Monday, December 29, 2008

Imperfect yet magical. Like life itself.

Yesterday I was nerdily buried in the Sunday New York Times, reading and reflecting on my first Christmas away from my parents. Following this revere was (besides a fabulous pot of french pressed Stumptown coffee) a lightly philosophical article about the end of Polaroid film; about the end of a form of photography that was exceptional because it hinged on that element of surprise. This was contrasted with today's trusty digital cameras, where imperfection can be carelessly deleted in a split second - maybe, just maybe, missing a shot of unexplored genius.

This got my already sentimental (and over caffeinated) mind running. Is life these days that different? Sometimes I find myself editing out the past because it doesn't fit the narrative (I'd elaborate, but that's fodder for my fiction). Why?

It also got me thinking of my grandpa Swede, the only person I ever knew to religiously wield a Polaroid camera. As is with the holidays, you miss the people who have passed on. But I was comforted, and more than a little amused, to flip through my Polaroids from him. His loving, warm and imperfect gaze comes across in each shot. It really warms my heart to think about it, him, my family. And that's why I'll always have a soft spot for that clunkynoisyarmygreen camera... and imperfections.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stumptown Christmas

A bus stop, a skiing family and a bicycle.
Merry Christmas from Portland!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Birds of a Feather Shop Together

Don't venture beyond the pasta aisle when he's hungry
(photo from Dave Gorman's flickr page)

I just found out there's a bird living in a Safeway downtown*. He's been there since early summer and survives off the millet and grains that are spilled from the dry food bins. I watched him today, singing above the sale pomegranates.
*The exact location is being withheld, to protect the innocent (bird).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A little closer to fine.

Things have taken a turn for the worse (but not yet worst) lately, so I'm cooking through it. Much like pushing through it, but with leeks, currents and monk fish. And cookies, my god, the cookies. Here's what the weekend looked like, in culinary creations:

1) Grilled butterflied monkfish with a sweet runner bean stew (from Jamie Oliver's Jamie at Home), with a side of rosemary and sea salt roasted Oregon Yukon potatoes (improv'd);
2) Norwegian pancakes (from Kitchen of Light) and a chard & shallot frittata (loosely based on Alice Water's frittata recipe in The Art of Simple Food);
3) Oatmeal and current cookies (The Art of Simple Food, Alice Water);
4) Leek Confit, on toast with goat cheese (Molly Wizenberg for Bon Appetit);
5) Cannellini and Butternut squash soup (The Art of Simple Food, Alice Water).

So far, so good. Obviously, I'll have left overs until 2009. But it's nice to remind myself that the kitchen is my own little kingdom, even if I'm not so lucky once I step out the door.

Monday, December 8, 2008

'Tis the season

There was the typical morning news. Landslides, fires and neighborhood robberies. Bush, nearing the sunset of his reign of terror, inarticulately apologized-but-not-really-apologized for one single harmful event of many, at Abu Ghraib (he was technically in charge - of course he wasn't there, but he should've (they've told him), take some responsibility, so he is. Taking responsibility. Sort of.) Me wearing one sock and yelling at the television screen.

And then the usually cheery guy at the coffee shop handed me my morning coffee and told me about kids in Africa who are crushing HIV anti-virus pills and smoking them mixed with pot for the high.

Later in the morning I got a google alert that the owner of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times was filing for corporate bankruptcy. I felt the grip tighten on my job, the jobs of friends finishing up MFA programs or looking for journalism jobs. I thought, "The sky is falling."

I skipped lunch and went to the gym to work out my worries. One, and then all four of the gym televisions flashed breaking news of a fighter jet crashing into a residential area of La Jolla, California. I left the gym. The sky was falling.

I haven't felt like writing. I've started four blog posts this month, but never made it far before giving up. I couldn't figure it out, couldn't begin to put my anxiety into words. Then I read this and this on Hezbollah Tofu (even the ridiculous name puts world events into perspective, right?) Basically, it's about us going to hell in a handbasket and how, if we're even slightly sensitive to that and at all greatful for the things we do have, we need to show compassion for all the peeps that have it worse than we do. And celebrate that we're all in this together.

Thanks to Hezbollah Tofu for making more sense than the world ever could at the moment.

And for clearing the blockage, so to speak.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-Tofurky Wrap Up

Walla Walla, WA
Wish you were here. To entertain me.

Thanksgiving brings you together with your friends (intentional) or family (biological). I don't think there's anyone out there who is spending the holidays with the latter who hasn't thought (in the most appreciative of ways): "Who are these people? How are we possibly related? How can families be so complicated?" My dad watched several Tivo'd Hallmark channel movies and my sister an episode of a reality show that follows around a family with 8 kids, while I stared at them both, bored and contemplating the ties that bind. It was even more confusing when we weren't staring at the tv, but attempting conversation. Trapped in the countryside of a small eastern Washington town with my blood relations, I wondered how the rest of America was faring. If the NYTimes most seached for keywords is any indication, they were as confused about the meaning of family and Thanksgiving as I was...

Keywords most frequently searched by readers.

1. obama
2. bush
3. turkey
4. citigroup pays for a rush to risk
5. cancer
6. november 5, 2008
7. citigroup
8. sweet potato
9. thankgiving
10. china

* photo courtesy of jfranklinwillis'

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Portrait of the artist's girlfriend on the couch.

If you see a dramatic improvement in my photographic composition after tonight, it's because I'm going to see Literary Arts presents Annie Leibovitz. And if you don't notice a difference, I blame the nose-bleed seats!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eeeee eee eeee indeed.

What an odd, perfect combination.
Tao Lin interviewing Joy Williams over at Book Slut.

* photo courtesy of Lele's flickr page

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First Storm

The beauty of the rain is how it falls, how it falls, how it falls (Dar Williams)

Tonight the first big storm of the Oregon rainy season is supposed to hit. I can't really muster feeling worried, though, when rain drops are spattered across my window like stars, or diamonds, or tears.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Closed Book.

Mission Accomplished!
Photo courtesy of Careenin

After a hundred-plus hour work week, Wordstock 2008 has come to a fantastic end. Sex dreams were discussed with an Oregon children's book author. An emergency run to Office Depot was made to ensure John Hodgman had an orange sharpee (the only pen he'll sign his books with). I found the most unlikely crush, a 90 pound poet in a red stocking cap who rocked both the sold out Poetry Slam and Live Wire. I spent every second of the last five day feeling so lucky to be a part of something that brings my favorite things in the world - books and writers - to my favorite city in the world, Portland. And to Wordstock's core volunteer team (who've lent hundreds of hours of their time), and the hundreds of Portlander's who've simply lent some of their weekend to the knocked my socks off. And now, Belvedere and I agree, it's time for a nap.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


National Novel Writing Month (or, to those of us in its hackles, who don't have enough time in the day for the next 31 days, we just short hand it NaNoWriMo). National Novel Writing Month is a mad experiment heavily dosed with quantity over quality. In short: you agree to write your "novel" every day for a month, with the finish line being November 31st, and 50,000 words. Revision (and there will be a lot of it) comes later. Much, much later. I'm heading into this knowing that our biggest work event of the year, Wordstock Book Festival, is happening next week and I'll be working 15 hour days for a while.

I have two visuals to cling to when I feel crushed by the impossibility of this task: Zadie Smith wrote White Teeth during her final year at Cambridge, she wrote the last few chapters during finals. In the living room of her parents house. Because she had just broken up with her boyfriend and had to move somewhere. Yikes.

The other is this incredible timelapse video of the route of the New York City Marathon, condensed down to 3 1/2 minutes; because one type of marathon or another, it's all about moving one foot forward, again and again, till you hit that sweet finish line.

You can follow my NaNoWriMo progress here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alice In Wonderland

Angst much, Alice?
Alice Neel: Self-Portrait

This weekend I rented a documentary about the legendary portraitist Alice Neel. With extensive interviews of her sons, the fruits of her genius and neglect, the film seemed to be a parade of Alice's extraordinarily affected portraits set to the soundtrack of her sons' actively arguing and reworking their own narratives. For the woman who said that "whether I'm painting or not, I have this overweening interest in humanity. Even if I'm not working, I'm still analyzing people," she seems to have thoroughly confused her children in the process. And then there's the allusion to the daughter left behind in Cuba, who as an adult killed herself. Interviews with Alice reveal that she was fascinated by her children as subjects, but she seemed so focused, absorbing the essence of those immediately in front of her easel (which she did, beautifully) that you have to wonder what was missed as a result of her myopic focus, or what any artist misses, squirreled away working on their art? Is the artistic sacrifice honorable, and whose humanity are they furthering? Alice was hailed as a ground-breaking feminist artist, through she shrugged the title. I wonder why.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ma, the turkey's dry.

Boiling wool into shapes is a completely useless and fascinating trend. I mean, what goes into the cute little fuzzy bowls you keep bringing home from crafts night? Fuzzy cheerios you make the next week, maybe? This didn't keep Knit/Purl, an inspired little knit shop at my streetcar stop, from making this darling Thanksgiving setting, made entirely of boiled wool.

That's a turkey this veggie can get behind!

Two Weeks To Wordstock!

A funny little commercial for Wordstock Book & Literary Festival

I've said it before. Poets are word magicians to me. And if they can belt it out on stage like Anis here? Swoon. If you're in Portland, come see six of the world's best Slam Poets at McMenamin's Baghdad Theatre on Hawthorne, Thursday evening, Nov. 6th, for Wordstock's opening night event. Tickets are $15, and all the money raised goes to COW, doing our part to keep the kiddies literate. Buy your tickets here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Paulrus Is Dead.

Paulrus Is Dead IV
Originally uploaded by skomra
My best thinking is done on the bus. Somehow my brain synapses fly freely twice a day when the bus lurches to a halt every block and a half for 60 long ones. Some run for clarity. Some yoga. I public transit.

Of course, not all my thoughts are brilliant. This evening, for instance. For the hundredth time, my eyes caught a PAULRUS IS DEAD graffiti tag. I'm sort of in love with the brainchild behind PAULRUS IS DEAD.

Some theories:

Paulrus is what an overly sensitive, acne-covered 16 year old's bully brother had taken to calling his little brother Paul following a particularly creative trip to the zoo. Paulrus spent a summer working out at the local YMCA gym a la Rocky, read plenty of Philip Roth and grew three feet in a summer. Paul emerged and was accepted early-admission to Vassar, but didn't go before righting his big brother's wrong all over town.

Someone is out to get Paulrus. Yikes. Paulrus is marked. PAULRUS IS DEAD.

Paul thought he and Russ were solid. They even adopted their namesake, a show pug named Paulrus. Forever haunted by the boy that came between them, the dream of PAULRUS IS DEAD.

I'm not the only obsessive. PAULRUS IS DEAD has a devoted Flickr group.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Respect the cupcake!

Heaven in a wrapper - Toasted Coconut Cream!

I never got more web traffic than I did a few months ago when I posted a singular picture of a lemon cupcake from Saint Cupcake. That was cool, though, because I love them too. One of my favorite blogs (and daily haunts) is sfgirlbybay. I was thrilled to see that today's guest blogger (sfgirlbybay's on vacation in Thailand) is Mrs. French, a fellow PDX blogger. And for her first guest blog, she did a lovely interview with the folks at one of my favorite places on earth, right down the street from mouse house - Noun (also home to south east Portland's branch of Saint Cupcake). Speaking of Saint Cupcake, it's somebody's birthday, mind the cupcake.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Words Change Everything

So much to do, and only 30 days till Wordstock. Even my dreams seem to be monopolized with website updates and hunting down author photos (when I was a temp, I used to have dreams that I was filing documents alphabetically, or trying to fill out an endless Excel doc. Am I the only one?) Then a Wordstock Google alert pinged my email this afternoon. Justin had posted this Wieden+Kennedy ad made for Wordstock last year and I paused for a second, realizing how lucky I am to do what I do. And now, back to it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A (sort of) Island Escape

Canela digs Saturday morning on Sauvie Island so much more than the Pilates class we blew off to get there. And a bucket of U-Pick flowers for ten bucks can't be beat.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Food Fight

{cutie photo from Rakka's flickr page}

I read a lot. You know, looking for enlightenment regarding my calling; or what a friend and I jokingly, frantically refer to as a Life Plan. Something undiscovered that will mean a lot to me, to couple with friends and family that already do. Lately I've been looking to the queens of the kitchen, and have (ahem) consumed a biography on Alice Waters and the letters of M.F.K. Fisher (both recommended, although the "authorized" biography of Alice Waters is a bit easy on Alice.) But I've fell hardest for Julia Child's book My Life in France, for a couple of reasons.

1) Julia didn't find her life calling (buttery Frenchie food) until she was 37!

2) She's obsessive (and as a result, a little neglectful) like me. For example, she had to know what made mayonnaise work or fail. "By the end of my research, I believe, I had written more on the subject of mayonnaise than anyone in history...but in this way I finally discovered a foolproof recipe, which was glory." And she nearly failed her Le Cordon Bleu test by concentrating on the advanced, tricky recipes, meanwhile forgetting the Cordon Bleu Basics pamphlet that they drew the test questions from. Oops, and done that.

3) She was a tall lady. I often fill awkward when faced with new challenges. But is it possible to feel more awkward than Julie looked, towering at 6 feet, 2 inches, over the petite European stoves she learned on, deboning a palm sized quail with her giant hands? Probably not, and she managed to own it (lesson to the ladies!)

...oh, and when she sent her recipes off to friends in America all she got was silence. (This really has nothing to do with anything, except, dear Eden From Sweden blog readers, leave comments, so I know you're out there, breathing and supportive)...

Making my way through the pages, a feeling's crept up on me. When something strikes your fancy, you need to push it forward. Julia's ascent wasn't exceptional. It was just hard work, honesty and a fabulous sense of humor.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Muppet Moment: Tonight's Debate!

Thanks to a dedicated reader (let's call her Muppet Manic in Brooklyn) for bringing this witty New York Time's Op-Ed to my attention. I'm happy to see that that NYTimes has once again committed itself to letting voices from marginalized communities be heard.

{Apologies for the low resolution. Someday I'll learn how to use my Adobe Photoshop software without getting a headache.
Until then, click here for the full image}

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sorry. My Give-a-damn's busted.

tightened nerves, rusty curves
photo by force majeure studios

"Sorry, my give-a-damn's busted."

This was my co-worker's explanation for her bad mood today. Neither of us (her, suburbanite; me, leery of country music) quite knew what it meant, but the sentiment rang true enough, so we googled the phrase "my give-a-damn's busted." Guess it's a country song sung by Miss Jo Dee Messina that spent at least some time on Billboard's top 100 in 2005. We enjoyed watching the music video, and then got back to the work at hand.

Work. I must clarify, my give-a-damn's not busted, I'm just very busy and will be for the next six weeks. Check out our new website, though. It's spiffy, if I do say so myself. So, let me borrow and tweak Miss Jo Dee's declaration. My give-a-damn's tested. And that I can handle.

When you fall down the rabbit hole, you find more weird my give-a-damn's busted trivia:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Aargh. Friday, yet?

yo ho ho and batten down the hatches (until friday)
photo from mimi k's flickr page

Forgive me for scouring Wednesday's freshly printed Willamette Week for weekend activities when we've got two more days until TGIF, but it was One. Long. Day. I wasn't disappointed in the results (I love Portland). This weekend, I can mix up my regular farmer's market visit with "Medieval Market Day" in Beaverton, attend the Scappoose Sauerkraut Festival (seriously), or the Miss White Trash Pageant at Dante's. Friday, I'm ready.

Oh, and the Portland Pirate Festival at Cathedral Park. Obviously, I'll be there.

{...and pleasepleaseplease, if you enjoy indie press, help save BITCH magazine, another Portland treasure. They need a pretty penny to make it to press this month.}

Stump(town) Speech.

mmm. taste obama's juicy undertones.

Breakfast at the Bipartisan Cafe in the Montevilla neighborhood means you'll might be seated next to an actual Floridan Voter's Booth used in the 2004 election - wait, did I just vote for Bush or Gore? You'll have a five foot tall McCain cut out learing at your lox and garlic bagel from his place near the window, while Nixon and Kennedy battle it out on the wall. So, of course I had to pick up some special edition "Obama Blend" coffee from Stumptown.

Obama Blend: "As a salute to Barack Obama, this blend combines coffees from Kenya and Indonesia. We use one of our Latin American coffees to bind the flavors toether making this a well balanced blend. Fresh cut cedar in the aromatics lead to milk chocolate tones and cherry cordial flavors all tied together with its juicy texture."

And come on now! Of course Stumptown makes a McCain Blend, too. The Bipartisan Cafe would accept nothing less.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Atlases

Last weekend, I came across a thick, mint condition 1979 Reader's Digest World Atlas at a Mt. Tabor yard sale. The yard sale proprietress asked two bucks and suggested I deplume the thing page-by-page, country-by-country to use for stationary, or arts and crafts. I was appalled at the idea. Firstly, it was a lovely book. Secondly, it was published the year of my birth. Defacing a book is slightly easier for me than cutting the whiskers off a cat or kicking a puppy.

Today it was a yard sale off Burnside that caught my attention. This children's atlas had seen better days. The pages, or what was left of them, were stored in the cover but completely detached. The book's cover boards were held together with duck tape. I knew this meant, although it was almost sixty years old, that the book was worth zilch. This, I thought, is a book of maps I could use for stationary, for arts and crafts.

I asked the price.

The proprietress of this yard sale was a late-fifties Asian woman with a proper, stern look. She asked what I wanted it for to which I responded, "Stationary, maybe? Arts and crafts?" She looked pained. I said it was very interesting and she brightened up. "You're a teacher? Show this to your students?" I shook my head. Not a teacher. "How much?" I asked again, irritated that I was negotiating not only the price of the book, but its fate.

"Five dollars," she said. I started to put it back, ready to leave, and she touched my wrist. She explained that she was selling all her things, that she was moving to Hong Kong, to take care of her mother who was old and ill. This book, she said, is what her mother used to show her and her sister the world, and their place in it, when the family arrived in Portland from Hong Kong when she was little. I imagined her as a girl trying to reconcile the world by tracing the route from page 4, China and Hong Kong, to page 6, where Portland was circled in pencil on the United States map. And now in middle age she had to leave what had become her true home, Portland, to care for her mother who had never wanted to leave Hong Kong in the first place. So I paid the five dollars, said goodbye, and felt the weight of the broken book in my hand all the way home.

Monday, September 8, 2008


meet belvedere

This weekend I adopted a three-year-old cat whose owners were leaving Portland for an uncertain future in Nashville, Tennessee (meanwhile, he left plush suburbia for an uncertain future with me). For the first 24 hours, he hid in the back of my closet. But he's out now, baby, he's out! Meet Belvedere. For American kids of the 80's, Belvedere brings to mind the television show Mr. Belvedere, about the "humorous adventures of an English housekeeper working for an American Family." Members of the cast went on to do great things, like star in Dragstrip Girl (TV) and Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance (also TV). Belvedere is also the leading manufacturer of beauty salon furniture. We can only hope this B's as industrious, but so far he's only interested in unsuccessfully scaling my bookshelves like an obese Spiderman, consuming unbelivable amounts of weight-control kibbles, shedding and scratching up what few pieces of decent furniture we have. For this handsome mug, I'm happy to oblige.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A culinary, crafty, and anti-McCain buffet

Oh man! The news today was Just! So! Interesting!

Culinary Update: Endangered Cupcakes
Best quote: "...the cupcake appears to be at a tipping point. There are signs of a cupcake backlash - both from schools concerned about childhood obesity and from foodies who can only maintain nostalgia for so long."
My thoughts: Viva Saint Cupcake!

Crafty Update: DIY Nation Goes Corporate?
Best quote: "Her “gateway drug” into the handmade life, she said, was the zine culture of the underground punk rock scene. That world, with its vegan anarchist collective restaurants and plywood punk houses, its handmade record covers and hand-lettered, stapled newsletters, and its network of fans connected by old-world skills like letter writing, was a Luddite’s paradise of 21st-century homemakers and do-it-yourselfers."
My thoughts: Viva Etsy!

Anti-McCain Update: Where to begin?
Best quote(s):

My thoughts: Viva Obama! And John Stewart!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Edna and The Boys, 1941

"Esther, Mom, Alga" (May 1942, La Crosse, Wisconsin) and "Untitled"

As a writer, you appropriate other people's lives like skins. You live in them for a while and suppose what they'll do next. That's why I was so excited to come across a vintage suitcase full of "Instant Relative" photos at SMUT (So Many Unique Things) on SE Burnside. Digging through a trough of pictures that - at one time - truly meant something to someone is a bit creepy and voyeuristic, but thrilling. But, like I said before, we're writers. It's what we do.

More instant relative choices:

"Untitled" and "Dad, January 26, 1954"

"Untitled" (top) and "Untitled (Jan '59)" and "Christmas 1966"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Spotted: Soup Sense

let them eat soup

Rock'n'roll is dream soup. What's your brand?
- Patti Smith

I'd been hearing a rumble that a fledgling soup enterprise CSA (community supported, soup, natch) was soon to roll into town (on bike wheels, of course.) Excited to see that both my home and my office were on the soup route (identified as Souplandistan on the map), I looked forward to the grand voyage. At the Hawthorne Street Fair, I came face-to-face with the Soup Cycle mastermind, and wouldn't you know it, it was my old next-door-neighbor, Jed. He's a really nice guy and quite a cook. And what's better than fresh, warm soup during Portland's grey season?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fat Purple Figs.

fig! mama's on fire!

After several days of 100-plus degree heat in Portland, I awoke this morning to heavy thunder and - yes! - a chilled rain. If you live in Portland (and enjoy it), you share my sick love affair with rain. And it's been so long. So tonight after work, I celebrated being able to cook in the kitchen again, without feeling sweaty and faint. I tore up the kitchen, kids. Both Zucchini Stuffed with Marco's Pistou and Tomatoes Stuffed With Pasta Salad (giant 1.5 pound babies I procured at the Hollywood Farmer's Market on Saturday). Tomorrow, since the 70ish temperatures are sticking around, I'm tackling the Grilled Rainbow Chard with Fava Beans and Oregano, and this *swoon* recipe for Fig and Port Ice Cream (did I mention I got my hands on an almost-new Cuisinart ice-cream maker this weekend at a neighbor's yard sale for seven bucks, which means I can rationalize buying port for a recipe?)

Oh man, Martha. Be jealous. Very, very jealous.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday's Cultural Report

Did St. Francis really preach to the birds? Whatever for?
If he really liked birds he would have done better to preach to the cats.
- Rebecca West

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sure, It's Less Obvious Than Solitaire...

Work can be fun again!

Ha. Blog of a Bookslut posted yesterday on this literary-heavy office procrastination feature, compliments of the New Zealand Book Council. Says Bookslut:

As my homeboy Julian Novitz puts it, "Basically it takes you to a fake windows desktop containing folders of short stories and poems that have been formatted into powerpoint slide-shows (complete with bullet-points, pie-charts, graphs, incongruous media images, etc), the idea being that you can then read them safely in the workplace, while still appearing to be vaguely industrious for the bosses." There's Tolstoy and Wilde and Dickinson and Novitz and lots more reading bound to be more interesting than that budget projection from Frank in accounts.

I'm already a fan of the New Zealand Book Council. They're partnering with Wordstock (my lovely day job) to bring New Zealand author Rachael King a million miles to Portland for Wordstock. Yip. But that they would offer up deceptive ways to read Oscar Wilde at work, that's really something special...

{...somewhat unrelated, but the picture above was taken by manyfires, of a soapbox cubicle at the 2006 Mt. Tabor Adult Soap Box Derby in SE Portland. This year's races are happening Saturday August 16th, from 10-4 pm, 60th and Salmon. Be there or be square.}

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Political Poultry or Cheeky Chickens?

In anticipation of Obama announcing his VP running mate before the DNC Convention later this month in Denver, a little pro-Obama scenery from a chicken coop in NoPo.

...and I hope the comic doesn't ruffle feathers with any of y'all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Name Is E-, and I'm a Wallflower.

Dear Only-other-person-at-the-dog-park last Tuesday evening:

Your friendly smile when I reluctantly came within 20 feet of you (which was still quite a sacrifice for me, so the dog I was watching could play with your noble black lab) was in vain. You wondered what was up when I kept my distance, staring at the clouds, the grass, our dogs who were becoming increasingly intimate as my stubborn silence became more and more awkward. My God, Why wouldn't I just speak?

Yes sir, I'm shy. Small talk with strangers is my personal Chinese water torture. But although my shyness may be chronic, I'm determined. A survivor! So, like any good introvert, when I finally fled home I hit the books to address my problem (actually it was Book's moved-to-Vegas-to-become-a-stripper cousin, Women's Beauty Magazine). It suggested that small talk is easy if you take a few tips from Improv actors (who, for the record, scare the bejesus out of me. Who willingly gets on stage to make a fool of themselves?)

Last night I went to a volunteer meeting for this lovely group, and put the Improv tips to use, with mixed results.

TIP: Use the "yes...and" technique to move the story along. Example: While at the dog park, instead of a painful smile followed by silence, I could've responded to stranger's comment,"It's nice this evening, hmm?" with "YES, it is nice this evening AND I have no problem letting you know that."
WHAT I SAID AT THE MEETING: "Yes, I too used to live in Washington, DC...and there were a lot of Ethiopians in my neighborhood."
RESULTS: Mixed curiosity. She had actually just moved from Baltimore, not exactly D.C., and she had been referring to the insane number of vintage furniture shops in her new NoPo neighborhood. She didn't move to a different chair, so I'd like to think the exchange was successful.

TIP: Go with your gut. Don't over think what you're going to say.
WHAT I SAID: "She has little toes."
RESULTS: I mean, it was a strange baby in my face, what was I supposed to say? The baby didn't seem so thrilled with my comment, or my follow-up foot tickle, and began to cry. The mother informed me that his name was Matthew.

TIP: Make everyone in your group look good, play a useful supporting role (this is an advanced version of the "yes...and" technique).
WHAT I SAID: "Are you done with that pen?" When she replied in the affirmative, I smiled and passed the pen along to another woman with a chipper, "Yes, a lot of people want to use this pen to sign up; this room is so full of talented women, I'm impressed. What are your best skills, do you think?" These three simple sentences were my evening's Everest.
RESULTS: This was a sweaty mess, but I ended up feeling pretty sophisticated after I said it, like I had revealed myself to be the volunteer meeting's Holly Golightly. Nobody else seemed to notice, but that's exactly what this move requires - flawless, under-the-radar execution. Like I said, I'm a survivor.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Look! It's a Fashionable Beanpole.

When I abandoned the left coast for college in New England, being of modest means and a rural, farming town background, I relied on J. Crew catalogs to instruct me on how I should dress in my new Ivy League life. I remember visiting a friend at Tufts, rolling my eyes at the J. Crew lady models ripped from the catalog adorning his dorm wall. I remember another friend who had just come out as a lesbian, paging through the magazine, jabbing at the photos, suggesting that there was an obvious lesbian subtext (I'm amazed at how on this, as well as in many other advertising campaigns, she was right on). The point is this: I've spent a disgusting amount of time being loyal to J.Crew. Unfortunately, it's a small but not insignificant part of how I identify my fashion self, how I know what I'll be comfortable wearing. But in the last few years, the models have shrunk. To the point that I am turned off, disgusted. They're no longer the rosy cheeked hotties taped to my friend's dorm wall. They're beanpoles, with kneecaps larger than their thighs. They look like they were attacked with an overly ambitious graduate of Air Brush Me Away Academy.

Admitting this is hard, because fashion is like this. It's obvious. I should disown J.Crew and move on. But I, and I suspect, many other women, are stuck with this conundrum. By disowning J.Crew, we're disowning ourselves a little bit. But then you flip a few more pages in the catalog and see the junior J.Crew models, all of six and seven years old. And you know it's only a matter of years before they identify themselves with J. Crew, Senior. And there's no way they'll manage to live up to the incredible shrinking J.Crew model. And fashion, which used to be fun, will make them feel like crap.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Press On!

Today I trolled north Portland for Ivy Street's Liberty Hall, to attend the MARC (Music Art Resource Collective) letterpress fair. Lots of cute stuff; I wishwishwish I had a letter press so I could've sorted through all those little letter hardware pieces for a Big Find. For now I'm just a letterpress opportunist, an admirer, a wannabe.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

In case you ever doubted it...

After reading this sweet little article, how can anyone deny that our love of books holds us all together?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

{image from the "dirt divas" article (the oregonian)}
THE DIRT: Farming ladies are currently the toast of the town, both locally and nationally. I end up reading about their adventures everywhere. Rather then regurgitate why these women rock, and dominate fields with rocks, I'll just point out some of the current pieces out there. So put down that awesome organic peach you're eating, and thank them, because they probably grew it for you. Eat it! Read it!

"Dirt Divas: Meet the new farming faces in Oregon," MIX: Portland's Magazine of Food and Drink. {in the new AUG/SEPT issue, not up on the website as of 7/30}
Would you believe it? She used to do communications for Nike. Well, maybe not, but this farmer left urban Portland, noisy happy hours and all its loveliness for the simple life, and she's blogging about it. The real simple life, not the one starring Paris Hilton.
Eat.Drink.Better blogs on women farmers and why their population is swelling. The Oregonian does, too.
The New York Times Magazine did a photo spread (not a fashion photo spread, mind you. That would have been totally retro journalism) on women farmers of New England. This other article, from 2005, is dated but has good info and hints toward's the femme de farming phenomenon.

And, as always, I must betray my women's studies training and remind you all that we'll be truly equal when the job title is just "farmer" and not a "woman farmer". They're not freak shows in a circus act, people! As one dainty lady farmer notes: "Women farmers aren't a special-interest group," she said. "Our issues are the same as all American farmers - we all want to keep our farms, and we have to make money from them. But women have come up with a lot of the new ways of doing it."

Graphic designers make the best ______.

Three nights ago I rented Helventica (2007), a documentary on - you guessed it, the Helventica font that is the default type on Macs everywhere. Including this one. Now, I'm lazy. But I'm also, in theory, creative. So I rented it (look at me, I thought to myself, I'm so artistically sensitive, renting a movie on something so diminutive. I can't believe there are thugs who aren't interested in learning where their type was born, who the forefathers of Helvetica were, how they slaved in their little Swiss sweatshops until they got that "A" just right.) I thought this, and then did everything possible to put off watching Helvetica for three days. Gossip Girl, America's Next Top Model, even an episode of a reality show that I can only hope wasn't called "I'm Fifteen and Knocked Up" all beat out Helvetica. Last night the due date for the movie was imminent, so I sighed and resigned myself to being an "intellectual" for a few hours (or at least winning back a few of the braincells I lost with Gossip Girl).

Here are some quotes from prominent graphic designers featured in the movie, about how the presentation of something (in this case, the type) affects the message. These quotes, sometimes contradictory, could easily be applied the the creative process in general, and writing specifically. Stay sharp!

-> In a sense [typography] is like music; it's not the notes it's the space you put between the notes that make it music.

-> The meaning is in the content of the text, not of the typeface.

-> The way something is presented will affect how you react to it.

-> Don't confuse legibility with communication.

was ok. It was cute to see the graphic designers get all huffy and excited about the influence and dominance of Helvetica. Clearly, they'd thought about this A LOT. It's like seeing Nascar fans meet Carl Edwards, or tweens and Miley Citrus. You're not quite sure what's going on in their heads, but you're happy they're happy.

Review in the New York Times, here.

Helvetica trailer:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bowl Full of Cherries?

Mind the Pits.

For three years I've lived in a shared house on Belmont nicknamed Mouse House (mostly a sentimental title). Today Mouse House picked a new roommate. How this will end is anyone’s guess, but last night a non-resident remarked on the funny roommate stories that have come out of Mouse House in the last few years. Other friends have suggested that "if I didn't know you I'd think you were exaggerating." I wish. Not-quite-funny-to-me-yet are the following housemates. Some highlights:

A) The roommate who screamed when I cleaned and slammed doors so heavily that the house shook to its core. It’s rumored she even showered noisily. She blamed it on her spatial sensory disability. She wore giant owl-eyed sunglasses when it rained (due to her hipster fashion, not spatial, disability). Twenty-four years old, her parents still drove 30 minutes to picked her up and drive her to work each day. Now in an MFA program at an undisclosed location.

B) The hippie 23-year-old roommate-turned-lesbian, J-. Adopted – er, I mean dated – a homeless jobless 40+ year old butch named Y- who moved in (uninvited) with her unstable pit bull Athena (yup, after the Goddess of Wisdom). They enjoyed loud sex (J & Y, that is). Often while I was in the kitchen making dinner. As for the things we could expect at 3 A.M.: Marathon sessions of Zena: Warrior Princess and/or Wicca drumming circles and/or more loud sex.

Ah, well. Wish us luck with this one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall


Bailey gets a bit freaked out when she sees herself in a mirror. She barks, and seems to wonder whether her image is a friend or foe. She wags her tail and MirrorBailey wags her tail back. But until she gets distracted by a slipper or the new deposit in the kitchen garbage can, she's visibly on edge. Today's New York Times science section had a fascinating article on the use of mirrors in science to learn about human and animal behavior. Responses to your literal self-image - when you're staring back at yourself in a mirror - show, in short, what a tool you are. Or I am (I'm not thinking the article wasn't talking to me too). The real ego-bruiser was the study that suggested people were quicker to identify themselves in a crowd of similar-looking photos only if the photo of them was enhanced to be more attractive looking. Oh, sexy? There I am! The news wasn't much better for Bailey, if she stops sniffing other dogs' behinds long enough to care: it suggested that only animals with very "sophisticated social lives" readily identify themselves in a mirror.

UPDATE: For a less PG-rated account of Bailey's social life, click here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thing From Another World

I was going to remark on the lovely cauliflower I came across at a farmer's market in southeast Portland last Thursday, but found the topic pretty unsexy. So I googled "scary cauliflower," trying to give my culinary report an interesting National Enquirer tabloid edge. Surprisingly, I couldn't dig up much more than this clip from an old 1950's cult film. So, for you dear reader, a before-its-time film that hints at the sinister potential of bioengineered produce and a recipe that celebrates those pretty (and reassuringly organic) little purple, yellow and snowy white heads of cauliflower from your local farmer's market that are just happy being a delicious dinner ingredient...

curried cauliflower and peas
(from deborah madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. toasted ground cumin*
1/4 tsp. asafetida*
1/4 cup peeled and finely diced ginger
4 tsp. toasted ground coriander*
1 tsp. ground mild red chile or 1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. turmeric*
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces, including the stems
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, strings removed
2 tsp. ground amchoor (green mango) powder*
1 tsp. garam masala*
*Or, be lazy as I am and use premixed curry powder

In a wide pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the cumin and asafetida and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the ginger, coriander, chile, and turmeric and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the onion, lower the heat, and cook until limp, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Next add the cauliflower and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Mix everything together, then pour in 1/2 cup water, cover the pot, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about ten minutes. Add the peas and cook for a few minutes more, until they're bright green. Add the amchoor powder and garam masala, stir together, taste for salt, and serve.