Saturday, April 30, 2011

More about reading

I can't remember if I told you, my readers, that I got an e-reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook to be exact. I got the black and white Nook with 3G. So far, I love it.

The Nook Color seems like it can do fancier things, but the screens of black and white Nooks are much easier on the eyes. I haven't actually used a Nook Color, but I get the impression that it's like staring at a laptop. My Nook can also be read outdoors in glaring sunlight, which is nice. I need an extra reading light if I want to read in the dark, but that's not a big deal.

I use my Nook all the time. I use it to read all but two of my textbooks. I can't see myself buying too many e-books, not yet anyway. I don't really buy books except for reference books (that includes cookbooks.)

One night, when I couldn't sleep, I learned that I could download previews of books for free! So, for $0, I got the first 30 pages of Tina Fey's Bossypants. These previews are enough to keep me entertained until I can get a book from the library.

One book that I did purchase was my friend T. S. DeBrosse's Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls. T. S. DeBrosse was one of my college roommates. We lived in an apartment with two other girls for two years. A year ago, I drove from Portland to San Francisco to visit the same T. S. DeBrosse and her husband and new baby. So, she is a good friend of mine. Maybe I am biased, but I think she is also a talented writer.

Since I've started reading her book, I've been meaning to post a quick little note telling my readers about it. The Smashwords site for her book is here. Look, it's only 99 cents for an e-book! You can read it on a computer, too, not just an e-reader! It is really interesting and creative. I read it before bed when I need a break from all this administrative theory and nonprofit management and ethics reading.

Back to the Nook. It's also an MP3 player and can be used to play music as well as audiobooks. I've been bringing my audiobooks to work to listen to while I do tedious coding tasks, things that don't require thinking in words. When words are involved, I switch to music (or I switch off the Nook.)

It's actually kind of annoying to try to put a playlist on the Nook. My books sometimes end up on there TOTALLY OUT OF ORDER. But I don't find it that aggravating. I appreciate that I have a little thing I can carry with me that has books on it that someone reads to me while I do other tasks. I mean, I appreciate the positive aspects of it. It doesn't completely replace something like an iPod, but it's enough for me, enough that I don't think I'll be replacing my stolen iPod anytime soon.

In other Nook news, today I checked out my first ever EPUB library book and loaded it onto my Nook!

So, all in all, my life has seen a resurgence of reading for fun and this is partially due to audiobooks and partially because of the Nook.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Desert Blues

Not the Oregon Desert, but the Sahara.

I have been meaning to tell you for over a month about how "Bransom" and I went to see Khaira Arby at the Aladdin Theater in SE Portland.

It started on a Saturday evening in early February, when I heard the following story on NPR. A Brooklyn band, The Sway Machinery, had traveled to Mali to participate in the Festival of the Desert, met Malian singer Khaira Arby, and collaborated on some songs. Their music, traditional Jewish music revamped to sound more like rock music, was interesting to someone like me, who likes "world music," but it was Khaira Arby's voice that, once I was home and out of my car, sent me to Google.

Ooh, I've never embedded a video on here before!

What a voice!

If you click on the link to the NPR story above, you can play two songs from The Sway Machinery's new album. "Gawad Teriamou" is the song I heard that made me think, "I need to hear more of this singer." From the radio program I learned that the song was written by Ms. Arby at the personal request of the president during the Tuareg uprising, to encourage people to seek peace. I don't know what the heck the words of the song are, but when I hear her sing, I feel like if I did understand the words, I would be driven by them to some kind of positive action, like seeking peace.

I wanted to buy a record or a CD of her music, and a few weeks later I turned to Google again. I did find several listings for Timbuktu Tarab, which seems to be the only CD available in America, but I kept searching because the song, "Aigna" is not on that CD.

That was how, instead of finding a recording of "Aigna," I found that she was touring in America. And so, on March 12th, after much pleading on my part, my boyfriend accompanied me to the Aladdin Theatre to see Khaira Arby and her band, with The Sway Machinery as opening act.

I don't always go to see live music because, while I enjoy it at time, I feel like I can't remember anything afterwards except, "I enjoyed that show." It's almost like something gets lost for me, as soon as I leave the venue. I just have a faint memory and whatever recordings I had before. But that wasn't the case with this show.

Even "Bransom" was glad we went. The Sway Machinery put on a great show. There is nothing bad to say about them, and I would probably go on at more length, but they were a bit overshadowed by the headliner. In person, Khaira Arby's voice was even more powerful than on the recordings. I really felt moved by it. I wanted to jump up and dance and go work for peace or or or...I didn't really know. If I understood Sonrhai or any of the four languages in which she sings, maybe I would. (I later learned that her songs do include some activism. I can't find the CD right now to list which songs are about what, but I can tell you that she sings out about many controversial things, especially women's issues. Timbuktu Tarab includes a song about the suffering of women and a song condemning female genital mutilation.)

And her band! The whole band was not with her, just two guitarists, a bass guitarist, and a drummer who sang backup vocals. She also had some Malian drums, including a giant calabash which at one point she stuck the microphone in and threw in the air. There was another drum that she kept pouring water on--from a prosaic plastic water bottle--so that when she played it, water shot up into the air like a misty fountain, turning blue in the lights of the stage. It was something. And so was her band! They were just a great rock band. There's not much else to say. I felt that if the non-English singing were removed from the equation, they would sound like an outstanding rock band from anywhere. I thought, this is music anyone could appreciate, not just fans of "world music."

Even "Handsome Man" appreciated it, who had to be begged to attend the show with me. He later said he was glad we went. Still, by the end of the show, he was tired and wanted to go home. So as soon as the encore was finished, I ran out to the lobby to buy a CD. I was determined to go home with a CD that night, since I didn't know how easy it would be to get a Khaira Arby CD anywhere else. I thought perhaps they might even sell something that did not carry.

Some of the guys from The Sway Machinery were at the merchandise table.

"Hi!" I said quickly, wanting to buy my CD and get out of there to respect that tired man who had gone to a show with me when he would rather have stayed home. But none of the CDs had prices on them. "How much is her CD?" I asked, pointing to Timbuktu Tarab.

The Sway Machinery guy said, "Well, this is our new CD and it's twenty dollars."

He paused, and as he began to tell me something else about their CD or another Sway Machinery CD, I began my sentence, inadvertently talking over him to say, "No, how much is this CD?"

"Fifteen dollars," he told me.

As I paid for my CD and waited for change, I started to feel terrible. I was just accidentally rude to the Sway Machinery guy! Who was very friendly and talented! Oh no! Meanwhile, my ride was waiting and yawning, and a line was forming, so I didn't have time to tell him all about how I only had enough money to buy one CD and I felt like theirs would be easier to find after the show I just sputtered, as I was walking away, "Thank you! You guys were great too!!!!"

They are from New York, so maybe they can tell the difference between, "East Coast in a hurry" and "rude." I hope.

In conclusion, I recommend checking out both The Sway Machinery and Khaira Arby. I listen to Timbuktu Tarab in the car, especially on rare sunny Portland days, with my sunroof open, driving across the Marquam Bridge. Songs like, "Salou" are the perfect accompaniment to that warm, sunshiney, happy-to-be-alive feeling.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quick update/Spring is finally here!

A quick little lunch break update, since I have not been posting as much or as lengthily lately. I have so many stories I would love to tell you!

It is finally really spring in Portland now. It has been sunny, with not much rain, all week. Yesterday, it rained on and off, but it didn't rain all day. That's what I expect from Portland, or at least, I consider it "nice weather" even if it rains a little, if there is just some sun during the day. I especially like waking up in the morning to sun. Since I was here exactly one year ago, I can think back to that time, to a memory of this place at this time of year, without it being so new as it was last year. Now it's familiar - waking up to bright sun, having "nice days" that are a mix of sun and rain. Knowing how warm it will get (or not get) and knowing how to dress for the weather each day. Last year, it was still a bit mysterious, harder to routinize, more time consuming to get ready and out the door each day.

A year ago at this time, my life in Portland, which was perfectly nice but full of uncertainty and devoid of employment, was finally starting to make sense. I am the kind of person who can't be settled, emotionally, if I don't know where I'm going. Things could be nice in my life, but if the near future is uncertain, I worry. I worry that I will lose the nice things I have and it will be all my fault for not preparing. Of course I know that this is silly. So, bringing this back to my original topic, a year ago, I was finally happy with my life in Portland because it had direction, purpose, and schedule. Prior to that, things were great, but because I didn't know what was coming next (mostly because I was unemployed), I was too anxious to fully enjoy it. And then in April, a volunteer position provided the promise of a job; I had something to put on my resume, finally! I had a reason to wear something other than jeans, and I had a place to go three or four days a week. It was also about a year ago that my relationship with my boyfriend began. The job and the relationship began in the same week. As an interesting note, it was also a year prior to that, that I interviewed for and was offered the job that took me to Oregon in the first place. I would say, "April is a time for life changes," but this year, it has not been. It has been a time of comfortably settling in.

I took the above photograph on one of my long walks this week. In this post, I wrote a lot about plants. Sif commented that I ought to provide pictures of these plants, so I dutifully took some cell phone pictures when I stumbled across the plants in question. I could not take a picture of the horse chestnut and magnolia that I'd written about, because I was driving at the time; and last year I for some reason failed to take pictures of all of the plants I had written those notes about. So, the above photo of double hellebores planted next to regular, single hellebores, is partly to illustrate that former post about plants. The red leaves in the bottom left corner are not from the flowers pictured; they are from a plant in the genus Heuchera that is mostly planted for its colorful leaves. It is shade tolerant, like hellebores, and a common staple of shade gardens because it brings so much color to otherwise dark spaces.

See, the botanylicious blog sometimes actually is botanical.

I hope you are having a happy, beautiful spring wherever you are. Today the high is supposed to be 63! Finally!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Things happening

One of the resolutions I made upon beginning graduate school was that I would not, under any circumstances, allow schoolwork and due dates and stress to make me batty, which is what happened when I was in college.

I would like to give you a brief update to tell you that it is not completely working, but it is not quite at undergraduate levels of craze either. For example, under pressure of due dates from professors whose expectations, when my entire stove and oven stopped working this weekend, I somewhat lost it. When a container of soap fell in the sink, splashing yucky soapy dishwater onto the cookies I was about to eat, I nearly burst into tears.

At that point I had the presence of mind to get out of the house! Lately, I have been taking very long walks.

Now that I'm looking at a five-day forecast of 50's and Partly Cloudy, it all seems a fading distant memory, but last week and many of the weeks before that, Portland was dark and gloomy. It was also cold, colder than April in Portland is supposed to be. One day even set a record for lowest high temperature, something like 47 degrees. Instead of mist and sprinkles, we had storms, downpours, and hail. It kept me indoors.

On Friday, it was still dark and downpouring, but I decided I could take no more. I needed to get out of the house. I packed a bag with my laptop, its charger, my textbooks, and my Nook, and I put on my waterproof boots and my bright red rain jacket. I put my hair into a tightly-wound configuration of twists stapled into place with dozens of bobby pins of varying sizes, so that nothing would escape save some rainy-day fuzz. I gave up any notions of dressing fashionably; I did not care if my waterproof boots made my feet look big or anything of that sort. And then I went out into the rain, to the post office to mail my taxes and after that, to a neighborhood coffeehouse to do homework.

When I got to the first coffeehouse, I wasn't ready to stop walking. I kept going, with the pretense of trying a new place I'd read about. But when I got there, I still wasn't ready to stop. I felt insecure - what if this wasn't the kind of place where you could sit by yourself and do work? It looked like it might be more of a sit-down-and-eat-lunch-with-a-friend place. And I wasn't ready to stop.

Three miles later, I found myself at a familiar, comfortable coffeehouse with Stumptown for under $2, one free refill, power strips for laptops, and plenty of tables. Three miles later, my legs were finally ready to take a break. And then I walked another half mile or so to a friend's house to get a ride home.

The next day, I went for another three mile walk. Fortunately, it wasn't raining anymore. It's like an addiction; I can't stop! It's like I can't settle for quick little walks to the library, because I have spent too much of this rainy April cooped up inside and now all I want to do is speed walk and explore the neighborhoods of Portland. I think next week I'll take my walking over to the West side!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Romantic Getaway to the Desert Part 2 - Wind

I left off with our arrival at the Painted Hills. From there, we decided to continue to the Sheep Rock unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. To many people, the difference between National Park Service, National Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management (not to mention State Parks, County Parks, and City Parks) is not even thought of, but being a government school geek, this is something I tend to note. In this specific story, it's worth bringing up because it is the source of our difficulty in finding a place to sleep that night. I wish someone would make a website or a book that lists ALL of the places to camp in an area, not just National Forest Service campgrounds, not just State Parks, etc etc etc. We had a AAA book, but it didn't list BLM campsites, perhaps with good reason, as my story will illustrate.

At Sheep Rock (where, as a side note, we toured the most non-boring NPS visitor's center museum I've ever visited, which included fossils of plants!!!!) the park ranger on duty helped steer us toward a place to camp. The places listed in our AAA book, all National Forest Service or privately owned, were located at higher elevations and would get very cold at night, well below the freezing temperatures to which our sleeping bags were rated. Looking at the map, we realized that many of these were in the same Ochoco National Forest we'd driven through earlier that day, the same forest that had been covered in snow.

The two located at a lower elevation were not listed in our AAA book and they were BLM-owned. "But they're really rustic," the park ranger warned us. "No bathrooms, just pit toilets."

Ha! We thought. A pit toilet is still a toilet! We can handle that. (And we could.)

My boyfriend "Brandon" had the presence of mind to ask where we could buy firewood. I, on the other hand, assumed that since we were near a tourist attraction, there would be somewhere near the campground to not only buy firewood, but also a hamburger and maybe even a Pepsi Throwback! I was convinced that entrepreneurs would be taking advantage of the needs and wants of tourists flocking to these natural wonders. My mind was incapable of absorbing the reality that there were no flocks of tourists and most of the surrounding land was owned by the federal government; therefore it could not be purchased for any entrepreneurs to open firewood/hamburger/Pepsi Throwback stores.

So we continued north on Highway 19 to Kimberly. When Kimberly turned out to be nothing more than a sign in the road, no gas station, no firewood store, and no hamburgers, reality started to intrude upon my perception of things. When we turned onto Highway 402 toward Monument, we decided to stop for the night at one of the two BLM campgrounds rather than see if Monument was in fact a real town. The first we came to was called, "Lone Pine." Campsites were not far from the shores of the John Day River and it was completely deserted. We were pleased with Lone Pine, but continued a fraction of mile up the road toward Big Bend regardless. At Big Bend we decided to camp, though I do not recall why we made this decision.

As we drove up Highway 19 and along the John Day River, I was struck by the colors of small trees and shrubs along the shore, twigs and buds the same bright reds, oranges, and yellows of the Painted Hills themselves. Towering above us, the river, and these trees and shrubs were sandy hills or mountains--some geologic structures whose name I don't know--with scrubby dark green patches of some kind of plants scattered up their rocky faces. This same scenery greeted us at Big Bend. Here we perceived we were not alone as we would have been at Lone Pine; at the opposite end of the campground from where we pitched our tent was a burning campfire. From behind one of the juniper trees near the campfire, I could see a dark lump, the gut of a person leaning against the tree warming himself or herself by the fire.

We began to set up camp. The desert was extremely windy; every time we managed to stake down one corner of the tent, another would get dug up by the strong wind and start to blow away.

I tried to help by gathering heavy rocks to hold down the stakes.

Eventually, I helped by holding the entire tent down, instead of just one corner. The best way to accomplish this was to throw myself across the inside of the tent, face-down snow-angel style, with my feet in the air because I didn't want to take my shoes off.

Once this was accomplished, my camping companion announced that it was time to put up the rain fly.

"Whyyyyyy?" I whined. "It's not going to rain. We're in the desert!"

He insisted that we should take this precaution anyway, just in case. Protesting, I began to help. The wind picked up speed, and once again I found myself holding down the tent in the same face-down-snow-angel fashion.

We looked wistfully at our fire ring and at our sole neighbor's campfire burning brightly and merrily away. We had brought no firewood and our park ranger friend had ascertained, by calling stores in the surrounding area, that no one sold firewood. There was a little bit of wood left behind, mostly some charred log fragments and two large boards from an unknown structure. They still had rusty nails at each end. We decided we could burn that, if we could only make the boards small enough to fit in our fire ring. But we had forgotten to bring an axe; it was still sitting in my apartment in Portland next to my fireplace.

Then my camping companion had an idea. He jumped into the car and dug through the large plastic storage container he brings on all of our trips. He emerged from the car with a shovel, a handy camping shovel with sharp teeth on one side!

And then, it began to rain.

Thoughts on Trees, and then a digression

Taken on April 9th at Mount Pisgah Arboretum in Eugene

On a "list of things to write about" that has existed for about a year, there is a note that just reads, "Magnolias -- fleeting beauty." I can imagine what I wanted to say with this note, but I think I've forgotten whatever eloquent wording I had dreamed up.

Now I've looked up the list and gotten horribly sidetracked. Now I want to tell you about, "The time that the landlord's son came to introduce himself and I had crazy hair and a beet-juice stained T shirt," "You can only bring ONE toy," and "Code word is 'Let's go.'" I wish I could remember exactly what I was trying to say when I jotted down, "Food outside of Portland. Cheese with chunks of bacon in it - 'keep Pfizer in business.' 'What are all the bad guys names?'" WHAT!? I need to start dating these things!

There's also a note that says, "mom and heavy thighs," and I would like to tell you, it is not as bad as it sounds. (This is a good way to test if my mother is reading.)

What's really distracted me is the list of things related to, "Magnolias and fleeting beauty." These include, "A whole floral post - look up old notes (double hellebores etc)," and also, "Double hellebores and double hepaticas. They are beautiful but there's something to be said for the straight variety - after awhile the doubles look the same, at least in floral morphology. The double flower, especially with its universality, can look really cool with the unique leaf forms of different species/genera. But there's something to be said for unique floral morphology, which makes things like Aquilegia [columbine] and Helleborus so special. [Not to mention hepatica!]"

And what inspired all of this digging into the distant past that was March 2010 was noticing yesterday two trees across the road from one another. It was a magnolia in bloom and a horse chestnut, which will bloom in May or so; I recall last May as I made many drives up 39th Avenue from my old apartment to visit a certain Handsome Man, the roads were lined with horse chestnuts that had exploded into so many flowers, the experience of the drive bordered on surreal.

Anyway, the horse chestnut, which was waving small, bright green, newly unfurled palm-like leaves, stood opposite the magnolia in full bloom despite the many pink-and-white tepals dropping to the ground, like a promise of what is to come when the fleeting beauty of the blossoming magnolia has dissolved into branches and leaves.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Addendum to Spring Green

Recently, I wrote about my lack of excitement for spring produce, compared not only with the summer abundance it precedes but also the unsung (or lesser-sung-of) winter wonders it leaves behind. The few exceptions are so fleeting that they are, to me, exciting enough to balance out my boredom (and frankly, exasperation) with the rest of the spring farmer's market.

Green garlic is finally in season. I was able to get two bunches at the farmer's market yesterday. Only one stand had them. I may go back next week, slightly out of my way, to that same market just to get more green garlic. Spring's best produce seems to only be available at farmers' markets, rarely in even the hippie grocery stores. After spying the green garlic (of which I had to talk myself down from buying ten bunches) I walked around the rest of the market to see what was there. Surprise, surprise. Nothing but leaves. Kale, chard, spinach, nettles, chickweed, mesclun mix, a.k.a leaves!

Still, for breakfast I made the first coddled eggs I've made since last spring, with green garlic and fresh herbs (not from my windowbox, but those days are coming soon.) This makes the months ahead of continued rain, no tomatoes, and more leaves, worth it. So I think I'll stop complaining.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


A quick update, as I once again promise to bring you an illustrated account of the remainder of the Romantic Getaway to the Desert.

As a side note, the other main character of this adventure refuses to allow me to use his real name, or even initials, in this blog. I pointed out that many of the real life people who are regular characters here at Big-Haired Jersey Girl in Oregon are content to appear as their initials. He requested a realistic but fake name. I said no. Could you imagine? Too many people I know in real life would get confused. His family and mine alike, who both read this blog, would think I was cheating on him with some guy named "Brandon."

I think we settled on something goofy like, "Handsome Man."

Anyway, perhaps because I discovered audio books, I've been reading voraciously lately. Not just "reading" audio books, but reading real text, too. BUST magazine was no longer enough; I subscribed to Bitch (after ranting publicly on Facebook about Glamour's concept of Engagement Chicken, which may or may not be a joke.) My pile of library books is becoming so overwhelming I think I need to add a "Library Day" into my anal retentive categorized-days-of-the-week schedule. (Today, Wednesday, if you must know, is Clean the Bathroom Day.)

This weekend, I finished reading Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, and I have been listening, for about a week, to Julie Powell's second book, Cleaving. I wrote a little about Julie Powell after reading her first book, here. I think, as I listen to her second book, which I wasn't sure I'd want to read but am kind of glad I gave a chance, that I will write about her again. In short, I get the impression she is someone people love to hate, and while at times I don't like what I'm reading (hearing) either, I find myself wanting to defend her and her writing. I think people love to hate her for being a real person, not a character, not bouncy and cheerful and easily lovable. I don't think that's really fair. I guess I am fascinated by her honesty, and perhaps by its implications for the popularity of these specific types of memoirs, those written by people who have lived (or, since many are young, are currently living) lives attainable by everyday normal people; similarly, I wonder about its implications for the popularity of life blogs. I guess the question is, "How much reality are people really looking for?"

Lunch break is over, so that's all I will say for now.

Also, it just started hailing.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Google and Other Search-Related Things

First of all, I would like to say that I love Google. BUT. I have found a flaw with it. Back in January, when I was first looking to buy my textbooks, I was thrilled when Google told me that I could buy them for much less money as Google Books. I was thrilled that I would no longer have to carry heavy books with me to class and the library and no longer have to keep track of where I stored these books, because they would be accessible to me anywhere I had Internet and my Google Account. I was thrilled that these would work on an e-Reader, like a Nook, should I ever decide to get one. But when I did get one, a Nook specifically, for my birthday, I was NOT thrilled to discover how difficult it is to get one's Google Books, EPUB or PDF, onto one's Nook. Come on, Google. It should. not. be. this. difficult!!!!

If you have come across this blog searching for things like, "How do I get my frigging Nook to work?" or "'User not activated' Nook error message," here is what I can tell you. Don't do anything out of sequence. Don't register your Nook with a Barnes and Noble account that does not have a credit card and mailing address hooked up to it yet. If you have (like I did), you have to un-register and re-register your Nook. Also, if you open Adobe Digital Editions and it recognizes your Nook without first asking you to confirm or register or something, authorize it, blah blah blah...well, then you will be able to convert your protected EPUB and PDF files and load them onto your Nook as though ALL IS WELL except that when you go to read them, your Nook will give you the cryptic error message, "User not activated." You will say, "What!? I already registered my Nook!" No, you have to re-set it up with Adobe Digital Editions. You have to open your Nook like a flash drive, and what worked for me was to just delete the whole Digital Editions folder, and then re-open Adobe Digital Editions and then it will recognize the Nook and ask you, "Do you want to activate/authorize/whatever this device?" and you say Yes and then you re-transfer your books and it should be fine! FINE!

And if you have Linux, like I do, it all works in Wine, which I don't know why it took me so long to download. (Wine, for non-dorks who read this, is a doohickey that lets you use programs written for Windows on a Linux machine.) Ok, that's the end of the nerdy part of this blog post.

Now, speaking of search results, I pay attention to the Stats that Blogger tracks for me, especially the part that tells me how many people came here from which search results. After several weeks of people just finding this blog by searching for, "Botanylicious," this morning's was much more interesting. To those of you who searched for "analyzad girls" and "jersey girls part 5" and "house warming cake recipes," I'm sorry that you probably didn't find what you were looking for. My housewarming cake was a lemon cake, not a thing made out of towels. I have no idea what "analyzad girls" means.

To those of you who keep coming here after searching for "yanni violinist" or "girl who plays violin with yanni," I apologize; you probably did not want to read about a guy who looks like Yanni who plays violin at public places in Portland. To the three of you searching for, "highest point in Wisconsin," I'm really sorry. I don't know why you were directed here! To those of you searching for "big hair" and the like, you've come to the right place! And to the one person who searched for "'lone pine' camp 'john day'," and another single individual who searched for "calypso bulbosa mt pisgah," you're in luck! These super-specific things are what I've just been writing about. In fact, I'm in the middle of drafting a lengthy, illustrated post about camping at Big Bend, the campsite right next to Lone Pine on the John Day River.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A few quick things

I'm still working on an illustrated account of the remainder of my trip to the John Day Fossil Beds/Bend with my boyfriend.

This week was the one-year anniversary of our first date, and I got a food dehydrator! I am quite excited about all of its uses. For one thing, I can stop using the oven to dry out citrus peels. (This is one of the things I do that outsiders might find odd - I save the peels, especially during winter citrus season, from every citrus fruit I eat and put them in my oven so that the low heat from preheating my oven/letting it cool when it's been shut off eventually dries them. Then I use them for teas or I grind them up, as needed, to use as a spice.) I can start drying other fruits for snacks. I can even dry vegetables to rehydrate later. Things I wouldn't think of drying! I can make jerky! I can even use it to make granola, which is probably much more energy efficient than using the oven! And it can be used for crafts. CRAFTS!!!! I can dry flowers!!!!! I also got him a kitchen gift. We are very practical gift givers. I got a vacuum for my birthday, and I got it a month early because he wanted to stop me from going to Fred Meyer's big vacuum sale.

I also turned 27 this week. I got to do a lot of fun things to celebrate, and I will write about that later.

I've finally been to Eugene now, after nearly two years of living in the state and having a friend in Eugene. Prior to this visit, I'd certainly driven through Eugene, but never stopped in Eugene. I did some field work at a preserve that might have been in Eugene, but I don't count that. I think it was actually in a different town or maybe unincorporated Lane County.

All of this traveling outside of Portland, but within Oregon, especially to other Oregonian cities, has made me remember why I moved here from New Jersey and also made me realize that, even when Portland is really getting on my nerves, I still love Oregon. That should have been obvious to me much earlier, but it didn't sink in until these last two driving trips.

I also realize that I have not written why Portland sometimes drives me nuts. It does! This is not to say I am unhappy here, far from it. No place is perfect, I knew all along that Portland would not be perfect, and now I just know in which ways it is not perfect.

Hiking in Eugene yesterday, I saw a wild native orchid! It was great!!!! Here is a fuzzy phone picture; soon I will try to get one that someone else took to show you what it really looks like.

From Mount Pisgah Arboretum

Behold, Calypso bulbosa.

School is interesting and work is good. I am not used to so much stability. I have to remind myself that there is nothing big to worry about, at least not for now.

School makes me want to talk more and write more about topics I've avoided in the past. One of the best of these first lessons from Government School is that topics on which I've had plenty of opinions, but felt unqualified to discuss publicly, I now feel empowered to talk about. My views haven't even changed that much, but now I have the language to present them without feeling like no one will take me seriously. And then I got straight A's last term, so I feel even more confident that with what I am learning at the Hatfield School of Government, I will be able to make real positive changes in the world. Now I have a lot more things to say that will appear on this blog!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Romantic Getaway Part 1: Snowstorm

After staying up fairly late packing, we set our alarms for 6AM on a Friday morning. We planned to be on the road before 7; the rule being that I, of course, would be the first long distance driver if we were going to leave at such an hour.
When both cell phone alarms blared forth their songs, I lay in bed, staring at the window until 6:30. Then I got dressed. Then I nudged my boyfriend awake so that we could pack the car. It was still dark as we moved the pile of our stuff in the living room into his car.
And then I remembered that the entire trunk of my car was full of other stuff that we absolutely needed. The tent! My sleeping bag! Blankets! When I looked at that backseat, I thought, "We had better go camping so this wasn't all for nought."
It was at or perhaps after 7 when we hit the road! To go to my house, a mile away, because I'd forgotten my camping chair. Not only did I retrieve my camping chair, but I spent an extra ten minutes combing through my apartment looking for some Claritin-D for my boyfriend, whose allergy symptoms were not relieved by whatever he got at Walgreen's. [For my non-local readers - do you know how when you go to buy certain OTC allergy medicines, like the ones that work really well, you have to go to the pharmacy counter and fill out a form? Well, Oregon has taken it even farther, in that you can't buy those drugs without a prescription. Because you might be making meth.]
I returned to the car with my camping chair and a few other odds and ends that I "needed." After stowing them in the car, I triumphantly presented the Claritin to my boyfriend. But I was not met with the glee I expected.
"I forgot my iPod," he said miserably.
"Oh...well, that's okay! We don't need music! We have the radio! We have the audiobook I brought! We can talk to each other!"
These charming alternatives did nothing to cheer him. "Can we go back to my house, please?"
So finally, about a 7:30, we arrived at Jim and Patty's, the cafe and bakery we had chosen partly because I'd heard good things about it, partly because it was on the way, and partly because it was open before 7am, the time we had planned to hit the road.
So sometime between 7:30 and 8, we hit the road! Equipped with Pig Newtons and Donut Muffins and two travel mugs of Stumptown Coffee, we began to drive east!
A few days earlier, we'd studied the map from AAA and considered the different routes that the agent had recommended. When I'd dreamed of previous trips to the Painted Hills, I'd also dreamed of taking Highway 26, the Mount Hood Highway. My first job in Oregon involved going to Mount Hood National Forest, so I have happy associations with the Mount Hood Highway. It brings back both the happy memories of the work I did that summer as well as feelings of freedom. I dreamed of taking Highway 26 through the forest, to the other side of the Cascades, to places I'd never seen before.
Here, I was going to write about the different names given to Highway 26, such as whatever it's called when it stops being "the Mount Hood Highway," but I am having trouble finding that information. When I find it, I'll fill you in! In any case, I have always loved these different names for the road; I love that roads have names out here. They are descriptive, informative, and to me, romantic. I read those names and dream about what might be on the sides of that road.
However, in winter (which I've heard described here in Oregon as starting as early as August and ending as late as the end of June), Highway 26 is a different story. But it wasn't a story I knew for sure. I had a vague idea that during certain times of the year, such as "winter," which included months I never thought of as "winter," the highways over the Cascades would be too snowy for the drive to be safe. We might need tire chains, or worse, the roads might be closed. I fretted, and suggested we take a longer, L-shaped route, such as I-84 East and then south on any of the north-south highways that connected to I-84 east of the mountains.
But my boyfriend insisted on Highway 26. He wanted to go that scenic way as much as I had in the summer.
"But you'll just sleep in the car!" I protested.
"Not the whole time. I'll be looking out the window." He reminded me that we had tire chains, should we encounter snow. We then agreed that if the snow was too heavy, the agreement would be revised -- I would pull over and we would switch drivers. He, the Coloradan, would drive through any heavy snow.
I do know how to drive in snow, you may protest, those of you who know me from the East Coast. However, I know how to drive in snow in New Jersey, where the roads get salted. They don't use salt on the roads out here, and that is why I am afraid to drive in the snow in Oregon.
So we set out on that route that is so familiar to me. We drove through Gresham and Sandy, on to Welches, home of the "happy bathroom." (Remind me to tell you about that someday.) I was happy in these familiar places, surrounded by tall, green fir trees.
East of Welches, I started to notice snow on the sides of the road, but the road itself was clear.
Once we got past the road to Timberline Lodge, things started to change. I soon realized that roads I expected to be two-lane (in each direction) were not. No signs informed drivers of this, no "Lane Closed," no orange cones. There was just snow covering what used to be lane. In some places, this wasn't gradual or obvious; suddenly, there was just no more lane to drive in. In some places the lane was really the shoulder of the highway.
Several cars left us for Highway 35, but we were not alone on 26. There was no passing lane to assist those who were impatient with my slow driving, but I didn't care. I was going to go at my own pace, because all I could see was this:
Anxiously, I kept driving, and before I knew it, the Cascades were behind me. I was surrounded by farmland and brown hills. At times, I could even see the sun behind a cloud.
We continued through Madras, where we switched drivers, on to Redmond and Prineville (with a little detour onto Highway 97, and back East on 126 back to Highway 26.) We stopped at a little county or town park with a big pond, but it was too cold and windy to sit at a picnic table. Then, we continued east. I saw on the map that we were heading into the Ochoco National Forest. Here, the dry brown landscape disappeared suddenly; it seemed that only an instant had passed when we found ourselves driving through this:
Just as suddenly, we found ourselves out of the snowstorm, with green grass and green trees on either side of the road. I looked around this calm landscape frantically, sitting up and whipping my head around, trying to figure out where the snow had gone!? Was there any snow on the ground behind us? I expected at least a gradual change. I was mystified.
Finally, at about 2pm, we made it to Mitchell and the first of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument that we'd visit that weekend. The sun was in the sky and all was happy. We made it to the Painted Hills.
(When the film gets developed, I will post real photos. For now, this is how I remember it.)

Monday, April 04, 2011

I can't!

I have been dutifully listening to the news every day, Morning Edition while I make coffee, pack a lunch, and heat up breakfast; All Things Considered while I wash the breakfast dishes that were left in the sink, clean my apartment, and start on dinner; Weekend Edition when I lazily drink coffee and make skillet potatoes, and then start some weekend project like moving the appliances to clean behind them or reorganizing a cabinet. I got home from class this evening, filled with energy despite the late hour, so I thought I'd start a cake (at least make the batter) or put my dishes away. I started to put the news on as my background noise, but this was one of the main headlines, with the subtitle that Gadhafi's forces are even attacking hospitals. And there was a picture of wreckage in Japan. Attacking hospitals!?

I can't take it anymore. I. Can't. I was trying to be a big girl and keep up with what's going on in the world (but with the radio, which has no pictures, with NPR whose reporters always sound so calm, as opposed to the ones that yell and assert who is to blame for each tragedy and the impending imminent doom our future brings...). I was trying not to be a news-ostrich, but I need a little break. No more. Maybe The Daily Show. That's all I can handle right now!

Our romantic trip to the desert

This reminds me that I failed to, last June, write about my boyfriend's and my first trip together to Southern Oregon and Northern California. At the time, we had only been dating for two months, and many of our acquaintance warned us that it was tempting fate to go on a road trip together, especially so early in the relationship. But we had a lovely time, and I remarked, to everyone who asked us later how the trip went, upon this pleasant surprise: "We didn't fight at all! Not once!"
HAHAHAHA. I was so young and idealistic.
Now, if we had really fought on our trip, I would not be writing about it on my blog. But when I compared that trip to our interactions, mostly during the driving part of the trip, on this most recent trip, I laugh at the difference, because the difference was plenty of disagreement and even arguing (!!!), which I summarize as, on this trip, plenty of honesty. More than once I noticed other people who heard us, quiet though we tried to be, "discussing" particulars of the trip, laughing or smiling and stifling public laughter at us. Maybe you, too, will laugh.
We were driving to the middle of nowhere, and opted to take a route over the Cascade Mountains and also through some snowstorms. To make the most of our trip, we had to leave (or at least, try to) before it was fully light out. Our first night, we stayed at a deserted campground in a nearly deserted desert, with sleeping bags that weren't quite rated to the cold we'd face, without showers or sinks or even true toilets, and here we were met with wind, rain, more wind, and more rainstorms.
Class is starting, so I'll end here.

Spring green

For many, this is the exciting time of year when farmers markets start to open again. But I have a confession to make.

I am not excited about spring produce.

This happens year after year, although in the past I believe I made an outward show that went something like, "Ooh, asparagus! Look at that salad!" But on the inside, I was saying, "Oh great. Leaves."

When I would get excited about morels or the rare find of fiddleheads, I was being honest. And I do like green garlic. I will get excited over ramps, although I've seen those in Portland as late as July. But I can't get excited about the bulk of spring produce, and it seems that some market visits only supply those, no green garlic, fiddleheads, or unusual not-found-in-grocery-stores thing you didn't know you wanted. Most of the time, it's leaves. Called by the more appealing, "spring greens." Blech.

I like salad greens, especially arugula, but I can't say I'm excited by their abundance at the market. See, I don't want to say goodbye to winter produce. I really like winter produce, all those squashes and root vegetables and cabbages. I am not ready to let go of Brussels sprouts! And certainly not when what I get out of the trade is lettuce.

So for the next couple of weeks, you may find me less at the farmers market and more in the produce aisle, buying imported, out-of-season crucifers and beets. It's still cool enough for soups, stews, and casseroles!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Caraway by a dream

As I was drifting off to sleep one night, going over my very detailed to-do list and thinking about what to make the next time I had time to cook, that would efficiently use things I already had and not necessitate a trip to the grocery store, I distinctly remember thinking, "I'd like to try ____ with caraway. That would be really good. I should try it."

What, dear Reader, was it? I can't remember. Was it something where cumin would normally be used? Was it dal? Was it something with beans and chiles, like burrito filling? What could it have been!?

Now I am wondering if it is Clotilde's cumin and onion quiche from her cookbook Chocolate and Zucchini, made with caraway and onion instead.

[If you're thinking, after two weeks of sparse posting, this is what I get!? you are right, but I would like to tell you that I am working on some things, mostly travel-related.]