Sunday, July 31, 2005

Hungry Valley: A Road Mix

As has been noted earlier, PCJ celebrated a birthday recently and acquired some mix cds from me to commemorate the auspicious occasion. Because she likes mix lists with commentary as much as she likes mix cds, I offer her "Hungry Valley". While it is a mix that is bigger on theme or ability to induce laughter than it is on musical genius, it still has some songs that were just chosen simply because I like them, and they happened to mention food.

Like beverage, food is a big part of road tripping. While I do make the occasional trip with others, PCJ and her sister are probably my favorite road trip companions. Somehow our road personalities just click. An inevitable part of road travel is that moment, when you realize that you are starving and you notice (save for foraging for nuts and berries in the wilderness) that there is no food for 50 miles. Hungry Valley was created for just such moments.

Hungry Like the Wolf - Duran Duran: The rationale behind making this the opening song seems obvious to me. It has the added bonus of hearkening back to the 80's, otherwise known as the days of PCJ's youth, so it holds a double whammy - food AND nostalgia!

Breakfast at Tiffany's - The Breakfast at Tiffany's Guy: Sorry, but I don't know his name and I'm too lazy to look it up. More than that, though, it amuses me to refer to him (or is it a band?) as "The Breakfast at Tiffany's Guy". I think it's professional, like something a real music critic would do. Anyway, I remember liking this song when it first came out. I'm kind of over it now, but it does mention breakfast, so it does fit the HV criteria. Plus, I really DO remember the film and I recall that DID kinda like it. Actually, I liked it a lot and Audrey Hepburn was adorable in just about everything she did.

The Red Rose and the Briar - John Wesley Harding: This is one of the first JWH songs that I liked. It is a ballad of the sort that few people seem to write anymore today. Anymore, when people use "ballad", they're just talking about a non-rocking song. JWH's song is a ballad in the poetic sense of the word. It tells a developed story. It's a nice song, and the bulk of it takes place in a diner, hence the suitability for this mix.

Lady Marmelade - The Skanky Hos: While this may not be their real name, it is their true collective name. This was mostly put on because it had "marmelade" in the title, and because, sometimes when people are delirious with hunger, they will French Chef along with Lil' Kim on the "On on on..." (<-this MUST be read with a French nasal or don't bother reading it) part and giggle uncontrollably. Please Pass the Milk - They Might Be Giants: Short, classic, a must - especially since the mix has been low on beverages thusfar.

C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips - OK Go: There are three reasons why this song was included: 1) Cinnamon is a spice, therefore it can be eaten; 2) It mentions candy kisses and buttery eyes; 3) I LIKE it! It's just a fun song.

Don't Touch My Tomatoes - Joséphine Baker: Much like Ella Fitzgerald's "Stone Cold Dead in the Market" (which I just realize would have also fit on this mix), this song just has one of those rhythms that I find impossible to resist. The lyrics carry some double entendre in them, however, when I chose this song I chose it in the spirit of "Touch my food and you'll draw back a nub!", which is clearly NOT the spirit in which Miss Baker sang it. Either way, it's still a fun song.

Potato - Cheryl Wheeler: Ok. I will be the first to admit that there is something potentially annoying about listening to the word potato sung ad nauseum to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance, but that's only the chorus. There are also several verses, which are also sung to Mexican Hat Dance, but have kind of funny lyrics that offer deep insight to the life of a potato, and are potentially annoying.

Queen of the Savages - The Magnetic Fields: Another Stephen Merritt gem AND it talks about yams, cabbages, and cannibalism. Clearly it was written with my future mix in mind. It's like Stephen and I are on the same wave length. Eerie.

Forbidden Fruit - Nina Simone: A cheery, bouncy song about how humanity was expelled from The Garden. Like Ella, Nina had a gorgeous voice. It's much deeper and fuller in timbre than Ella's was, but equally lovely. This song is more silly than anything else, but I highly recommend checking out some of her other work if you haven't already, because it really is compelling.

Sugar Daddy - From the Hedwig and the Angry Inch Soundtrack: This is a great song, because it's from a movie I love and it talks about candy, which clearly fits my theme. It also has references to Erich Hoeneker and Helmut Kohl, which appeals to the Hun in me. Plus, it's a great song to sing along with, which is important on a road trip.

Sweets for my Sweet - The Drifters: I have to admit that this is not my absolute favorite Drifters song, but it makes up for it by having that almost Latin beat that I like. Beyond that, it fit well into the candy portion of my mix.

Malted Milk - Eric Clapton: This song appeals to me, because I love blues and Eric Clapton is brilliant. It also amuses me that the drowning of sorrows is not being facilitated by gin or whiskey, but malted milk. Since this IS a road mix and we don't want to promote an upsurge in DWI's, Malted Milk just seemed safe and sensible.

I Want You - Savage Garden: This song makes no sense whatsoever, but was included for one reason and one reason only - that 2 second span where the words "chika cherry cola" are revealed.

One Week - Barenaked Ladies: In a nut shell: I like the song and it had too many food references to pass up. Plus, how many songs mention Kurosawa?

The Mariner's Revenge Song - The Decembrists: Words fail to express just how much I love this song. It is a glorious story of vengance and being swallowed by a whale. My two favorite part about this song are 1) the protagonist's ghostly, consumptively weak mother, who urges her son to "Find him, find him, tie him to a pole and break his fingers to splinters; Put him in a hole until he wakes up, naked, clawing at the ceiling of his grave..." and 2) The fact that the mariner is thrilled that he and his victim both managed to survive being swallowed by a whale, because it affords him the possiblity of killing him himself. It's just a great song.

Dinner Bell - They Might Be Giants: This song takes me back to my California days. I remember one particular road trip between California and Oregon where this song (actually the whole CD it came from) figured prominently in our road show.

Is That You Modean? - The B-52's: God, I love me some Fred Scheider. He is just so cheesy and campy. How can anyone not love an alien abduction song that begins "Waiting for bus number 99/Going to the store for hot dogs and wine!/When all of a sudden, I felt real cold/And wound up in the belly of a big old UFO"? It's almost as good as Hot Pants. As with TMBG, this song reminds me a lot of a particular trip to California. I have very specific memories of bare feet hanging out the car window and singing selections from this CD at the top of our lungs as we drove through the mountainy, dry border area.

That's Amore - Dean Martin: It mentions pizza pie and it's cheesy - really cheesy.

Black Coffee - Julie London: I think it must be the slinky feather-boa-wearing opening that drew me. I don't even LIKE coffee.

Baby Got Back - Sir Mix-A-Lot: What mix cd about food would be complete without a song about fat assed women? Enough said.

The Union Mule & Friends - Easward Ho! Part 8

My friend in Union
Originally uploaded by Martina.

Day 1 - The Final Entry

Tonight I met a new friend. His name is The Union mule, but his friends call him Giles. He is a bit of a watcher, standing guard over the Union Cemetary. We met when PCJ and I made a stop at the cemetery on the way to search for dinner in La Grande.

Anyone who gazes on the visage of The Union Mule can’t help but think he was awfully cute. He came right up to the fence to say hello. I wished I would have had something to give him. What do mules like anyway? I know horses like apples. Maybe they do too. Either way, he was quite charming and it's a good thing there isn't room in my Matrix for a mule, or he might have become the trip mascot.

On the way to La Grande, we also stopped at Cove, which is a charming little town, but not as charming as the Union mule. There really was not much of anything there, but something about it just had a good vibe - much better than Island City which we also passed on the way to La Grande.

Of Island City, I can only say that the town has fallen prey to a gross misnomer that does not do it any favors. “Island City” screams grass skirts, mai-tais and luaus, not strip mall and couple of gas stations. I’m not sure who it was that thought anything containing “Island” was a good name for a town in the middle of the prairie. It’s pretty much doomed to disappoint. I’ll have to look it up in my Oregon Place Names book and find out.

Stay tuned for Day 2...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Union Hotel - Westward Ho! Part 7

Union Hotel
Originally uploaded by Martina.
From the Garden Room of the Union Hotel:

Tonight we are spending the night as guests of the Union Hotel. It is a sweet, little hotel that was built in 1919 for the whopping sum of
$150,000. Today you can’t even buy a small ranch style home for that, but in 1921 I suppose it was a lot of money. As with many of these buildings, the place opened with great fanfare, but then the town declined and the hotel fell into disrepair.

Eventually a couple bought it and began renovating. They’ve done a good job, the hotel is charming and the rates are a steal. The room (actually it is two rooms connected by a bathroom) we are staying in is called The Garden Room. The Garden Room(s) is (are) decorated in a palette of blue and yellow, which is used to a cheery effect.

If any decorating faux pas has been committed, it would be that the rooms are almost too cute. The furnishings are as “wicktastic” (or predominantly made of wicker) as a set from the Golden Girls, and the beds have white picket fencing as headboards. Truthfully, the fencing is an almost too precious touch. It is purely cosmetic and really does not make a very useful headboard. My room also has a mural of a tree painted on the wall, but Jen‘s does not. This has cemented in my mind that the Union Hotel likes me better. Clearly it is no match for my charm.

We are separated by a blue bathroom with an old clawfoot tub that I won’t be bathing in, because I have an almost OCD thing about hotel tubs. The thought of stewing in the remnants of some stranger’s funk grosses me out, so unless they are exceptionally clean, I only take showers in hotels. It is, nonetheless, a relaxing, comfortable place to stay, even for a whack job like myself.

The owners have cultivated an environment that makes the visitor feel like she has stepped back in time. That is my favorite part about this place. While the hotel has a community parlor and television room for those who require modern amenities beyond electricity, the guest rooms themselves have no televisions or telephones, making for a nice, quiet retreat to read, write, think or spend time alone together. The view from my window is also pleasant as it overlooks a city park with a stream (Catherine Creek), gazebo and veteran’s memorial. The hotel website also claims there is a view of the Eagle Cap mountains, but I do not remember seeing them. Either the proprietors of the Union Hotel are damn dirty liars or the cloudy conditions prevented my mountain viewing pleasure. It is okay, though, because we will see plenty of mountains as the trip goes on for tomorrow we head to Joseph, Enterprise and the Blue Mountains.

The Pendleton Underground - Westward Ho! Part 6

Ball & Chain
Originally uploaded by Martina.
Let it not be said that Pendleton’s seedy side was solely comprised of bordellos. Oh, no, there were also gambling halls, speakeasies, opium dens and ominous Chinese laundries. Ok, the Chinese laundry was not that ominous, but it was down there. What was ominous, however, was the Chinese jail, which still displays a rusty and uncomfortable looking ball and chain.

The first place we visited in the underground was the Shamrock Card Room, which featured a group of really non-lifelike mannequins playing cards. As it turns out, the non-lifelike mannequin tableau is a hallmark of the Pendleton Underground. I couldn't help thinking that the Underground mannequins looked like they’d have gotten on well with the House on the Rock mannequins. Someone should hook them up. Sure, they come from different times and different places, but they (assuming mannequins have the capacity to appreciate anything) might enjoy being part of an all mannequin revival of Kate & Leopold. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that the card playing, gun-slinger mannequins would be as happy in Spring Green, Wisconsin as they are in their home under a bordello. Sure the HotR mannequins are nude, but they're probably all talk.

While the tour is short on naked mannequins, it does continue on through a series of rooms including the aforementioned Chinese jail, an opium den, and a big room where Chinese workers slept at night (presumably before Chinatown was built). The extensive network of tunnels originated beneath the city as a way for Chinese workers to get from place to place. There were curfews in place for the Chinese after dark, and there was a real danger of being used for target practice, if they were caught outside past curfew. This yet again proves to me that no one society has a monopoly on treating outsiders poorly.

Following the tour, we were starving. Luckily the Main Street Diner was only a few feet away. It was the life-sized Betty Boop outside on the sidewalk that caught our attention, but once we looked inside, we knew it was the right place for us. What was so great about it? It had food. It was also a cute, old school diner with burgers, fries and shakes. Really, at that point I didn’t care what they served. Jen is testing the cheeseburgers at various diners and proclaimed them good, but not as good as Big Jim’s in The Dalles. I am not testing burgers, but thought my Western Burger (basically a hamburger with some barbeque sauce and an onion ring on top) was okay too. Really, if we had waited much longer to eat, I would have happily eaten my shoe and called it haute cuisine. It is possible that this makes me not the best judge. Either way, we left the restaurant full and ready to continue on our trip, which lead us through La Grande and a series of other small towns.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Songs from the Powellhurst Compound

We now interrupt our gripping series, Eastward Ho!, for a special PCJ's birthday month presentation. PCJ's birthday was on Friday, which means she has now joined me in being in her very late post-early-mid-30's. To commemorate this special occasion, we had a brunch and presents at my house. The occasion was made all the more special by the fact that my dog, Napoleon Baxtaparte did not bite (or even bark that much!) at anyone, despite the guest list including two friends he'd never snubbed before.

While I have eaten many a brunch, I have never actually hosted one, so it was a new experience for me. I have to admit that I was a little bit nervous about everything turning out well. This did not, however, stop me from trying out almost all new recipes. Luckily for me, everything turned out fairly decent. Some of it was even really good!

Anyway, part of the festivities was also giving PCJ some mix cd's I'd made for her. Since she has been gently reminding me for almost a week now that I need to give her the track listing for them, here is the one for Songs from the P'hurst Compound:

1. Son of a Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield. I know it's old and semi-dorky for me to admit, but I love this song. It was originally offered to Aretha Franklin. She turned it down, so Dusty recorded it instead. I really like her voice, however, it's the only song of hers that I've ever heard that I actually enjoy.
2. Hitler's Tears - John Wesley Harding. It might just be the cow bell, but I love this song! While Hitler is about as unfunny as you can get, the lyrics to this song crack me up. The idea that Hitler's actions all go back to some pop-psychology mumbo jumbo about a miserable childhood, being a frustrated artist and having bad luck with the ladies is patently ridiculous, but tongue in cheek, so it's ok.
3. Making Memories of Us - Keith Urban. This one was actually a Citizen R. addition.
4. Proud Mary - Tina Turner. Another Citizen R. favorite and example of my closet love for old school R&B. The thing that makes this song so great (beyond the obvious things) is that it really does showcase how lame Ike would be on his own. It's a shame he was such a bastard, because he was involved in making some pretty cool music. It's still not my favorite Ike & Tina song, but I do really like it.
5. Let Me Down Easy - Chris Isaak. This is one of the few songs that I really liked on his last CD, but I still love him. He just has this awesome tone to his voice that makes me melt when I hear it. 6. Time Enough for Rocking When We're Dead - The Magnetic Fields. Stephen Merritt has this great, deep, dark, almost creepy voice that still has a real beauty in its tone. He somehow manages to sound poignant and cynical at the same time. And his lyrics, well, they're just weird and great. The best thing about my favorite songs of his, though, are the melodies, which are lyrical and just plain lovely.
7. Misguided Angel - Cowboy Junkies. Thanks to PCJ, I went through a very heavy Cowboy Junkies phase in grad school. I don't listen to them as much as I used to (I don't know why and should probably start again), but this has always been one of my favorite songs of theirs. Margo Timmins has this great voice, like honey dripping from a jar. She never sounds like she's straining, which I love.
8. I Said I Love You - Raul Malo. Cheesy, but irresistable. This kind of song always makes me think of this time I was in a club in LA and this guy asked me to dance to a similarly fast song and was manically swinging me around the floor like a giant rag doll, which also makes me laugh.
9. Merry-Go-Round - John Wesley Harding. I could have subtitled this "JWH and Friends", because he appears on this mix a lot. All of the songs on this mix are live recordings that can be downloaded for free from Harding's website
Listening to him makes me happy, because it reminds me of the time between starting grad school and moving back to Oregon, which was, until my dad died, a really happy time in my life.
10. Wishful Thinking - The Ditty Bops. This is my second favorite song on their cd. My first favorite is "Sister Kate". Frankly, I've listened to it so often, that I'm ready for a brief "Sister Kate" break. Still, I really like this band. I knew I love them the moment I saw them on Conan O'Brien with their lead singer and her little Jazz Age hairdo and fringed dress. Besides just singing a great song, she inspired me to grow my layers out!
11. Let the Good Times Roll - Three Mo' Tenors. A definite Citizen R. addition, from a very eclectic cd, which is a collection of broadway, opera, jazz and whatever else came to mind when they were recording.
12. Fool in Love - Tina Turner. I have another newer recording of it that she did in the 80's, which I like better in some ways, especially because she was no longer an abused cash cow when she recorded and somehow sounds happier. On the other hand, her voice has more character and rawness in the original. Basically, I like them both. It's just a great, 60's pop song.
13. I Know Where I'm Going - John Wesley Harding. This is just a sweet, folksy song with some simple guitar for accompaniment. It has a lovely melody and I like the playing with perspective inherent in a man singing lyrics about loving handsome, winsome Johnny. It makes me wonder if maybe I'm not the only one who loves Johnny Depp.
14. Memories are Made of This - Dean Martin. Cheesetastic, I know, but it reminds me of muppets, so it had to be here. Also, just as a side note, the first movie that I consciously remember seeing was a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis movie (maybe Cinderfella?, but I'm not sure) and I had a kiddie crush on him then - though not as big as the one I had on Jim Rockford. Well, I guess I've revealed all my secret shames here, haven't I?
15. That's the Way I Like It - K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Despite the passing years, the fading disco glory of this song still makes me smile. K.C. and the Sunshine band was one of the first albums I bought as a kid. It's a perfect kind of belting it in the car while butt dancing song. Sometimes you just gotta embrace your inner dork and groove and what better song is there for that?
16. Truly, Madly Deeply - Savage Garden. Another Citizen R request. I figured since I was using the Chicka-Cherry-Cola song on my other mix masterpiece.
17. Joy to the World - Three Dog Night. Did you guess Citzen R? Well, you're right. You win the cheesy mix cd you are already holding in your hand.
18. Out of the Window - Violent Femmes. The thing I love about Gordon Gano is that his whiny voice is not technically what I would call great, but he makes me like it anyway. I think PCJ summed it up best when she attributed their appeal to getting this window into the mind of the 20 year old male. I really like this song. It's pretty bouncy considering its subject matter.
19. Hamlet - John Wesley Harding. Anyone who can condense the whole plot of Hamlet into a 4:57 minute song is brilliant. Enough said. This is SO much better (and funnier) than Cliff Notes!
20. Now Comes the Night - Rob Thomas. This is a Citizen R. favorite, because it's "pretty". She is big on pretty. I like it a this song too, so don't think it was only Citizen R influenced.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pendleton's Painted Ladies - Eastward Ho! Part 5

Cozy Room Interior
Originally uploaded by Martina.
By the time we got to Pendleton, it was around 11:30 a.m. We stopped for a quick trip to the visitor’s center, then wandered a couple of blocks down the street to Emigrant Avenue, the site of the Pendleton Underground tour office. They say that one normally needs a reservation, but we didn’t have one. It did not seem to hurt us. The tour was fabulous and filled with lots of local history (mostly the seedy bits, which tend to be way more fun than ultimately boring stories featuring the upstanding act of upstanding citizens). It was well worth the $10 admission fee.

Pendleton seems to have been the seedy underbelly of early Oregon. One hundred some odd years ago the little town was home to 32 saloons and 18 bordellos. At one time the second floor of just about every building on Main Street was a bordello, and there was even more illicit activity going on under the city.

The underground was build by Chinese laborers around the turn of the 19th century, and seems to have flourished in the time of prohibition, when the saloons, gambling venues and speakeasies moved underground along with the opium dens and Chinese jail.

The tour focuses largely on Pendleton’s brothels, in particular The Cozy Rooms operated by Stella Darby. The Cozy Rooms were located in on the second floor of the Emigrant Building (?). Locals (at least the ones prone to visiting such places) called the stairway leading to the rooms the “32 steps to heaven”.

Besides being an enabler to the whore mongers of the greater Pendleton area, Stella was an astute businesswoman who made her foray into the trade world at the tender age of 19.

She was by no means greedy, though. Always willing to help the community that shunned her and her girls (whom she is purported to have treated well), Stella was a benevolent soul, often donating clothing, money and food to the poor.

My favorite story about her was one the guide learned from an older woman who once visited the tour. As the guide started to talk about Stella, the woman blurted out “If you want to know about Stella Darby, I’ll tell you about Stella Darby!” The woman went on to tell a story from her own youth.

Apparently she was quite poor. This, of course, did not prevent her from being excited when a boy invited her to a formal dance. Still, it sunk in pretty quickly that she didn’t have a formal gown and that there certainly would be no money for a dress. Being a bold one, the girl decided the only sensible thing to do was to trot herself down to the red light district and ask a hooker if she could borrow a dress.

While Stella was accustomed to helping those less fortunate, it was the first time that anyone had ever actually asked for her help. Even though people were ready to take her donations and appreciated them in a fashion, they never really thanked her. Because of what she did for a living, she wasn’t exactly a pillar of the community. For a moment, she was stunned. She quickly recovered her composure and readily agreed to let the girl come in a pick out any dress she liked. The girl chose a blue satin number and went to the dance and had a wonderful time.

When the dance was over, she brought the dress back to Stella. Instead of making her give the dress back, however, Stella (who must have enjoyed the girl’s boldness, not to mention the fact that someone had come to her for help) let her keep it. At the time of the tour she took some decades later, the woman still had the dress wrapped in tissue paper in her attic.

In thinking about that story, it seems to me that the girl gave Stella something perhaps even greater than Stella gave her. In seeking out her help, for just a moment, she gave her respectability. She made Stella a normal neighbor, a part of the community.

The truth is that people like Stella and her girls were not really a part of the community. They weren’t truly welcome anywhere outside of their little red light district. They weren’t even welcome in church. Instead, Stella turned one of the parlors into a chapel, where she’d invite traveling preachers to come sermonize, so her girls could have church too. It must have been a very lonely life.

Brains! Eastward Ho! - Part 4

Crawling from the grave
Originally uploaded by Martina.
Day 1 - cont'd

Before leaving the greater Echo metropolitan area, we stopped at the Echo cemetery. I don’t know why, but cemeteries always interest me, especially the older ones. I suppose it is because of all of the stories they contain. When I see all those names and dates, I wonder about the people and lives behind them. It engages my imagination.

Also, cemeteries are quiet, restful places. Plus, especially in the older ones, some of the headstone carvings can be pretty interesting. This one had some great headstones. There was a rather large one that I believe was supposed to represent the soul reaching out to heaven. The impression it made on me was more one of a corpse crawling from the grave to climb up the cross mounted above it - possibly seeking a better vantage point in its zombie search for brains. That one struck me as more creepy than restful, but maybe that’s just the zombiphobe in me talking.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Echo Dog - Eastward Ho! Part 3

The Echo Dog
Originally uploaded by Martina.

Day 1, cont'd

Let it not be said, however, that Echo had nothing at all to offer. Echo is where I met the Echo dog. After scaring the hell out of me (he came running up, while I was taking a picture and caught me by surprise), he turned out to be a pleasant, if very dirty, friend.

At first I wasn’t too sure of him, because he was very reticent to be touched. Still, when faced with a large, unfamiliar dog with no way to escape, it’s best to try to make friends, so I said, “Hi puppy”. He immediately ran away, making me think that my diplomatic skills needed some work.

No sooner had I turned around to get back in the car, than he was there again. This time he was holding a ridiculously small stick in his mouth. He looked a bit silly, having chosen a stick that would have been more appropriate for a chihuahua than a dog of his size, but his intentions were clear. He was extending an olive branch - or at least an olive twig.

Apparently he did not want to maim me at all. He just wanted to play a game of fetch! So, we stayed and played for a bit. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, the Echo dog tore off to bound over a nearby fence and PCJ and I got back in the car and headed out of town.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Echo - Eastward Ho! Part 2

Originally uploaded by

Day 1, cont'd: May 31st, from the Union Hotel

Picked PCJ up at 7 a.m. this morning. Unlike my last road-trip partner, who still doesn't know how near death he came at the onset of our journey, PCJ was actually packed and ready to go at the appointed time. This set the stage for a promising trip. Somehow the sense of fun is dampened, when one person wants to bludgeon the other with a AAA Trip-Tik before the tires have even left the driveway.

We made good time to Pendleton, stopping only once in Arlington for the two B’s (beverage and bathroom). As usual, we our need to pee was far worse than we thought it would be when we decided to stop at the next available bathroom. We are used to it, though, because every road-trip is a delicate balance between "Mmmm, sweet sweet beverage. More MORE MORE!!!" and "Oh God, my bladder is about to burst!" While this incident wasn't as bad as the time we were shafted in Shafter, CA (bathroom at next exit felt like 20 miles from said exit, was none too clean and the beverage was overpriced), we really did have to go. And, of course, we followed our bathroom break with the purchase of more diet coke.

We also stopped briefly in Echo, because a guide book said the little town had an old cemetery and ten buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. While this is techically true, Echo was not as impressive as the blurb (probably sponsored by the Greater Echo Area Tourist Board) would have a person believe. As it turned out, the only interesting structure was an old church, and even that was only marginally interesting, because it reminded me of some of the much older churches I'd seen in the Southwest.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Cancer 0, Chateâu Powellhurst 1!

I know I said that I would post the continuing journal of my Eastern Oregon trip in installments and I will. Today, however, I feel the need to interrupt regular programming to say what a totally awesome (in the true sense of the word), wonderful, beautiful day it is. Sure, it's cloudy out, but my mom does not have breast cancer.

We have been really worried her in P'hurst for the past few days. You see, my mom had a routine mammogram a couple weeks ago, and they found something. At first we thought that it was just a bad picture, because the tech had been futzing around and didn't seem to know what she was doing. As a result, my mom ended up being called back for a second one. This happens sometimes - folded skin looks like a dark mark, pictures don't come out, etc. As it turns out, there really was a small dark spot.

So, my mom went to have a biopsy last Wednesday. In her usual fashion, she pretty much took it all in stride. She's quite pragmatic about these things and looks at them with the realistic attitude of "statistically, most of these things turn out to be nothing. I'm doing what I have to do and everything will be okay." I, on the other hand, have been silently (don't want to worry her) freaking out and having thoughts like "I am about to be orphaned and will shortly have no family left in the world, thereby leaving my to die a lonely, motherless woman-child. Plus, I want my mommy!" But this isn't about me, what it is about is that someone I love might have had some really horrible news today. Between the freak infection and surgery she had to have last month and this, it's been a tough past few weeks.

I knew that the doctor was supposed to be calling today, and was prepared to spend a work day of nervous waiting interspersed with calls to see if she was okay. But that turned out to be completely unnecessary. The doctor - God bless him - called at 8:04 this morning to tell her that everything is okay!!! The growth was benign and was removed when he did the needle biopsy. All she has to do is go back for another mammogram in 6 months (as a precaution) and then it's back to the normal once a year.

So, July 11, 2005, you are a wonderful day. Don't let anyone tell you any different, because you ROCK!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Eastward Ho! - Part I

Day 1: May 31, 2005 - Portland

Dawn has broken. I am all packed, except for one skirt that was still too wet when I went to bed last night. Leaving my packing until the last minute generally makes me nervous. While I like for the travel itself to be flexible and carefree, I still like to be organized with the packing before I leave. Nonetheless, the skirt isn't stressing me out too much. I have plenty of time to pack it before we hit the road.

Soon we head for the Oregon Trail. Hopefully the journey will go better than all those times when PCJ, MQ and I used to play the Oregon Trail Game on my first computer. Our westward journey always broke down just outside of Independence, because we liked to fill the wagon with a fully equipped cast iron stove, candy, whiskey, laudanum, and a rocking chair and banjo for entertainment. Apparently weighing down a Conestoga wagon with candy and pulling it with one spindly horse is not a recipe for success. In retrospect I realize that we should have opted for a prairie schooner instead. They are smaller, which has the drawback of less laudanum room, but are arguably more manageable for a single, spindly horse.

Ah, if I’d only known then what I know now. Despite past cyber failures, I have high hopes that the journey will go better this time, for in real life we also travel with diet coke and sweet, hot kippered beef. Besides, we are going East, not West. That probably makes all the difference.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Originally uploaded by Martina.
Saturday evening we were relaxing inside watching t.v. when the hounds started going crazy in the front yard. We looked out of the picture window to see what was causing all the commotion. As it turns out, an absolutely gorgeous, bear-like dog was standing at the fence, trying to get our dogs to play. At the time, we had no idea what he was. In fact, we spent much of the time he was with us trying to figure out what kind of breed he might be. It was only later that we learned that he was an Akita, but I am getting ahead of myself.

As large as he was, it was easy to see that the big beast at the gate was still little more than a puppy. Despite his friendliness toward our dogs, he was a little shy when I went out. It took some coaxing to get him to come. Once he realized that I wasn't going to hurt him, he turned into a big, slobbery, affectionate baby. Much to my surprise, this beautiful animal had no I.D. tag and no collar.

It was getting dark. With his dark fur, we were worried that he might get hit, so we did the only thing we could do. We took the giant stranger into our home for the night. Despite his size, he was incredibly good natured and immediately got on well with everyone.

The only problem in an otherwise friendly canine summit was my smallest dog, Baxter. Baxter is a stocky, little terrier, who is what animal behaviorists refer to as a bit of an asshole. Don't get me wrong, I love him to death. It's just that I've come to terms with the reality that my dog can be a real jerk.

Despite the fact that Big Dog outweighed him by at least 65 pounds, Baxter, who suffers from a canine version of short man syndrome, determined he was going to kick his ass. For his part Big Dog found himself unable to take Baxter too seriously. In the end we decided that Big Dog's "Can't we all just get along?" philosophy had to have its limits, and elected to separate Baxter for his own safety. This unfortunately meant that Big Dog ended up having to spend the night in the garage, which left me so guilt ridden that I sat outside with him until he fell asleep and then woke up at 5 a.m. and went out again to keep him company.

Big Dog accepted all of this good naturedly. The poor thing was so tired and hungry that I am guessing he was happy just to be spending the night indoors. He definitely was grateful. Every few minutes he'd get up to come give me big, slobbery dog kisses right in the face, if I didn't duck out of the way in time.

The next morning, we set to the task of finding Big Dog's family while he played outside with Toby and Ruby, whose sweet natures make up for any ill will harbored by Baxter the Belligerent. After a disappointing search of the Lost & Found, my mom decided to see if anyone in the neighborhood recognized Big Dog. No one did.

As much as we loved him (and who wouldn't love such a sweet boy?), we knew that we could not keep Big Dog. We also knew there was NO WAY we were going to take him to Multnomah County Animal Control. I didn't want to leave him anywhere where they euthanize. Besides, it was clear from the way he acted that he was used to being in the house and to being treated well.

Finally, we came upon the idea of calling the Humane Society to see if they could scan him for a microchip. After receiving confirmation that they could, we bundled Big Dog into the back of my Matrix to go for a ride to the shelter (not to leave him there, just to get him scanned). This is where it starts getting weird.

In retrospect, it actually started getting weird the night before Big Dog showed up, when I dreamt about finding a stray animal. I say "animal", because int he dream I couldn't figure quite what it was. In the tradition of my usual oddball dreams (remind me to tell you one day about John Wesley Harding and his magic bus!), the creature was like black, furry cat with an alligator head.

I spent most of the dream trying to figure out 1) what kind of animal it was, 2) where it came from, and 3) worrying about where to take it where it wouldn't be euthanized. Anyway, it is an odd coincidence that I dreamt this the night before Big Dog appeared at our gate.

But the coincidences do not end there. As we were pulling out of the driveway to go to the shelter, I decided that we should drive around the neighborhood a bit to see if anyone had posted a lost dog sign. After going around the block, we decided that it would be best to just continue on to the shelter. After all, if Big Dog had a microchip, our problem would be solved, so why waste time? We could always comb the neighborhood some more if the microchip was a dead end.

So, having decided to hasten to the Humane Society, we ended up taking a street a block down from ours to get to the freeway. Normally I would never go that way. It was lucky I did, because if I hadn't, I would not have been struck by the whim to stop and ask an old man working in his yard if Big Dog looked familiar to him.

As luck would have it, someone had just been at his house 10 minutes earlier, asking if he'd seen a lost Akita! Even weirder, as we were talking to the man, the people drove back by. As it turns out, they were friends of Big Dog's owner!

A few minutes later, the owner, who was also out combing the streets came driving up. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so happy. Big Dog, whose real name turned out to be Oreo, was as thrilled to find his mom as she was to find him. She almost cried when I told her we'd taken him in and fed him. What a nice feeling it was to have this complete stranger hug me in the middle of the street for doing no more than the right thing.

I am still amazed at the string of coincidences that lead us to her. If we'd left just a minute or two later, we'd never have run into the old man, her friends or the owner herself. As it turns out, Oreo and his 11 year old sister (who was sadly still missing at the time) had gotten spooked by neighbors' early fireworks and broken out of their yard. When we found him, Oreo had already been roaming for two days. It's no wonder he was so tired!

It sure seems like some force was on his side, though. Hopefully his sister was equally lucky and is now home safe with her family. Just to be safe, though, any time I hear the dogs bark, I go outside, hoping that maybe an 11 year old akita will be standing at the gate.