Saturday, December 04, 2010

Carol of the Blahs

And so it has begun – that pre-Christmas blah feeling is settling in. It happens every year and every year it sneaks up on me like it's something new. Then I have to cajole myself by decorating, singing, exposing myself to uplifting books, movies and Christmas carols, anything that will remind me that I like Christmas. I do like Christmas, right?

I know that I don't like the commercialism or that Christmas means being inundated with advertisements suggesting that what Jesus really wants is for me to spend $90 on a giant, plastic, remote-controlled sasquatch that was probably made by Chinese orphans working for .17 an hour. I also don't have the big Norman Rockwell scene of a family (frankly, they make me jealous!) to gather around the tree, singing Silent Night before going to bed to wake up in an international coffees holiday commercial where we make Christmas memories over steaming cups of Irish Mocha Mint as the kids tear open gifts some fat dude left behind for them. Any other time of year, some geriatric trying to break into your house by wedging himself down a chimney would be sad and a little creepy, but frame it in a legend about a kindly old man who flies around the world, delivering happiness to small children everywhere and the story somehow becomes magical.

It is in the hands of advertisers that it loses its soul. Suddenly its sweetness is lost in how many toys your credit card will accommodate before it maxes out. Even kids (especially kids) fall prey to the greedy commercialism that dominates the season. My once innocent little godson has certainly fallen prey. Two words best sum up his feelings about Christmas – "I want". His letter to Santa this year begins with those words. And his list isn't modest either. It reads like a love letter to the inventory of FAO Schwartz with a token "Hope you have a nice Christmas too, Santa" thrown in at the end for good measure (but only after being reminded) before going on to three post-scripts concerning other wants he previously forgot to mention. Don't get me wrong, I love the kid and I get that a lot of his wording is fueled by excitement. It just saddens me that his lust is not tempered by much else. In fairness, one of his later wishes was for Santa to finally remove me from the naughty list, so I guess I can't be too hard on the kid. If nothing else, he has my back. All of this reminds me, if you haven't seen What Would Jesus Buy?, now is a great time to watch it.

Meanwhile, I am trying to get my cheer on. It is not always easy. We put so much pressure on the holidays being a certain way that it's almost impossible to live up to the picture of perfection the advertisers seem to start painting ever earlier each year. There were stores that had started putting out Christmas stuff before Halloween was even over. With exceptions for Dickens and Tim Burton, I don't want ghosts in my wassail. It doesn't help that I just don't have the big, warm family whose happy memories the advertisers are telling me to buy. Don't get me wrong, I have great friends, but my holidays, while generally happy, are often non-traditional. I'm no Bible scholar, but I don't think the birth of Christ was supposed to inspire in me a familial version of penis envy.

I have no idea what we will be doing for Christmas this year, though I sense it will involve food (because, let's face it, most worthwhile things around here do involve food!). We had a really lovely and delicious Thanksgiving at Jen's house that has inspired me to want to cook some fantastic feast. I've been toying with something with eastern spices that would go with the camel caravan rhythms of Lorena McKennitt's A Midwinter Night's Dream. I love this reviewer's description of it:

"It's like a pre-Christian celtic band performing in the Alhambra, accompanied by a couple of local singers and a Dickensian caroler, and it works!"

It really does work. I think it may be my favorite Christmas cd and I think it may also be what I want Christmas dinner to be like this year – dried apricots, spices, pomegranates, plum pudding. Great, now I'm hungry! Just thinking about it is lifting some of the blah away.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My New Manifesto

Sometimes you've got to let everything go – purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything . . . whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you'll find that when you're free, your true creativity, your true self comes out. ~ Tina Turner.

The other night I was watching Conan and they were doing a gag wherein Bruce Jenner, some crabs, and a hoarder (from the A&E show "Hoarders") welcome Conan O'Brien to basic cable. I just about died laughing when the hoarder came into the frame. Her squirrely expression was just priceless. Without saying a word, she managed to convey a kind of crazy covetousness. If I ever become a hoarder, I vow to adopt just such a paranoid expression. If you're going to be balls out weird, you might as well make people laugh, right?

In the present day, even though I am not too worried about anyone taking my crap, I can relate to how hard it can be to get rid of things. There are so many potential blocks – sentimentality, frugality, uncertainty, fear that we might throw something away and then need it later. If I am going to be honest, I definitely have some messy, packratty tendencies. At the same time, I don't like it. It makes me feel bogged down and eventually even tense and unproductive. Somehow an environment just feels less peaceful when there is too much stuff vying for space.

When my environment gets too cluttered, it starts to become distracting. I find it difficult to work or even think. So, I have decided that the best thing I can do to encourage the new period of productivity I hope to start is to let go of some of my clutter. I mean that both figuratively and literally, but since it's easier to clear my physical space, I am starting with that. So, I spent the greater part of the morning cleaning out my closet and developing my manifesto. Why? Because it was overflowing with things I neither wear nor need and everything is more fun when a manifesto is involved! Plus, if I don't give myself some rules, I will just end up getting stuff out and putting it away again without getting rid of anything.

So here is my decluttering manifesto:

  • Be merciless. If it is ugly, has bad associations, makes me feel bad, or if I haven't used it in a year or don't plan to use it in the next, get rid of it.
  • Be realistic. If it is doesn't fit, doesn't look good or doesn't fit my life- or personal style, it needs to be released.
  • Be generous. Sometimes we outgrow things. If that's the case, let them go and don't be a hoarder. If I am done enjoying something, donate it and give someone else a turn.
  • Be discriminating. I don't have to get rid of everything. It is ok to keep something simply because I like it or because its associations make me feel good. Just make sure it is something I really want and that it has a spot.

This approach has lightened my closet by three large trash bags full of clothes. Stacey and Clinton would be proud! I didn't quite get to shoes, but there is always tomorrow. This is just one piece of a multi-step decluttering process, and that is okay. Tonight I go to bed with my clothes arranged by color. Now I can actually see what I have, know what I need, and can feel confident when I pull something out that it fits right and is flattering. Funny how something as small as organizing the closet can even make you feel better about not just your environment, but yourself.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning. ~ Native American Proverb.

Change feels like it is in the air these days. Everywhere I turn, the institutions in my life are on the precipice of something new. The Republicans tell me they won back the House, because people are hungry for change. Personally, I'm hungry for a cheeseburger, accessible healthcare, fewer lobbyists, and more liberal representatives with a spine. Guess the GOP and me, we both want changes, just not the same ones.

But it's not only the political landscape that is changing. In my workplace, the CEO has "decided to explore other options". People are afraid this might herald yet another reorg, even though it appears that for once they are making management changes instead of just kicking a few more worker bees out of the hive. Some coworkers were surprised, even though the writing has been on the wall since last summer, when our parent company installed two of its major players to create a new "office of the CEO" leadership team. Maybe I'm just weird, but I know I would be updating my resumé if my boss and her boss moved into my cubicle with me, so they could more quickly second guess all my decisions. Does the change carry with it a sense of instability? Sure. But surprise? No.

Even the church I belong to, but at this point rarely attend, is in the throes of preparing for some as yet to be determined new leadership structure. There too, something has felt off kilter to me for some time now (hence my diminishing attendance). Thoreau said that "Things do not change, we change." I am not sure if the community has changed or my perception of it has. Maybe it's what I need from it that has. I have always struggled a bit with that.

My beliefs are broader than the framework provided by the Christian church, but it worked out, because it was a progressive community and the path was more of a wide avenue than a narrow, one-way trail. While I am still very fond of many members, and even of the place itself, I no longer feel the connection I once did. I feel like a visitor and not part of the community. There is a part of me that desperately wants it to feel as it did in the beginning, but some of the sense of hominess is lacking. Perhaps it is because you only get as much out as you put in (and I haven't put much in lately) or perhaps I have just floated too far downstream to return and am on my way to another destination. I am not sure, but that that part of my life too feels unstable.

And that brings me to me. You had to know it was coming. It is, after all, all about me, right? Perhaps it is just my annual early holiday malaise rearing its ugly head, but I find myself craving change. I want it to swoop down on me like a giant, good-willed bird, carrying me away at an exhilarating pace to something wonderful and new. I feel like something is missing but can't quite put my finger on what it is. Over the past few months, I've made some big changes to my diet, I need to make more to my level of activity (in the physical, spiritual and creative senses), but I need something else too. I need to be fed by something more profound than going to work, coming home exhausted, watching a little t.v. and going to bed again in preparation for more of the same. I used to do things, create things, now I just watch and wish.

Maybe that's what this urge for change is, an invitation to figure out what it is that that is missing. I have been thinking that perhaps I needed to start writing again, maybe even resurrect my blog and play here a bit, in order to do just that. What changes do I want/need to make to my life? What is missing? Where do I want to go?

Then, in a moment of synchronicity this morning, I happened to check my yahoo email, which opened up with a funky sort, making the first email an undeleted two-year old notification about a comment on this blog at a time when I was doing a lot of writing. It was from a stranger, Aart Hilal, referring me to Paulo Coehlo's blog. At first, I didn't notice the date on the email, because I was too busy typing Coehlo's name into the search engine. And where did I end up? At the following quote:

When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.

If that isn't the universe blessing my endeavor, I don't know what is!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Summer project

Dear Powellhurst,

I don't know how to tell you this, but I want to see other blogs. A few weeks ago I started quietly posting on a summer blog that I am calling The Peacock Project. It is my attempt to combat what I know will be an ugly summer and fall at work. It is my place to celebrate what it right, positive, beautiful and important in the world and makes my life happier even though I feel like a lone miniature pony carrying the load of two dozen pack mules at work. Last year, during the same period I spent more drives home than I'd like to count crying, my blood pressure went up, I developed a slight twitch in my eye (I wish I were joking!), and I lost 20 lbs (which have been subsequently gained back). Obviously, this is not a recipe for health and happiness, even if I was happy to lose some girth. So, in an attempt to, as his purple badness would say, "get through this thing called life" (or maybe just the tail end of 2010), I am forcibly channeling my inner Pollyana and accentuating the positive before the negative eats it away completely.

You have been here for years, and I will always come back to you, but I need something fresh, maybe even funky fresh. I don't know. What I do know is that I will still be posting here, but if you would like to come hang out with me and my new bird, I'd invite you to stop by.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

None for tea, but two for BBQ

It feels like summer is finally here. The birdhouses on the front porch are overflowing with tentants (sometimes literally - rip little unfledged baby) and yesterday we had our warmest day of the year thusfar. Despite my failed last minute BBQ scheme (the first few people I invited all had the temerity to have other engagements, so I lost interest and will plan better next time!), it turned out to be a lovely day. My little white dog woke me up early enough that I had my grocery list and shopping done by noon and was already making a mini-BBQ for my mom and me. On the menu: Black Bean and Mango Salad, Raspberry Shortcake, and Country Ribs.

This is probably something everyone but me already knew, but being relatively new to doing the barbequeing, I discovered my new favorite way to make ribs last summer. If you boil them ahead of time, they are so tender they fall off the bone AND they hardly require any grilling time at all. To sweeten the deal, boiling them renders the fat, which makes them slightly less artery clogging, which means you can put more whip cream on your dessert and without inflating your health risk. Silver lining with nary a cloud in sight!

I am still tweaking to find the perfect blend, but so far my recipe is to fill a large stock pot with water, a couple tablespoons of pickling spice, a quartered onion (yes, an onion - I still think they are the devil's condiment, but am willing to accept their utility for some recipes), a whole bunch of garlic (the more, the better - crush it a little before throwing it into the pot), a bay leaf or two (or whatever herbs you like), a bit of salt and boil the ribs in the for an hour and a half or so. Then all you need to do is baste them with your favorite sauce and throw them on the grill for a few minutes. After that, all that's left is to drink a mojito made with mint from the back yard and enjoy! Aaah summer!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gentlewoman's Agreement

So I've been trying to think of something to talk about as part of the gentlewoman's agreement I struck with Jen back in April. Per the terms, we each agreed to post five times a week. We even renegotiated at the beginning of May declaring amnesty for all slackers (aka people like me), restarting the project and setting the blogging bar at four times a week. We are nothing if not flexible.

While I have thought about posting at least four times a week (sometimes even more, champion thinker that I am), the actual doing it has not happened. I'm telling you, when they finally invent the program that translates good intentions into organized writing, I am going to be SO freaking productive, you won't even believe it! There is probably a lesson here for optimistic, encouraging people like Jen: Never enter into any kind of accord with a known slacker. She can be happy that is was just blogging and not a suicide pact or something like that. It would really suck to be the one who follows through on that, while the other person is all "Oh, I don't know. I'm too tired to kill myself today. I think I'll go eat Cheetos and watch American Idol instead. Maybe tomorrow…"

The thing is that I am just not feeling like I have much to say lately. Sure, I think of things, but then when it comes to posting them, I think "Why the hell would anyone else be interested in this? Isn't it a little narcissistic to think that my navel gazing is so fascinating? Why don't I just keep a journal?" Then, yesterday I followed a link from Freewill Astrology to Jason Mraz's blog. And I read it and thought to myself "Except for being talented and famous, what is so special about him?" Don't get me wrong, I love Jason Mraz, but...

Why can people like him incite themselves to sit down and play, but I can't? One of my sometimes slightly pretentious writer friends (and sometimes judgmental shithead) is happy declare that some people are just serious about their art and some are not. Frankly, I think there is more to it than that. Creativity and self-expression shouldn't be vehicles for oneupsmanship. Sometimes we are just blocked. A vessel with a clogged spout is not necessarily an empty one.

I still don't know what I have to say or why or even if it will be of interest to anyone. Maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it is just about the self-discipline to power through it and form a habit. Maybe it is about stopping to really look at the crazy, beautiful world around me and writing about it, because that will inspire me to play and create things that fill it with just a little more beauty. Sometimes maybe you don't have to understand. Sometimes maybe you just have to do and see where it takes you.

P.s. In totally unrelated news this made me laugh.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Terrible Tilly and some less terrible things

Does this not look like the best spot for a ghost story? Tillamook Lighthouse (aka Terrible Tilly) sits isolated and abandoned, perched upon a rock a mile offshore. The lighthouse dates back to 1887 and wasn't exactly built under the best working conditions (dangerous, crashing waves, flying debris, etc.). While it operated for 70 years, it was never open to the public. There are legends about a child's grave left by an early keeper, a grey lady, a former keeper who loved the lighthouse so much that his ghost roams the structure, and Native American stories about the haunting of nearby underwater tunnels. Even without ghosts, it wasn't always the safest workplace. Being closed and essentially inaccessible just makes the place all the more intriguing, which is always good for the imagination.

Seeing it last weekend made me want to dig out the beachy ghost story I started a few years ago as part of a failed NaNoWriMo attempt. These days I don't seem to make a lot of time for writing anymore. The truth is that it's only through a hastily made gentlewoman's agreement under the thrall of the road and sea air that I have recently even resurrected the idea of updating this blog more often. At this point, doing so still feels a little creaky and awkward, but having the deadline of five posts a week helps me in the same way that my past January blogstravaganza project did. It even has a bonus in that the agreed upon "five posts a week" sounds far less daunting than blogstravaganza's "every day" did. Even God took a day to rest and we all know that I am WAY lazier than God ever was!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bug-eyed Azaleas

I found this poem by Dorothea Grossman today as I was tripping about the Internets, looking for spring poems to inspire me. I like it, don't you?

by Dorothea Grossman
clr gif

The murderer,
on his way to work,
stops to admire the wisteria
framing his doorway,
and waves
to the bug-eyed azaleas.

I've no plans to murder anyone, but I there is a particularly attractive purple azalea in my yard (and a half-dead wisteria, but we won't talk about that). The weather here in the NW has been gloriously springy these past couple weekends, prompting beach trips and garden center purchases. It's the perfect weather for sitting outside, listening to Pandora while my godson builds a tent city of boxes and old sheets on the lawn. One tent is apparently not enough for the child. He is intent on erecting a whole housing development. If you're going to dream, dream big, I guess.

P.s. The Pandora playlist you get when you put in "Thao & the Get Down Stay Down" has a lot of good stuff on it. I'm particularly fond of Miniature Tigers' Tell it to the Volcano.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This is a test from my new droid

I'll take "Breakup Songs that make me happy" for $1000

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down - When We Swam

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

W.S. Merwin

Because April is National Poetry month, I've been reading and researching, W.S. Merwin. He won his second Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow of Sirius last year. Hearing him read from it at one of last years Wordstock events was one of the highlights of the festival, especially because Merwin himself comes across as such a lovely human being. It is always disappointing when someone one admires turns out to be arrogant or unpleasant, so it was doubly rewarding to have it confirmed that Merwin is neither.

I first came in contact with Merwin in grad school via his translations of Pablo Neruda. As a student of language and dabbler in translation, I admired his facility with language and ability to create translations that captured not only meaning but spirit and emotion. Literal translation is easy, but it is not such an easy thing to convey the feel of the original. Good translation is a fine art unto itself.

For a long time, I went along blithely unaware that Merwin was a gifted poet in its own right. It was only many years later that I ran into one of his poems, fell in love, then realized that it was my old friend. For a great piece on him (including some examples of his poetry) from Bill Moyers Journal, click here.

"The Nomad Flute."
W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius

You that sang to me once sing to me now
let me hear your long lifted note
survive with me
the star is fading
I can think farther than that but I forget
do you hear me

do you still hear me
does your air
remember you
o breath of morning
night song morning song
I have with me
all that I do not know
I have lost none of it

but I know better now
than to ask you
where you learned that music
where any of it came from
once there were lions in China

I will listen until the flute stops
and the light is old again

Sunday, April 11, 2010

As road tripping season begins, so do the road mixes. With mp3 players and Pandora and all the technology that exists, I suppose they aren't really that necessary, but there's something really pleasing about putting them together. Back when I was growing up (and walking up hill to schools both ways in the snow, even in summer), I remember creating mix tapes from the radio. You old people know what I'm talking about. You'd sit in front of the radio, fingers poised over the record button, waiting for the song to come on so you could get it on a cassette tape. And once you got it, it mostly didn't matter that you weren't quite fast enough to catch the beginning or that dipshit DJ talked over the first 1/4 of the song, because you had captured it and sweet, sweet victory was yours!

Now, with iTunes, it is all so much easier. You can get exactly what you want and they are fun to put together. I love it when friends give me their mixes. Each song is like a little surprise. Will I like it? Will I not like it? Will the next song be something new and exciting? Something familiar, but well loved? So much anticipation!

My friend, Jen, makes awesome mixes. I am always delighted at the stuff she manages to find. So, with a mini-motor to the coast with her on the horizon, I decided to re-purpose the birthday mix I'd made into a beach trip mix. I think I might still make a few changes to it (maybe replace some of the stuff that was put on for my godson who was supposed to accompany me on my birthday outing), but was over all pretty pleased with the results:

1. We've Got Scurvy - P!nk. This is from Spongebob's Greatest Hits. While I am now going to tell you that it was put on for my godson's entertainment, the truth is that I like it. I mean, it's a song about scruvy, for pete's sake! Plus, it has pirates in it and P!nk. What's not to like?

2. Eight Miles Wide - Storm Large. Silly, yes, but fun to belt while you're driving down the highway, because you can be a kickass bruiser and be feminine (and it makes me laugh to think of myself as a kickass bruiser...I can't even kill a spider). I also like the message of being big (in personality) and unapologetic about owning who you are. I don't know about you, but it's something I could be better about. It also doesn't hurt that Ms. Large actually has a really good voice. It's funny, I wasn't that into her when she was on Rock Star, but she's really grown on me in the ensuing years and now I think she is pretty awesome.

3. Sunshine Song (Live) - Jason Mraz. I really like Jason Mraz's voice (if not all his music...he has one song on his most recent offering that really annoys me). He has such easy control over his vocals. He has his own, unique intonation and it never sounds forced or strained. I love this song for its bouncy, happy melody and I love that someone is described as "cerulean". I would take it as a compliment if someone described me as such!

4. This Little Light of Mine - James Horner & Sweet Honey in the Rock. For someone who does not think of herself as particularly religious and has limited experience with any non-reserved protestant kind of church experience, I have always had a weird affinity for big-voiced black women singing gospel. This version is just so joyful and happy that it's hard to listen to and not be in a good mood.

5. How Do You Do? - Mouth & MacNeil. Is this the greatest song ever written? No. Is it even what could be called "good"? Not really, BUT this song cracks me all the way up, because it was (along with Bad, Bad Leroy Brown) the first song I remember really digging when I was a kid. It also cracks me up, because I can totally see it being performed by The Electric Mayhem on The Muppet Show. I think it was actually recorded even a few years before my time, so you know it's old! The thing is, I can totally remember being three or four in the back seat of my dad's GTO and getting excited when it came on. Why the radio was on any station that would play it is beyond me, because this was so NOT my father's kind of music. He was all about country and blues, so I can only assume that he had it on to entertain me. "And then we can nananana just like we did before" indeed!

6. Ride a White Swan - T. Rex. Again, I love this because it is fun and happy and quirky. Marc Bolan had a kind of odd quiver to his voice sometimes, but it is the kind of thing that grows on me. The song makes me want to take his advice and wear a tall hat and tattooed gown and run around with a cat on my shoulder like the people of the Beltaine (which is coming up, by the way!) It also makes me wonder where I can find a swan to ride and whether swans are traditionally ridden bareback or if one needs a saddle to do so. Is there licensing required or can one just take to the waterways? Could the cat and the swan live peaceably or would there be friction? So many questions. Oh why, Marc Bolan, can we not all just get along? Bonus aside: I read somewhere once that Marc Bolan never learned to drive, because he feared dying prematurely in an automobile accident. And guess how he died? Car crash. I wonder if it's really true that he was so prescient or if it's just a good story?

7. Me and Bobby McGee - Crystal Bowersox. American Idol and I have a weird relationship. I watch it, despite thinking it generally sucks the artistry out of any unique contestants, and (barring a couple Kelly Clarkson downloads) don't ever purchase anything they release after it's over. That said, I think Crystal Bowersox has a pretty amazing voice and I love that she (so far, the high heel episode excluded) remains mostly unstyled. This song has been covered a million times, but I think this version is pretty great and I hope she does well.

8. That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings. Again it's not the most brilliant song ever written, but it's fun and the boy LOVES it (as he loves anything rhythmic and drum heavy). If you have never ridden in a car with a four year old boy sing-screaming "That's not my name" at the top of his lungs, well, then you haven't lived.

9. Take a Chance on Me - Abba. This went on my birthday mix, because I totally remember having an Abba's Greatest hits 8-track when I was a kid and Take a Chance on Me was my favorite song on it. I would hole up in my room for hours watching the disco lights on stereo (that's right, it had disco lights!) and rehearsing my stage show.

10. I Think I Need a New Heart - The Magnetic Fields. I love the contrast between the light, bouncy arrangement of this song in combination with Stephin Merrit's deep, almost ascerbic singing voice and slightly testy personality. Seeing him in concert for the first time not too long ago somehow cemented in my mind this image of him as a besweatered (but weirdly lovable) curmudgeon. I know that doesn't sound so complimentary, but I respect a good curmudgeon and really do like him, because 69 Love Songs is one of my favorite cds ever.

11. The Way I am - Ingrid Michaelson. Remember when the sweater song was all over the place because of those t.v. commercials? It almost got played too much, but I still really love it, because it is just so sweet.

12. Cupid (Live) - Sam Cooke. I don't even have adjectives to describe how much I love Sam Cooke. He is a silver voiced god. It is so sad to me to think of all he could have done had he not been taken so early, because the catalog for the time he lived is pretty amazing. I love this version of Cupid, because it's just a little raw and shows a different side of Sam's voice.

13. A Little Bit of Riddim - Michael Franti & Spearhead. It's a little repetitive, but, oh man, does this song make me butt dance in the car whenever I hear it. Franti is another one who got some airplay because of one song that got picked up by pop stations, but actually has a catalog and established following. I downloaded their whole cd from iTunes on a whim, because I liked Say Hey when I heard it on the radio and ended up liking the whole thing for its socially conscious lyrics. It shows that popular music can be fun without being stupid (says the woman who likes "That's Not My Name").

14. I Love Rock n Roll - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. If you want to talk about badass, that was Joan Jett in the early 80's. Jen and I talked on the way to the beach about how this song totally screams things about our teen years and roller skating rinks whenever we hear it, which is pretty funny, considering we both grew up on opposite ends of the country and I totally remember skating to this at Skate World.

15. Suddenly ... (I Miss Carpaty) - Gogol Bordello. There is so much that I love about Gogol Bordello. Their violinist is amazing, but I've talked so much about them the I feel I should probably just cool it, but they are a quirky mix of gypsy folk and punk and so awesome that I almost can't stand it.

16. The Story - Brandi Carlile. I love the notion that the lines on our faces (well, those of us who aren't botoxed beyond recognition, anyway) are a map of our experiences and I love the lyrics in general, especially the part about how "friends think that I'm blessed but they don't know my head is a mess", which speaks so accurately to the crazy I (mostly) keep just below the surface. Preach on, my whackadoo sister, preach on!

17. Pretty Flowers - Steve Martin.
This is such a sweet little love song. Even though Steve Martin wrote it, it sounds like something you'd hear in The Songcatcher or find in an anthology of folk tunes. It's just so authentic and unassuming, pretty and unexpected from someone who built is early career dressing up like King Tut and wearing an arrow through his head. Hooray for Steve!

18. Drunkard's Waltz - Joel Savoy.
If I could have a theme song, this would be the melody. It skips along so happily and free of care that I think it would please me for people to think of me when they heard it. We've have to do something about the name, though.

19. Cajun Song - Gin Blossoms.
I have had the cd this came from since grad school. I received it as a gift and think I've probably listened to the full thing a grand total of once. Still, I've always loved this song, because as a companion piece to my old school gospel affinity, I have an inexplicable affinity for Cajun and Zydeco music. How some 1/2 German kid growing up in the NW with no ties to the bayou developed a fondness for this kind of stuff or why the Gin Blossoms were singing in the height of the grunge years it will always be beyond me.

20. The Lonely Goatherd - Julie Andrews.
I don't know what is up with my goatherd fetish lately, but I love singing this song, because of the part at the end where I get to really ham it up, but that will just remain our little secret, Internets. I'm trusting you with this information, so please don't tell anyone!

Saturday, March 27, 2010


The Watcher in the Window
Originally uploaded by Martina
My sweet little Cleo cat died today. I will miss her.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Me!

One of the many wonderful things about living in Portland is that two of my favorite places ever - the Columbia River Gorge and Maryhill Museum of Art - are within easy road tripping distance. Since nature saw fit to shine her light in all its glory on the first day of spring (which also happens to be my birthday), there was no other choice but to celebrate with a mini-road trip. So, I got together some of my favorite people and hit the road.

The day started with a lovely brunch with my adopted nephew and his family, who are slowly being absorbed into the auntosphere. It started with the boy. I keep his allegiance by buying him toys and feeding him copious amounts of sugar when he comes to visit, but the older daughter now makes occasional references to me as "Aunt Tina" too. The middle child is a tough teen nut to crack, but I am confident that I will win her over one day too, if I can get her to put down her cell phone and stop texting for long enough to notice there are other people in the room.

Aside from the company, the great thing about brunch was that it was the only meal I've had to cook in the past five days. Thursday lunch was Italian with coworkers and dinner came in the form of happy hour with my friends Goth Girl and The Tattooed Lady, who kindly treated me to pre-birthday porter and a roasted garlic burger. And the dining out has not stop with the weekend either! That's right Portland Area Restaurant Association members, my crew and I are keeping you afloat, so you better smile when you see me waddling up to your front door!

But, back to my story. Picture this. Portland, the first day of spring 2010. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and people's stomachs are full of maple sausage and apple breakfast casserole. The brunch shift clocks out and the road trip shift arrives. The sun is shining so hard I want to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming. I am not. If it were a dream, I would be thinner and George Clooney would be accompanying me.

Even Clooney free, it turns out to be one of my favorite days ever, mostly because my mom and the friends I was travelling with really are a lot of fun. You know how some people can be good friends, but not good road friends, because their pace is too different from yours or because you like piddling around and they have to have a plan? Well, these people are perfect as friends AND road tripping buddies.
As the day progressed, we visited Starvation Creek State Park (I totally want to go back for a picnic one day!) and stopped for lunch at Big Jim's in The Dalles, where the lady at the counter surprised me with free birthday ice cream, which she brought to our table BEFORE lunch came. If there's one thing I've learned in my many moons, it's that you don't mess around with waiting for after lunch when you are full to start with dessert. Big rookie mistake. It's much more efficient to go for the good stuff right off. That way you can be too full when it comes time for the lima beans and not the hot fudge. It just makes good birthday sense and I am ever so happy that Big Jim and I are of one mind on this!

After Jim's it was off to Stonehenge and Maryhill, where we wandered around taking pictures of the peacocks, which really are sexy birds and not just fancy turkeys no matter what some members of my party would have you believe. Then, as the day drew to a close, we sat at a picnic table on the grounds while my people showered me with amazing gifts before heading back to the city for the evening. Looks like this is my lucky year!

Blue Steel: A Love Story

It has recently come to my attention that all peacocks are named Derek. Well, all but they white ones, which are named Hansel. Like Tyra Banks and their namesake, Derek Zoolander, they are consummate models, who have mastered many looks.

Behold, Magnum:

But while stunning, it is not quite enough,

And so he unveils

Blue Steel

She pretends not to notice,

but eventually succumbs, because

he really is really, really ridiculously good looking

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hello Spring!

Originally uploaded by Martina
The magnolia tree outside my bedroom window has just started to bud. The past few days have been so sunny and pink that I've been craving picnics and days at the beach even though there was frost on my windshield when I left for work this morning. Although it's my birthday this weekend and everyone knows you should get whatever you want on your birthday, I'm guessing that it's going to be hard get anyone on board with celebrating my naissance out in the cold, even if it is sunny cold or sunny cold with cake.

I've often considered moving my birthday to a month more amenable to picnics in wildflower filled meadows or maybe having a birthday and birthday, observed like some dead President from day gone by. Ultimately, this just seems like too much work. For one, I am horribly indecisive and it would be difficult to decide on a day, then once the day was chosen and then there'd be the bother of retraining everyone to shower me with gifts and well wishes at a different time of year. Who needs that kind of headache? Not only am I old(ish), but I'm lazy too. So, I'm sticking with the first day of spring, which has always seemed to me a very good day to start a new year.

There is something promising about pink buds and sunny days when you've already braced yourself for a few more rainy, gray weeks before summer returns. As luck has it, it's supposed to be in the upper 60's/low 70's on Saturday. While that's a little cool for sitting outside for long periods of time, it is perfect weather for a trip to visit the peacocks at Maryhill Museum of Art, which just happens to be celebrating its 70th season opening on my birthday this year. I like to think of it as my season opening too!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

stressbusting tips for goatherds

I am neither a goatherd, nor do I play one on t.v., but I do know a little about stress. A year ago, I moved into a new role at work. At first, it was all rainbows and unicorns. It was something new to do, I loved my new boss (and still do), and it got me out from under the thumb of the well meaning but micromanaging woman who had been my boss for the past seven years. Then came the news that there would be a pay cut, no fancy new title and a workload that increased by month. By summer, it was not uncommon for me to be working nights and weekends of overtime. There are days now when I feel myself on the verge of just giving my notice, even if I have no new prospect on the horizon yet. That is just not the sort of thing I do, which says a lot.

Over the course of the year I have stopped writing, playing my violin, singing, reading, taking pictures, going on mini- (and maxi-) roadtrips, and hanging out much with friends. While I know people who have aspirations of clawing their way to middle management or becoming directors before they hit 40, I don't feel any of those things about my job. What I feel is that I want to do something that makes more of a difference and that the job I have is slowly robbing me of all the things that make life worth living. Not that I'm well paid, but no amount of money is worth that. I also feel (and know, thanks to my doctor) that my blood pressure has gone up since I started doing this job. There are times when the whole thing overwhelms me so much that I cry my way home at night.

Frankly, it's not worth a stroke or heart attack, so I have been trying to find little ways to ease my stress level while I look for a new job/figure out if I'm too old to go back to school and make a total career change/determine if my situation at the one I have is worth salvaging. Meanwhile, here are some things that have kept me from jumping off a bridge on the worst days (in case you were wondering, this is where the goatherds come in):

1. Sing. While I love music of all sorts, I find that show tunes interspersed by the occasional up tempo Sweet Honey in the Rock song work best for this. My current favorites by far, however, are The Lonely Goatherd from the original Sound of Music soundtrack (as opposed to the muppet version above, but who doesn't love muppets?) and Storm Large's vagina song, because it's difficult to take anything too seriously while yodeling or belting about vaginas. Usually by the time I get to Julie Andrews' big yodeling finale or the "just the boys" part of the vagina song I'm at least laughing a little. Ultimately, that's really what it's all about - not taking things so seriously. It could just as easily be any kind of silliness that make you feel good.

2. New pajamas to wear while an evening at home reading or watching movies while eating Chinese takeout. I've said it before, but the Nick & Nora line Target carries is an awesome, inexpensive resource for this. Current fave: My new confused gnome pajamas. They have not only gnomes and mushroom caps, but rainbows and pots of gold, because they are apparently part of the Irish gnome diaspora who have adopted social customs from the leprauchans. This does not make them any less fab or any less a part of my birthday month pajama ensemble.

3. Plan a trip. Even if I can't exactly take it now, somehow thinking about where I could go always makes me feel a little better, especially when combined by google earth sightseeing. How cool is that that you can type in an address anywhere in the world (that has pictures loaded, anwyay) and actually see the place. I can amuse myself for hours, just looking up the houses of people I know, the places I've lived, and the places I've travelled and want to travel. It reminds me that there is a whole world outside of whatever passing "crisis" is currently raising my stress level. The truth is that most things that cause drama in a corporate environment are passing and really not that important outside of that microcosm (and that's really true of any microcosm we're in).

4. Leave the real world for a while. This can be via reading, watching a movie, making something, even playing a video game. While I don't find a whole lot of time for these things anymore, when I do, the distraction can be a sanity saver, especially for someone like me who tends to zero in on a problem and obsess over it to the point that she can't eat or sleep. I actually lost 12 pounds during the month of December simply by forgetting to eat, because I was so busy worrying. While I need to lose weight, that wasn't how I wanted to do it!

5. Meditate. Sometimes just taking some deep breaths and meditating or praying (if that's your deal) or even just having a quiet, little talk with yourself can make a world of difference. (And it's even better if you can do it in a hot bath filled with bubbles!)

6. Journaling. It's been ages since I've journaled or blogged regularly at all, but when I do, it helps. Sometimes just putting things in writing can make you feel a little less burdened. It's definitely worth doing more often.

7. Don't let the stresser take over. This is the one where I fall off Mellow Road. I do let it take over my life. I stop hanging out with friends, stop making time to do the things I enjoy and find myself feeling constantly worn to the bone. It's something I need to work on. In the end, I know I won't look back and wish I'd worked more. I mean, who does?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

The wind has been blowing like crazy around these parts today, which reminds me of Shelly's Ode to the West Wind. The poem is not really as much about meteorology as it is about change, but on a blustery January day, poems involving wind and change still seem apropos. As much as part of me wants the wind to calm down, there is another part that likes to think that it is blowing away the last remnants of the old year to make room for the new. It seems like a good (if fanciful) theory, so I am going to roll with it.

I like to think that the wind is sweeping away some of my laissez-faire attitude about keeping my personal life happily organized, directed, and filled with the things that bring me satisfaction. At work, I am a organizational machine that has an action plan for everything and tracking sheets for tracking sheets, but at home...Let's just say that I am a little more relaxed - and not always to my betterment!). I don't know about you. Maybe you are one of those people who never lets things slides, draws firm boundaries and doesn't get distracted, but I'm constantly confounded by why it is so easy to stay on track when someone pays me to (or even just when someone else needs my help), but less so when it comes to doing things that are all about me! Well, no more, I say!

This week I have continued to think about goals for 2010. I am liking the idea of approaching them as a To Do list with some deadlines, rather than a vague set of resolutions about how I really am going to lose weight this time or spend more time with friends or take a real vacation or get off my ass and exercise regularly. This year I am taking a more intentional approach, thinking about what is important to me, how the goal will improve quality of life, and, most importantly, and how to attack it. I expect to have a list by the end of the week, but have already begun by organizing the Christmas decorations when I took them down instead of just throwing them into a random box not unlike the metaphorical one I keep filled with the well intentioned, but ultimately failed plans of years gone by. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 01, 2010

I've been thinking...

Happy New Year! As someone who has great energy for beginning new things (sometimes moreso than for finishing them), I love the start of a new year. There's something satisfying about archiving the old year and starting the new one on a fresh, blank page. It's definitely time for a change.

It's been ages since I've posted anything of substance, because my work has been positively soul sucking for the past six or eight months. After a great start to 2009 with a wonderful new boss (who is still wonderful), my job has snowballed into this monster that can't be caged. There have been pay cuts, expanded responsibilities, weeks where I've worked 30 hours by Tuesday, and times where I couldn't enjoy the little time I did have off, because my mind was so riddled with work dross that it just wouldn't shut down. And for someone who firmly believes that a job is just a job and not life, this is not a tenable situation.

It's funny sometimes how long we keep plodding along on in a situation that does not make us happy, simply because we are so immersed that we don't have time to think of change as an option. Little by little, the things we love fall out of our lives. We don't sleep right, we don't eat right. The next thing we know there is a dirty rumor circulating that we are workaholics. Despite our philosophy that work is just work, we realize that we're no longer doing things like writing, finishing projects, reading, taking pictures, playing the kazoo, hanging out with friends. Your list may be different, but you get the picture.

Fueled by two glorious weeks of vacation and the resolute tenor that accompanies the dawning of a new year, the CEO of Me, Inc. has decided that it's not only okay to want to be happy, but that striving to be so is important and should receive as much energy as we put into the things others pay us to do. The thing is that I don't really love resolutions. Resolutions sound like something you start and then allow to peter away as the year progresses. So, this year I am setting goals - SMART goals, even. If it's good enough for the projects someone else pays me to do, it should be good enough for me!

As it turns out, the Internets are as full of advice on goal setting as they are of everything else. While some of the tools come through expensive life coaching programs or for a more modest subscription price of $19.95 a month, there is a ton of free stuff out there - like these worksheets and that's just the tip of the iceberg. After all, I've only spent a couple minutes researching and we haven't even talked about the library yet! The tools are all there. It's just a matter of putting them together.

So, instead of making a ton of resolutions this year, my only resolution is to come up with a few well thought out goals and a plan to achieve them. Meanwhile, I hope that this new year fulfills all of the fresh, new potential it holds for me, for you, for everyone.