12.28.2012

a green-enameled Christmas

gifted secondhand green Le Creuset pot

Look what Santa brought: another, larger secondhand Le Creuset casserole. By "Santa" I mean my friend Jeff, who's moving and doesn't need three of the same size pots. (He has a big, varied Le Creuset collection given him as gifts over the years via Le Creuset outlets). This is the same round 3.5-quart size he's made loaf after loaf in since we started making no-knead bread last spring.*

While green isn't my favorite color, except for the plant kingdom, it does blend in well with my other kitchen pieces. In any case, one should never look a gift Le Creuset pot in the mouth. Jeff's mom told me she found this one for about $10 at one of the thrift stores around town. Since this size retails for $220 new, that's quite a score.

I then treated myself to a $13 Le Creuset stainless-steel knob from a local store, Kitchen Kaboodle, to prevent the original black plastic knob from melting or exploding at the high temperatures needed for no-knead bread. So after a good scrub up with a little Bon Ami cleanser and a few twists of a screwdriver, my pot is now better than new.

But it's amusing and rather sad, don't you think, that the used pot cost less than its new handle?


green Le Creuset casserole with stainless-steel knob

*Note: I've been mostly off bread and other things for six months, but I'm going back on in small doses.

12.23.2012

a Louboutin tale

$300 secondhand Christian Louboutin booties at Salvation Army, Portland, OR (photo by Jeff G.)

Here's a holiday thrifting story for you. Last week at Salvation Army on 82nd, my friend Jeff and I were browsing for white-elephant gifts for a party, when I spotted a pair of red soles in the glass display case. I had only recently learned what red soles meant, since on my salary I am not regularly exposed to luxe fashion and don't follow the doings of the rich and famous.* But I just had been watching the first season of The Newsroom on the insistence of Jeff, who is a diehard Aaron Sorkin fan, and had spotted Emily Mortimer's executive-producer character sporting a beautiful pair of classic high black pumps with red soles. I pointed them out to Jeff. He threw out the name, Christian Louboutin, so I did a little googling. The red soles, unbeknownst to me, were famous. Fast forward a few days to me standing in front of the display case at Salvation Army, heart racing.  

I asked a clerk to see them up close. They were indeed Louboutin, a pair of brown-suede platform stiletto booties—in my size. What were the odds? I tried them on. (Or, rather, I tried on one since they were shackled together for theft protection.) They hurt like hell. They were also $300. They were in great condition, only a little wear on the soles, but, seriously, $300 for a pair of used shoes? To top it off, Salvation Army was having their usual Wednesday 50% off day, but excluding red-tag items, of which these were ones. I might have been the teensiest bit tempted to own a pair of insanely-impractical-for-Portland Christian Louboutin shoes for $150, but not in the least for $300.

Yet the best (worst) part of this story is that the Salvation Army price was not just stuck by label to one of the soles but written in pen on the arch above the scuffed section, thereby besmirching the distinctive—and trademarked—tomato-red-lacquered loveliness on shoes that would not be half so wondrous without said red soles. Ergo, Salvation Army, in its efforts to hold the line at their ridiculous pricing, ruined a perfectly good pair of secondhand Louboutins.


ruined, pen-marked, red-soled Louboutins at Salvation Army, $300 (photo by Jeff G.)

Knowing I'd be blogging, Jeff took a few, quick (blurry) photos of the shoes with his iPhone under the unflattering box-store fluorescent lighting. Then I handed them back over to the clerk, who said, "You know, they look great on, but to a guy, they mostly just look like torture."


*For example, Jeff recently told me Cameron Diaz's bad-ass middle-school teacher character in the not surprisingly bad film Bad Teacher sports several pairs of Louboutins throughout the film.

12.18.2012

stop shopping

secondhand children's books & handmade gift knits

Friends have asked why I haven't been blogging. First, there was the $330 ear infection (and that's with insurance). Then there was another cold, the third since August. Then there was a house guest who wasn't mine. Then there was getting a little party together for the kids at school. And throughout, there's been the brooding, chill December darkness, black and starry when I leave for the bus in the morning, dusk when I get home, making me crawl under the covers with a book after dinner. My life's easy, by comparison with many: I have only myself to take care of. Yet still, so much to do, so little time. I jest.

The day of the mall shooting in Clackamas I was on the green-line MAX headed southeast after work. At about a quarter after four, two stops away from Clackamas Town Center, the driver started speaking on the intercom but his voice was faint, so the only thing I could piece together was that my stop at SE Fuller Road would be the last stop, the stop just before the end of the line. Repeating himself since none of us seemed to be moving, the driver said anyone headed to the mall area would need to walk because the buses and trains weren't running. I was meeting my friend Jeff for a little secondhand shopping, needing to find some like-new books as holiday gifts for my students, so the announcement didn't affect my transit and I didn't think much about it until another passenger asked if anyone had heard what the driver said, and when I told him, he said, "Oh, it must be because of the shooting." And then everybody on the train, who normally keep to themselves, started talking, exchanging information. Someone who'd just gotten on said all the cops in town were headed to the mall, that it had been an automatic weapon assault. (It turned out to be semi-automatic, but tomatoes, tomahtoes.) We all got off at Fuller Road checking our phones. Mine displayed a text from Jeff telling me to make sure I made it off the train at Fuller Road.

When he picked me up at the station, he said his mom, niece, and nephew were holed up at Denny's because they weren't allowed back to their car in the mall parking lot. Later we found out he knew another person who claimed to have been smelling perfume at Macy's with her baby in the stroller when the shooter walked by; she ended up interviewed on Anderson Cooper. Jeff and I followed our plan and went to Salvation Army to look for books, where the employees were tuned into local radio. I found several (buy two at a dollar each, get one free). His brother picked his mom and kids up at Denny's. Jeff and I went to D.I. where I found two cotton tote bags for .50 each, and then we went to WinCo so I could pick up marshmallows and Styrofoam cups for the kids' hot chocolate in two days (not that I approve of either marshmallows or Styrofoam but there I was in the checkout line, paying for both). And then at about 6:30 p.m., we drove by the north side of the mall on the way up Mt. Scott, where a large command-center tent was glowing near the movie theater, buses and onlookers parked along the street, gawking.
 
The Clackamas Town Center is right across the street from the career college I used to teach at. They cancelled classes that evening.

On Thursday, my coworkers and I gave our first-through-fifth-grade students 10-minute holiday parties at the end of their sessions throughout the day, with cookies, hot chocolate, candy canes, and books. And then the next day, Friday, we learned a slew of school kids had gotten knifed in China by some crazy person—and that a bunch more children and teachers got shot up and killed in Connecticut that same day by another disturbed person. What is it making these mentally deranged men climb out of their hidey-holes and rampage all in the same week? Do they really think the Mayan calendar ending on the 21st means the world is coming to an end, and they want to go out with a small bang first? Or is it something more sinister, more enduring, what these mass slayings reveal about our consumerist, infotained, keep-your-hands-off-my-assault-weapons culture in steep decline? (If you're not yet convinced of America's imperial decline, just read Morris Berman's Dark Ages America or anything by Chris Hedges.) And how many people are making the connection between the number of deaths in the school knifing incident in China (0 dead, 22 wounded), and the Oregon mall (3 dead, 1 seriously wounded) and Connecticut school (28 dead) shootings. Yes, people are the ones doing the killing, but guns make the killing both more impersonal and effective. Or if this is all too much to think about, too heavy on the brain, let's all just keep shopping. But leave the kids at home.

11.18.2012

small talk

doorway night-light spiderweb

(1) Overheard at Goodwill last weekend:

"Oh, my goodness, John! I haven't seen you in so long! How've you and Trudy been?"

"We're doing all right, can't complain. How 'bout yourselves, you and Joe?"

"Pretty good, pretty good. Well . . . [lowers voice] except that Joe is having chemo . . . for his prostate. It really knocks the wind out of you, like they say. But he's doing okay."

[Voice also lowered] "Well, actually, I just got the results of my prostate test this week, and . . . "

The conversation continued as I browsed away through the linens, thinking about all the little lies of small talk.


(2) Conversation with my new doctor yesterday in which small talk was not so small:

"Well, I can't see yet if there's an infection because there's a big plug of wax in there, so we'll soften it up and flush it out first. You might get a little dizzy, but we'll be as gentle as possible."

[She inserts softening drops into my ear and leaves the room. Ten minutes later . . .]

"Oh, you're reading Richard Ford's Canada. My son can't wait to read that one. Have you read his Independence Day series?"

"No, this is the first Ford book I've read. It's good." (—but the entire book-length lead-up to the climax is overly drawn out and repetitive with all the non sequiturs, the characters circling around awareness and meaning and connection like hawks hovering over a field but never diving for the mouse, which is perfect for a short story but torture in a novel.)

"So you like the post-War authors, big suburban family dramas?"

"Uh, I'm not that into Updike and DeLillo."

"Have you read Franzen?"

I nod.

"Which do you prefer, The Corrections or Freedom?"

"It's hard to say." (The Corrections, because it felt truer, though I don't remember much of either. Franzen's good with dialogue, characters, and scenes, but I can never hear his name without remembering a review from years back calling him a purveyor of "wide-screen fiction," which is funny considering HBO just passed on The Corrections' pilot, finding all the flashbacks too hard to script and follow on screen.)

"You must read Aloft by Chang-Rae Lee. It's wonderful. Which book do you read over and over?"

"Okay, thanks. Mm, I don't reread books, really. But I've kept a few to reread. I love Nabokov, so I'll read Speak, Memory again at some point." (I don't reread books because there's too little time, too many books. If it's a book I'm not enjoying, I won't even finish it anymore. I only have half my life left, if that. One must become more selective, ruthless even.)

"So you want to write like Nabokov. Where'd you go to school?"

"I grew up Mormon, so I went to BYU, and then I became not-Mormon. My master's was at San Francisco State."

"That must have been hard on your parents. They're still Mormon? Do you have siblings?"

"Yes. It was. Is. We don't talk much." (We don't have much in common—so many topics to avoid.)

"Well, that sounds like something to write about."

(Doc, there's so much dirt under the family rug I don't even know where to start beating.)


(3) Postscript with the medical assistant:

"So your prescriptions should be ready soon. Do you know where the pharmacy is?"

"Over that way." I did a little wiggly motion with my finger in the air, pointing behind her.

"Good. You're all set then."

"Great, thanks." I picked up my bag, book, and jacket and followed her out of the exam room. "Well, that was disgusting."

"That was nothing. This week a guy came in saying his ear was bothering him, and they pulled out a huge spider."

"Wow. . . . I assume it must have been dead by then?"

"Oh, yeah. Have a good weekend!"

11.10.2012

spiced vegan mayo & the joy of stick blenders

baked sweet potato fries, curried cauliflower, & sautéed tofu w/ spiced vegan mayo dipping sauce

A year ago I finally broke down and bought a Cusinart stick blender, the best $30 I've spent on a new item in a long time. I'd waited so long because I already own a standing blender (a parental gift years ago), a vintage 1980's Cuisinart-knockoff K-Mart food processor (a gift from my friend Jeff that works better than the newer Black & Decker food processor I bought in college and have since passed along to Goodwill), and a small mini-prep food processor that was a hand-me-down from my grandmother. That's already a lot of electrical-blade equipment for someone who doesn't like excess stuff. But immersion blenders are perfect for what they do.

For example, I love creamy vegetable soups but hate the inevitable mess made during the transfer between hot soup pot and blender container. The blender may leak around its seal, soup splashes and drips, the blended soup then has to be dumped into a third bowl—you get the picture. But with a wand blender, there's no mess. And cleaning the wand itself is easy, even without a dishwasher, especially if you're rinsing and washing up right after use. I had often seen older, used stick blenders at thrift stores but always passed on them because the blade end didn't come off like the new ones do, a feature I recommend. (If you're blessed by the Secondhand Fairy like Jeff seems to be, you, too, might be able to find a like-new, all-stainless steel Cuisinart stick blender at Salvation Army for $4. But that would take real luck, and it didn't happen to me.)

My stick blender didn't see much use last winter because I was a little afraid of it. But no more. To make up for lost time, I've been whipping things up this fall—a curried butternut squash soup with coconut milk and cilantro and a spiced vegan mayonnaise I've been using as both dip for roasted vegetables and sauce to flavor legume, grain, and vegetable stews.

If you are the type who prefers Miracle Whip (ugh) to Best Foods/Hellmann's, you won't like this sauce because it's garlicky and lemony rather than sweet. But that's why it's good.

The first version I made with unsweetened soy milk because that's what I had on hand, which makes a thin, runny sauce. In the second version I used silken tofu, and the consistency is creamy. (I'm eating non-GMO soy, Carol, promise.) I didn't use nearly the amount of oil called for in the recipe and added paprika for a spicier flavor and color. I also didn't measure any of the ingredients, just used half a lemon, a few garlic cloves, the whole tub of soft tofu, several glugs of the oil (the first time with safflower, the second time with extra-virgin olive), a big dollop of Dijon mustard, a heavy dash of paprika, and salt to taste. It whips up quickly in a wide-mouth quart Kerr jar and the consistency holds up well for about a week, stored in the fridge.

At work the other day, after I'd heated up my lunch (lentil-barley stew with vegan mayo sauce), one of my coworkers said from around the corner, "Mmm, that smells good, smells like pasta."

"No, it's a lentil stew with vegan mayo. The secret is silken tofu."

"Eww. I'd never eat that."

"Trust me, you can't taste the tofu."

"Well, maybe I'll have to try it sometime."

11.04.2012

autumn in Portland

ginkgo tree, Portland, Oregon

My friend Dan asked the other day what I do on the bus, since I now spend so much time on it. Sometimes I stare out the window at the city. Occasionally I knit. Often, I try to ignore loud teenagers or random crazy people, like the one who interrupted my reading this week on MAX to say I should trust my gut, something about rainbows, that I was a good friend, and that I'd be a good mother. (That makes three near-strangers in a month at separate times who've said I should become a mother: two seven-year-olds and one crazy woman. Sadly, for these advisers, even if I had the impulse to procreate, I'm what they call geriatric in mommy terms.) After a few minutes of my nodding, smiling, and mumbling things like "Oh" and "Hm" while waiting for the crazy lady to stop talking (she didn't), I asked her if she'd like a seat and got up and moved down the train car, which was admittedly rude but so is interrupting a reader in public to give her unsolicited advice about childbearing. She called down the car, "Thank you, sister!" I half-waved and ducked back down into my book.

Mostly on the bus I read, my number one method of escapism ever since I learned how—zoom, right into someone else's life, a voyeur sitting on the sidelines, watching, avoiding her own life but also learning, always learning. Books are how I learned in elementary school from Trixie Belden, vintage tomboy girl-detective, that apple seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide. So every so often I'll eat one, a bite of almond-flavored poison feeding an underlying extinction wish.

For weeks, because the book's over 400 pages, at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday I've been on the bus reading Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams, a naturalist-geographical memoir and history of the Arctic that won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1986. I figured that since so much future talk will center around the melting North Pole, I should bone up. From Lopez I've learned that Portland's eight or so months of gray, drizzling doldrums are nothing compared to perlerorneq, the "extreme winter depression" of certain Polar Eskimos, some of whom run amok, knifing up their own fur-and-skin clothing, or running shrieking out into the night, or eating dog shit, before being gently led to bed by family members. The Eskimos (not necessarily Inuit) define the state as feeling "the weight of life," "sick of life" after envisioning what's coming and feeling too tired and angry to endure another round of 24-hour icy darkness, month after month (paperback, p. 243). And who could blame them? Northwest Oregon weather is depressing enough, and maybe why the city has such a high per capita number of microbreweries and strip clubs.

Per Lopez, in the Arctic, "[n]o summer is long enough to take away the winter" (p. 244). Since I already feel that way about Portland, I couldn't handle living farther north. The three weeks I spent in Norway one December years ago taught me that, the sun up at 10 a.m. and down by 3 p.m. Lately, I've been daydreaming again of moving south. But where, and how?

In front of my apartment are two ginkgos, an ancient—as in dinosaur ancient—species and one of my favorite trees for their yellow fans, though Portland ginkgos never reach the brilliance of those in South Korea, with its drier, sunnier autumn climate. One tree is male, the other female. Whoever planted them apparently didn't know that a female ginkgo's salmon-colored fleshy seeds drop and smear all over a sidewalk and smell like dog shit. I wrinkle my nose and walk around the mess on my way to and from the bus. As if to apologize for soon going bare, all the deciduous trees around Portland this time of year glow like sunsets.

The weekend has been quiet. In fact, I never left the house: a little cooking, some laundry, much green tea drinking, and a lot of reading, namely Laurie King's thick Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Language of Bees, in which I came across the following aside: "how the soul craves sunlight in the depths of a northern winter!" (hardcover, p. 324). It appears to be a theme this week, threading through my library selections. Next up is Richard Ford's Canada. And who knows what I'll learn therein?


Edited to add: "And, of course, [in Montana] the winters were frozen and tireless, and the wind hurtled down out of the north like a freight train, and the loss of light would've made anybody demoralized, even the most optimistic souls." —Richard Ford, Canada (p. 10)

10.21.2012

green envy

mossy fence

Someone somewhere seems to have made a little brown-haired, pear-shaped voodoo doll. If my life this year is any evidence, this someone-something has decided to stick me with pins, small ones, but regularly—each week another prick. I know many other people in the world have life much worse. Being a North American, I still have life pretty easy—potable water from an indoor tap, electric heat at the turn of a knob, a variety of clothing (even if secondhand), legumes and grains in jars on the shelf, vegetables in the fridge (even if at discount), a cellular phone (though not a smart phone), no chickens or pigs wandering through my house, no malarial mosquitos, no laundering down by the river, and so on.

So why am I complaining? Suck it up already. Even the rich get cancer, die in small-engine plane crashes, find out their husbands have been paying for whores, et cetera. Life isn't easy. Nobody gets out alive.

But it was really bad fiscal timing for my computer to die two nights ago. One minute I was watching Weeds on Netflix, and the next, when I moved my laptop into another room to check e-mail (wait, there's another perk: a house with multiple rooms), poof, a blank screen. (Prick.)

Hoping for a relatively cheap fix, say a new $150 battery, since mine had fizzled years ago and always needed to be plugged into a wall, I hopped on the bus Saturday afternoon in the rain, after spending a few hours unpacking (which only made me wish I had actually moved). Because I had no Internet with the computer down, I had called my sister in Idaho to look up the bus schedule. Such are the wonders of modern technology. But alas, the guy at the Mac Store said, based on his experience with such symptoms, my laptop would probably cost $500 to repair, and he wouldn't advise me to put that much money into a computer that old—six years, ancient of days in the tech world. He admitted my MacBook had lasted longer than most. He said he was sorry. He seemed sorry. I left with my computer's brain encased in a $35 gray plastic shell whose contents can be accessed via USB by another Mac—but only by another Mac.

I'm writing this post on a six-year-old desktop Mac that is my roommate's. He doesn't have Microsoft Office for Macs, though, so I can't access my journal or most other files. Good thing I'm not job hunting right now. Good thing blogging is journaling, my guts spilled across the World Wide Web. But theoretically my computer is still alive, sort of like those rich people who are having their heads frozen for future repair.

My choices now are to a) go computer-less, scrounging for computer time at work and the library (the worst option), b) use a friend or family member's old computer out of charity (not ideal), c) pay $200 for a new, cheap Chinese PC, or d) go into debt for a new or refurbished Mac at around $1000, more or less. Feel free to vote in the comments section.

In the 2006 Nicole Holofcener filmFriends with Money, Jennifer Aniston plays a former teacher who is cleaning houses while her well-off friends spout clueless clichés. I've been thinking about that concept lately, money, or its lack, as it affects friendships, though I don't remember what happens in the film itself. It's no coincidence the friend without money is a teacher, though in Hollywoodland, surely all ends well. Most days I fight the ogre of jealousy about my own friends with money, the ones who have mortgages and husbands and kids and never glance at their grocery bills. My best friend in college bristled once when I called her "rich" because she'd grown up with a nanny in a huge house and I grew up in a mobile home with occasional babysitters on date nights that didn't work to keep my parents together. But my friend's family were the poor mice in a much wealthier hotelier family, so all is relative.

A line from an old Billie Holiday song has also been running through my head, off and on, for weeks:
Them that's got shall have / Them that's not shall lose / So the Bible says / And it still is news / Mama may have, Papa may have / But God bless the child that's got his own.
In the song, it is best to have enough money to rely on no one. For some of us, that's easier said than done, though I'm not precisely sure why. The most interesting people I know are the ones who tend to struggle with money and other things, battles within themselves mostly, over the demons of their past. They also tend to be the ones who most question our overarching systems, who peek behind curtains at the puppeteers pulling the strings, who believe the game is rigged, or those who have artistic bents.

On top of my computer dying, I woke up this morning with the nose and throat tickle that means I'm getting sick again, the second time in a month, because of working with children, those roving germ factories. (Prick.) My immune system hasn't yet been buttressed against all the newly evolved bugs.

In 12-step, they say instead of wallowing in self-pity to draft a gratitude list, focusing on the positive. Okay then, I'm grateful for the energy to have made a pot of oniony, garlicky, lemon-and-cumin-infused lentil-vegetable soup this morning, which should last for a couple days and feels soothing going down my throat. I'm grateful for hot green tea. I'm grateful for my roommate's old, extra computer and his willingness to lend. I'm grateful for a washer and dryer in the basement, rather than having to do laundry at a laundromat or riverbank. I'm grateful for a vacuum cleaner rather than having to beat my carpets out in the backyard. I'm grateful for rain boots that allow me to plow through puddles without soaking my feet. I'm grateful for the few friends I have who know what it feels like to have $42 in the bank until payday. I'm grateful to have a payday. And I'm grateful for the friends who trust that eventually I will figure myself out, rather than butting in and telling me how to run my life, who give me the respect of sympathy without unasked-for advice—a courtesy I should more fully emulate.

Yet still, I want more than this. There should be more to life than this. "Thou shalt not covet" is a stupid rule, like saying, Thou shalt not breathe. I'm so cranky and whiny lately. Maybe after cleaning my apartment while sick (because I can't afford a weekly housekeeper like my stay-at-home neighbor across the mossy fence), I should do some yoga, meditate on the Buddhist truth that life is suffering—and then eat some chocolate and take a nap.

10.12.2012

going carless, part 2

image mirrored off the back of a Volvo station wagon

The universe decided (whatever that means) to force my hand about all this talk about bus riding. The car wouldn't start one Monday morning on the way to work, which I'd been worried about because for no obvious reason, it hadn't started one night the previous week, and I'd had to get a jump to make it home from a friend's house. So because the fear had been instilled and I'd already Googled and jotted down the TriMet bus numbers to get to work, I threw my keys into my bag, pulled out five dollars for a day pass, and stomped down the street to catch the first bus headed downtown, where I switched to a transfer bus back across the river to the Rose Quarter and then up and over to St. Johns. It's a winding route, full of stops, that towards the end of the trip meanders along the northwest river bluff past the University of Portland, overlooking Forest Park on the other side and an industrial shipyard, warehouses, and parking lots below. I was 40 minutes late to work that morning, missing a session with one student, when I usually arrive at work 15 minutes early. The rest of the bus-commute week went smoothly because intentional, though the bus takes three times as long as the car and I must now get up at five a.m., an hour earlier.

The car's original battery has since been changed and the Volvo's once again operational (though the check-engine light has since come on and off again, probably for another, incomprehensible sensor like the one replaced a few months ago for $230). At this point, I'm going to try to sell the car as is before dumping more money into the little fixes that aging, increasingly electrical, computerized vehicles now require. It's still a very nice car, perfect for hauling groceries—or a futon or chair or bale of straw—and I wouldn't be selling it at all if my income were double because, let's be honest, seat warmers are genius.

However, after two weeks now of riding the bus during commute hours, I've decided my stress level is lower on the way to work (less so on the way home because I'm usually hungry and cranky and just want to be home alone already). On the bus, I don't have to worry about running into the car in front of me or having to change exit lanes aggressively during bumper-to-bumper traffic. I don't have to worry about on-ramp traffic jams, getting a ticket, or watching the gas gauge drop, and I don't have to suppress any upwelling road rage about other people's driving. Instead, I get to stretch my legs a little during the five-minute walk to and from the bus stops, and I get to knit or read or close my eyes and rest if I'm still sleepy or stare out the window and plan my day or week, while someone else, a professional, does the driving. In a way, when you think about it, that's a luxury of the truly rich. (Of course, the rich never have to stand out in the rain for 15-30 minutes, waiting for a bus, or be driven halfway across town before doubling back in the desired direction.)

My car gets about 16 miles a gallon in town. (I know, I know. What was I thinking?) It's around 23 miles to and from work each day. The cheapest gas prices in Portland right now are about $3.87 a gallon, so that means I'm spending $5.56 a day on gas alone on the days I take the car to work, not including maintenance costs, insurance, or remaining payment on the car itself. By contrast, a 30-day TriMet pass is $100, or $3.33 a day, for unlimited train, bus, and streetcar rides, with no extra costs. That difference adds up when one is poor.

So I'm about to put the car up on Craigslist, but my feet have been dragging. The thought of fielding e-mail and phone inquiries, scheduling test drives, figuring out the paperwork, and judging whom to trust feels almost overwhelming, certainly draining. Plus, my landlord's having the apartment painted next week, which means I have to box up my whole metro-shelf kitchen and anything else not enclosed in a drawer or cupboard, taking myself and my cat to a friend's for several days. And to top it off, today the winter rains have begun, the gray drizzle more or less constant from now to July.

Damn, I haven't had to tote home my groceries on the bus since college. On the whole, WinCo's got the cheapest groceries around town, but it's all the way out on SE 82nd Avenue, servicing the city's lowest-income crowd on the fringes of town, two buses away. And sadly, Portland's new MAX (lightrail) line won't be coming through my neighborhood for another three years. Maybe I should move—that or, because there's a Cash & Carry restaurant-supply store within a 15-minute walk of my place, I could just open a restaurant.

9.23.2012

public schools, public goods

Winterhaven School at Brooklyn School, Portland, OR

The ongoing frontal attack in the U.S. on public school teachers (of which I'm not one) appears on the surface based in jealousy and ignorance. How many of the rest of us can just stop going to work until our boss agrees to pay us more as the Chicago teachers did? How many of us have three whole months off in the summer? How many of us can take off all the bank holidays on the calendar? How many of us end our workday between two and three in the afternoon? How many of us even have pensions anymore, let alone unions to fight employers for such benefits? That's the jealousy part talking: "We don't have those perks at work, so why should they?"


Brooklyn School Auditorium door

The ignorance part spreads wider and deeper, like an iceberg. How many people know that Portland Public School teachers (or at least those at the school I work at) must sweep and mop their own classrooms, hefting the mini chairs upside-down on top of the desks each afternoon like waiters and servers swabbing down restaurant or café floors after closing time, because the PPS janitorial service only covers daily trash pick-up? How many people know that public school teachers like my step-aunt, who works at a school down in Woodburn, Oregon, spend two-to-three hours each day at school after the kids leave grading papers and preparing for the next school day, and then another two or three hours at home doing more of the same, which puts my step-aunt's official workday far longer than that of the average Joe—except that she also gets up at 4:30 a.m. each day and spends much of each Saturday grading papers and preparing lesson plans for the next week.

How many people have tried entertaining 30-plus kids for six hours a day, nine months out of a year, let alone instruct them in reading, writing, science, geography, history, and math at the same time? How many people know that for many of the school's-out holidays kids have, teachers are still at school, conducting parent-teacher conferences, attending required in-service (training) meetings, calculating grades, writing up lesson plans, and so on? How many people know that public school teachers voluntarily spend a good chunk of their yearly earnings on supplies for their classrooms and lessons to make school more fun or lessons more effective? How many people know that a full-time, 11-month teacher credentialing program at Portland State University (the Graduate Teacher Education Program, GTEP) costs upwards of $21,000?* How many people know that many public school teachers around the country—like their fellow public servants, fire fighters and police officers—cannot afford on their salaries to buy houses in the districts in which they work? How many people know that teachers are paid less on average than those with similar experience and education levels in other professions, or that 46% of new public school teachers, after all the time, energy, and money invested in their own career training and dreams, leave the profession within five years? How many people know that 62% of teachers work second jobs? How many people know that many experienced teachers, having lost much of the creative flexibility, autonomy, and administrative support they formerly had as teachers, are quietly slipping out of the profession (see, for example, comments here).


classroom grow light, Brooklyn School, Portland, OR

Those of us who went to public school had teachers we loved, teachers we liked well enough, and teachers we hated. I adored my slim and pretty third- and sixth-grade teachers who encouraged my love of books and writing, who let me stay indoors reading during recess with a book, rather than shoving me outside with my loud, sweaty peers. They made me feel that being a bookworm wasn't such a bad thing, after all, despite what the other kids said. But I detested my wrinkled fourth-grade teacher, who traced in red pen over my handwriting on all my compositions with her perfect cursive script (cursive writing now an antiquated skill that many schools aren't even teaching anymore); no assignment for red-lipsticked Mrs. R. was ever good enough. And I couldn't stand my roly-poly, curly-haired eighth-grade English teacher who, for reasons that still escape me, left my name off the recommendation list for high school Honors English, which meant I had to fight to get into the Honors English class as a freshman, after sitting bored in regular English for an entire term learning how to spell words I'd known since elementary school. But just because a few truly harmful teachers—bad apples—exist, does that mean public school should be gutted in favor of private or charter schools that, despite Wal-Mart's pro-charter marketing campaign via the films Waiting for Superman and Won't Back Down, have not proven themselves better education providers when funding is comparable?


Woodstock Elementary School, Portland, OR

I'm currently a private employee working within a public school, tutoring children one-on-one, most of whom are ESL/ELL, in phonemic and visual processing, the foundations of reading. Most of the children's faces I see in the halls are Latino, while the rest are white, African-American, African, Asian, and biracial. Most of the children qualify for the free breakfast program. The older, low-slung school sits in a poor neighborhood in North Portland.

A private employee, funded by a private foundation, I don't have to attend any of the school in-services or parent conferences, or do any grading. I watch the classroom teachers around me from an outsider's perspective. As I pass in the hall, I see them sweeping their classrooms. They smile "hello." I see their potted plants and colorful posters and room decorations that all seem to say, "Isn't the world beautiful and amazing, and isn't learning fun?"

The public teachers arrive earlier and stay later than I do. They get paid more. But I wouldn't want their job, especially when segments of society are vilifying them for an incompetence I don't see. How can a child whose native language is not English possibly read or perform at a standard-English grade level until her language skills catch up to native-speaker children? How much individual attention can one teacher provide when she must divide herself among 30 other children? And what about the effects of poverty? There is such a thing as a free lunch—and breakfast—for these kids because if a child goes to school hungry, how can she possibly learn anything?

To understand the public versus private education debate, just follow the money. Who's going to benefit when teachers unions are busted up? The scapegoating of public school teachers is calculated and intentional, the populace being whipped into a tarring-and-feathering state by ultra-conservative groups, those funded in the background by the likes of the Walton family and the Koch brothers, who, jangling the billions in their pockets, intend that everything public should be privatized. And waiting on the sidelines, like vultures, are the venture capitalists, those who will profit when public education falls.


*Note: This was the figure quoted to me during an informational session on campus in 2009 when I was exploring career options, an amount which no doubt has increased in three years. At the time, PSU claimed this was the lowest-cost teacher training program in the Portland area.

Edited to add: A less personal, more formal analysis of the situation described in this post can be found in Jeff Faux's article titled, "Education Profiteering: Wall Street's Next Big Thing?"

9.19.2012

going carless, part 1

Volvo sunset

It's autumn again, which means it's time to downsize. (One fall, maybe years hence, I will downgrade into cremains, the ultimate form of downsizing.) My credit union, bless them, upgraded this year to a free money-management feature on their Web site, the kind with a colorful pie graph displaying my spending categories. Like exercise, fiscal visuals are beneficial, even if unpleasant. 

I've always hated thinking about money. Money should simply be available so one can think about other, more important, things: family, friends, aesthetics, art, entertainment, daydreaming, travel, hobbies, helping others. People who spend their nine-to-five moving money around or dream in dollar signs? Ugh. Shoot me now. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking has kept me poor. But I'm tired of being poor. I'm done with the monthly pie charts telling me: "For this period, OVER—living beyond your means." And that's only because I've had so little income for years from being an underemployed college instructor. (According to Mitt Romney's upside-down ethics, all these years, rather than teaching adults how to write better, I should have been out laying other people off and closing down businesses like he did—"Off with their heads!"—because that's what's good for share prices and Cayman Island bank accounts, not teaching, you dolt. But I digress.)

It's one thing to be frugal by choice, as detailed in "Stylishly Frugal Living" blogs such as Go Gingham, to save money for the future—forgoing eating out, daily Starbucks lattes, or unnecessary trips around town, all for an exotic vacation, for retirement, or to pay off a mortgage early—or else to embrace simpler living out of ethical, philosophical, or environmental concerns. But it's entirely different to be frugal—for example, to stop and pick up free brown bananas in the parking lot of the new Latino Christian church on SE 52nd, or to make sure your errands downtown fit within the transfer period, so you don't have to pay another $2.50 fare—because otherwise you would be sleeping in your car. That's not frugal; that's poor.

My housing costs are (barely) below the recommended 30% of my income, but not the car, that pretty metal albatross weighing down my finances. Here are the monthly costs for me to "own" my twelve-year-old car:
 
$210 car payment
$300 gasoline (over $62 each fill-up, at least once a week)
$  80 car insurance
(+ infrequent car washes, oil changes, & any repairs)
------------
>$600/month

Compare that with a $100 monthly TriMet pass.

If I sold the car, I'd have an extra $500 a month in the bank, $6,000 a year. My roommate, who doesn't own a car, who bikes himself around town and earns less than I do, still seems to have more money than I, funds at least enough to travel and eat out, things I can't afford. (However, he also has health insurance as a benefit of his job, and I do not, or at least won't until my three-month, new-job trial period is over, so for years I've been paying Kaiser $240 a month out-of-pocket for a high-deductible plan, which, since I'm laying myself bare here, is half my rent.) Since the roommate moved in this July, he's been gone on unpaid vacation leave about half the time, his employer eagerly granting such leave because of overproduction this year. It's not that he wouldn't like to have a car, he says; he just can't afford one on his full-time, more-than-minimum-wage salary.

The sad truth, shown in color by my pie chart, is that I can't afford a car, either. So I need to give it up, this car I bought nine months ago after my twenty-two-year-old Toyota died, this middle-aged, "near-luxury" Volvo. Of course, it would reflect better on me to say I'm going carless to reduce my part in greenhouse gas emissions, and that's certainly a side benefit, considering how northern nations are already elbowing for position to suck up all the minerals, gas, and oil in the melting Arctic. But mainly it's because I'm too poor to own a car, let alone a heavy, sturdy, gas-slurping Volvo.


The major downside of going carless is the inconvenience, of course. I'll have to stand outside in the winter rain and cold, waiting for public transportation. Plus, I'll have to wake up at least an hour earlier (and I'm no morning person) because commuting will take two-and-a-half times as long. And occasionally buses don't show up, or else they're late or early, all causing problems.

But on the plus side, I'll have more time for reading and daydreaming, sitting on the bus. And I'll be getting more exercise, with all the walking to, from, and between stops. Right now, with two jobs, all I do is sleep, drive, work, drive, cook, eat, drive, work, and drive some more, so adding some walking would be good, even if I get wet and cold in the process. And as I'm standing out in the cold rain, waiting for a bus, I'll be telling myself as a mantra: "$500 saved this month."

 

9.17.2012

meal in three thoughts

Messermeister Park Plaza 8" Chef's Knife

1. In my family, we didn't sharpen or hone our knives. We either sawed away on our tomatoes with dull blades or bought new ones, cheap ones, culminating in a whole mismatched drawer full of mostly dull knives, a situation that improved somewhat once my handy step-father came on the scene and after the emergence of the TV-Ginsu, never-need-sharpening knives, which look like small saws. Growing up, I don't remember imagining what it would be like to knife (verb) someone, but if I had, I probably would have envisioned sawing on them, rather than piercing clean through, lacking the concept.

As an adult, I limited my knife collection to two, a paring knife and a chef's knife, but they were still the never-need-sharpening kind with tiny teeth. I figured someday I would splurge on a real knife set. I had hinted more than once to my ex that I would love a good knife set as a gift, but all he did was order a cheapo knife from Amazon, paying as much on next-day shipping as on the knife itself, since he hadn't planned ahead. That was towards the end of the relationship, when the giver no longer gave a shit, so when the marriage ended, I sent the thoughtless knife off with him.

A couple years later, my friend Jeff gave me a chef's knife for my birthday, a real knife with no teeth, the kind that draws blood when touched, that has heft in the hand, the kind that needs to be sharpened and honed. He honed my knife for the first time this weekend after I realized I'd been sawing on my vegetables the past couple months. He said that honing smooths out the jagged microscopic particles on the blade edge, different from sharpening. Sharpening should be done by professionals. But even honed, tonight my knife cut cleanly again into the flesh of my produce.


crookneck squash & ice cream scoop

2. Kitchen Tip: Use an ice cream scoop (mine's probably 10 years old from IKEA) to carve out the seeds and spongy core of overgrown summer squash or the stringy, seedy innards of winter squash. That way, no spoons get bent.


curried vegetable-sesame quinoa on thrifted Heath Ceramics

3. Recipe:
 
Curried Vegetable-Sesame Quinoa

This is one of my current too-few dishes in rotation, but it's easy and relatively quick to prepare, and showcases the umami power of sesame.

Cook 1 cup of rinsed quinoa in 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring it to a boil, turn it down low, and simmer the seeds for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave the pot covered till needed.

Meanwhile, dice half a block of cubed tofu and sauté it in olive oil till lightly browned, along with some chopped garlic, half a bunch of chopped scallion, and a good heaping of curry powder (sorry—I'm not a purist). Add in whatever diced vegetables are on hand, starting with the vegetable in need of the longest time in the pan. (Tonight I used sweet red pepper, carrot, garden crookneck squash, and zucchini.) Add a little water and cover, if needed, until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Salt to taste. Stir in a dollop of tahini and a handful of chopped cilantro. Mix the seasoned vegetables with the quinoa. Enjoy the colors.

9.15.2012

walnut gathering

hulled, dried English walnuts in shell, grown on Sauvie Island

Last fall, about a week before Halloween, Jeff and I drove over to Sauvie Island for the day with his mom's silent dog in the back of the Jeep. We stopped at the Bybee-Howell house and strolled around the knarled orchard, peeking in the empty windows, watching a pair of small green frogs hopping across the old cellar door.


Shiba Inu, Sauvie Island, October 2011

Then we took Shiba to the beach where she dug holes and snapped at the water's edge while we picnicked on peanuts, cheese, and apples, watching the V's of geese migrating above us, spying from a distance in our jeans, long sleeves, and knit hats on the naked people playing volleyball down the beach.


dog digging hole in sand, Sauvie Island, October 2011

After lunch, driving around the island, we came across a little market with a sign offering U-pick walnuts for 20 cents a pound, so we did, though I was too busy gathering them to take pictures. At first we could barely see any husks amid the leaf debris but soon found they were everywhere under foot. I was glad I was wearing my rubber boots as it was a messy job, and we quickly learned to stomp on the soft husks to squish out the nut balls and toe off the remaining green hull before stuffing them into plastic bags. With our dye-stained hands, we filled two or three bags and paid inside, a total of $4.41. Then we took them to Jeff's house and washed them in a bus tub in the sink, laying them out to dry on a big sheet on the floor of his spare room. Sometime in December, he dumped them back into the bus tub where they sat more or less forgotten till now.


hulled & shelled English walnuts, grown on Sauvie Island

Maybe it's all the squirrels running around town with their mouths full of nuts, but last night while watching TV we cracked open the first of last year's sweet, barely bitter, U-pick English walnuts, picking free of the hard, dry shells flying around the living room maybe a cup and a half of nutmeats. This morning, I mixed some of them into a batch of homemade granola. And we still have nuts to crack all winter.

9.12.2012

no thirst for Nestle

Nestlé "Pure Life" plastic bottle, minus the water

A couple months ago, walking along Southeast 7th Avenue, I passed a defunct flyer on a restaurant-pub window announcing a June protest against Nestlé's attempts to bottle spring water on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge. Then right in the next block, discarded in the grass next to a sidewalk tree, lay an empty eight-ounce bottle of Nestlé water, branded "Pure Life." I've been meaning to write about Nestlé for months, and though I don't believe in signs, it felt like a sign, one I've kept in my thrifted wire-basket inbox tray as a reminder, till now.

Nestlé proclaims itself "the world's leading nutrition, health[,] and wellness company." But that's not what comes to my mind when I hear the brand name. Because of their decades-old marketing campaign aimed at children, whenever I hear the word Nestlé, I think of that white cartoon rabbit hawking chocolate milk. But Nestlé, just like Coke and Pepsi, is now selling not just sugared milk or soda but the very source of life. I've discussed water issues before, and maybe because of my name (Brooke/brook) and because water is my favorite beverage, I take offense to the corporate selling of the stuff we're made of. Water should no more be sold on the private market and profited on by shareholders than air. Both should be human rights. And unlike what many of us have slowly been indoctrinated by advertisers to believe, tap water is as safe if not safer than bottled water, especially when much of the pricey bottled stuff is actually just tap water in disguise, only with the addition of leaching carcinogenic plastic molecules. The Pure Life label reads: "Source: Southern Pacific Spring, Cabazon, CA. Purified using reverse osmosis or distillation and enhanced with a balance of minerals for taste." But try not to think about that plastic you're tasting. Yum. Oh, how effective those marketers have been, despite the rise in the last 10 years of reusable metal bottles, the discards of which fill a shelf at every Goodwill.

About a month ago, I was on break at my new job during training in Tigard, filling up my stainless-steel bottle at the water fountain between the restrooms, when one of the trainers walked by and stopped, her face showing worry lines.

"Oh! Did you know there's filtered water in the break room?"

"No, I didn't know, but it's no problem," I laughed. "I've lived in places where you couldn't drink the tap water. People here don't know how good they have it."

"Well, but there was a sewage scare a while back in Tigard. Some old pipes leaked."

"Oh. Huh."

And then the conversation turned to the places I'd lived and where I'd grown up and whom we knew in common (small world!). But the point is, Portlanders don't know how good they have it when it comes to their water. I grew up drinking pristine well water in Southern Oregon, outside the municipal supply, and which was even better than town water because it was neither chlorinated nor fluoridated and surely contained fewer pharmaceuticals. But then I lived and traveled in Europe and Asia, where the tap water ran in shades of yellow and brown, and locals told me to avoid the tap for obvious reasons. (And let me just state that forgetting to drink water because you're not used to buying and hauling water home on foot can create highly uncomfortable bladder and kidney problems.) Even in the California Bay Area, the water needed to be filtered to improve the taste. But that was all before I wised up and moved back to my home state where the tap runs clear.


reservoir notice board, Mt. Tabor, Portland

While a friend and I strolled around Mt. Tabor a couple weeks ago, I snapped a few shots of one of the old EPA-targeted open reservoirs, filled with Bull Run water. The signs on the black, pointed wrought iron threatened arrest and contained more exclamation points than any official sign I've ever seen: "Anyone throwing objects of any kind into this reservoir shall be subject to arrest under provisions of section 16.1353 City of Portland Police Code. This is your drinking water! ! !" Unfortunately, I forgot to photograph the cavernous dry reservoir we also passed, now-infamous for being drained after some drunk guy got caught urinating in it last year, eight million gallons of drinking water worth nearly $33,000 wasted because no one wants to drink infinitesimal parts per million of human pee, if she can help it.


notice, Mt. Tabor Reservoir

But back to Nestlé, this week I signed the Food & Water Watch petition to Governor Kitzhaber, requesting him to stop the Nestlé bottling plans for the Cascade Locks. And now, finally, I can recycle that silly, baby-sized plastic bottle full of air.    

9.08.2012

nasturtium blooms

orange and yellow nasturtium

The balcony nasturtiums are blooming in shades of orange and yellow and producing their large, green, chickpea-like seed heads. For the record, I'm not ready for summer to end. I haven't even thawed out yet from last spring, though already the days are shorter and the nights colder again. (Seriously, people, the Northwest is not a climate in need of air conditioning. Why is the temperature cranked up to freezing in every building?)

Everywhere I look, grass is browning, plants are going to seed, ready to self-immolate, turning themselves over, hari-kari-like, into next year's generation. Soon I'll be taking my three red geraniums to work to winter by a sunny window. It makes me want to put on the brakes, dig in my heels, slow the seasonal train, and go camping (though I can't afford this month even the gas to get into the mountains or the site fees).

Yet still I've been tidying up my apartment, washing, ironing, and mending clothes, and making sure everything on my to-do list that I'd been putting off for weeks is now checked off and stored, me a squirrel packing her corners with nuts, prepping for winter. For over a month now, I've been itching to start knitting a new sweater every week and having to restrain myself because the two cardigans I've been working on sporadically for almost a year are still unfinished.

Despite all my pretensions to simple living, it's rare that I feel content in the moment, full of the present, full with what is, rather than perpetually peering around the next corner, planning ahead (along with a little worrying), wishing, hoping, wanting—neither fully ant nor grasshopper. If anything, I'm an ant who drags her feet, continually arresting herself mid-chore to look behind to see what she's missing.

9.03.2012

field trip: Marion Lake

early autumn in the Cascades

Over the weekend, I drove southeast into the mountains with some friends to hike up to Marion Lake, a pristine, natural gem just above the artificially dammed, motorboat-infested reservoir called Detroit Lake in Linn County.


potential rock slide, Marion Trail

On the easy, mostly flat, six-mile round-trip trail, we passed several future rock slides and early signs of autumnal color changes. We were chattered at by a speeding chipmunk and hovered over by a metallic-blue dragonfly. We skirted piles of horse and deer or elk droppings along the path. And (shhh) we lost the trail once for about 20 minutes after taking what looked like a detour down to the water, our steps crunching the carpet of tinder-dry pine cones—which is why at the trail head the Forest Service requests that parties register everyone's names, so they can track forest use and assist search-and-rescue (though, oops, we had not filled out the form).


yellow raft on Marion Lake

Once at the lake, live pines stood nearest the water and dead ones ranged farther outwards, thanks to a couple of forest fires in the past 10 years, leaving the mountains looking a bit gray-faced but still worth the hike. I sat at the edge of the lake in the afternoon sun in the high stillness, hearing the soft breath of horses tethered in a nearby cove, wishing I had a nylon camping hammock to string up around any two trees for a nap, reading myself to sleep.


leafy branch, Marion Lake

But I was two-and-a-half hours from home, with evening plans in the city, and couldn't stay. We ran into a shovel-toting park ranger on the way back, a youthful philosophy graduate of my alma mater who said he was park ranging because he "couldn't find anything else" and that he'd actually been borrowed from someone's Parks and Recreation Department because of federal cost-cutting measures.


wooden trail, Marion Lake

So many people live on this planet, seven billion now. It's strange how paths can cross just once in a lifetime, people who chat on a bus or make conversation in line to pass time, and then never see each other again—and never care. It happens every day. I often think about all the photos in albums of people I don't know, random faces in the margins, frozen in motion in the frame, who are themselves the center of their own albums and myself, in turn, a stranger in their background, unknown and therefore faceless, like the extras in films, paid to laugh and make fake talk, so the center seems real. 

8.27.2012

shades of red

rusty saws, Eagle Point, Oregon

My weekend in southern Oregon was colored in shades of red and brown, involving an adult-sized, baby-pink casket (not pictured); a wall of rusty logging saws;


Butte Creek Mill, Eagle Point, Oregon

an old water-powered mill-cum-country store proffering small, expensive bags of beans, grains, and flours;


carriage wheel propped against the Butte Creek Mill wall

an old, unidentified stone building across the street from the mill with a herringbone-patterned, pockmarked wooden door; 


herringbone door, stone walls, Eagle Point, Oregon

and, permeating everything, a layer of brown haze draped visible along all horizons, turning the sunsets red and the mornings rosé.


Lake of the Woods in fire haze, Oregon, August 2012

When we stopped in the Cascades, 5,000 feet above sea level, between the morning funeral and afternoon burial, a whole county apart, we could not smell the pines for smoke. Large swaths of forest across the West are burning, while Midwest crops crisp in drought—ashes to ashes, dust to dust, desert to desert. It's fitting that my auburn-haired great-aunt took her leave not in a Hollywood scene of drizzle, the family shaded under large black umbrellas, but rather in a month aflame.

8.18.2012

in memoriam

family album: Mary & Donna, studio photo, 1940s

My beautiful, auburn-haired great-aunt, Mary Louise, lover of butterflies and gardens, is dead. She was in her early 80s, with failing health and memory, after years of falls, broken bones, and reduced mobility, which could not have been easy for an active, independent woman. Like her two sisters, she was social, strong-willed, opinionated, and occasionally razor-tongued. Even into her old age, she fought with her younger sister, Donna, for reasons unknown to the rest of us, the origins somewhere in the depths of childhood sibling rivalry, though the competition did not include her four brothers or older sister, my grandmother. Dramatically, Mary would often arrive at family events an hour and a half late, and one learned to plan accordingly. She adored children but could only have one of her own (and that somehow miraculously, per the doctors), a son who died tragically in his twenties. She married five times, twice to the same man, her longest marriage ending with a gentle, quiet man 18 years her junior, who will be burying her this week.


family album: my grandmother, Beverley, 1930s

My childhood holidays were spent eavesdropping on my great-aunts and uncles' lively conversations as the women prepped the meals under the direction of my great-grandmother. That era is long gone. Now there is but one left, the second-to-youngest, and how wrenching it must feel to my great-aunt Donna to have lost so many—and to be the last.

8.13.2012

fit for a picnic

picnic blanket with tomatoes, library book, water bottle, & nasturtiums

Meet my new blue-striped, slubby-cotton summer picnic blanket thrifted at Goodwill over the weekend. With all the job training and redecorating lately, I've not made much time to relax. And in three whole years I've somehow never spent any time in the yard doing anything other than gardening. So this evening, after hand-watering the tomatoes, harvesting the ripe ones (to give away—sigh) and a couple lemon cucumbers, and stuffing a load of whites into the basement dryer, I grabbed my new secondhand picnic blanket, a library book, and a bottle of water, and headed out to the backyard where I spent an hour or so lying on the lawn reading.


Japanese maple, sky, & balcony rail viewed from below

Above me passed a couple jets, a dragonfly, bees, and other unidentified fluttering things. The arms of a Japanese maple hovered overhead, leaves twitching in the breeze and contrasting with the pale sky.


cucumber, green bean, nasturtium, and squash plants

The blanket is large and thin enough that when the air grew chill, I pulled one side over to cover my bare arms and legs until the light dimmed and I gathered up my things to head indoors, drawing from my hair a couple of fallen leaves. And during all, day and night, with sun and water, the garden grows.

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