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.

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.