Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some signs of summer this Sunday

It wasn't all bad this Sunday. Despite all the cold and rain, there were these signs of summer. Those are Hood strawberries and baby summer squash from the farmers' market, surrounded by the many seeds purchased at Portland Nursery this weekend.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Endless Winter

This weekend, as I re-unpacked my down comforter to put it back on my bed, I realized that I had been taking for granted as normal that it is almost June and the heat is still on in my apartment. I have had to keep my heating vents closed to keep out unwanted air from another apartment (a topic I'll elaborate on only at a later date), and I have spent much of the weekend freezing.

We've had some relief this spring, a few days in the 60's and 70's with sun. But for the most part, I've come to expect temperatures in the 50's and if not rain, at least clouds.

This isn't very different from a Portland winter, and I can at least be thankful that normal winter temperatures here are 40's and 50's and even sometimes 60's, instead of 20's and lower. The effect this has on me, a person who is currently wearing the same long-sleeved shirt and jeans I would have worn in February, is to make the whole year blend together as one long season until that shorter second one when the sun is out every day, the air is drier than anything I ever experienced in New Jersey, and sometimes it even gets up to 100 degrees.

It was sunny most of yesterday, and it may even be sunny tomorrow. I'd also like to point out that this spring and last spring are not typical; everyone is saying that we're in an especially cold and wet cycle. My first summer here was brilliant. I got plenty of sun yesterday; now I am just feeling a little stir crazy.

I thought about changing my masthead, which is currently a picture of a Montana snowscape taken from the Empire Builder last January (having nothing to do with big hair, Jersey, girls, or Oregon), but since today feels like winter, that masthead fits my mood.

Book Review: Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls by T. S. DeBrosse

Early in Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls, the main character, a teenage boy whose paranormal encounters have marked him as different, is traveling far from his home to boarding school. Sound familiar? Well, that's pretty much where any similarity between T. S. DeBrosse's debut novel and Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone ends. Oh, also, both novels came from the pens of talented individuals who write under their initials. Cajjez Jeremy Chikalto, who in the opening scene the reader witnesses abusing his servants, more closely resembles Harry Potter's bratty cousin Dudley, the one you probably love to hate, than Harry Potter himself, who has managed to grow up kind, humble, and moral despite his unpleasant upbringing. Jeremy Chikalto is a different kind of hero, one whom you may at first dislike. And that is kind of refreshing.

The hero of DeBrosse's novel is a brat, for sure, but he is a brat with redeeming qualities. Kind of like brats you might know in real life. He is a departure from the humble yet valiant hero around which the genre of science fiction and fantasy more commonly centers. He is complex, a good person with believable flaws.

Another intriguing character I'd like to highlight is Maren Nononia. She is in some ways an unlikely heroine. Maren, too, represents a departure from the narrowly defined roles most women in the genre are allowed to occupy. She is not conniving and catty, she is not airheaded or weak, and she is not the blindly courageous, hot-tempered, self-confident heroine busting through boundaries in a man's world, and then saving the world while she's at it. Though having nothing to do with fantasy or science fiction, think of the personality of Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Maren is more like another Jane Austen character, the unsung heroine Fanny Price of the lesser-sung novel Mansfield Park. She is timid, yet principled, and able to speak her mind and stand her ground where it counts.

At face value, the debut novel by T.S. DeBrosse features a vast multitude of the tropes of many beloved sci-fi and fantasy classics all in one novel. Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls includes a prince, magic, space travel, prophecy, monsters, and even talking cats, although DeBrosse would probably correct me on semantics. The "prince" to whom I refer, Jeremy, is actually the Cajjez of the planet Watico; the "monsters" are really abominations; and the talking cats are not cats at all, but fizdrufts. This might seem like too much, like a mishmosh of too many fantastic elements, but DeBrosse is able to make it work. Instead of the work of an unskilled fantastical fiction fan throwing all of his or her favorite fantastical ideas together in a busy, uncoordinated, eye-roll-inducing mess, Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls represents skillful balancing of all of these elements. That DeBrosse is able to seamlessly combine them amazes me, personally; it is a testament to the writer's talent.

Speaking of testaments, the prophecy to which I referred in the previous paragraph isn't completely some story DeBrosse dreamed up, or a tired reiteration of the standard plot in which an Evil being is going to destroy the world unless the Chosen One intervenes. Closely tied to Jeremy Chikalto's fate is the Old Testament of the Bible. While the Watican Bible varies somewhat from that of Earth, it is the same religion. The moment that this connection became clear to me, the reader, I stopped and thought, "This book is really well constructed!" Because here was yet another element added to the mix of space travel and talking cats, and still, nothing stuck out and everything fit. The addition of recognizable religion to the book also sets it apart from others of its genre; in my mind, this is what makes DeBrosse's book really original.

In fact, the Earth we know exists in this novel and parts of the novel take place on Earth. Which reminds me of another thing that makes this book great. Have you ever read a science fiction novel where characters from a distant planet have an uncanny ability to speak English? Well, Jeremy Chikalto and friends do speak English, but DeBrosse even has a plausible explanation for that.

Because this is such an original piece of writing, I'm not telling you anymore. I don't want to give away anything about the plot. Being surprised by this unique novel is part of what makes it enjoyable, and I wouldn't want to ruin that for anyone.

Jeremy Chikalto and the Hazy Souls is available in paperback and e-book form. You can find it at Amazon (Kindle and print), Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Hey, Portlanders! Powell's has it too!

Highlights from the Blog Revision Project - 2007

Above, what I looked like after one year of Botany School

This project began at the end of 2010, when I didn't have school to take up my time. The project is an attempt to make the older writing on this blog, from the days when I had no readers and no expectations of attracting any, accessible. This means correcting the grammar and typos (when they don't contribute somehow to the story or style), adding some formatting (just HTML codes for paragraphs so that there are indents and line breaks), and adding descriptive tags to each post. In some cases, I've even retroactively added pictures--usually photographs from the event actually being described in the post. Now, here's where it gets a little sketchy; I am actually editing some of the text. I'm taking out references to anything with the smallest chance of being incriminating, mostly about my family, friends, or former employers. I've taken out anything that I've decided I now want to keep a secret because frankly, that is my right. Most of the textual changes I've made have been clarifying stringy, rambling sentences.

Which is why 2007 was such a challenge. My writing that year was marked by rambling. It's taking me, me! the person who wrote all of this!, so long to edit these posts because so much of my writing at that time was a wall of where-am-I-now-and-where-should-my-life-go?-P.S.-Nature-is-pretty text that even I find inscrutable. In a lot of cases, I've decided to just format the paragraph indents and leave everything else alone.

So I've stopped in the middle of August. Here are some of my favorites.

Love and Value-Added Agricultural Produce
Mixed Up
Sleepwalking Strip Malls I feel like I should re-read this every three months or so to remind myself of some things, especially as I continue to pursue a life with Dorothea Brook complex.
On Not Being a Snake or Termite

And, in case you were not reading in late 2010, here are Highlights from 2006.

UPDATE: After going through what remained of 2007, only one other post belonged on the "favorites" list, so there will be no Second Half of 2007 highlights.

Friday, May 27, 2011

And more

I forgot to share this. Now I want to read The Flipside of Feminism, which I'd like to point out, while the image in the link above shows the subtitle as, "What smart women know -- and men can't say," an alternate edition has the subtitle read, "What conservative women know -- and men can't say" (emphasis mine.) Since feminism isn't strictly limited to non-conservatives, I wonder how conservative women would feel being generalized and lumped into whatever the message of this book is. The Bust writeup makes it sound incredibly distasteful, as do the comments made by people who read and liked the book, but lately I've decided that if I want to get anything done in the world, I have to familiarize myself with opposing viewpoints and maybe even learn to respect them. The Multnomah County Library doesn't carry this book, so I've requested it from Interlibrary Loan. I'll report back once I've read it!

More interesting things from the rest of the Internet

Allergies and allergy medicine are making me too loopy to write a good story, so here's some other interesting writing.

Top 50 Women in Food. I'm linking to the Bust blog that links to the actual list, because that's how I learned about it. The Bust blog post opens with, "Everybody loves Jamie, Gordon, Emeril and Mario, but food isn’t a boys club by any means. While the cult of the celebrity chef has its fair share of males, the contributions of women to American food are undeniably important in shaping our food culture and community." The list is interesting, and even though I think some women were unfairly left off the list, I'm kind of glad Julie Powell is on it. I've written here multiple times stating that, while she's not my favorite writer and I don't agree with her on all things, I feel like she gets way more crap than she deserves.

The very existence of such a list, Top 50 Women in Food, or Top #### Women in Anything, touches on something that annoys me, and maybe only me. This is the reason I included the opening lines from the Bust blog post. I'm sort of getting tired of seeing Best Women or Top Women anything. Why can't we just say, Best People or Top 50 People? Why do we have to divide men and women so much? Are people afraid that women will be underrepresented on such lists? If they are, so be it. That's an indication of a problem and it makes the problem more difficult to ignore. (The problem could either be that women are underrepresented or that the person/people/institution responsible for the list fails to notice the presence of women in whatever field.) I am starting to feel like all of this Best Women stuff is further widening the gender gap and further keeping women in a subordinate status. Am I alone in this?

My thoughts on an article I recently shared, about baby Storm and his/her family, are connected to this. That's all I'll say for now.

Also from Bust, there is now academic proof that the very existence of plus size models is responsible for an increase in obesity. I've actually had this on my "To Write About" list for a month. When I have some time, I'd love to find the actual study that "found" this, and see how this could be "proven." It's not just that I disagree, it's that I don't see how you can prove something like this.

While I'm already talking about feminism, did you know that women who change their last name to their husband's upon getting married make less money than women who keep their last name? If you're reached your New York Times monthly article limit, you can read about the same study covered by The Wall Street Journal instead. It's tempting to say that this is one more reason to keep your name, but really, it just represents an alarming trend and a stupid prejudice!

So, Readers, what do you think of all this?

Broken Photo Links

I am attempting to re-organize some of my online albums, so you might see some broken photo links in this blog, especially older posts. Feel free to contact me about them if you'd like! I'll be more quickly fixing the links on posts that actually get read frequently.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More about choices

My last post about technology, relationship with nature, access to nature, and education, was essentially about personal choices and how well-equipped are young people to make these choices; similarly, it questioned how well-equipped adults (including but not limited to parents, educators, and other professionals) are to make these decisions for young people.

That is why I see a relationship between that post (the articles linked from it and the ideas expressed in it) to this article about a couple in Canada who strive not to project gender norms on their children, so much so that they are withholding the gender of their baby from nearly everyone who asks.

I won't tell you what I think of this yet, because I have to go back to work and because I'm more interested in learning what other people think. What do you think? What are your initial reactions? Is this a good idea in theory? Is this a good idea in practice, in this particular situation? Would it be a good or bad idea in a different situation? Is Storm being given the freedom to make his or her own choice, or are choices being made for him or her? What about Storm's brothers -- are choices being made for them by their parents or any other entities besides themselves?

"Unschooling" is a whole separate issue that comes up in this article, but it relates to choice, too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thoughts on inside and outside and a lot of links

UPDATE and CORRECTION: No Child Left Inside is the name of a movement, but the "book of the same name" is not what I was talking about. I got that mixed up with the book Last Child in the Woods. Sorry for the confusion! I blame the mix of allergies and allergy medicine!

Catching up on the blog of my friend CC, I was directed to this article from which the following Cory Doctorow quote jumped out at me:

Kids aren't stopping playing outdoors because of video games. Kids are playing video games because they are being prohibited from public spaces. We have taken most of our public spaces away from young people, turned them into malls where you no longer have civil liberties; instead, there's a user agreement over the door that says management has the right to deny entry at any time. [Emphasis mine]

This touches on a concept I've wanted to write about for awhile, but haven't been able to sit down and collect my thoughts enough to pen something that clearly communicates what I want to say. I'm still not sure what I want to say, except that I find some reoccurring and conflicting popular opinions being voiced with respect to the way children should be educated or told to act. I'm using the passive voice on purpose here. Because I think the very notion that there's one right way to educate or bring up children is crap, and I think the notion that children are completely passive in this and have no ability to make productive decisions about how to spend their time is also crap.

Crap aside, there are two things I keep hearing about. One is the No Child Left Inside concept. I would like to point out here that I have not yet read the book of the same name. I am familiar with the concept because I have worked so much in environmental education. A good example of this is the documentary Play Again, which a co-worker lent me a few months ago. This article provides a good summary of the documentary.

The other thing I keep hearing about comes up in discussions about budget cuts to schools and education programs around the country. Many of the educators interviewed lament the loss of funds to provide technology to children. As a result, I've heard about how different elementary and middle school are now than they were when I was a kid. Students watch Internet videos about the rainforests instead of seeing filmstrips. I can't provide a link to the radio program I heard, because I have no idea what it was or when it was, but the teacher being interviewed asserted that because her students were able to see a video of some endangered bird in a rainforest, they felt a connection to the cause of environmental conservation. This is just one example, but not the only one. My teacher and librarian friends tell me how their students make PowerPoint presentations in lieu of papers sometimes, or how libraries are really Media Centers now.

I think a lot of people in the No Child Left Inside camp would balk at this and say you could also get students to feel connected to environmental conservation just by taking them outside, not to the rainforest, but to their own local environment.

What I would say is, my fellow idealistic third graders and I felt compelled to SAVE THE PLANET when we were younger just by seeing a filmstrip about birds in the rainforest, or seeing a picture in a textbook, or by hearing a compelling lecture by a good teacher.

I don't really know what I am trying to say. That's why I never wrote about this before. I don't have a conclusion or a solution to propose. I just think there's some disconnect or conflict here -- many people believe that young people spend too much time looking at "screens", such as computers, television, and phones, but on the other hand, many people feel that technology is necessary to education.

The Cory Doctorow quote above adds another level of understanding to this. Children are being left inside because where else are they going to go? Public outdoor spaces are disappearing. They are told it's unsafe to outside unsupervised and sometimes, that is because it truly is. I'm lucky to live in a neighborhood I can walk in safely, with little crime and lots of sidewalks. This notion of being allowed outside is another layer.

This is not a conclusion, but I don't think technology is essential to education. I think it is a tool like any other, and not the only tool. I think the other tools, such as books, experiences, and most of all, good teachers, are important. I also do not think that technology--"screen time"--and time spent "in nature" are mutually exclusive. This could be my own personal bias--I spend a lot of time on my computer, and when I'm not on my computer I might be texting on my phone or reading something on my Nook, but also I somehow manage to spend a lot of time outdoors! And this is not just because I get Internet signal in my front yard!

What do you think?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Here is a pretty picture for you.

A pretty picture of Multnomah Falls to serve as buffer after my review of a book about an inflammatory topic (religion.) This picture was taken in February with my cell phone. I'm working on a post that is about something funny and involves one of the readers of this very blog. Ha ha ha! I bet that got you wondering.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A brief book not-quite-review

I've just finished reading In the Land of the Believers by Gina Welch, an atheist who went undercover at Jerry Falwell's church to learn more about Evangelical Christianity. Reading this book was part of my systematic going through of all of my old Bust magazines and requesting from the library anything from the book review section that looked interesting. That was a rather long-winded way of saying that I heard about this book from Bust magazine.

Anyway, it was really great and I highly recommend it. There were times I wasn't totally engaged in the story, and I kept losing track of who some of the more "minor characters" were, but I think this was a function of the author's respect for the privacy of the real people these "characters" are. For the most part, however, I was engaged, but more than that, I think what Welch was doing with the book is really important.

The goals of the book at least as I interpret it, are promoting tolerance and cooperation, with some emphasis on identifying common, as a means to doing this.

For the record, I was raised Episcopalian, so I didn't have the negative church experiences that many of my friends report. My experience with the Episcopal church was of tolerance and patience, not guilt or prejudice. A female priest led my confirmation class, and for my readers who don't know, the Episcopal church is the one that caused a big stir by being very much okay with homosexuality.

A little tangent--I read a newspaper headline today that Presbyterians are moving in the same direction. And then there's this, the Kentucky church that is refusing to sign marriage licenses, in protest, until same-sex marriage is legal.

Now, I've rambled and gone off on this tangent, so back to Ms. Welch's book. Here are her own words, pulled from her website:

My hope for this book is that it will provide readers with a vivid portrait of evangelical hearts and minds to eclipse the old, broad caricatures; that people like me—people who bristle at public prayer or roll their eyes when someone asks if they’ve heard the good news—might find in my book ways of accepting and connecting to evangelicals. I hope that the book creates the possibility of common ground between the religious and the secular, a notion that once seemed very far out of reach.

In the Land of the Believers is interesting and informative. The idea of promoting tolerance by finding common ground and by understanding, even respecting differences, is something that I value and would like to promote. That's why I am recommending this book.

I look forward to Gina Welch's second book.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Romantic Getaway to the Desert 3 - The Last Adventure (And More Rain)

After the evening's adventures were over and the sun set, we settled down to a roaring campfire of the abandoned burning logs and our broken-up plywood, dinner of tuna salad and egg salad, and beer for dessert. It was perfect.

The night was beautiful, invigoratingly cold, not the damp chill of Portland. When we went to bed, the down comforters I had brought took care of the difference between our sleeping bags' ratings and the below 32F temperatures. Only my nose, the one place not covered by clothing or blankets, got cold. Very, very cold. Any part of me that became uncovered by the blankets, when they somehow ended up on the other side of the tent (hmm...) would also become icy cold; the chill would wake me up, as did any sound of animals walking on the grass or twigs cracking overhead. You see, I was very concerned about that abandoned campsite and skillet. I awaited the return of the VAGABOND.

These concerns never visited me on my first camping trip with my boyfriend, two months after we started dating. I suppose I was convinced that with a man by my side, I was safe. The man would protect me. This time, I knew that might not be the case. Caught off guard, any man could be unable to defend himself and his lady when faced with a VAGABOND who was maybe even ARMED!!!!! So that wasn't necessarily a reflection on my man. This, however is. As I gazed at his sweetly sleeping face, from which loud snores came forth, I knew that his maleness was no guarantee that he would be my defender, not when woken in the middle of the night, not when an attack was unexpected. I knew I had to be prepared for the moments when he was waking up. So I went back to sleep hugging my flashlight.

My flashlight is a Maglite, a foot-and-a-half-long, heavy piece of metal. You see, my plan was that, if and when the VAGABOND opened the front flap of our tent, I would instantly spring up and awake and bash him in the head with my Maglite the second his leering face intruded our space. This would give my Handsome Man time to wake up, and the two of us would take things from there.

Fortunately, no vagabonds or attackers disturbed us that night.

I awoke the next morning to loud, steadily pouring rain. I dozed on and off, allowing my camping companion to sleep in, and waited what seemed like hours before I finally insisted we get up and on the road. I probably had been awake for hours, but it was only 8:30. Still, I was tired of sitting in the damp tent air.

I opened the tent flap to discover that my shoes were soaked.

"You left them outside?" Handsome Man was incredulous.

"You said no shoes in the tent!"

"I meant no wearing shoes inside the tent!"

I argued that shoe-schmutz could still get in the tent whether the shoes were on any feet or not, and also that he had to lend me his shoes so that I could get my hiking boots out of the car. He was too tired to protest very much.

"You're going out in that rain?"

As an answer, I wrestled his car keys away from where he had clipped them to his jeans, slid his shoes on my feet without tying the laces (to the sound of, "Hey! Don't put those on in the tent!"), and marched to the car. When I retrieved my hiking boots and located a change of clothes, my camping companion had finally started getting ready to pack the car and hit the road. When I returned to the tent and he saw me through the open flap, he burst into laughter at what he saw.

The picture does not do it justice. I had gone to bed wearing several shirts with a navy blue University of British Columbia hoodie over them all, plus an off-white pair of long underwear tucked into a pair of socks that were tucked into a top layer of a second, black pair of long underwear. The sparkly pink scarf I wore on my head during much of the trip was around my neck; my hair, unprotected by the scarf, was a frizzy afro, not a fashionable afro but one sticking in many directions, molded by a pillow, and clearly uncombed. I was carrying my shoes and sloppily walking toward the tent wearing a pair of oversized, untied men's shoes.

"You look," said my camping companion, "like you should be outside of my house on Recycling Day digging through the trash looking for bottles to cash in. You look like a kook!"

The rain let up and under gray, dismal clouds we took down our tent and packed the car. I gathered a handful of juniper berries as a souvenir (I know I was breaking the rules) and checked our maps and GPS for someplace to refuel the car and ourselves. The GPS reported nothing but a Texaco station in Fossil, forty-six miles and an hour's drive away. After learning the night before that Kimberly was no more than a sign in the road and the home of one rancher, I didn't want to take any chances on the names on our maps that sounded like towns, such as Spray, Kinzua, and Monument, the last of these which was closer than Fossil, but in the wrong direction. We did not want to run out of gas.

LS wrote the following comment on the previous post about the trip to the desert:

OK, add to your car.
1. Portable, foldable saw
2. Heat-resistant gloves.
3. Waterproof matches
4. Bucket (to carry water to put out the fire with)
5. Binoculars (for spying on other campers)
6. not sure, but I am sure there is more you need for your crazy adventures, :)

I have a suggestion for #6. You see, at this point in our travels, this morning at a campsite in the middle of nowhere in the high desert of Eastern Oregon, we discovered that we had forgotten to pack water. Yes, we went to the desert without water. A week previously, when I had told my father we were going to the desert, he had said, "Don't forget to bring water," and I had scoffed at this "Duh" piece of advice. And there it was. We were in the desert and about to run out of water. Just a dribble remained in our cooler. This we discovered when we were about to make instant coffee.

"I only have enough to make one instant iced coffee that we can share," reported Handsome Man. "Or should we save it so we don't run out of water?"

Love for Addiction to coffee won out over any practicality you have seen me exhibit heretofore. "We'll be in Fossil in an hour! By then, I'll get a terrible headache if I don't get some coffee. Let's have coffee!"

My traveling companion agreed.

Shortly after we'd turned onto Highway 402, Handsome Man slammed on the brakes as a little dog hurtled down the hill next to the road, under the rancher's fence, and into the road. We coasted for a bit, but saw in the rearview mirror that the dog, who had arrived on the gravel shoulder on the side of the road opposite the ranch, was unharmed but circling frantically, appearing lost and miserable. We pulled over.

The dog, a beagle, ran to us. My traveling companion picked him up, observed that he had no collar, and was shaking with anxiety.

"Poor guy. What should we do?"

I was at a loss for ideas. "Maybe he escaped from the campground. We could try going there, and then if no one there lost a dog, we could try taking him to the ranger station," I suggested, not really sure what the NPS ranger would be able to do.

We got back into the car, with me behind the wheel and Handsome Man hugging the beagle on his lap. Fortunately, on our way to the next campground, we saw a man cross the highway and walk along the gravel. We approached him with the windows down.

"Did you lose a dog?" I asked.

He had. He tried to dismissively assert that the dog wasn't lost, since we were so close to his property, while we mumbled things like, "He didn't have a collar and he seemed scared and we didn't know..." and at some point, he too, mumbled that the dog was his mother's and wasn't supposed to get out of the house.

So, a happy ending. Murphy the Beagle returned safely home.

From there, we continued to Fossil, where we bought gas and ate a delicious brunch at Big Timber Family Restaurant, which was cheap and great, before heading to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds and then on to Madras, where we finally bought water at a Safeway, and then on to Bend. There is not much adventure left to report. From here, the trip was eventful only in that it was fun and full of beautiful and interesting things. So, the fourth and final installment of our Romantic Getaway to the Desert will appear when I get my film developed and can provide you with an illustrated account.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Romantic Getaway to the Desert Part 2B - Wind, Rain, and Fire

A continuation of Romantic Getaway to the Desert, the wintry Spring Break trip I took with my boyfriend to the Oregon Desert and Bend. I left off with our discovery of a camping shovel that had teeth on one side.

The rain fell lightly, but we rushed to finish setting up our camp in case a heavier storm was on its way. My camping companion asked me to set up the inside of the tent with blankets and self-inflating mats and the like, while he used the toothy shovel to chop firewood. The "firewood" was some long boards that we found near our campsite.

"Why!?" I demanded. "Do I have to do all the domestic stuff because I'm a girl!?"

"Okay, fine, you can chop the wood," he said.

I began hacking at the wood. Not-Really-Named-Brandon began carrying bedding from the car to the tent. When he saw how I was chopping the wood, he paused.

"You know that's supposed to be a saw, right, Sarah?"

I had been using it like the axe it was not.

"Yeah, whatever!" I snapped, and commenced sawing at the wood.

By the time he'd gotten the tent completely set up, I'd only managed to saw an inch into one side of the wood and an inch deep into the other side. Not-Brandon took over. Within a few minutes, he held up a ruined, bent plastic shovel with teeth, and a wooden board with about an inch and a half sawed into each side. At this point, the rain fell more heavily.

"Well, we couldn't have had a fire anyway!" I said cheerfully.

Eventually the rain completely stopped the sun returned. Determined on having a campfire, we worked as a team. One of us held the board in place while the other jumped on it. I was very concerned about the rusty nails, so Brandsome made a point of turning the board pointy-nail-side down and drawing my attention to this.

Eventually, we succeeded. The rain had not returned, but the powerful winds had. We had four pieces of wood that fit inside our fire ring, enough only for a very short fire. We looked wistfully at our neighboring camper's campsite, whose fire the rain had not extinguished. We looked at his fire with longing. I took in his gut, visible from behind the tree.

That gut hadn't moved the entire time we'd been at the campsite. That man hadn't moved. Hey! That wasn't a man at all! Why hadn't it occurred to us that there weren't any other cars at the campground that was accessible only by an infrequently-traveled road? There was no person at that campsite!

Handsome Man was not nearly as spooked as I was. "Maybe they just left and they're coming back.

"They'd still put out their fire!"

"Maybe we can take their wood if they're not coming back!"

I scouted out the campsite. What I thought was a person's gut was one side of a large black skillet hanging from a nail on the tree, suggesting a more permanent residence at Big Bend than ours would be. In the fire ring, among smoldering embers, was a Costco-sized coffee can of Western Family brand, with some other cans, the labels of which had burned beyond recognition. It was as though the coffee can had been used to cook beans or something in. The state of the fire and the skillet nailed to a tree suggested a vagabond to me. A vagabond that might return.

Most alarming of all, however, was that the fire that was large enough to be visible from our campsite was actually two logs that were outside of the fire ring, one a distance of about a foot from the fire ring and the second about a foot from that. A few feet from these were a pile of large, dry, extra flammable juniper branches. This is how forest fires start! I thought. This is why those Smokey the Bear signs at Mount Hood say you're supposed to drown and bury your fire!

I ran back to the campsite with my story, but Handsome Bransome insisted on the absence of a big deal.

Frantically, I tried to convince him. "The fire is OUTSIDE OF THE FIRE RING!"

His response was the same: No big deal.

I began to demonstrate with theatrics. "Look, there's the fire ring!" I pointed to ours. "There's a small burning log--" I hopped a foot away, "HERE! And one over--" another hop, "HERE!" As for the vagabond coffee can stove, he was completely unconcerned about that.

"I just don't see what the big deal is, Sarah," he said.

"Well, come over there and I'll show you!"

"Why do I need to go over there?"

After some back-and-forth bickering, he followed me to the other campsite.

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "The fire is outside of the fire ring!"


Instead of concern, Handsome Man saw opportunity. "Well, that means they didn't mean to start a fire here, and that means they're not coming back, and that means we can take this firewood!"

"But what if they really do come back?" I asked, thinking of the vagabond cooking his beans in a Western Family coffee can. I was imagining the criminal from the Dennis the Menace movie that came out in the early '90's.

"They're not coming back. They probably left this morning, didn't put out their fire properly, and when it got windy the sparks re-ignited."

That's why the Smokey the Bear signs at Mount Hood tell you to drown and bury your campfire.

Handsome Not-Brandon picked up the not-burning end of the smaller log and handed it to me. He picked up the larger log for himself, taking care to avoid the end being licked by small flames. We both began carrying the logs across the campground to our fire ring.

We hadn't taken into account the wind that was blowing against us as we walked toward our campsite. The wind fed the flames; they grew taller and closer to our arms. We began to walk faster, which created more wind and taller flames. I commenced speed-walking, trying to balance timely coverage of the distance between myself and the fire ring with the steady growth of the flames engulfing the log in my hands. I thought back to the drop-and-roll I learned in elementary school safety programs. This is how people set their arms on fire, I thought.

As soon as I was near the fire ring, I hurled the burning log into it. I looked back at my companion in fire transport. He seemed unconcerned with the danger in his hands; while it was lost on me, it seemed apparent to him how badass we looked. If I weren't too lazy for Tux Paint today, I'd draw a picture for you--him with a sideways bandana and cutoff shorts, me with an afro (which is what my hair really did look like for most of that trip, when it wasn't stuff into a sparkly headscarf), both of us wielding fire.

By this time, the sun had set. I never got to take photos for you of our gorgeous campsite and the John Day River, lined with twiggy plants in yellow, gold, orange, and red like the colors of a sunset. I vowed to do so the next morning, but we awoke to more rain.

The Thigh Prognosticator

Do you recall my mention of a scribble "to write about note" that was simply, "mom and heavy thighs"? As I mentioned previously, it's not as bad as it sounds.

I have never had heavy thighs. Even when I was an overweight child with baby fat that hung around for fourteen extra years, I had skinny legs. I'll never forget when a high school friend commented on them. She said, "You have really skinny legs!"

"Thanks!" I was flattered.

"No, I mean, you have really skinny legs and it looks really weird with the rest of you!"


Anyway, I could never forget that I had skinny legs because my mother always reminded me. Most mothers probably try to steer their daughters away from short shorts and miniskirts, but not my mother. She would tell me that most women would love to have skinny legs like mine and would never get to have them so I should show them off! I hated wearing shorts, for some reason, and I still feel uncomfortable in miniskirts because of the coffee cup shelf issue that has developed inexplicably in recent years.

This has the potential for mother-daughter disagreement, but nothing serious, of course. For example, whenever something comes into fashion that is particularly flattering to leggy women, my mother says, "You better wear that while it's in style, Sarah, or I'm disowning you as a daughter!" (Yes, Mom. You really did say that. I think it was the miniskirts with leggings and ballet flats. Or maybe it was fitted capri pants. Those were your exact words.)

But this is not the purpose of my post. This was just some preamble to help you understand the meaning of "heavy thighs" when emanating from my mother's mouth.

You see, when I was in high school, I frequently came into conflict with other girls. Like most high school girls. For example, a girl who was really just a tease would throw herself at a boy with no intention of actually being his girlfriend, or continuing her affections after one to three days had past, and it would be a boy with whom I had been building a slowly and steadily progression of shy flirtation. In minutes, it would all be destroyed. Although the girl would, in a few days, move on to someone else's crush or boyfriend, the object of my affection would be hopelessly infatuated with the other girl.

The girls in question were typically rail thin, and even at that age I was on the road to the coffee cup shelf. These girls were sometimes very pretty, but even if they weren't, they carried themselves with confidence that distracted from any hint of homeliness. My mother always had the same reassurance for me.

"Don't worry, Sarah," my mother would say. "She has heavy thighs."

"But! She's so skinny!"

"Take a look next time you all go to the lake. Why do you think she wears those tankinis with shorts? Heavy thighs!"

Other times, "She's prone to heavy thighs."

This meant, "She's thin now, but she's going to get heavy thighs."

There was also, "She has a tendency toward heavy thighs. You'll see."

This was not limited to boyfriend-stealing teases; any female who crossed my mother's daughter was fair game for their crural future to be read.

Credit for the title of this post must go to a friend whose real name I forgot to get permission to use. When I told her about this phenomenon, she declared that my mother is, "The Thigh Prognosticator." My mother has Thigh ESP. She has a gift to look at any woman and know what the state of their thighs will be if not by their late twenties, then at some point in their thirties or forties. While this was meaningless to me as a high schooler--the age, I'd like to add, when no boys ever publicly admitted to their preference for coffee-cup-shelves--this advice merely began in my high school years. It continued into college and beyond. The note from a year ago, while I do not remember writing it, has a background that I can pretty well imagine. In the midst of some girl drama, I told some friends, "I wish my mom were in Oregon so that she could tell me these girls had a tendency toward heavy thighs."

She may or may not have given me advice over the phone that ended with, "They probably have heavy thighs."

For the record, my mom never assigned heavy thighs toward women with no plausible tendency toward this fate, and she didn't really correlate heavy thighs with personality flaws. The fact is simply that thigh prophesying is my mother's go-to response to unkind behavior.

Also, thanks to this blog post, I learned the word, "crural," and that a fancy word for "leg man" could be "crurophile" or "crurofact." I wonder if there's a fancy word for "coffee cup shelf man."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Recession Chic

Why yes, that Target ladies' briefcase is being held together with electrical tape!

Monday, May 02, 2011

An evening of silliness

First, I stepped in cat puke the minute I left my house, heading for class.

I found a lucky parking spot, a meter spot meaning I would only have to pay about $1.00 to park for the evening, instead of paying $4.00 to park at a lot.

But then, as I was on my way from my car to my nonprofit management class, the bag on my briefcase (a "lady's briefcase and laptop bag" purchased at Target for about $20 in 2008) finally succumbed to gravity and the weight of textbooks, Nook, water bottle, notebooks, and laptop within. One of the straps tore and snapped away from its fastening. Carefully, I clutched my bag to my chest the rest of the way to class, and later, from class back to my car.

And finally, the silly evening came to its concluding silliness. From class, I went to my boyfriend's house. I parked my car around a corner from his front door. When I opened my car door, I heard the bell-like music of glass bottles making contact with one another--the tintinnabulation of Recycling Day.

As I rounded the corner, I saw a man bent over the recycling. I recognized his baggy black shorts and bright yellow windbreaker. Intent on taking out the recycling, he was unaware that his black shorts had slid below his waist, revealing a couple of inches of butt crack. Awwww, I thought, filled with fondness toward that disheveled, yellow-jacketed man.

"Is that you, my Handsome Man?" I said lovingly, playfully.

The words were barely out of my mouth when the horrible realization was in my mind. That's not my boyfriend!

It was a homeless guy. I can't say for sure that he doesn't have a home, actually, but he was one of the disheveled kooks one finds on the eve of Recycling Day in Portland, going through the trash in search of beer bottles to exchange for nickels at the grocery store. That was not my boyfriend's butt crack!

The man did not respond. I walked briskly to the gate and up the front stairs; luckily the front door was unlocked and I could enter without waiting to be let in, without sharing any awkward silences with the trash sorter. The man continued to shuffle through the trash.

(Epilogue/Denouement) Shortly after entering my boyfriend's house, I discovered that the zipper of my jeans was unzipped, and had been for an undetermined length of time.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A "duh" moment

This weekend, after five months of graduate school, it finally sunk in. I kept thinking, why don't I have as much time to things as my friends? Because they are undergraduates who work part time. I am a graduate student who works part time. Graduate school is more work than undergrad. Graduate school is hard!

(But worth it.)

Baby's first Yelp review

After being an avid Yelp checker and Yelp reader, I finally joined Yelp, waited a month, and posted my first Yelp review.