Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank you, merci, danke, grazie, etc.

There was a time when I almost hated holidays like Thanksgiving. It's not that I don't like the idea of getting together with loved ones or the copious amounts of comfort food. If there was ever a hobbitesque, second breakfast kind of people, it's my family. It is more that I always felt there was something missing.

Growing up, my family felt small. My paternal grandparents died when I was young. There were relatives in Germany, but they were too far away to come for holidays, especially Thanksgiving. Oddly enough, Germans don't care so much about the pilgrims or their wild poultry. So, most of the time, it was just the three of us. My dad would watch football and my mom would cook like she did every night. The preparations just took a little longer. Thanksgiving felt like any other day, but with turkey, yam casserole and a hollow sense of being this lonely little familial island in a neighborhood full of packed driveways and holiday cheer. Of course, now I know that it is not the size of the family, but the love in it that is important. Spend a Thanksgiving on the prairie eating fettucine alfredo while watching an interminable movie about a lonely beekeeper with an almost stranger who also couldn't afford to fly home for the holiday, and you will know how true it is!

It was not until I was older that I realized that we make our own families. I have a few relatives in the area, but my blood family itself is small. At this point, there is just my mom left. I do, however, have a huge family of the heart. This year I had more Thanksgiving invitations than I could attend. It pains me that there are not four of me, so we could go to each one and that I couldn't accept the invitation I most wanted to attend, but it also makes me happy to know that I am blessed in having such a big adopted family.

So, wherever you are and whoever you area, if you are reading this (and even if you are not), I hope this autumn night finds you warm, happy and, most of all, with the people you love.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pajama Day (October Style)

I love October so much! I think we should do it twice, maybe thrice and get rid of one of those dead weight months like April. Rain, taxes? April showers bring May flowers? This is Oregon where it rains like a mofo nine months a year, there'll be plenty of time for rain! Nothing good ever happens in April! But October...Now there's a month for you! Sunny, windy days, pumpkins, spooky stuff, and license to wear costumes without anyone looking at you funny. It's like October was made for me! It's such a clean, crisp month.

I don't know what it is about autumn, but it always turns me into Robert Post's child. I want to reevaluate things and make them neat and pretty. That goes for my closet, my my head, my life. I am on vacation this week, which is good, because work was getting me to the point where I felt like I was about to break. There was one day where I actually cried my way home from Wilsonville to Portland. This weekend is the first one I have had off in something like three weeks. A couple weeks ago , I had a Sunday where I spent 12 hours at work (TWELVE HOURS!). It's been so long since I've seen some of my friends, I don't think they'd recognize me, if I bumped into them on the street. I work to live, not the other way around. I want my life back!

Lucky for me (and probably everyone around me, because I seriously was close to snapping), I am on vacation this week and have a whole host of soul restoring plans. Vacation week kicked off with a pajama day. Pajama day is a wonderful, cleansing thing. It was almost perfect except for that around 3 p.m. a friend called, wanting to come over. While I adore him, the sanctity of pajama day is such that it demands that one not get dressed for a full day, not just part. Those are the rules. I don't just make them up here, people! (Except that I totally DO!)

Pajama Day is serious. It only comes when there is a code red mental health situation. You know, what I'm talking about. It is for those days when you are so worn down that if someone were to fuck with you, it would be anybody's guess whether you'd just burst into tears or try to gut them with carving knife (but, of course, crumble into a heap before anyone really got hurt, because you're not the kind of person to actually stab anyone). And I was ready! I had my sock monkey pajamas (I'm saving my black dia de los meurtos skull ones in case I have a meltdown a little closer to Halloween!), plentry of beverage, marshmallow pinwheels, and enough Chinese food to fill all my eating-out-of-the-box needs for a day.

But, then, because we had nothing in the house suitable to offer a non-diet coke swilling guest, I was forced to actually get dressed and go out among the living. The first rule of Pajama Day is that you don't talk about Pajama Day (or anything else), while wearing real clothes and you certainly don't go to Safeway! I have to admit that having to go out put me in a bit of a foul mood. Thankfully, it only lasted for about a half an hour. Once I saw my friend, I was happy to see him and really enjoyed our afternoon together. Sometimes rules, even pajama rules, are meant to be broken.

Frankly, I really love it when people drop in or call unexpectedly to see if you want to do something. It's such a nice, spontaneous, "oh, look, they were thinking of me!" surprise. I wish it would happen more often! In the end, it turned out to be a perfect Pajama Day, because it reminded me that rules and schedules are for work, not relaxation. So, here is to spontaneity, letting go of the rules, and enjoying a great vacation week!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Little Birds

A thousand stories run through my head, but remain trapped there. They are caged birds that have been denied the room to fly. Their wings have a way of starting to flap at the wrong time - at work when there is no time to let them out or at night when I am too tired to let them dart about to finally land on a page.

The draft list on this blog is not much better. It is a graveyard of incomplete posts about camping trips, outdoor Andrew Byrd/Decemberists concerts, and other events so far gone that it seems silly to try to recapture their excitement now. And you don't even want to see the shambles of my half-completed home redecoration project. Seriously.

The older I get, the faster time goes and the more quickly the time that once seemed so abundant slips away. This feeling rules this moment when my work is insane, even for my place of business. Last week, I worked 22 hours over the weekend alone and the work is not yet done. My mantra has become "It will all be better after next week" (aka the day the project is due and my vacation begins). I am fortunate to have a job working for the best boss ever. Frankly, I don't think I could do I worked for some total douchebag, but it still wears me down. If I can hold out to the end, there nine glorious days of vacation to reward me. It is a shame my sanity won't be along to enjoy it.

While I am not at all inflexible, I have always had healthy boundary when it comes to work infringing on my personal time. I don't fuck around. My traditional stance has been this: I work hard when I'm at work, but my free time is mine and mine alone. Lately, however, I suspect I am becoming one of those workaholic people I used to scoff at. It's just a job right? Truly, maybe even verily.

The thing is that it was a lot easier when my responsibilities were fewer. Couple a Protestant work ethic with a strong sense of responsibility and add a dose of perfectionism and it becomes too easy to cross the line between "While I am here, I will strive to be the best possible professional I can be" and "Oh my God! Oh my God, I have do get this done. There's no way I can take a vacation! Oh, and p.s., the sky is falling!"

And, then, I wonder: Why can't I apply the same kind of diligence and dedication to my personal life? I had a recent (but blessedly benign) health scare that has made me think about this a lot). There are so many places where it could use the kind of discipline and organization I employ at work. Pay me to do something for someone else, and I am not happy unless it is perfect. Ask me to do something for my own well being (eat better, exercise, carve out some time for myself) and suddenly I'm all about starting tomorrow (if at all). Somewhere in there, there's a profound Stuart Smalley statement pertaining to a pretty jacked up sense of self-worth. I mean, I really am good enough and smart enough, aren't I?

But that's the beauty of fall. For some reason every fall as the seasons begin their autumnal descent toward the death of another calendar year, I find myself thinking about ways in which to improve my physical and spirtual home. And it's a good thing, because there's a lot that needs attention, a lot of birds that need to get out and fly.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

A is for Aggie whose fuel pump went dead

It will always be a great mystery to me how the tow truck driver and stranger to dentifrice who rescued my car last Wednesday managed to rot only his top row of dull yellows. He was a winker and a smiler, who misguidedly thought flashing the little brown stumps he called teeth in a cheeky grin would charm me. It did almost charm the breakfast out of my stomach, but that's not quite the same thing. I didn't have time for developing a more than a professional relationship with a tow truck driver, let alone a toothless one, for after 85,000 miles my sweet blue ride had its first bout with car trouble.

It is always a strange milestone in the life of a car to see it on the back of a tow truck for the first time. As cars go, I LOVE my Toyota. The Saturn I had before it had starter trouble on a regular basis and it would take less time to tell you about the times the piece of shit Dodge I had before that actually ran than it would to chronicle its breakdowns. My Matrix, Agamemnon aka Aggie (don't ask me why, because I only remember that its maiden voyage involved a friend shouting "You have angered Agamemnon!" every time we passed a pokey car on the highway), has been a dream in comparison. I drive a lot, and it had had nothing but routine maintenance thusfar. Now it also has a new fuel pump, battery and tires to go with the new front breaks it got about two months ago. This all comes at an odd time, when I find myself aching for the road.

Lately, something deep inside me wants to just hop in the car and go - just drive with no destination in mind beyond where I end up. I think it may be the adult version of running away from home. I like to think that my car's demand for maintenance means that it too has designs on a road trip and wanted to be in tip-top form (kinda like seeing a doctor before starting an exercise regimen!). Now that everything is fresh and healthy, we are BOTH ready to go.

My last good road trips were last summer. My urge to hit the highway is further bolstered by my friend Jeff's current project wherein he hits the road in his van with his two dogs and a trailer filled with books (his and his friend Kurt's) and travels the country doing readings, selling novels and blogging about it all. And he won't come back until the trailer is empty. The freedom is like a siren song trying to lure me from my desk in search of an adventure of my own.

And I do have a weekend long beachy road trip to a cabin not unlike the one in the picture coming up at the end of July. While I am sure it will be lovely, I can already feel that it won't be enough. It is, however, a start. My car is ready and I've got the whole week off, so we'll see where we end up.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

The question isn't "what are we going to do," the question is "what aren't we going to do?" - Ferris Bueller

Sometimes you just need a mental health day. So one day last week I gathered together some (but not all) of the members of my gang (my mom, Mexican Jenny and Antonio) and we had an impromptu day out. It started with an early lunch at Portland's wonderful and summery Island Café, a floating restaurant in McCuddy's Marina on Hayden Island*. It's nothing fancy - just your basic brew pub and burger fare with a couple fish dishes thrown in (the lobster salad wrap was tasty!), but still surprisingly affordable given its location right on the water AND it looks like a great place to go for happy hour on a warm day. Even better, it is the kind of place where you can get a four year old to pinky swear that he will buy you a houseboat one day when he is grown up and wealthy. I already have mine picked out. Meet my future neighbor:


After lunch, we fed the birds until Antonio fell down and had to be medivac'ed to the Jantzen Beach Target for Spiderman Bandaids and a medicinal ice cream bar. Somehow he also got a soda and new pair of Transformer pajamas (which he insisted on wearing IMMEDIATELY) out of the deal, but what can you do? The newly unsick have to be coddled or they might relapse. Here he is convalescing at our next stop - Portland's International Rose Test Garden.

The rose garden in summer really is one of the loveliest parts about living in this city. Even the bathrooms look like fairy tale cottages. Walking past, you half expect an old crone to come limping out of the door to offer you a poisoned apple or some freshly baked gingerbread that can be yours, if you're just willing to come within pushing distance of her oven.


But, of course, it is the roses themselves that are the star of the show. Can you think of a prettier place just minutes away from a downtown area? If the roses alone aren't enough for you, there are beautiful views of downtown and eve Mt. Hood.

AND it is within walking distance of what my four year old friend tells me is the apex of modern civilization as we know it - a train. This particular track runs between the garden and the Oregon zoo.

Sadly, it was one of the later trains of the day, so we were only able to stay for an hour or so, but we did get to see the bats, which is awesome because they are BATS! and bats are considered good luck in some cultures.

I am inclined to believe it is true.


*Note: If you live in Portland, and you decide to visit the Island Café - and you totally should - know that they are only open during the summer months through October and only between 11 a.m. and sunset. Also, even though their website shows pictures touting "family fun" and it IS family friendly in terms of not being inappropriate for children (at least during the day, I haven't been at night - yet), they don't have much in the way of a kid's menu and the waitress seemed a little put out when we asked, so be prepared to share or pay full price for a meal, knowing your little rugrat will probably have a lot of leftovers. On the other hand, the four year old we took LOVED being on the water and watching the boats and feeding all the waterfowl, so it's probably still worth it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Secret Ingredient is %$#@*!

Today as I was making solstice soup (because nothing says summer like eating a steaming, hot bowl of soup under a grey, Oregon sky), I decided that what I really need is my own Food Network cooking show. Of course, because of my penchant for emphatically yelling things like "mother fucker!" when a can of fire roasted tomatoes explodes all over me because the magnet on the electric can opener is not nearly as magnetic as it would like for me to believe, there would have to be a parental warning. But that's ok, because I am pretty taken with the idea of actually having a cooking show that begins with the "this program is intended for mature audiences only" disclaimer. I'm telling you, I think think there's a market for me and my keepin' it real style of culinary magic. It's not like you'll ever hear that fussy looking Sandra Lee yell out "son of a bitch!" when she drops a platter of semi-homemade chalupas all over the floor.

Of course, the best episodes would be when my mother came on as a special guest chef. It would be just like when Giada flies her nonna in from Palermo (or wherever she's from), except for that my mom would just walk in from the living room. The fact that she lives with me would keep our show low budget. We'd (mostly) good naturedly bicker over how things were properly done. Eventually, something would go wrong, I would swear, she'd flip me off, and then we'd laugh. Seriously. I have never met a 70 year old more ready to go "birding" at the drop of a hat. Her fondness for her special finger - especially when there's a camera around - is all the more surprising given her otherwise strong feelings about "acting like a lady". A lady dockworker, maybe. But I digress...

The point is that we can cook and, thanks to a youth spent in the company of my father, I can also swear up a blue streak when the conditions are right. There can be something positively liberating in a well placed curse word, especially for those of us who spend 90% of our time with our tongues on lockdown. More importantly, however, while cookies might taste better when made with love, everyone knows that soups (especially the spicy ones!) taste better when made with passion.

p.s. Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Could my dog be any cuter (or weirder)?


Sept 08 - May 09 261
Originally uploaded by Martina
While fully acknowledging that other people's pets and kids are rarely as cute as they think they are, I have to say that my dog Lily is pretty stinking cute. It's not because she's a perfect papillon (not that I care about that in the slightest - I LIKE her floppy ears and gigantic 11 lb frame), but because of the unmitigated willingness to be all the weird little dog she can be. Like all spoiled pets, she is not shy about sharing her personality quirks, chief among them that she is a complete stranger to the "thou shall not covet" commandment.

Not only will she steal anything that is not nailed down (and I do mean ANYTHING - shoes, books, pens, pillows, plastic bottles almost as big as she is), but once it is in her possession she will hide and guard it with the ferocity of a dog six times her size. And that brings me to my wake up call this morning. After falling asleep on the couch watching t.v. last night, I was awakened this morning around 6:30 to the odd sensation of something scratching in my hair and behind my back.

Still half asleep, I wasn't too concerned, but vaguely remember mumbling something like "Lily go away" and going back to sleep. About an hour later, I was awakened to the sound of soft growling and realized that Lily had at some point after the hair scratching perched herself on my shoulder and was now grumbling at any cat, dog or human with the temerity to come within a three foot radius of the couch.

And why would she do that, you ask?

Because the early morning hair scratching was her, hiding three dog treats (probably stolen from the other dogs) in my hair.

How do people live without pets?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reading in the Garden (The Fun Summer Book List)

The best thing about summer is that it is nice enough out to spend a lot of time outside. It's what puts it among my top four favorite seasons. During the rainy winter months, my head often strays to wistful thoughts of barbeques, concerts on the lawn at the zoo, walks in the woods, and reading in the shade. It dawned on me yesterday that my favorite place in the world right now is my back yard. While the age worn back deck needs some work, the yard itself is, quite frankly, one of the prettiest yards I know.

It beckons to me when days are long and work is stressful. On those days, I find myself looking forward to grabbing a book and a beverage (lately a Radler or a Diet Coke) and heading straight for a chaise longue. Lately, my reading of choice is light - mysteries, Regency period zombie novels, and young adult offerings. And so, I've been thinking about what I would recommend to someone looking for a summer reading list.

So far the list in my head looks something like this:

1. Anything by Elizabeth Peters or Barbara Michaels (aka Barbara Mertz): These are all fun, sometimes spooky mysteries. The Peters books tend a little more toward spooky with a rational explanation, the Michaels ones are happy to leave ghosts ghosts or at the very least leave the question open. Some of the early ones can feel a bit dated with their plucky, feminist heroines, but both are great fun.

2. Mary Stewart's gothic novels à la Thornyhold, Nine Coaches Waiting: Although best known for her Merlin books, it's her gothic fiction that I adore (if you can't tell already, I am a fan of gothic!). Written largely in the 50's and 60's, they manage to escape the kind of dated feel that sometimes rears its head in the Peters/Michaels books.

3. Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle: Words may not exist to adequately capture just how charming this novel is. It tells the story of an impoverished family's life in a ramshackle castle on the English countryside via the perspective of the smart and witty younger daughter's journal. Set in the 30's, the novel brings to mind it's 19th century English cousins written by Bronte and Austen (alas without zombies) with a little bit of Stella Gibson thrown in.

4. Young adult/kids novels like Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, etc.: Having just recently read it, Inkheart readily comes to mind, but there is something really pleasing about reading a kids' book when you just want to get away from the real world. I think that's probably why the Harry Potter books and the dreadfully enticing (until book 4) Twilight series are so widely read among adults - even those without children. Even now there is something I find vastly comforting about reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when things are not going well and my childhood copy of The Hobbit is so worn I'm not sure how the pages still manage to hold together, but they do and they are there waiting for me anytime my mind needs to escape from something horrible that has happened, like life.

5. Anything by Neil Gaiman, but especially Stardust, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book. Oh, and American Gods and that delightfully funny one he wrote with Terry Pratchett (the Discworld guy), Good Omens. Really, you're pretty safe with any of his novels. All of them are imaginative, well written and a great escape.

6. William Golden's The Princess Bride
. The book is as charming (maybe even moreso) as the movie, which is pretty faithful to the original. If you have not read it, you owe it to yourself. Your brain will thank you for the escape into a fairy tale world.

7.
John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.
One of my favorite pieces of fiction, and definitely my favorite bit of Southern fiction (God bless whoever came up with the idea of categorizing, because it allows me to proclaim pretty much allows me to proclaim all my bookish loves favories in one way or another!). Sadly, its author committed suicide barely into his 30's, which is not very summery or fun, but before he went, he left behind this amazing, wonderfully entertaining and well written book about New Orleans that posthumously won him a Pulitzer and has subsequently influenced another generation of Southern writers.

8. Joe Keenan's
Blue Heaven and Putting on the Ritz . It has been ages since I read either these, but I remember loving both of these light hearted novels from Frasier producer and writer, Joe Keenan at the time. The books are laugh out loud funny, with a style akin to P.G. Wodehouse meets Will & Grace (though that is perhaps unfair, since Will & Grace came later). Apparently Keenan has released another title (My Lucky Star) since the last time I looked at either of these, so I may be adding him to my summer reading list as well. Bonus recommendation: They also share much in madcap spirit with Marc Acito's more recent, but equally zany Edward Zanni novels (How I Paid for College, Attack of the Theater People), which I've talked about here before. They also make for some good summer reading and have cheered me up considerably when I needed a lift!

11. Sarah Waters' Affinity.
For someone who is straight (but not narrow!), I apparently have a fondness for the gay fiction. Personally, I prefer to think of it as a fondness for a good book - period. But I digress . . . Affinity has all the makings of a good read - it's smart, spooky and centers around 19th century spiritualism, which also reminds me of another fun non-fiction book about the real life New York spiritualist community of Lily Dale.

12. Christine Wicker's Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead.
Founded in 1879, the community has been a center of Spiritualism for the past 130 years and still offers workshops and programs centered around mediumship, healing, and psychic phenomena. Over the course of the book, reporter Christine Wicker explores not only the history of the town but the reasons why people flock to such places, looking for love and connection with the departed (and in doing so her own beliefs about spirituality - but don't let that scare you away it's subtle) as she visits with its residents and visitors of the community. (Just as an aside: Man, do I wish that place were closer! If it were, I would be feeling a serious road trip coming on. Hmmm. A cheap flight to the East coast, a good deal rental car. It's not beyond the realm of possiblity. All I need now is some money and a cohort!)

And thus ends (part 1?) of my summer reading list - not because I have run out of books, but because I am peckish and feeling a deep need for lunch. But, while I am away (and knowing my erratic commitment to blogging of late, it could be an hour it could be a month), what are your favorite summer books?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fat Bottomed Girls

Last summer was not a banner year in the battle against lardosity. (Like the war against terror, it is an ongoing battle concurrently taking place on many fronts.) Things started out pretty well with a June beach trip that involved lots of walking, swimming and outdoorsy stuff, but then fell apart pretty quickly after I decided to join the LA Fitness down the street. Call me crazy, but being called fat (and DUH, why did he think I was there?), hit in the face with a medicine ball, and told to "mush" like a sled dog by an employee who was trying to sell me an add on fitness package, all while a group of gym rats looked on, did not exactly leave my motivation to go back at a high point. Add to that a dog and flipflop related foot injury and the War on Lard was all but lost.

Back in college, a friend and I used to go to the gym together almost every night. At the time, we used to joke about how most of the gym's male employees would climb over a fat girl passed out on the treadmill just to get in better flirting range of a blonde with implants. Finding myself in the role of fat girl embarassed me, then pissed me off sufficiently enough to pen a Grandpa Simpsonesque "Dear modern bride..." type membership cancellation letter, which was then completely ignored by the customer service drones at their headquarters. After that, I swore I'd never have anything to do with corporate fitness again.

Slowly as my foot has healed, I've started working my way back into exercising a bit. It started with some walking, then Wii fit, and last weekend I got my bike back out of storage. Then, my friend finally succeed in her nine month crusade to get me to join her gym. After my experience at the other place, I was really reticent, but her gym was running a special online (no initiation fee, $29 month to month membership, and I can go to any of their locations in the country), so I figured I didn't have anything that wasn't already jiggly to lose. Tonight we went to work out for the first time. Much to my surprise, it did not make me feel self-conscious, but really good. The woman who processed my membership card did not exactly overwhelm me with information about how things work there, but that was actually perfect for me. At this point, I prefer to just do my own thing. I basically know what I need to do to get in shape.

The low pressure approach left me feeling excited about what I was doing. It was actually fun to go work out with a friend. By the time we were done, a lot of the stress that had accrued during my work day had melted away. That alone is worth a lot! Hopefully we will be able to keep each other motivated. If we can (and why wouldn't we?), this summer is poised to be a much healthier one than the last. No doubt, I have a long way to go, but ultimately, you have to meet yourself where you are. Where I am today is feeling pretty good about having begun to do something good for myself!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Day of Rest

Do you ever get to the point where even though the past few weekends have been almost unbearably fun (barbeques, basketball games, foreign visitors, etc.), your work weeks have become so hectic and tiring that the only left to do is call a moratorium on all mentally and physically stressful activities and proclaim a day of rest? That is exactly what things have come to this weekend.

A day of rest is not for everyone. My 70 year old mother would sit down for five minutes, then next thing you know, she'd be out back cutting down a tree or adding an East wing onto the house. This happened a few weeks ago, when we were "relaxing" in the garden after a really lovely barbeque with friends. Nose deep in a book, I looked up from my chaise lounge in the shade of our dwarf apple tree just in time to see her stride by with a bow saw. Suffice it to say the ailing Chain of Gold tree that once graced our back yard has been saved the trouble of a slow wasting away. I won't even tell you about the time she single handedly brought down a large blue spruce, but I will say that it is this kind of unsavory "getting things done" that causes me to live in constant fear of waking up one morning to a hole in the ceiling with her waving down at me while cheerfuly proclaiming that she's almost done with the second story and my room is the lucky winner for where to put the staircase.

My idea of rest is something quite different. It requires pajamas, a large quantity of refreshing beverage, a snack (today it is cherries), a faithful companion (example pictured above, but any manner of dog or cat will do - even a rabbit or ferret is acceptable, so be creative! Caution: I would, however, not recommend a goldfish - or any manner of fish, really - as they are not good cuddlers), and (most importantly) a good book. If additional eating must be done, it should really be takeout or, at the very least, cooked by someone else. I may eventually get dressed if I feel like it, but the rule of the day is: If it is not in some way satisfying or relaxing, I don't do it. As a result, it is well past noon, I am still wearing my new surf monkey pajamas (I highly recommend the Nick & Nora line for the kind of whimsical patterns that make staying in your pajamas all day worthwhile!) and I don't care, because studies have shown that sock monkey pajamas have great restorative properties. After only one night of wearing them, for the first time in weeks, I was able to sleep in on a Saturday morning instead of waking up at six or seven. I don't think I need to point out how wrong that is. Praise the Holy Sock Monkey, I am cured!

Today's book of choice is Cornelia Funke's Inkheart, because I often find that young adult novels make for good escapist reading. They take me back to my youth when my mind could become so absorbed into a story that I could spend hours imagining myself as one of its characters, long after the actual reading of it was finished. And this is a book about books and characters who love books, so I know it will be thoroughly loveable:

Stacks of books were piled high all over the house - not just arranged in neat rows on bookshelves, the way other people kept them, oh no! The books in Mo and Meggie's house were stacked under tables, on chairs, in the corners of the rooms. There were books in the kitchen and books in the lavatory. Books on the TV set and in the closet, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new. They welcomed Meggie down to breakfast with invitingly opened pages; they kept boredom at bay when the weather was bad. And sometimes you fell over them.

Maybe it's because this sounds a lot like my last grad school apartment or maybe it's because it is filled with characters with names like Dustfinger and Silvertongue (who can bring fictional characters to life just by reading aloud!), but I have high hopes for this book that cannot even be dashed by the existence of a Brendan Frasier movie version that I never saw, but suspect could have done better with a healthy dose of Johnny Depp (mostly because I feel that Johnny Depp ca. Chocolat should play some role in all movies and I had already developed a Deppian picture in my head for Meggies dark and devestatingly handsome, bohemian father and he looks nothing like old, thick-necked Brendan Frasier who was fine in The Mummy, but has no role in the Inkheart movie in my head).

Later, if I can work up the energy to find the remote, I may watch a little Buffy or Angel while eating Chinese takeout directly from the box, but for now, my day is Inkheart, pajamas and wearing an ass groove into the couch. But that is all for now, because I have a whole lot of nothing to get done and I'm already behind schedule.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let's start at the very beginning...

The overwhelmingly glorious and sunny weather here in Portland has for the past few weeks been in large part responsible for my unplanned vacation from Blogland. Late spring and early summer always a bit of a crap shoot as we move from the rainy season into the less rainy season and, finally, the two weeks we call "summer" here in Oregon. This year, however, we have been blessed with May weather fit for the gods, which made our first bout of sunshine the perfect time to skip the bike ride I'd had planned with a non-Captain loving (but very understanding) friend to stay inside and go to a movie.

Crazy, I know. But this wasn't just any movie! This was Cinema 21's singalong showing of The Sound of Music, an event I've wanted to go to for ages. In years past, I've always managed to find out about it just after it was over. This time, however, I faithfully remained on heightened Code Red Von Trapp alert from March-May until Portland's non-Nazi answer to Rolf (aka Willamette Week) provided me with a telegram (aka advertisement) for the showing. After singing a duet of "60 going on 70" (because I'm slightly albeit still depressingly closer to 60 than 16), we went our separate ways, but not before dancing in a gazebo to promises that WW would look out for me, because I'm just a dumb girl who needs a newspaper of masculine intelligence to take care of me.

The thing about singalong Sound of Music is that it's The Sound of Music AND you can sing along with the movie and - get this! - NOT GET KICKED OUT OF THE THEATER! These things were made to go together, like peanutbutter and chocolate, braised red cabbage and apples, alpenhorns and stupid hats! So, on the big day we headed off to Muu Muu's for lunch (even after many years, a Muu Muu Burger and fries with and a side of brutus dressing are a thing of great delight!) and then got in line with a lot of other people to wait for the show.

Inside we were offered little bags containing plastic edelweiss and champagne-shaped confetti poppers for the party scene and advice for how to make the viewing more fun (like the singing along wasn't enough!). Still, the announcer was charming and it's hard not to be entertained at a movie where the audience includes a girl wearing a teapot on her head (she'd rode in on Max that way and won a prize for her costume!) and a family who had brought along a cardboard boat and waves to go along with their "play clothes" made from real curtains.

The cool thing about seeing a movie that I've seen a million times in that environment was that for all the silliness and talking back at the screen, it actually made me see the film with new eyes. For example, I'd never noticed how progressively darker the sets and lighting become as the story turns toward dealing with Nazism. As a kid I was too busy mooning over how handsome Captain von Trapp was to be bothered with such details. Back then it was all about the music, the Ländler (still my favorite scene in the movie, because the dance always reminds me of my Oma and the folk dances she loved) and the love story.

Like many little girls who grew up watching it, that movie always takes me back. I remember the first time my mom took me to see it on the big screen. Even then it was already at least a re-re-release. Afterwards, my little neighbor friend and I played the soundtrack album over and over, singing to it until we'd learned all the words. Then we took our show on the road, singing "Do re mi" at the top of our lungs as we played on the swingset in the back yard. And that's what's so fun about singalongs and silliness - it lets us be kids again.

How many times do you get to go out as an adult and yodel with reckless abandon while sitting in a crowded movie theater? Almost NEVER, that's when! Trust me. People don't like it! And, even if you did try, how often would someone yodel back at you? Sure, maybe if there were a particularly bold representative from the Helvetian Singing Society in the audience too, but how often does that happen? And you KNOW that you'd both be invited to leave before ever learning how to solve a problem like Maria. That is why the next time the hills are alive with singalong Sound of Music you should go. That way you'll get the yodeling out of your system and no longer be in peril of having a lonely goatherd attack at in a wrong cineplex at the wrong time. The audience at Pirates of the Carribbean 46: Yo ho ho and a bottle of Metamucil will thank you!

Friday, May 01, 2009

The darling buds of May

Helllllllllloooooooooooooooooo May! Hello Mayday! Hooray workers! Hello Beltaine and Walpurgisnacht! As someone who has recently determined that what the world needs is for me to have a Solstice picnic next month, I am deeply saddened that I did not remember about Beltaine or Walpurgisnacht until today. I feel like I should have thought ahead about the bonfire. I had planned to go to Ikea tonight, and I bet those Swedish killjoys won't let me light one there. Why must life be so unfair?

But I've got news for you, Ikea! It may be a little windy this morning, but the weather is getting nicer, the garden is bursting with blossoms and we are on the precipice of the sunny season. There are plenty of spring flowers to be gathered and candles to light for impromptu celebrations at my house. So take that, lye eaters! Thwarted again! (Not really, Swedes are lovely, Ikea has a computer armoire that I really want, I don't need to invoke bad shopping karma on such a momentous day, and I am sure lutefisk is "special". And, hey, who am I to judge? I come from people who smoke eels and eat pickled herring.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Back to the Future

Because it is Saturday evening, my feet are swollen, and my beverage spilled all over the floor while I was painting my bedroom (if you've never played with Behr's Color Smart application, by the way, it is totally filled with painty goodness...it helped me find my color scheme!), I am taking a break. Instead of sitting and watching the paint dry, I have stolen a 2005 iTunes meme from Jen's blog.

Don't worry, she won't care. She's too busy admiring the BEAUTIFUL origami crane I recently mailed her. If origami crane making were American Idol and Paula Abdul were the judge, she would say "Well, first of all, you look incredible tonight. The paper was crumpled and backwards in parts, but you really made the crane your own." Randy, on the other hand, would have called me "dog" and kept it real by saying "It just isn't good," but what does he know about art?

Set your iPod/iTunes on shuffle and use each song as it comes up in order to answer the following questions:

Question: What do you think of me, iTunes?
Apple Blossom - The White Stripes: iTunes LOVES me and wants to marry me. In typical me fashion, I didn't even know it felt that way! Apparently iTunes thinks I'm a little bit of a mess, but it is willing to fix me: Come and sit with me and talk awhile/ let me see your pretty little smile / put your troubles in a little pile /and i will sort them out for you. You're so chivalrous iTunes! I'm totally batting my eyelashes at you.

Question: Will I have a happy life?
Sugar Daddy - John Cameron Mitchell (from the Hedwig and the Angry Inch Soundtrack) : Apparently I've underestimated the value of looking for a man to make me happy, but I've seen the error of my ways. I'm not going to get every item in the Lillian Vernon catalog by paying my own way! If hitching my star to a wealthy, handsome (I added that part, but I know iTunes won't mind!) beau is the ticket to happiness, I guess I'll just have to take one for the team. (The team being me.)

Question: What do my friends really think of me?
Drunkards Waltz - Joel Savoy: Ok. Before I remembered its title, I was completely charmed by the idea of having this as my theme song. It involves a violin and has such a sweet, dancey melody. It reminds me of stars and summer nights and dancing outside, and that totally makes up for the fact that people apparently think I'm a lush. On the up side, based on this song, I am a fun, happy drunk. And you KNOW you'd rather be around that than a mean one!

Question: Do people secretly lust after me?
Is that you, Modean? - The B-52's: Possibly, but only because they think I am Modean. Should I be offended that they think I look old enough to have been away for 987 years in outer space time?

Question: What should I do with my life?
L'Accordeoniste - Ute Lemper: Prostitution!?!? That was one that did NOT come up as a career path when I took the Keirsey Temperament sorter! Then again, I always have wanted a job where I could set my own hours. Still, I don't know. When I said "corner office", I wasn't so much thinking "street corner".

Question: Why must life be so full of pain?
Musical Key - Cowboy Junkies: This song has such a pretty, haunting melody and lyrics (favorite line: My mother's hands were always cool and soft / And like her eyes they would caress with every touch.)Even though it doesn't mention it, it always reminds me of someone remembering someone she has lost. Way to bring me down, iTunes!

Question: How can I maximize my pleasure during sex?
Si j'aurai des ailes - Ann Savoy & Joel Savoy: Go to the bar, laugh and drink, but under no circumstances get married! O quand on se marrie on est là après s’ennuyer / Toujours en regrettant nos jolis temps passés

Question: Will I die happy?
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison: Looking back, I will have many happy memories of making love in the green grass, but only if I get some colored contacts.

Question: Can you give me some advice?
Perhaps - Cake: Oh, iTunes, are you just being coy or are you trying to say that I am indecisive? Me? Indecisive? You know me too well, iTunes. If you can't make your mind up. We'll never get started . . . if you really love me, say yes, but if you don't dear, confess and please don't tell me: perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Question: What do you think happiness is?
A Little Less Conversation - Elvis: Hee. A little more action indeed!

Question: Am I complete freak?
Dance with Me - Justin Timberlake. If it's on the dance floor, I am! I mean well, even if my pervy goal in life is to get people nekkid on a 3 minute time table (aka before the song is up): No disrespect, I don't mean no harm."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Walking in Washington

Sunday's walk was (if I'm going to be honest) more of a drive. There was a little walking, but the outing was mostly just about getting OUT and away from town. After a winter inside, it was so nice to just hop in the car, open the sunroof, put on some tunes and head out on the highway for a mini-motor along the Columbia River. I should have been home planting the plants I bought on Saturday (my quest for hellebores has ended victoriously!), but couldn't resist bypassing my normal exit on the way home from church in favor of heading away from town.

Before gas went up to a jillion dollars a gallon last summer, the weekend day trip was a common one. As prices climbed, however, the trips became fewer and further apart. This year, I really do want to try to get out a little more, even if it means selling a kidney for gas money. To mix things up on this first spring drive, we drove out the Gorge on the Washington side and back on I-84. Every time I am out that way, I am reminded of how lucky I am to live in the Northwest. All this beauty within a half hour of my house! How much luckier could I be?


Friday, April 03, 2009

Ubiquitously Pink!


The weather here in the Portland area has been absolutely gorgeous and springy these past few days. While my coworkers in the upper Midwest have been dealing with spring snow storms, it was a balmy 80 degrees when I left work last night. Blue skies. Pink blossoms abound. Everywhere you look there are magnolias and Japanese plums blooming.

In my quest to do lot of things (lose weight, walk more, make it up to 10,000 steps a day on my pedometer, take more pictures), I have decided to try to go for a daily (or maybe just daily-ish) picture walk. My first official walk was last Friday, around the area where I work. Here is what I saw:

A cluster of small fir trees growing next to a freeway offramp

Pretty pink blossoms on the hill behind my office

And, my favorite photo of the day. Pink. Delicate. Lovely.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"...we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality."

As literature goes, one of the best things ever is well written satire. And that is why I have loved Oscar Wilde since I first read The Importance of Being Ernest a million years ago. I've always thought he would have made a riveting dissertation project. My dog, Baxter, was even almost named Bunbury. (Sadly, my mother, who was at the time woefully unfamiliar with the whole concept of Bunburying talked me out of it. I owed her one since she did allow me to pressure her into naming her cat Rudiger based on my fondness for a particular Simpson's episode.)

So, I was pretty excited to see Ernest was playing at
PCS this month. Not only was it a chance for me to see a favorite play, but if I could get a ticket for my mom too, I could rub in her nose the error of her Bunbury-hating ways. And so it was that we were able to make it to the Armory over the weekend just in time for one of the last few performances of its run. One of the great things about the venue is that it is just the right size. There is no Goldilocksian bullshit about "too big" or "too small" or "too close" or "too far away" because the whole place cuts right to "just right". Just about any seat you get is going to be a good one.

As it turned out, our seats were very close to the front. While my neck and I have to admit to a preference for seats just a little further back, sitting close enough to see the detail on the costumes (which were great!) was lovely too. It was also close enough to see the occasional bit of spittle fly from the actor's mouths, but what are you going to do?

It's all part of seeing a live performance. There is something so different from seeing a play as compared to watching a movie. You hope it won't happen, but there's always the chance that a tongue will trip over a line, a note will be a little off key. And when it doesn't, you feel part of the performance's success. A play seems somehow communal, while going to the movies feels like one of those inward, lone experiences that just happen to take place in a darkened room with a lot of other people around. Not that I don't like movies, but movies and t.v. have become so slick that there can be a distinctly human element missing from them. That humanness is part of the beauty of seeing a play. It is what creates the exchange of energy between performer and audience, and that is a special thing. Watching t.v. is (barely) an activity. Seeing a play is an experience.


If the play were still running, I would recommend it. If I were the kind ofperson prone to gloating, I would gloat that I saw it and you didn't. Instead, I will just say that if you have never read Ernest, you should. If you ever have a chance to see the play performed, you definitely should. And if you ever see it is again playing at PCS, you super should, because they are awesome that way. In fact, you should buy season tickets. You should buy me season tickets. Wouldn't that make you feel good? Giving is the greatest gift of all...

P.s. I think my parking karma still holds. I parked in the lot without doing a lot of searching for a parking spot, because it was pouring and it's just across from the theater, but it was a really good spot and it wasn't that expensive.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Winter Adieu (the "I bought you something, but I ate it!" edition)

Spring is finally here and snow (like my youth) is but distant memory for the guyliner sporting gnome that lives in my garden. A remnant from my childhood, he has been around since the tail end of the disco era. Luckily, neither of us has ever cared particularly much about age. It is a good thing, because it makes birthdays SO much more fun.

One of my favorite things about my birthday is that it falls on the first day of spring, which also coincides with Nowrūz (Persian New Year). While all birthdays are technically the beginning of a new year, having one that falls on the Vernal Equinox just seems symbolically lovely - spring starting, snow melting, flowers beginning to bud, everything awakening after the winter. That is not to say that I am not a little jealous of my summer birthday friends who get to have sunny picnics and barbeques to celebrate their existences. They don't have to deal with nature during "Faces of Eve" month.

I have seriously considered moving my birthday to May when the weather is warmer and more predictable. "March"/"May", it's only a few letters. And what are a couple months between friends? No one would even have to know. New friends would be easy. I would just tell them my birthday was in May. And the old ones? I'd borrow a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook and simply deny it despite the abundance of previously recorded evidence to the contrary. "I don't know what you're talking about! My birthday has always been in May. You are seriously misunderestimating how the calendar works, my friend! Say, what do you say we bomb an innocent country on Thursday and tell everyone they were plotting against us with our most hated enemy?"

But, you have to deal with what life gives you and what life gave me was the month when nature apparently has PMS ("I am sun and sweet little lambs frolicking in the meadow! No, I am rain, black clouds and gale force winds! What are you talking about? I'm NOT in a bad mood. I'll show you a bad mood! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch t.v., so I can cry at the sheer cuteness of the puppy in the "ain't no bugs on me" commercial...).

Life also gave me turning 40 this year. For the most part, I don't really care, but it still feels weird on my lips. "I am 40." Weirder still would be to lie about my age. I don't want to be one of those women to botoxes and surgically sculpts herself beyond recognition, so they can insist they're 29 when they're really 50 (though maybe I should keep my not yet duckified lips shut until I know how I will feel when I start looking old...). It is, however, weird to suddenly find myself "in my 40's". It's really not so much that I mind being 40, it's more that I wonder how it happened. It seems like a little monster crept up while I wasn't paying attention. ("Look! Over there! Something shiny! MWAHAHAHAHA! You are 40!!!)

Ultimately, 40 isn't so bad. I have a good life, good friends and family whose lunch and dinner invitations have ensured that I haven't had to cook for myself since I was in my 30's. Seriously! Birthday eve was Moe's with my coworkers. Friday, a shopping lunch of Chinese food and the best birthday dinner EVER with my primary birthday posse (minus one who was sick, but I hope the medicinal Black Forest Cake we sent home for her helped!) at Dar Essalam in Wilsonville. Then there was a Saturday post-tax appointment lunch salad at Marie Callender's (a new thing for a new decade, since I've neer previously eaten there) and oyster shooters and shrimp enchiladas and blackberry margarita's at El Tapatio. Tomorrow, I start a cleanse, but not before I attempt to talk someone into a goodbye dinner of Eggplant in Garlic Sauce at my favorite Thai restaurant...

P.s. I cannot say enough good things about Dar Essalam, which is my new favorite restaurant. Anyone in the Portland area seriously needs to avail themselves of a dinner there. I swear, you will thank me! And don't let the location fool you - once you step inside, the staff, the decor and the food are so lovely, you will completely forget that you are in office park/strip mall country. It is totally worth the drive!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I want to suck your blood...

As anyone who knows about the saga of the multiplying Draculas knows, I do love me a good vampire story. In celebration of birthday month, I have contemplated availing myself of a copy of Many Bloody Returns, a collection of short stories about birthdays and the undead. Advancing on an age that would make me want to start counting backwards if I truly cared about that sort of thing, immortal youth just feels right. But first, there is the matter of finishing my current reading material - Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga.

The Twilight books are something I had actually avoided reading. In keeping with not liking it when (most) people try to tell me what to do, I find myself avoiding things that are too popular. Band wagons give me hives and "popular" doesn't necessarily mean well written. But then came February. February had me coughing like Camille on her deathbed. It wasn't really a good time to take sick leave at work, which left me even more tired. This called for something light and fun but non-taxing in my free time, and reading something like Twilight definitely fit the bill.

There is a lot about the series to recommend itself. The books are huge, but read fast in the way of escapist novels that suck you in even though your intellectual brain sheepishly thinks they probably shouldn't. There are a few cheesy aspects and there is the annoying addition in the 4th book of a precocious human-vampire hybrid love child - Renesmee (a combination of the names "Renee" and "Esme"that strikes me as more tedious than clever), but over all the books are fun. There is danger, romance, occasional international travel, and a host of requisite bad guy(s) to thwart. The drive to know what happens next has helped me plow through the first 664 pages of the final installment in about a week, and it's not like I've devoted all my free time to reading.

In many ways, the formula of the novels reminds me of Buffy with a little of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse thrown in. And it is formulaic (young, awkward, misfit who is not too misfitty but doesn't realize how pretty and fab she is moves to small town; finds brooding hottie soul mate who just happens to be a vampire but a good, vampire; heroine discovers she has hidden gifts of her own; otherworldy hijinx ensue and good triumphs over evil), but in the way of the Joss Whedon and Charlaine Harris worlds, it also sports plotlines that lend themselves to staving off the very human humdrum complaints of everyday life while at the same time exploring them (love, heartbreak, loyalty, conflict, responsiblity, growing up and leaving home) in mythological terms.

It is all very good versus evil with notions of what constitutes each turned on their heads. Bad things happen despite the best of intentions, (some) vampires are good and ethical, and werewolves protect people. Both groups have evolved societies with their own codes of ethics. And while that's all been done before, the notion of grey in matters of good and evil, right and wrong in a post-Bush cosmology is a welcome one (especially when it comes packaged in such a light, easly to read package).

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Happy March!

Welcome to birthday month! Tonight I celebrated the first of the last nineteen days of my 30's by going to see Itzhak Perlman play downtown at the Schnitzer. Like seeing Pavarotti sing shortly before his death, it was an unforgettable experience. There are some opportunities in life that one just doesn't pass up, and seeing Perlman play his famous Soil Stradivarius is one of them. The tone of this instrument, which was constructed during Stradivari's golden period, is simply sublime. It is truly saddening to think how few of its past owners have been musicians and how many of the gorgeous instruments is crafted are locked away behind glass in private collections, never to be played. Surely such masterpieces are made to be heard.

Perlman was in Portland as both conductor and soloist, but the high point for me really was his solo on Bach's Concerto No. 1 in A minor. The Schubert (Symphony No. 3 in D major, D. 200) and the Brahms (Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op.73) were lovely as well, but it is the Bach that I will remember most.

Since you couldn't all be there with me, I shall share with you a clip of him playing my favorite movement of what is probably my favorite piece for strings. It is one of those pieces that is for me a marriage of free standing beauty as well as personal sentimentality, which makes me love it all the more.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Have you missed me?

Dear Internets,

It's been a while, but I can explain.

Although it was actually late Thursday that marked my triumpant return to the Northwest, my body is still adjusting back to Pacific time. I started the week by getting up at 3:00 a.m. (no, it's not just a nasty rumor - there is a 3 in the morning and it can be experienced by getting up EARLY rather than going to bed late. I know! Who knew???), to make it to PDX for my flight and have been off kilter ever since. The time difference once I got to Michigan wasn't doing me any favors either. At least the cold kept me awake.

And, man, was it cold! There was one morning when the dashboard thermometer clocked in at a modest 1 degree. It actually hurt my lungs to breathe, which is a shame, because I rather like breathing. I may even be addicted to it. Maybe I need an intervention. It's too bad I'm not a celebrity. If I were I could go debase myself on television under the watchful but caring eye of Dr. Drew as a cast member of Celebrity Rehab. But I digress...

After a week in Michigan, Portland's mild climate seems almost balmy in comparison. There was snow, which meant I got to wear winter clothes like scarves and gloves that are too toasty for our generally mild climate. And, I got to see and learn a little about Detroit thanks to the Checker Sedan driver, who saw his role as not just driver, but tour guide. Within the hour drive I learned not only more than I ever knew about the home of Motown, but also that he was retired, raising his two grandchildren and that he was a really sweet man.

The Detroit area has been hit pretty hard by our tanking economy. Every time I go there (I say this, because "both times" sounds far less dramatic and if there's one thing I'm about, it's high drama!) they have been in the middle of major layoffs at the big car manufacturers. My company has gone through some hard times too and is in a season of cutbacks in benefits, pay and employees, but not like Ford, GM and their ilk. This is not to say that the American automobile industry hasn't made and soiled its own bed, but that doesn't help the non-executive employees who have kids and rent and life to meet.

The economy has affected Portland, but not to the extent I saw and heard about in the Detroit area. What I did find interesting was the number of people who not only shared my sentiments about bed making (why are we developing newer, bigger Hummers and not hybrids and other alternative fuel sources? If you are not in a war in the desert, you do not need a Hummer. The gravel patch between the edge of your suburban driveway and the street is NOT off roading), but also felt that the employment market had outpriced itself in that industry. I had expected a little more sympathy for the workers. I suppose at a time when everyone is feeling the crunch, maybe they've eaten too much tired to have a lot of room left over for sympathy. The layoffs and 10% across the board pay cut that my company recently instituted seems pretty par for the course in that area for those lucky enough to get to keep their jobs.

But it's not only industry that is different there. That part of the country has such a different look from ours. The streets are filled with the types of old brick and stone structures you get in areas whose economy is not so heavily timber dependant as ours. Missing are the towering, deep green conifers my eyes are so used to seeing against the grey sky. Instead the winter landscape is marked by a crisp, blue sky, leafless deciduous trees and old snow. You feel the cold just looking out the window and you learn quickly in those parts to breathe in through your nose instead of filling your lungs with deep, through the mouth inhalations.

Not that we got to spend that much time outside. The work days were long, but there was also a lot of socializing and dining out - P.F. Chang's, Champs, etc. AND (much to my delight) we did not return to that dreadful Tichonderoga place with all the dead animal heads lining the walls. I don't need the doleful eyes of what was once a moose staring down at me as I try to eat my butternut squash ravioli, thank you very much.

It is always funny how quickly such trips pass. When I left home at 4:00 a.m. Monday morning, it felt like there was such a long time ahead of me. Once I got on the plane, it all went pretty quickly. Even in this age of heightened security things move pretty seamlessly. I did have to step out of line while they searched my purse on the way home, but it didn't take long for them to deem that I wasn't a threat. I'm still not sure what set off their alarm but the TSA lady had on her no nonsense face, so I was glad it wasn't the time I took along my old camping backpack and forgot to remove some matches. In the before time I'd have been typing this to you from Gitmo. Thankfully, times have changed.

Flying is such a different experience from what I remember as a child. Flights seemed more cramped, the flight attendants more tired. In addition to being flying waitstaff, nurses, and babysitters, they also have to worry about shoe bombs and how to wield a beverage cart to subue a terrorist. There are personalized movies and games on board the bigger planes, but you have to pay extra for just about everything besides the complimentary beverage now. Still, thanks to my ipod, the airplane trivia game (damn you, Mr. ZZZZZZZZZ in 14F, you ruined my chance to obnoxiously sing "I am the Champion" in your face by foiling my attempts to win!) and in flight movies, even the four hours between Salt Lake Cit and Detroit went pretty quickly.

And so, I am again home and what seemed like a long week actually passed by in the blink of an eye - pretty much like the rest of life does. I hope you are doing well and that I hear from you soon.

Love,
Martina

P.s. If you see Delta Airlines, please tell them that as engaging and moving as The Secret Life of Bees was (who in their right mind doesn't love themselves a little Queen Latifah?), it made me and several women in the rows around me too weepy to be a good in flight movie. Sure, it's more appropriate than that one where the plane crashes and the surviving passengers eat each other (thanks for not showing it, because I'm pretty sure the big guy next to me would have made steak out of me in a second if he needed to and no one wants to spend a four hour flight feeling paranoid that their neighbor will gut them with a plastic spork), but if I'm going to cry at a movie, I want to do it in the privacy of my living room or at least under the cover of darkness at my local Edwards.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reason #498

Among the many reasons our new President makes me hopeful is the emphasis he has placed on diplomacy when reaching out into the world. While I am sure there will be policies with which I don't 100% agree along the way, it is so refreshing to have well spoken statesman as President. His response when questioned in an interview on Al Arabiya about his perception of the U.S. role in brokering peace in the Middle East underscores for me what a good choice this country made in electing him:

"Well, I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away. And George Mitchell is somebody of enormous stature. He is one of the few people who have international experience brokering peace deals.

And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often theUnited States starts by dictating -- in the past on some of these issues --and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen. He's going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.

Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what's best for them. They're going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."

for the rest of the interview, click here

Monday, January 26, 2009

Raindrops on Roses

Being what some people might term indecisive, but what I like to think of as open to all of life's possibilities, I have a pretty big and evolving list of favorite things. With a brain much more attuned to essay than multiple choice or true/false, I've never done well with questions like "What is your favorite band?" (or book or movie or anything) that demand concrete answers, because there are so many that are so good. How does one even begin to pick?

Of late, however, I find myself increasingly enamoured with the gypsy punk band, Gogol Bordello. They appease my soul's inner yearning for offbeat music featuring loud guitars, gypsy violin and songs about string theory. And, let's face it, that is an itch that doesn't get scratched all too often. Most importantly, however, they have a kickass violinist (Sergey Ryabtsev) whose talent I covet. Even if I didn't already love their music, my love for a well played violin transcends any allegiance to style or period. I want to listen to him over and over again, until something of his skill is absorbed through my inner ear canal and deep down into the tips of my own fingers. So far it hasn't worked, but I'll keep on trying!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Molly


Molly
Originally uploaded by Martina
It is no great secret that I love animals and have little use for people who don't. I couldn't be friends with someone who didn't treat them kindly. In my house, pets are treated like family. They sleep on the sofa and in the beds, often under the blankets. Where we go, they go. It's just how we roll.

And when they get sick, we do everything possible to make them comfortable, because once you take a pet into your life, you are responsible for it's well being and quality of life until the end of its days. Sadly, the end of Molly's days came yesterday around 1:00 p.m. She had been diagnosed with chronic kidney failure back in July. We almost lost her then, but she she fought her way back. For a good six months, you would have never known that she was sick at all. She was back to her old self.

Then, about a week ago, she started to crash. After a harrowing week of IV drips and force feeding at the vet, we learned on Friday that she seemed to be taking a turn for the better and that we might again be able to bring her home this weekend. When we visited her that day, she had not yet started eating, but was sniffing and trying to mouth her food. She was weak, but alert and happy to see us. Things looked guardedly better. The vet even thought we might be able to bring her home.

Overnight, however, something happened and she crashed again. By morning, she was too weak to drink out of her water dish without her head falling into it. So when I called the vet yesterday, instead of what time we'd be able to bring her home, I learned that she was in the end stages of renal failure. We could take her home, but she wouldn't last more than a few days.

Suddenly the temporary 10% pay cut I'd just learned about at work didn't seem so important when faced with the idea that this little creature with whom I'd shared the last 14 years would never again cuddle up next to me in bed at night or squeak when she heard Little Richard Sing "Good Golly Miss Molly" or drape herself over the stereo speakers to listen to the opening bars of "Soave sia il vento" as she always did when the song came on. She would never again go for a ride in the car, standing on her hind legs, peering out the window like a little dog or sit staring lovingly at me while I played my violin for her. Frankly, I'd give the cut permanently, if it meant having her back whole and healthy. But, of course, death doesn't work that way. There are no bargains to be made.

Molly gave me too much over the years for me to allow her to suffer as she slowly starved to death. As long as it seemed that she could still get bettter, we continued the treatments, but making her suffer even after it was clear that she was going to die would have been cruel. She deserved more than to die painfully and smelling of the waste her kidneys could no longer process.

So, I spent a last hour with her before signing the papers to let her go to sleep. I held her bony little body in my lap and petted and hugged her as they gave her the shot. It only took a moment. She now rests in the back yard near the lilac bush where we sometimes sit and read in the summer. I'm glad it's still winter, because I couldn't sit there now without crying. I can't even type this without doing that.

Still, for all the sadness of the past week, I wouldn't trade a second with her or any of our other animals to avoid it. I am so thankful for that sunny day in Laguna Beach that I first brought her home. She was tiny, just a little silvery grey ball of fur with a pink ribbon tied around her neck. What she lacked in size, she more than made up for in inquisitiveness and sweetness. In the end, she brought so much joy to our lives. And that is something about which to be happy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Taking a break...

A lot of really wonderful, happy making things have happened this week. George Bush and Dick Cheney left office to be replaced by a whole lung full of fresh air as Barack Obama swept into the White House. On his third day in office, our new President signed three executive orders including a ban on the use of torture and the closure of Gitmo within a year. It is good to again wake up in a country that cares about diplomacy and human rights.

Personally, however, the week has been less inspiring. More cuts are coming at work (more will be revealed at an early morning meeting tomorrow), which was already busy. I'm pretty sure I get to keep my job (for now, anyway), but that there will be a wage freeze and more demanded of those of us left behind.

More significantly, however, my sweet, silver companion of 15 years, Molly the classical music loving cat, is horribly ill. She was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure back in July. We almost lost her over the summer, but were able to nurse her back to health. She was fine for about six months until she crashed last weekend. This time she is much worse. She's been at the vet for 5 days now and we still don't know if she will make it. I hope she will, but we're also nearing the heartbreaking point where the question of extension versus quality of life is coming into play.

I don't know what will happen yet, but I do know that I really don't feel like forcing myself to blog. So, I'm suspending my January project for a few days. Something about it really wasn't working for me anyway, so perhaps the break will allow me to come back feeling refreshed and like I want to post instead of like I have to.

More soon...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Don't let the door hit you...

Tonight is the last time I will ever go to bed with the dual menace, George Bush and Dick Cheney, in power as President and Vice President of my country. The lyrics to this 5,6,7,8's song best capture my feelings about this turn of events.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Road to Salem

Summer is still months away with many rainy days to go between now and then, but this weekend has been absolutely lovely. Yes, it is windy and cold, but the sky is gloriously blue and filled with golden sunshine. This is the perfect sort of weather for a mini road trip. For a while now, my friend the writer and I have wanted to go down and visit some independent booksellers in hopes of convincing them to stock his book, so we packed a couple boxes of books into the car and hit the road to Salem. As it turns out, we were not completely unsuccessful. During our Ausflug to Oregon's capitol city, we managed to schedule a reading and to talk to someone from the Marion County Library, who is going to order books for their library system.

More than anything, though, it was good to just get out for a bit. These winter months always leave me yearning for travel and roadside diners and roads never before taken. While I'd been to Salem before, it had been long enough that city almost felt new to me. It had been years. I think the last time was probably in high school, when the great dinosaurs still roamed the earth. I pass the city often on the freeway, but stopping there is a rarely even considered as an option. Salem is located about an hour south of Portland, which means that on most road trips, it is too close to the start of the festivities to make a good first stopping place and too close to home for it to be a good resting spot on the way home either.

That said, the city really is kinda cute. Being a relatively small city, the capitol building and downtown are in pretty close proximity. There are a lot of older buildings like the lovely Elsinore Theater, which I really need to go back and photograph when I go to one of the showings in their Wednesday Evening Film Series, which I am now determined to visit (preferably sooner rather than later!). This is one of the great things about road trips (even mini ones!). They always feature things to go back and visit later.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Make up post for Friday

Well, it seems that my post-a-day project has been a bit haphazard this year. Honestly, there's something about it that just feels different. Focusing on the positive has been a good experience that I've taken outside of what gets posted here as well, but the actual daily posting is, in some ways, more of a chore than it has been in the past. There are days when I come home and think "Oh, crap. I have to post something!", which really is not at all in keeping with the positive spirit envisioned for this endeavor.

I'm not sure why it feels this way. It may just be that my personal life is bit busy right now or it may be that I'm at a point where I really want to work on more formal pieces of writing than blog posts or journal entries. Still, more than mid-way through my project, I can say that January's positive spin has made my days with a lot more appreciation of the abundance of things in my life that do make me happy. I suppose that is worth it, even if I do (no longer) secretly grouse a little about having to post!

Oh how I heart you, books!

No matter where I have lived in my life, the one consistent thread was that my space was always filled with books. I might even say overfilled, if I didn't firmly believe that one can never have too many books. When it comes to book stores, I have no self control and I don't limit myself to anyone section of the store. More than once I have had to declare a complete moratorium for fear that I would never manage to read all the books I already own, or, even worse, be found dead in my apartment after a stack of them toppled over, pinning me to the floor. Hopefully, one would land open before my eyes, so I could at least read a little while I faded away.

For a long time, one of my habits on trips was to purchase an old book at an antiquarian book shop every time I visited a new city. Somehow over the years I've grown out of this, but it seems a good pursuit to revive. While I love all books, there is something special about antique ones, because they not only allow you the pleasure of reading, but of wondering about all the hands, lives and stories the book has passed through before coming to you.

I'm one of those weirdos who truly believes that literature has value, that books have something important to say, and that writing is an art worthy of admiration. This is not to say that I don't read my share of fluff as well, but there is nothing better than a well written novel that I just can't put down or a piece of poetry or prose that invites me to think. I love the kinds of books that leave me considering them even after I've turned the final page. One of the best things about my life is that I actually have friends who already write such books and others whom I just know will one day!