Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bad-tini? Not again!

Why does the world believe that women love sugary drinks with vodka in them? And if this is a stereotype that has a basis in fact, then women, why do you love sugary drinks with vodka in them?

(Well, everyone's entitled to like what they like.)

At lunch with a friend this week, we were given a martini menu which we would have ignored had the names of the beverages not caught our eye. They had names like, "Flirtini" and "Whispertini."

"Because women aren't supposed to take up too much space in the world!" I declared. "Or make too much noise!"

I'm surprised the menu didn't include - and I'm sure this already exists somewhere out there - a series of special martinis with artificially-sweetened zero-calorie mixers with names like, "Dietini," "Thintini," and "Teenytini."

"What is this Whispertini?" my friend remarked. "I need a Shoutini!"

"Yeah!" I agreed. "Give me a Loudtini! Or a Bitchini!"

"A Shrewtini!"

"A Nagtini!"

"Termagantini!"

What do you think the recipes for any of these drinks should include?

A Jersey Story: Directions

Among the friends I visited in NJ were the couple whose wedding I was a bridesmaid in the day before I moved across the country. I showed them the following video:

This launched into a conversation of how Jersey are the women in our lives - mainly our mothers. We're included in this too, although I should note that before I moved across the country, I did not hear my accent. I should also note that since Thanksgiving, my boyfriend thinks I have been imitating John Roberts' Mom character (whose name is Marge, by the way). One evening, I said the word "tree" in a story (which happens pretty often, since I work at a botanical garden), and he remarked, "You're always imitating that woman! That man! That man imitating his mom!"

This is because, at my 4th Portland Home, there was a cat whom I frequently told, "Get away from the tree! Get away from the tree, please."

I explained to him that it was no impression. "This is how I TAWK!"

Anyway. So last night, this couple starts to tell me a story about how my friend (the lady)'s mother is so Jersey, exhibited by this one time they were driving to a relative's house and they called her for directions.

"You want to turn onto Bah P'n Road," she said. "Bah P'n" is my best phonetic spelling.

What did she say? they thought. "Boppin' Road?"

An idiosyncrasy of the Jersey accent is that, like the French, we do not pronounce all of the letters that appear in the spelling of a word. Select vowels, consonants, and entire syllables get lost. Take the following well-known example: The city of Newark, Delaware is pronounced, "New Ark." The city of Newark, New Jersey is pronounced, "NEW irk," sometimes slurred together so that it sounds like, "Nork." The letters excluded from a word's pronunciation aren't really necessary to the listener's comprehension of the speaker's intended meaning, based on the multitude of context clues that have already been given. They're extraneous. You know, like turn signals.

"BAH PN. BAH PN," insisted my friend's mother.

There must be an "R" in there, my friend and her husband reasoned.

"Barpon Road?"

"Yes! BAH PN ROAD."

"Okay!"

They punched, "Barpon Road" into the GPS. Nothing came up. They tried alternate spellings. "Barpin." "Barrpen." "Bahrpon?"

Barton. It was Barton.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From the Snowpocalypse Zone - Some Favorite Places

Snow has me in the area a bit longer than planned, but still not long enough to make this anything but a "short trip."

I've been meaning for awhile to post about some of my favorite local businesses in Sussex County, and now I have time.

I haven't been here in awhile, but The Tea Hive is one of my favorite places to get lunch. It's a good place to go to catch up with friends. The location is great - an old house in the middle of rolling rural land - and so is the food and tea.

First there was The Yarn Loft, then there was the Yarn Depot, and now there is Yarn Boutique by Sarah to provide Sussex County with yarn that A. C. Moore doesn't carry. The owner is very nice and helpful and she carries really interesting stuff. Including some local yarn dyed with plants, spun by a woman who donates the profits (of at least some yarn, I'm fuzzy on the details) to animal-related charities.

P B and J has been around since before I moved, but I didn't know about it until my first trip back to the area. To put it simply, it's a boutique with high quality clothing, classics and things that will make you stand out in a crowd. This is where I buy Sternlein tights, and they are the first tights I've found that don't fall down. (This is a PROBLEM for me.) I have them in wool and cotton, in solids and stripes, in black and brown and now, navy blue. I've also gotten beautiful scarves here and one jacket.

Charm does not have a website, but they have a lot of nice things. They are also on Spring Street in Newton. If I had an apartment in New Jersey, I would probably not be able to restrain myself from buying things here, but since I have to think about moving everything, I've held back. I love the decorations, the antiques, the gifts, even the gift tags! I got the Violet Teapot Of My Dreams here two winter ago.

Cheddar Alley started out as a cheese shop in an alley, but now it's a big store and cafe on Spring Street. This was my favorite place to each lunch when I was on jury duty; for some reason it was always a Lawyer Free Zone. They make pizzas (some are what I would call "savory tarts") and paninis and salads that are all good. The store part is like a cheese shop you'd see in France, plus all kinds of other interesting/gourmet stuff. Today I bought myself a jar of local maple syrup to savor all Oregon winter long while I lament the lack of sugar maples and adequate maple sugaring temperatures in the Willamette Valley.

Goodnight! Maybe some time I will write about my favorite places in Central NJ/the New Brunswick area.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Highlights from the Blog Revision Project

Also known as "old posts that it's okay for my family and Tyler's family to read.
I am snowed in by the fireplace with dogs, cats, parents, Christmas leftovers, and beer. We were supposed to visit family today and could not because of the snow. It is pretty disappointing, and that's one of the reasons (I remember this now) that last year, I said I wanted to visit at every time of year except Christmas. Snowstorms always come at the most inconvenient times and ruin plans to see people that you won't get to see again for months.
I'm making the best of the built-in free time. I made some progress on revising the beginnings of this blog, which you will see as mostly un-publishing a bunch of stuff I found unfit for the public to read. I edited some posts to make them more readable, trying to preserve my 2006 writing style even if that meant leaving in the cringe-inducing excessive cussing or references to drinking that, in my early 20's, counted as humorous. A caricature of my 21-year-old blogging self would be this:

Despite this, a few good adventures and stories arose from the fog of cussing, digressing, stringy sentences, typos, and references to drinking.
Girls and boys
Homeland Security was originally written and saved as a draft at this time, and then published years later.
I added pictures to show you how I used to decorate - I even made a wreath for every holiday!
Girls and Boys Part 2
Cook College will retroactively rescind my botany degree if anyone sees this
Global Warming is Ruining Christmas
I've left off with the beginning of 2007 because it's time for a different project today and also, I'm not ready to be faced with 2007, my Annoyingly Eco Conscious summer. I can't bring myself to confront that 23-year-old (there was no posting in 2007 until about a month after my 23rd birthday) with her reuseable shopping bag, her compost pile, her Francophilia, and her verbosity. Not today.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A List Revisited

In the 2006 blog posts I'm currently editing, I found a life to-do list. I like to look back at these lists when I stumble across them and make written notes about what I've actually done, what I'd still like to do, and what no longer interests me on the list.

Things I Could Do To Improve My Life
As in, make it different, exciting, more interesting and theoretically, worthwhile.


1. Get information about and apply to programs to teach English in Berlin; live in and work in Berlin for a couple of years. Or another German city. I don't want to do this anymore.
2. Apply to Study Abroad in Delhi Never happened. Maybe I'll at least visit India someday.
3. Quit school, find a job and move outside of Jersey, like to Boston, one of the Carolinas, South Florida, or out West. Uh, I don't know about the "quit school" part, but at least I finished the last part.
4. Apply to the MFA program in Creative Writing at Iowa. And Sarah Lawrence, NYU, Emerson, and any other schools with a good reputation for their MFA program. Does MPA count?
5. Learn Spanish and apply to Teach for America in schools in the Southwest. Also not interested in this anymore.
6. Join Americorps and hope for a position with something environmental, preferably related to botany. Hmm...
7. Train and hike at least half of the Appalachian Trail. HMMM....
8. Run away to France, mooch off of my family and move from house to house as each cousin-once-removed gets sick of me, until I become fluent in French (right now I have a perfect accent, but weak vocabulary), get dual citizenship, find a job, and live in some remote countryside village, hiding from my old life and working on my writing. I hope I knew, even in 2006, that this was a bad idea.

But of course I am afraid to live so far away, worried about how much time learning Spanish would take away from my studies of botany, unsure if my German is good enough to live abroad, and unable to make the time to work on my portfolio. Oh, and #7--I currently walk half an hour on a sidewalk every day, and I've never gone backpacking. The last time I camped was in a tent with an electrical outlet and indoor plumbing.

The least I could do is some smaller version of these. There is no good reason behind me not making the time to:
1. Take a photography class at the community college. Never happened!
2. Take extra time at Rutgers getting a certificate in Medicinal and Economic Botany, since a lot of the courses would overlap with my major. Hooray! I did that!
3. See about getting certified through that German proficiency thing at RU...it may only be one or two extra classes, and it may help me in the future to have some official documentation that I can speak, read, and write in German. Hmm, maybe I could try to do this at PSU or something. I did look into it at Rutgers, but it required way too much coursework.
4. Take a not-for-credit creative writing workshop somewhere.
5. OR just work on my damn portfolio! How hard is it!?
6. Start listening to the Learn In Your Car Spanish CDs that the library has. I still have (perfectly legal) copies of them.
7. Improve my French (just find my old grammar books and skim them or something!) and visit my cousins-once-removed. I did this...in 2007.
8. Hike, in woods or at least hilly paved streets, after work. This is always my goal, to make daily walking a part of my routine. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. When I was unemployed, I frequently walked about three miles a day.

Update on Blog Revision

2005 consists of some pretty random stuff. At some point, I might migrate the best of my LiveJournal entries from that year over to Blogger.

2006 begins with this post, perhaps the first "story" that appeared on this blog, and it's just now been edited for clarity.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Editing Project: Imagist Poems

Did you know I used to write poetry? A lot of it? I once fancied "professional poet" as a potential career for myself. In fact, a creative writing teacher once told me that I was one of the best poets she'd ever taught, but I should "give up" on prose. Of course I didn't follow that last piece of advice.

I do not know when or why I stopped having time to write poetry. I don't feel that I really lost the inspiration, just that I stopped making time for it. I will always be creating something, and for the past four or five years, it's just been things other than poetry.

I found myself digging through my LiveJournal archives, and no, you can't have the link, trying to find some of the "imagist" poems I wrote for an advanced workshop in college with a professor who was somewhat famous.

As an aside, the icon of my LiveJournal is a picture of me taken at a toga party when I was 20. I was also three dress sizes smaller than I am now. In that photo, I am cute. But you know what? When I was 20, I was dumb, or at least my writing indicates as much. 20 sucked. Looking that cute but being that dumb is a state I'd never want to revisit. I hope I don't look back in six years and say the same thing about myself now.

Anyway. The second post in this blog described my first planned writing exercise, which I apparently did, but never posted.

Also this comp is weird and sometimes it stops displaying what I'm typing. So I jsut keep typing until I see the whole thing appear on teh screen, this is why i have so many typos and I'm sorry I am not going to go back and fix them all. Yo u know what it is supoposed to say. Look there it goes again. I can't see what I'm typing right now. [That explains the lack of editing!]

...

Since I left my Wild Mind book in New Brunswick and I am in [my hometown] now, I am making up an assignment. I want my prose to be funny, yes,but also poetic. My poetry when I actually write it, has always been complimented for its imagery and I think people when they read my pathetic prose like that it has pretty flowery detailed imagery. So, to work on this and to get back into hte habit of writing poems, I am going to use an assignment I had to do for my advanced workshop last semester--the professor had us write a series of short imagist poems, three to five lines, and I was actually really freaking good at it. I am going to, tomorrow, write a poem for every room or otherwise worthwhile location I am in. Even if it's something dumb, like the bathroom. Off the top of my head, I can write one for :
1) MY house in [my hometown] (will probably skip this bnecause I'll be toos tressed for final exam tomororw morning at 9 AM)
2) My car
3) Route 287 and other roads on wany to exam.
4) The Greenhouse where I am taking my exam
5) Every room in my apartment
6) Ooh! the nice walk from the greenhoues to the apartment (except I am driving since I'm getting some plants)
7) Route 1
8) Thai restuarant Angela and I are checking out tomorrow
[I remember this day! The Thai restaurant was CLOSED! As in, forever closed! It was Jasmine Thai on...?Church Street? or Paterson Street, for those of you who are interested.]9) Physics lecture hall for Physics exam review?
Maybe this isn't such a good idea. But you know what, you have to write crap in order to write good stuff.

When I read this, I thought, "That's right! I was really freaking good at those imagist poems. Where are they?"

They aren't on this computer. They're on my external hard drive IN PORTLAND. And you know how it is, when you have insomnia and are on the Internet. There's this immediacy to everything; you must have that piece of text RIGHTNOW. So I went back, back in time...to LiveJournal. I found a few!

November Poems

Sunday Morning

The forest is only one color:
that specific gray-brown.
The bark reflects the light,
the sun beats into the forest
uninhibited, unobstructed.
The dense heads of leaves now disintegrated,
floor of dry, fallen leaves looks
like copper, reflecting sunlight.

Only the walls of rock remain unchanged:
  still blanketed in thin green moss
illuminated now.

The forest invites me into its
enfoldings
but I must turn away.

It looks at me again, inviting;
I sadly decline.

Monday Afternoon

Alligator Mountain
looks like an old dog
—matted golden-red hair
patches missing.

Bloggy Musings

When I find a blog I like, I usually go back to the archives, to the very beginning, and make a point of reading several posts a day until I am caught up to the present.

Since moving to Oregon, I've found I have trouble making time for this. In my mind, Heather Armstrong's first child is still only one year old, and she only has one dog whose name is Chuck. Occasionally I click on her website and say, "Whoa! Leta aged! Who's that other kid? Who is Tyrant?"

Anyway, I sincerely hope that none of my readers, especially the new ones who started reading within the past six months (who are mostly relatives of mine and my boyfriend's), have done that.

This blog has gone through a lot of evolution since I started it in 2005. At that time, I was newly 21 and working as a document writer at a software company. I wanted to do something productive with my breaks and time waiting for someone to give me a new project. I think at this point, I'd already read the old documentation in its entirety and even corrected typos. I wanted to be a writer, had just changed my major to English (planning to take the seven classes I had left in one year, while writing my thesis, and then re-enroll in a different part of the school for a second undergraduate degree in Plant Science), and so I started the blog to "practice writing" for a novel I'd write "someday."

I was also most likely inspired by She Just Walks Around With It which I still read, and Crazy Aunt Purl which I still subscribe to, but I didn't read for about a month last winter and I got so overwhelmed trying to catch up that now I just read new posts and random old ones sporadically. This is a shame, because it's one of my favorite blogs. She's a talented writer, very easy to relate to, very funny, and from her writing, I just imagine her in real life to be really, really nice. If you've never heard of her before today, I encourage you to quit reading my blog right now and go read some of the archives of...well, either of the two I just linked to.

A little while ago, I was adding my blog to a list trying to get more readers who are strangers. I started to click on the "twenty-somethings" blogs listed, and some of them were just awful. And maybe they weren't trying to be that great. They consisted of either statements of emotion without any context, such as, "I am feeling so lonely today. I am sad. I want to be happy. I don't want to be lonely." and THAT'S IT! No story! No details of WHY the writer is lonely or sad! or they consisted of stories of events with so many specific identifying details left out that they were just boring. Such as, "This thing happened today, and it was near where I work, so I don't want to tell you exactly where cause I don't want to get fired, but this thing that happened was really awesome! There was this person, I can't tell you their name or even if it's a guy or a girl because I don't want them to read this and get mad, and he or she did a really awesome thing!"

This is what I imagine my older blog posts to be. Since last New Year's, I've had a plan, a project that's never been started, to go through and *edit* these posts, because some actually contain some interesting content. Some are fine the way they are, and all I want to do is add labels to them and maybe add them to the "My Favorite Posts" list. Some need to be edited, because in my early writing style (and who am I kidding? even now, when I don't go back and edit, this is what I do) I had a tendency toward lengthy aimless digression. Some need to just not exist in public anymore, and they will be unpublished.

For example, Big-Haired Jersey Girl did not get off to a very interesting or well-edited beginning:

Title:I really hope I can go back and change my blog title later [Why did I think self-deprecation was a good way to start!?]

Because I woke up in the middle of the night and for some reason can't focus on studying for finals, I decided to start a blog. I already have a live journal, which was started to practice my writing skills--I am "working" on a "novel" by writing out the interesting things that have happened in my own life and trying to make them funny. This post does not, I'm sure, do anything to convince you that I am funny. [Oh, the self-deprecation! The self-fulfilling prophecy! I cringe when I read this because LiveJournal is a proper noun and also there is no space! Aaah!!!! What kind of English major was I?]

Anyway, while packing to move home at the end of the semester, I came across a book: Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. [OMG where are the italics!?] I decided I need to quit procrastinating and start working on my writing NOW! So this blog will be, at first, a place to post work on my writing, things that don't go in my Live Journal, and I figure I can start by doing exercises from the Natalie Goldberg book and just posting them here, hopefully getting some feedback and becoming a better writer and person :) [An emoticon? Seriously, Sarah?]

Also, I think it would be fun to have a place to post my ridiculous adventures and just the ridiculous outcomes of me pursuing hobbies that are strange for a 21-year-old, like knitting and cooking and sewing. (Note: I do things that are not domestic, too.) [Omg, NO ONE kits and cooks and sews!]

And of course, botany.

What, you may be asking yourself, is a botanylicious?
It is a joke. It is because I recognize that Plant Science is a weird major, that dedicating my life to the study of botany (fancy word for Plant Science) is weird.
[OMG, sooooooo weird!] It is the result of me trying to think of a funny new screen name like "Hot Scientist 69!" "Hot Bio Major!" "Sexy Science Girl!" but I would like to note that I still have not gotten the nerve to change my screen name to botanylicious because I'm afraid people won't get the joke, and think I am too crazy aout my plants. [A typo!? Aaahhh! Unless I really did mean "I am too crazy French-word-for-August my plants."]

It is also the product of me creating this thing at 5 AM, during final exams, on a night where I couldn't sleep. After a long whiney live journal post about how stressed out I am.

OK, the awkward first entry is over! Now that the sun is rising, maybe I can get some sleep.

Well! The first time is always awkward. Anyway, I'm not sure what I hoped to accomplish by writing, five years later, a self-deprecating late night post about my first self-deprecating late night post. It's either meta or stupid.

But expect some more blasts from the past, this time with editing.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wild Jersey

If I ever write a semi-autobiographical novel, I'd like the opening paragraphs to be about growing up in rural New Jersey.

Rural New Jersey sounds fictional, oxymoronic, like a joke I made up, to people who don't know much about this state. I bet most of the people I meet in Oregon think I am lying when I tell them that I'm from "rural New Jersey" and grew up learning how to navigate traffic-clogged highways AND windy mountain roads, becoming skilled at dodging both mad drivers and galloping deer that bolt from the darkness into one's lane of traffic without warning and with only seconds of braking time to spare.

When I'd travel between my apartment, which was in a city, and my parents' house in the country, I had the same late night getting-from-the-car-to-the-front-door ritual. The steps were the same, but the reasons were not. First, I would make sure, as I was getting closer to my destination, that I had everything ready to get out of my car as soon as I pulled in the driveway. No sitting in the car shuffling around to get my purse and anything that dumped out of it. At a stoplight, I'd reach for my purse with a free hand and keep it on my arm as I drove the rest of the way home.

As soon as I turned off the ignition, I'd jump out of the car and in the country (not the city, I didn't want my neighbors to hate me) I would SLAM the car door. Then, as I covered the distance between the car door to my front door, house key ready in my hand, I'd make a lot of noise. I'd stomp on the paved driveway of my city home and shuffle loudly on the gravel driveway of my parents' country home. I'd give a few shakes to the key ring so that it would jingle. The idea was to make noise that made my presence known to the people waiting for me inside, while getting into the house as quickly as possible. In the city, this was a precaution against being gotten by a criminal. In the country, it is a precaution against bears. Wild Jersey animals are becoming less afraid of people, but the ones that still are will be scared off by noise like a car door slamming.

Did I ever meet a bear in the driveway? No. The closest I got was one time, I parked on the street, and when I walked into the driveway I heard a sudden, startling noise; I looked and found myself just a few feet away, looking into the big black eyes of a gigantic....
...
...
...deer! That deer was as shocked as I was. We both jumped, and looked at each other for a few seconds like, "Please don't trample me!" and "Please don't shoot me and eat me for dinner and hang my antlers over your fireplace!" before taking off in opposite directions.

Did I ever encounter a CRIMINAL near my city home? Who knows? Maybe I properly convinced them all, with my stomping and key jangling, that I was not a sufficiently easy target. (It seems my strategy is to seem like a Pain In The Ass victim, to "ruin the fantasy." Maybe I should start talking loudly and nasally into my cell phone, too.)

The point of all this preamble/ramble is to share with you the first thing my parents told me last night, when they brought me from Newark Airport to the country home of my youth. "We have to tell you something, Sarah!" they announced.

"What is it!?" I thought.

"When you're coming home late at night, you have to be careful, because lately there's been--"

My mind moved quickly to fill in the blank. A rapist? A shooting? Hooligan kids breaking into unlocked cars and stealing people's emergency gas money out of the center console?

(That really happened in my town, when I was in my late teens or so. Around the same time someone snapped the sideview mirror off my car just for the hell of it. It was hanging by a string and the person who fixed it said it looked like it had been done by hand, not by a car. Maybe it wasn't done by hand, but by paw.)

My dad finished the sentence. "A mountain lion!"

"Really?" I said. "In our neighborhood now?"

Mountain lions started being seen in our part of Jersey a few years ago, but in places more forested and remote than my neighborhood.

There was then some discussion about whether this new threat was actually a mountain lion, a bobcat, a coyote, or what. It was something, something that had been prowling in people's yards at night, and this time it was NOT A BEAR. But we definitely still had those. And foxes too.

You know it's serious, because my parents have stopped letting the dogs in the backyard at night. They used to let them out after putting some lights on and looking out the windows. Now, they put them on the front deck only, and they still check first to make sure there are no big critters out there. And the cats do not, by any means, go outside anymore.

Oh, rural Jersey. Where big hair and big game coexist.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Christmas of No Cookies

About a week ago, I wanted to write a post about how it was the Christmas That Never Felt Like Christmas. Then suddenly - perhaps because we had a stretch of sunny, clear days where not only was it cold, but I could see (because there were no clouds in the way) the snowy Cascades, including Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood - the rain ceased to dim for me the glow of Christmas-light-covered houses.

However, it is the Christmas of No Cookies. I'm a bit bummed about this. For the first time since 2006, I won't be making my traditional unusual cookies to give out as Christmas gifts this year. No Very Ginger Cookies or Violet Cornmeal Macarons. No Hazelnut Black Pepper Sabl├ęs. No Jewel Cookies with homemade jam.

I hope to make and send out New Year's Cookies, or perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. Day Cookies, or Valentine's Day Cookies.

Many of the handmade gifts I envisioned giving out this year aren't happening either.

I've accepted that it was just a busy season, with a lot of changes such as preparing to start school and moving into a new place. It's hard to bake cookies when you are trying to keep your bakeware packed. I have two days left, and something tells me "unpacking boxes" and "packing for NJ" and even "going to work" are going to take precedence over cookie baking. Well, I can't do everything.

Great Day!

I actually wrote this on Friday but never published it.

1. Last night, I got a lot of stuff done that I had been feeling overwhelmed about. Specifically, I made some progress on difficult Christmas gifts and addressed about half of my Christmas cards.

2.My boyfriend and I traded presents this morning and I got a beautiful necklace from Block Party Press

3. I finally made it to the library before they closed, and picked up some holds I was looking forward to.

4. I get the keys to my new apartment tomorrow!

5. It was sunny and clear (but cold! but that's kind of what I consider a "proper" winter so I don't mind) and I could see snowy Mount Hood today.

6. I'm going to New Jersey in less than a week!

7. Things are moving along on my projects at work. I don't write too much about work on here, because I don't really want my work life linked up with this blog, but for my readers who don't know, I now have a job doing the same kind of work I did at my last job in New Jersey, except part time. The organization I work for now is different in many ways than the one I worked at in New Jersey. The environment is much better, much more supportive, but it does not have the money (at least not for my department) that my last job did. So, I only work half time instead of full time, and I have to be more creative. This means I have more responsibility than I did at the job in NJ; it's more challenging but also more interesting. It's less money (at least for now, and this is just because I work less hours), but more rewarding, and I think it will look very good on a resume because of the increased responsibility I have. Anyway, things are moving in a positive direction with my projects, and that makes me very happy.

8. This morning, my boyfriend and I finally used the canner we bought together. We canned hot spicy pickled carrots in the morning before we both went to work.

9. Also, I finished reading a good book yesterday. A replacement of my missing BUST October/November issue (the science issue!!!!) is being mailed to me. I finally went to Paradox in SE for breakfast, and because I signed up for their mailing list, I got a 20% coupon. I got a scramble with potatoes and lots of vegetables, an egg, and curry sauce. Yum!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gift Giving Guide for Grumps

Oh, did you hope I was going to write one for you? I wish I could. If someone could put together a Gift Giving Guide for Grumps, I'd be eternally grateful.

There are three people on my list to whom I must give gifts. Cash is not an option. Nothing seems to be an option.

The first level of gift-giving, in my opinion, is to give someone stuff. Thoughtful, nice, potentially useful but mostly decorative stuff that the recipient will like, will smile when they see, and best of all, would never have purchased for him or herself. Such as this camera lens mug or this mushroom plate. Or jewelry. Or clothing (as long as you're sure about their size.) Books. Movies. Music. Gadgets.

There are also gift recipients who only want something purely useful, such as a vacuum cleaner.

More and more, the recipients of my gifts have too much stuff. They are trying to de-clutter. They live in small spaces. They plan to move within the next twelve months. They don't have room for stuff. For these people, I usually give them something that will get used up. Again, it's great if this isn't something they'd normally get for themselves. When I'm giving gifts, this tends to be food. Homemade cookies. Non-perishable gourmet staples, like Oregon hazelnut oil or lavender honey. It's hard to go wrong with Subcategory: Booze. Here is where fancy wine and beer belong.

And finally, for people who have too much stuff, permanent or use-up-able, you can give the gift of an experience. A homemade "coupon" to go out to lunch together. This is my favorite: a membership to a local museum or botanical garden. This gift, however, is not a good idea for individuals who never leave the house, or at least only leave the house for outings that fit into a prescribed routine.

What gifts do you give to individuals who have a house full of stuff, have still not used the use-up-able stuff you've given them in the past*, and never leave the house outside of their prescribed routine -- would in fact be offended at the suggestion that they might enjoy themselves during a special outing.....What do you do!?


* Example A: The individuals have specifically instructed you, "Hey, stop giving us those little jars for Christmas!"
Example B: When you go to the liquor cabinet to refill the tabletop wine carafe from the Carlo Rossi jug, you notice dust-encrusted bottles lining the shelves, and recognize them as the same you bought for the last ten Christmases.

I invite you, my readers, to discuss. Are there any grumps to whom you must give gifts this year? What gifts have you given grumps in the past? Were your attempts successful or unsuccessful? Were you met with polite thanks or brazen ungratefulness? Discuss!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Vicarious Love

I mentioned on Monday that my boyfriend and I went to a wedding last weekend. The bride was my first friend in Portland; my boyfriend also met the couple shortly after he moved to Portland. We were later introduced through one of the bride's friends, who my boyfriend knew before moving to Portland, and attended the same parties or bar get-togethers for nine months or so without actually speaking. This includes a Super Bowl Party at which I was a Saints fan just so I could wear black and gold leggings, which was the night before I was snubbed by a guy I had been dating who has the same first name as my boyfriend. That could also be an entertaining story.

Anyway, nine months passed without us saying much more to each other than "hello." The night that we finally had our first conversation (that led to our first date) was the night that this couple, who got married last week, had invited all of their friends out to celebrate the engagement. That was a good night to begin things; everyone was so happy, just like at the wedding.

At the wedding, when people asked us how we knew the couple and how long we'd lived in Portland and where we moved from, we felt compelled to tell them that not only did we not know each other before moving from separate parts of the country, but that we'd also met because of the couple whose wedding we were all attending. As if that wasn't cute enough, we'd started talking at their engagement party.

"So," my boyfriend would say, "we're a couple vicariously through them!" Or some variation.

It registered in my mind that he was using a slightly wrong definition of "vicariously," which means "felt or undergone as if one were taking part in the experience or feelings of another" or "acting or serving in place of someone or something else; substituted." But no one seemed to notice or care, and I saw no reason to correct him, especially because I couldn't think of a way to explain what "vicariously" actually means without saying, "You know, like you 'live vicariously' through someone! You know? Like when you read a book or someone's Peace Corps blog or something!"

The night that I made the miso-braised greens and miso soup, after I kissed him on the cheek, he made a comment about having "miso face."

"What!?" I squawked, utterly perplexed.

"You know!" he said.

"No, I do not!" I cried in utter confusion.

"You know, you ate miso and then you kissed me and vicariously I have miso face."

I had to tell him.

"Darling, I have something to tell you," I announced.

He asked what it was; we faced one another with somber expressions, our eyes locked.

"Darling," I began. I took a deep breath and continued, "That's not what that word means."

"What?"

"Vicariously. You're using it wrong. I didn't want to tell you yesterday. That's not what it means."

But I couldn't tell him what it actually meant.

"It's like...you know...someone wants to 'live vicariously through' someone who can do something they can't? You know?"

No, he did not.

"Look it up on the dictionary!" and I pointed to his laptop on the coffee table.

Note that now we look things up on the dictionary, meaning a dictionary website, instead of looking it up in the dictionary, the book.

I saw his fingers move furiously across the keyboard; I saw him read, and then I saw his face darken.

"What?" I asked him, moving to see the screen.

"You were right, you're always right..."

"No, the dictionary is right," I corrected him snootily. But why did he look so sad? "It's not a big deal!" I tried to reassure him. "Everyone knew what you meant. I bet they didn't know you were using the word wrong. No one was thinking, 'That guy's dumb!'"

"Yeah!" said my roommate. "It's not like you said, 'I vicariously love this soup!'"

"Yeah, it's not a big deal!" I said.

"You know what this means?" he asked. "This means I've been using that word wrong my entire life. Or at least since I knew that word. I've been misusing the word 'vicariously' for years."

"So?"

His fingers began to move again on the keyboard. I watched him type a search phrase into Google, and I became filled with dismay when I saw him type, "Christmas poo." What on earth was he Googling?

"Look here!" he declared, clicking on a link.

"No! No! I don't need to see that!" I held my hands over my face, worried he was going to make me look at pictures of poop in a Santa hat.

"It's just text!" he said.

I unshielded my eyes to see him scrolling through the lyrics of the "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" theme song. He stopped and highlighted the following:

Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo
He loves me, I love you
Therefore vicariously, he loves you.

"See?" he asked.

I saw. For years, my boyfriend had been misusing the word "vicariously" because of Christmas poop.

5 Things for Monday

1. Crafting like Crazy Now that my big embroidery gift project is done and given, I've moved on to Christmas Knitting. I'm very proud of the ribbon embroidery project I just completed and might post pictures on this blog of some of the flowers. It was a collection of cloth napkins (or tea towels) with native plants of the Pacific Northwest embroidered on them. I had some help from Deanna Hall West's books, but for the most part I made my own designs from pictures on USDA Plants and Pojar's Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast field guide. These were for a wedding gift for two friends who got married this weekend.

2. My First Wedding Out West My boyfriend and I went to the wedding of two of our friends this weekend. The bride was my first friend when I moved to Oregon, and also a co-worker at my first botanical job in Oregon. Also, MBF and I met each other through this couple and first started talking to each other the night we all were invited out to celebrate their engagement. The wedding was so different from most weddings I've been to back East, and it was really, really nice. Some of the family was Jewish so there were a lot of Jewish traditions reflected, such as smashing a glass at the end of the ceremony and a bunch of people being carried on chairs while everyone danced in a circle around them. It made me wish I was Jewish, instead of just looking Jewish. (Which reminds me of a funny story for another post.)

3. Moving Again I know, I know. This time, it's the studio of my dreams. It's very big for a studio, with a wood-burning fireplace and a balcony. The building is a hundred-year-old mansion. Much of the neighborhoods is Victorian mansions and old, moss-covered trees, some with forests of ferns growing out of the moss. I had just about given up on "old-fashioned" and "cute," since it is often accompanied by "poor insulation," "high heating bills," "mold," "mice," and "weird landlords." However, the landlord seems to be on top of things and utilities are included in the rent (which is still 1/3 lower than what I paid for my last apartment in New Jersey.) I won't have a huge garden, but I've kind of postponed that dream for whenever I own a house. I'll probably get a garden plot somewhere else, and I can do a little bit with the balcony, which has two big, built-in planters. Plus, there is a long window-box-like planter built in, running along the entire outside wall of the apartment. I can plant herbs (that will tolerate a northern exposure) outside my kitchen window!

(I just got distracted from writing this looking up small space organizing ideas on Apartment Therapy and other websites, and then looking at shelves on the IKEA website.)

4. Cooking. (As usual.) Since it's a busy time of year and I'm moving soon, I'm trying to avoid excessive grocery shopping and I've already packed up a lot of my kitchen things. When baking my Thanksgiving dessert contribution, this Concord Grape and Apple Pie, I rediscovered Not Eating Out in New York. I don't know why I forgot about this website, or why, in 2008, after making and loving the pie AND the concept behind this blog, I didn't look at the rest of it. There are so many interesting and simple recipes using inexpensive and/or in-season produce on this blog; the seasons of Portland and New York match up fairly well, although not exactly. I've made a version of these dijon beans with collard greens added and just last night, these very healthy miso-braised greens and mushroom soba soup using collards. I'd like to try some variation of beans baked in a pumpkin, and I'm especially intrigued by this salad which appears to use raw quince. I'd love to do a Not Eating Out in Portland version where tomatoes are a fall vegetable and go well with things like kale soup. But it's not easy to not eat out in Portland...

5. Some Places to Eat I've been meaning since Halloween weekend to write about Suzette, the interesting creperie MBF and I stopped at while out for a walk on a dreary fall day. Suzette combines the Portland food cart with the Portland cafe-in-a-cute-old-building. There's outdoor seating, but I've never been to Suzette when it's warm enough to sit there, and there's seating inside of a building that seems to be an old carriage house or something. The outside is painted a bright light blue. You walk down a little path (which makes me feel like I'm going to a secret garden) to order at the cart where I guess all the food is, since there's no kitchen inside the blue building, just coffee. After you order, you're directed by the friendly staff to sit inside where everything will be brought to you. Inside is an assortment of old-fashioned chairs and tables, a couch, and lots of artwork on the walls. I've never gotten one of their crepes, but both times I've gone, I've had their delicious homemade ice cream with a cup of coffee. Their wonderful ice cream, served in a chilled bowl, is perfect with a cup of coffee. I like to switch off between the two, eating and drinking slooooowly. The place has kind of a dreamy feel and dreamy lighting; it's great for a date and for coffee with a friend. The first time I went, I had the creme fraiche ice cream, and fell in love. I'd love to go there sometime for brunch.

Recently, I also went to Broder, which I've written about and posted pictures of before. I think Broder is my favorite place to eat in Portland. It's reliable; I know I will always get good food and good service there. No one will ever be rude to me, and I will like my brunch/dinner. The Friday night dinner was a bit more crowded than the last time I saw it, but there was no wait and I think even some empty tables. There's not much else to say. I love Broder, and if you're in the Portland area, go there!

We also ate brunch at Equinox, which was on my To-Try list, and the most interesting thing to say about that is that the toast appeared to come buttered with caramelized butter. It looked like normal butter, but tasted like browned butter.

The most exciting news of all is that MBF and I have found pizza in Portland that I'll eat, at Bella Faccia on Alberta. (I also like Hot Lips, but I've only had a squash sauce brie slice and that certainly doesn't satisfy the NJ pizza craving.) It tastes like good NY/NJ pizza, not quite like the best you've ever had, but good enough! Bella Faccia, thank you for existing.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Naaaaaaahhh BloPoMo

After having novella-length posts written days ahead of time, I suddenly failed at NaBloPoMo.

On and off since I returned from New Jersey, I've been in a bit of a funk. Yesterday, I decided I wanted to focus on being positive - that even if there were reasons to be negative, it wasn't going to accomplish anything to dwell on them, so after a brief acknowledgement of them, I will endeavor to push aside the mass of minor annoyances piled on top of me, heavy as the layer of gray clouds currently suspended over the City of Portland, and focus on the good things. For example, although this time of year in Portland is damp and dark and it gets dark before 5PM but never truly gets light, at least I don't have to scrape ice off my car. When it snowed last week and I had to clean my car off two days in a row, it was kind of a novelty.

So anyway, the posting stopped because I was so darn cranky, and then it was Thanksgiving and I wasn't cranky, but I was busy, and then I was cranky again, and then it was December.

I'd like to start writing with some regularity, as I haven't yet run out of stories, but this month's theme, Zeitgeist, doesn't quite inspire me. So we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Didn't Realize There Were PRIZES

If I had known that there were prizes that only people who'd blogged daily were eligible for, I wouldn't have let this whole thing lapse a week ago.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thinksgiving from Planet Rock

Story coming later, when I get caught up on NaBloPoMo.

Uhhh...so I totally thought I hit "post" on this last week!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Flasher Incident of July 2009

Shortly after I arrived in Portland and a month before the incident I wrote about yesterday, I was rescued from loneliness by a friend from NJ visiting the city for the weekend, before traveling to Seattle. Like me, she was thinking of moving to the Northwest, even though she had a good job in NJ, just for a change. We met at the PDX Pop Now! festival and split up after Pierced Arrows played. She rode a rented bike back to her hostel and left me at a stop just east of the Hawthorne Bridge. A few other twenty-somethings waited for buses, too, so even though it was after 1AM, I didn't feel unsafe. Coming from the NYC metro area, it just didn't occur to me that public transportation in a major city wouldn't run all night. When the #14 bus came and all of the other twenty-somethings boarded it, I realized I'd be alone. But that's okay, because surely the #4 would come to get me soon. The sign on the bus stop said it was coming at 1:20!
I thought I observed the driver of the #14 bus give me a long, deliberate look, and open his mouth as if to speak, but say nothing before driving off. I decided I was imagining things; as a new person who felt out of place in the area, I just assumed I was doing things that attracted other people's attention, and it was all in my head.
Time passed. I stood alone at the bus stop, listening to Swan Lake (the indie rock band, nothing related to ballet) on my iPod. Just a block away, a police car sat idling, so I felt neither alone nor unsafe. 1:20 came and went, but I knew that buses tend to run late.
Without warning, the police car drove away. I turned to look at the sign on the bus stop, an alarming suspicion forming in my head. Did it say 1:20 AM or 1:20 PM? Furthermore, the sign told me that not all buses ran east of 122nd. Well, I didn't live too far past 122nd. I'd have to walk by myself in the middle of the night, but the road was well lit, and this is Portland! Portland is way safer, has a much lower crime rate than the state I come from. And I survived twenty-five years there!
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man appear on the street corner to my left. He stood under a street light, tall, thin, entirely clad in black. He looked a little odd, but to me he just seemed to look intentionally odd, like he spent a lot of time shopping at Hot Topic. He had long, stringy black hair, and reminded me of a cross between Professor Snape and Marilyn Manson. I thought nothing of him standing, for quite some time, at a street corner where there was nothing but a street light, no bus stop or anything that would give someone a reason to stand on a corner just before 2AM. Maybe he was contemplating the night sky, composing a poem in his head about the moon. Maybe he was waiting for a friend or for a cab. On that note, why weren't there cab phone numbers posted on the bus stop!?
I tried to read what was posted on the bus stop nonchalantly, to not make it too obvious that I wasn't sure if I had missed the last bus or not. After five or ten minutes had passed, I noticed something in the corner of my eye. Snape Manson was still there, and he had turned his face from the moon toward me. I glanced in his direction and saw he was looking straight at me, striving for eye contact I gave him for just a moment. In that moment I took in plenty - his wide eyes, smug expression, wildly waving tongue, and hand in his pants, which were unzipped; he kept his eyes locked on my face as he jerked off with gusto.
Before it occurred to me to be concerned for my own safety, I rolled my eyes. "Ugggghhh!" I said in my head. "No one cares about your junk, and now I have to take a cab! That is going to be so expensive! What an inconvenience!"
Something in the back of my mind did consider safety, and just as I dealt with the man who cornered me in Tuba City, I vowed to remain calm. I didn't give him a second glance. I turned on my platform heel and walked briskly, but not too quickly, and calmly toward the busy street where I'd seen cabs whizzing by for the last half an hour. (I now know that the street is called "Grand Ave.") I walked not so quickly that it would seem I was running away, and I made sure not to turn my head to look back. I listened carefully for footsteps behind me. When I reached Grand Ave, however, it was empty.
Many people, when I have told this story, have asked why I did not call the police. I will tell you why. My cell phone was dead. Yup, I went out by myself, late at night, without charging my phone. Let this be a lesson to you: that is a really stupid thing to do.
Across the street was a Burger King. The glowing of the lights inside seemed as bright as Heaven. It was open twenty-four hours! There was also a pay phone outside. I stopped by the pay phone to see if cab numbers were listed somewhere, or if there was a phone book or something. There was not. I didn't want to call the police, in case the man was nearby; I was dimly aware that he might react violently if he heard me call the police.
I walked up to the door of the 24-hour Burger King, thinking perhaps they'd give me refuge and a phone book with which to call a cab. Maybe I'd even buy some fries. But the door was locked. It was a 24-hour drive-thru. The drive-thru was behind the building, outside of the domain of street lights. It didn't seem wise to go behind the building, out of sight from the street, to such a dark place. There were no cars in the drive-thru.
I could see one employee inside of the Burger King, but his back was to me. I knocked on the door as loudly as I could; he didn't hear me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something yellow. A taxi!
I waved frantically to the driver, who was stopped at a red light just a few feet away. I started to run toward the car, and he rolled down his window and said, "I'll be right there when the light changes!" I stopped running and waited patiently.
Inside the cab, I gave my address but said no more. The cab went past the bus stop where I'd spent nearly an hour and also the street corner where The Flasher had stood. He was gone.
"You were...you were in kind of a dangerous place to be at this hour," the cab driver said in a voice that wasn't scolding or unfriendly, but a bit puzzled.
As if to emphasize his point, he quickly hit the power locks button just in time; a drunk man threw himself onto the windshield and passenger door of the car, slurring that he wanted a ride.
"The car is full!" shouted the driver, who had stopped at a red light. "Please go away! This car is full!"
I started to realize that here in the Northwest, it was okay to converse with cab drivers; it was not creepy as some people in the Northeast perceive it to be.
"Yeah, I didn't know that. I'm not from around here," I told him. I added quickly, "And right before you found me, some guy flashed me at the bus stop!"
He asked where I was from; I told him. He'd lived in New York City at one point, and we talked about the differences between the Northeast and the Northwest. He informed me that yes, the #4 bus and most buses stop running before 2AM; many stop running past 122nd Ave before then.
He dropped me off at my door and the total was over $20. Yikes! That is like 10 bus tickets.
After I thanked him, I found myself running to my front door. The reality of what had happened sunk in; that man could have been dangerous! Something really terrible could have happened to me! I stayed awake for hours, e-mailing friends about what I'd just escaped and lying in bed, imagining that Snape Manson faces were peeking in my window.
The following Monday, after some debate, I decided to tell this story in the lab at work. I decided that, for the high school interns, it would be a cautionary tale as much as it was an entertaining tale for the grown-up scientists.
The lesson that the interns took from it was not, as I hoped, not to leave the house late at night without a friend, a bus schedule, and a charged cell phone. It was, "When some creep bothers you, you should say, 'Get a life! No one cares about that thing!' You should handle it...LIKE A JERSEY GIRL."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bum and the Bus Driver Incident

The following is an e-mail I wrote to my co-worker in August 2009:

I am pretty sure I am going to move now. You are my witness. Remind me tomorrow to tell you about the crazy homeless guy on the bus and potentially equally crazy bus driver that I encountered this evening on my way to the co-op. I don't want to ride 127 blocks to the co-op anymore. I want to live with the hipsters in a nice, safe neighborhood.

One summer day shortly after I moved to Portland, I walked two blocks south to a bus stop I usually didn't stand at, to take a bus I usually didn't take. I vaguely remember some people who seemed kind of drunk wobbling over to the bus stop, and an older woman on a cell phone who talked at length about how she was riding to DeNicola's on Powell for All You Can Eat Pasta Night. She was really excited about the pasta. Unfortunately, no other details of that wait are clear and none appear in the e-mails (from which some of this story is drawn) I later wrote about this event.

The TriMet buses in Portland are the same as the buses that Rutgers used when I was a student there. So, when the bus arrived at my stop, I headed for a seat in the back where I knew there would be a "purse shelf." In the very back row, the two end seats are next to a non-seat area that is a good place to put a purse. Since it would be a long, 127-block bus ride, I planned to settle in with a magazine. I quickly learned, as I wrote that day, that the back of the bus is "where I now know the dregs of society sit and talk about their friends in jail, and I won't sit there anymore." A few seats away from me was a guy with scraggly hair and raggedy clothes, missing teeth and an unwashed look. He was rambling, talking to anyone who would listen. I have a face that says, "Crazy person, talk to me! I'm all ears!" so I buried that face out of sight in a magazine. Suddenly, the man broke off his ramble to stand up and yell to the bus river, "Hey, I want the next stop!"

The driver replied, "Okay."

The guy continued, yelling louder. "HEY MAN! I WANT THE NEXT STOP!"

"Yeah yeah, I heard you! I know!" was the response.

The bum started walking up the aisle of the bus, toward the exit door, and yelled, "Fucking idiot!"

An instant later, in such a short time that I question whether the bus driver was really sure that the bike lane was clear, the bus driver slammed on the brakes as he cut the wheel to the right. The bum and every other passenger on the bus lurched forward. My purse flew off of its shelf.

The bum tumbled forward up the aisle, landing temporarily on other passengers who let out a yelp of surprise, finally ending up, as the bus came to a stop, at the very front standing opposite the bus driver. The driver opened the door and said, "Get off the bus now."

The man began to talk back to him, but from where I was seated, I couldn't hear his words. This was mostly because they were drowned out by the jeers of some passengers saying, "Get off the bus!" "Hey man, get off the bus!" and "Hey asshole! Just get off the bus!"

The bus driver rose from his seat and stood in front of the bum, his stance threatening. They begin arguing, but their words were not clear to me over the sound of jeering passengers joined by my inner monologue screaming, "What is happening?"

It was perhaps at this point that the math did itself in my head, and I realized that I was riding a bus 127 blocks just to go to the grocery store.

Without warning, the bum spit extravagantly in the bus driver's face before turning and dashing out the door.

The bus driver ran out of the bus and chased after the bum.

The bum ran into the open door of a shop (I can't remembered what kind of shop it was, just that it said "Abierta 24 h" over the door). The bus driver turned and walked back onto the bus, but then I suppose he thought better of it, and turned around, walked back outside of the bus, and approached the shop. He started to bang on the shop door. The door (which was admittedly flimsy) started to bend inwards, like it was going to break.

Passengers on the bus started running to the right side windows like it was a show. Other passengers were glued to their seats with wide eyes. I heard one woman echo my own thoughts by saying loudly, "This is NOT happening."

A few men ran off of the bus as the door opened and the bum and bus driver faced each other. Some held onto the bus driver's arms. One man stood between the bus driver and the bum with his arms out and his hand on the bus driver's chest as though he was holding him back from attacking the bum.

Eventually, the bus driver and the passengers (except for the bum) all walked back toward the bus and reclaimed their seats. The driver shut the door and drove on as though nothing happened, stopping at the next stop, the one the bum had been so anxious to get to. It was less than a block away.

First Day in my Solo Home

This is going backwards from The Move West, I know, but sort of connected to this post.

I had help moving all of my things into the apartment by a friend, with whom I got into a terrible argument later that evening. It was pretty depressing, and not worth writing about...but I will note that we are friends now. For the first month or so in the apartment, when I would come home from work and feel overwhelmed by the loneliness of a strange, empty apartment, I would sometimes think that having my move-in day end with an argument had some large, deep meaning, like it had set the course for the rest of my time there.

But really, looking back, I think it was the day after move-in day that most symbolizes what I'd deal with at that apartment and what was wrong with it. After my friend-with-whom-I'd-argued went home, I returned to my new, strange home feeling lonesome and depressed. The previous day, before setting out to move things from my old apartment to the new, I'd used up most of the food from my fridge by having a big brunch at my friend's house with his housemates. It was a big group effort meal, like the kind I have all the time in Portland. Everyday breakfast was like a party. I remember thinking that this was what I wanted my life to be like. But I never had anything like that again until I moved to Portland.

As I unpacked and tried to find places for things, my apartment started looking chaotic. My landlord and landlady, who lived next door (although the two homes shared a yard, so it was really closer than "next door") left at some point to pick up visiting foreign guests from the airport. At some point, I stopped working, sat on my bed, and prepared to cry into my pillow.

"Sarah!" I heard. Since it was August and still hot outside, I'd left my living room windows open. The door to my bedroom was only open a crack, but still open; plus, my car was parked out front. With the window open, there was no way to hide that I was home.

"Sarah! Hey, Sarah!"

Whoever was yelling was ignoring my closed bedroom door and only focused on the fact that I was home.

I should also note that I had a doorbell, and it worked just fine.

Eventually, I got up and walked into my living room. "Yes?" I said to my open window. I walked to the front door and opened it.

It was one of my neighbors, one with whom the landlord and landlady were friendly. He had a big, sweet-natured dog with whom he'd walk up and down the street several times a day. The dog would always want to greet people, but whenever I'd respond and say, "Hi!!!!" and start petting my neighbor's dog, he'd pull the leash away and tell the dog something like, "Ok, that's enough!" or "Stop bothering everyone!"

Looking back, that was really weird!

Anyway, the neighbor ignored my tear-streaked face to announce his reason for calling on me. My landlord and landlady had left their glass door open, so that just the screen was closed, but if I was planning to go out at all, no one would be home to keep an eye on things and someone could just walk right in! He didn't have their cell phone number; did I?

Of course I did.

I prepared to give him the number.

"Oh no, no, no," he said. "I don't have my cell phone. How about you just call them and tell them their sliding door is open and ask if they want you to go close it?"

I tried to explain that they were at the airport and did not want to be bothered. Our neighbor insisted this was an emergency.

I believe I tried to hand him my cell phone, but he refused. So I complied and called the landlord at Newark Airport myself.

"What?" he asked.

"Um...I'm sorry to bother you...but [our neighbor] asked me to call and tell you that you left the sliding door open...so it's just the screen...do you want me to go close it?"

"We'll be home soon, but yeah, go ahead and close it. Thank you."

The neighbor thanked me as well.

Later, while unpacking, my mother called. I began to tell her tearfully about the argument that had left me lonely in my new apartment. I paced back and forth in my living room, back and forth before the window, visible and visibly on the phone. Regardless, a knock came at my door.

I opened it to my landlord, landlady, and a group of people who looked exhausted from jet lag.

"Hi!" I said, quizzical but also friendly.

"Oh, you're on the phone!" said my landlord.

"Yes, I am," I said, beginning to close the door.

My landlord stopped me. "Our guests are curious to see the inside of the apartment."

"Oh, I replied. "Well, I haven't finished unpacking, so it's really messy." I tried to shut the door.

"That's okay!" said the landlord. "They'll understand!" He pushed past me; the group followed. I tried to resume my phone call, while loud chatter among my new guests and my guests' guests broke out. In the middle of this, I tried explaining that I was in the middle of unpacking and oh! Please don't step on that!

My mother said loudly that she'd call me back.

Eventually, the landlord, landlady, and group of foreign guests filed out of my bathroom, out of my bedroom, through my living room, and out of the door, out of my apartment at last.

I believe I remained undisturbed as I spent the rest of the day unpacking and laying out my work clothes, eventually falling asleep but waking up now and then to the sound of leaves crunching outside my window, which I instinctively thought was mice scuffling around the apartment. I'd awake, remind myself that I was no longer in a Mouse House, and try to fall back asleep.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No San Francisco

The planned road trip to San Francisco has been canceled due to weather. It was almost canceled due to tiredness, about a week ago. It was un-canceled due to weather - when I looked at the forecast and saw sun, sun, sun, and seventy-two degrees.

Then I checked the weather in the places we'd travel through with high elevation...and there was a chance of snow. Soon, it grew close enough to the weekend for me to get the forecast in San Francisco. Rain. So, we'd leave in the cold rain, drive through rain and then snow, only to arrive in rain. Better off staying in the rain.

"Maybe we can go someplace else!" I said. "We still have four days off! Maybe we can go east, toward the sun!"

"Where is that?"

"I don't really know..." I replied.

Even Google Maps couldn't help me.

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Note that the icon for my Google Maps tab is the Yahoo! icon. Something weird is going on with my Internet connection and Linux - it keeps connecting me to the wrong domain. Once I clear the cache and reload Google Maps on a different connection (like at work), that little Y! will go away. But still, weird.

You may know that I consider Google the technological equivalent of The Man Who Can Do No Wrong. If you had to pledge yourself for life to a search engine, I would choose to wed dear, beloved Google.

Um...anyway. But even Google can't find the sun for me here in rainy, dreary Portland, which is also unusually cold right now.

I'm amused that it offered Pine State Biscuits as a solution. What a good idea! Thanks, Google!

The Move West, Day 7: Independence Day

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My first full day living in Portland was July 4, 2009. I've often thought that it was appropriate that it was Independence Day.

Meg and I began the day with a few errands such as going to Panera (the only free wi-fi place we knew of) to check our e-mail and get breakfast, going to what I now know is North Portland to pick up her rental car. When that adventure was over, we drove downtown (after learning it would take 70 minutes, minimum, for us to take a bus downtown) and went to the Portland Saturday Market. The market is pretty popular. It's on the waterfront and includes lots of food carts and vendors selling all kinds of things, but mostly locally-made crafts. I bought a pair of earrings that had dangling circular cutouts of photos taken in the Pacific Northwest, of things like ferns and crabapples and raindrops.

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We got lunch from the food cart of Horn of Africa, an East African restaurant on MLK, which I now drive past almost daily but have never been to! Meg and I both liked going to an Ethiopian place in Portland; I think if I had realized how common Ethiopian, Somali, and Eritrean food is in this part of the country, I would have been really excited with my choice of city. We ate our sambusas on a bench facing the Willamette river, where we were no doubt confronted by panhandlers.

Afterwards, we walked to Powell's City of Books, the largest new and used independent bookstore in America. I looked for a Streetwise map of the city, but it was months before I got to a Powell's that hadn't just sold out of them. I don't remember what I bought, but I know it was something. I have never walked into a Powell's and walked out empty-handed. Never.

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We walked back to the car, eventually, and drove to Washington Park. We explored Hoyt Arboretum and the rose garden with its views of the city and Mount Hood. Washington Park was one of the few stops I visited during my short time in Portland on my 2008 road trip, so I think of it as one of the places where I fell in love with this city. For a long time, I could not go back to the rose garden or to Hoyt Arboretum without feeling nostalgic, without thinking of the trip, of how happy I'd been in NJ before I went on the trip in June 2008, and how unhappy I was when I returned to find that everything in my life was changing. I'd think of how I'd look up pictures of the arboretum and the garden on Google Images whenever I was sad, homesick for a place that was not yet my home. It was a place for past was, for me, as equally present as the present. It was like walking through a series of double-exposed photographs.

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In 2008, my traveling companion and I had been too cheap to go to the Portland Japanese Garden. This time, in 2009, Meg wanted to go, so we did. I was glad I spent the $8.50 (the price at the time - it's gone up) to go. All of the photographs in this post came from that garden and that visit. (Admittedly, some of them are blurry.) I've been back several times and plan to get a membership to that garden, now that I qualify for the student rate. After the Japanese Garden, I don't remember what we did, except that we had dinner at the Kennedy School. For non-Portlanders, it's a McMenamin's restaurant. The McMenamin's restaurants are all in buildings that used to be something other than a restaurant, such as an elementary school, a movie theater, or a train station. There are many in the Portland area, and some in other parts of Oregon. (I went to one in Roseburg, which is very far south.) The Kennedy School is probably one of the more popular McMenamin's locations.

With my friend, I explored my new home city. But soon it was the next day, time for her to set out on her own road trip that would eventually lead her back home to NJ. When I woke up on July 5, 2009, I realized that I was home and in a city I loved, but I was alone.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Snow Tired

My artist friend and I plan to make a quick road trip to San Francisco this weekend, where the sun is currently shining much more than it is here in Portland. She also has a show opening that weekend, and I would promote it on this blog if I knew more about it (hint hint) so if I get the information from her, I'll write about it. Our trip has been halfway planned for quite some time, with the one detail that's existed all along - we won't know until Wednesday night if we're going.

Unlike where I grew up, the mountains here get to be taller than 2,000 feet, so the weather in the mountains can be even more dramatically different than weather nearby (as the crow flies) in the valleys. It almost never snows in Portland. Snow that sticks falls upon the city maybe once a year. But the mountains are a different story; as early as October, some of the mountain passes can be impassable. When I visited Crater Lake in mid-June, the hiking trails were covered in snow and so was half of the road around the lake. At this time of year, without snow chains, travel around the mountains is restricted to the interstates (or "freeways" as they say out here), I-5 and I-84. From the Willamette Valley, to get to a destination directly east, the Cascades get in the way. This isn't a problem in the summer, but in the winter, it means driving all the way to Portland, taking I-84 through the mountains, and then heading south on some other road, once you've safely arrived in the desert.

Where I-5 takes us, in and around Portland, snow is not an issue. But to the south are Ashland, in Southern Oregon, and the Mount Shasta area in Northern California, where I hear the mountains get pretty tall. So, while it could be 50 degrees and cloudy in Portland, and 60 degrees in sunny at our San Francisco destination, there might be a snowstorm in between.

Or even light snow. But light snow that isn't a problem in New Jersey makes the roads in Oregon dangerous, because they don't use salt here. And I don't have snow tires. If we encounter snow on our way, we will have to stop (and thanks to a friend's boyfriend, I know just where to stop) and buy chains. They're not cheap and I have been putting off doing this since last year, planning to just not drive during Portland's annual snowstorm. But perhaps my time has come.

My parents have brought up the snow tires. Perhaps that deserves capitalization - The Snow Tires. When I was in college driving 65 miles to and from campus and hometown at least once a week, my parents were militant about my car being dressed for the weather; snow tires must be part of its outfit from the beginning of the legal period (November 15th) until the end (April 15th.) One year, they even took my car to the tire place on a Monday morning, at 6am when it opened and while I was asleep, and since it wasn't done in time, I had to miss a Monday afternoon class. (I was mad, but I got an A in the class and I survived.) And then in April, the hassle and the drama and the arguing started up again - when was Sarah going to come home on a weekday so she could get the tires off her car?

I wasn't the only one of my friends with snow tires, but I always had them before everyone else. They were loud. Not only could you hear them crunchcrunching along while riding in the car, but you could also hear my car coming before you could see it, rolling down George Street and around parked EE's with a loud crunchcrunch crunchcrunch crunch crunch CRUNCH.

One early December Sunday, a bunch of us girls gathered to carpool to the Princeton area to go to a ballet, The Nutcracker, where our friend was Clara. I was driving with my roommate, JS, to another part of town where we'd meet a couple of other girls who would ride in my car. We stopped at the student center to pick them up, and also because I wanted to use the restroom. JS said, "But you just went before we left home! How could you possibly have to use the restroom again?"

As we drove up the street toward the parking lot, which was in back of the student center, we saw two (probably drunk) guys, college-aged, on their porch, jumping up and down and yelling at cars. They had messy hair and were wearing (non-matching) big baggy Rutgers football T-shirts. (As a student, it was easy to get a lot of free, oversized T-shirts.) It was unseasonably warm that winter, so it wasn't too strange that they were wearing T-shirts outdoors in December. With our windows closed, we couldn't hear what they were yelling, but as we rounded the corner toward the parking lot entrance (and their house), it became clear, as JS announced, that they were yelling at our car.

"What do they want?" I muttered, feeling mildly harassed.

When we parked the car and opened the doors, their message became clear, and it was not what we expected.

"Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!" they shouted.

We tried to ignore them. I blushed; my escape delayed as I sat on the hood of my car so that I could more easily change my shoes in the parking lot. (I have no idea why I was changing my shoes. I remember I was putting on a pair of silver flats, but I have no idea why I wasn't wearing the flats all along.)

"Hey! you!" they called out to us. I did not answer. "Hey, you! With the shoes! HEY SNOW TIRES!" they shouted.

I kept my head down and shoulders hunched and tried to move as quickly as possible toward the doors of the student center.

"HEY! You with the shoes! YOU HAVE SNOW TIRES ON YOUR CAR!"

Safely inside the student center (and having visited the restroom), I calmly spoke of this with JS and shared the recent events with our waiting friends. Soon, we could stall no longer; we had to return to the car and to the shouting men. We prepared ourselves for an onslaught.

And yet...

When we returned to the parking lot, we saw the men shouting at a different passing car. When their eyes alighted upon us, their demeanor altered slightly. Their excitement grew, expanded, its boundaries exceeding the limits of its former space and crossing the borders of the realm of joy. Happily, one man shouted, "LOOK! It's SNOW TIRES!"

And it began again. "Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!"

Their shouts followed us to the car.

"Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!"

They continued as we sat down in the car. We rolled down the windows.

"SNOW TIRES! Don't go!" they yelled. But we had a ballet to get to. I started to drive; all three of us rolled down our windows.

As we approached the house, the men began waving at us and jumping up and down. We waved out the window and shouted and cheered back at them. As I turned my car onto a different street, leading me toward Route 18 and away from my admirers, one man lifted up his T-shirt and called, "SNOW TIRES, I LOVE YOU!"

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reading Jane Austen While Driving

I used to not care for audio books. First of all, I have trouble remembering things that I hear. I don't retain details as well when I hear as when I read, write, or commit some kind of action. I think the proper term for it is that I am a kinesthetic learner, someone who "learns by doing" as opposed to seeing or hearing. Too bad I couldn't learn-by-doing cartwheels.

Sometimes, audio books stressed me out. Trying to focus on them while driving, when some kind of dramatic or upsetting scene was occurring, made me doubly anxious. The stress of the incident in the book compounded with driving + the stress of not retaining details and trying to follow just what stressful incident was exactly taking place.

But then my mother brought up the idea of listening to books while knitting. I have a lot of knitting and other stitchery crafts to complete as gifts for people. This sounded extremely relaxing as well as useful.

On the plane, I finished knitting a Christmas present. While I worked, I listening to music and thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could listen to my book club book right now, too?" Then I remembered Librivox. At this website, you can get free audio files of books in the public domain read by volunteers. What a wonderful idea!

So I downloaded Persuasion, the book I've been intending to read for awhile and now have to for book club. I loaded it onto my iPod and tried once again to read while driving; I put on Chapter 10 on my way to work.

"This is a Librivox recording," said a calm, even voice, a woman who sounded like a young adult with a nonspecific American accent. She continued, "All Librivox recordings are in the public domain." She then stated her name, Michelle Crandall, followed by the date of the recording and her location -- California. And then she began to read. Chapter 10 brought me to work, and it was delightful.

I had begun Chapter 10 on the plane back to Oregon, so some of what Michelle read to me was familiar. Some stood out more upon hearing than it had upon reading:

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

The walk in question takes place in November; my pleasure in my drive to work was to look at the tawny leaves and withered ... whatever Portland has in the way of hedges ... while hearing such lovely lines. Last week, someone told me, "Reading Jane Austen is good for the soul," and I agree. So is listening.

Chapter 10 ended, and on my way home from work, Chapter 11 began, but Michelle Crandall was not reading it to me! It was a new reader, someone whose accent sounded faintly like its origin was near my own. And when she introduced herself, she did not say where she was from! I almost missed Michelle Crandall. But Chapter 12 had a new reader, another with an unrecognizable American-sounding accent, who announced her location as China. The volunteers change throughout the book; I'm starting to like hearing where they're from and listening to the different accents. Some have British accents, which is a good way to hear Jane Austen. Although one announced her location as Waco, Texas, and I spent the entire chapter wondering if her British accent was fake.

I'm still missing pieces of the plot; I'll have to actually read the chapters in my book, although it will go much faster having "read" it already. I can't keep the characters straight, all the Captains - Harville, Benwick, Wentworth, and have I left any out? In the beginning of the novel, before I started listening to it, there are not one, not two, but three characters named Charles. Charles Musgrove, Charles Hayter, and Charles Musgrove Jr. What the hell, Jane Austen?

But I can forgive her. The very things that some readers might find maddening about Jane Austen, I've grown to love. One could argue that (like in reality TV shows) nothing really happens in her books. From what I can tell, the high dramatic point in the first 14 chapters of Persuasion is a girl falling down a hill. Nothing happens in Jane Austen's books that does not happen in normal, everyday life. It's her skill in noticing and presenting the details of everyday life that makes Jane Austen "good for the soul." It's piercing, maddening, sad, and funny. No character is left out from her critical perception -- she reveals all of their flaws, and yet in the same breath, forgives them. Her characters are flawed, but not villains.

She takes many words to get that point across. Under what seems like a lot of words describing nothing happening is what I consider a subtle humor, and it's not lost upon hearing instead of reading, even if I'm not always sure which character is speaking and how he or she relates to the heroine, Anne Elliott. Take this passage for example:

When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back, and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, - a glance of brightness, whcih seemed to say, "That man is struck with you, - and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliott again."

That's a lot of words to say...this is my modern English translation:

Some guy checked out Anne. She was looking pretty hot that day. Her ex noticed.

Perhaps the best lines, however, are the way Anne Elliott's father describes ugly people. Jane Austen and her characters use such elegant language to say such awful things, especially Sir Walter Elliott, who thinks he is one of the few attractive people left "amidst the wreck of the good looks of everybody else." What a great phrase! I want to start using that - "the wreck of good looks."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Complements and Condiments

Last night, a friend of MBF's and mine--one of the two friends at whose engagement party we first started talking--spoke of our relationship. "You guys complement each other in interesting ways," he said. (I was in a different room at the time.

Later, when told about this conversation, I said, "What does that mean!? What kind of interesting!?" But after thinking back on the evening we'd spent together, MBF and me and some of our friends, the answer to my question was obvious.

First, before we went to the bar, while the group of us sat around our friends' new house and talked about what's been going on, MBF had to spend a considerable amount of time directing my removal of something from my teeth. There is always something in my teeth. I am always That Girl.

Later, at the bar, I was doing nothing but sitting perfectly still and drinking a beer. ONE beer that I had not finished. When the events that followed took place, I was in no way intoxicated. I was just Sarah.

Everyone around me was doing multiple tasks, which can perhaps understandably get complicated. Everyone around me was eating and drinking. And talking, too! The people eating were sharing different appetizers, passing them back and forth across the table -- all that movement and coordination! Whereas I was sitting perfectly still, save my own arm moving only to raise and set down my beer glass. And yet somehow I managed to knock my purse onto the floor, a knit purse with a fancy flap but no actual closure. It rolled like a plush softball, threatening to spill my wallet and chapstick onto the floor. It rolled under the table just out of my reach. I reached with my feet to try to push it back toward me, but it just flopped its flap and teetered back and forth without actually decreasing the distance between us. So I lowered myself down so that I could reach it with my arms, bending my head, too so that I could see under the table.

As my head lowered to a position about an inch above the table, something was not quite right. Something I could not exactly perceive, yet felt was amiss, yet I was resolute that I would remain in that position until my wayward purse would return.

"Sarah! Sarah!" cried MBF.

"What?" I asked, still reaching for the purse.

At first he could not speak, just laugh.

I continued my struggle to regain my purse.

"Sarah, you...you have...you just put your hair in blue cheese!"

It was true. When I bent down to retrieve my purse, I had stuck one side of my head directly into the cup of blue cheese sauce that had come with MBF's hot wings.

I snatched the handle of my purse, checked to make sure that it still contained everything I'd left the house with, and sat up. MBF was waiting with a napkin; when I had fully emerged from under the table, he removed the offending condiment.

So, last night I put my head in a container of blue cheese. If not for MBF, I would have walked around all night with blue cheese in my hair.

I think this explains our friend's reflection. We complement each other in interesting ways. Like blue cheese dressing and my hair, which despite being a fraction of the size in my masthead photograph since I got a pixie cut, is still big enough to get food in.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Random Cell Phone Photos from the Spring


Look at this flower arrangement I did! It's in a teacup! Those flowers are from the yard at my last apartment. I grew everything except the purple-leaved sand cherry and the white lily-looking thing. Those were there when I got there. They eventually got weed-whacked (I assume by accident.)
I saw this at Powell's! I wrote my senior thesis on J.D. Salinger! My favorite character is Buddy.
I got a green egg AND a goose egg at the People's Co-Op Farmers's Market. I think the green egg is from the farm I started habitually buying eggs from. Because they don't wash them, so you don't have to refrigerate them. You can store them on the counter or on a shelf or in a cabinet for six weeks!
Look at all this stuff I got! Radishes, which I was obsessed with at the time. Kiwis! You can grow kiwis in Oregon! Green garlic! Kale! Blueberry havarti and fresh turmeric (grown in Hawaii, not Oregon) from inside the store!
I took a close-up of the kiwis! OMG kiwis! I don't know why I did that.

I miss that green garlic.

This post was brought to you by I Am Tired With Jet Lag But NaBloPoMo Will Not Defeat Me That Easily.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Last Long-Term Home - The Mouse House

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This would be #0 on the list in my previous post. It was a one bedroom apartment I shared with two other people. We used a living room and another room (probably a dining room) as the other two bedrooms, so that our only common rooms were the hallways, the bathroom, a very small kitchen, and the extra room. The extra room was a tiny room with a window and a light switch, but no electrical outlets. During my time at the apartment, the extra room was a sitting room, then a storage closet (sometimes stuffed to the brim, and we'd put a bookshelf in front of the door so that guests wouldn't accidentally try to go into that embarrassing room), and at the end, a guest room with a mattress on the floor and a surge protector connected to an extension cord that went through the window, passed from the neighboring bedroom. Despite the apartment's small size and faulty upkeep, it was an attractive home. People who came over complimented us, saying, "This is a nice place!" It was attractive, and I have no doubt it was due to the decorating skills and wise usage of tiny space of us three housemates.

I loved living there. It was conveniently located no more than a fifteen minute walk to my classes and a five minute walk to work (until I got a second job thirty-five miles away.) My housemates and I became friends. We shared things in the house without taking advantage of anyone's generosity. We were all fairly clean, only messy when we were particularly busy. Usually, someone who wasn't busy would pick up the slack, because we all knew that when we didn't have time, another roommate would in turn help us out. When any of us were sick, we would take care of each other. I can recall my roommates bringing me tea in bed. We'd buy each other medicine. We'd make soup. At the beginning of cold season, we'd buy cloves of garlic and on nights when at least two of us were home, we'd roast the garlic in the toaster oven and share the whole head with pieces of bread. Once, we had a guest witness this; I'm not sure if he or she was awed, moved, or disgusted. We also drank lots of tea, all year long, often together.

I had a routine that I liked. I had class and work for about twelve hours, Monday through Wednesday, and on Thursday and Friday I sometimes worked one or two periods, but mostly I used the long weekend to study or catch up on things. (Now I'd use those weekends to go camping or something.) The second half of my time there, I worked at what would become my full-time job on Thursdays and Fridays, but since I was done with classes for the week, my weekend still, in a sense, began on Wednesday.

What I remember most about that routine was Wednesday Night Dinners. It was way to pick us up in the middle of the week. Two friends were regular attendees, with one of my roommates making frequent appearances, and my other roommate joining us at the end of the night. Other friends would make occasional guest appearances. It worked out that we were all women who were either working as scientists or studying science in school. (I think we were all biologists, too, now that I think of it.) (Except the roommate who'd join us at the end of the night. He was neither a woman nor a scientist.) Wednesday Night Dinner was social, relaxing, delicious, and wonderful. It was a way to test out recipes we'd been meaning to try and to use up stuff we'd made too much of. There were three courses - aperitif, dinner, and dessert. Someone (usually it would be me) would send out an e-mail on Sunday or Monday to everyone invited, asking who would host and who would bring what for which course. The idea was that, since there were three of us, we'd each supply one of the three courses. (If there were more people coming, then we'd have soup and salad as a course, too.) Since we liked to cook - I can't speak for the other guests, but for me, cooking and trying new recipes was (and still is) a way to relieve stress - Wednesday Night Dinner evolved into all three of us bringing a contribution for each of the three courses. We ate too much and stayed too late, usually not leaving the hostess's home until midnight.

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A Wednesday Night Dinner favorite - fig and goat cheese tart.

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Homemade pizza at a Wednesday Night Dinner. The blue goblet is usually where I'd have my kir (made with creme de cassis from my grandmere) and whatever the evening's wine was. There's also a good chance that the adorable teacup in the upper right corner was being used to house wine.

There were plenty of things wrong with that home, however. It was tiny, as I've mentioned. It was old, I think built in 1920. Its quirks, especially the bad ones, appeared over time. First of all, the faucets were backwards. The kitchen sink ran hot when the faucet was turned to cold, and vice versa. The shower was the same way, and this meant that we only got good water pressure for cold showers, not for hot. Since I took cold showers in the summertime (and both summers I lived there, without air conditioning, were unseasonably hot), I didn't mind. The bathroom sink, for whatever reason, was normal.

When I moved in, our back porch, a fire escape made out of very old wood that looked like it would be the first thing to burst into flames, was completely covered with stuff. The housemate who'd lived there the longest told me that it was there when he moved in and probably his roommate before. It looked like someone had left all their junk out there before moving out and never came to claim it. The cabinets, too, were full of all kinds of junk that a former tenant or the landlord had left behind. I remember lots of paint cans, some empty and some not, and some cans of insecticide. There was broken glass. There were plates and other dishes that we either turned into planters or washed off, disinfecting with hot vinegar, and used. (I can think of at least one of my readers who was given cookies on a gentian plate. Those came from the back porch. They were too pretty to throw away. Don't worry, we really cleaned them.) I remember there was also a pair of men's shorts mixed in with all the junk. I made it my project to clear off that porch, put folding chairs on it, and turn it into a "beer-drinking porch."

A lot of the junk ended up in the shed, which was a barn-like structure in our backyard. When one of our downstairs neighbors tried to clean it out, he found women's clothing including bras and underwear, a food smoker, several grills, and a freshmen seminar textbook from the 1980's.

Our utilities only came to about $8/month, sometimes as much as $30, for each of us. I have no idea how that was possible. We didn't have cable because none of us wanted it. We shared Internet with the people downstairs; all six of us paid about $5/month. I never paid for at least half of the year, because the person who was supposed to collect the money didn't do so aggressively, and also because there was (and still is) a huge paint mark on the back of my car that happens to match the paint on his car.

Which brings me to another quirk - the driveway. It was kind of funnel-shaped. The entrance was wide enough for one car, and the back was wide enough for three cars. Our leases said something about only three cars in the driveway at all times, but the landlord said he didn't care what the six of us worked out. Five of us had cars, so two of us would park at an angle on the wide part of the funnel. It's probably hard to picture, but really not that interesting, so I'll move on. I'll just say that it was sometimes hard to back out of the corner spot, and that's why we all had each other's paint on our cars; at some point or another, I think all of us grazed someone's car.

Another reason our bills were so low was probably because we waited as long as humanly possible to turn the heat on in the winter. We would huddle together in the kitchen, drinking tea, while wearing two shirts, our coats, hats, and gloves in the house, before we'd turn the heat on. We baked a lot. We timed our baking so that it was a convenient time for the oven to warm up the house and kick the heat off; no heat would be lost that way.

But the day came when no more baking would happen in the house.

The biggest problem that the apartment developed was mice. The mouse infestation of that apartment could turn into several stories. To be brief, no measures we took would stop the mice. First, we removed all unsealed food items from short furniture. No more fruit basket on the table. No more bread on the counter. Then, the mice learned how to climb up the refrigerator. No more bread or fruit basket on top of the refrigerator; no more food basket, period. We had one built-in cabinet with glass doors which we believed was safe from the mice. At 2AM one December morning, while I was a little loopy from working on a final paper, I heard a noise. I saw a mouse walking on the shelf under the cabinet, and I tried to chase it into a trash can so I could set it free outside. The mouse disappeared. I saw movement behind the glass door. No! I thought. I opened the cabinet and the mouse disappeared behind a bag of flour, reappeared on the shelf under the cabinet, and dashed onto the floor, running out of sight.

The mice had climbed up on our boxes of tea (which, if they weren't made of metal, had been chewed and had to be thrown out) and gnawed a hole in the bottom of the cabinet. They had chewed completely through and were able to eat anything we had on the bottom shelf, things in paper and plastic bags we hadn't bothered to secure. Since it was bulk items we didn't frequently use, we had no reason to take notice. I might have actually cried when I saw this.

I threw out everything that seemed unsafe on that shelf, disinfected it, and covered the hole with metal tea tins. I moved all of our glass jars or metal containers onto that bottom shelf, storing anything that wasn't mouse-proof on the higher shelves.

The mice continued to live on food crumbs that missed being swept up. The mice found a way to get through the back the oven and make a home in it. We had been storing baked goods in the oven. We stopped. We cleaned the oven whenever we wanted to use it, but usually we were too grossed out by the thought of mice pooping in the oven to put food in it. We scaled our baking down to what would fit in the toaster oven - small cakes, small bread, and small batches of cookies.

In the second half of our time in the apartment, one roommate noticed that his sweatshirts, which were kept on stackable cubes and not in a sealed dresser, had strange holes in it. Shortly after, I turned the dial on our gas stove to light it and make dinner. I saw sparks, and then the flame went out. After shutting off the gas, I carefully lifted the stovetop to see what was wrong.

Under one of the burners in the stove was fluff. A nest of sweatshirt fluff and mattress stuffing (which we later learned came from my other roommate's mattress) built by mice under the burner on the gas stove.

No longer able to eat our food, they had moved on to our clothing and bedding. The next step was for them to eat us.

Fortunately, it never came to that. We did worry about hantavirus (perhaps unnecessarily) and any other disease mice might carry. We disinfected the counters several times a day, but still refrained from putting food directly on the counters. There was plenty of evidence that mice were climbing onto them.

The landlord's reaction is so frustrating, I don't even want to write about it right now.

In the last third or so of our time in the apartment, the fridge started to leak. Water pooled in the crisper drawers. Sometimes it even got onto the shelves. By summertime, we couldn't keep fresh greens in the refrigerator. They would just wilt. Any salad I wanted to eat had to be kept at work.

In July, a plumber started visiting us. The downstairs neighbors called our landlord because every time one of us took a shower, water leaked into their apartment, flooding the bathroom. The plumber, who I think was the same man that came to our house with the title of "exterminator," came many times but to my knowledge, never fixed the problem. Around the same time, the tiles started to come off the kitchen floor. Water leaking from the refrigerator was collecting on the kitchen floor, destroying the tiles and the wood.

During my last month at the apartment, I tried to cook dinner on the stove one night. When I turned the dial to lower the flame, nothing happened. When I tried to shut off the gas, nothing happened. Something in the stove had gotten stuck so that the highest flame was burning and would not stop. When I called the landlord, he sent a repairman. The plumber/exterminator arrived.

Our home was clearly no longer a home. Additionally, my beloved roommates and I were going separate ways in life. One moved in with a significant other. One moved to New York for work. I moved closer to my job, too. I knew that I couldn't live forty-five minutes from my office in a mouse-infested place with a stove that might burn the house down, a fire escape that was made of kindling, and a floor that was rotting so that one day, the leaky refrigerator in which no salads could be stored might fall through the floor and crush the downstairs neighbors. It didn't make me any less sad to leave.

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Sometimes, we had a lot of produce for the entrepreneurial mouse.

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It was here that I learned to make real mayonnaise - which is where the spoon stands up in the middle of the bowl unsupported by anything but the strength of the mayonnaise.

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This was actually a Sunday afternoon, but this spread would not have been out of place at a Wednesday Night Dinner. The centerpiece was made with weeds wildflowers collected in our yard.