3.30.2014

wheatgrass for cats who eat houseplants

wheatgrass at windowsill

This is the story of a domestic love triangle. I love my houseplants and stock at least one in every room, including two giants: a split-leaf philodendron and a dracaena. Plants bring a house to life, especially if they're gifts or inherited and preloaded with memories. I have a pothos hanging over the bathtub, red geraniums on the windowsill, a Japanese Aralia (from my friend Sarah) in the kitchen, orchids on tables and dressers. The plants themselves thrive on all the exhaled mammalian carbon dioxide. I also love my cat, a sweet, chirpy American Shorthair tabby adopted 10 years ago. She, too, goes a long way towards making my apartment feel like home, like a family of two. She likes me, as well, or at least I think that's what her loud motor and habit of hanging out in whatever room I'm in both indicate. She also loves my houseplants—eating them, I mean. Well, really, she only eats one, the big spiky Dracaena marginata in the main room.

This isn't good for the plant, which makes the lower ends she can reach look straggly and snaggled, or the cat since dracaenas, like many houseplants, have been deemed toxic if ingested. Cat owners should know scolding or punishments like spraying water never work on a cat. She will either stare at her owner wide-eyed like an innocent imp, or narrow-eyed like an indifferent sphinx, or run away and hide, returning to her business once said owner has left the premises or falls asleep. 


dracaena jungle
  
So what keeps my cat from nibbling on the dracaena fronds is a simple box of wheatgrass from the grocery store a block away, organically grown down in Eugene, Oregon. A $2.50 box of grass will last weeks until it finally yellows and wilts, providing excellent cat distraction and possible nutrition, at which point I go buy a new box.


wheatgrass on thrifted vintage handpainted Mexican pottery saucer with water glass

I keep the wheatgrass in a saucer on the front-room windowsill, the sunniest spot in the apartment where she drinks her water from a drinking glass, the most likely ledge at which to spot a stray pigeon out the window, fluttering around in the alley. (Yeah, I know the drinking-glass thing is weird but apparently not uncommon. My cat refuses a water bowl, no matter how fresh, and instead laps up dirty, sudsy water out of the sink or bathtub if I don't dedicate a water glass or mug for her, which also means guests must be on guard because she believes any glass or mug of water left on a table or counter is fair game.) And yes, even with the wheatgrass, she still vomits occasionally, little cat-food-grass-hairball messes on the hardwood floor, but at least it's not from giving the dracaena a haircut.

Not every cat may like wheatgrass or even any grass at all. Some cats may prefer grazing on oatgrass or pots of catnip. Experiment on the cat.


front room, November 2013

Everyone should own houseplants for their health benefits and good looks. Not everyone should own a cat, but for those who do, substituting tempting edible plants can be a simple way to save our decorative, toxic indoor tropical plants from our favorite small, furry, domesticated hunters—and vice versa.

3.29.2014

simplify with Adblock Plus

Adblock Plus screenshot

An easy way to simplify life is to remove one's name from catalog lists using services like TrustedID (formerly Catalog Choice), which I've recommended before. Having done so years ago—in addition to going paperless with bills—my mailbox downstairs sits mostly empty, free of much of the usual paper spam, reducing tree waste as well as time spent ripping my address off unwanted mailings. Online, if an inbox is overstuffed with newsletters, coupons, and sales offers, reduce the marketing stream by clicking the unsubscribe link at the end of unwanted promotional e-mails. And to prevent such things in the first place, don't give out an e-mail address, phone number, or zip code unless absolutely required, and if required, remember to click the little opt-out box. Another excellent way to free oneself from loud, bright, flashy advertising while surfing the digital world is Adblock Plus.

Some readers may already know about Adblock Plus, in which case, skip this post. But if not, prepare to change one's life in a small, enormous way. Adblock Plus is a free open-source extension added to a browser with one click, which then magically in the background saves a person from most of the obnoxious, obtrusive ads on the Internet. I forget just how ugly the Web can be until I find myself using somebody else's computer, like the one at work, and am reminded of the beauty and value of Adblock Plus. If I sound like I'm being paid here to rave, I'm not. Adblock Plus is that good.

On the sly, I added it to the browser at work the other day and realized I haven't fully been taking advantage of all Adblock Plus offers. So this morning I added the extension to my backup browser, Chrome, as well as updating my primary Firefox extension so that not only am I blocking ads but malware, social media buttons, and site tracking.

I am not yet savvy (or perhaps motivated) enough to be using even softcore Internet-tracking erasure methods like Tor. Citizens are all being spied on by the NSA as Snowden, Assange, and others risk their reputations and lives proving and repeating, but private companies track even more, foot soldiers for the government—and one day replacing said government. Our cell phones track our every physical move. Our web cams are watching us. The puppeteers behind the Internet track and record for safekeeping not only what we buy but who we are, who we love, what we value, what we will die for, and what we won't. Americans are complicit in the increasing lack of privacy forecast long ago by science fiction writers like George Orwell and Philip K. Dick. When—not if but when—this farcical democratic republic collapses and the U.S. government devolves into martial law, the first thing to be done is smash the smartphone and ditch the personal computer. But we're not there yet. Until everything crashes around us, there will be Adblock Plus, tidying up the online landscape, masking the chaos beneath. 

3.28.2014

review: rough & tumble "Lorna Dale" hobo bag

Rough & Tumble Lorna Dale hobo bag

Poor girls with good taste who want to appear less poor must fork over a significant chunk of a paycheck now and then on accessories, particularly shoes, coats, and bags. But quality secondhand shoes and coats are easier to find at the thrift store than nice handbags and totes, especially when looking for something particular, like a slouchy canvas-and-leather hobo bag.

Other than inexpensive cotton-canvas shopping totes, I never have luck thrifting bags: everything's either too small, too dated, too dirty, or too worn. I don't put my purse down on the floor in public places—gross!—so I don't want to own a bag that has been drug over the floors of all the public toilets and restaurants in town, something most people seem to have no problem with. (Remember, I did grow up reared by a germophobe.) But even if that weren't the case, most used bags look a bit down-on-their-luck, the linings ripped and stained, the leather worn off at the corners, and hardware tarnished or missing. However, it's hard even to find any leather bags at all these days at the thrift store, even beat-up ones, what with all the trendy, fast-fashion, made-in-China goods churned out every year, dripping with cheap, unnecessary, oversized hardware and smelling like flip-flops. No, thanks.

Plus, I like to carry a bag no one else has, that doesn't say, "Look how timely I am, how well I follow trends." I saw the prettiest hipster last weekend over on NW 21st Avenue, wearing the requisite light-blue chambray button-down, snug jeans, long, straight brown hair, and brown ankle boots, with the Madewell Transport Tote—the black imported leather one with tan handles—slung over her left shoulder. It was a Sunday, and she looked good, casual, hip—very young Portland or young Brooklyn or young Denver or young Berkeley—whatever. It all starts to look the same when everyone's reading the same online magazines and blogs. She carried a nice bag. But I recognized it. Ouch.

The first thing to do when wanting a new bag is to rethink everything you already own. Do you really need a new bag or will an old one do?

For work, I've been sporting an old Japanese-designed, made-in-China bag bought at the Container Store that I've had for at least twelve years. Last spring, a shy male college student at a bus stop near PSU found the courage to ask me where I'd gotten it, calling it "a great bag." It's the Wise Walker WH-40 by Nomadic: olive-green canvas with black nylon straps and lots of pockets, including an outside pocket for one of those old candy-bar cell phones from the Dark Ages, back when Nokia ruled the cellular world. (Oh, Apple, alas, one day you, too, will fall.) I always liked the bag's masculine military color and its tomato-red lining—I love seeing touches of red in unexpected places—but it's a heavy bag even when empty.

And it's never empty. I load up my bags, pack mule that I am, with wallet, library book, planner, phone, keys, accessory bag, maybe a brush, maybe a pair of high heels, a couple canvas shopping bags, maybe my big camera, leftovers for lunch in a small canning jar, and an apple. I know what you're going to say: Go out for lunch instead, wear more sensible shoes, go digital; but I'm too poor and carless to go out for lunch, I hate sensible shoes, and I won't go all-digital—I like paper. Carrying that bag, I always look like I'm headed to the airport for a quick overnight trip.

Okay, so what else do I already own? I do have a couple nice purses I've had for years and years (because they aren't trendy), but one's too dressy and both are too small for everyday hauling. Most of the time the last couple years I've just been using beige cotton-canvas totes as a purse, but though they're a big improvement over plastic shopping bags—and they're lightweight—they look like I'm using canvas shopping bags as a purse. It ruins the effect of whatever else I have going on in the ensemble.


Luisa Cevese Riedizioni fishnet tote via eBay

Before I returned to the khaki-green carry-on, I often carried a Luisa Cevese Riedizioni tote found secondhand on eBay and made in Italy from upcycled garment-industry textile remnants (in this case, over-dyed fishnet from Sicily) encased in some kind of pale plastic. Everyone used to compliment it. A former friend once cackled that the bag would outlast me—only it didn't. I overstuffed it too many times and one of the handles ripped in two. This winter, when I finally took it to the local luggage repair shop recommended by my cobbler, the owner of Finks said he couldn't or wouldn't fix the bag because it would keep ripping. So, RIP Italian statement tote.

Then there are the two vintage jute Kenyan bags hanging like decoration on hooks in the walk-in closet. While I love their look and texture, they aren't suitable for Portland's rain and the rough jute is hard on my clothes, pilling the left sides of all my summer shirts and jackets. No, no, no.

Those were the bag options on hand, knocked down one-by-one. So last weekend, I took myself shopping on Etsy. First I looked at vintage bags. But nothing would do for all the reasons stated above about secondhand bags. So then I browsed through the handmade bags. One seller stood out above all the rest in terms of design, photography, construction, presentation, and national reputation: Natasha Durham's brand called Rough & Tumble, made in Maine, USA. If one must buy new, buy the real thing. And Durham's the real thing, a former chef-restaurateur turned bag designer selling since 2008 on Etsy, with her own Web site and a storefront in Norway, Maine. Robert Redford's Sundance catalog has even carried some of her bags.


Rough & Tumble Lorna Dale hobo tote

I fell hard for Durham's Lorna Dale hobo bag in oak waxed canvas with dark-brown leather straps and red-zipper pocket detail. (She sold me on that red zipper.) I had been looking for a multi-season, slouchy cream-canvas hobo bag with dark-brown leather straps running from bottom to top. But this Lorna Dale bag will work even better than the one in my head since a) it's real and b) the khaki-brown color won't show dirt. If I'd had $300 lying around, I might have sprung for an all-leather version, but I do love this mixed-media, canvas-and-leather design, which was waiting for me on the doorstep after work on Wednesday. The order was placed late Sunday night and shipped off on Monday for free, arriving all the way across the country by Priority Mail in just two days.


Rough & Tumble packing materials

Everything about the transaction—product, marketing, and service—was tasteful and highly professional. The receipts appeared in my inbox immediately. The minimal packaging was simple, impeccable: a handful of tissue paper stuffed inside the bag, the bag slipped into a plastic sleeve along with the brand's business card, all tucked into USPS's slim packing box. The materials and stitching are flawless. The bag design is unusual but classic, rugged, a little androgynous—the perfect slouchy, casual, multi-season tote to last decades and well worth $138 for a quality, U.S.-made product. (Note that the price this week since my purchase on Sunday has gone up to $148—must be a popular item.) And all this is said by someone who rarely ever buys anything brand-new. Bravo.


Rough & Tumble Lorna Dale bag in Oak Waxed Canvas, side view
 

Lorna Dale hobo bag, interior

I took the tote to work for the first time yesterday and felt like I'd just stepped up my game. The olive-brown is so dark I could even wear it with a mix of brown and black (a combination I love).


Lorna Dale hobo bag, handle detail

Durham's a designer I want more of. If she would also pursue recycled, upcycled leather materials, transforming those sad, dinged-up, dated leather purses and jackets lying in thrift stores around the country into something new—which would mean offering more one-of-a-kind pieces for Rough & Tumble—I'd be even happier.

3.26.2014

little luxury: Mrs. Meyer's geranium soap

Mrs. Meyer's geranium soap

A few years ago while cat sitting for a well-off neighbor my age whose husband has a trust fund, tiptoeing around their front rooms filled with original art and antiques, a few token lights on for safety, everything quiet, still, other than me, I washed my hands at the kitchen sink after scooping out the day's cat-food ration and thought, When I have my own place again, I will buy this soap. With one small squirt, the simple act of washing off traces of dried animal parts turned ritual cleaning into a spa moment or like walking into a flower shop. Some things in life are worth their price.

Fast-forward many months and one of the first things I did after moving downtown last summer was order a case of Mrs. Meyer's liquid hand soap in geranium scent from Amazon, where it's much cheaper than anywhere else. This soap has been a little luxury worth every penny. Gone are the days when I refilled my soap dispenser with cheap toxic-blue dish soap from WinCo. Gone even are the years of supplying that pump with citrus dishwashing liquid from Trader Joe's (which I still use for hand washing dishes). Once a person samples Mrs. Meyer's, she doesn't go back—if she can afford it.


bathroom sink

Oh, I've tested the alternatives. I've tried unpackaged bars of natural hippy-handmade soap and chic French-milled soaps, but bar soap doesn't last long and is messy (and expensive). And I've tried Dr. Bronner's Magic All-One Castile liquid soap as hand soap. While Dr. Bronner's works great in the shower—the large 32-ounce bottle lasts forever—in a pump it squirts out everywhere like a baby boy during a diaper change. I've even spewed Dr. Bronner's soap in my eye that way—not fun. (Tip: Doctor Bronner's mild unscented baby soap is my favorite, but Trader Joe's sells the invigorating peppermint version for only $10, half what the other Bronner's scents may retail for elsewhere.)

Home cleaning products display choices revealing personality, taste, values—and income. Those who buy big-name brands full of chemicals tend to support the status quo in unquestioned convenience and well advertised familiarity. My mother serves up pearly Softsoap. My maternal grandmother bathed with white Dove bars (not the chocolate, mind you). My paternal grandmother preferred rock-hard orange slabs of Dial. If I had more money, I'd buy more Mrs. Meyer's products than just the hand soap, even if they are somewhat of a marketing racket and not entirely natural.

Those with more time or ethics than money can make their own wholly natural cleaning products. Baking soda and vinegar go a long way towards a clean house. Bon Ami, a 19th-century U.S. company, still makes a fabulous, inexpensive natural powder cleanser. The point is, we all have options. What do our choices say about our values? Are we thinking while consuming?


Mrs. Meyer's geranium liquid hand soap

My expert-gardener friend Sarah stocks the Mrs. Meyer's basil soap in her bathroom, and basil is nice, too—more masculine. She has a husband who may not want to smell like flowers. But for me, it's geranium all the way. My friend Dan just sent me another case of geranium hand soap as a belated housewarming gift. (Thank you, Dan!) With baking soda, vinegar, and Bon Ami under the kitchen sink and a bottle of Mrs. Meyer's geranium soap in the bathroom, I can pretend for a few seconds a day that I'm rich—and even the rich get their hands dirty.

3.22.2014

soundtrack

KMHD billboard, Portland, OR

During college, I obsessively read Milan Kundera, who will one day be forgiven and granted the Nobel Prize, perhaps on his deathbed. In Immortality (I believe it was), he pronounces—and if my memory gets the quote wrong, I'll revise it later—"Life should have a soundtrack." Think about that for a second: everyone a film star, center of the story. How will it end? Is anyone watching?

Music consumed a large chunk of my childhood. We sang hymns in church every Sunday. I sang every day, either in church or school choirs. Having a sweet if not strong voice, I gave solos at funerals, at luncheons, in gyms and a school musical. Jazz choir was the best part of my high school day, the one hour, the one way, in which I could perform like a team player, and the only thing about high school I've ever missed. And then it all stopped.


OMSI via Hawthorne Bridge, Portland, OR

As an adult, I've gone months without singing, weeks without listening to anything. But when in transition or emotional turmoil, I crave music—probably to express feelings and thoughts I can't yet put into words—language on a more general scale, the particular in search of universal notes: You are not alone here. We are all one. That's about as close to spirituality as I can get.


winter sunset, Portland, OR

The soundtrack artist for this blog at present would be Mathieu Boogaerts, found via Café de Paris on SKY.FM, the only station I can listen to on low in the background for hours without feeling like climbing the walls or out of my skin. Boogaerts' tracks, especially those on his recent eponymous album, are minimal, the rhythms like heartbeats, the phrasing like breaths. I know a little French but not enough for the lyrics to distract my English thoughts. The music is filling some (temporary?) hole.


Hawthorne Bridge at dusk, Portland, OR


winter sunset in Willamette River, Portland, OR

So while I mull things over chez moi, chrysalis-like, tell me: What is your soundtrack? 

3.16.2014

more culling

billy balls in closet vase

I've never been the kind of person who forgets I own something. That's not (quite) bragging; it's simply a personality trait—how I've been since childhood. I've never had clothes hanging in the closet with the tags still attached or held onto ticket stubs or dried roses (why would a person want to keep dead flowers?) or childhood toys or unwanted gifts. Events and people were either worth remembering or they weren't. I either liked something or I didn't want it anywhere near. So I've always known exactly what I own and where it all is because of regular culling (and frequent moving, which, if done right, is like culling on steroids). People like me are often called unsentimental, if not downright cold. If true, so be it. To me, that's better than the alternative: hoarding or otherwise feeling hemmed in by one's possessions.

Even so, I still end up with stuff I no longer want, just like everyone else. The difference is I can usually let things go by donating or selling unwanted stuff without much internal wrangling—and for that, I'm grateful to my cold, cold heart.

True, culling isn't nearly as fun as thrifting with its thrill of the hunt, though getting rid of unwanted, extra things and making more space has its own pleasures and rewards. Plus, objects a person already owns often have emotional strings attached that must be cut in the winnowing process. So the person might find herself facing a gift she never wanted in the first place, an object linked to memories of a former lover, or a purchase now regretted. But that's life, imperfect.


walk-in closet

A secondhand reuse mindset is not only about thrifting baskets and hooks and such for efficient storage or scoring like-new designer clothes and mid-century furniture, vintage lamps, and decorative objects on the cheap. Maintaining a serene, organized, tidy home is equally about regularly culling one's possessions, meaning getting rid of the things that don't work for their owner. In other words, what may be the exact item someone else is seeking to simplify or beautify or otherwise better her life may be the very thing sitting in the back of one's own closet, collecting real or metaphorical dust. Out of sight isn't entirely out of mind. That object not being used regularly is instead taking up valuable square footage, both physical and mental.

For many people, opening cupboards and drawers and closets and taking a close look at their belongings can be like walking into their own private thrift store: Huh, I forgot I had that. Where did this come from? I don't remember this at all. Why do I have three toasters and 200 pens? Wow, I haven't seen this in 15 years! 

The best advice when culling is to be ruthless. Focus on the objects themselves and deal with the emotional strings after. Do you like the thing? (Did you ever?) Do you use it regularly? (Have you ever?) Will you again? (Are you sure or are you, deep down, over it?) Is it attractive, well made, and functional? Would it cost a lot to replace that thing or could you instead borrow someone else's, if that item, for example, a tool, were ever needed again? Do you own unnecessary duplicates? (Why?)

For the unwanted objects with emotional strings, well, take pictures instead, give the thing to a family member, or put the item in a dedicated memento box to handle later—whatever. (I'm not exactly the go-to person for things-with-emotional ties.) Cut the cords. Feel lighter.


shelved towels and baskets

Though I'm perpetually culling, lately I've even gotten rid of some secondhand clothing items purchased within the last several months. These pieces simply didn't work for different reasons: for example, a pair of black Ralph Lauren cords in like-new condition but too traditional and a tad too short (I'd only paid $3.50, though); an unlined, brown cotton velvet boutique-label coat that always made me feel frumpy; a black silk velvet Ralph Lauren dress shirt worn as a nightshirt that developed a large weird hole near the cuff. (Silk sadly isn't too durable.)

When giving away or even selling unwanted possessions, it's hard not feeling like I've wasted money. And yet—even when I was paying near-retail sale prices for clothing, I wasted much more money than now because the same percentage (or more) of those clothing pieces also never quite worked. So better they're out of my life than daily reminders of errors in judgment. It happens. Let it go, the objects and the self-reproach.


closet bags, hats

I've currently dedicated my largest basket as a get-rid-of pile. My instinct is to keep such things by the front door as a perpetual reminder, but that ends up looking messy. So now my castoffs are waiting in the walk-in closet. At the bottom of the tall basket lie things to sell on Craigslist. At the top is a paper bag for Goodwill. I do let a little time pass from first culling decision to donation, just in case. But things end up in the outbox for good reason. Releasing such objects into the stream of reuse makes kept possessions feel that much more useful, lovely, or precious—including all that newly freed space.

3.11.2014

coffee, tea, or chai?

coffee cup (vintage Heath Ceramics Rim mug, thrifted, with vintage Chemex)

I seem to go through phases in the colder darker months where I drink nothing but tea—herbal, green, and white—or even plain hot water, while at other times I'd rather warm myself with cup after cup (six-ounce cups, mind you) of coffee. At the moment I'm in a coffee phase, seeking the comfort of this simple morning ritual, the beany aroma of the grinds, the swirl of cream. Plus, having coffee almost feels like a meal in itself. As someone who can't skip breakfast, I can easily postpone eating if I have coffee first, though too much coffee on an empty stomach can nauseate me. Lately, I've been trying natural decaf and do like that it doesn't make me feel all hopped up. But I'll probably be returning to regular coffee, wary of whole foods that people start messing with. And perhaps caffeine itself works as a natural brake, like, Hey, dummy, don't drink so much of this stuff!

Growing up Mormon, I long believed that coffee was some kind of evil, but after I gave all that up, for many years I still hated the taste every time I tried it, no matter how much sugar was spooned in. Then my black-coffee-drinking ex suggested I try it with milk and no sugar. How could that possibly work? Coffee was so bitter already I thought he must be crazy. But he was right—there's something about the addition of dairy and specifically dairy fat—that makes coffee drinkable for me, even desirable. (But please keep the watery nut and soy milks away, as well as the artificial creamers. For me, it's cow's milk or nothing.) I realize everyone has a coffee preference and that purists and connoisseurs go for black, but this is mine: nothing darker than medium-roast with lots of room for milk or half-and-half—but no sugar. (Just pretend I'm a French child.)

To avoid sleep problems, like most people, I try to limit coffee to mornings and drink tea and water the rest of the day. Coffee and tea each have their own health benefits. There's no need to choose one over the the other, to be a "coffee person" or a "tea person"—a person can drink both. But as spring days lengthen, my preference for coffee wanes (as does the craving for dark chocolate) and I tend to drink more tea, while in summer, mostly just water.

Oddly enough, the one tea I've never liked plain is black, but I do love a good chai. While rearranging some of my kitchen drawers the other weekend, I remembered I had a small stash of chai mix a friend had given me, and on a rainy homebody afternoon this past weekend, chai seemed just the thing. The spices and tea were ground finer than the batches I make myself, but that's what a fine strainer is for, right?


simmering chai in thrifted vintage Le Creuset pan

I prefer to make chai from my own base, rather than buying premade. This isn't an authentically Indian process, but I secretly like my own version better than chai had at Indian restaurants. (I don't recall having had chai when I was in India, which seems strange now, but maybe it was because we were over there steaming in our skins during the August monsoons.)

With a good organic black tea as the base and dried spices in proportions recommended here, I usually mix up whole cardamon, cinnamon bark, fennel, black peppercorns, whole cloves, ginger, nutmeg, orange peel, and snipped vanilla bean (all bought in bulk). Sealed well, dry chai mix will keep for ages.

Then whenever I want a cup of chai, I'll spoon out a heaping tablespoon of chai mix per cup of water, simmering the tea at a low boil for around twenty minutes. Next I'll strain out the liquid, pour some into a mug (two-thirds full), add a good glug of creamy milk (the other third), and zap it in the microwave to reheat, stirring in a spoonful of honey while hot. (I'm not a purist.) For me, honey, instead of sugar, makes all the difference.


cup of chai

And an extra bonus from chai making is that the house will smell like potpourri or hours of baking—so little effort for a warm, homemade treat.

3.09.2014

carless, part 4

rainboots over camellias

Carless for over a year now, I figure it's time for an update. Yesterday I had planned to run a bunch of errands on foot downtown, typical for a Saturday. Come along?

After sleeping in, after coffee, after a shower, after loading myself up with canvas bags, half of which were already full, I skipped downstairs around 11:30 a.m., pushed open the front door, and stepped outside . . . into a drizzle of rain I'd forgotten was coming (probably because yesterday was deceptively, tantalizingly sunny—so sunny I've even seen a few women this week wearing summer sandals, while I'm still wearing goosedown and wool). So back upstairs I ran to switch out the sneakers for rain boots and grab my umbrella.


errands in the rain (self-portrait)

A core fact about being carless is how much more a person needs to dress for the weather because of being more thoroughly out in it than someone driving door-to-door in a car. Though I wear heels most days at work, I carry them with me and change shoes at school (which admittedly can be tedious), unless I'm wearing boots, so I destroy neither shoes nor feet. And skipping a coat and scarf is never advisable in this town, except in summer (and often even in summer). People in cars can be much more laissez-faire about weather forecasts than people on foot.

Take two. Re-armed, I stepped outside and walked three blocks to the dry cleaners to ask what they'd charge to mend a small canvas bag thrifted for a dollar about a month ago but so cheaply made that one of the seams fell apart during the first machine wash. "It'll be five-to-ten dollars, but I'll have to ask the tailor for sure." "Oh . . . that's okay. It's not worth it, thanks." (Note to self: When thrifting, construction quality matters as much as design.)


Bee Tailors & Cleaners, Portland, OR


daffodils with raindrop, SW Portland


Central Library Book Return box

Then I walked a few more blocks to the library, dropping off two hardcovers and picking up a memoir. I love public libraries and acknowledge them as one of the few public places in which homeless people can escape the weather and even do a little reading and relaxing. Homeless people mostly mind their own business and don't seek trouble. Homelessness is a complex, sensitive issue requiring compassion, social action, and so on. But oh, how the Central branch library smells like homeless people. As a result, I'm usually in and out, breathing as little as possible.


homeless storage, Chapman Square, Portland, OR


homeless person sleeping in sheltered parking space, Portland, OR


bare crow roost, SW Portland


skyscraper with tree blossoms, SW Portland

Next up was the post office down on the waterfront, where I (finally) mailed off two packages for friends. Still working in the outskirts and dependent on infrequent public transit, I find it impossible to run errands during weekday lunch breaks. So the only real time for errands is on Saturdays, plus the small bits I can do after work when I get back downtown sometime after 6 p.m., meaning things like post offices and most small retailers are already closed. So yet another great thing about living downtown is that the post office is open on Saturday.


waterfront post office planter reeds

At this point, I already needed to use the restroom (!), so I walked over to Macy's and pretended to browse their made-in-China sale boots before locating the toilets upstairs (not something a homeless person would likely be able to do before being escorted out by security). Before leaving, I also checked out their furniture department downstairs full of matching sets (ugh).


Macy's sign, downtown Portland

After Macy's, I exchanged some new yoga pants at a nearby discount store, which took mere minutes, and even got to flirt with a very tall, very handsome clerk wearing a navy blue sweater. "That's quite a camera you've got there." "Yeah, I traded a couch for it." "Not a bad deal."

By this halfway point, I'd succeeded in lightening my bags, but then it was time to head uphill to Northwest to reload. Living without a car tends to mean feeling like a pack mule. Last weekend at the coffee shop, my friend Carol, watching me juggle all the canvas bags from that Saturday's errands, suggested I get a shopping cart so I wouldn't have to hoof around loaded up with so many bags all the time. "I already have one. Jeff found it for me." "Why don't you use it?" "They're for old people." I suppose one of these days I'll end up caving on the shopping cart—but not yet. Now I can still pretend I don't need a gym because I'm lifting weights naturally.


SW public statue

But on a more positive note, another lesson repeatedly learned from having no car and walking around all the time on foot is how much detail can be seen when movement is slowed down—things that would never be noticed from a car window, like quaint alley gardens, concentric circles in puddles, or plastic fences looking like grass-green honeycomb.


green plastic honeycomb fence, SW Portland


corner-lot crocus, SW Washington Street, Portland
  

Converse ad above corner-lot garden, SW Washington & SW 14th, Portland


NW alley garden

Headed uphill, I needed to pick up some new-to-me boots I'd had resoled for extra weather protection by 3 p.m., an early closing day. By then it was about 1 p.m.—plenty of time—but I was itching to get those riding boots in hand again. I'd paid a lot more for them than usual for secondhand shoes (at Goodwill on 10th a few weeks ago), but they're like-new, flat-soled, and comfortable and so should (crossing fingers) be good for extended walking, a benefit my heeled boots cannot claim.


Nob Hill Shoe Repair, front window


concentric circles in puddle

After the boot pick-up and small talk about the rain with the nice old white-mustached guy manning the counter, I walked up to the William Temple House Thrift Store for some browsing and then back down to Trader Joe's for a few groceries. But by then I was overloaded, no more arms left for juggling the umbrella, bags, and camera. On the home stretch back down the hill, I did wish I was pushing that shopping cart. But until that last leg, it was a fun outing, four hours alone downtown walking in the rain with my camera and checking things off the to-do list.


William Temple House Thrift Store sign


fallen camellia, with raindrops

On the whole, most days I don't miss owning a car, though family, friends, and acquaintances pity me for that lack. I get a lot of reading done on the bus and train. I save money this way. And I can afford to live alone again, something I cherish.

It's not like I'm never in a car. I commute for work about two-and-a-half hours a day (which is insane, I know, doesn't match my values, and needs to change soon), and one hour of that daily commute is spent sitting in a coworker's car. Plus, when hanging out with friends, I'm often in their cars because, of course, if a person has a car, why take the bus or train? Cars are so much faster and more convenient.

The worst part of not having a car in our car-centric culture is not being more exposed to the elements or the larger travel-time suck but feeling dependent at times on those who do have cars—even when contributing towards gas money. I haven't yet researched the economics of getting a smart car or car-share service, so perhaps those could be future options filling the dependency gap.

Needless to say, a walking-errand day out in the rain is much more pleasant when the temperature is in the low-60's than the low-30's or -40's. Now that it's (almost) spring, why not leave the car at home sometime and try living life on the wild side? Oh, and don't forget the camera.

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