Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The ARC Bike Hike.

Memorial Day Monday this week, as opposed to what I just said last week about Mondays, found Kathy and I working opposite schedules - her all day, me at night. The day was beautiful, though, so instead of sitting home alone all day I decided to do something start-of-summer-y even though I didn't have any barbecues to attend: I took a bike ride. I biked from my house to the Springwater Corridor, which is a piece of awesomeness which I will talk about another time, when I write about how much I like Portland bike-friendliness. The Springwater trail was chock full of people - mainly bikers, a few runners, some dog walkers - but not too crowded to be annoying, and it was overall quite the lovely jaunt. At one point, I passed a boy and his dad on their bikes, and then a few moments later, passed the rest of their family, who were stopped at a point on the trail at an intersection with a larger road, next to a country store. "You made it to the store! Whoohoo!" the mom clapped to her son, and as I heard this I glanced over at the country store, and wished I had brought along any kind of money so I could pretend to be that little boy and go inside and buy a classic ice cream sandwich, maybe, with the brown cookie which sticks to your fingers while you lick around the outside at the vanilla ice cream which inevitably squishes out, or perhaps one of those sugary fruit drinks in a barrel, and as I was thinking about these things, all of a sudden I thought about the Bike Hike.

The Bike Hike was a fundraising event for the Association for Retarded Children of Wayne County, Pennsylvania (not necessarily the most politically correct name, but, it's Wayne County) otherwise known as ARC, and I swear every child in my elementary & middle school participated. I can't even think of how many times I did it. I wanted to write about it as soon as I got home Monday from my bike ride, but instead I spent a long time searching for this picture I know I have somewhere of two old friends, Jenna and Becky, holding up their Bike Hike t-shirts for that year in our middle school cafeteria and looking really pumped about it when we were in say, sixth or seventh grade, so I could scan it and post it here. But alas, whichever photo album holds that gem must have gone to the Store at Mom's House side of the Store at Mom's House or Take With Us cross-country moving debate. So perhaps you can just imagine two scrawny looking girls looking excited about two yellow t-shirts with ARC BIKE HIKE written across them in a middle school cafeteria, and understand that it's awesome.

The Bike Hike occurred on a Saturday morning, and included the option of biking 20 miles or walking ("hiking") ten. (Only moms did this.) You would think the title should have then been, "The Bike-or-Hike" or at least "The Bike/Hike," but, alas, it was simply the Bike Hike. It involved a swarm of parents driving their children and their bikes to a small field off a relatively small country road for the starting point, which obviously resulted in a slightly hectic melee of minivans and bikes and helmets and pumped up kids. The route went along the road which for whatever reason is just called the towpath, which follows right alongside the Lackawaxen River, a tributary of the Delaware. At the time I was living there this was an area we pretty much mostly made fun of for the weird, hick-ish people who seemed to live around there, but now that I look back on it I realize how pretty it actually is. (An experience, I believe, common to most people from small towns who then move away.) The Lackawaxen is big with fly fishers and is also known for being a good area to spot bald eagles during certain times of the year, and has huge boulders in it we would picnic on sometimes when the water was low in the fall, and driving (or riding a bike) along the road which hugs the river the entire way is pretty much great. But again, most of the time I forget this, and in fact what I instead think of whenever I think of Lackawaxen (which, you know, isn't particularly that often) is how much my dad liked making the joke, "Where all the cars are dull - from the lack o' waxin'!" (Enter hearty dad laugh.)

The route always inevitably involved a number of child wipeouts/crashes/scrapes, and also a stop at that country store I can't remember the name of, before that bridge whose name I can't remember either if it has one. I remember that hill from hell near the end which I normally had to get off my bike and walk up - only the show-offs and kids-who-would-go-on-to-be-real-athletes biked up it - and the weird scary house at the top, before the cemetery. Most of all I remember getting to the end, and being rewarded with a hot dog or two and a big cup of orange Hi-C out of one of those big yellow-and-red McDonald coolers.

And the reason I'm writing this is to remind myself that even though I work now on my weekends, usually dealing with crazy and annoying people, and even though I have been working on weekends pretty much since I was 15, there was a point in time when I spent many Saturdays of my life just riding my bike and drinking orange Hi-C, and that, is awesome.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Burgerville.

So Burgerville is pretty much the most Portland-esque thing there is - other than that employee at Subway the other day who took fifteen minutes to make my sub and who kept talking to me about how he overdrew his bank account and how working at Subway doesn't give him enough time to focus on his music, while my sandwich sat there, begging for condiments. That, let me tell you, was also pretty Portland. Burgerville, fortunately, is very Portland in a much less annoying way. In simple terms, it's just a fast food chain based out of the Portland area, extending a little south from the metro area and a little north to southern Washington. They sell things most fast food chains sell - except almost all their food is local, from the beef to the cheese to the lettuce and tomatoes. They highlight fresh, seasonal food production. Earlier this year they were highlighting fresh rosemary and then basil; last month they highlighted spinach specials; this month, asparagus. Asparagus! Won't find that at McDonalds. Oh, and they offset 100% of their energy use by buying wind power. Oh, and they recycle their canola oil into biodiesel, and compost all of their food scraps. What.

The most important thing to know about Burgerville, though, is their seasonal milkshakes. Oh man do I love milkshakes. And oh man let me tell you about these. Right now, during most of late spring and summer, there are strawberry milkshakes, which I'm a big fan of. Classic, but delicious. Late summer, there are blackberry milkshakes. (Did you know Oregon is the country's largest producer of blackberries?) AND THEN. In fall. PUMPKIN MILKSHAKES which taste like pumpkin pie through a straw. Oh man oh man do we look forward to the day pumpkin milkshakes arrive. And then in winter, CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT MILKSHAKES (did you know Oregon is the country's largest producer of hazelnuts?) which I also have a big weakness for. And then there is a period of short, painful drought before strawberry kicks in again. These are the kind of milkshakes which are so thick they hurt your mouth muscles trying to suck them in through the straw, and if you finish a whole one you immediately have a rich-dairy-overload tummy ache, but it is SO WORTH IT.

Other things from Burgerville I like a lot: Their spicy black bean burger; the deluxe chicken sandwich. Only bad thing about Burgerville: to pay for all this awesomeness, the prices are a bit higher than most fast food chains. It's not surprising for Kathy and I to pay close to $20 when we are both getting full meals (including, of course, the milkshake). I know it's worth it, but sometimes when you are poor and also live five minutes away from Taco Bell, where you can get a meal for two for $5, well, it's hard to say no sometimes. But when we are feeling rich, or when I'm just having a milkshake craving I can't resist, it's Burgerville all the way, baby.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Crepe Mondays.

Although Kathy and I have been out of college for exactly three years now, we have yet, for better or worse, to pin ourselves down in 9-5 Normal People jobs. Instead, we find ourselves working until past midnight or 14 hour days on the weekends and working opposite shifts from each other, etc, etc. But we always somehow have Monday mornings off together, which give them a somewhat special, just-for-us, Saturday (Monday) morning feel. A morning to sleep in, give Toby a full long walk, regroup. And in the last two months or so we have concocted a tradition of making crepes. Kathy learned to make crepes in her Foreign Cuisine class in high school, a nifty sounding class she probably took at the same time that I was sewing together pillows and awkward shorts in Home Ec, and they require a simple amount of ingredients. Meaning, that even if we are super poor and can't afford a trip to the grocery store until our next paycheck and our cabinets look pretty sad, we usually have the eggs, milk, and flour they require. In the beginning when we were really pumped about our new idea of making crepes a tradition on Mondays, I took the time to make a cinnamon apple filling; when Erin & Grey came over to watch Obama's inauguration and we really creped it up for the occasion, we added Nutella and chopped up bananas to the spread. Lately, we've been lazier and stick with filling ingredients which don't require any preparation: lemon juice, and powdered sugar. And let me tell you, this simple combination is amazing.

There are only a few other places in my life I have ever eaten crepes. One was on the streets of Paris. Another was that cute little crepery in Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Massachusetts where I went a few times during our last summer in Boston, and I'd order a crepe and tea and sit there for awhile writing in a notebook, out of a desire to be one of those people who go to cafes everyday to write. What I learned: if you are one of those people, you need to have a lot of spare time and enough money to buy unnecessary things at a cafe everyday, which I do not, and really the fact that there are such people who do in the world flabbergasts me, in a jealous way. Anyway, sidetracked: Paris was nice. Wonderful, even. But really. Sitting in my pajamas next to Kathy watching TV and pouring as much powdered sugar and lemon on each crepe as I want, while our animals curl up around us? Just as good.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Canon AE-1.

This is my late grandma with her Canon AE-1, a long time ago at our family's favorite summertime retreat, Skip's Pond. I know it must have been a long time ago because I inherited the camera from her back when I was in high school, when her Alzheimer's began to kick in and she could no longer use it. It has since followed me to college, to Europe, to a different coast, to the South and the Midwest and California and so many numerous trips in between, most of the time haphazardly shoved at the bottom of my bag, and with the exception of a few scary months when it was abducted by a sketchy camera shop in Boston who I entrusted to fix it - it stopped working on Kathy's and my second day in San Francisco and I freaked out and almost started crying, oh God I just remembered this! - it has survived just fine.

This week in an attempt to clear up my ever-helplessly-cluttered desk I picked up one of the, oh, 12 or 13 Ritz Camera boxes I have lying around, and started up my scanner for the first time in months. And I really looked at some of these pictures my Canon AE-1 is still taking, and I have to say. I have a pretty decent digital camera, which I do love, and I do also know that I know far less about digital cameras and photoshopping than I should, and I maybe should have taken more advantage of that stuff when I was in school and minoring in photography instead of spending all those hours geeking out in the darkroom, but...there are no pictures like the pictures this old, simple camera takes. It's the colors, and the crisp focus - goodness help me, I can't tell in all those pixels of my digital camera screen if a thing is actually in focus or not. And maybe I could manipulate my digital pictures on a computer to have the same kind of color quality my film Canon AE-1 pictures produce, but I don't want to. I want to look through a camera lens, click, take my film to the store, and pick them up the next day with the excited, anxious anticipation of what they'll look like. And then I'll label the back in ballpoint pen just like my other grandma obsessively labels things, and I'll organize them in photo boxes, and put some on the wall, and some in frames, and I'll be happy.

So thank you, Grandma. I have no idea what I will do if your camera breaks someday. Just as I know you're gone, I know Canon doesn't make the AE-1 anymore. But already, you have helped document so many beautiful years of my life, crisply and vibrantly.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A good grey t-shirt.


I am not one for fashion, although the truth is, in my head I like to daydream that I am. I in fact really like shopping for clothes even though I hardly ever do because I can't afford it. But, on the rare occasions that I am shopping for clothes, I imagine myself buying all the pretty, crazy things I see and wearing them in a casually cool but pretty, crazy way. Sometimes for kicks I try on these pretty, crazy things, and most of the time I realize they are 1) made for people who are size 0-5, or 2) made for people who are Just Not Me. Me, in the end, wears the same pair of jeans everyday and owns (and wears) an alarming number of brown sweaters. The closest I get to actually having a crazy fashion sense is in an acute fascination with dangly, sparkly, multi-colored earrings, but even those recently have become more of a collection on my bathroom counter than things I actually wear. But both the real Me and the Fashion Goddess In My Head Me agree there are two items of clothing one must own, aside from the pair of jeans: a white tank top, and a good grey t-shirt.

It's occurred to me recently that for the last, say, five years, I have somehow only owned one good grey t-shirt, which is this George Washington one I believe my mom bought for me at my sister's graduation from George Washington. Her undergraduate graduation from GW; she has since completed two years of Teach for America and then returned to GW to attend, and graduate from, their law school...alright, so maybe this t-shirt is even older than five years. Having worked at a college bookstore myself at one point in time, I know this was one of those cheap-o shirts which are usually rolled up in a big bin for $5 or so. But this shirt fits me perfectly, without the common pitfalls of t-shirts I've found: hugging too tightly around the hips (the biggest one), too baggy or lengthy sleeves, choking collars. And I wear it underneath everything, because when you are casually layering, a good grey t-shirt (or a white tank top) is obviously the best bottom layer. So upon recent examination of this George Washington t-shirt, I realized: It's real, real gross. Like, my mom would be embarrassed if she knew I still wore it. There are holes all over it with more constantly beginning to form, and the armpits have molded into pitiful hard, stained, sad excuses of fabric. And so I'll have to probably give it up soon, although I don't know how, since I have yet to find a good grey replacement. But for now I'll just say thanks, George Washington t-shirt. You know me so well.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I have worked part-time at Blockbuster in addition to my other job for the last eight or nine months, and even though I only usually work around ten hours a week, I feel like my current movie knowledge has far surpassed what it ever was before. (What it was before: Kathy asks if I've seen a movie, I say "Mm, I don't know. I think so." Kathy gives me a dubious look. Repeat a hundred times.) I'm entitled to five free rentals a week, and feel a strange responsibility to use them. This is due to customers constantly asking, "Have you seen this?" and, after I shake my head, they give me a look full of disdain (sometimes they say, "But you work at Blockbuster!" and you have to shrug like you have no excuse for yourself), and I illogically feel like a bad person/employee. No, really, it happens all the time. And then even when I feel like I have watched a decent amount of movies, and am feeling pretty proud of myself, 90% of the movies people ask me about will be gross horror movies - "How does Saw 5 compare to the other Saws?" - or super action ones - "What did you think about Max Payne?" - and I will shake my head and receive more disappointed sighs.

Regardless, the point of this story is mainly due to my free Blockbuster rentals, in the last few weeks I have watched the rest of the Oscar-nominated movies from last year. I can't remember a year I actually saw all of the big Oscar movies, but The Reader, The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, I've seen and enjoyed them all. Today we watched the last of them, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I'd put off wanting to see this for awhile, because for some reason I just kept thinking it was going to be super long and boring. Well.

I loved this movie in an intense sort of the way, in a way I only feel once in a while. I was kind of in love with the whole thing. I feel like the epic-story-of-a-life-ness was on par with Forrest Gump, and the cinemtography/feel of the movie was in the wonderfully dreamy, Southern, almost-fantastical way of Big Fish. I don't think it could have taken place anywhere but New Orleans, and it all just fit so well with the weird-yet-magical atmosphere of that city. Really, I think I am in love with any movie/book/story which radiates with Southerness, soulful and strange and sweaty and romantic and deeply rooted. Give me a good Southern tale and I will want to forever wrap myself up in it like a blanket. I was surprised at the emotion that hit me at the end, for the whole last twenty minutes or so; not to give anything away because goodness knows I hate spoilers but the first moment you see him when his mind has progressed but his body has become really young, I started crying with a suddenness which shocked me. The whole thing was just...rich, and odd, and great. I really, really liked Slumdog Millionaire and still don't have a problem with it winning best picture, but the violent, disturbing parts of it really upset me, the way that most violent, disturbing things do, because I am a really, really big wussy. But watching Benjamin Button was just a pleasure, the way reading really good fiction is: for a few moments of your life, in a deeply comforting way, you become part of a world you swear you can almost touch.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.


Two facts about Oregon: 1) It is really pretty. 2) We have a car here! These two facts alone open up an amazingly accesible world full of wonderful things like the ocean and waterfalls and mountains and tulip festivals. Specifically, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn, which we've gone to for two years now, this year joined by Erin (pictured!) and Grey. In the last few weeks my interest in gardening has turned into the seedlings of an obsession, and so things like this make me really want to geek out and learn the names of every tulip/flower/tree/plant/living thing in the world, because I have really realistic expectations of myself. Speaking of realistic, visiting any kind of farm in Oregon - whether they grow tulips or make cheese or raise chickens or harvest pumpkins - also infuses my head with endless daydreams of Kathy & I owning our own farm, with our own wrap-around-porch-with-a-swing farm house, with an old dog on the steps and a lazy cat on the railing, and rows and rows of things we grow with our own hands.

But anyway! This tulip festival is wonderful, although I suppose it's the only tulip festival I've ever been to, and it's not just wonderful because its title has Wooden Shoe in it, and not just because there are actual wooden shoes randomly around on the grounds, and not just because that makes me think of the Netherlands and those few crazy months I lived there, and it's not just because of that kind old man who handed us our brochure when we parked who told us, "It's a world of color out there!", but because it actually was a world of color out there, and standing in the middle of it all felt pretty overwhelming, in the loveliest of ways.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Boston Marathon / Marathon Monday.


There are many things which make the Boston Marathon special: being the oldest marathon in America, having a rather tough qualification requirement to compete in it, etc. But what really makes it special is that it always takes place on Patriots' Day, a seemingly made-up Massachusetts holiday. If you follow that Wikipedia link, it will tell you it is a commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord of the Revolutionary War, but you can just ignore that because I assure you 95% of Bostonians have no idea of this. Instead, they will tell you that Patriots' Day is just an excuse for everyone to have Marathon Monday off of work and school, so that the crowds watching the marathon are made up of essentially everyone excited about the three day weekend - little kids, grown up kids, and lots and lots of college kids taking full advantage of the opportunity to have a full day drunken party.

There are huge bleachers set up at the finish line downtown at Copley Square, but we have never actually watched it from there, where I assume it is overall crowded and crazy. We watch it in Brookline, usually somewhere between Washington Square and Cleveland Circle, where it is much less crowded, more full of cookie and lemonade stands guarded by friendly families, right alongside college parties full of barbecue and beer, while the C-line T trolley chugs alongside. There is nothing quite like hopping on one of these T's when the marathon is in full swing and watching out the window as you glide alongside the throngs of athletes, like you are somehow part of the dance.

Here is the sequence of events of the Boston Marathon:
1) Stake out your spot with friends. Get some Dunkin' Donuts, perhaps. Watch for and comment on the cutest dogs, and kids, milling about. There are a lot of both.
2) You hear the faint sirens of police motorcycles coming down Beacon Street, and you know they're coming.
3) The wheelchair contestants come first. 26.2 miles, accomplished entirely on their armstrength. This is when I start to cry, for no easily explainable reason.
4) The female runner leads come, and then the men's. The top ten runners in each category consist of approximately 2% body fat.
5) After the trickle of the Supremely Freakishly Athletic People at the front pass by, the real fun begins to pick up speed: the masses. More, and then slowly more, and more. And then this is what you do:
6) Look for names, painted on shirts, bare arms, thighs. And then you scream.
7) "GO LAURA!!!! GO BEN!!!! YOU CAN DO IT MIKE!!!!"
8) National/state pride shown on attire also works:
9) "YEAH ITALY!!!!!!!! NORTH CAROLINA, WHOOOOOOOO!"
10) Beer helps with this constant screaming, but really, it is not needed.
11) Sometimes you will get to see remarkable things like a marriage proposal between two runners right in front of you (three years ago, at Dean Road) or this guy in the picture without legs, running right near the front of the pack. When these things happen, you might have to find me and say, Seriously, Jill, pull yourself together, woman.

Normally, I am not much of a random screamer, but I cannot describe how much fun this is, and how it feels to watch an entire city take part in it. Now the real reason we visited Boston recently, of course, was to see family and friends, but being able to watch the marathon determined when we'd go. There are other really great days to be in Boston - Fourth of July on the Esplanade, Halloween on Beacon Hill. But nothing like Marathon Monday in Brookline makes my chest heave with almost embarrassing emotion, and two weeks ago I thought to myself, yes, yes this alone is worth flying across the country for. It is the accomplishment of the athletes, but mainly just the completely joyful and unprompted cheering on of strangers by strangers. It is one of those moments when I think to myself, See? America can be really, really good.

Many, many hours after we watched the front runners sprint past us this past Marathon Monday, Kathy, Allie and I were downtown, walking up Boylston Street to meet some friends for dinner. It was seven, maybe eight, and it was beginning to get dark. There is also always a big Red Sox game at Fenway on Marathon Monday, and Boylston Street was full of drunken people waiting to get in to those weirdly-fancy-ish sports bars by Hynes Convention Center. They were packing up all the bleachers by the finish line by the BPL. And then, right as we were about to cross the street by that old fire station, a traffic guard stopped us, and three runners slowly passed us, followed by a police car, signaling to us that these must have been the last runners of the Boston Marathon, finally making their way down the homestretch. I felt bad for them, that they only had drunken students and not flashing cameras to greet them, but once we realized what was happening, we yelled and clapped for them as they rounded the corner. And then we kept walking, and once again, I felt that feeling creep up my throat which is always there on Marathon Monday and which is hard to describe, but it feels big, raw, human, and good.