendar is the functional equivalent of my Sierra Club datebook, and that I've inherited some of her other compulsive behaviors, too. I'd like to think I'm a much better editor, but perhaps it's just that my life is more interesting to me, day to day, than hers was.

So, yes; it's been another insanely busy couple of weeks. For the record once more, some highlights:

Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we attended a lovely wedding in far northwest Portland, on the happy couple's farm, where we also got to spend time with several good friends from Sea Ranch. Zoë and Matt's dog Olive, in true border collie style, made herself a central part of the ceremony.

We met another pair of California friends, in town for a "let's check out Portland" visit, for Sunday brunch at Mother's Bistro. After saying 'bye to Carla and Scott, Jer and I strolled a few blocks to Art in the Pearl, where I spotted this very cool recycled-trash salmon.

We made it home in time to greet Rose, another Sea Ranch friend, who was en route south from a college reunion in Washington state. We showed her around the neighborhood and, Monday afternoon, took in the closing performance of Shakespeare in the Park's Taming of the Shrew on the lawn at Reed. She left Tuesday morning. On Thursday, we picked up our good friends Rob and Jackie at the airport. Jackie used to be our next-door neighbor at Sea Ranch. She's the former director of the UC Berkeley art museum and a full-time curator, consultant and writer on artsy matters. That afternoon, I took them on a long walk through Reed campus and the Rhododendron Garden, a.k.a the duck pond. An amusing moment: We were starting down the long, sloping lawn toward SE 28th Ave. when a security guy drove up; I thought at first he was telling us to keep off the grass, but it turned out he was warning us that an archery class was in progress and that, if we continued on our intended course, the three of us would be right in the line of mis-fire. Oops; an arrow escape!

Thursday evening, we went to the opening of Jackie's colleague Darren Waterston's exhibit of paintings and prints at Lewis and Clark College. I love this man's work. It sparked in me dozens of ideas about what I'd like to try in fiber arts, assuming I can ever get myself back into the studio.

Starting Friday morning, Jer and I plunged into E-ticket tour guide mode once more: The Japanese and Rose Gardens, lunch al fresco at Southpark, the Art Museum. I made a "kitchen sink" salad for dinner, including fresh corn, tomatoes and other goodies from this week's CSA veggie box.

Saturday morning we walked the Springwater Corridor trail as far as Three Bridges and back. The path was lined with these beautiful orchid-like flowers, which my wildflower book tells me is Cape Jewelweed. Later, while I attended to another obligation, Jer took our guests to the Chinese Garden (where they had tea, which I have not yet experienced; sob), Powell's Books, and, briefly, Saturday Market. That evening, Jackie and Rob treated us to a super-indulgent dinner at Fife's.

Sunday morning we dropped our friends at PDX and had a few hours to relax and put together a roasted potato dish and tomato-mozzarella-pesto bruschetta as Jerry's and my contributions, respectively, to the Rural Street block party that evening. Besides delicious food, home-brewed beer, lots of catching up with neighbors we don't get to talk with very often, and the traditional piñata for the kids (I wish I'd gotten a picture of the dozen or so of them lined up according to height, waiting to take their respective whacks), this year's featured non-trivial water balloon fights and a string quartet playing works by Vivaldi and Haydn. The same kids participated in both, though not at the same time. Also, Jay and Ellen opened the gates to their new bocce court; I'd never played before, but I actually got off a few good shots (which are probably called something else in bocce) and did not disgrace myself overall.

This week is shaping up to be very busy, too, with commitments every morning as well as three or maybe four nights out of five. After that I think life will calm down for a while. No houseguests on the schedule for the foreseeable future. As I implied at the outset, these "whooshy" blog posts aren't my favorite, nor are they yours, I'm sure. I'd much rather slow down and focus in on some interesting details. Like the jar that sat midstage during the entire uninterrupted 2 hours and 20 minutes of Richard Thompson's show last night, labeled Big Dick's Speed Dust Trouser Treatment. WTF? I Googled it in various combinations and you can imagine the results.

10 September 2007

The List

I've been meaning to post yet another list of what's been going on for the last several days, and I'll get to that eventually. But tonight I saw Richard Thompson (a.k.a. The Face of God) at the Aladdin Theater -- third time in that venue; I don't think I've missed a Portland show of his since we moved here -- and a different list came to mind. I wonder how many married or otherwise committed couples have one of these; i.e., people you've put your partner on notice you would, um, go to bed with, no question. "He's on my list," I say, and Jer nods, understandingly. RT's on it, Kevin Spacey's on it, despite the fact that he apparently plays on the wrong, for moi, team, and... hmmm, RT seems to have completely blanked out the rest of the rest of my not-lengthy but rather eclectic list. I'm sure it's just temporary.

02 September 2007

Beach Break

Jer and I took a midweek break and headed to Newport for a couple of days. We stayed at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Nye Beach, which I'd heard of and wanted to visit even before we moved to Oregon. "You'll either love it or hate it," folks said; we loved it, as I knew we would. It's a rickety four-storey structure built in the early 1900s, perched on a bluff, and geared toward book lovers. (The original Sylvia Beach operated the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris during the Hemingway-James Joyce-D.H. Lawrence-golden expat years.) No phones, no TV, no Internet. But there is a library on the top floor, with funky yet comfortable chairs facing the ocean, where I spent about six hours one foggy afternoon.

Each room is named after a writer. We stayed in Emily Dickinson. The in-room reading material included several biographies and volumes of her poetry, plus a couple of creepy portraits. Stell-a is, of course, the Tennessee Williams room. The F. Scott Fitzgerald room is reputedly furnished with several bottles of gin. Two cats have the run of the establishment; the orange guy, whose name I didn't catch, beats on Shelly, the tabby; then she chases him, and so on ad infinitum.

Breakfast is included in the room rate. Dinner, served family-style, is available for a reasonable fee. We ate at the hotel the first night. When the hostess announced that a round of Two Truths and a Lie was a dinnertime tradition at the Sylvia Beach, my stomach turned over; I am so averse to "icebreakers" and get-acquainted games of any kind. But we were seated with half a dozen accomplished and entertaining liars and, fortified with a couple of glasses of wine, actually had a great time trying to figure out which of each person's three autobiographical statements was, in fact, not true. Despite my inability to remember the title of my supposed doctoral thesis, most people thought I was lying about being tattooed. I guess I just don't look the type. My husband is sociopathically adept at keeping a straight face while describing his totally bogus career as a travel writer.

At breakfast the next morning we sat with two of our tablemates from the night before, about whom we knew a great deal, of course, already, plus another couple from Portland. The conversation ranged from spirituality and religion to global warming to family dynamics -- definitely not small talk. One of the side effects of staying at a hotel that caters to readers, the proprietors have obviously figured out, is informed and quick-witted discussion. The restaurant is called Tables of Content, which sounds a bit twee but which turns out to be a brilliantly appropriate name. The next evening's dinner we'd booked at April's, across the street. Our meal was very good, but not nearly as much fun as the night before.

We really enjoyed Nye Beach itself. The coastline is beautiful and the community seems artsy and laid-back. Benches seem to be a local form of self-expression. That, and signs of various kinds. I'll put up a few examples on flickr