Archive for November, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving coma

November 25, 2007

It’s been a busy week, but here’s time to take a breath and give you a little update.

Wednesday Brenda and I celebrated National Throw-Flour-Around-the-Kitchen day (what we have come to call the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). We baked two pumpkin and one apple pies, 1 1/2 dozen croissants, and the acorn squash to be reheated with butter and brown sugar on the big day. Then Brenda went home and made a big tuna casserole that was lovely.

The turkey was perfect again. There’s something about the wood stove oven that just cooks them to a golden even color all over and done all the way through. We added mashed potatoes, two kinds of stuffing, steamed broccoli, a wonderful cherry jello salad thingy that a neighbor brought, quarts of gravy, and of course we ended up with far too much food, as always.

So last night was the first of several leftovers. I mixed the two stuffings, added some turkey pieces, and rebaked it, taking the top off for the last 20-30 minutes to brown the whole thing. We reheated the leftover vegetables and gravy, and–voila! Dinner.

But Ben has a limited tolerance for turkey, and he’s been very gracious about two turkey dinners and two days of turkey sandwiches. So tonight I’m leaving the rest of the turkey at near freezing and cooking up a big pan of scalloped potatoes with ham. When it’s almost ready, I’ll make a little cole slaw. We can kill the rest of the turkey tomorrow with pasta, mushrooms, and a tetrazini sauce, add a big green salad, and call it the end of the season. Christmas, of course, requires a standing rib of beef.

Inger, Tom, and Lisa have gone home. Fritz is still with us. He can stay another month as far as I’m concerned. We’re really enjoying the visit. Ralph and Brenda have an out-of-town guest tonight, so we’re actually enjoying a quiet threesome evening after days of cooking and eating and cooking and eating and yakking. Most satisfactory.

Fritz came into the kitchen while I was preparing the potatoes and asked, “So, are you using a recipe for this?” Of course I wasn’t. I’ve been making these so long that it’s only a question of how many potatoes I peel, which is a function of how many are eating and how big the baking dish is.

It’s also kind of a private joke. Ralph has been teasing me lately about my inability to follow a recipe. I can always find something to improve. He said he actually expects to see a cookbook someday with a title something like “Recipes for Real Food” with a subtitle of “Mere Suggestions for Marianne, of Course.”

Fritz is a metal sculptor (among many other things), and he arrived with a wonderful assortment of wall hangings made from saw blades–a terrific possum hanging over the shop soffit, and a smiling crescent moon and fierce-looking North Wind awaiting placement.

Yesterday Lisa got us all going making wreaths, so tonight my house is sort of still Thanksgiving inside (with the cornucopia and fall fruits still on the sideboard) and sort of Christmas outside, with a big wreath hanging on the front wall. We’re sliding into the transition.

I’m dithering over whether to make biscuits to go with dinner. It seems redundant. We still have leftover croissants (only three) and leftover apricot scones from this morning’s breakfast, and leftover pie, and a bit of the leftover pumpkin roll with a cream cheese filling (wow!) that Lisa brought. But the oven is hot. . .

We’ll see how many days we can sustain the carbo-coma before we all collapse into a heap of sugar and butter.

Note: I started the week with 6 pounds of butter in the fridge. There are fewer than 2 pounds left. These meals are not for the faint-of-heart or the cholesterol-challenged.

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The writing life, brother update, communion

November 18, 2007

Tonight is, as Nero Wolfe would have said, satisfactory, all things considered.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and like many women (and more than a few men, I suspect) in America, I’m focused on what has to be bought, what has to be prepared (not just food but guest rooms and so on) to make this a great holiday.

We’ll have a full house here on Thursday. A friend that we haven’t seen in 12 years arrived today. We’ll have several days to visit and tell lies, then others will begin to enter into the conversation–our daughter, a neighbor, and of course my brother Tom and his wife Lisa.

“You should know,” Tom told me this morning, “that this is likely the last holiday I will spend away from home. I got some bad news from my doctor yesterday.”

The other shoe has fallen. The chemo isn’t working. They can continue radiation to ameliorate the effects of the tumors in his head. It’s risky, but Tom’s going for it. But it won’t help what’s happening in his lungs. Two months, they’ve given him.

So all we can do at this point is celebrate what is. And I hope to do that expansively. We’ll feast, and celebrate, and find the small things that make life special. I’m hoping Ralph will take Tom fishing, something he loves so much. The steelhead are running, so it could be quite an exciting adventure. Lisa and I will make wreaths for Christmas. And we’ll wait.

Tonight I went to town as part of my regular gig with Writers on the Edge. I got to introduce Lauren Kessler, a remarkable Oregon writer. She writes books with a journalistic eye and a poet’s sensibilities about people that we probably wouldn’t otherwise hear about. Her most recent books are Stubborn Twig, a narrative about Japanese immigrants who lost virtually everything in the WW II interment and Dancing With Rose, subtitled “Finding Life in the World Of Alzheimers.”

Today a magazine editor e-mailed me asking permission to publish one of my poems. This has never happened before. It was very cool.

It’s very hard to make sense of all this good news/bad news stuff. But there seems to be no option to the path of least resistance: Just keep plugging along.

Rainy day, funny day. . .

November 17, 2007

I made an amazing re-discovery today. The tiles of the fire-retardant pad under my wood cookstove are actually white! Who’d have thought it?

The area under the cookstove takes a beating, what with spattered grease, stacked firewood (it’s a perfect place to dry wood that is basically cured but a bit damp), and of course, the occasional slop-overs as I carry pots back and forth. But Thanksgiving is coming, and we’re having a houseful of folks here, so it was time to tidy a bit.

Move the firewood, sweep, mop–a simple sequence. Then move the wood back, but this time onto white tiles rather than something nondescript.

White might not have been the optimal choice, but I elected to go for light in the area rather than a more dirt-hiding color. And at least I can tell when they’re dirty.

We’ve logged 2.2 inches of rain in the last couple of days. Very soggy here.

Nice treat in the mail, a book from my friend Phil in Cornwall, an autobiography/memoir by one of my favorite writers. I’m hoping for more rain.

The first of a number of houseguests arrives tomorrow, so the next week will be full of fun. I’m surrounded by cleaning detergents and implements, shopping lists, and the other paraphenalia that goes with a major holiday. Spent a creative moment today assembling an homage to autumn on my little spare table in the kitchen: a cornucopia, dried leaves from the yard, nuts in the shell, gourds, wheat stalks, and a couple of candles (which I hope won’t set the rest of it on fire–that’s been known to happen).

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is known in our house as National Throw Flour Around the Kitchen Day. It’s the main day of the year when I get to ignore the demands of real life and regular meals and bake pies and bread and croissants, map out a strategy for the big day, and generally create a huge mess. This year, with all of my new flours, I’m looking forward to an adventure.

As the days get shorter, it’s hard not to enjoy it–sleeping in an extra few minutes, dozing in front of the fire with the radio on, outside chores set aside for the moment. In another short month, they’ll start getting longer again, and things will start to grow, and the whole craziness will start all over.

 In the meanwhile–z-z-z-z-z-z-z. And happy Thanksgiving to all of those of you out there who celebrate it.

Big Bird day, dinner improvisation

November 15, 2007

It’s been a bit wild around here today, both figuratively and literally. The predicted storm has yet to blow in. Last night’s fires did the trick, but it was still only 34F when I got up this morning, so it took two fires today to keep the house overheated. . .

No sign of the cougar, which is fine with me, but this morning I was enjoying the cold air when a pair of bald eagles put on an aerial performance the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Two VERY large ones engaged in some sort of pursuit game circled the meadow in and out of the alders for several minutes.

There are two possibilities: 1) They were fighting over fishing territory, or 2) one of them wanted to mate and the other either a) didn’t, or b) was playing coy. And I’ll probably never know the truth.

One of the really neat things about winter here is that the bald eagles return. I’m not sure where they spend their summers (farther north, I’m told), but come the cold weather and the fish returning up the river to spawn, they’re back. They’re not shy. You can walk darned near up to one and just have it watch you closely. Having seen those talons and beak from close proximity, I assure you I would never challenge one.

This afternoon, I heard a very strange noise from the river. I convinced Ben it must be a beaver (they’re REALLY bad this year) working on one of the big maples, so he wandered down. But it was really a great blue heron, which proceeded to fly up and circle the meadow several times complaining about having its fishing disturbed.

Also notable today: winter wrens and Oregon juncos, two of my favorites, in plentiful supply.

Tonight’s dinner was a surprise, even to me. I got out the B/S chicken breasts I got to roast in garlic olive oil and discovered that I’d really bought chicken strips (the result, no doubt, of shopping without putting my reading glasses on). So we had battered chicken strips with garlic and olive oil roasted potatoes instead. Enough leftovers to get me through lunch tomorrow.

Now, all of these birds make me realize I must fly.

Gun totin’ granny, the bureaucracy in action, and other fun stories

November 14, 2007

I picked up my concealed handgun permit today, having completed the safety course, filled out reams of paper work, and had my background thoroughly checked, both my criminal and mental history, and solicited references from a couple of friends.

The best part of it is, for a mere $65 and a few hours time, I’ve been certified as sane and non-felonious for the next four years. I think that alone is worth $15 a year.

Most of the people who know me are surprised that I even applied for one. But I think that’s because they live in town. I, on the other hand, spend a fair number of hours each week driving alone on a gravel road (11 miles each way) with no cell service available. It pays to be prepared. I’ve owned a great pistol (.38 Special S&W that’s really accurate) for years. Now I can carry it with me when I’m off on my wild adventures. And if I have to get out and hike a mile or two to the nearest phone, I’ll feel much better about it.

There are a couple of different ways to meet the consumer safety course requirement. One is to spend 6 hours on two different weekends in a classromm about a 2-hour drive away, looking at PowerPoint slides and listening to an instructor drone on. The other way, and the one I elected to pursue, is to go to a certified instructor for one-on-one training. I’m so glad I did that. The woman I learned from taught firearms proficiency at the police academy for four years and now has a private security company. She also has a great shooting range in her back yard set up to simulate a variety of shooting situations.

I’ve done a fair amount of shooting, but it’s virtually all been target, which is great for practice but doesn’t prepare you for the unexpected. I learned more in an hour with Kay than I could possibly have hoped for. I scored a resounding 97% on my shooting test (I really only had difficulty with a little exercise designed to simulate shooting while taking cover–my creaky knees were a problem, so I’ll just have to hope that any gunfights I’m involved in are out in the open–just a joke. . .).

I also paid the land taxes today while I was in town. Ben somehow added 47 and 46 and got 89, so the check he sent in with me was $.04 short. I told the nice clerk I had $.04 in actual cash and would make up the difference. She said she’d have to issue me a separate receipt and wouldn’t I like to modify the check instead. I said “no,” I’d pay her the four cents. I did and she did and I suggested that it probably cost a great deal more than four cents just to issue me the separate receipt, at which she nodded ruefully. But that was the only way to get the taxes paid in full.

I also finally bought a Wii today. I’m probably depriving some poor child of what he wants for Christmas, but as Ben pointed out, we’ve bought virtually every Nintendo machine made for the last 19 years, and there’s no reason to stop now. I gave up last holiday season when they were in short supply (translated–impossible to find), but now we have the console, a second controller, a “classic” controller for use when I download the older games (I am so impressed that Nintendo is making this capability available–I can jettison our other three game boxes and still play all the other versions of Zelda), and the new Zelda, Super Mario Galaxy, and Tiger Woods golf. Winter’s almost here, so it was time to do this.

Speaking of winter, it’s totally clear here tonight, which means it’s going to be very cold. The stars are amazing, expecially since the moon is just this little teeny waxing crescent, but the temperature is already nearing freezing. We’ve got both fires going so the house will be at least lukewarm in the morning.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

November 13, 2007

My friend Josh will be ecstatic to learn that The Cluetrain Manifesto is featured prominently in the current issue of The Economist.

The occasion is an article on how marketers are tapping social networks in the cause of promoting their clients’ products. The Economist points to “Cluetrain” as the first broad statement of what they are trying to do.

You might want to read the article and then consider what you are revealing on your Facebook or My Space Page. 

If you aren’t familiar with the 95 theses (not a coincidence: the authors are hoping to revolutionize marketing the way that Luther tried to revlotionize the Church) of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the entire text is online. Go to the home page for a quick recap, then click on “Read. . .” in the left navigation bar.

Cougar Standard Time

November 11, 2007

This morning started off as Sunday mornings often do. I awoke early, and rather than tossing and turning, got up, put on my slippers and grabbed a cover, and went downstairs to sit in front of the fire and listen to NPR.

It’s a good thing Weekend Edition – Sunday repeats several times, because as usual, I dozed back off. I heard Ben come downstairs, reheat the coffe, and go up to his office. I dozed off again. Then I heard, “Come here! Right now! The lion’s in the field again.”

Sure enough, out the spare bedroom window I could see a cougar, about 3/4 grown, strolling through the meadow like he owned it.

Now, I enjoy the wildlife about as much as anyone can. I like the idea that we have bears and lions (no tigers so far, thank goodness) living in the woods around us. I don’t like the idea that they feel free to stroll around what is essentially my front yard. This guy is just big enough that he’s been thrown off the folks place and told to go stake out his own territory. He can do it here, but only if he’s discreet about it.

Ben frightened him off with a well-placed rifle shot. We’ll see if he comes back. I confess I’d much rather look at the deer that are undoubtedly providing his meals, so there’s a basic conflict here.

Needless to say, after that I was fully awake and even got to hear the puzzlemaster.

Obama, the legacy of Vietnam, the future

November 10, 2007

The new Atlantic Monthly has a marvelous piece by Andrew Sullivan titled “Goodbye to All That.” But the cover plug identifies it as “Why Obama Matters.” Both are a good description.

One of the things that disturbs me the most about the current political and social scenes is the absolute polarization of the discourse. Once upon a time, it seems to me, it was possible to have “civil discourse,” with the emphasis on civil in both meanings of the word. Now it seems it takes only an expressed opinion to cause the opposite view to rear an ugly head screaming and shouting.

The last “inexperienced” President we had was JFK. He changed the way Americans felt about themselves and about the world. We can never know what his legacy would truly have been, because his presidency was abruptly terminated by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, only three years into his term. The legacy he left us with in his abrupt departure was the quagmire of Vietnam. Sullivan identifies this as the tainting factor of all politics since.

Sullivan’s main point is that all of the movers and shakers of the political establishment are colored by the divisive attitudes that emerged in the late 1960s as a result of the Vietnam conflict. He suggests that perhaps it’s time for another generation to take over and change the discourse. The obvious candidate is Barack Obama.

Is Obama up to the task? I don’t know. I do know that for me, even as a member of the Vietnam generation, the alternatives are all unattractive.

40% of Americans have never known a President who was not a Bush or a Clinton. This is scary.

I spoke at length tonight with one of my sisters with whom I haven’t spoken in a couple of years. There’s no animus here. We just have very different lives and very different priorities, so we have little reason to speak except at weddings and funerals. And she missed the last family wedding, so I haven’t seen her since our father’s funeral.

But she related an epiphany she had recently. Her husband goes to work about 2:30 a.m. On a recent evening, he left for work and she was wakeful (translated: insomniac), so she got up and turned on the TV. On screen was Al Pacino sitting across a table from a “younger man.” And Al says, “If you just keep looking backward, you give up your entire life.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me that 20 years or more ago?” she asked me.

Maybe it is time for those of us whose values were forged by the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s to step aside and pass the torch to people untainted by them. It may be time for a changing of the guard.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that what we’re doing with grooming politicians for decades to keep up the status quo isn’t working. It shouldn’t be a question of “It’s my turn now.” It should be a question of leadership, and forward movement, and an acknowledgement that our world is changing.

We can’t keep looking at the past, or we risk losing the present.

I think “The Oregonian” should change its name

November 9, 2007

Oregon has only one major newspaper: The Oregonian. If you want to have a clue what’s going on, you have to read it at least part of the time.

The Eugene Register Guard and the Salem Statesman Journal would like to be major newspapers. They just don’t quite get there.

But The Oregonian’s name is now misleading. It no longer represents or even presents the values of the residents of the state. It should be renamed The Portland Journal or some such thing.

The Oregonian has been gradually abandoning large parts of the state. Delivery services have been stopped in such places as Wallowa County and the valley I live in. Of course, you can get a mail subscription if you don’t mind your paper costing more and being a few days late. But lately it’s been hard to even buy one if I drive an hour to town to get it.

More than half of the residents of Oregon live in the Portland metro area (Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties), as I think I noted previously. But these areas comprise about 10%, possibly less, of the physical area of Oregon. They exclude the grain belt, the cattle ranchers, the timber lands, and other significant portions of Oregon commerce and real estate.

And The Oregonian seems content to ignore all of these.

But here is the latest umbrage-invoking act:

The Oregonian has created a group called “Community Writers.” In this Sunday’s paper, they introduced them.

The group was announced with a lot of folderol. This group, the newspaper said, would be diverse and represent the widest possible interests in the state. They would be encouraged to speak bluntly about what was on their minds and not be censored by the editorial staff.

Then came the profiles of the 12 people selected. Forget the obvious fact that this is, for the most part, a very lily-white group. There is one person under 30, and, if memory serves me well, two people over 50.

But there is only one person who lives more than an hour’s drive from Portland. There are two more who arguably live in smaller towns outside the immediate urban conglomerate known as the greater Portland area. But Hood River and McMinneville are still close enough to Portland (less than an hour) to be engaged in that area on a regular basis.

Where are the real representatives of the rural areas of the state? MIA, that’s where.

The editorial staff of The Oregonian seems to be completely out of touch with about half of the state’s population. And they seem content to have it so.

So maybe I’m just spitting into the wind here, but it seems to me that the fair thing to do would be for the paper to change its name to something that more accurately reflects what it represents. Full disclosure and all, you know.

The Oregonian it ain’t. Not any more.

Say goodbye to “the common good”

November 8, 2007

I ranted a couple of days ago about our cowardly legislators, and I suppose this is a related topic. The election results are in, and I am very depressed all over again.

I was born and grew up in Oregon, although I haven’t lived here all my life. But I’m old enough to remember when there WAS an Oregon. People who lived here or were from here were always proud of the fact. Oregon was different. It was, perhaps, peopled by an odd assortment of folks, but it worked, maybe because there were so many odd ones. They respected each other’s right to be odd.

Now, it seems we live in a divided state. It’s divided in many ways, but certainly the most obvious one is the urban/rural divide. And the differences are so great that it might as well be two different planets.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in three counties–Multnomah (Portland), Washington (Beaverton/Hillsboro), and Clackamas (the eastern suburbs). The combined weight of all these bodies (and votes) is enough to skew most elections in favor of what the urbanites want. And far, far too many of them have no idea what Oregon is really all about.

But what’s worse, they have no idea that what is a great solution for Portland may not play out so well in counties where the average town population is under 10,000 people. Or if they do, they don’t care.

Here are the election results:

Measure 49 (severing restricting the property rights voted in twice by the people of Oregon in majority votes, most recently in Measure 37): Passed handily, about 62% of the vote statewide. But the heavy yeses were all in the populous counties. The lesser populated counties had a mix, but generally voted no.

Measure 50 (adding a very large tax to each pack of cigarettes to pay for children’s health care): Failed. No one disagrees that children need health insurance, but as one columnist pointed out, if we really think it’s so important, a levy of $1.29 a month on each household would pay for the program. The legislature had extra money this year and opted to allocate not a cent of it for the project. I’d like to note at this point that Measure 50 actually passed in Multnomah County, the only county in which it did. But it did not pass by sufficient margin to outweigh the votes of the rest of the state. In more rural areas, people are aware that the ones they are taxing are their neighbors, and they seem more sensitive to issues of fairness.

I’m actually in favor of things like user fees. If they would tax cigarettes to pay for the increased health costs of smoking, I probably would even vote for that. If they would license bicycles to pay for bicycle lanes, I’l love it (and I would have a way to identify the asshole bicycle riders that you meet occasionally). Let’s increase alcohol taxes and spend the money on drunk driving enforcement and additional police officers and more treatment programs. That sort of thing actually makes sense.

One of the concepts that the original European settlers brought with them was the concept of “the commons.” Each of the old, old towns you find on the east coast has a “commons” area. The commons was a part of the landscape that residents shared. Each resident could graze a cow or sheep on the commons instead of having to have enough property to do it at their residence.

The commons was a cooperative concept. No one was allowed to hog the grazing space. It was for the good of all.

What I think we’ve lost is the idea that decisions should be measured in terms of what is “good for all.” It seems to have been replaced by “what is good for me”: “This is important, but I don’t want to pay for it. Who can we stick with the bill?”

I’m also tired of being barraged with the old canard that I need to maintain my place in its pristine condition so that city residents can take a drive in the country and enjoy the view. Aside from the fact that they often trespass, leave behind beer cans and other garbage, and roar down the road with radios blaring, I frankly don’t think it’s my responsibility to maintain their amusement. Of course, if they wanted to help pay my property taxes and other maintenance costs, I might feel differently.

I have another rant about our state’s largest newspaper, but I think it’s going to have to wait for tomorrow.

But I have to admit I’m mulling over new possible meanings for the “not im my back yard” attitude.