rust at dusk

PGE Cable Crossing sign, SE waterfront, Portland

"Beauty Is Priceless" graffiti, SE waterfront

grinning cat graffiti, SE waterfront

blue robot sign, SE waterfront, Portland

SW Portland winter riverfront at dusk

southbound "K" Line train, Portland

rusted tree grate

sign of gentrification, Taylor Electric Supply, Inc., southeast Portland

security fence, southeast Portland

turkey rising (charred beam, rusty bolts)

spray-can philosophizing

eye, ear, vine

window shards at dusk

My favorite post-apocalyptic photoshoot location in Portland (aka the burned-out Taylor Electric Supply building) is set to be torn down in 2014 to make way for yet another faux-industrial, eco-office building at 240 SE Clay. Beauty doesn't just fade with time—it gets clawed up by bulldozers.

So maybe there wasn't much of a building left to save in this case, this spray-painted shell left standing after a 2006 fire. But what about a city honoring found artistic space? What about beauty-in-decay? What about retrofitting more of the older brick-and-mortar buildings around town, rather than razing them to the ground? I'm sick of the word "eyesore" in this context and the number-cruncher belief that the "value of an existing structure" isn't high enough to warrant "bringing a space up to code," as if the capitalist market alone should pass judgment on the value of a city's material history.

What if culture hasn't caught up to history? What if, like me, you live within a culture possessing the overarching mindset of a teenager continually seeking The New, headsets on, smartphones in hand, and hoodies up (like horse blinders)? Because while you can easily sell off an old building for parts, like vultures tearing into a carcass, you can't build old. That's why Americans of a certain socioeconomic class have long tended to vacation in Europe (just read any Henry James, Fitzgerald, or Hemingway novel): for the ambiance. Europeans know old—and it isn't measured in decades but centuries and millenia.

Hasn't everyone figured out yet that repurposed buildings with even a smidgen of history are the ultimate in hip? Anyone been inside the Ford Building lately? Landlords can charge a fortune for rehabbed industrial-loft properties. But most Americans wouldn't know either history or beauty if it fell on top of them like a pile of bricks.


the little workhorse that could

Heath Ceramics salt shaker, porcelain Kosher saltcellar, Perfex pepper mill

I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking lately—more than usual, I mean—nothing earth-shaking but personal. If only life were a little more black and white sometimes, like salt and pepper—discrete, rather than the usual muddled, frustrating, though at times beautiful, in its way, gray. So while I'm sorting some of that out, I will celebrate one of the low-tech workhorses in my kitchen: my small, heavy-aluminum Perfex pepper mill (not to be confused with the clear Perspex acrylic material some pepper mills are made of, which is how my brain initially remembered the brand, but Perfex, like "perfect").

My friend Dan, an excellent cook, long said it was the best pepper mill, and since he has made it a lifelong habit to know and own the best of everything (one of the many things I love about him), I trust him about such things. One day two years ago, in one of his surprise boxes mailed up from California, there sat my very own Perfex mill, with the capital P embossed on its pull-out drawer. It's the smaller four-inch version—rather than the $200 seven-and-a-half-inch version—but most people would still consider it a spendy little tool at $90 or so new, even though it is made in France by a family-owned company (or so says Sur la Table). But who needs more than one pepper mill in a home kitchen, unless you're one of those people who uses colored peppercorns (which, admittedly, are pretty)? And this tool, with proper care, will last more than a lifetime.

I keep mine set to a fairly coarse grind, which seems to make everything taste better and look more upscale, whether salad, soup, or eggs. And beyond posh looks and sparked taste, black pepper promotes digestion and contains beneficial antioxidants, antimicrobials, and more. In other words, the historical, ubiquitous, unthinking cultural use of black pepper is actually good for you. Surprise!

My Perfex pepper mill sits on a vintage stainless-steel tray right next to the stove, along with my secondhand black Heath Ceramics salt shaker found on eBay a few years ago (I also have the Heath pepper shaker but prefer fresh-ground pepper), as well as a small, white, textured porcelain cup found a few months ago at Goodwill, costing all of fifty cents, which I use as a Kosher saltcellar, something my friend Jeff insisted I needed for my kitchen. And he was right. I find I've been using the Kosher salt far more than the fine, shaken sea salt. But it's good to have options when cooking and in life: black, white, and gray.


flax facts

glasses on library book with steaming tea

My new eye doctor (who is fabulous, by the way, Dr. Summy To at Myoptic up on North Williams Street) recently recommended I start taking flaxseed oil as an anti-inflammatory supplement, so now I'm gulping down a spoonful of this brown-flecked, mild-tasting oil once or twice a day, though I've also begun mixing it in morning smoothies and drizzling it on salads and bowls of oatmeal.

Spectrum organic ultra lignan flaxseed oil; Louet Euroflax sport-weight linen yarn

Flax is one of nature's miracle plants, humans having been manipulating its long bast fiber to weave once-humble linen and paper for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years. (Just think of all those Egyptian mummies wrapped in linen shrouds.)

Linen is, as a result, my favorite fiber for its history, texture, durability, and contemporary luxury. (And who cares about a few textile wrinkles?) I knit with it for summer tops but don't believe it should be worn only in summer. I own woven linen window curtains, pillow covers, handkerchiefs, skirts, shirts, jackets, light sweaters, dresses, and napkins, all of which I've bought secondhand (the handkerchiefs and napkins had never been used). If I had more money, I'd also sleep in linen sheets—not something likely to be found at the thrift store because of how expensive and long-lasting they are new. (Because of being relatively locally produced here on the West Coast, the Rough Linen California brand of linen bedding looks particularly appealing.)

closet linen

Yet since the times of those ancients shrouds and togas, humans have also figured out that not only can we weave but eat it, flaxseed containing high percentages of omega-3 fatty acids crucial to physical health. We also chemically process its oil as linseed oil for linoleum flooring, paints, and woodworking finishes. And we even use linen fiber to make paper currency. Plus, flax flowers in a pretty light blue, today in North America mostly grown in fields across the northwestern prairies of Canada and Montana. How's all that for multipurpose?

grilled cheese on Dave's Killer Bread (w/ flaxseed), mixed baby greens, & curried butternut squash soup on Heath Ceramics

But beware: flax can be deadly. Years ago, while reading Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain, I learned that one can suffocate if fallen unnoticed into a vat of flaxseed, though for most of us, that's a danger easily avoided.



secondhand hooks at windowsill

Hooks are the unsung heroes of an organized home, as important as baskets and other containers, supplementing drawers, closets, cupboards, and shelves meant to tidy up all our stuff. I had picked up another bunch of secondhand hooks from the ReBuilding Center last month and finally got around to putting them up this weekend, with help from my friend Jeff and his cordless drill. And all it cost was a few dollars, plus serving up a homemade lunch as a thank you. Who needs her own drill when she can barter for handyman services? (Actually, Jeff did make me drill a couple holes myself this time for practice, and it didn't even hurt.)

ReBuilding Center hooks on windowsill

hanging wire basket reflection

So at last I have the three-tier wire basket found at the GW Bins last spring hanging up in the kitchen off a long, pointy black hook Jeff found for me a while back at Goodwill, currently holding onions, garlic, and a butternut squash.

thrifted iron hook holding hanging wire basket

And because it's a narrow galley kitchen with the work spaces lining the walls, the hanging basket gives textural dimension and interest to the room, in addition to maximizing vertical space.

hanging garlic, wire basket

hanging onions, wire basket

butternut squash in hanging wire basket

And that was all from one little ceiling hook. Over in The Garage—what I call the long, deep closet next to the entryway in the main room—we drilled up yet more used hooks, so I could finally hang up my ironing board, a recently thrifted metal folding chair, and the old-lady folding shopping cart he'd found for me at Goodwill a couple months ago. They're all up off the floor now, hanging beside cleaning implements and a stepladder, leaving much more foot room for maneuvering around in that narrow space. (I thought about hanging up the vacuum cleaner, too, but it's heavy and bulky.)

on hooks: ironing board, folding shopping cart, dustpan

up on hooks: stepladder, folding chair, folding shopping cart

Though this is the least visually appealing closet in the apartment, it shows organization progress, even if apparent only to myself, a progress due in large part to the simple addition of inexpensive, mismatched secondhand hooks—from wire hat hooks and metal coat hooks to colorful coated-rubber screw-in hooks. I suppose readers will just have to trust me on that since I haven't opened this closet door before on the blog. In reviewing my "Secret Hoards" post from last January, depicting my closets in the former house in southeast Portland, I'm reminded I don't even live in the same neighborhood this year and am much happier in my current space. So here's to progress, no matter how slow it feels.


new year, new phone sock

handknit phone sock

There's nothing like ringing in the new year with a new handknit phone sock. But I jest. If I hadn't used up my meager savings paying off doctor bills in December and hadn't gotten sick with a light head cold (picked up from whom last week, I wonder?), I definitely would have dressed myself in a tight black dress and heels and walked over to see Pink Martini at the Crystal Ballroom last night. Yeah, baby.

Instead, I lay on the couch binging on Parks and Recreation on Netflix and knitting Jeff a belated birthday hat. Jeff himself called from a party at 11:58 to count things down, though that enduring ball in Times Square had already dropped three hours before (so I've never understood why people on the West Coast get so excited).

handknit phone case

Oh, and there was a nap for a few hours in there somewhere in which I dreamed my mother and step-father had just bought a giant old farmhouse, the many bare rooms, closets, cupboards, and wooden floors all painted the palest ice blue. And while I was visiting, I kept seeking a corner in which to spend a few moments alone. But no—extended family members kept barging in, me running up and down various staircases to escape them, the mildest sort of nightmare.

handknit iPhone case

Ah, another new year—time again to face myself head-on in one of my many wall mirrors and sob over doors taken and not taken (free tips: Never get married, Never acquire two English degrees), about clocks ticking and the ravages of time. But at least I have a new handmade hippy-colored phone sock, a wool-blend, scrap-yarn cover (virtually free!) in which to protect my phone case that itself encloses my now-outdated phone. Go 2014!

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