Archive for June, 2007

A few more words about Beer Chips. . .

June 22, 2007

Updated with access to the Beer Chips Web site

I don’t buy things because of their packaging, but I have to admit that when I see what I consider elegant and well thought out packaging, it catches my attention and admiration.

One of the reasons I bought the first bag of Beer Chips was the packaging. It caught my eye. It has the visual quality of a mylar balloon, suggesting lightness AND festivity, celebration. It’s bright gold, suggesting richness and elegance. The lettering is black, nice for contrast, but also pretty assertive. Altogether, it was enough to make me pick up the package and look at it, even thought I had already gone through checkout.

On the back was some information about the product, which was nice, and the suggestion that although Beer Chips wouldn’t make me drunk, they might make me more interesting. Nice point. There was also an e-mail address in case I had “something important to tell them.” Very nice!

Then there was the upside down entry that I mentioned to Lisa in my earlier post: “If you can read this, you’re spilling your Beer Chips.”

They had me then, and I had to try them. I have a huge aversion to the warning labels that seem to be mandated on everything from toilet paper to tractors. When I read most of them, my immediate reaction is, “Duh! People who need this warning should be subject to Darwin’s hypothesis about the survival of the fittest.”

But I admit that I found it rather charming that the Beer Chips folks would consider warning people who might be using their product in conjunction with somewhat less than responsible activity not to waste the product. Then I discovered they were manufactured and sold from Portland.

I picked up a bag and got back in the checkout line.

My overall reaction as a consumer: They’re very tasty. They are a tiny bit sweet, somewhat like the sweet potato chips that are appearing now, but they are also very, very crisp, like another Portland product, Kettle Chips, that I also find a favorite.

The bag is nearly empty, and truth be told, I’ll probably buy more, even though I don’t eat potato chips all that often. But these were yummy and a good value for the money. Besides, these seem to be quirky people that I would be happy to support.

If you’d like more information about Beer Chips, including the ability to order them even if you don’t live in Oregon, go to the Beer Chips Web site.

PS: It appears that this post is going to come from Moonjelly. I’m still learning some of the ins and outs of WordPress, but I’m participating in another blog where I’d rather be a little more anonymous, so I’ve changed my public name and picture. If it bothers you, let me know.

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New toy, fav tools, new food, hummingbirds, and book worth reading

June 20, 2007

Whew! Can I cram all of that into one blog post? I think so. And things are so busy this time of year that I have to try.

About 7 years ago, Ben asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I answered, “My very own stringcutter (weed eater).” He recovered from his shock eventually, and bought me a Ryobi power head with the “quick link” feature to add attachments.

This was something like the day I said “We have to buy another shovel.” This was before we even had an outhouse out here. But we did have a 6-year-old daughter who had trouble planning ahead. She would say, “Mom, I have to go. I really have to go,” and of course Ben would be at the far end of the property with our only shovel. So we bought another shovel, and life got easier. Then we built an outhouse, and things were great. Now we have septic and real plumbing and I no longer have to get up in the middle of the night wondering what sort of animal has sought the relative warmth of the outhouse, a result, I’m sure, of listening to too much of The Dillards bluegrass music.

But I got my new weed eater. Ben really liked it, and so I never got to use it. It was always gone. But he complained about the smell of the exhaust, so I bought him the 4-cycle version, which used the same attachments. He loved it. But there was a hitch. The 4-cycle can’t be run tilting upward, so he couldn’t use the tree-pruning attachment. So I still lost my weedeater.

Yesterday I bought a new one. The company has been sold God-knows-how-many times, and for awhile you couldn’t get them at all. But they’re back, I have a new one, and I’m going to put an assortment of pink stuff on it so everyone knows it’s mine.

Josh, I’m not going to post unboxing pictures. They’d be very boring, as Ryobi has done a great job of minimizing their packaging.

I’m still in love with the hazel hoe and grape hoe in the garden. These heavy-headed cousins of the American hoe are SO useful. Too bad they’re so hard to find.

But I do have a new kitchen tool that I love, an itty-bitty colander (holds about 4 cups). I use it almost every day.

Yesterday I checked out at Bi-Mart and was leaving when a display caught my eye. “Beer Chips.” Now you have to at least stop and look at this, and I’m glad I did. It’s a new product from a Portland-based company–potato chips made with beer. They’re delicious–crispy, a little sweet, bet you can’t eat just one.

The hummingbirds, I think, have finally started nesting. Thank God! I’ve been filling the feeder 2 and sometimes 3 times each day. But their consumtion has dropped severely and the ones that remain are acting definitely hormonal.

When I should have been out gardening today, instead I was reading a rather amazing (and for someone like me depressing) book–Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. I have added Neil Postman to my list of authors I really want to talk with who are, unfortunately, dead.

This is a terrific book, and a must read for anyone who is worried about the sociological habits of the 21st century American. It was written more than 20 years ago. And reading it left me so depressed, because he is right, right, right, and there may be no fixing it.

Now it’s time to cook dinner. Leftover chili. If you haven’t discovered Carroll Shelby’s (former race car driver/ race car builder) chili mix, do so immediately. It’s terrific.

Slouching toward summer: Photos of hummers and garden

June 15, 2007

I have no creativity at the moment, so here’s a quick update on the state of things around here.

I’ve tried and tried (without much success) to get a few good pictures of the hummingbirds. But when the light is right, I don’t have the camera, and blah, blah, blah. But maybe these will give you some idea of the crowd around the back deck. If you look carefully, you can count 7 (two of them tails only) on the feeder with one waiting in the wings. You can’t see the other 9-10 that are diving around in the trees.

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One of the rufous ones just coming in for a landing. Note the alert posture of some of the others waiting to see if she’s going to eat or attack:

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The current state of the blueberry crop:

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I’ve been eating a few raspberries and strawberries. These won’t be too long. They’re the earliest of my six varieties.

Here’s the top part of the garden:

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Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, radishes, onions, bush green beans, baby and mature lettuce, a few tomato plants, some herbs(cilantro and dill), and the strawberry bed in the background. Below the fold, so to speak, off to my left, are corn, squash(four kinds), melons, cucumbers, more tomatoes, some volunteer potatoes, hot peppers, green peppers, eggplant, artichokes, and rhubarb. The bare spot on the left is a road to get the mowers or the RTV in and out. There are also a few scattered flowers–roses, dahlias, zinnias, and snapdragons. Those are for the soul rather than the stomach.

A few quick thoughts about writing and manuscripts

June 15, 2007

I know a couple of you have written and I haven’t responded. I promise to do so shortly. But tonight I’m really, really tired, and I don’t have the energy to go figure out who I have and haven’t answered.

But something interesting happened today.

This morning I cranked out a biography, publishing credits and table of contents for a poetry manuscript of some 70+ pages. Then I drove to the post office to make sure it got postmarked within the competition deadline.

I chatted briefly with the nice woman behind the counter of my small local post office, explaining my concerns about the postmark. She told me how she would ensure that it was readable, and blah, blah, blah.

Then she looked at the address and said, “Oh, you’re a writer?” I admitted I was guilty as charged.

“That’s really exciting!” she said. And I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it in those terms. Mostly, writing is hard work interrupted by feelings of immense satisfaction. She saw the blank look on my face, I’m sure, and added, “At least, I think it’s really exciting.”

Some years ago, a friend of mine who writes really terrible poetry (I can say that because I know she’ll never see this) said, “Well, you may be an author because you have a published book, but you’re a writer because you write.” I thought that was an interesting distinction. And true.

I hope I made some appropriate remark to the post office lady, but to tell you the truth, I was so taken aback by her enthusiasm that I have no idea what I said. But I do think that I’ll keep going to the little post office to mail my stuff in the future. I want to share her excitement in my poor publishing efforts.

At any rate, the manuscript, as they say, is in the mail, with an appropriate postmark. I have let the universe know that I’d really like to win this competition, and in about 10 weeks I should know how well the universe listened. Maybe it’s like the old saw: God answers every prayer; you just may not like the answer.

There’s much more to say, about berries and gardens and birds and far more important things than poetry manuscripts, but it will have to wait for another day.

Update from the Big Elk

June 11, 2007

I think my manuscript might actually come together. Today I printed out a lot of poems and loosely organized them. I wasn’t happy with the title I used previously, but I’ve settled on a new one, thanks to Mike Green, my previous director at Intel. Mike’s a writer also, and when he said, “I wish I’d written that,” I listened.

But I found another reason why I’m still married (and remarkably happily so) after all of these years. Ben has surprised me from time to time in what he reads. I subscribe to a number of relatively weird (or at least esoteric) publications. One of the ones that Ben reads regularly is The New York Review of Books. Not what I would have chosen for him to read, but I’m glad he likes it as much as I do. Reading this weekly gives you a taste of reading much more widely and a hint as to where you might read more deeply. That’s where I discovered E. B. White’s collected letters, for example, a book that almost instantly catapulted to my list of all-time favorites.

But Ben likes the NYRB I think for much the same reasons I do. I was putzing around in the kitchen the other morning when he said, “OK, it’s finally happened. There’s a word here that I don’t understand.”

He brought the magazine out to where I was puttering around. I didn’t have my reading glasses, but between the two of us and his spelling efforts, we determined that the word in question was “misogynist.” “Do you know what that means?” He asked. I told him it was a word that describes someone who hates women.

“That would be a very hard word to use in a sentence,” he said, and I fell in love all over again. Ben is definitely not a man who could comprehend hating women. . .

The hummingbirds are eating me out of house and home. I had to buy ten more pounds of sugar yesterday (just got ten a week or so ago). But they are consuming about two quarts of syrup daily. Our count is up to about 20 at feeding-frenzy times, early morning and late evening. I’ve seen 10 sitting on the 6-hole feeder numerous times. They’ve learned to share holes so more can feed at the same time.

We’ve had two days of fairly heavy rain. But the Rose Festival parade was this weekend, so it should clear up any time now.

Ralph made enchiladas (with close supervision) tonight. He’s pretty well mastered the art of corned beef, so this expands his repertoire. They were very good, topped with “the whole Marianne,” a salad of lettuce and tomatoes and olives, and accompanied by guacamole, sour cream, and salsa.

It’s 9:30 and still basically daylight outside. I love this time of year. By the time I get everything shut down, it will probably be dark. And so to bed.

Magic happens

June 9, 2007

My blogging friend Ombusben posted a wonderful entry about “Mocking the Mockingbirds.” I took me back in space and time to at least two different occasions.

If there is something I really miss in western Oregon, it’s mockingbirds. I guess we just don’t have quite enough heat for them to enjoy living here. Or maybe they’re just too lazy to commute for such a short warm time.

Several decades ago, I lived in northern Marin County in California. I loved the house, including the 40′ swimming pool in the back yard. The story I want to tell you began there.

At the time, I was 8+ months pregnant (a situation that continued for about 6 weeks–my daughter is still chronically late) and very uncomfortable most of the time. I awoke very early in the morning unable to sleep, and I would slip outside and lie in a deck chair by the pool.

In a corner of the yard was a huge Monterey pine, the tallest tree in the neighborhood. Those of you who know mockingbirds will understand that this characteristic makes it a mockingbird magnet.

Each morning a mockingbird (the same one, I’m sure) would come and sit on the very tallest branch and sing to me for hours. He had a huge repertory of bird calls. It’s hard to remember being happier, even as uncomfortable as I was.

When my daughter was 13, I had been living in Oregon for nearly a decade (again–I was born and grew up here). We bought a wonderful old house that had  been horribly abused. But it was a terrific house on a huge lot about 5 minutes from downtown, and we loved it.

I was out slogging in one of the flower beds one morning not too long after we moved in. The yard, if possible, had been even more abused than the house, but we were determined to get it back.

My back and shoulders and knees were all hurting from crawling around weeding. I looked up at a huge spruce tree in the back yard (the tallest in the neighborhood) and thought, “If I just had a mockingbird, I would be totally happy right now.”

Three days later, I was still weeding in the same area. I began to hear beautiful bird song, at least a half dozen different species. I started looking for the birds, and here’s what I found: In the top of the spruce tree was a mockingbird.

He sang for me as I worked for several days. Then he was gone. He never came back.

I’ve often wondered how far he had to come that it took three days to get there. I also wondered how he could have heard my call/wish from wherever he was.

But I will never forget him.

“Judge not, lest. . .”

June 9, 2007

I really think that’s good advice where people are concerned. I do make an effort to withhold judgement about people (although not necessarily about their behavior, as you may have gathered if you’ve been following some of the spirited discussion on this site).

But in the case of Paris Hilton, I confess I’m having a problem holding to my resolve. If she has a medical condition (the news reports hint at mental issues) that precludes her being confined in jail, let her serve her sentence in a mental hospital until she is certified competent or at least stable. I doubt that she would enjoy it, but she’s a little too old (or at least should be) to be calling for Mommy and throwing tantrums in a courtroom where it would appear she has been summoned for legitimate cause.

Another of my favorite movies is “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

A part of me really wants to feel sorry for her. But I’m finding it nearly impossible. My shortcoming, I’m sure.

Rabbit, where have you gone?

June 8, 2007

WordPress says you’ve deleted your blog, but you were there just a day or two ago.

I know you have my e-mail address, so tell me how to catch up with you.

UFOs, unexplained events, and the laugh of the day

June 8, 2007

This just hit my mailbox, and I must confess that I can’t resist posting it, even knowing the FBI is probably already monitoring this blog:

“Many will recall that, on July 8, 1947, witnesses claimed an unidentified object, with five aliens aboard, crashed onto a sheep and cattle ranch just outside Roswell, New Mexico.

” This is a well-known incident which many say has long been covered up by the United States Air Force and the federal government.

“However, what you may NOT know, is that in the month of March 1948, exactly nine months later, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Condoleezza Rice, and Dan Quayle were all born.

See what happens when aliens breed with ranch animals? This information may clear up a lot of questions.”

Actually, if I had just known that these people were in all likelihood all Pisces, it would have explained a lot. . .

Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, and serendipity

June 7, 2007

OK, I did it. I managed to find another of those tasks that sucks up time without a real movement forward, so I’m still, I suppose, procrastinating. But I started in trying to tidy things up in a few places and found myself falling down the rabbit hole of free association once again.

Our house has a “library,” a necessity when you have thousands (not an exaggeration–my current estimate is about 5,000, I quit counting a thousand or so ago) books. But more accurately, it has multiple libraries.

The main library room has most of the fiction, all of Ben’s strange collection of medical, legal, and historical stuff, a ton of biography, and a couple of encyclopedias (children: this is what the world’s collection of knowledge used to be kept in before Wikipedia). The videos, most of the CDs, and even some cassette tapes are filed in what is called (for unknown reasons) “the African gun room,” a separate room off the main library that was originally intended (by Ben) to be a third spare bedroom before we realized how silly that was for a household of two dozens of miles from anywhere.

But my little “office,” originally our daughter’s bedroom here (she is now grown and on her own although she still, I think, prefers her old room to our more sumptuous guest suite when she comes to visit), has its own “library.” These are my books. They are a collection of “high” literary fiction, poetry, literary criticism, cultural and sociological studies, religious studies, and dozens of dictionaries. It also houses needlework and gardening books (the cookbooks are in a separate set of shelves in the kitchen) and my collection of audio and video lectures from The Teaching Company on topics as diverse as Nietzsche, Toqueville, quantum physics, astronomy, geology, and the origins of language.

OK, I hear the question: “You promised to talk about Kesey, Leary, and serendipity, and here you are rambling on about your bookshelves. What gives?”

The procrastinating task I found myself involved in today was trying to determine what on the bookshelves in my office could be dispensed with. This isn’t as stupid a task as it sounds, because the edges of the stairway from the kitchen to our bedroom are lined with books waiting to be put away. If the house caught fire with things as they are now, we’d probably both break our necks just trying to get downstairs in the dark, and the fire problem would be moot.

So I’m sorting away and I come across an old (2002) edition of Tin House, a literary magazine to which I used to subscribe. I start to put it in the reject pile when a cover headline catches my eye: “Ken Kesey’s Last Interview.”

This wouldn’t be so remarkable except that within the last two weeks my friend Carla told me how pleased she was that the interview she did with Ken Kesey, his last, was to be included in this publication’s anniversary anthology. I opened the magazine up, and sure enough, here’s Ken Kesey talking to Carla P****.  This comes out of the reject pile immediately. . .

In her interview, Kesey quotes the I Ching: “The best way to fight evil is to make energetic progress in the good.” Amen.

Kesey is one of my heroes, a kind and gentle person who was capable of great love. He recognized the dangers of the milieu in which he was dealing and did what he could to ameliorate them. I don’t feel the same way about Timothy Leary, who seemed to believe that the hazards of drug experimentation were what would separate the weak from the strong, and the weak be damned.

If there is any confusion at this point about how I feel about drugs, let me clear things up once and for all: I’m “agin” them, sort of. Here’s what I mean by that.

I’ve said elsewhere that marijuana is not for me. I realized that about 30 years ago when I woke up on a Monday morning realizing that the effects of the pot I had smoked on Saturday night were still present in my brain. I didn’t like that.

I have since watched two friends self-destruct on that “friendly” drug, men whose brains I greatly admired who lost the ability to reason when smoking. They ultimately lost it altogether.

There are NO friendly drugs. Alcohol does damage to your body. I accept this, and I try to balance the pleasure and the damage. Cigarettes help destroy your health. I’ve finally reached the point where the negatives aren’t worth the positives, and so I’m struggling with that addiction. Even lowly aspirin has both positive and negative effects.

But to those who would say “Cannabis is good, it promotes good health,” I can only answer, “Sorry, but in my experience it just isn’t true.” All drugs modify the way we perceive the world. So does an over-reliance on technology. So does buying into the current corporate/governmental mantra of “We know what is best for you.”

As a poet, my first job is to see things clearly. My second job is to try to communicate that vision to those who want to listen.

So listen up, guys. Pay attention to what the world around you is saying. If you have to escape, escape, but don’t try to justify it on the basis of “this is good for me.” It just isn’t true. Ken Kesey knew that; Timothy Leary didn’t.