Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Variations on clouds: 2.

More late afternoon clouds over Portland.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Looking back, and starting to look forward.

Happy Veterans Day! For most people, this day involves getting up at the normal time, eating a normal breakfast, headed to work via the normal route. It's one of those "holidays" that we acknowledge, yet simultaneously makes us a little bitter inside--if the forces that "be" cared enough about honoring and remembering this day, chances are they wouldn't have us tied to our desks at work. Then again, to be completely fair, if given the day off, we probably wouldn't spend it honoring its namesake. Case in point: my first year at Lewis and Clark, the first day of classes for Spring semester began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A collection of students, faculty, and staff elect to protest this fact as outrageous, and the school (being an all-around pretty cool place) acquiesced and gave us the day off--provided we attend some of the events that they held around campus. Did I ever know anyone who did? Of course not. They honored the holiday by sleeping in, watching Maury Povich in their pj's, and possibly updating their friendster profiles (yes, when I was in college, friendster, not facebook was the social networking site de rigueur.

In all fairness and in the interest of full-disclosure, my job, being at an institution that was built on providing post-war education to WWII veterans, DID, in fact, give us the day off--thus my ability to spend all this time working on a blog post.

* * *

I've been thinking an awful lot lately about the next phase of life that lies in front of me. Since I graduated from college, I've done plenty of interesting things. I've worked several strange, unfulfilling jobs, participated in a host of volunteer opportunities, and have seen a lot of places, and met my share of unique individuals (see previous post, titled "Quirk."). Despite this, I've felt aimless and adrift. Sure it's fun to live in a vibrant, interesting city, go to concerts, drink lots of coffee and hunker down with a few good books come autumn. Yet, lo and behold, that's not enough for me. Those kinds of indulgences really only seem pleasantly indulgent when you've something to contrast them against. So, as fall came to Portland, this year I sought out a new tutoring adventure, scoured the roster of upcoming classes at PSU, and started devouring information on local teaching programs.

While submerged in the erudition and ego inflation that comes with being a top student in any respectable department at a small college, the idea of being a teacher didn't work for me--why be a teacher when I could be a professor? One who professes! Egged on by mentors who encouraged me to aim for the stars I applied to and was rejected from some of the country's top graduate programs in my field. This was a good thing. Learning how to eat a little crow, figuring out that--in truth--only my ego wanted to be a professor, or "Doctor" of my subject, and learning what it meant to support myself, get along with a housemate, and survive emotionally, spiritually, and financially in a city (albeit, little Portland), were vastly important lessons to learn--and ones I keep learning. In the meantime, though, that little sparrow on my shoulder kept reminding me that there was more to life than just making my monthly bill payments.

So I started volunteering. First it was with a community college. They gave me a student who wasn't enrolled in any classes and said, "Go! Teach her English!" They loaned me a few texts to use for structure, and turned me loose. Mai and I worked together for the entirety of a school year, and made some decent progress--her English improved, and so did my understanding of what it means to teach someone. It challenged my creativity, my perseverance, and, of course, my patience. We had our last session in June, and then I took the summer off.

A short 2 months ago, I started volunteering with a different group, this time a Refugee Resettlement program that works with a number of people from East African populations. They were looking for Homework Helpers, and I was, by that point, looking for some experience working with kids. And experience have I gained! While still a relative newbie as far as young people go, my two months there have been a wild ride. The kids I work with range from kindergartners to high schoolers. For the first half of my time there, I help kids color in shapes, connect the dots, and complete simple addition. This is the younger kids group, and sometimes the junior high schoolers.

The older kids tend to be a pretty self-sufficient bunch, and aren't as needy as the little ones. For the most part they don't tug on your clothes, they don't throw pencils, and they don't push each other off chairs. Generally, they also refrain from throwing temper-tantrums.

It's such a challenging environment: culturally, they're a group that has a very different background from my own experience; numerically, we work with probably 25-30 kids throughout the 2 hours I'm there in a drop-in fashion--that ends up resulting in a lot of time-management, learning how to say "no," and developing some crowd-control skills; subject-wise I find myself tutoring the finer details of imperative and declarative sentences one minute, and helping out with algebra and long-division the next. I hope that this is helping me develop the kinds of skills that I will be able to build upon in a teaching program, and, eventually, in a classroom.

My ultimate goal has developed into this: I want to teach secondary school English and language arts. I also want to earn an endorsement in ESL and perhaps, someday, one in Reading as well. I find it a little scary to say that out-loud: I want to be a teacher. I want to teach teenagers. Part of me finds that awful and abhorrent... I WHAT? I doubt myself and this choice of a career path on an almost daily basis. But when it comes to the end of a day, when I've tutored, and when I've helped a student--one who barely reads, let alone writes in English--finish an assignment, I get this cheesy, glowy feeling, and I think I'm on the right track.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Quirk.

Being a human, living in a society filled with other people, you tend to have quirky interactions on occasion. There’s that guy on the bus that tries to crowbar his way into other people’s conversations, the lecherous maintenance man on the elevator that wants to give you a dollar for two-day-old catered coffee, or the disheveled old man that tells you to smile and asks if he can have the uneaten part of your hamburger to feed to his dogs at home.

We’ve all got stories like this. It’s just a part of living in a small space with a lot of unique people.

Last night at the grocery store, I was puzzling over the difference between the frozen shrimp in the red bag versus those in the purple bag (I am still stumped as to the actual difference). A man my father’s age comes up behind me, leans in over my left shoulder and exclaims, “MMMM! Those shrimp sure do smell GOOD, don’t they?” (Usually I have some sort of bland, noncommittal response for oddballs, but I think I just turned and looked at this guy in disgust and disbelief.) He went on to make the same comment to the woman stocking the seafood case off to my left—his tone implied that he was just doing it to normalize his statement (good luck!).

I’m not sure why it is that things like that still surprise me. I grew up within striking distance of a very “normal” suburban town, but we had our collection of hayseeds and oddballs—I suppose the difference is that most of them stuck to themselves out on their fortified acreage. I imagine you just have a higher likelihood of running into unusual people when you live in a city. The frequency of your casual interactions increases, and thus the frequency of those that stand out from the rest.

I find myself wondering, though, how often I’ve been the strange one that stands out from the general public. I can think of several times when I’ve said something, thinking it was a completely normal comment or response, and someone’s either misheard me or given me the bland “Ahhh…” sort of reply. I wonder what the girl thought when, passing her on my bike, I yelled “Hey! I like your shoes!” (she was biking in red, platform heels, and I thought that was awesome of her). What did the check-out guy at Powell’s think when I said that “Yes-I’d-like-a-bag-today-but-ONLY-because-it’s-pouring-rain.” He gave me one of those funny looks. Maybe I mumbled?

When I was working in a customer service job, interacting with strangers in a friendly, pleasant way was routine. I knew how to do it, I was in a rhythm. Now, accustomed only to interacting with my computer and a few, familiar co-workers and friends, my social “skills” seem to be sorely lacking. When someone comes up to the grocery store to ask me if I’m finding everything ok, the best I can do is a disinterested “Mmmm-hmmm.” Heaven forbid I have to make small talk with the checker. Yet, when I am in an environment where I have to provide some sort of customer service (volunteering at an event, etc), that easy, chatty, friendly side of me emerges out of nowhere—like someone flipped on a switch. Why is it that a quality like sociability can be so hit-or-miss, on-and-off? Do I really live so deeply inside my own head sometimes that talking to a cashier first involves swimming up from the bottom of a ten foot deep end? Maybe. But that still doesn’t excuse Mr. Shrimp-smeller.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

a blog of many colors.

They say that the one most important factor in making a blog or a website successful is finding a focus and sticking to it. If you're a food website, don't post family photos. If you're writing about books, don't link to music. By that rationale, this blog is doomed to fail. Well, so be it.

Here is your post for today... perhaps my first food-blog-post on this website.

Last night for dinner I was seeking something easy, cheap, and delicious. I ended up with an awesome vegetarian treat: hummusy, garlicy, spicy, and fresh. It doesn't get much better in the summertime. So, without further adieu, let me introduce my Sauteed Mushroom Flatbread "Sandwich."

It all begins with the mushrooms. Sauteed in garlic with thyme, a splash of sherry, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.


























Once the mushrooms are ready, the Flatbread (from Trader Joe's) goes into the cast iron skillet to warm.



























Then the hummus--home-made is preferable; it's light, garlicy, and exactly how I prefer it.

















Smear the hummus on the warm pita, garnish with lettuce and tomato, add the mushrooms, and you're done.

Holy delicious, Batman!


Thursday, August 9, 2007

It's been a while.

Life's been busier than it seems lately. C and I went on a big hike up to the Goat Rocks Wilderness back in July sometime... had an amazing time (check out the photos here). After that? Life has been a blur of work, cycling around town, and giving my much-neglected friends a little love.

Anyhow, I have no good excuse for my lack of summer posting, except for the fact that every time something remarkable happens, something else busier (but less remarkable!) happens shortly thereafter, thus preventing my comment.

To try and make up for it, and to win back your hearts, here are two awesome little tidbits from today.

The first, I (along with many other Portlanders) felt as if we were directly a part of. We were grilling on the back slab last night, when C. points to the sky, exclaiming "LOOK!" It was a pilot, half-way through a sky-writing exercise! How COOL! It was positively mesmerizing to watch the plane zoom, dip, and twirl through the evening sky leaving white trails of letters in its wake.

This morning I did a google search on the words she spelled, "COOL MOON ICE CREAM" and found that a few other people had noticed it too. I also learned a little more about the stunt and was highly impressed by the story of the pilot and the way that the advertising and local history intersected. Anyhow, here's the link: "When Oregon Women Collaborate, the Sky's the Limit"
I hope this gets picked up by a few more of the local news outlets, because it was just so neat.

And here are links to a few Flickr photos (not mine, just what came up when I searched the aerial phrase on flickr... 1, 2, 3) of what we saw....

In other news, the BBC has an article on an awesome four-footed version of book-mobile... the bibliomula!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ok. One more recommendation.

This is the coolest Portland website ever. A happy hour directory that tells you where you can find happy hours at any given moment in your town. It even has a little bar to show you how far away from a happy hour you are at your current time. They also have a branch for Seattle, and one for Columbus (and Dublin), Ohio.

Thirst no more!
Urban Drinks

Product endorsement.

Oh, the ubiquitous product endorsement. We all have things that we use and we love and we wish everyone would use and love. I love my Burt's Bees soap... I love my Marmot Raincoat... but here's something I ran across the other day that I thought I would share with the internet. I think this is such a great idea that I can't help being a corny "brand-cheerleader" for a few minutes.

Sorry things have been sparse around here lately--life has been busy. I will hopefully have more to give you this weekend!

I wanted to share this with you in hope that you'll consider it for the day when your Chacos bite the dust.

I just sent my sandals in to have them re-soled. It cost me about $40 (plus $5 or so to mail them), and they came back refurbished and lovely. It was way cheaper than buying a new pair, and kept a portion of my shoes out of someone's trash bin. Yay sustainability! :)

When I got them back (yesterday), there was a little pamphlet in the box with them, and it highlighted a program that they are offering for recycling Chacos when it's time to finally retire a pair. If you take your shoes to one of the local businesses that is participating, Chaco will take them back, fix them up, and then send them off on the wings of non-profits to provide shoes to people in need all around the world. Some of the areas they work with are in Africa and Nepal. It makes me very happy to know that when I'm through with my sandals (still hopefully a few years from now!) someone else can use them, and they won't just get thrown away. Oh yeah, and you'll get 20% of a new pair of Chacos from those retailers you return them too, as well! Unfortunately for all you REI-heads, they're not playing yet, but, there are lots of places in Oregon, and one place in Kirkland, WA that will take them back. They have a web-retailer that's participating, too.

Anyhow, here are the pertinent links. I hope you consider doing this--it's not much of a hassle, gives you an awesome price break, and you get to do something good for someone else! I think stuff like this is so great, and so cool. Yay, Chaco!

Info about the program, and a list of participating retailers: http://www.chacousa.com/inside/recycleprogram.cfm?curloc=inside_chaco&subcat=recycle
One of the foundations they work with: http://www.dzifoundation.org/ (also partnered with Marmot!)

That's my enthusiastic product/program recommendation of the moment. :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

4:50 pm - 102 degrees

Well. The time has come. The insanity of the day has overtaken me and I need to experience this heat for myself. What does 102 degrees feel like?

The streets are empty of cars and humans. Wish me luck as I venture out into the asphalt inferno.

And cross your fingers that the bus driver has insisted that people keep the windows closed and that the AC is working well. Otherwise I'm in for a long trip home.

Just saw another ambulance fly by. I knew we wouldn't all make it out of this in one piece.

Signing off for today.

Tomorrow? If it's still hot, you'd better believe the news will still be covering it.

Good luck to you all.

3:29 pm - 102 degrees

Inside pane of glass is now warm to the touch.

Reports are in from South downtown that a window box of geraniums has burst into flames.

Visible pedestrians all seem dazed and confused. Many ignore crosswalks, some walk down middle of streetcar tracks.

Emergency vehicles too exhausted to sound sirens.

Giant tow truck traveling down Harrison St.

Traffic on 4th virtually non-existent.

OHSU tram bravely continues to run on schedule.

2:48 pm - Holding at 100 degrees

I'm not sure what part of Portland they are living in, but KPTV is reporting that currently is is "partly cloudy" in Portland. We WISH.

Other amusing things from local stations:

KATU offers their forecast for the next three days...
Today: 102 - RECORD HEAT
Tomorrow: 100 - HOT
Thursday: 94 - STILL HOT

As of 2:25 it was "Sunny and 100 degrees."

2:05 pm - 100 DEGREES!

Well, we've done it. As of 1:45 today, we've hit the 100 degree mark.

All of the links in my Hotmail inbox just turned red. Is it a coincidence? More like a sign. The hot temperatures are burning the internet.

It went away though after I clicked on one of the links. Maybe not a very good coincidence after all.

12:33 pm - 92 degrees

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! WE HAVE AN AMBULANCE!

Now things are starting to heat up. The reading of 92 degrees was as of 12:00 noon. What a spanking rise in temp! Here we go. 90 degrees before noon.

The signs of disaster begin to kick in. Not only do we have an ambulance, but it was followed by a firetruck. Uh-oh.

There are more people on the street now as the lunch hour continues.

Construction workers are moving wheelbarrows of something in the empty lot across the way. Did no one tell them they were supposed to do their work between 4 and 7 am?

The sky appears hazier than it did earlier today. Perhaps the air is beginning to burn? That would explain the firetruck.

12:17 pm - 89 degrees

Windows are still cool to the touch. This could be due to double-paned glass.

Weather.com has updated to show that it was 89 degrees at 11:45. Based on their "every-half-hour or so" updates, we should be receiving new information in the next 20 minutes or so. Unfortunately, this live-blogger will not be able to inform you if it struck 90 by noon.

Extrapolating from the rise in temperature over the last few updates, I would guess that it's likely. Especially as we're now entering the DANGER ZONE portion of the day when things tend to rocket up and really bake.

The American flag across the way is still billowing in the breeze. Completely unfurled and stretched out. A steady wind appears to be blowing continuously. The streets remain empty, though I can see lines forming at the food carts up the street.

No ambulances yet.

The trees still appear to be greenish, except for the ones with dark purple leaves.

11:50 am - 87 degrees

How deceptive. The Weather.com temperature reading was from 11:25 am. HALF AN HOUR AGO! We may reach 90 degrees before noon.

Today's record was 98. Think we'll beat it?
Only 11 more degrees to go.

Most of the ice has now melted in my iced coffee.

I just saw a crow fly over. Evidently it's not too hot for crows.

The wisps of cloud in the sky are now gone. Foot traffic appears to have slowed despite the fact that the lunch hour is rapidly approaching.

Still no ambulances. Have they melted??

Here are a few recommendations from KGW.com. They are quoting the Red Cross and "ER doctors" on tips for preventing heat stroke. These select few are my favorites. They also advised "AVOID ALCOHOL" three or four times in different places. Do I detect a hidden agenda?

--Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein which increase metabolic heat.

--Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.

--Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 and 7 a.m.

-- If you're thirsty, you've waited too long.

9:45 am - 80 degrees

That's right. 80 degrees before 10am. It's warmer outside than it is in my air conditioned office building. The weather.com reading is a little out-dated. I wonder how hot it is not? Predictions says it's supposed to be 102 today.

The trees outside are still looking green. They have not yet experienced any heat-related wilting.

Cars still travel down 4th Avenue with their usual aplomb.

Pedestrians are traveling down the sidewalks. Most are wearing short-sleeves. Women can be seen wearing tank-tops and skirts.

There are small wisps of cloud in the sky.

No buildings have collapsed and road work continues as usual. No ambulances yet today.

Ridiculo ad absurdum

Ok. The local news lately has been in a frenzy.

There are SEVERE WEATHER WARNINGS for Portland, OR regarding the MASSIVE HEAT WAVE that is in the process of striking us all immobile and potentially dead.

For over a week now the forecasters have been predicting doom, gloom, and dire circumstances for the middle of this week. Warning us to prepare. Hold our babies close, protect the feeble and innocent, there is VERY HOT WEATHER on the way.

Of course, for some people, hot weather is a severe event. If you are very old or sick or poor or feeble, it can be a traumatic, potentially life-threatening weather situation. If you're not, it's just really hot.

Anyhow, in the spirit of community, and truly engaging with my local news and local events, I have decided to keep you up-to-date on the details of this crisis. We shall call this LIVE BLOGGING THE HEAT WAVE.

Tune in for updates as the event unfolds.

Here is the severe weather warning issued by the National Weather Service for today:

AN EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 11 PM PDT WEDNESDAY.

A STRONG RIDGE OF HIGH PRESSURE IN COMBINATION WITH OFFSHORE EAST WINDS IS EXPECTED TO PRODUCE VERY HOT WEATHER OVER INTERIOR NORTHWEST OREGON AND SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON. STRONG OFFSHORE FLOW TUESDAY WILL DRIVE TEMPERATURES TO NEAR OR SLIGHTLY ABOVE 100 DEGREES OVER THE LOWER ELEVATIONS WITH WITH 80S TO LOWER 90S OVER THE HIGHER CASCADES. THE OFFSHORE FLOW WILL KEEP TEMPERATURES VERY WARM FOR OUR AREA OVERNIGHT TUESDAY. TEMPERATURES WILL FALL ONLY INTO THE UPPER 50S AND 60S JUST FOR A SHORT TIME AROUND SUNRISE ON WEDNESDAY.

WEDNESDAY WILL BE ANOTHER VERY HOT DAY. TEMPERATURES MAY COOL A FEW DEGREES FROM TUESDAY BUT WILL STILL REACH THE UPPER 90S TO AROUND 100 DEGREES IN THE LOWER ELEVATIONS ON WEDNESDAY WITH MID 80S TO MID 90S IN THE HIGHER CASCADES.

AN EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING MEANS THAT A PROLONGED PERIOD OF DANGEROUSLY HOT TEMPERATURES WILL OCCUR. THE HOT TEMPERATURES WILL CREATE A DANGEROUS SITUATION IN WHICH HEAT ILLNESSES ARE LIKELY. DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS...STAY IN AN AIR-CONDITIONED ROOM...STAY OUT OF THE SUN... AND CHECK UP ON RELATIVES AND NEIGHBORS.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

"The Nina Totin' Bag"

Should I be ashamed of NPR? Talk about blatant self-referential opportunism! Holy cow! That's awful! Then again, it's kind of funny, too. I don't even know what to think....???

Named for NPR’s Legal Affairs Correspondent, Nina Totenberg... it has a Warhol-esque image of the lady on the front.

The Nina Totin' Bag

Just what you need for a day at the beach.

What’s wrong with the tap??


Honestly. Maybe we should consider finding a new chic name for good ole tap water. “Home Fresh” maybe… “Hey hon, can you snag me a glass of home fresh on your way out of the kitchen?” That sounds like a slangy nickname for your pal… “Hey home fresh! What’s jiggin’?”

Anyhow. I want to share with you some excerpts from an amazing article on the devil with angel wings that is bottled water. After reading this article I affirm my resolution to keep lugging my Nalgene around with me wherever I go, and filling it at water fountains instead of buying a bottle of water. I’m definitely guilty of picking up a bottle at a gas station when I want something cold, but this article reaffirms to me what a silly (not to mention negatively impactful) choice that is.

I’ve sifted out a few interesting lines that I think are pretty powerful, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s interesting and well-written. About as eye-opening as that fascinating article on the banana industry I shared a while back.

Here’s a link to the article (source: Fastcompany.com via Boingboing.net): "Message in a Bottle" by Nigel Cox

And here are a few choice facts about bottled water. Click on the above link for reference.

Fiji Water produces more than a million bottles a day, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have reliable drinking water.

  • In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It's so good the EPA doesn't require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.

  • Today, for all the apparent variety on the shelf, bottled water is dominated in the United States and worldwide by four huge companies. Pepsi (NYSE:PEP) has the nation's number-one-selling bottled water, Aquafina, with 13% of the market. Coke's (NYSE:KO) Dasani is number two, with 11% of the market. Both are simply purified municipal water--so 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi for our convenience.

  • …within a decade, our consumption of bottled water is expected to surpass soda.

  • San Pellegrino's 1-liter glass bottles--so much a part of the mystique of the water itself--weigh five times what plastic bottles weigh, dramatically adding to freight costs and energy consumption. The bottles are washed and rinsed, with mineral water, before being filled with sparkling Pellegrino--it uses up 2 liters of water to prepare the bottle for the liter we buy. The bubbles in San Pellegrino come naturally from the ground, as the label says, but not at the San Pellegrino source. Pellegrino chooses its CO2Tuscany, then trucked north and bubbled into Pellegrino.

    carefully--it is extracted from supercarbonated volcanic springwaters in
  • Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer :"We're completely thoughtless about handing out $1 for this bottle of water, when there are virtually identical alternatives for free. It's a level of affluence that we just take for granted. What could you do? Put that dollar in a jar on the counter instead, carry a water bottle, and at the end of the month, send all the money to Oxfam or CARE and help someone who has real needs. And you're no worse off."

  • Worldwide, 1 billion people have no reliable source of drinking water; 3,000 children a day die from diseases caught from tainted water.

Than again, regarding Fiji water—the flip side….

  • The plant employs 200 islanders--set to increase to 250 this year--most with just a sixth- or eighth-grade education. Even the entry-level jobs pay twice the informal minimum wage. But these are more than simply jobs--they are jobs in a modern factory, in a place where there aren't jobs of any sort beyond the villages. And the jobs are just part of an ecosystem emerging around the plant--water-based trickle-down economics, as it were.

  • Of course, the irony of shipping a precious product from a country without reliable water service is hard to avoid. This spring, typhoid from contaminated drinking water swept one of Fiji's islands, sickening dozens of villagers and killing at least one. Fiji Water often quietly supplies emergency drinking water in such cases. The reality is, if Fiji Water weren't tapping its aquifer, the underground water would slide into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere just off the coast. But the corresponding reality is, someone else--the Fijian government, an NGO--could be tapping that supply and sending it through a pipe to villagers who need it. Fiji Water has, in fact, done just that, to some degree--20 water projects in the five nearby villages. Indeed, Roll has reinvested every dollar of profit since 2004 back into the business and the island.
So, essentially what does it all boil down to? If we’re going to drink bottled water, should we make sure that it’s coming from a far-away place (like Fiji) so that we support small economies? Or do all the transport costs and ecological damage done in getting it here cancel out the good it does for those people to buy it?

It somehow still feels wasteful to drink bottled water when I have a perfectly good tap at home and at work. Then again, at least it’s better than soda, eh?

Monday, July 2, 2007

There will come soft rains.


















This is a lovely, haunting, humbling article from New Scientist magazine (link via kottke.org).

How long would it take the Earth to recover if humankind was to irrevocably, inexplicably vanish?

Imagine Earth Without People

A really amazing read as I spend my day traipsing around in the city.

On some deep down instinctual level I find that part of me longs for this to happen. Then, when i think about it more, I realize that I would want to be the omniscient eye that's watching it all occur, safe and sound, with my loved ones by my side, of course.

Obviously, this must follow.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

- Sara Teasdale

In other eerie news....

On the way back from our hike yesterday on the Banks-Vernonia Trail, C. and I had a white-knuckle driving experience. We were right about here. Ten miles south of Vernonia. A person in a Red Minivan comes flying up behind us, tailgates us for a mile or so, and then passes us in a no-passing zone with a corner just ahead. Of course, around the corner comes another car. The minivan managed to get back into our lane in time and aside from a one-finger salute from the oncoming car and a stout blast from the horn on C’s end, came to no harm. When we reached the intersection with Hwy 26 a few minutes later, they were there, waiting to turn. I’m so glad they passed us and really got ahead.

Later that night, I was browsing the local news site, looking for the weather or something, and what do I find? This story.

Quite literally just where we were earlier the same day. Under the same circumstances that we found ourselves in. I guess we were the lucky ones.

How dangerous, how foolish. All for a few more seconds. People need to stop being in such a darn hurry all the time.

Today's soapbox is decidedly... GREEN!

While I was fussing and cleaning and cooking dinner on Friday night (laying low after a gnarly encounter with some less than perfect Thai food… blah), I was listening to the City Club of Portland on OPB. I would say that 7 times out of 10, I find that program rather dry, and it serves as moderately interesting entertainment when I’m in my car driving somewhere. This past Friday’s topic however, was the future of transportation in our area.

It was neat to listen to the ideas and the concepts that people were throwing back and forth—Cars without drivers on our highways! Sustainable neighborhoods! Truck routes that bypass the city entirely! I felt like I was looking down the maw of a Jetson’s era space-age in which we climb into our cars, type our destination into our GPS-style mapper, crack open a good book, and, Voila!, are transported to our desired location a few minutes later. One of the guests speaking on the show (I missed the portion of the program in which they were introduced) noted that for the last couple of centuries, we’ve experienced a major transportation revolution once ever 50 years. The Car. The Train. The Airplane. Based on this theory, we’re overdue for some sort of major, society-shaping change. Interesting.

The thing that interested me most about the program was a description of a pervasive attitude that many developers and Americans have regarding agricultural land and farm land. This wasn’t something that those being interviewed claimed as their own, but rather something that they discussed.

What is an open field if not a future suburban development? “Empty space” where we find farms and forests is just an up-tapped cash-cow awaiting malls, box stores, parking lots and houses—in short: progress!!

Of course this perspective won’t be anything overt, nor will it be something that I imagine people go about shouting from the hilltops. Driving into Hillsboro and Beaverton from Forest Grove this weekend hammered this impression home to me, however. As we left Orenco Station and close in on the Streets of Tanasbourne, I noticed two or three small, single-family homes. They had yards, garages, driveways, the usual. Yet on either side of these homes leered giant new development. Townhouses, condos, strip malls, parking lots. I felt so sorry for the older couple out watering their lawn in the midst of all this progress.

I think as a society, we’ve forgotten the value of agriculture. Even in our “global society” on a local-level many communities are funded by industries such as farms, ranches, wineries, etc. Those “empty” fields are arteries for families, communities, and who micro-economies. What happens if that goes away? Can you grow wine grapes on the roof of your local Target?

Now, I’m not the more informed individual on this topic. Until I did a Google search of the US Government website, I thought that more than just 3% of Americans were employed in Agricultural labor. It doesn’t change my opinion that it’s important. I think that it’s something worth preserving if we can. Then again, there are a lot of battles out there and a lot of things worth preserving. But we can do our part. Please support legislation that enforces the Portland-area urban growth boundaries! Encourage affordable high-density living in the Portland area. Discourage sprawl! A sprawling cat is cute. Sprawling metro? Not so cute.

Ride your bike! Compost! Buy wind energy! Re-use Ziplocs!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

My what a busy week! Sassy-Squatch Part II and Movin’ on Up!

Wow, oh wow. It’s been a crazy week or two since I checked in here last. I’ve put on a conference, traveled to a bike race, attended a new volunteering orientation, and prepared for a big ole camping trip. And slept. And ate. And worked. And tutored. It’s not that it’s really been that busy, it just feels like I’ve not had a chance to catch my breath. In like a month.


Where I left off last time, I hadn’t told you about the Arcade Fire or Bjork at Sasquatch. They were awesome. Especially The Arcade Fire. Even from our vantage point high upon the hill, these guys had energy, theatrics, and outstanding sound. Every one of us there was wishing we were in a small theater hearing these guys up close and personal. But, really, if you had to be in an mega-theater, the Gorge is a nice place to be. They probably also had the coolest stage set of the day—big round screens that showed videos, a giant video backdrop and lots of fantastic lights. Somewhat Goth-y, but mostly just awesome and interesting.


The only downside of the festival was that everyone played and played—this meant that when Bjork finally went on, it was almost midnight. Yow. Her stage set-up alone took a serious chunk of time to get up. It was also awesome. Long colorful banners, flashing lights… they did have to take part of it down just as they got it set up due to the wind. Uh oh! We were only able to stay for a few of Bjork’s songs, unfortunately, since we had a long drive ahead of us. They were pretty great, though. C. thought that they were better live than recorded, and the eerie night with the wind and the flapping flags was a perfect counterpoint to that. I wish we could have seen it all.


At about 12:20 we finally hauled ourselves off the hill (poor C., as we were leaving the area, he could hear his all-time favorite Bjork song echoing out over the countryside). Now came the 3+ hour drive to Pendleton and to our campground. Oy vey. C’s friend D elected himself as driver, and did an excellent job of not only staying awake but keeping everyone safe. C and I failed miserably at our jobs of “passengers who are there to help keep the driver awake” as we kept nodding off. Often we fell asleep mid-sentence, only to wake up 20 minutes later and start talking right where we’d left off. It was super-confusing.


I think we managed to wake up the entire campground when we pulled in. It was about 3:45am, and of course our headlights went right through any tent walls they encountered. As the car rolled to a stop and we rolled out the doors, it (of course) started to rain. Despite the circumstances, we were an amazing, focused crew of tent setter-uppers. We were in bed, eyes closed, ready to sleep by 4:00am. When the thunder rolled in. And the people in the tent across the way started gleefully shouting to one another in a language I didn’t understand.


All in all, though, the trip was excellent. We got back to Forest Grove around 6:00 on Sunday evening, ordered pizza and I slept while the boys watched Road Warrior. Appropriate, no?


* * *


This week I am going to find myself on the road yet again. I am headed out with C’s family (him, his dad, and his sister), for MORE driving and an awesome trip up to the very northern tip of Vancouver Island. We will be traveling through Saturday, hiking out on Sunday, sleeping on the beach, and cooking out, and then returning on Thursday the 21st. I am thrilled to be getting away from the busy streets of Portland, though the prospect of getting in a car again so soon does absolutely nothing for me. Oh well. Vancouver, ho!


In the meantime, you can do a “Cape Scott” search on Flickr, and see some amazing shots from where I’ll be. Or you can just wait until we return.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sassing the 'Squatch

Be warned. This may end up as a multi-part post. There was just so much that happened, that I'd like to talk about, I may have to break this into installations. But I can at least get the party started.

First of all, please excuse the few-and-far-between nature of my blog postings lately. I've been working a ton of long hours lately due to the big upcoming conference my work is hosting. It's a three-day event, and we're anticipating over 550 attendees. And there are, essentially, just four of us putting the whole thing together. Things kick off this upcoming Wednesday, so I've been a little tired and swamped. Once this is over, I imagine I'll be back on track again.

Anyhow, C., his friend D., and I decided to head out of town this Memorial Day weekend and hit up one day of the Sasquatch Music Festival taking place at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. Somehow in my life I've managed never to attend a concert at the Gorge, and the line-up was good, so we chose to give it a go.

We left Portland on Friday at about 6:00 bound for the Emigrant Springs Campground just East of Pendleton, Oregon. It was a beautiful day and we roared out of town in fine style. It was in the mid-70's, and we rolled the windows down as we wound our way along the Columbia River. After a quick stop in the Dalles for gas and a fast-food extravaganza at the Eastern-most Burgerville in the world (not to mention a woeful mishap with Officers Biggs & Wasco and an improperly worn seatbelt--expect more on that point in a future post), we were off into the setting sun. The eastern reaches of the Columbia Gorge are quite stunning as the light seeps from the hills.

We had a quick drive down I-84. It was interesting passing out of the rugged, rock-lined cliffs that edged the river and into the flat, rolling hills around Pendleton. In the dark, the landscape change was more apparent from the way the air smelled and the nature of the road signs we encountered than from what we could see. You could smell the spicy tang of sage on the night air, and you'd smell alfalfa and dry grass as we passed through cow country. The road signs changed from warning us of things like "Falling Rocks, next 3 miles" or "Windy road ahead" to advising us be wary of "Blowing Dust next 43 miles." The lights spotting the hillsides grew fewer and fewer between, eventually just clustering around the small towns huddled on the banks of streams and rivers.

We zoomed past Pendleton and up the road into the Blue Mountains. It was about 10:30-10:45 when we reached our camping destination: Emigrant Springs State Park. We'd reserved a cabin to stay in, and we were tired of driving for the night. The Cabin turned out to be the best decision we made on the entire trip. Constructed of warm, honey-colored wood, it was set up with a little fridge, a wall-mounted heater, two queen-sized beds (and a bunk above one!), and a table. Outside on the porch there was a gas-powered stove. We slugged down a beer or two to congratulate ourselves on part one of the trip, spread out sleeping bags and crashed out asleep.

The alarm clocks went off at 7:30 the next morning. We had a 3-hour drive ahead of us in order to get to the Amphitheater by 12:30 when the first band we wanted to see took the stage.

The drive was a little more subdued (it was early) than the prior evening, but we took in all the amazing scenery and eyeballed the Umatilla Weapons depot and signs to Hanford a little fearfully. With no real directional mishaps (thanks to Charlie's awesome information file, henceforth known as "the dossier"), we arrived right on schedule.

The festival itself was awesome. It was packed with people, and waiting in lines became one of those things you just accepted, but everyone was thrilled to be there, friendly, and overall good samaritans. The whole drive down we'd joked about the fact that the beers there were going to coast us $15 a pop when we arrived, so we'd better bring a few of our own for camping. We were honestly quite surprised to get there and find that they in fact wanted $11 for a 24-oz Corona. C and I had just bought a 24-oz bottle of beer at the grocery store the week before for $3.o0. Good grief. No wonder they let people wander anywhere they wanted around the grounds with beers in hand--you'd have to be rich to get any kind of drunk at those prices! And you're certainly not going to share it with anyone!

Beer-lamenting aside, however, all of the shows we saw were excellent. I'm not really qualified to discuss the finer nuances of music, and I'm not much of a writer when it comes to describing shows and bands, but I'll give you a brief re-cap of what we saw below.

  • The Saturday Knights: We were so excited to see this hip-hop rock fusion band out of Seattle. They were scheduled early in the day to play on the mainstage, and I think this may have been a bit of a mistake. Their set wasn't great, in part due to the fact that they didn't seem to quite know how to interact with a crowd that clustered right in front of them and then spread up an enormous hill. They would have been better on one of the smaller stages. Oh well.
  • The Hold Steady: This band is so much fun to see. They are high energy, and are such a great, solid rock band. The lead singer had grown a big shaggy beard since C and I had seen them last, but the keyboardist still had this fabulous mustache. It was weird seeing them in such a big venue. They had a really tight set and they sounded great. Thumbs up all around. Too bad the beer was so expensive, though, this is the best beer-drinking band ever.
  • The Blow: Gosh. While I love the music she puts out, and I love her CD, the between-and-during song patter really spoiled this show for me. I don't care if this song is about some guy she met at a party in Los Angeles. In fact, knowing the personal details behind a personal song is sometimes kind of gross. We left in search of something else. While I'll still listen to her CD, I'm not sure if I'd see the Blow again live for a while.
  • Two Gallants: Great show. While I hadn't been super-impressed when I saw these guys open for another band before, and the MP3's I had were so-so, I was so impressed by their live show! These guys were fun and kind of a quirky mix of folky rock. They had the high-energy sound that makes an act a festival success, and they had some really interesting songs. Would see again. Would buy CD now, I think!
  • Viva Voce: Awesome, as usual. As C. always says, it's amazing that two people can make that much noise. We only stuck around for two or three songs--despite the fact that they were AWESOME songs, because they're a local band, and Neko Case was coming on soon.
  • Neko Case: Great, as usual. Not even the guy laying on a blanket in front of us (with his girlfriend!) yelling "I LOVE YOU NEKO CASE! I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABIES! LET ME BE YOUR SURROGATE DADDY!" could spoil it. She had the perfect sound for laying out and gazing across the amazing Columbia River Gorge scenery. Oh, and it was about 85 degrees out by this point in the day. Awe-some.
  • Ghostland Observatory: ROCKED! These guys were great! One of them had on a satiny, powder-blue cape that he wore throughout the show. They had such an exciting, interesting sound, and they were such good sports when the power went out on their stage part-way through their set. I will definitely look them up again.
  • The Long Winters: This band gets so much buzz. I keep giving them second and third and fourth and fifth chances, but I keep getting let down. I think they have a charming presence, and I think they interact with the crowd well, but I think their lyrics are kind of lame, and I think their sound is boring. Too bad.
  • Manu Chao and the Radio Bemba Sound System: I was so excited to see this band, and I wasn't let down. Complete with their signature sirens, and play-like-your-house-is-on-fire style, they amped up the energy at the mainstage in a serious way, and people were dancing all over the hill. They played an awesome set--I love the way that their shows end up sounding like one big song because they seamlessly blend them all together into one long musical blur. Awesome. The stage crew nearly had to drag them off the stage with big shepherds crooks, though--they played 6 or 7 "last songs" and kept expressing their live for the crowd and for the show. They were great.
Ok, so this post is hugely long now. I will have to finish it in a part II.

A taste of things to come:

The Arcade Fire - Bjork - Crazy night driving - setting up tents at 3:30 am with a thunderstorm looming - Tumbling along with the blowing dust and the tumbleweed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

No hiking this Sunday.

Unfortunately, no hiking to report this Sunday. The weather is drab and drippy, so the outdoor activities were put on hold for a weekend. Word has it it's supposed to be sunny and amazing during the rest of the week. Of course.

Instead, this morning C and I made homemade English muffins. That was a fun adventure. I'd tried to make English muffins once before with mixed results. They turned out to be tasty little biscuits, but they were missing that bubbly, hole-y, English-muffiny crumb that leaves pockets for butter and other delicious toppings to hide. That was early last fall. Obviously, it's been a while since I've given it another go.

Armed with a recipe from the internet, we had better luck this time. Unfortunately, there aren't any pictures of the deliciousness--primarily because we devoured them so quickly! That said, here's the recipe I used (and recommend), and a link to a measure converter (useful if, like me, your measuring cups don't count things using the metric system.
Recipe (courtesy the Winos and Foodies blog): http://winosandfoodies.typepad.com/my_weblog/2005/06/english_muffins.html

Measurement converter (also courtesy of that blog!):
http://cuisinedumonde.com/convert.html

A few notes about things that I discovered when making these... A non-stick pan seemed to work about as well as a cast-iron skillet. While you lose the griddle effect, it also makes the pan easier to wipe down between muffins so that you don't end up with a charred cast-iron skillet and a smoke-filled kitchen. Blahrg. Also, you can sort of feel when the muffins are done if you poke the sides--they firm up and lose a little of the doughy feel that indicates they're not quite yet ready.

All in all, a couple had scorched bottoms, a one was pretty raw in the middle, but after I got the hang of them (time, temp, type of pan)? Lovely baked breakfast yumminess.

Mmm. Muffins.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh, advertising.

Yesterday while waiting to hear Sherman Alexie read from his new novel "Flight" (see Powell's for the description), I picked up an interesting flip-through on matchbook covers. I learned that these were highly-collectible, inexpensive pieces of pop-culture art. Not entirely surprising. The pictures of the matchbox covers were the most interesting part of the book. Running the gamut from lighthouses to insecticides, the book displayed a fascinating array of cultural tidbits from the last century.

While the commentary regarding the pictures themselves was un-helpful and obvious, there were some trends to matchbook advertising that I had never thought about before (then again, I'd never spent much time pondering matchboxes before either). In the communist Eastern Bloc countries, matchbooks were often used as a means by which to convey health messages and images of party ideals. You'd see images of people exercising, pictures of people working hard in the fields or in the factories, images of smiling women, and heroic pictures of men on horseback--all in the stark, clean, two-color, block-figure style that you see in many old party propaganda posters from the old USSR. I understand that it was a cheap way to rapidly distribute a message--and likely a way to convey that point in a decidedly non-overt, subliminal way. Beyond a glance or two, who ever really looks at and contemplates the wrapper advertising their matches? Of course this was made possible by the fact that the government controlled the match-making industry, and thus was less concerned with advertising a product than a company might otherwise be, leaving them freer to distribute any message they chose.

This theme was repeated throughout many non-communist countries, however, too. Scandinavian countries promoted good health by encouraging people to be active and swim (the irony of advertising health on something primarily used to enable smoking is certainly not lost on me), Western European countries warned parents of the dangers of their children pulling boiling pots of water off the stove or falling through thin ice. African countries emphasized the danger from and transmission cycle of disease-carrying flies--all on the covers of their matchbooks.

So, fine. Fascinating. Hooray for foreign governments tapping into the subliminal power of a well-designed ad as a means by which to distribute a social message. Not a new story, but a refreshing one--way to look out for the greater good! Way to capitalize on something that people are going to buy regardless of what is on the cover.

I'd probably have filed this little tidbit of information away and not thought of it again were it not for a TV commercial I saw, just this morning, that jived so well with the theme of the public health messages on the matchbooks.

I was waiting for the weather forecast to come on and munching away on my cereal, when one of those "Make good choices" commercials came on. Usually sponsored by Kaiser or another health insurance group, the commercials advocate that people take the stairs instead of the elevator, or drink water instead of a soda--essentially, as one commercial states, to "be your own cause." This seemed to be another one of those--it showed a man choosing an apple instead of a donut, recycling instead of throwing away his aluminum can. These commercials appeal to me--they're colorful, well-designed, and have appealing ping-pingy-ping music. I wasn't really paying attention, though, until the final few frames. They caught my attention when they showed a man trying to decide between two big screen TVs displaying vibrant nature scenes. As I'm sure the creators intended, I expected the "good choice" to be seeing those landscapes in person on a walk, instead of watching them on a TV. But no! The ad turned out to be a HD Digital TV commercial encouraging you to make the "best choice" and buy the right (fancier) TV. Wuuuuh?

Like advocating good health and exercise on smoking paraphernalia, these is a huge amount of irony in promoting good health and exercise in an advertisement selling TVs. Only slightly more extreme would be advertising abstinence on condom wrappers. "Make the healthy choice! Buy a big new TV!" How is encouraging people to sit in front of a fancy new TV at all congruent with the notion of making good, healthy choices, and encouraging them exercise and reduce-reuse-recycle?

Furthermore, the move from government-sponsored health messages to those that are promoted and driven by commercial companies strikes me as interesting. While, theoretically, the government has the general population's health and best interests in mind as a general rule (out current administration notwithstanding), I find that their well-intentioned advertisements to be safe and healthy seem benign and even smart. Yet, for a private company with the ultimate goals of furthering their product and increasing their profits to advertise in this way strikes me as sinister and even misleading. The logical conclusion of the commercial in question is "If you want to be 'healthy' you will buy this." To me, watching lots of television on a new TV seems the antithesis of healthy. I think the company is banking on the fact that we will subliminally associate the two images without ever questioning that correlation. Seems pretty sinister to me.

I'm going to be thinking about this for a while, I think. What is the role of ethics in advertising? What counts as misleading your consumer? Ultimately, the responsibility of what to buy and how to use that product isn't in the hands of the advertiser, yet do they have any inherent responsibility? How effective is "subliminality" anyhow, how do you control what's overt and what's implied? Should you? Is it ultimately the responsibility of the consumer to make those connections and decisions for themselves? How much does the intent of the ad matter? Why does ti seem more ethical when it's for a "good cause"? Questions to think about while fussing around with databses.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Self-contained narrative.

Tri-Met stop #6005, corner of N. Vancouver and N. Skidmore. 8:06 am. Monday, May 14th.

M-W word of the day....

From M-W Word of the Day for Monday, May 14th.

inkhorn
\INK-horn\ adjective

: ostentatiously learned : pedantic

Example sentence:
The professor peppered his lectures with inkhorn terms of pseudo-Latin and Greek, a practice he felt essential to instilling in his students the proper respect for his knowledge.

Did you know?
Picture an ancient scribe, pen in hand, a small ink bottle made from an animal's horn strapped to his belt, ready to record the great events of history. In 14th-century England, such ink bottles were dubbed (not surprisingly) "inkhorns." During the Renaissance, learned writers often borrowed words from Latin and Greek, eschewing vulgar English alternatives. But in the 16th century, some scholars argued for the use of native terms over Latinate forms, and a lively intellectual debate over the merits of each began. Those who favored English branded what they considered ostentatious Latinisms "inkhorn terms" after the bottles carried by scholars, and since then we have used "inkhorn" as an adjective for pretentious language.

*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.

Gale's Creek: A Sunday Walk in the Woods

Approximately 32 miles outside of Portland is a small town called Gales Creek. Named after an Oregon Pioneer who was a well-known trapper and settler, Gales Creek is a tiny town situated on a little creek. After a recent episode of Lost, Gales Creek is also a potential birthplace for super-Other-villian Ben Linus. It was also the inspiration for a Sunday, Mother's Day hike in the Tillamook Forest.

Earlier this week, C and I decided that a Sunday hike was in order. After the most recent episode of Lost, C--with TV on the brain--was flipping through his copy of W. Sullivan's hikes on the Oregon Coast, and found an easy day hike in the Tillamook Forest. Topping out at around 6 miles round trip, our hike was a pleasant ramble along scenic Gales Creek.

The hike begins just off of Highway 6 at the Gales Creek Campgound. The campground is located at the 35 mile marker--to the right of the highway if you're headed toward the coast. The campground requests that you pay a small day-use fee.

We started off on the Gales Creek Trail, and set off into the green, lush forest. The trees were a decent mix of evergreen (fir, primarily), maple, and alder. Located in an area that underwent the amazing Tillamook Burn back in the 1930's, the forest surrounding the trail is young and full of interesting wildflowers and ferns. Unlike a number of the other forests I've hiked through in the area (and perhaps this is due to the microclimate of the location, rather than the burn?), the plant diversity in the understory is composed of leafy deciduous plants rather than the hardy, woody evergreen types (such as salal, huckleberry, etc). Sword ferns, however, flourish along the length of the creek. This time of year (May) found the trail thick with wildflowers: pinks, whites, yellows, purples.... My favorites were the Bleeding Hearts, and the little yellow pansies. We saw wild strawberries (in bloom, not yet in fruit), blown trilliums, salmon berries, Devil's club, and many other excellent representations of Oregon's wild flora.

The trail was a fairly easy grade along the entire length that we hiked. The steepest, hilliest part was the initial mile or two which was comprised of several rolling ups and downs, swinging around bends in the creek and hills in the canyon. The trail was shady and quiet, though, and we only crossed paths with two or three other groups even though it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday. After the T-junction (at .8 miles) the trail rapidly leveled out and made for an easy, relatively flat, and exceptionally plesant walk along the creek.

We hiked out around three miles, lunched at a bridge crossing Gales Creek, and then turned back for home. We got back to the car just as the sun was dissapearing behind the ridgeline. In the end, our hike was around 6 miles round trip, filled up a nice Sunday afternoon, and made for a great day trip out of Forest Grove. I would certainly hike it again (I'd like to see it in the fall), and would recommend it to others looking for a good hike that's within an hour and a half of Portland.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Media Overload!

So this past weekend C. and I went and heard Andrew Bird play at the Crystal Ballroom. The show started at about 9:30 with the opening act, Apostle of Hustle. They were ok. Their music was eccentric and bounced around a number of different genres including 80’s-influenced indie rock and Calexico-style swinging Southwest. While they didn’t cause me listening pain and agony, I’m not sure I’d pick up their CD—yet. I haven’t done extensive research on them, but to me they had the sound of a slightly unpolished, inexperienced band. The one recording I heard before the show sounded quite a bit better than the live performance. I’m glad that they’re getting to tour with Andrew Bird, though, because every little show helps a band sound better.

As for the Bird man himself? The show was fantastic. He played a long set with lots of music from his new album and plenty thrown in from the old ones. Even if the music hadn’t charmed me on some deep, base level, his stage performance would have won me over. Barefoot and blazered, he waltzed around the Crystal Ballroom in a haphazard graceful way. He’d stumble back and forth, curls flying, coaxing his fiddle and whistling. It was like—and I say this with no intent of belittling—watching a Tim Burton-esque Victorian mad music-scientist come to life. The swirly, soaring whistling, the fiddling that veered back and forth between Classical European and Appalachian screech, the green scarf he referred to as “seaweed”, and the spinning (quite literally) gramophone seemed to all come together in a brilliant, steaming, bubbling elixir. If music could be a beautiful experiment concocted out of green glass, bird song, spider webs, rain gutters, and the sound of a high-rise apartment building—it would sound like that concert.

I would see him again in a moment, and I recommend that you see him too. Wonderful.

We let our brains relax and rest for a few days, and then last night C and I went and heard Michael Chabon read from his new book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel. He’s an excellent public speaker (not all authors are!), does a nice job reading aloud, and had a grinning sense of humor and good cheer when answering questions to the packed (PACKED!!!!) audience. I was surprised that Powell’s didn’t hold the event at a larger venue, actually, given Mr. Chabon’s rampant popularity and recent appearance on Fresh Air.

The novel itself seems like it will be an interesting romp in the style of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The selection he read sparkled with his usual wry style. As evidenced by his success (Kavalier and Clay won a Pulitzer a few years back), the deft weave of funny and touching appeals to a wide audience of intellectuals and “lay” readers alike. It appears to be back in full-tilt in this new novel. Eventually I imagine I’ll pick it up in paperback (buying hardcover books is a tough thing for me!), but for now I’ll have to just trust that the impression I received it correct, and listen as the reviews (and interviews) roll in. If you’ve read it, or have it on your shelf to read, let me know. I’ll be interested in your review.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May 1, bike trip #1.

Just an FYI, now that things are growing again, “Bloom” is back in action, too. There’s a new, long post up there this morning. Rumor has it that my co-collaborator may even post something soon, too. Ooo! http://webloom.blogspot.com

I am so determined to be in a good mood today—it’s no joking matter. Do you ever have those days in which, despite of everything, you are so staunchly determined to stay in a positive mood that it more or less ends up working out?

Last night as I was getting ready for bed, the news tried to ruin my morning. I bought an inexpensive rear rack for my bike (silver which looks darn slick with my silver-and-blue bicycle) last week, so that I could use a pannier pack for my work stuff. Well, since right now, biking on tutoring days is a no-no (I don’t want to arrive all stinky and sweaty), today was going to be my first ride to work ever since I weenied out last fall and started taking the bus. Of course, the weather reporters had RAIN RAIN RAIN in the forecast. Boo! Hisss!!!

I woke up this morning and decided to put on a rain coat and ride anyhow. The weather was brisk and dry. Cloudy, but certainly not raining. Setting up the pannier bag was a bit of a wrestle, but after switching sides a few times to determine which would be best, I got it secured and set off for work.

The ride was good. Chatty bikers shared a laugh in the bike lane behind me, and no out-of-control drivers hassled me on the road. I didn’t pop a flat (like last time) and I wasn’t even too sweaty when I got to work. The only hitch in the get-along of my good morning was a less-than-pleasant punked-out biker I encountered when crossing the Steel Bridge.

Now, please know I’m not the fastest biker. I wear a helmet, and have my blinking rear light going throughout my trip. I stop at lights, and I don’t intimidate pedestrians. I realize that may make me somewhat of a pansy or an annoyance to those of a zippier, “harder-core” ilk, but I’m respectful to that population, too. I ride as far to the right as circumstances allow, and before I swing out, or to the left, I always check to make sure that I’m not going to make someone else’s life too unduly difficult. But I don’t go fast. At least right now—I’m out-of-biking-shape, and my confidence on sharp corners isn’t where it was last fall, especially when I’m negotiating the new weight distribution of a one-sided saddle bag. I don’t care if other bikers pass me. But I also try not to be one of those lookie-loo’s who gets in the way of commuters. I realize I’m riding at a busy time of day, and lots of people have places to go.

Anyhow, as I’m tooling across the Steel Bridge this morning, zip from behind comes a biker. Before I even see him, I hear “Just ride your f-ing bike!” What? He zooms past me. I don’t want to stereotype him as a bike messenger, because there are plenty of polite messengers out there who wouldn’t yell mean things at someone as they were biking past, but the way he dressed, the bike he was riding, and the WAY he rode suggested that to me. I also don’t know if I did something that made his life more difficult—I suppose that’s entirely possible. But geez, dude, come on! That was totally uncalled for.

Maybe I shouldn’t, but I tend to take things that strangers yell at me for no apparent reason in a rather hard way. It always upsets me. I’ve tried to be dismissive about it in the past, but it really gets under my skin. And definitely has the potential to set an otherwise fine, normal day off to a grumpy start. I was stewing about this, and feeling a little shocked this morning. Coming up with good retorts in my head, sizing up the other bikers that were heading my way, basically getting stuck in a negative cycle of trying to get past Mr. Nasty. Not to mention trying to figure out what he meant… Uh, I am just f-ing riding my bike?

Anyhow, the whole point of this stupid story is that right after this happened and I was feeling all sad and wounded, another biker passes me, warning me that he was coming up on my left. As he goes past, he looks over, smiles, and says, “How’s it going?” Not in a creepy way, not in a hitting on me way, just in a “Hi! Have a great day!” sort of way. And you know what? It didn’t entirely make up for the other guy, but it came close. And you know what else? It’s been a good day in the end.

Thanks, Portland, for at least throwing both sides of the spectrum at me. I appreciate the contrast.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Links you must please visit yes?

Vote yes for trees! (After all, they're only slightly more dangerous than jelly)
http://www.votefortrees.com/

"We launched an investigation after we were made aware that a company were selling sheep as poodles," Japanese police said.
http://www.theage.com.au/news/pets/sheep-or-poodle/2007/04/27/1177459933458.html

{seductive, "romantic" voice} "Uncle Gerry is forever...."
http://www.lifegem.com/

Traveling back in time.

This lovely one lives next to the main door to C's building. She never even things twice about the students constantly coming and going through the doors, or swiping their ID cards just below her nest. This is her second year in residence. One more, and her on-campus requirement will be complete!

When C. and I were first dating, and I was gushing madly about him to anyone who would listen (C., if you read this, please know—and los amigos will vouch for this—that little has changed!), a frequent topic of conversation was his job. As a Resident Director at a local university, this means that not only does he work in a residence hall, he happens to live in one, too. A few years out of college, and even more out of our residence halls, this was a great novelty to myself and my friends.

It even smells like a residence hall! Weird!

In the months that have passed (and that C. and I have subsequently stayed together!) the shine has worn off a little (read: a grumpy boyfriend because a few first-year students decided to set off the fire alarm at 3:45 am with burnt popcorn—or the like). The nostalgia, however, hasn’t. It’s still intriguing to walk down the hall to his apartment and see all the decorated doors, dry-erase boards, and jam-crammed living spaces. While I wouldn’t eagerly go back to sharing a room the size of a bathroom with a virtual stranger for 9 months out of the year, it feels good to hang out over there and know that the community, friendships, and quirky college events are going on all around us. In just a few weeks the students will move out, and the summer conference folks will move in. If last year is any indication, though, there will be a few days of utter silence. Whoosh, they come in, whoosh they leave.

* * *

This past weekend, I attended an entirely different sort of nostalgic event out in Forest Grove. “Faire in the Grove” held at Pacific University was quite the hilarious event. I hadn’t attended a bonafide Renaissance Faire since I was in high school. It was all there. The costumes, the sword play reenactments, the vendor booths, and the overnight campers with their tents, braziers, and mugs of mead. We wandered around a little through the Faire, taking in the sights and people-watching. In the end, I came away thrilled and a little amazed that this community exists and thrives. The looks of awe on the faces of the little kids are they ran around and watched armor-clad men bang on one another with swords was priceless. All the little girls got to wear flowered crowns, and I saw more than a couple fairy princess/ballerina tutus made of flowing pink and purple netting.

One factor I find so compelling about the whole event is the absolute acceptance of make-believe and “pretend.” Aside from the lascivious-hued holidays of Halloween and Mardi Gras, when do adults have the utter license to dress up in costumes, speak in overblown accents, and pretend to their hearts’ content? There is definitely an awkward vibe that surrounds Ren Faires—“Shouldn’t the people dressing up be just a little embarrassed? Shouldn’t we be a little embarrassed for them?” Once you look past that, however, the theory of the thing is somehow rather brilliant. And no wonder the kids love it—it’s like walking into make-believe land, and all the grown-ups are playing, too.

For more photo-documentary of this event (and proof I was there!) visit: http://www.flickr.com/arielarielariel and choose the "Faire in the Grove" photo set. There are also lots of pretty new flower pictures there too! Maybe I will have a photo-post soon of Spring Flowers in Oregon. They are popping out all over!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

April 12 is.... Nostaligia Day!

Last night on the late news, the prim, coiffed reporters announced to the world that Kurt Vonnegut had passed away.

I’m sure this is already all over the internet blogs, and everyone has heard the news. Regardless, it’s a sad thing. His website offers a poignant, fitting send off: http://www.vonnegut.com/

Beyond the scope of losing a great thinker, writer, and, yes, quirky philosopher, I find that the end of Vonnegut’s life resonates with a different sort of loss: the loss of a time, a place, and a certain sort of idealism.

It seems funny to make that statement about someone who had such a cynical, often pessimistic view of the world (pooteeweet, anyone?). I remember reading my first Vonnegut novel in high school. Mr. Jackson passed out 30 paperback-sized hardcover copies of Cat’s Cradle. He filled our brains with Ice-9 and people who pressed their feet together in order to say “I love you” (among other things). We sucked it down and filed it all away. At that point, the world didn’t seem like such a bad place. Horror and terrorism and cynicism were more just theories than anything real.

It’s funny to feel nostalgic for a theory of cynicism and pessimism. In high school I read 1984, A Handmaid’s Tale, Slaughterhouse Five, and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” among other things. And I understood them on an allegorical, theoretical level. Bad things happen. Here are some bleak ideas of the past, present, and future. But at 16, none of the problems in the world, none of the moral dilemmas facing these authors were substantial for me. It was my responsibility to educate myself on what had gone wrong in the past and what people thought about that, but I wasn’t in a place to do anything about it. The most I had to do with the terrible side of humanity was learn about it.

Life feels so different now. Shuttled from the theoretical phase of my life and into the pragmatic phase, suddenly the problems of the world belong to my generation. The horrors taking place, the bad things that authors write about, those are our problems to fix. If our society does bad things, promotes ridiculous values, or makes asinine judgments, by default--by being a functioning adult in this era—I share the responsibility for those actions. The world is weightier. The problems no longer belong to someone else.

Kurt Vonnegut’s death reminds me of that fact. His passing moves him from the realm of “now,” in which the thinking and worrying and criticizing belong to him and his generation, into the vast eternity of “was.” His role of social jester—pointing out the flaws and falls of the world—now becomes our job. There’s no longer the security of knowing that someone like Vonnegut is there to shoulder that responsibility for us.

I’m already nostalgic for a time when all I had concern myself with was education, rather than battling those dragons on my own.

Andrew Larson on Salon.com writes a nice epitaph for Kurt Vonnegut:

“Vonnegut had an incomparable way of mixing bleak pessimism with avuncular warmth. He could inspire even in the moments when he was underlining, highlighting and italicizing just how fucked up and criminally insane the world really was.”

Read the rest of the article here. It’s a good one.

* * *

In other news (and speaking of nostalgia, progress, and responsibility), they started tearing down the old Jasmine Tree restaurant on 4th and Harrison yesterday. I took some pictures from my office window.

Though it wasn’t a place I went often myself, I appreciated knowing there was a kitchy old Tiki bar in downtown Portland. Now we have to go to NE for our fruity drinks and 60’s atmosphere. It always tugs at my heartstrings a little to hear about an old stand-by closing up shop in the name of “progress.” The Virginia Café is another case in point. I know that I’m the sort of person who closely affiliates places with people and places with emotions, so it makes me sad to see places that I had great times in get bulldozed for glassy, shiny, metallic “new.” You may be doing good for the world, and I’m all about green, eco-friendly building, but it’s hard to replace character once you’ve torn it down. New construction just lacks the grit and grime and quirk that give a place its soul.

Anyhow, if you’re interested, here’s the info from the Portland Development Commission on what’s happening down in the South Park Blocks and beyond. The Jasmine Tree site is considered block #153, and they have big plans in store for the area, including housing, grocery stores, and more light rail brilliance.

Here’s the planning site: http://www.pdc.us/ura/south-park-blocks/block153.asp

Monday, April 2, 2007

Food disasters and feasting.

Every once in a while, a rock that’s been rolling wants to stop and pick up a little moss. I had the mossiest weekend ever. It was fantastic.

As I alluded last week, I had plans to have a relaxed weekend hanging out with C. while he was on duty. We watched a pile of television, re
ad several pages, and ate some fantastic food.

Most of it was fantastic, anyhow. Our big plan for weekend cooking was to be a spectacular home-made pizza. C. wa
s going to whip together the dough while I was driving out, and we’d top it, bake it, and then relish in its delicious glory.

We got off to a slightly slow start. We were still waiting for the yeast to get bubbly when I got there, and then had to wait an hour for the dough to rise. In the meantime we snacked on hummus and flatbread, and chatted. We also may have watched some television. Whatever, it was the start of a lazy weekend!

Once the dough was looking gorgeous and well-risen, C. prepared the toppings while I turned out an excellent oblong-shaped rectangle of doughy-goodness. Then we topped it. Italian sausage, mozzarella, pepperonis, red onions, bell peppers—it was a work of art! I got the oven hot, and we set it in.


I will take responsibility for the mess that happened next. Thinking that the pizza would take longer to cook than it did, I suggested that we finish the second half of the DVD we were watching. It was only 30 minutes! The air filled with the smell of delicious pizza baking goodness. Finally, the show wrapped up, and our stomachs grumbling, we went into the kitchen to retrieve our masterpiece.


C’s face when he opened the oven was something to see. Our delicious dinner, our awesome work of art… it looked like it had been through an incinerator. The cheese was black and crispy. The crust (labored over!) was hard and carcinogenic. The red peppers, once plump and tasty, had dissolved into nothing more than charred rinds. The pepperonis were sad brittle discs. I thought C. was going to cry! I take full responsibility for the disaster, and ate two pieces of it (crunch crunch crunch) anyhow. It was awful.

The rest of the weekend’s cooking turned out spectacular, however.

Saturday brunch was a fluffy and delicate Dutch Baby with lemon juice, powdered sugar, and fresh sliced strawberries. I’ve been trying to be good and only buy things like strawberries when they’re in season, but the ones at New Seasons have been
so lovely lately, that I splurged and—yet again—made a treat out of them.

I’ve made some lovely Dutch Babies with hand-beaten, eggs, milk, and four, but the consistency is so much better when you have a device that allows you to really beat the hell out of the eggs and the batter. A Christmas eggbeater from mom fit the bill to a T. Portable! Fun! Functional! Whirrr! Whirrr!
The other winning factor in the DB combination this time around was the use of a ceramic pie pan instead of my standard square Pyrex. The presentation was much prettier, and the end result was slightly thicker and moister, with the same perfectly crisp edges.

Still making up for Friday’s disaster, we restored our good cooking streak on Sunday night with a tasty fillet of salmon, rice and fresh green beans.

We made a Soy/Ginger/Maple marinade (full of garlic and yummyness), and spooned that over the fish. We sliced a couple of red onions for flavor, and placed those on top of things as well. The sweet of the Basalmic vinegar and the maple syrup was a perfect complement to the ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. And the fish was moist and beautiful. Rice was a mix of wild and brown rice, steamed and plain. Finally, the green beans were sautéed in garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. We didn’t eat until almost 10, but it was well worth the wait.