30 March 2008

Dammit, it's almost APRIL

According to my calendar, the vernal equinox happened well over a week ago. In case you didn't get the message, Northwest weather gods, it's supposed to be spring. Trees are leafing out, fruit trees are a' bloomin', daffodils have been up for a while. Get with the program, wouldja?

Weatherwise, the past 48 hours or so have been insane, or what the more temperate among us would call "dynamic." Snow flurries, hail, sleet, rain, sunshine. Lather, rinse, repeat. I turn off the reading lamp in the living room because it's so bright outside; next thing I know, I'm straining to make out words on the page, and look up to see an ominous charcoal-grey sky. A few minutes later: Hail, sleet, snow, rain... sun. Temps have not climbed out of the low 40s in days. Does this look like spring to you?

The silver, so to speak, lining is that it's awfully nice to take a hot tub in weather like this. The electrician was here last Thursday to do the final hookup. By Friday afternoon the tub was filled and up to temp. The hail hit, Jer and I looked at each other, and went for it. Yee haw!

The good news about slush on the lid of your hot tub is that the insulated cover is doing its job. Underneath that encrusted plastic shell is 350 gallons of steamy aqueous goodness. With jets and colored lights, should you so desire.

Whenever the weather become a major conversational topic around here, somebody asserts "This is so unusual." Yeah, right. I'm starting to realize that unusual = typical, for Portland. I kinda like it that way.

25 March 2008

300 Days

Now that there's less than a year until the end of his disastrous reign, it's somewhat easier to look at the B**h countdown calculator that lives on a shelf in the bathroom. I keep a knicknack positioned in front of his stupid face so all I can see are the numbers, ticking down (and he can't see me stepping out of the shower). As of this minute, 300 days and... change.

23 March 2008

Well, THAT didn't take long

Work started on our new deck a week ago Friday, the day I left for the beach. It was done almost before we knew it.

Here's what the backyard looked like the morning I left:

And here it is Monday afternoon, after the crew had left for the day. Jer, ever the engineer, is measuring to make sure they got the framing right:

By Wednesday afternoon (nobody showed up to work on Tuesday. Monday was St. Patrick's Day. Coincidence?) the main part of the deck was essentially laid:

Thursday was all about building the elevated portion surrounding the hot tub:

By Friday we had a privacy screen in place, and a removable hatch (which, with any luck, we won't need to use very often) in the step-up area, for access to the tub's internal workings:

By Saturday (yesterday), the deck was finished. One guy, Rob, essentially did it all, with assists for a few hours here and there. He was awesome. Here's a link to his employer. Before he left, he hosed down the deck so it glistened in the afternoon sun:

Jer and I had one more item to complete. We nailed some leftover lattice to the support structure we'd spec'ed for the lid to lean against when the hot tub's in use. We had a similar arrangement at Sea Ranch, and it worked great; you can just flip the lid over when you get in the tub and pull it back as you get out. The support as built looked a little like twin gallows; the lattice screening adds some solidity and overall coherence to the design:

Now all we have to do is stain the deck, hook up the electricity to the tub, fill it, heat it, and.... ahhhh....

Oh yeah, and redo the rest of the backyard to enhance the deck. That'll be my job.

21 March 2008

Net arts, Ne tarts, Knee tarts, Neat Arts... Netarts

Netarts (KNEE-tarts) is on the Oregon coast, just west of Tillamook. My art quilt group spent last weekend there on its annual retreat. We rented a couple of condos right on the ocean; the photo illustrates our not-too-shabby view. Both Gerrie and Terry blogged about our doings in great detail, thus saving me the effort, thank you very much. They both got amusing shots of moi, getting in touch with my internal Resourceful Pioneer Woman, the morning that the power went out. I've posted a mere three dozen or so beach-and-environs photos on my Flickr site.

One morning, we visited the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center. Both Terry (in red, next to me) and Gerrie (in blue, on the right) have pieces in the current show, It's Good to be Green. Here we are gathered around Terry's entry. I like the way her gardener-girl seems to be part of our group.

Of course we made more than one stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, as documented on those other blogs, for our traditional ice cream lunch and discount dairy product shopping. This stunning example of cheddar-craft stopped me in my tracks. Tillamook: No Country for Vegans.

Here's another work of art, the dinner Chef Jerub prepared the evening I got home: Chicken in puff pastry and asparagus with a creamy pesto sauce. Yum.

13 March 2008

Paper cuts and final cuts

A couple of interesting exhibits at RAW (Reed Art Week), which ended Sunday. I went especially to see Nikki McClure's mind-boggling papercuts. I hadn't heard of her til I picked up a calendar last fall in the Contemporary Craft Museum gift shop. Now I'm totally smitten with her work.

In the room next door was an installation called The Last Supper Table. The artist, Julie Green, had illustrated Death Row inmates' last meal requests on blue-on-white ceramic plates, each stamped with their date of execution. Twelve plates (out of the 300 or so she's done) were set around a table with wood, institutional-style chairs, the kind you'd find in a 1940s prison visiting room. A card, propped like a placecard behind each plate, described the meal as requested.

I was fascinated by the individual selections. Some were quite specific: hot and spicy chicken breast, two slices of sausage pizza with extra cheese (why not?), a slice of German chocolate cake, French vanilla ice cream, and a Dr. Pepper. Or steak with A-1 sauce, jalapeno poppers with cream sauce, onion rings, and a salad with cherry tomatoes, ham chunks, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and blue cheese and ranch dressing. The unexpected combination of steak, asparagus, brussels sprouts, feta cheese, cake and watermelon. The sheer "bring it on"-ness of BBQ turkey legs and BBQ brisket, plus avocados and a bowl of cheddar cheese. Cheese cheese cheese cheese. Not too many vegans on Death Row.

No doubt planning your last meal gives you something to focus on and anticipate, besides the obvious. A couple of plates, much smaller than the others, expressed the desire for no final meal at all. If I were facing execution the next morning, I think that'd be my choice, too.

But I'm not sure; those onion rings sound pretty good.

10 March 2008

I have not been not busy

This is going to be one of those catch-all, catch-up posts. Jer and I have been spending an inordinate amount of time, considering that it's still winter, in the backyard. We've been pacing out the configuration of the new deck, putting down (and repositioning) spare bricks on the so-called lawn to try to get a sense of the outline, switching the hot tub from the east side to the west side of the yard, figuring out where the privacy screen needs to be, and how high, and where the non-deck paths want to meander, and how wide they have to be to accomodate, say, a loaded wheelbarrow. This morning we met with Jim, our Deck Guy. This evening, we got a PDF of his antepenultimate semifinal plan. It looks good, oboy.

Here's a pic of my majestic, towering Portland Marathon tree, on which I had to perform an emergency transplant lest the hot tub (see toward the end of my March 7 post) roll over it and crush it to fragrant smithereens. With any luck, she won't have to be uprooted again when the deck crew and their lumber and tools show up.

Much of last weekend was spent prepping and painting exterior window frames. Once the old aluminum storm windows were gone, we were left with some exposed and highly visible areas dating back, I assume, to 1954, when the house was built. According to the archeological evidence recently unearthed, it was light green with an unsettling bluish tinge. Covering dull, chipped old paint with a coat or two of fresh semigloss has to be one of the most satisfying activities ever. It didn't feel like a strenuous effort at the time, but both Jer and I were aching and exhausted by the end of each day. We haven't yet confronted the bedroom windows on the south side of the house, which will require a serious ladder and perhaps some paid professional help.

Somewhere in there, we managed to finish the last bottle of Casa Jereva Chardonnay. In 2004, when we were still living in coastal California, we and a group of friends organized a winemaking co-op. We ended up with about 15 cases of various reds (pinot noir, zinfandel, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot) and a couple of cases of Chardonnay, all of which we had to pay to move to Oregon. Bad planning, but no way around it. The labels (stock Avery neon; can you tell?) feature a photo-rendition of our Sea Ranch house.

Making the char was not a straightforward process. We tweaked the yeast hither and yon to get to exactly the right percentage of residual sugar. Bottling was a comedy of errors; due to some siphon mishaps, a substantial percentage of the bottles ended up with a cloudy sediment (we tried to drink those first and save the clearer ones for company). Jer and I saved back a couple of bottles out of curiosity to see how it would age. The verdict: Mmmm, not all that well. It was effervescent, which indicated, to me, that it might have been something else again (not necessarily something wonderful) a few years down the road. And now it's gone.

Oh yeah; I've been quilting. Years ago, before we moved here, I selected and Ziplocked (tm) fabrics for a table runner. I was intrigued by a traditional quilt pattern called the Ribbon block. Since we no longer have a dining table of runner-worthy dimensions, I decided to turn it into a table pad for the kitchen, similar to the coffee table pad we put down when we're eating dinner in front of the living room TV. I'd forgotten how tedious traditional quilting can be. I'm just glad it's done.

Just this afternoon, though, I finished piecing a much more interesting project, which started as an effort to use up fragments of fabric from my scrap drawer. I like the contrast of a rainbow-y gradient against very dark values. I did something similar with Occasional Sunbreaks. Now that I think of it, the bright, strong shapes against inky blueness thing goes back to my Bamboo/Midori series. I'm very happy with how this one's shaping up. It still needs layering, quilting and finishing, but the basic idea is there.

I uploaded a dozen or so pix, mostly from our daily walks around the 'hood, to Flickr. I've just downsized -- at least I think I have -- the default file size in my new camera; these images are ridiculously large.

On a totally different level, I went to a talk by Richard Powers last Thursday. He's a remarkable author and, as it turns out, as articulate, erudite and funny in person as on the printed page. He spent about 45 minutes reading a new short story aloud, then answered questions and, I guess, stayed to sign books and stuff. The line was long; I was hungry; I left. I used to seek out celebrity encounters (within reason of course). For the last few years, though, I've avoided most "meet the artist" opportunities because I've fully internalized the realization that autographs from strangers are pointless, their value as artifacts aside. Plus, it seems so bizarre to try to think of something original to say that will bond you, instantly, to the celeb, identify you as their biggest fan, or whatever. But I do admire this man and his writing.

We've checked a couple of excellent restaurants off our "to try list", too. On consecutive nights we went to Tabla, on NE (barely) 28th with our foodie friend Adele, and to Wildwood on NW 21st with Steve and Anita Kaplan, their lovely daughter Zoe and her husband Matt. Crossing them off the list doesn't mean we won't go back soon.

And with that double negative to bracket the one in the title, I think I'll sign off.

07 March 2008

Home Improvement

When blogging first took off, I thought "what's the big deal?" The Web, and the text-based Internet before it, has always been about self-expression. But static web pages, the kind that most of us are capable of pulling together, weren't made for timely and fast-changing topics. They're cumbersome to update, and it's hard and time-consuming to achieve a readable balance of words and images. They're slow and fixed, like book or magazine publishing, compared with the broadcast news of blogging. If you're reading this, you know all that already.

It occured to me recently that I've made a point of documenting major home improvement projects since before the World Wide
Web was a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee's eye. Blogging and home remodeling; now there's a match made in heaven. You've got narrative, photos, currency and interactive feedback, all in one easy-to-use package. It wasn't always that way.

In 1990, Jerry and I started a topic on The WELL, one of the earliest online communities, called "Diary of a Remodel: It'll Be So Nice When It's Finished." We were planning to add a third storey, a master bedroom and bath, to our house in the Berkeley hills.The host of the WELL's Design conference, who happened to be a contractor, suggested documenting the process. This was before the dawn of the graphical Web; the Internet was a pure text environment. There was no way to include pictures with our story, no place to even store digital images in a user-friendly format. Digital cameras? Forget it; JPEGs didn't exist. So we wrote, day by day, a vivid, detailed, often emotional, and increasingly lengthy account. We described our progress from the day we filed for the building permit, through framing, trimwork, painting (oh, the painting!) and finally, the addition-warming party.

It wasn't just our narrative, though; it was an ongoing conversation with other WELL members, several of them architects, contractors and builders. Stewart Brand, one of the movers behind the Whole Earth Catalog and a founder of The WELL, was working on his book How Buildings Learn, and took an interest in our project. From beginning to end, dozens of people gave us useful suggestions and the benefit of their varied experience -- when, for instance, we were left roofless during a Thanksgiving storm, or came home from a trip to find a set of custom-built windows installed upside down, or simply needed to decide whether to put two or three finish coats on the hardwood floors. When the job was done, we invited everybody who'd participated to the party. A couple of dozen people showed up whom we'd never met face-to-face, but felt we knew very well. Vice-versa too, I'm sure. I still miss that teal-tiled bathroom, and the view of San Francisco Bay, especially from the shower.

[Aside: I went looking for a copy of the original WELL topic. It's no longer archived there, apparently. But I found a 3-1/2" disk -- remember those? -- labeled "Remodel" in a shoebox on a closet shelf. Classic. Luckily we still own a computer with a floppy (actually stiffy) drive. Amazingly, I remembered the ancient incantations:
dir a:
copy a: *.* f: (where my flash drive resides)

Now it's here if you want to read it. ]

Fast forward fifteen years. We're in Portland. Toward the end of 2005, we began a guestroom remodeling project. I put up a series of jpegs, one page for each week of the project's duration. Unlike the earlier WELL topic, it was short on specifics -- nothing more than captions, in fact -- a photo album rather than a journal. Had I been blogging at that point -- in retrospect I wish I had been, because '05 was quite a year -- it would have been an ideal medium. Though it wasn't nearly as dramatic or drawn-out an experience, I could have indulged in all the detail that made our WELL topic such a compelling read -- or so folks said -- with pictures.

Jer reminded me that I also uploaded photos of our hardwood floor installation at Sea Ranch, but damned if I can remember where I put them; maybe on my long-abandoned Fotolog account, or somewhere on jereva.com that I subsequently trashed.
Anyway, here we are. Yesterday we had new vinyl windows installed throughout the house. All but two of the old ones -- the living room and kitchen picture windows -- were single-glazed, with dingy, pitted aluminum frames and, of course, screens and storms that we had to swap every spring and fall and find room to store the rest of the year. The guys from DayStar was awesome; they worked amazingly quickly, and obviously knew what they were doing. They'd estimated two days to do the job; except for one special-order garden window that hasn't yet arrived, they did it in one. That included fabricating a couple of new frames and a special arrangement for the cat door. What a difference, and not just aesthetically; both Jer and I noticed last night that the thermal gradient between upstairs and down was almost non-existent. Usually the downstairs, with windows on three sides, is noticeably cooler.

Once our checkbook recovers a bit, the next project will be a backyard deck, with hot tub. The tub was delivered last week. That involved some emergency gardening; I had to dig up and then
replant my Portland Marathon Commemorative Conifer, which has grown to a majestic two feet in height, lest it be crushed by the juggernaut as it rolled into the yard. I apologized like crazy and am hoping it survives.

The tub was a floor model at George Morlan Plumbing; we got a good deal on it, which is why it's here so far in advance of the deck itself. But we think we have a deck contractor (jeez, I hope so; we've interviewed four) and, with any luck, work will begin before the end of the month. You know I'll blog about that, too.

04 March 2008

Birds in the 'hood

I took advantage of my new camera's super zoom to catch these exotic creatures in their native habitat. Flamingos in Oregon; who knew? The vulture, I assume, is a leftover from Hallowe'en; if not, I wonder about the folks in that house.

Speaking of avian leftovers, Chef Jerub tried a new chicken recipe a couple of nights ago. It turned out to be an exciting evening at Casa Jereva. You stuff herbs under the skin and roast the bird at a very high temperature in a preheated pan. Our smoke alarms went crazy, the oven was coated with charred grease, and our enameled roasting pan will never be the same.

The recipe is an adaptation of a Zuni Cafe dish, and would be far less disruptive to prepare in a restaurant kitchen. If you'd like to trash your house, or perhaps have an industrial-strength exhaust fan in your kitchen, it was published in The Oregonian food section on October 9th, 2oo7 (the link will only work for six months from pub date) and in Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook. We annotated the clipping with the appropriate warnings, and probably won't risk making it again, at least not in our house, which still smells like hot chicken fat. It was delicious, though. And heating up the leftovers won't be nearly as traumatic.