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.