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.