05 September 2009

Mea culpa

Forgive me Blogger, for I have sinned; it's been two months since my last confession. I blame Facebook, with its deceptively simple "What's on your mind?" prompt and the built-in payoff of a flurry of comments from a random cross-section of your hundreds of "friends". I didn't realize the extent to which Facebook had sucked the juice out of my blogging habit til a couple of real-life pals asked me for an update on Sophie. It felt to me like I'd been documenting her every poop on Facebook, over-sharing, like the proud new parent of a human baby. For my non-FB-enabled friends though, the life-with-dog saga seemed to halt abruptly on July 7th. Sorry about that. Obviously, life goes on:

In explaining the appeal of Facebook to my friend Jackie, a paper artist who recently launched a thoughtful, literate and entertaining blog of her own, I told her that blogging is more about writing essays, journaling, or in-depth musing-out-loud. It's linear, whereas FB goes in many directions at once. Blogging also creates a permanent record, whereas FB is evanescent, much more about what's happening right now. Twitter, I went on to pontificate, is even more fleeting than FB; unless you have no life at all, it's impossible to keep up; you just dip your toe into the datastream now and then.

Of course blogging has a strong community component, but Facebook is more overtly social. When I blog, I'm in my room, writing. On Facebook, I'm hanging out with friends (and "friends"), schmoozing, bantering, and keeping up with each other's lives. Facebook feels more superficial than blogging because it's conversational; it's not designed for extended-form writing. But it's a powerful medium for staying in touch with minimal effort.

The day Sophie wandered into our life I posted on Facebook, something like "We seem to have found a dog." A dozen friends asked questions, offered advice, expressed astonishment about what was goin' down at Cathouse Jereva. I posted a succession of updates about taking the dog to the vet, shelling out the $$$ for treatment, keeping her for the weekend, walking her to our neighborhood 4th of July parade, and so on. Once we decided that she was here to stay, I filed a status report every few days on how she was doing with the cats.

A Facebook friend who lives up the street offered to lend me a crate; several others made useful suggestions or simply supportive comments that meant a lot to us in our inexperienced and uncertain state. Meanwhile, as events unfolded, the aforementioned Jackie and I were conducting a comparable discussion in email (she's a dedicated and knowledgeable animal owner, and lives with both dogs and cats). But the Facebook conversation was, by its nature, much more timely, with multiple participants and points of view.

So, eight weeks down the road, Sophie is healthy, adorable and, as far as we can tell, happy in her new home. She no longer sleeps in the garage, but has graduated to our office. She and the cats have reached a rapprochement. We have no problem leaving them alone in the house together. While they're not exactly curling up in one big fluffy pile of mutual adoration, they seem to've worked out most of their issues. They all hang out in the living room with us. Occasionally we'll see them touch noses. Sophie likes to bury her muzzle deep in China's fur; China tolerates it. Stella and Sophie have bonded over their mutual interest in food, often each other's. There's no barking or lunging, very little hissing, no more chasing or consequent hiding in nuclear-alert-level strongholds. If you'd forecast this back in July -- and several people did -- I would not have believed it.

Blogging isn't the only area in which I've been negligent. I like to think I lead a relatively healthy life -- a low-meat, high-vegetable diet, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, no interesting drugs -- but I haven't had a complete physical exam in at least 25 years. Shameful, I know. However, it's on the calendar now. Our dear friend David Gans, a professional musician, had a heart attack recently while touring. He's younger than I am, but cardiovascular disease runs in his family, as it does in mine. David was lucky, and his prognosis looks good. He wrote, with his usual eloquence, about his experience (http://cloudsurfing.gdhour.com/archives/2544) and commented in a follow-up email: "I've heard from lots of people that this tale has inspired them to pay more attention to their own habits and health status; if I have inspired anyone to take steps to protect their own future, then the whole thing will have been worth it. I hope you'll pass that URL along to others who may find it useful." So that's what I'm doing.

07 July 2009

Sophie's choice

We confirmed cat people seem to have adopted a dog. She found us last Thursday, just before the holiday weekend. She came running up to us on the homebound leg of our standard morning walk, which that day took us through the Woodstock neighborhood -- a ridiculously shaggy small tan dog with a slight limp and a sweet demeanor. She followed us doggedly (ha ha) for several blocks. Finally I picked her up and discovered that her coat was thoroughly matted and she was filthy, with bits of paper and foil attached to her dreadlocked hair. No collar or tags, of course.

She was perfectly happy being held, so I carried her across relatively-busy 39th Ave. and then down our block. I borrowed a leash from our next-door neighbor, and headed to Woodstock Vet to see if the dog was micro-chipped. She wasn’t, unsurprisingly. The tech suggested taking her to County Animal Control, saying that small dogs are adopted almost immediately -- even in this economy, she maintained. Given this baby's physical condition and the holiday weekend coming up, I thought “no way”; three days and they’d euthanize her. So I pondered a while and finally opted to pay to have her de-matted, cleaned up, examined, and then boarded overnight while we figured out what to do next.

The vet called later in the day; the dog's basically in good health, 3-6 years old [later, the chief tech there insisted that she was no older than 2], probably a Lhasa Apso but maybe a Shih Tzu or even Maltese mix. But she had numerous bite wounds on her legs (that explained the limp) as well as on her face, neck and back, plus dermatitis, a huge hematoma in her right ear that's causing a swelling on the earflap – and, oh yes, she apparently hasn't been spayed. Oddly enough, her nails appeared to've been trimmed not all that long ago, and she was free of fleas.

They still had some work to do on one eye, which turned out to be irritated but not infected. (Be grateful for small favors, huh?) The doc also reported that nobody there had ever before seen a dog with a coat in such bad shape; the clippings filled a garbage can. Also: the entire staff was in love with her (the dog, not the vet). They emailed us these Before (above) and After (below) photos; thanks, Kasey and Dr. H.

Meanwhile, back at the cathouse, I'd been checking CraigsList and the lost dog listings at Animal Control, Dove Lewis (regional pet hospital/support agency), and several other sites. Nada. I filled out and posted online Found Dog reports, and used one of the “before” photos to make a Found Dog poster. On our walk the following morning, Jer and I plastered the neighborhood where the pup had run up to us. We got one response from a woman on Craigslist whose elderly neighbor had lost a dog of this type. She lived more than 100 blocks from us; unlikely, though not out of the question if the dog had been wandering for a while. But her dog was chipped; this one isn't. Her email came in while the pup was still at the vet, so I called and they offered to rescan her, which they did -- definitely no chip.

Jer and I picked up the dog Friday afternoon, stopping first to buy a collar and some kibbles. Three technicians came out of the back room at various points, along with the vet, to tell us how sweet and tolerant she'd been during their procedures, and how much they loved her. They adjusted the billing so that we didn't have to pay more than I already had, even though they did a lot more work than anticipated. They sent us home with a spiffy green leash to match her collar, plus Clavamox (amoxicillin) and drops for her problematic ear.

The challenge now is getting her and the cats to tolerate each other. We set up camp for her in the garage, just off the kitchen, with a bed, toys, food and water. When we got back on Friday, I walked her through the house on leash, just to calibrate the situation. When she saw the cats, she barked and lunged, Stella growled and split, and China Rose freaked and hid in the closet. I made a bad mistake on Saturday by bringing her into the living room, where she sniffed around and finally settled by me, quite comfortably, on the sofa. About 20 minutes later, China Rose came around the corner, caught sight of the dog -- and vice versa -- and ran at lightning speed, hissing, to hide in the closet again. The dog went crazy lunging and barking at both her and Stella Luna, who'd been sleeping, oblivious, behind the recliner. Sigh. Back to the garage apartment.

Saturday night was a low point; I had a total meltdown. Poor Jer. The puppy had really wormed (no pun intended) her way into my heart, but I figured a cat-aggressive pooch would be a non-starter in this household. I posted an adoption notice to our neighborhood email list, telling the story to date, and said, on Facebook, that it wasn't going to work out, and how sad I was about it. Several dog-savvy friends and neighbors piped up, all saying basically the same thing: Give it time, try limited exposures, take it slow, maybe crate the dog while introducing the cats, and so on. So we decided to try it. A neighbor loaned us a crate, and we've been putting the dog in there and bringing the cats to "visit," rewarding them for their tolerance and the puppy for not barking and lunging at them. We're making progress, slowly.

Aside from the feline issue, she seems beautifully socialized. She's terrific with kids (the little girls next door have been over several times; this morning they brought a couple of their friends and played with the dog for about 20 minutes) and with other dogs of all sizes. We walked her to the neighborhood parade on the 4th -- despite its small-town size, it was preceded by a fire engine, siren going, and concluded with a patrol car, dome lights flashing, plus a brace of police motorcycles -- and she showed no aggression or startle reaction at all. I walked her before bedtime and, even with fireworks going off throughout the neighborhood, she was perky yet calm. (Yes, I'm sure she's not deaf.) She's also fine riding in the car.

We didn't put any energy into naming her at first because, given the long weekend, it's possible her owner(s) were out of town and hadn’t had a chance to see any of our notices. Of course I'd be conflicted about returning her to someone who’d neglected her so badly. On the other hand, she doesn't show any signs of having been emotionally or physically abused in any other way.

It's funny; Jer and I have occasionally speculated about eventually getting a dog, ideally one we knew was fine with cats, and certainly a big dog, or at least a medium-sized one, not one of these li'l 13-pound critters. But she wandered into our life and... here she is.

She's scheduled for surgery Thursday AM on the hematoma in her ear. More $$$ She'll have to wear one of those Elizabethan collars for a while, which will make her even more alien in the eyes of the cats.

Now I understand how dogs end up with insipid names like Sweetie Pie, Baby, Precious and Honey, because that's what we'd been defaulting to calling her. As of this week, though, she's Sophie. The name was Jerry's idea. It's not all that original, but it's homey, and it seems to fit.

01 July 2009

Pulling a Marcia

Several months ago my friend Adele invited a mutual acquaintance to join her for lunch at an Indian restaurant she'd discovered. Marcia met her there and announced offhandedly that she'd actually been there the day before to check the place out. Adele was nonplussed: You didn't trust my directions? Or, worse yet, my taste? Not a big deal, but I sympathize; there's something vaguely galling about spoiling a friend's incipient delight by pre-empting her introduction to a new place or experience she thought you'd enjoy and was hoping you'd enjoy together.

Last week my friend Jackie and I found ourselves in Chinatown, hungry. I'd parked on 4th just off Burnside, by a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant I knew (thanks to Adele, coincidentally) and figured would do just fine. As we entered Jackie caught sight of a sign up the block. "Ping!" she said, simply delighting in the name. She's from out of town, and had no way of knowing how hot and hyped Andy Ricker's new place is, let alone that several of us, Adele included, were planning to meet for dinner there the following night. Later, I emailed Adele saying "Hey, I could've taken my friend to Ping for lunch, but I didn't want to pull a Marcia." She replied that she was proud of me.

Today I pulled a Marcia. Adele is a thrifting buddy as well as a restaurant pal, and we'd talked about including Village Merchants on SE Division in our next lunch-and-cheap-shopping tour. But I happened to drive by the shop this morning en route home from a dim sum breakfast with Libbi, and stopped in, spur-of-the-moment-like, just to check the place out. The first item that caught my eye was a book that, almost literally, had Adele's name on it, along with a $2 price tag. I confessed my transgression, and I think I am forgiven.

In the grand scheme of things, pulling a Marcia is a mere peccadillo, I'm sure. Especially when it's not premeditated, and you discovered the venue, and you bring your friend a prezzie. I wonder, though, if other, more subtle and advanced cultures, have a phrase for this vaguely awkward social situation, or if we're the only civilization neurotic enough to care.

06 May 2009

Another world

I'd been talking with my birder friends Maureen and Debbie for more than a year about taking a trip to Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon for some springtime birding. The three of us met on an Audubon outing to Sauvie Island in late 2007, bonded instantly, and have managed to get together for day excursions every few months since then. We finally set a date for about three weeks after the annual Migratory Bird Festival in Burns. The tourists were gone and the birding, along with the company, was excellent.

Maureen and her husband Tony own a ranch outside of Burns, adjacent to the Refuge. Her part-time resident status meant that we had a built-in tour guide as well as insider access to local folks, legends and lore. The ranch house, which sits on a rise in the midst of 120 high-desert acres, is comfy and -- luxury! -- we each had our own room. We spent the daylight hours tooling around Harney County, looking at birds familiar and un-, checking out various geological, historical and retail sites of interest, and talking-story with various residents. Each evening, we poured wine and threw together a simple dinner, then yakked until far past our usual bedtimes. Each morning (some earlier than others), we grabbed our binoculars and field guides and headed out for another day of birding.
Part of the reason why the area's such a birding hotspot each spring is that snowmelt from the mountains is channeled for agricultural irrigation. From the road we saw field after flooded field that will come under cultivation later in the season. But at this time of year it's all marshland, prime habitat for hundreds of species.

Deb has just put together a comprehensive list of the birds we saw. She counted 55 species. I won't bore you with the full edition, since this isn't a birding blog. But the new ones on my life list, if I kept one -- I'm not that formal a birder -- would be Wilson's phalarope, American avocet, white-faced ibis (so weird; who came up with that bill?), Loggerhead shrike, Say's phoebe, lazuli bunting, and chukar. I just like saying some of those names. We also saw bald and golden eagles, harriers and kestrels, redtail hawks, turkey vultures, ravens and crows (of course), sandhill cranes (above, on the wetlands; so lovely), egrets and herons, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, magpies, western meadowlarks, and a partridge in... no, a pheasant on the ranch house deck, who called out to us every morning (woot woot, like an Andean flute) and seemed to think he owned the place.
Harney County is Oregon's largest and, we were told, most sparsely-populated county. I was struck by the austere beauty of the sagebrush-dotted desert, with its classic "western" rim rock formations and distinctive peaks, most notably Steens Mountain, as a backdrop. The sky seems lower there; the horizon all around.

It wasn't all about birding. We also visited Diamond Craters and had lunch at the funky, charming Hotel Diamond, shown here with one of its surreally-irrelevant parking meters. We chatted with Dick Jenkins, a local historian, about the 19th century Round Barn that he looks after. We had breakfast (one of the best veggie omelettes I've eaten) at The Narrows, a restaurant, saloon and RV park down the road from Maureen and Tony's ranch, jawed a while with the proprietors, and bottle-fed the motherless calves -- a bull and a cow -- they're caring for on the property. Ron told us that kids staying at the RV park love to feed the calves. This kid did.

Socially, the entire county felt to this outsider like a small town; despite the distance between towns, the locals, with their deep roots, shared history and strong sense of place, all seem to know, or at least know of, each other. This is cattle country; ranchers rule. People dress like cowboys because they are. The Obama sticker on Deb's car was the only one I saw in four days in Harney County. I wouldn't want to live there, but I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to have spent a few days, in just about perfect circumstances, on a planet far from Portland.

April went where, exactly?

I want to talk about my birding excursion to eastern Oregon last week, but realized that more than a month has gone by since I last posted here. What the hell happened to April?

Well, I finished the coursework for my master gardener certification. The final was 65 questions, multiple choice, open book, with a week to complete. I, um, aced it. Now I'm focusing on logging the required volunteer "payback" hours. Besides my Monday gig at the Rhody Garden, I did a shift at the Hardy Plant Society's massive sale at Expo, which brought with it early (as in before the hall opens to the public) shopping privileges. I bought some shade plants to complement the hostas I've been plunking in to colonize the dim reaches of our backyard. My purchases included a tall, handsome Jack-in-the-pulpit, sweet woodruff in a 4" pot, two epimediums (epimedia?) to replace the one I killed last year, and a couple of species new to me, a brunnera and a pulmonaria, a.k.a lungwort. The latter is much prettier than its name suggests. It had an abundance of flowers, both blue and coral-pink, when I got it. I subsequently heard that the blue blossoms turn pink, and vice versa, when the flower is pollinated. Kind of like a home pregnancy test. That's it in the pic just below. The tiny woodruff specimen has already tripled in size, which is what you want in a ground cover, since I planted it three weeks ago.

Gail Langellotto, our OSU Extension online instructor, was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Multnomah County Master Gardeners, where they feted this year's crop of interns with a potluck, so I got to meet her as well as some of the local MGs en masse. Gail is much more petite and funny in person. She gave an entertaining and informative lecture that included weird facts about insect sex and great closeups of her favorite spiders, the Wolfs. The MGs seem like a friendly, down-to-earth (pun intended) bunch. I'll attend a couple more meetings, at least, and see if I want to get more involved with the group.

April was a good month for live music. We heard Arlo Guthrie in a magnificent venue, Beth Israel synagogue in NW Portland. Our tickets were for the very last row but, due to a screwup involving actual vs. theoretical chairs, and the fact that the expensive patron section down front was apparently not sold out, we ended up with seats in the third row. What a treat. He didn't do Alice's Restaurant, but it was a joy to see ol' Arlo (oops; he's younger than me) still ramblin' along. The following week was Portland's own Storm Large (who started out as a club rock 'n' roller but did a credible job last season as Sally Bowles in Cabaret) in Crazy Enough, her autobiographical one-woman show at Portland Center Stage. She was stunningly good -- funny, raucous, touching. The week after that we went to Carvlin Hall, the regular venue for the Portland Folk Music Society's monthly concerts, to see the Berrymans. We first heard them when they were in town a couple of years ago, and I promptly bought most of their CDs. Lou and Peter play accordion and guitar, respectively, and write some of the funniest, most verbally complex songs I've ever heard. I'm a sucker for clever lyrics; what can I say? A full concert is almost too rich, like eating a box of See's chocolates at one sitting, but I can stand pigging out on the Berrymans every once in a while.

Speaking of eating, although we've cut way back on expensive restaurants, we did manage to score some noteworthy meals out last month: the fun and funky Porque Non? on Hawthorne; the bunker-like Alexis at the corner of 2nd and West Burnside, which turns out to have tasty, reasonably-priced Greek food, friendly, efficient and adorable waiters, and an authentic but not over-the-top atmosphere; the big-deal Heathman, where we'd never been before but used the occasion of our 27th wedding anniversary to investigate. Another, unexpected, treat was dinner (at Pastini on NE Broadway) with John Bryans, my longtime publisher, who was in town for a conference and remembered, just in time to connect, that I live in Portland, now.

Toward the end of the month, my art quilt group went on its annual retreat. This was our third trip to the Tillamook area, which offers both beach access and ice cream for lunch. Our rental this year had a spectacular ocean view, with Three Arch Rocks positioned just so. Terry and Gerrie both did a great job blogging our stay; so just click on their names if you care to read all about it. They got some good photos, too.

Two days after I returned from retreat, Jer's daughter Lauren and her partner Annette arrived for a quick overnight visit. They were en route home to Michigan from Bandon Dunes, on the southern Oregon coast, where the movie Golf in the Kingdom -- in which they have, comme une dit, an "interest" -- is being shot. Jer got to hang out with them the following morning, while I reported for duty at Taste of the Nation. This was my second year volunteering for TOTN, a benefit at which some of the best restaurants, wineries and micro-breweries in the area (fewer this year than previously, thanks again to the wretched economy) dish up tasty morsels and sips. I'd told the organizers that I wanted to be kept busy this year; last time, there seemed to be too many hands for too few jobs. Be careful what you wish for; I spent hours wrangling pipe and drape (picture those curtained partitions in exhibit halls) to help transform a cavernous auto showroom into a warmer and more elegant space. I worked alongside folks a third of my age and three times my strength; it felt good, though, and I had just enough energy left to hook up with Jerry when he arrived as a paying guest and make the food and drink rounds with him.

April is income tax month, of course. The good news is that, thanks to faithfully paying estimated quarterlies, we got a chunk back this year from the Feds. It's not as if they gave us a gift, but it kinda feels that way. When my brother Larry was here in March, he allowed me almost unlimited playtime with his iPhone. Shortly after he left, a piece of trim fell off my own perfectly functional, if unexciting, cell phone, rendering it painfully tacky-looking. That, plus the prospect of a tax refund, was slim but sufficient justification for Gadget Girl to indulge in an iPhone for herself. I love love love it. If I were still toiling in infotech and traveling as much as I used to, I would have bought one "for the business" months ago. As it is, I had to work hard to rationalize the purchase, but (as you see) I managed. Jerry got a new phone, too, to replace the hand-me-down StarTAC I'd nominally reassigned to him five or six years ago. It's a plain vanilla generic model, but much easier to operate than his old one, and he's actually getting into the habit of using it. Let me know if you want his number so he can practice answering.

A small dinner party or two, an art exhibit, Frost/Nixon at Portland Center Stage, chats with neighbors, my usual weekly volunteer gigs... I think that about covers it for April. Sometime in mid-March my dear friend Libbi and I tried to find one morning that would work for both of us for brunch. The first possibility was May 8th, this coming Friday. That's the kind of month it was.

In the few days I was out of town this past week, our modest veggie patch burgeoned into edible-size spinach and butter lettuce, and most of the trees leafed out (the photo at the top of this post is our backyard pink chestnut, bare just a few weeks ago). Those so-called April showers are lingering into May. At this very moment, though, there's a sunbreak. I need to get out and garden. Whoops; rain again. I missed last Saturday's reportedly spectacular windstorm, but saw some of the damage -- a big elm down at SE 36th and Ogden (Jer was out the next day taking photos) and, around the corner on Knapp, a house where a tree fell and badly smashed a corner of the roof.

The mail arrived a little while ago, including a Penzey's Spices catalog labeled "Early Summer." Who are they kidding? I'm just grateful that spring has finally arrived.

25 March 2009

When love's in bloom, the whole world's a pistil

You know how teachers have their students write thank-you notes after a field trip? The volunteer coordinator at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, where I'm now working a few hours a week, showed me some she'd saved, including drawings depicting what the kids had learned during their visit.

The fact that you can tell azaleas from rhodies by counting the stamens -- azaleas typically have five, rhodys ten -- apparently made a big impression on one group of 3rd graders; every illustration featured prominent stamens. I grabbed a couple of shots with my cell cam.

Ah yes, spring is here, and romance, botanical style, is in the air. The amaryllis that came back to life last month, following a winter of total neglect, is now in full bloom. Check out the stamens on that baby.

My work at the Rhody Garden counts toward fulfillment of the Master Gardener volunteer practicum I mentioned in my paean to herbaceous perennials earlier this month. We're now down to the last couple of weeks of coursework before the final exam. I have no specific plans for putting my certification, once I earn it, to use. I've always loved gardening. I learned to weed before I could walk, at my green-thumbed mother's knee. Now that I have the time, I liked the idea of picking up some theory to go along with what I've experienced and intuited over the years. Plus, focusing on growing things seemed like a pleasant coping mechanism for getting through a Portland winter. And, I must admit, I was curious to see how much my brain could retain, at this point, in a structured learning situation. To that end, I'll just say that I'm really, really glad that the final is open book.

One thing the course hasn't covered in detail is plant identification, as in "What is this and where should I plant it?" and variations of that question. But I've joined the Hardy Plant Society, whose exhibit at the garden show impressed me so much, which should help address that deficit in my knowledge base.

Funny, I've had three small fiber-arts projects gathering dust on my design wall all winter. Has this garden thing taken over? Is that why I'm not doing art?

Chef Jerub Presents

I'm lucky, I know, to live with a guy who loves to cook. At least two of my friends have offered to take him off my hands, for that reason alone, should I ever get tired of him. As if.

The meal above was chicken breasts with a fig and balsamic vinegar sauce, potato casserole with caramelized onions, and asparagus with a honey-mustard yogurt-based sauce. The one just below was Goan-style shrimp curry on basmati rice with a roasted vegetable salad.

Another dinner, below, was all about orange. Salmon with varicolored cherry tomatoes, pureed sweet potatoes, and carrot salad. The avocado garnish makes it pop, don'tcha think?

At least somebody in this family is expressing his artistic side. I think all of my creative energy is going into gardening at this point, or thoughts of spring. I'll have more to say about that. But first, dessert:

16 March 2009

Literally made me laugh

This is a whole genre on YouTube. Search for "literal version" to turn up other song, uh, treatments.

03 March 2009

Lessons from herbaceous perennials

As both of my faithful readers have noticed, I haven't been blogging much lately. I've been reading, cocooning, trying to keep up with email, generally feeling more like taking in rather than putting out. I haven't shot many photos, either, in the last six weeks or so. I certainly haven't spent any time in the studio, unless you count mending clothes and teaching myself how to knit cables. I've felt like an imposter at the last several art quilt group meetings I've attended; you mean darning socks isn't a form of creative expression? Maybe it's just the late-winter blahs, but my creative impulse has been at what feels like an all-time low.

But I have been going to school. In January I began a master gardener certification course, offered online through OSU Extension. We're about two-thirds of the way through; this week's module happens to be herbaceous ornamental plants, both annuals (the single-season dealies) and perennials (the ones that come back on their own).

In addition to 12 weeks of coursework, including lectures, readings, discussions, quizzes, assignments and a final exam, we're required to put in between 60 and 70 hours of volunteer work. Last Friday I logged a couple of hours just handing out literature at the Yard, Garden and Patio show. Unlike last year, when I staggered out of the Convention Center under the weight of a Meyer lemon tree-let, a witch hazel sapling, and the mother of all aloe vera plants, my takeaways this time were modest: a pair of $2 gardening gloves and an a-ha! moment.

When we first moved to Portland, I noticed several low plants with ratty-looking dark-green leathery leaves growing on the east side of the house. In late winter they put out inconspicuous drooping blossoms in muted shades of pink, purple and cream. Eventually I learned that they were hellebores, prized hereabouts as shade plants. Whatever; they seemed happy on their own, and I was glad to see something thrive on that semi-neglected portion of the lot.

The Hardy Plant Society had a major exhibit at the garden show, several tables of specimen plants and cuttings, with identifying tags. There was a lot to see and absorb. On my first pass through, I noticed some exquisite, tropical-looking blossoms floating in a shallow bowl of water. On my second pass, I read the tag: Hellebores. Wow.

How could I have overlooked these stunners? Easily; the flower faces hang downward, coyly, on hook-shaped stems. From above you'd never know. I wonder how long it would have taken me to discover their beauty on my own. Thank you, Hardy Planters, for the inspiration. Sometimes you have to go beyond the obvious, make an extra effort, place things in a different context, look at them from a new perspective. All clich├ęs, but true -- in art and in life.

Yesterday was gorgeous; it felt like a foretaste of spring. I spent a couple of hours out back at my potting bench, transplanting and fertilizing house plants. The pushy amaryllis that died back to an inert bulb after its flamboyant show last winter has suddenly extruded -- overnight, it seems -- a pair of fresh green stalks. Plants know when it's time to start growing again. People sometimes need a reminder.

24 January 2009

She wears it well

A little old-fashioned, but that's all right

Free at Last

On January 20th, 1981 the man I was seeing told me that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. A day or two later, billboards went up throughout the Bay Area: Free at Last. The signs referred to the end of the Iran hostage crisis, but Jerry and I took the words personally. We'd found each other; our spirits were soaring. The road ahead would be rocky -- both of us were still married to other people -- but we'd travel it together. Ultimately, anything was possible.

January 20th is one of several dates we still keep track of; we refer to it as our Betrothal anniversary. (Isn't "betrothal" a lovely, old-fashioned word?)

I don't have to tell you what happened on January 20th this year. Free at last. Free of the lying, dysfunctional... don't get me started. It won't be easy, but I'm filled with the sense that, ultimately, anything -- and I mean anything good -- is possible. I haven't felt that way in 28 years.

11 January 2009

In his prime

The universe has a weird sense of timing. Without making a resolution of it, I decided at the turn of the year to start decluttering, a little bit every day. Last week I was working on the storage shelves under the basement stairs and found a box of video-cam cassettes Jerry shot back in the '90s. I asked him to decide what to do with them, and of course he started watching. "I think you might want to see this," he said. The first tape he'd popped into the player had a long sequence of Abbie at the age of five or six -- it was at our house in the Berkeley hills, so it must have been prior to March of 1996 when we moved to the coast -- freaking out with a baggie of fresh catnip. He was a beautiful boy, and he loved his 'nip well into his dotage.

A later tape, shot at Sea Ranch, captured part of a stunt Abs used to do fairly often. He'd accompany us onto the second-floor deck, off the living room, where Jer and I often went to watch the sunset. From there he'd jump to the railing, then up to the lower section of the roof over the porch, and from there to the steeply-pitched main roof, where he'd climb to the peak and sit by the chimney to watch the sun go down. He had the best view in (or on) the house. When the show was over, he'd retrace his steps and leaps in reverse. Watching the tape reminded me that I had a couple of stills of Abbie doing his evening acrobatic routine. What a guy.

One of the other videos consisted of an existentially boring tour of the apartment that Jerry had rented for his mom at Rossmoor, a senior community in the 'burbs east of Berkeley. He'd taken the footage to West Virginia to show her where she'd be living once she moved to California. Of course, Tom's been gone for more than a decade now.

Another showed my brother and his wife in San Diego, before their son was born. Josh is 14 now, and Larry and Sheri have been divorced for ages. Another was shot one Easter at Jer's daughter's house in Marin county. It included his son Marc, who died of AIDS later that year, my mom, Lauren's then-partner Lucinda, and me in my long-haired and still relatively youthful glory. Sic transit...

My inner academic pointed out that I could have called this post "Historical artifacts unearthed during a routine household archeological dig." Yeah, that'll bring in the readers. Of course these priceless treasures will be re-archived. We should digitize them, I suppose.

I got a lot of comfort from watching that footage of Abbie in his prime. He had a good life and, on whatever level cats process such things, I think he knew it.