Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The poetry of mass transit

A TriMet trend I've noticed has been, intermingled with the ads on the bus, poems praising mass transit written by members of the community. Sometimes, they are haikus. Only not really. Ever since I took a poetry workshop where I learned that haiku actually requires many criteria (most importantly that the poem's topic is something from nature) in addition to 5-7-5 format, I find such collections of syllables kind of irritating. Especially the perky TriMet versions. (No offense, Oregon poets.)

An example that I just made up illustrates what these poems are kind of like:

TriMet, everyone!
Happy community--VROOM!
Goodbye, pollution!

Yesterday, riding the bus to work, I wondered why these poems do not more accurately reflect the Portland Metro Area's bus riding experience, while I was also pondering the question in my own haiku.

Clanking bag of cans
Why bring smelly trash on bus?
Not worth the $2.10!

Seriously, that bag looked like it held less than enough returnables to cover the bus trip to wherever its owner was traveling to cash them in. And when the bus turned a corner, the bag toppled over and nearly landed on the iPad-reading man across the aisle. The can-collector looked across the way expectantly, as if to say, "Ya gonna pick that up for me?" To my shock, the man did! But he was wearing gloves. I don't know what I would have done; probably the same, and then ran for the soap as soon as I got to the office.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring night

I hate Daylight Savings with a passion that is...let's face it...weird.

Once I read that during the first week of each time change, pedestrian death increases by 20%. Because drivers who are used to driving in daylight can adjust to gradual changes in light (a little darker each day), but not a sudden change (from light to DARK!).

Now I tell people this fact twice a year. I do not have a citation for this fact. I do not know where or how or who conducted the research on this topic. I do not even know that it is true.

But it is something on which to fixate, something tangible, logical, and reasonable, to back up my hatred of Daylight Savings. It is all that I have.

It is all that I had on Monday, a day in which I was so tired that if I stood up too quickly, I felt dizzy, like someone with a hangover might. I was so tired it hurt; my skin felt like a pair of jeans put on too tight. I had gone to bed an hour too late, and then slept horribly, plagued by nightmares about school and dreams about things going wrong at work. Then it got weird. Starting at 4am, my subconscious tormented me with several different scenarios in which I was being attacked by spiders. At least one incident took place in Portland, and one took place in the yard of the place where I grew up, in the exact space in the garden where I remember (or imagine I remember) discovering a fern for the first time and, at the age of eight, declaring I wanted to grow up to be a botanist.

This continued until I got up in a dark room, looking at a dark window where last week there had been light, looking at rain and gloom where last week there had been sun.

I spent most of the day being quiet or being weird, the latter comprising of explaining away my crankiness as a night of spidery stress dreams and then pedantically reciting that "fact" about the 20% increase in pedestrian death during Daylight Savings week.

After class, I rode the MAX home in a bit of a daze, having another mass transit adventure about which I will tell you later, and after arriving home, I collapsed in bed and fell asleep before a potato was finished baking.

But what I really meant to tell you about today was the first spring night I got to enjoy. I'm not too disappointed about the late twilight. I got to go for a walk after getting home from work and I worked late. The past several months I have been used to a forced choice--one or the other--work late OR get to take a walk. I walked about two miles through such delights as clouds of daphne perfume, past paths of huddled hellebores, under a butter-colored Corylopsis canopy, and I even saw my first hummingbird of the year, dancing around the yellow clusters of the Oregon state flower, Mahonia.

Then I went out on the roof garden, still in my office clothes, to clean up some of fall's leftover clutter of spent stems and brown leaves and to curtail the spread of a new year's weeds. I intended to wait for my gardening companion to plant some of our vegetable starts together, but the new arrivals looked crowded and neglected in their plastic pots, so I found myself pulling apart clumps of very cold black soil, separating the tightly-packed seedlings and planting the peas, fennel, and rainbow chard whose eventual location we'd discussed and agreed upon.

The sunset was slow, like a viscous liquid the color of a campfire sliding down the sky toward the blackness of the West Hills like honey sliding from the edge of a cup of tea onto the table--it was in no hurry. From the time I started my walk to the time I finished working on the rooftop garden, I was under its glow, an orange interrupted only by the tiny blinking of the two lights on top of the distant Fremont Bridge.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

From Poetry to Policy Analysis: notes from the second homework-filled Sunday this month

That would be the alliterative title of my memoir about my progression (or digression) from an eccentric high schooler who wrote poems the way other people doodle, who wore clothing with poetry written on it to school (but not at the same time that I tried to wear a curtain) in New Jersey, to a Portlander--a resident of a city where the former behavior and sartorial decisions would be acceptable--who is relatively boring, who spends the days in a law office and the nights in a classroom. Nose permanently in a book or computer screen or stack of papers.

The alliterative title of a poem that my former self could pen about my current self--or at least the upcoming week, if the academic calendar and weather forecast are to be trusted--would be, "Days of Reading and Rain."

Complain complain complain. Here I go, back to reading in the rain.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Portland gray

The sun has gone, and it's back to standard Portland gray. (That would actually be a good name for a shade of nail polish or something.) It's not a bad gray, but more of a glowing gray. Nice light comes in through the windows, and the magnolia tree, on which pink-and-white buds have just started to appear, tightly clasped tepals like clenched fists on vertical stems that seem to be pointing or reach toward the sky. The branches of this tree, the tops of the roofs, and the driveways and sidewalks below all shimmer with a thing coating of silvery rain.

Portland gray isn't so bad.

I was not home much this week, so I am looking forward to how I will spend this gray weekend. I am looking forward to cleaning my office, which is still covered in un-put-away laundry and piles of school papers, while I catch up on podcasts. I am looking forward to starting some sewing projects that have been ignored since 2009. I am looking forward to drinking hot coffee or tea while catching up on reading for school. (Or more likely, abandoning schoolbooks for a winter-themed cookbook a friend lent me. And then making something from that book as a last hurrah for winter, before it's time to eat weedy salads.) When it's raining, I don't feel guilty staying indoors.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Spring Fever 2012

One would think that on the warmest day of the year so far, I would be happy with my usual 1.8-mile-walking+train-ride commute. But no. All I wanted to do today was drive my car with the sunroof open.

I'm very glad I didn't ship my car back to New Jersey. I drove my whole short commute with minimal rush hour traffic, rocking out to music and enjoying the breeze from my sunroof. There was actually a breeze, because I managed to get out of the right lane on I-5, which gets jammed up with people getting on or off I-84, and whiz (relatively speaking--40mph is "whizzing" compared to a dead stop) around the line of cars.

I'm not even bummed about having to eat

This is where I left off writing, because the person for whom I was waiting to go outside was finally ready. It was too nice inside to sit inside and blog much longer!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Breaking News: Stella the car is legal

That's your sign that not much is going on today--paperwork and my car are the big news. I just saved a bunch of money on car insurance by making some changes to my policy, and today my wonderful roommate took my car to DEQ for me, and it passed, and he renewed my registration for me. It had already expired. Over a month ago. I didn't know; I thought I had until the end of the month on my tags, and that I was supposed to get something in the mail. I may or may not have written in here about the mail drama. Actually, I have. The time I accidentally prank called a friend to talk about my credit card was a result of the weird mail issues at my house where my mail keeps disappearing or getting delivered to the neighbors or something. The second copy of my registration renewal, the duplicate copy that the DMV sent to my house after I called them and they informed me that I already was driving around town with expired tags, was clothespinned to the mailbox several hours after the mail (sans DMV forms) had been delivered to our house. So I conjecture that someone else in the neighborhood got it, and kindly brought it to its proper home.

Boy, this is really interesting, isn't it!?

So anyway, money saved on car insurance. Car is also legal, so no money will have to be expended on getting a ticket for having expired tags. Also, the sun is shining.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

End of winter

A blend of spring and winter, the days have been sunny and cold this week.

A few mornings ago, I woke up to unexpected snow. On my way to work, I found some on the patch of primroses I have been admiring each morning as a sign of spring coming. I think this was after being greeted by the panhandler (as I have been informed he is, thanks to Kalin).

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Adventures in Mass Transit

I couldn't find a way to make yesterday morning's first adventure sound funny or at least non-annoying, and it was getting longwinded. Basically, some lady went on a rant on the bus, which took a turn toward religion, after accusing a guy listening to his iPod of taking pictures of people on the bus with his "phone." She kept saying that she was a Catholic--and I think she might have enunciated, "Cath-o-lic"--and how Cath-o-lics don't do things without asking people's permission (right, every last one of them. All the same!) and how young people today are all terrible, with no manners (right! every last one of us! all! the! same!) unlike the old folks. The rude people from her generation are dead, because Jesus won't give you a long life if you're bad. She kept telling him, "God bless your day," as though it were an insult. It was like she was spitting the words at him. It frustrates me when people use religion, something that is supposed to be about peace and forgiveness and other nice things, to be nasty to people, or to go on religious rants which other people can just dismiss as, "religious" more than "rant." The main lesson from Jesus was, "Turn the other cheek," and not, "What the hell do you think you're doing with that iPod?" Oh well.

So I'll tell you more about the second incident. Because there is some local knowledge I do not have, and I'm hoping my Portland readers can help me out. I realized yesterday that this story might be a way to get that information.

My bus picks me up on the East side of the Willamette, and I ride it to the West side, all the way through downtown, disembarking at the very last stop just before the bus crosses a bridge back to the East side. Some drivers blow past the stop, even if I pull the yellow cord, and the trip back across the river and to the office takes about twenty minutes. So whenever we have an unfamiliar driver, I jump up from my seat as soon as the driver begins wildly careening around the curve, signalling that he or she will, in just a moment, pick up speed as though hoping to take flight over the Willamette. I jump from my seat and, holding onto the handrail overhead, speed-wobble toward the front where I stand next to the driver, a reminder that the red "STOP REQUESTED" sign is on!

So I never get to see what the sign says.

The sign is held, and sometimes waved, by a very enthusiastic, tall, skinny elderly man with a long, skinny gray-white beard. He stands on the median between some lanes of traffic merging to get on the bridge and merging to get to some major road off the bridge. He holds a big sign and he waves it at cars. He also waves his arms. He does not appear to have any containers in which to collect donations, so I don't think he's a panhandler.

He seems too cheery to be declaring the end of the world.

So what can the sign say?

Portlanders, do you know? What does the man who stands on the West side of the Ross Island Bridge want?

I was more determined than ever to learn yesterday morning. Usually, when I step off the bus, too many cars are between the man and me for me to read his sign. Plus, the more cars are on the road, the more enthusiastically he waves his sign. But yesterday morning, there was a strange lull in traffic, so I lingered at the bus stop and stared, hoping to catch a good sight of the sign.

The man saw me looking, and he waved, a tall, lengthy, friendly wave. I waved back and smiled a wide, friendly smile.

Before I could call out to him, "What does your SIGN SAY?", he called out to me, "Good morning, Gorgeous!"

I later realized that this man was quite possibly in the same category as, "Wacky Street Person Who Hits On You," and that his tone of voice was potentially a little slimy. But instead, I acted flattered--albeit flustered, too much so to ask about his sign. So, I did not ask my intended question, but rather responded, "Good morning!", cheerily waved some more, and then marched up the hill and toward the office.

This morning, the man was gone.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Monday miscellany, or I hope you don't hate purple things

I realized that today's seen-in-Portland cell phone picture looked very familiar.

Cluster of crocus seen on yesterday evening's walk

I then realized that this blog is starting to look a lot like the blog of last March, which you can find here. Its subtitle should be, "When in doubt, take pictures of things in the apartment and things outside."

A similar picture from last March 12th.

Reviewing that old blog post reminded me of two very important things. #1 - It's been almost a year since HM and I took our road trip to Central/Eastern Oregon to see the John Day Fossil Beds. #2 - It's almost St. Patrick's Day and holy crap! My street is on the parade route! Better remember to move the car so I don't get trapped on the day of the parade!

If you want to see more pictures of spring flowers or just read a great blog about botany and gardening--particularly small space and urban gardening, check out You Grow Girl. I have been reading two of Gayla Trail's books this winter, Grow Great Grub and the newest, Easy Growing. Today I learned that the latter is available for the Nook, and I couldn't be more thrilled!!!!! Also, I love the violet photo on today's post. Between this post and her book, I wish I could find a place to buy Viola odorata and start growing them on the roof.

It's raining again today--cold and wet and gray. Back to the winter routine. But it's easy to be a little happier just knowing yesterday (sunny and high 50's) happened.

This morning I had two bizarre public transit incidents. The first is lengthy enough for its own post. The second is short enough, but involved backstory, so I'll save those for tomorrow. I know how I am. I know what's plagued this blog during the busy months of January and February. When I start a lengthy post and have to stop in the middle (because of offline real life), I feel I can't write again until I finish that original draft post. Which seems more and more difficult as time goes on. It's like the unanswered e-mail in an Inbox. Eventually, you reach a point where you're not sure if it's worse to ignore it or worse to finish and send that draft, reminding the person that they e-mailed you in the first place thereby notifying them of your delayed response so that they can get mad at you.

So more tomorrow!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Great weekend!

I took a picture of gorgeous crocuses today, and the website that lets me get pictures off of my phone is not working, so I can't share it with you.

Despite the fact that I spent most of the weekend on a chair, in front of this computer, working on schoolwork, it was a nice weekend. It's hard not to be happy the first days of warm, sunny weather in Portland. Despite my work, I managed to accomplish some productive things such as laundry, contacting the car insurance company about getting on one policy with HM to save money (a story for later), taking my broken laptop to a great local repair shop to find that it was only my power cord that needed replaced, going for at least a half-hour walk every day, baking a loaf of homemade bread (from dough that was in the fridge--the whole thing wasn't done this weekend in the midst of all this schoolwork), making a batch of vegan root vegetable chocolate chili from a 2010 issue of BUST, and beginning to plan this year's garden.

Tomorrow brings rain, but sunny, springy weather is in the forecast. Unfortunately that means time to say goodbye to root vegetables before I'm ready and hello to the greens that wilt in your crisper drawer before you can use them. At least hardy kiwis and green garlic are coming soon, too.

Speaking of root vegetables, a friend lent me a book on winter cooking with all kinds of new ideas for my newfound favorites such as parsnips and celeriac. (I don't believe I've written about it much here, but as far as my kitchen life is concerned, I am obsessed with celeriac. In normal life, don't worry, my mind is not consumed with thoughts of celeriac.) I will have to cram in as many of these as I can before the wilty, flimsy spring salad greens take over.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Saturday full of paper

I am writing a paper this weekend.

It is hard. It makes me want to whine, "School is hard. Why am I going to school?" In between moments where I get a flash of inspiration and think, "It's fun designing my very own madeup government programs! It's fun dreaming up ways to address real problems!"

Despite the temperatures in the thirties and the snow of the weekdays, this weekend seems to have brought spring to Portland. Today was 55 and on-and-off sunny and cloudy. Tomorrow is supposed to be 55 and sunny. Despite THE PAPER I have gotten outside a bit, such as to visit the bi-monthly farmers' market. I made my usual stop to buy mini biodynamic apples from Mt. Hood Organic Farms, from a young girl who is selling them to earn enough money for a cat (to care for it, not just to buy the cat.) I stocked up on my favorite root vegetables from Persephone Farm--celeriac, parsnips, turnips, and beets, all things about which not everyone gets excited. (But I do.) HM and I also got some vegetable starts for our roof garden--fennel, dwarf snap peas (don't need to be trellised!!!!!! very exciting news for a roof gardener), spigariello, turnips, and collards.

I have run out of things to say. So here is another picture from the trip to Eugene that I took with Julianna.

This hellebore is called 'Jade Tiger.'

This is the one I bought! It's not the prettiest picture, but you can get an idea of how interesting the variegated petals are. This one is 'Jade Star.'

We got a TV for Christmas, and I love it so much I took a picture. We had an old-fashioned boxy one that we used for movies and video games, but it stopped working, so no more Super Nintendo. This new TV has a receiver for channels. I didn't really understand that there were channels you can get without paying for them. Because I don't think that existed in my hometown. Now I know what "network" TV is. That means I can watch 30 Rock when it is really on, although I end up watching it on Hulu anyway. The really exciting thing is that we get OPB. Now I've seen Oregon Field Guide!!!! An entire TV show about Oregon and nature!!!! Although mostly what I learned was that this is not a show to watch when tipsy, as anything campy or low-budget about it seems really funny, and all of the science seems really complicated. I look forward to watching it in the future, before I've had the one beer it takes to make me tipsy.

That picture, however, is of the OPB radio channel. That's right, no more attempting to stream NPR on my computer! Now I can turn on the radio on the TV with a still picture of a snowy tree! Every few minutes, this changes to a different still picture of something like a park bench, snowman, or frost-edged leaf.

Friday, March 02, 2012

More March (including plants)

Happy second day of March and second day in a row of posting!

The sunset sky, unusually dramatic, inspired me yesterday. I spent some time just staring at its reflection in the vases I have on my kitchen windowsill, where I am attempting to force some mystery bulbs mailed to me by HM's family.

I wasn't sure if I should use a pebble dish or forcing jars, so I just let luck and fate make the decision for me. I went to Goodwill and found three vases that could be set up similarly to forcing jars, so that's what I'm using. One bulb has grown mold at its root end, but the other two bulbs have started to grow roots that have reached the water!

Look at the root!

A month ago, my laptop stopped working. I have paper due on Monday, so I dug out the old laptop that I had been using until I replaced it in 2010. Luckily, I never finishing cleaning out its hard drive so that I could donate it to Free Geek; I still have it for emergencies.

What made me stop using it was, besides its age, the fact that the keyboard is broken and the laptop can only be used with a USB keyboard plugged in. This is fine for sitting at a desk, but annoying if you plan on taking your laptop out in public.

The laptop is like a time capsule of the life I had in my first year of Portland life, as I was transitioning from my sad last year in New Jersey to a new life in a new place. On the desktop is an MP3 of the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song "Home." Remember when that was a new song? Remember hearing that song when it was still indie, before it started appearing in commercials and stuff? When I tried to download a new version of Firefox and the "downloads" window popped up, the most recent thing on the list was a PDF of my weekly online unemployment form. That laptop was like an undisturbed image of that time, a package of the joy and excitement of every discovery in my new city and every new friendship, as well as the despair of searching for jobs in the early days of the recession and the quiet, buried panic of a life with no sense of stability and no clear view of what the future might hold.

That computer, which is seven years old, so old I'm afraid to try and upgrade the version of Ubuntu it's using, works as well as it ever did with just one program running. However, it cannot multitask anymore. Trying to use Google Chrome and Rhythmbox (kind of like iTunes) at the same time was like watching a squished-but-not-dead insect try to walk.

I have a sentimental attachment to things. It's one way in which I am not practical. I don't know if I will ever give that laptop to Free Geek. I think it might be my backup laptop and my time capsule of 2010 forever.

Also, the flowers pictured above were given to me by HM earlier this week!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Roof garden on the first day of March

It snowed in Portland last night, and it even stuck. The stuck snow even stayed the next morning, not like the last snow which washed away and turned to slush by the time I left to catch the bus.

That is my roof garden this morning, with its light topping of snow. This picture, taken with a not-smart cell phone, is by no means art. I'm not going to pretend I think it is. One way to look at this is that it is the reality of a winter garden, especially an urban garden that has no choice but to exist on a roof in a collection of salvaged containers (old drawers and things that were not meant to be planters) and the cheapest planters we could find at Fred Meyer/on streetside free piles. That garden might, at first and even second glance, look sad. A sad mass of tangled blackened plant pieces with the occasional spindly, weak, small-leafed stem struggling through the knotty dead masses toward the infrequently apparent Portland winter sun.

The unorganized messy green is perhaps what real life looks like. In what appears to be a struggling garden, I see perennial heuchera and penstemon that never really went dormant, last year's kale rapidly producing new leaves, re-seeded radishes or mustard or arugula (we won't really know for a month or so), a pot of rebounding forget-me-nots, and the beginning of the return of three kinds of strawberry plants, two kinds of mint, two kinds of sage, marjoram, lemon balm, and probably some other herbs I forgot about. This is just what it looks like, the necessary ugly, imperfect stage preceding what will surely be an abundant and beautiful summer in the roof garden.

Or maybe it's just an ugly cell phone picture of a lazily groomed garden planted in cheap containers and trash! (Either way, I'll have some nice fruits and herbs this summer.) It's not like it's impossible to make art in a winter garden or to keep a winter garden well-groomed.

Taken March 2009 at The Frelinghuysen Arborteum in Morristown, NJ. Much more nicely landscaped than my roof garden. What a beautiful place!