Monday, March 28, 2011

Back from Bend

Although we spent more time in deserted desert towns than in Bend itself.

Stories will come soon, and pictures. I tried my film camera again, so I hope you don't mind illustrations while I wait for the film to get developed. We saw all three of the John Day Fossil Beds (Painted Hills, Sheep Rock, and Clarno), we camped at a remote spot on the John Day River (I didn't know about BLM campsites before - they are no-frills, but really nice and super cheap), we stayed at a Days Inn in Bend adding a further chapter to my travel book Days Inns Of America, we drank Lone Pine coffee, we went to Jack in the Box, we hiked to the top of Multnomah Falls (which is certainly not in the desert, but it was on our way home), we almost ran out of water in the desert (luckily you're never that far from a Safeway), we got rained on, we got snowed on, and we even got some sun.

We didn't even cross the Willamette. We ended up taking an eastern-north-south route both ways because of snowstorms in the Cascades. It's still kind of a novelty to me that we have to plan around that; that where you can travel with no trouble in the summer, you might run into closed roads and crazy weather in the winter, and also in some places, "summer" just means "July" and winter begins in August.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Break

I've drafted several posts this weekend, and I think I'm just going to revive some things from my Drafts folder instead. I've tried writing about my current hair-related woes, why I'm not writing more on Japan and other current events, and how much I'm enjoying my first two homework-free days of Spring Break by cleaning my apartment, beginning new projects that mess up my apartment, and re-cleaning my apartment, with a constant soundtrack of NPR news and podcasts of shows I missed during the week (which I put on when the live stream switches to "Car Talk" or "Think Out Loud." For those of you not in the Portland area, I'll have to explain "Think Out Loud" to you someday, and why I do not like it.

Rather than default to my old standby, pictures of food or other things on my kitchen table, I'll finish up some old stories.

I just can't help myself -- a picture of beets

Sad times indeed

At dinner with my boyfriend this evening, I mentioned something about Roy Rogers and how I wished it was still around, with its curly fries and fried chicken and--

"Uh...Roy Rogers? Don't you mean Kenny Rogers?" came the interruption.

I chuckled. "Kenny Rogers is a person. I mean, so was Roy Rogers, but Roy Rogers is the person and restaur--"

"No, Kenny Rogers is a person and a restaurant. Kenny Rogers Roasters." It was explained to me that Kenny Rogers Roasters sold a lot of chicken. I tried to explain that Roy Rogers also sold chicken, and realized that we were both right. Being from different parts of the country, we grew up with different fast food chains.

I began to wax poetic on the subject of Roy Rogers, how as a food-loving child I loved Roy Rogers because it was a fast food place with regular hamburger fare and fried chicken, delicious fried chicken that tasted even better cold the next day. That fried chicken was the food of road trips for me; in my memory, I-95 between NJ and Disney World was lined with Roy Rogers, and that was where my family would go, snubbing Burger King and McDonald's for its more diverse fixin's bar. That was how I learned about the cold fried chicken; leftovers would go in a cooler or a hotel room minifridge, and were enjoyed for breakfast the next day, if we didn't find a Shoney's to stop at.

I then explained how at some point during my childhood, all of the Roy Rogers in New Jersey began turning into Wendy's, all at once it seemed. Even the ones on the Turnpike were beginning to turn into Burger King or Sbarro.

As usual, the debate was solved by Wikipedia. Roy Rogers only existed in the Northeast (which means that my childhood memory of Roy Rogers all along the East Coast was a bit fictional). But Roy Rogers is not gone; it even exists in New Jersey. I wonder where.

We also learned that the Kenny Rogers fast food place was more common in my boyfriend's part of the country than mine, and pretty much has ceased to exist in America, but is pretty popular in Asia, mostly the Philippines.

During the debate, before it was resolved that both Rogers restaurants were real, I said, "Don't you remember that story I always tell about Roy Rogers?"

When I was in third grade or so, the job my dad had for my whole childhood (or at least the part that I remembered) ended, and one Saturday, he drove with my mother and myself in the car to go back to the office for something, probably to clean out his desk or pick up his last paycheck. He left my mother and me in the parking deck.

Though we lived at the time in rural New Jersey (a place that some of my readers probably think I invented), my father worked in a normal suburban part of the state that had strip malls, good Italian food, and lots of highways -- the stuff most people picture when they think of New Jersey (or at least, pre-Jersey Shore.) What it also had was familiar chains of fast food restaurants and grocery stores, and so my parents would go there for a lot of shopping until they learned where to find things close to our house, and I associated this part of the world, specifically Daddy's office and Daddy's office parking deck, with getting to eat my favorite fast food things. My town had a Burger King, a neighboring town had McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, but no place closer than Daddy's office had Roy Rogers. So I, having little idea what was going on in Daddy's office, asked my mother, as we waited in the parking deck, "When Daddy gets back, can we go to Roy Rogers for lunch?"

My mother turned to me, her eyes large and serious, and she said to me in a sorrowful, heavy voice, "Sarah, it's going to be a long time before we can afford to go to Roy Rogers."

I didn't argue. I said nothing; I believe I merely nodded. I don't know if it was her tone of voice, but I thought I understood, and I was willing to sacrifice Roy Rogers for the good of our family.

They were, I believed, sad times indeed.

Recently, during my college years, I reminded my mother of this incident.

"What!?" she nearly squawked. "We could afford Roy Rogers! I don't know why I said that!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's happening!

It is finals week.

It was a peaceful morning, the kind that has me taking pictures of moss on the sidewalk on my walk.

Shortly after I got home, however, I heard bagpipes.

From March 2011

I left the album link, this time, if you care to see all of the parade pictures I took (from the safety of my apartment) and other pictures from my walks.

Apparently, I live on a parade route! This parade involved bagpipes and a small marching band, but there was also an awful lot of people walking dogs, only two of which were Irish wolfhounds (and no Irish setters, as far as I could tell), wearing dog sweaters and dog raincoats, only a few of which were green. So the parade was mostly people in the neighborhood walking their dogs en masse.

I think those people on the sidewalk just went to get a coffee and found themselves in the parade.

Toward the end of the parade, this happened.

More parade followed, so I am still not sure if that was part of the parade or if a Pepsi Max delivery truck accidentally found itself in the parade.

Twenty minutes later, all was back to normal. Calm was restored to my morning.

Like moss on a sidewalk. (I liked the way the red leaves looked on the green moss in the rain.)

And finally, in case you didn't see my last post,

It's spring!!!!

(Oh, before I end, we're not going to Wallowa Lake/Hells Canyon anymore, not until summer or sometime when the roads are all open. We are going to the desert closer to Portland, like Bend and the Painted Hills and whatever else is within driving distance. Any suggestions, such as what to see or what roads to take or where to eat, etc, are welcome!)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Week in pictures (Stories coming later)

This past week and this coming week are the weeks when papers are due, so I haven't had time to give you my usual volume of stories. I predict next week may be similar. In the meantime, here are some lovely pictures as a preview of what I will tell you about when I finally have free time.

Oh, this is especially for West Coast readers-if you have any local road trip tips, feel free to pass them on for me. My boyfriend and I are taking a few days during spring break (we only have a FEW days) to drive somewhere, to explore, preferably something that is too far to do in a day/overnight trip. (So that rules out Cannon Beach.) We could go to British Columbia (Victoria or Vancouver) or Seattle or somewhere else on the coast, but I think we want to get out of the sopping wet space between the Cascades and the Pacific. So we're planning to head East. One idea we had was Joseph/Wallowa Lake/Hells Canyon, but I'm having trouble finding information about exactly how much of that area is accessible in March. Because of snow. I tried to Google "Eastern Oregon Road Trips" and found one the blog of someone who definitely one of those people for whom simply roads is a hobby. I did not know such a thing existed until last year when I found Alps' Roads. This is one of those things that seems very strange, in a completely harmless way, and is at the same time totally fascinating. At least to me. Having roads as a hobby isn't too far from my interests anyway, and it appeals to both my love of things that are systematic and my love of exploring. However, I would take pictures of things I see and not just the roads themselves, and the blog I found showed me not what my boyfriend and I could see in Eastern Oregon but what the roads out there look like, turn by turn.

This got sidetracked.

New knives at work. Sunday.

Remind me to tell you about my latest salt disaster. Sunday.

Spring! Monday.

Juniper-Themed Dinner Leftovers. Monday.

Hellebores on Tuesday.

Speaking of Spring! Tuesday.

Bacon Avocado. Wednesday.

One of my branches bloomed! From a friend's cherry tree. Thursday.

Monkey Puzzle Cone. Friday.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Taking a Different Road

Thank you to P&G’s Have You Tried This Yet? program and Kroger for sponsoring my writing about trying new things and breaking out of my everyday routine. Click here to find great savings on high-performing P&G products at a Kroger store near you. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

I had to think a bit about this one; what could I write about, that I haven't already written about, that doesn't involve mentioning specific products (because much of my "trying new things" is a product), that's also not boring, or that won't turn into a six-part story (like the time I broke from routine to go to Canada.) And then I remembered a time I broke from routine just for an evening. It is a story I've been meaning to tell you for awhile.

I've mentioned many times on this blog that, when I first moved into the apartment that would be my last home in New Jersey, ten months before I moved to Oregon, I was very lonely. I had never lived alone before and all of my friends were not as far away as they are now, but still too far for me to visit them every day like I'd been accustomed to doing. The first month was the most difficult. I tried to make myself enjoy it. I tried to make the most of my new geographic location by exploring on weekends or on my days off.

On the first day of fall, I walked to the top of Fort Nonsense and took a picture of the view. It was at that moment I resolved that, every Monday after work, I would walk up to Fort Nonsense and take a picture to document the changing leaves.

Shortly after this scheme was devised, it occurred to me that as the weeks wore on, the days would get too short for me to be able to take this picture every Monday; I would get home from work too late and miss the sunset.

One Monday in early October, however, I anticipated the gift of an extra hour. My work schedule was 8:30-5, but several of the staff had to come in at 7:30 to set up for an early morning program. Since I had to come in an hour earlier that day, I planned to leave an hour earlier, too. I even wrote it on my timesheet for all to see.

But at 3:50, someone who certainly would have seen that timesheet and probably knew of my plans marched into my office to discuss the morning's event. This impromptu meeting ended at 4:20. I had lost twenty valuable minutes of daylight. It would give me enough time to get to the entrance of Fort Nonsense, but not to the top before the light faded too much for a picture.

Rebellion surged within me. At 4:21, I marched up to the office where my timesheet was displayed, crossed out "7:30-4," and wrote, "7:30-5." I would work the extra hour today - I was already a third of the way there! - and leave early tomorrow. And tomorrow, nothing would stop me from leaving at 4.

Five o' clock came, but my rebellious mood had not left. A new idea had formed; there was someplace other than Fort Nonsense I wanted to go. I had never been to - and had wanted to see for years - The Great Swamp. It was close to half an hour away, but I could at least see it before dark, even if I couldn't hike the trails. And then I would know how to get there on Tuesday, when I'd leave work at 4!

The Great Swamp is one of the many places in New Jersey that most people don't picture when they think of the Garden State. Not only is it a natural wonder, but it looks strikingly different from other natural sites in the state. Even the residential and commercial areas around the Great Swamp looked different. It was very flat, and the trees were different. The entire landscape was unlike that of Fort Nonsense, for example, less than ten miles away.

Even though I didn't have time for a hike, I wanted to get out and at least see the beginning of the trail. But I was wearing a dress and heels. Since my job sometimes involved impromptu gardening, I kept a spare outfit in my car. I changed in the backseat of my car, awkwardly (believing to be doing so rebelliiously!) before realizing that there were bathrooms at the refuge.

The next day, I rebelliously left at four. No one stopped me. I made it to the refuge with plenty of time to explore.

I saw native plants that were unfamiliar to me, that I later had to look up. I saw native plants that I knew existed, but only saw before growing alone, as specimens. I saw native plants that grew in small numbers in the wild, or so I thought, but here at the Great Swamp all of these things dominated the landscape. Such as sassafras, like this one:

I didn't even have to leave the parking lot to get that picture. That was taken right next to my car. It is one of my favorite pictures ever, mostly because it reminds me of that day.

Breaking routine and going not home, not to Fort Nonsense, but to another town to see the Great Swamp reminded me that I wasn't a slave to routine. I was in control of my life.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Spring is coming!

The birds know it! I see them bouncing around the tops of trees and shrubs by my window as I work at my desk. I hear their songs every morning when I wake up. (Below is a picture of a street garden that's always interested me, because I don't have any pictures of birds. Right now, the plants part of the garden is pretty dormant, but the garden art, with which I fell hopelessly in love last summer, is still present.)
The plants know it! From the branches I cut two weeks ago, in the hopes of forcing early budburst, come the promise of early cherry blossoms.
But Portlanders, it seems...
...haven't gotten the memo.
Above, my boyfriend poses with a Christmas tree we found on the sidewalk. At least they got rid of it, although March 2nd seems a bit late, don't you think? I added this description because I recognize that you may have no idea what that is a picture of, seeing as I took it with a cell phone in the dark.
In the car from my house to his, I was the passenger on a road I normally drive on or ignore after dark. So, I was at liberty to look not at the road but at the houses lining it and observed an alarming number of houses decked out for Christmas. I saw a house lit up in white and green and said, "Maybe it's for St. Patrick's Day--AAHHH!" as I noticed not just one, but a family of inflatable snowmen on the roof. Then I saw more Christmas lights, more and more, and finally, a Christmas wreath.
Later that night, walking to meet a friend, we saw the sights in the above photographs. The house, which at least is lit up in springtime colors, was so decked out that, in my eyes, it surpassed "tacky" and moved into the realm of beauty. I declared myself glad that such houses decorated in such a way existed.
Behold the house, in all its splendor.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Seen on my walk today

This was outside someone's house, right by the sidewalk.

There is a place on 17th Ave where a sidewalk runs across the road, so that it's closed to cars but open to bikes and pedestrians. Along this sidewalk are plantings - tall trees covered in moss, like this one, and giant patches of sword fern, plus a carpet of winter aconite overwhelming the English ivy invasion. I call it the Magic Place or the Magic Walkway. It's like a little hidden enchanted garden. And apparently, someone has given it some enchanted inhabitants.

I plan to keep this jar forever

Like I said on Thursday, the fancy grocery store leads to impulse purchases that may negate all that money you saved buying the fancy store brand. But isn't this pretty?

Grown-up things I hate doing: Volume 3. An irrational aversion to shopping carts.

I have an irrational aversion to shopping carts. This is probably because at the East Brunswick Shop Rite, I always got the shopping cart with one bad wheel that made the whole thing zigzag off course and bang into things. This is probably also because I try to convince myself that I am only going to pick up "a few things." So, the result is that I stubbornly use a shopping basket no matter what I am buying. I remain convinced that I will fit everything into this shopping basket if it's the last thing I do. I respond to all inquiries of, "Ma'am, would you like a cart," with a brisk, "No thank you!" just as I respond to the, "Can I help you?"'s I inspire in the baking aisle when I am squinting at the labels and comparing prices per ounce. My spatial concepts have paid off in that I have found ways to pack a cart's worth of groceries quite efficiently into a basket.

The problem, of course, is that so many groceries makes the basket quite heavy. Until I get big buff muscle-y arms from hauling all those shopping baskets around, I usually just huff and puff through the last aisles of the store and then, if the line is long, plop my basket on the floor and push it forward with my toe every time the line moves.

One evening in the recent past, I stopped at Whole Foods planning to buy firewood, onions, and sugar for baking, as I was running dangerously low on that last item. The firewood is situated outside of the store near the entrance, so I picked up a bundle on my way in, and then I picked up a shopping basket. Since I was only planning to pick up three things, I didn't see the need to get a cart for that firewood. However, the firewood bundle's rope handle, not designed for carriage all over the store, cut into my fingers painfully while I was calculating the price difference between single onions and a 3-lb. bag and making a vain search for non-organic onions. Determined, however, I persisted in carrying the firewood, now with a shopping basket and a 3-lb. bag of onions, to the baking aisle.

It was here, when I later told the story, that my boyfriend interrupted with, "Wait! You carried the firewood through the store? You do realize you can just tell the cashier to add it to your total and pick it up on the way out. Don't you?" (I did not. But now I do!)

In the baking aisle, so pleased was I with the variety of sugar available in the store brand, I bought two bags of two different kinds of raw cane sugar. It was also in the baking aisle that I decided to put the firewood in the basket. It just fit, but now I couldn't get the handles of the basket to stand up. The firewood rested in the basket at an angle, with the bag of onions taking up the rest of the basket's floor. The bags of sugar rested on top of the onions, accompanied by a jar of honey I impulse-bought because I had saved so much on sugar and I really liked the jar. I could pick up and carry the basket, hugging it to my chest, with no trouble at all. Fortunately, the baking aisle at Whole Foods is not very far from the checkout lanes and therefore I did not have far to carry the basket.

At the register, I rested the edge of the basket on the conveyor belt as I unloaded the sugar and honey. Then, with one hand holding the basket in place, I endeavored to remove the bundle of firewood from the basket. Resistance met me, about three extra pounds of resistance. The net bag of the onions had caught on a splinter of firewood and then dangled and become entangled. I now attempted to shift my weight, to hold the basket in place with my hip so that I could have both hands free to separate the firewood and the bag of onions. However, when I tried to move, I found myself stuck. I looked down at my coat and then at the firewood, and then back and forth a few times, confused. My coat was not stuck to the firewood! It took me a moment to figure out that my coat had somehow gotten stuck to the basket, just as the onions were stuck to the firewood, probably a consequence of carrying the basket so close to my person in my walk from the baking aisle to the checkout lane. After some twisting around, I managed to free myself, the basket, and my groceries, although to those occupants of Whole Foods not standing near me it looked like I was wildly flailing around. Fortunately, the Whole Foods was not crowded and there were very few witnesses to this incident.

Maybe this would have been avoided had I just gotten a cart, but not even this will make me be unfaithful to my true friend, the grocery shopping basket.

Cast Irony

Hahaha, I crack myself up.

It occurred to me this morning that I have never properly seasoned the cast iron skillet I've been using for two years. I don't know what I was doing before, but last night I let the thing sit in a hot oven with a vegetable oil coating. Then I wanted to go to sleep so I turned the oven off before the hour was up. This morning I tried again, and I thought I was supposed to wipe off the excess oil so now there are dust-like pieces of paper towel stuck to the pan. They have become incorporated into the glossy, non-stick finish that the pan never had before, because I never really seasoned it. It's amazing to me how well that pan worked at being "non-stick" before.

Mostly I write this to get some feedback from my readers; I'm still a little mystified by this. The finish is also kind of sticky. Is that normal? From the Internet I learned that this sometimes happens depending on what kind of oil you use. I also learned that I should stop putting acidic things, like lemon juice and wine, in the skillet. Whoops!

Branches to break up the "hate"

I'm experimenting with forcing branches from my yard and a friend's yard on my kitchen windowsill. The crabapple bud burst right away into rings of delicate little leaves. They're not flowers, but they are still a little bit of spring in my kitchen. A preview of what's coming. I also have camellia, rhododendron, and a cherry branch, which is showing some activity, like the leaf buds are going to burst. Meanwhile, the camellias outside are flowering even though my branches are just buds. Maybe I'll be lucky and get late camellias, like an extension of the season.

For those of you who are like, "What is 'forcing branches'?", here is article and how-to.

Also, the poinsettia came from Trader Joe's in December and it's still thriving. Maybe it will be around next Christmas! The red mug is rectangular and was purchased in Vancouver at the UBC Botanical Garden's gift shop. I like using everyday things that remind me of happy traveling.