Friday, December 31, 2010

The East Coast.

Dear EC,

I like your big cities. I like your rolling hills. I like your diversity. I like your pine trees and fall leaves. I like your rudeness (most of the time); I like your sass. I like your variety of hip hop stations. I like your snow and miserable winters; your humid summers. (Okay, like is a relative word. I mean "like" to mean, "these things give you character.") I like your historical markers. I like your old brick and cracked sidewalks. I like your efficiency. I like your sprawl; I like your density. I like your flat, salty, overcrowded coastline. I like your overpriced, pretentious universities, your cynical yet educated masses. I like your political power. I like New England, I like the South, I like the Mid-Atlantic. I like your people. You are home.


Dear WC,

I like your craggy mountains and your rocky coastline; I like the incredible variety of your landscapes. I like your innovative, clean, progressive cities. I like your friendliness, your propensity towards healthy lifestyles. I am particularly now invested in the community of Portland: its growth and urban development and economic health; its beer and food; its children. Something about your wide, majestic beauty overall, WC, fulfills something deep within me, some searching part of myself which has been wandering around in my veins since I was a teenager, the part of me which listened to California Dreamin' by the Mamas and the Papas on repeat during East Coast winters in high school and really felt it. You are beautiful. I will always be dreaming of returning to you, of finding you, even when I'm here. But there is something inherently selfish about this. Selfish isn't always necessarily bad, but, there it is.


The bottom line:

My family is on the East Coast, my history is there, and therein lies my heart.

It will always be the one.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shopping on Hawthorne.


Let me start by saying I am not one of those people who hate malls and believe they are the symbol of our vapid soul-sucking suburban American culture. Granted, I normally can generally understand what these people are saying, but the reality is that I like the mall. Especially at Christmas. Maybe because it's how I was raised--going to the Viewmont or the Steamtown Mall in Scranton was what you did when you had to go shopping, or just what you did when you had nothing else to do--but seeing the mall all decked out in gold and silver and red and green and busting out Christmas songs makes me feel happy.

However, yesterday Kathy & I chose to accomplish almost all of our Christmas shopping on Hawthorne, a nearby street in Southeast Portland. Hawthorne is a notoriously "hip" place (although its popularity has increased rents and probably made it un-hip to many actually hip people, and there are many other streets around the East Side which are now much hipper), but for good reason: there's good places to shop, good places to eat, good places to see movies and hang out. We go there a lot, but rarely do we have a day like we did yesterday where we meander down the street and go into almost every store and really appreciate it. There are multiple reasons why this is better than the mall for Christmas shopping:

1) Although not everything in every store is locally made, a lot of it is. Or, even more so than made locally, made by a small-ish independent company somewhere, and you are buying it from a unique, independent business. The most corporate stores on the block are Powells, which is still a Portland company, American Apparel, which sells American-made clothes (sold to you by a hipster at really expensive prices with somewhat sketchy advertising adorning the walls, but, still), and the Buffalo Exchange (sells a lot of second-hand clothes).
2) It just feels good to feel more connected to your community, to people-watch everyone on the sidewalks, riding their kooky bikes, walking their dogs, waiting for the bus.
3) This is the main thing: THERE IS SO MUCH MORE COOL STUFF. Things I can get at the mall: Gap sweaters, jewelry from Claire's. Stuff I can get at Hawthorne: funky handmade hats and scarves, really cool Christmas ornaments and random knick-knacks, cool food and kitchenware, ironic art, funny stuff, vases and clothes and all kinds of things from different cultures/countries.

These are my favorite spots on Hawthorne where we grabbed good things:
- Powells Home & Garden Store: I always want to buy absolutely everything in this place. While it is chockful of books on gardening and cooking, both of which I like, I am always way more distracted by all the other stuff in here. I can't even quite describe what this stuff is. Housewares, really cool ornaments during the holidays, fun stuff for kids, cool magnets and posters, scarves and jewelry. Stuff. Good stuff! And if you want some actual just books, Powells on Hawthorne is just a few stores down.
- Pastaworks: I have just recently discovered how neat this place is. Has a variety of imported fine foods, lots from Italy of course, but from other areas of the world as well. Also has a variety of other local delicacies, and although I haven't tried them myself, I hear they make a mean sandwich at their deli using local and imported meats and cheeses.
- Presents of Mind: Super neat-o place; has a variety of handmade snarky-slogo-d t-shirts; a bunch of somewhat immature and useless but funny gifts; a huge selection of cards, unique wrapping paper and stationary; baby stuff; and some really great jewelry which is always a little too expensive for me but super awesome looking anyway.
- Beads Forever: If you're one of those crafty types who make their own jewelry, this place would be heaven for you. I mainly like to go in just to enjoy the world of color inside, and to look at all the pretty things, and daydream about how I would like to be one of those crafty types who make their own jewelry.
- The Monkey King: A store full of Asian goods such as bags, teapots and ceramics, boxes, toys, and so on. All of the stuff in here is super cool and remarkably cheap, meaning, it's probably (or, definitely) not the highest quality stuff, but it is authentic, and cool, nonetheless.
- The House of Vintage: Mega, mega treasure trove of vintage goods. Holy crap this place is fun.

To top it all off, when you need a break from shopping, you can stop and get a beer at McMenamin's Bagdad Pub, or the Bridgeport Ale House. Or, you know, you can just eat at one of the other gazillion eateries on the street or in the neighborhood in general.

After saying all that--the reason we went Christmas shopping on Hawthorne was because we could. Many places do not have Hawthornes, and so the mall is their only option. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'll say again, I like the mall. But if there is someplace--and there might not be an entire street of awesomeness, but maybe there is a pocket of awesomeness tucked somewhere in your town, even just one store--you should probably stop there first.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Goodreads / Reading recap 2010.

I have really recently started to enjoy Goodreads, a website for the nerdiest of nerds--a way to keep track of reading and to social network through BOOKS. I personally like it because, strangely, even though one spends hours involved in a book when reading it, I frequently lose the ability to remember what book I read when, or when I read what book. So keeping track via the site comes quite in handy. I've actually found myself anticipating finishing a book and being able to post it on the site--which makes me sound like I really need a life, I know, but I like the satisfaction of saying "I finished this whole book!" somewhere. Often, the feeling of, after finishing a book, just having to put it back on the shelf, is somewhat anticlimatic, so the satisfaction of posting on Goodreads helps a little. In addition, I get a strange thrill out of seeing who of my friends have also read the same book I just finished, and what they thought of it (generally, in number-of-star-terms).

I try to stay away from reading others' reviews of books on the site, mainly because I feel like people are often quick to jump and say how awful something was when I have just spent hours of my life really enjoying it. And, even though I know I should stick by my opinions/gut feelings on something, this experience often makes me feel remarkably crappy/doubt my own tastes. No thanks! (I need to work on it.) I obviously have issues with literary criticism, or all kinds of criticism really, and that is probably another issue entirely. But I occasionally try to articulate my own thoughts on books in my own personal "reviews," which are normally not necessarily actual reviews like other people write but my own short reflections. I have always liked just sticking with saying, "I liked it," about books, and that being that, because dissecting things seemed to take away from the beauty of the experience of reading. However, I am increasingly realizing that being able to articulate my thoughts about books is important, especially when I want to discuss them and recommend them with students and peers. So, in a small way, Goodreads is good practice.

In any case, I was inspired by my friend Jill D. in her wonderful blog, Looks & Books, to go through my Goodreads list for 2010 and do my own reading-year roundup.

Books read: 61

Children's or Young Adult Fiction, Short Story Collections, or Poetry: 46
(GLBT themed-literature included in those: 4)

Picture books: 3

"Adult" books: 3

"Classics": 2

Graphic novels: 5

Nonfiction: 2

Favorites so far:
- The Hunger Games trilogy (all three), Suzanne Collins
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
- The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt
- King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, Chris Crutcher
- All of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians books I've read (still have to read the last one), Rick Riordan
- The Arrival, Shaun Tan
- Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson
- We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, Kadir Nelson
- When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
- The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
- Parrotfish, Ellen Wittlinger
- American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
- After Tupac & D Foster, Jacqueline Woodson

Even though there's constantly more I want to read, this has been a big year for me, reading-wise: the books I've read have literally helped me with figuring out what I want to do with my life and what kind of a teacher I want to be. Reading most of these books is not only immensely enjoyable for me, but I've gotten firsthand experience this fall with being able to connect with and relate to kids because of them.

That all said, this next year I want to try to sprinkle in more "adult" books, as well as more nonfiction--nonfiction aimed at children/young adults, AND for adults, including at least one book by Michael Pollan--as well as a lot more graphic novels. And I want to continue reading GLBT books and updating my website which is dedicated to the topic, which I have not added to since I made it, but which I have earnestly thought about working more on many a time this year.

And now, I have an important thing I must do--log off the internet, get in bed, and read a book.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Seasonal delights (okay, mainly beer).

As with all things that are good in life, one of the best parts about the holidays--along with, you know, being around good people, and the lights, and the presents, and stuff--is the food and drink. In particular, I feel like this is the first year that I've really taken note of all the amazing winter ales that are put out by all of my favorite local Portland/Oregon breweries. As if I didn't think that all of these breweries were awesome enough already (and each one will eventually get their own blog post), I've really taken an appreciation to the cycle of seasonal brews offered by them: typically light, pale ales in the summer; more amber ales in the fall; and then dark ales in the winter. It's the same as getting excited for seasonal drinks from Starbucks, or seasonal milkshakes from Burgerville, but better, because these taste good and get you drunk.

Also, a word on dark ales: The first time I learned that it was possible for me to actually like beer was when I spent a semester in Europe. There, the pale ales--Heineken and Amstel, mainly, since I was in the Netherlands and all--were the ones that tasted just a little too much like urine for my taste (and watery urine at that). But the dark ales--notably, my beloved Brand, which I have come to terms with never, ever finding in the United States--were rich and sweet and delicious. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I returned to the States and discovered that all the dark beers here were real bitter and tasted like butt. So I generally stick to the wimpier paler ales. However, all of these seasonal dark ales from Oregon breweries come closer to that European taste I really love: intense and full but also delicately sweet.

There is also apparently a Holiday Ale Festival which happens each year here downtown which we already missed, but you can bet it'll be on my Holiday To Do List next year. Portland, you are SO GOOD AT BEER!

A list of ones we've tried:
- Deschutes' Jubelale (As pictured above...I think Deschutes is in the running to be Kathy's & my favorite brewery.)
- Full Sail's Wreck the Halls
- Widmer Brothers' Brrrr (apparently all the other breweries had taken all the witty names already)
- McTarnahan's Humbug'r (this one leaned a little more towards the bitter side, but was still totally palatable)
- Bridgeport's Ebenezer

Other seasonal delights, of the non-alcoholic variety:

- Okay, so the holiday drinks at Starbucks and the seasonal milkshakes at Burgerville are still pretty exciting. Of the Starbucks variety, I am a fan of adding in some gingerbread syrup to the chai, or if you're really feeling decadent, having a chai with eggnog, otherwise known as the CHEG to us Starbucksian employees. (And yes, I do really like chai.) As for Burgerville, I had the chocolate peppermint milkshake for the first time this year the other day and it was just so delightful. And made with real smashed up candy canes! The little bits get stuck in your teeth and everything!

- Limited edition peppermint bark ice cream from Haagen Dazs. Oh man. Haagen Dazs never disappoints. I was a little leery that it'd be too sweet since it's white chocolate ice cream as opposed to the classic dark-or-milk-chocolate-peppermint combo, but I never should have doubted the Dazs. It is perfect.

In conclusion, that's my advice for getting drunk or collapsing from sugar highs this holiday season. Hurray!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Better Son/Daughter, Rilo Kiley.



This song, this song, this song! I am obsessed with every part of it. The lyrics, the set up, the crashing crescendo of the point everybody waits for -

And sometimes when you're on
You're really fucking on
And your friends they sing along and they love you

But the lows are so extreme
That the good seems fucking cheap
And it teases you for weeks in its absence

But you'll fight and you'll make it through
You'll fake it if you have to
And you'll show up for work with a smiiiiiile

You'll be better and you'll be smarter
And more grown up
And a better daughter or son
And a real good friend
You'll be awake, you'll be alert
You'll be positive though it hurts
And you'll laugh and embrace all your friiiiiiiieeeeeends
You'll be a real good listener
You'll be honest, you'll be brave
You'll be handsome and you will be
beautiful.
You'll be happy.

Doo doo dooo doooo do do doooo do do do guitar solo doo do do
do dooooo ba ba ba ba bum

Your ship may be coming in
You're weak but not giving in
to the cries and the wails of the valley below
Your ship may be coming in
You're weak but not giving in
And you'll fight it
You'll go out fighting all of 'em.

And yes, I had to write all of the rest of the lyrics once I started, because you CAN'T STOP SINGING ALONG ONCE YOU START with this song. It would be hard to convince me that any song exists which is more satisfying to sing along to than this one. I listen to it often when I'm working out/running, and I sing along in my head and picture myself singing it at a karaoke bar with everyone in the world I know in the room and I am SO TRIUMPHANT AND BADASS, JUST LIKE JENNY LEWIS.

Beyond that, the lyrics can be somewhat ambivalent--it seems so encouraging, yet there's that the whole "the lows are so extreme that the good seems fucking cheap" line, I mean, that's somewhat pessimistic there, Jenny--but overall as the song builds I feel like the triumphant, positive, I AM OKAY AND I WILL BE OKAY vibe conquers all. Anyone who has ever felt like they weren't as good of a daughter or a son as their parents wanted them to be, and/or that they needed to be better, smarter, grow up--this song takes you by the hand and says, Take strength and be joyful, my friend! We are all in this together, and we will fight, fight, fight.

And "sometimes when you're on you're really fucking on"? How good is that?! Who hasn't felt that? This song is so freaking wonderful.

And yes, this video is a fan video made for Logan Echolls on Veronica Mars, because that is how Kathy and I first heard the song years ago, and yes that does make us super cool, and yes it is an amazing fan video, and Logan Echolls is one of the best TV characters ever with such a bittersweetly short TV life, but I suppose that's getting a little off the point.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gardening Season 2010: A retrospective.








Even though it's technically still "fall" according to whatever crazy man/natural Earth rhythms made/inspired the calendar, it feels like winter. Here, that means a crapload of cold, unrelenting rain. (With the occasional threat of a few inches of snow, which prompts the entire metro area and all news networks to freak out, and my internal snow-loving self to start daydreaming of days inside reading novels and drinking hot chocolate in pajamas, all of which always ends up resulting in maybe just some slightly-colder-than-normal rain and a disappointed Jill soul, every time.) In a few moments of non-rain and rare free time over the last month, in one of my various procrastination-of-real-work strategies, I was somehow able to plant some bulbs for the spring and clear away a bunch of rotting, dead stuff from the year. This made me both yearn for spring (already), and want to record for posterity some of my highlights from this gardening year. This will probably be excruciatingly boring for anyone except for myself.

Following the pictures above:

1) My purple siberian wallflower bush was one of the first plants I bought and planted at least two years ago, and without any work on my part, it keeps growing larger with more flowers each year. If I had known this I probably wouldn't have planted it in the extremely narrow strip between our apartment walkway and the neighbor's fence, since all year it's been bordering on obnoxious/hard to walk by on the walkway. It also appears to be one of the hardiest plants I have; it stays pretty healthy-looking almost all year long and still had flowers until late November, albeit not as robust as the flowers in the picture.

2) The "creeping plants" I planted in hopes of making a small, rocky strip between the steps to our door and our compost bin prettier and more full of life continued to "creep" along this year, which made me happy--until the landscaping company our new landlords hired this year ripped out half of them (along with some of my other plants) during a time they weren't flowering because they must have thought they were weeds. Regardless, when both of them were flowering--half white, half purple-y--it was really quite nice.

3) I planted some extra daffodil bulbs somewhat late, and when they didn't come up I figured they just wouldn't, but then they randomly did--way past when everyone else's daffodils in the neighborhood had bloomed and died. This, of course, made me feel pretty special.

4 & 6) Lilies! Lilies are so awesome. They bloom for such a relatively short amount of time, but when they do they're so beautiful. The pink ones were a surprise; I think I planted the bulbs a long time ago and this was the first year they bloomed. The shade of pink is so vibrant. Yes, vibrant! I am a gardening geek who can't think think of better adjectives. I'll work on it.

5) Wildflowers! Kathy bought me a big shaker of wildflower seeds at The Oregon Garden gift shop in Silverton earlier in the year. It was called the Cascade Kaleidoscope Mix, from Silver Falls Seed company, and we just sprinkled some of the seeds all around, and I swear almost every seed sprouted into flowers. It was the easiest and most rewarding gardening ever! The list of flowers included in the mix is enormous, and I don't know the names of everything that bloomed. The shaker bottle was so big and we have a somewhat confined amount of gardening space, so we still have some left over that I'll try next year to see if they still work. Flowers that I know bloomed: calendulas, bachelor buttons, california poppies, godetias, mountain garlands, iceland poppies (which I've never been able to grow before).

7 & 8) Snapdragonsssss! Without a doubt the highlight of my gardening year. I was kind of obsessed with my snapdragons. I planted these as seeds last summer, and some green stalks started growing, but nothing ever flowered. It got to the point that I started to think they were just weeds, but since they clung onto green life, I just let them go over the winter. And then suddenly in spring and summer, BAM, the biggest, most colorful, interesting flowers ever. I love, love, loved them.

Other highlights, not pictured:

9) Our rose bush, as always.

10) Our purple lupine--it was attacked by aphids for most of the year, and I spent most of the year feeling anguished by it and telling myself I was going to find a non-chemical solution to it, and never actually doing it. Yet it still produced some pretty strong flowers, and I felt proud of it for persevering.

11) Strawberries! I had planted a few little plants last summer, but found that the small fruits it produced got mushy/gross/eaten away by bugs before I could ever eat them, and hence it felt like somewhat of a fail. But this year I learned that strawberry plants spread like WHOA. I consequently suddenly had at least twice as many strawberry plants, and they were all much stronger, and I was better at picking the fruit as soon as they looked ripe/before they could rot. I got quite a few decently sized, ruby red strawberries, and an even greater number of kinda small and/or deformed looking strawberries, but they were ALL delicious. There is almost nothing more satisfying than picking something from your garden and after a quick rinse being able to pop it right in your mouth.

12) Blueberries! I planted a tiny tiny little bush two years ago, but only later learned from my uncle that you need another blueberry bush next to it to cross-pollinate it (or something) before it will produce fruit. So I bought an even tinier blueberry bush, and voila, I got some berries! Just a few, but still, satisfying!

13) The succulents we got from Zoe before she moved which I transplanted from a little pot to outdoors next to our compost bin about a year or two ago. I believe that they are Carmen Sempervivums, according to this description. In general, I find succulents to be just about the neatest things. Yes, neatest. Refer to what I said about lilies when it comes to gardening and adjectives. The two rosettes I started with with these succulents have been slowly but surely expanding, and watching the new ones expand from the old ones and then continue to grow and anchor themselves in the soil, and then grow their own new rosettes, it's just super cool.

Overall, each year that I'm here I invest more and more into gardening. It makes me sad to think about the day that we move away. Hopefully the people that move into the apartment after us will treat my daffodils, tulips, lupines, and lilies with respect, and feel the same joy that I did when they pop out of the earth each year.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Corn casserole.


Happy Thanksgiving, all! Hope everyone has been able to enjoy a relaxing, good-people, good-food filled day. Even though my family is way far away and I can't participate in any of their feasts, including my mom's famous extensive pie making, we've always been able to enjoy our West Coast holidays with good friends. We just arrived home from stuffing our faces at Erin & Grey's, and since I have to wake up early tomorrow to work, all I can really think about right now is plopping into bed, pronto.

But I feel like over the last year and a half that I've had this blog I've kind of glossed over some of my favorite things about the holidays, probably because I am always too busy and exhausted (in the best way) on the actual holidays to write. So I'm going to start now, with a small step, and tell you about how much I freaking love corn casserole. Although nothing can beat holidays with my family, I do have to say that perhaps the best part of going through some holidays on our own is getting some experience cooking some feasts myself. Granted, corn casserole, and green bean casserole, as pictured above, are two of THE most easiest things in the world to make, but they are always SO DELICIOUS. So much so we've made both for both Thanksgiving and Easter the last few years we've been out here.

While there are probably some variations on the good ol' corn casserole out there in the world, I've been using a recipe I printed from the Food Network website a few years ago, from Miss Paula Deen. Say what you want about her, but when it comes to overwhelmingly unhealthy, down home hearty cooking, her recipes are exactly what I want at the holidays.

Ingredients:
1 (15 1/4 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4 oz) can cream-style corn
1 (8-ounce) package Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar

Instructions:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cans of corn, Jiffy, sour cream, and melted butter. Pour into a greased 9x13 inch casserole dish. [This is what the recipe says, but after using different pans, I find that a square, 8x8-ish dish works the best--since the bulk of the casserole isn't as spread out it stays a little gooey-er in a good way.]
- Bake 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and top with cheddar. [I am very generous with this part.] Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve warm.

So to summarize: A bunch of corn, a bunch of cheese, some melted butter, some sour cream, some Jiffy? Sounds like a perfect, purely American dish to me. I could eat it until I'm sick. And I do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The travel section.


Subscribing to The Oregonian when we moved out here was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. That may sound like hyperbole, but I don't think it is. I know it's a little late in the game to have been made into a newspaper person when the industry is dying, but so be it. I fully understand that almost every other person my age, and really pretty much every other person in general, gets the news these days (that is if they're interested in getting the news at all) by logging on daily to CNN.com, The Huffington Post, whateverconservativenews.com, etc., but I just don't like it. When I try reading this stuff it just seems too fast and jumbled to me, like I'm reading it but not really comprehending it. And yes, I swear I wasn't born in the 1950s. I love reading blogs about random things and about people's personal takes on the world to infinity, obviously, but when it comes to sitting down and really finding out what's happening in the world, I just want to be sitting on my couch, in my pajamas, with big crinkly paper whose ink smears off onto my fingertips, when I feel calm and focused and able to let the information really seep into my brain. Even if the information is two weeks old because I haven't had time in two weeks to sit down, in my pajamas, and read anything before that point, I don't care. I don't know what to tell you, that's just the way it is.

There are numerous reasons why I love The Oregonian, and newspapers, some more of which I'll perhaps get to in even more mind-numbing installments on this blog, but for now I want to focus on the best part of the week: the Travel section in the Sunday paper.

Sometimes when I'm not in the right mood, or none of the articles stand out, or I just want to push through to get to some more sections of the paper because I have a really huge stack of papers to get through, reading the Travel section is just okay. But when I am in the right mood, it makes me happy like you wouldn't believe. I have had the wanderlust for a long time, which is no secret, and I will never get rid of it. However, this wanderlust has led me to make some irresponsible decisions in the past. I mean, wanderlust is inherently irresponsible. To people who don't have it, extra money means savings. For people who kind of have it, extra money means, hey, let's go somewhere! For people who have it really bad like me, extra money normally doesn't exist, but having no money doesn't always hold you back when it should--when you have credit cards! The experience of seeing new places and new things is worth it for a little debt. And I do still think this, but my debt has gotten a little out of hand, and grad school has only made my situation even darker. (While I have never been a luxurious traveler, any sort of travel involves a decent sum of money.) To make a long, too-personal story short, I sometimes have moments of rationality and realize I have to stay put for awhile. Of course, I will still be traveling a lot in the next few years because lots of people I love are getting married and they all happen to live on the opposite coast. But that's different.

My point is: the Travel section can be, and satisfy, my need to travel sometimes, if just in my mind. Because you better bet that every time I read about someplace really interesting and wonderful-sounding, I read the article with the conviction that I will in fact go there one day. I am planning the trips right now, in my head! Even if these notions are nowhere near true, imagining that they can be is enough, sometimes.

My favorite articles seem to be not ones about international and exotic destinations (although I of course like those too) but ones that are about Oregon and the Northwest. Oregon is a vast, diverse place, and while I have been able to see quite a bit of it, there always seems to be more. In fact, the idea that I won't get to see all the places I want to see before we move back East makes my heart palpitate a bit.

My only complaint about the Travel section is how inherently catered to the upper-middle-class it is. I'm a little put off sometimes by articles that always list restaurants and hotels that only rich people could enjoy. While I know that listing the best of the best is what travel writers are supposed to do, the implication that this is where you should eat and stay when you visit these places, and knowing that I could never afford any of them, makes me feel kind of crappy. Beyond that, the idea of just being able to visit any of the places listed in these pages at all is literally way out of reach for a lot of people.

That said, since I am going to go to all of these places one day--right?--right?!--this is my current itinerary of things to do, just from the last two Travel sections I've read:

- Downtown McMinnville, drinking Willamette Valley wine and eating ice cream!
- Taking an intense bike ride through the desert of the Four Corners!
- Enjoying Christmas in New York City!
- Taking a ferry from Seattle to Poulsbo, a Scandinavian town on a bay full of European things!
- Oh, and I'm also going to be going to a few places in South America and Southeast Asia. And I'm going to be going to Europe pretty frequently, too. Obviously.

I know, pretty sweet, right? Don't worry; I'll post pictures.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ben Folds, Rockin' the Suburbs


I love Ben Folds something fierce and always will, with or without the Five. I do love him from the Ben Folds Five days, including old school tunes like Emaline. I love him live--I love him live more than life itself. I love random tracks he's put out on random compilations, like Leather Jacket, from No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees (and yes, you probably DIDN'T know this album existed, and yes, it IS an astounding compilation of 90's awesomeness--in fact when I'm looking at the list of artists again it is blowing my mind with awesomeness) and like Golden Slumbers from the I Am Sam soundtrack, the best Beatles cover on that thing--and even all of his tunes from the Over the Hedge soundtrack (Still is an amazingly beautiful song with some of my favorite lyrics, the entirety of which goes like this--

I must give the impression
that I have the answers for everything
You were so disappointed
to see me unravel so easily
It's only change
It's only everything I know
It's only change, and I'm only changing

You want something that's constant
And I only wanted to be me

But watch even the stars above
Things that seem still
are still changing.

--yeah). I love the wayyy dark and moody Reinhold Messner; I love his newer albums a little less but still love a few stellar tracks a lot a lot--Bastard, Gracie, Time, and Prison Food from Songs for Silverman are pretty fantastic, and from Supersunny, There's Always Someone Cooler Than You (great title), and Adelaide (freaking love Adelaide. Also love that he up and moved to Australia). I love him in The Bens--Bruised, oh man, Bruised! I love that he is from the town where I will one day live!

Okay, so, apparently, I am a big Ben Folds nerd.

But back to the point here--above all, there is nothing quite like Rockin' the Suburbs, in terms of whole-album-quality, in terms of sentimental value. I love this album from start to finish, from the creak of a door opening and those first piano bars in Annie Waits to the heart-achingly sweet finish of The Luckiest, one of the most eloquent love songs ever written, whose lyrics I could listen to overandoverandover and let his rising and falling piano notes and the swelling strings wrap me up in a warm blanket forever.

There are a few songs in the middle of the album that blend together into the background a bit for me, but there are some real standouts throughout; notably, Still Fighting It and Fred Jones, Part 2. The album in general takes me back to senior year of high school. I listened to Still Fighting It over and over in my discman in cold yellow school buses as we bussed to away football games for marching band and for field hockey games--dark night drives home from numerous depressing old coal towns around the Scranton--Wilkes-Barre corridor--and I listened to it on numerous drives with Lou and Wes, around Hawley and Honesdale and beyond in his huge-ass SUV. But I continued to listen to this album extensively even after leaving Pennsylvania so I don't connect it solely to angsty high school memories, but I can also picture myself walking around Boston with it inside of my ears and my head. And even then, even now, the way he sings this seminal line--everybody knows it sucks to grow up--with the emphasis on sucks is just as satisfying when, years earlier, he yelled at that bitch to give him back his black t-shirt. And Mr. Fred Jones, what a beautiful piece of musical storytelling. In fact, Fred Jones, Part 2 is a key example of why music is so wonderful and particularly powerful when it tells the stories of everyday life and people, not just the trials and tribulations of love. It tells the story of an old man upon retirement, sitting in his office, staring at boxes, no fanfare or goodbye parties, just waiting for the young bastards to take his place. And life barrels on like a runaway train where the passengers change but they don't change anything; you get off, someone else can get on. And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones. It's time. Streetlight shines through the shades, casting lines on the floor, and lines on his face. He reflects on the day. Then he goes home, tries to keep himself occupied, but can't get quite used to it, and can't get over feeling forgotten and old. It's a heartbreaking, yet undramatic story, and one that happens every day, and a story that gets overlooked, diminished. But in a song, you can fill in the emotion that actually belongs there, and return some dignity to Fred Jones, imaginative or real, simply be recognizing his plight. Music gives validity to our emotions.

I was going to say that if anything, the upbeat, tongue-in-cheek, social-commentary slinging, borderline-obnoxious title track is actually one of my least favorite tracks on the album, just because the whole tone of it seems kind of off-kilter with the rest of the album and seems to throw things off a bit. But, then I listened to it again. And yeah, I like this one too. The riff that comes in on the acoustic guitar around two minutes in and continues on a synthesizer later on is a great little pop music piece, and the whole, It gets me real pissed off and it makes me wanna say...fuuuuuuuuuuck! Well. That is just enjoyable. Obviously.

And then! Bam. You are back to here, suddenly engulfed by The Luckiest. Holy crap, Ben Folds. Holy crap.

Next door there's an old man
who lived to his nineties and one day
passed away in his sleep
and his wife
she stayed for a couple of days
and passed away

I'm sorry I know that's a
strange way to tell you
that I know

we belong.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sweetness Bakery.

(photo from sweetness-bakery.com)

Sweetness is tucked into this strange little soulless-looking mini-mall type thing at the corner of SE 52nd and Powell, but when you walk in, BAM, it is the coziest, cutest, most welcoming place in the world, and the counter is CHOCK FULL of DELICIOUS SWEET THINGS. I took this photo from their website, but they're not doctoring it up - that is literally always what their counter looks like. And everything is so good. So good! In addition to pastries they also have breakfast items, a few sandwiches made with homemade challah bread (one of which I had for lunch today), and pretty yummy brunch specials on the weekends. It's a bummer we won't be holding our wedding in Oregon, because I'd have them make our wedding cake in a second.

Beyond their delicious food, there are a few reasons I like this place.
1) The homey, country-ish decor kind of makes me feel like I am in
Stars Hollow, and the truth is I am at my happiest/most comfortable in a place when it makes me feel like I am in Stars Hollow.
2) Since it's so close to our apartment, going there makes me feel like I am supporting my local neighborhood (Foster-Powell), and they in turn are very into supporting the neighborhood right back. Community association meetings for the 'hood are held there monthly, and at the few neighborhood parties/fairs we've gone to, they are always there. Even though it's one of the least glamorous, least hip 'hoods in the city, I have actually grown to fiercely love Foster-Powell, and plan to continue highlighting some of its hidden gems on this here bloggy blog.
3) It's run by a mother-daughter pair, which is adorable in itself, but is extra-awesome since they are super nice and great (at least the daughter, who I'm pretty sure is the one I see the most when I'm there). They are friendly and genuine and the whole place has an air of complete un-pretentiousness. Believe me, Portland is a city never lacking in abundance of cool, local, independent coffee shops/cafes, but finding an un-pretentious one is a much rarer feat.


Next unrealistic life goal: Be a "full time writer," that elusive position that some people somehow have, and be able to spend time in places like Sweetness, pretending I'm in Stars Hollow, for hours every day.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sufjan Stevens.




Then:

Summer 2006, Boston. I and most of my friends have recently graduated from college, and in a few months, most of us will be heading separate ways. Kathy and I and Allie are sticking around for awhile, but Meredith and Zoe are headed to Portland, Kim and Cliff are going to Oregon, too, Steve and Sam (a little later) will soon be in LA, Sam and Luis are on their way to Kentucky; others have dispersed as well. But somehow magically most of us have the summer together, a summer resting between turning points: ending college, and then, starting the rest of our lives. Things feel weird and anxiety-inducing, but relaxed at the same time, for now; things feel exciting and hopeful too, new beginnings, and all that. We all work a lot at our insignificant jobs, and then we get together. We all sit around and sweat in un-air-conditioned apartments. We run around Boston. We watch movies, have parties, talk. We eat Anna's, order Pizzanini, stuff Starbucks' cupcakes down our throats until we are sick. [We are still all dispersed now, most of us to even different places than we were dispersing to then, but, they are all still my best friends.]

Throughout the summer, we all listen to Sufjan Stevens' Come On Feel the Illinoise! All of us. We listen to it a lot.

When I hear songs from that album now, it is almost near impossible to not think of that summer that was so full of all of my best friends and possibility, and my ribcage fills with all kinds of full, rich, only semi-bittersweet joy.

Now:

Sufjan Stevens at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, with Kathy, and Zoe, visiting from California now specifically for the occasion, and Ashley, down from Seattle. We are in the upper balcony, three rows from the back. I only remember once we sit down that, Oh, yeah, I kept meaning to buy and listen to those two new albums Sufjan has put out in the last year. But I, uh, didn't. And then, of course, song after song after song that he plays are only new songs from these albums I have never heard. The concert hall is full of pretty cool looking young Portland-y people. There are these two hipster-ish dancers/back up singers on stage who are rocking Really Cool People, ironic-ish dancing, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Ashley had warned us right before the concert that the new music was different than Illinoise, less, you know, happy and calming folk-ish wonderland sounds.

As each song segues into the next, my mind slides down into the mode it usually occupies during such events. In this mode, one half of my brain is solidly in the moment. Music is washing over me and down through my eardrums to my belly, where it feels warm and exciting and very present and good. Then, in the other half of my brain, I am thinking about tiny boring things that happened to me that day, things that I have to do that weekend, homework assignments, bills I have to pay, goals I want to accomplish, people I want to know better, things I've said in the last week that might have been stupid. It's like the normal every day thoughts that are in my head all the time, but almost heightened, and all at once, like an unstoppable madhouse of thought in my brain.

It makes sense, really, since music is one of the most personal artistic experiences there is, that listening to good stuff makes you simultaneously really self-absorbed.

But I start to get into the new songs, this whole ethereal, meandering journey of this new music. I am not really disappointed at all; I have accepted that I won't hear the tunes that soundtracked that summer of 2006, and that's fine, because it's 2010 now, anyway. Sufjan talks for fifteen minutes about this batshit crazy artist dude he was inspired by for the album, and whose surrealist, futuristic paintings have been splashing up on a backdrop throughout the night. Sufjan himself, the music, the whole night, is a little batshit crazy, but a very dedicated, focused, sincere batshit crazy, the kind that tugs on my heart and makes me feel glad for everything.

Coda:

And then, of course, for the last song, right before the encore, when the buzzing self-absorbed half of my brain is dying down a little bit and it is finally getting to just be about the music, this new crazy stuff, and I am into it, I am there, present, not wrapped up in nostalgia for Boston, for summer, for friends, I am there - he plays Chicago.

And I cry.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Addendum to: Everything pumpkin related.

Today one of my students told me about how Dairy Queen's Pumpkin Pie Blizzard was "soooo good," and being that there is a Dairy Queen right next to our middle school (yes, the poor employees), I really had pretty much no choice in getting one when I left. You know, connecting with the students, and everything. Shockingly, I found it pretty enjoyable too, especially the plentiful chunks of pie crust swirled into the mix. That first bite with the whipped cream really did taste, in fact, like pumpkin pie.

Speaking of pumpkin ice creams, I also must mention that a year or so ago I made the perfect combination at Coldstone with their seasonal pumpkin ice cream mixed with plain chocolate chips and slivers of almonds. This was really quite a refined Coldstone palate for me, being that normally it's near impossible for me to stray from my usual: cookie batter ice cream mixed with Heath Bar and Reese's peanut butter cups. Yes, I have a candy problem. But pumpkin ice cream with chocolate chips and almonds! So classy, so delicious! You can thank me later.

I must add these of course as an addendum to my post here from last year about my infatuation with the large orange globular squashes:

12) DQ's Pumpkin Pie Blizzard
13) Coldstone's pumpkin ice cream with chocolate chips and almonds

In a reply to that original post my sister also reminded me about:

14) Pumpkin soup

And oh, I also forgot about:

15) Pumpkin cheesecake.

And, uh, I think that's it, for now. We'll see what next year brings.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Having a roof over my head.

Today was a classic Northwest fall type day, full of absolute downpours broken up by seemingly illogical spouts of bright blue sun before more downpours commenced, and I was lucky enough to not have many obligations at all. So I spent the day trying to accomplish things haphazardly. Kathy made pancakes, I did the dishes, I read the paper a bit, tried to do homework, read a book for awhile, took Toby on a walk, went online for awhile, tried to do more homework. All the while I felt grateful for warm pajamas, for our animals, for our kitchen and our couch and our TV and just the general space to shuffle around in, to feel comfortable, and safe. It's true, my parents help me pay my rent, and probably will until I'm done with grad school and can find a good job. It's true, I'm so poor that Kathy is currently paying half of my bills. But while I have those people at my side, I can still have this roof over my head. And a lot of people can't. And so, I'm grateful. Because it is good.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sonic.


To be honest I don't find the food selection of Sonic to be that much to write home about in terms of fast food fare (with the exception of the breakfast burritos! Mmmm, simple yet satisfyingly hearty breakfast burritos!), but we all know what makes this place so darn wonderful. The drinks, the drinks! Especially during the 2-4 happy hour! But really anytime!

The drink selection options are so numerous that the awesomeness overwhelms you. When you drive in to a Sonic, there are two menus that surround your car: one to the left with food and basic drink options, and then one to the right full of even more unhealthy drink and dessert drink (shakes, ice cream concoctions, smoothies, etc) options. I often look at this dessert drink menu and stare slack jawed at all the pretty and sugary possibilities for a few minutes, in dumbfounded and indecisive awe. Therein lies the beauty of the drive in, of course, since being that no one will take my order until I press that neat flashing red button on the menu screen, no one will care if I sit dumbly in my car for five minutes trying to decide which beverage I want. No pressure is such a beautiful thing! Anyway, here's my list of the best stuff:

1. Limeades. OMG LIMEADES ARE SO GOOD, HOW COME NO ONE ELSE KNOWS HOW AWESOME THEY ARE?
2. Creamslushes. I usually opt for the orange. Orange creamsicle in drinkable form, um, yes please.
3. Cream pie shakes. What? I've only gotten one of these once or twice, but I just really like knowing that the option is there. Cream pie shake. Beautiful.
4. That crushed ice. Crushed ice makes it every time.

In addition to the drinks, the relative scarcity of Sonics are really what make them so appealing. Back when I lived in Boston, we used to see Sonic commercials on TV all the time with nary a Sonic around. It was hauntingly cruel, and we always used to discuss how delicious it looked, and we could only amuse ourselves by imagining what it might be like to actually be able to taste that deliciousness. Thankfully we moved to the land of milk and honey, the West, translated in the 21st century to the land of In and Out and More Available Sonics. There are quite a few around the Portland metro area, but still none close enough to our actual apartment that going there still has a somewhat exotic appeal. We usually stop at one if possible when heading out of or back into town during a vacation or some such other trip, and so it has that heightened special status that I assign to all things related to road trips.

In fact, when we drove across country from Boston to here, there was one day--I believe when we were meandering through the wild, strange lands of Wyoming and Idaho--that we just happened to keep going past them, and we kept being thirsty, so we stopped at three separate Sonics in one day.

It was a glorious day, my friends.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice / Rethinking Schools / It Gets Better


A few Saturdays ago I was able to attend the Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice, which I decided to attend very last minute, but immediately felt pumped about the minute I walked in. I had really wanted to spend my Saturday being lazy, but instead I got to attend a keynote by Sonia Nieto and then panels on GLBT Educators, Comic Books & Social Justice, and Transgender Youth. How cool is that? Really cool, is what. The annual conference is put on by local chapters of Rethinking Schools, an organization I was first introduced to through a textbook for a class last year, Rethinking School Reform. In particular, one essay in this book by Linda Christensen, a local influential Portland teacher and now a big part of Rethinking Schools, on the possibilities of untracking English at Jefferson High--classified as Oregon's only black school, now under threat of closure--kind of blew my mind with its awesomeness. I was left in awe of the potential of the effect one teacher can have on making their classroom more equitable and enriching all of the students' lives in the process. And by 'enriching their lives,' I mean learning more academically, learning more socially, and learning more about a better world. Since then, I have deduced that pretty much anything Rethinking Schools, which is a non-profit made primarily of teachers (as opposed to businesspeople or politicians) and which is primarily a publishing outfit, is part of is awesome. And the seemingly limitless amount of neat-o things there were to attend at this conference was just so lovely.

In my brief student teaching experience thus far, I have already experienced how much teachers moan and groan about professional development involving diversity, equity, multiculturalism, etc., and some of that is warranted. At the same time, many of those teachers are also the ones counting down the years until they can retire. And I am ready to take their place. The truth is, teaching is a political act. That doesn't mean your teaching has to, or should be political, but you better bet what you decide to teach or not teach and say or not say has an effect on those kids' lives.

(And if you don't think the purpose of education is to help make a better world, then why are you even there?)

Case in point has been the recent highly publicized slew of teenage and young adult suicides over bullying and harrasment, many of which deal with GLBT issues. Although I agree that we have a crisis on our hands, and I am grateful for the media attention, I do also believe that it is not a new crisis. This stuff has been happening--both the bullying, and the suicides--forever. Literally. I also don't believe schools can ever wipe this stuff out, or that teachers can be saviors to every kid, but I do believe there can be huge changes made in schools. Like not being afraid to actually talk about hate speech. Like not being afraid to actually talk about homosexuality with students. Like not being afraid to actually talk about anyone who might be different from you. These kids are not being taught about fairness, equality, and humanity from their families; they are not learning about them from the media, politicians, or video games. Of course, a lot of families do teach good things; not all media, politicians, or video games are bad. But for a lot of kids, the only real stable influence in their lives are teachers. So, teach stuff.

There have been a number of amazing things circulating about these issues. First, Ellen's impassioned speech on her show made me cry. Then, there was Dan Savage's amazing campaign, It Gets Better. This not only made me cry, but the message is so extremely simply and powerful and true and good and what kids need to hear. The invitation for people around the world to post their own It Gets Better stories on their YouTube site is the epitome of the power of social media, fo' real. Then there is the Bullied documentary, which is so brilliantly free and open to show in all schools. And, a little less polished and much straighter to the point, I think my favorite of all might actually be what Sarah Silverman said.



Overall, I feel like I have meaning and purpose in my life for the first real time, like I really like what I'm doing, like I could and must do this for the rest of my life, and that feeling is much bigger than any words I could think of to describe it. And although I do think it's essential for kids to know that it does get better, my main purpose when I'm in my own classroom, or my own library, is to help the lives of kids get better right now.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Vast Fields of Ordinary, Nick Burd.


This is one of my favorite young adult novels I've read recently, and without a doubt is also one of the best GLBT young adult novels I have read. I have read quite a few GLBT young adult novels now (although there are so many more to read!), but I feel like this is one of the more realistic portrayals I've seen, mainly through how Burd carefully crafts Dade's angst. He's able to capture that so-much-the-same-yet-so-much-different quality of the angst: it's the angst of every teenager, at the same time that it's also the angst of gay. So much the same, so much different.

The novel takes place during Dade's summer between high school graduation and college, such an interesting and underrated summer for so many people, and it has so many good summer novel qualities, the same qualities that go into a good teenage summer movie (and really, is there a more satisfying kind of movie?): aimless night drives into the wide open Midwest countryside; heartache and first loves; big rowdy parties; boring teenage jobs; lots of drinking; fireflies. There are also parts where, while still capturing the contemporary teenage voice, the writing is very lovely, which I think is easy to guess from the title alone. The Vast Fields of Ordinary: what an epic, teenage-angst title! I think what I liked so much about the angst in this novel is that it worked without being irritating, that although it crept to the rim sometimes it didn't teeter over the edge of being over-the-top and just tiring (which I felt with John Green's Looking for Alaska and a few others), and that importantly for the most part you really liked the protagonist throughout.

(I know there are many great works of literature where you're actually not supposed to like the protagonist, but I've learned I have a hard time actually enjoying a novel [as opposed to appreciating it] when I don't actually like the main character.)

Anyway, Dade's best friend Lucy is also an immensely satisfying and awesome best friend character, and the little quirky sideplots--the disappearance of nine-year-old Jenny Moore, mainly--give the novel a little more intrigue, a little more suspense, a little more well, quirkiness, than just being mainly a romantic coming-of-age story.

What also really made me like it was the fact that it didn't end the way I thought it would. Gay stories throughout history in both film and writing have an exhausting habit of always having to end up tragic, and I was worried something typically tragic would end this novel. And although something tragic did happen (slight spoiler alert), it wasn't what I thought it would be. And although in a way the tragic happening was slightly typical, I think it was also highly realistic for the very realistic situation in which it occurred. Uh, yeah. Writing about books without being specific is hard!

In conclusion, this was Burd's first novel, and I'd be interested in reading anything else he comes out with. And in second conclusion, I'd like to work on being better at book reviews.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Leaves in fall.


The leaves, the leaves, oh the leaves! They have not even started yet but the return of occasional rain to parched summer Portland and that certain occasional chill in the air; the return to school and the return of football season even though I will never be one for football; the slow and deceptive shortening of daylight; the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and advertisements for corn mazes on Sauvie Island in the paper; the return of month names with multiple syllables: Sep-tem-ber, Oc-to-ber, such lovely sounds on the tongue--all of it verges on the brink of my favorite time of year, the fall, not quite submerged in it yet but almost there. And the best part of all is of course the most obvious and brightest sign of the season, yes, even more than the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the leaves!

Portland is okay when it comes to fall foliage; the above picture was taken here and remains one of my favorite leaves pictures I've taken (and I've taken a lot), mainly because the light was perfect. (I also took it when we went to Jamba Juice for breakfast on our way to Seattle for the first time the first fall we lived here, and I was feeling excited and free the way one does on the morning of a road trip, so I also associate it with that feeling, making it doubly good.) And I must admit there is a brief window of time in October when all of the trees along our stretch of Powell turn the same brilliant shade of yellow and it makes even Powell seem magical and soft.

But there is really no out-doing the Northeast and the East Coast in general. New England is world famous for its foliage and so spending five years of falls in Boston wasn't shabby (even though I acknowledge that the foliage of the city can obviously not compare to the rolling hills and mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire and the like, which I haven't truly experienced in fall). But when I am really in heavy autumn reminiscent mode, my favorite place in my mind is my tiny town in Pennsylvania. Trees exploding in red and orange and yellow and all shades in between in my heavily wooded yard and along Route 507 and Route 6, circling the lake in a fiery, joyous display: the New York and New Jersey tourists are gone! Back to Wallenpaupack High; back to field hockey games and marching band; back to bundling up in sweaters. My falls were my busiest time of year, what with practice on the lush field behind the middle school every afternoon and football games on Friday nights, and even though I consider myself a pretty angsty person throughout most of my schooling in Pennsylvania, I know I was deeply happy at moments during those falls. Field hockey put me in the best shape I will probably ever be in and that felt good; it felt good to feel active and healthy, and even though we hardly ever won any games throughout my entire athletic career, I loved the way the late afternoon light slanted across the fields and the way the grass smelled. At home, I would lay on the floor of my bedroom and listen to Dave Matthews' Crash on repeat. The entire album always takes me back to a sweet, warm place; youth in a small town full of bright leaves in my memory.

It seems strange when one stops to think about fall in depth and in scientific terms, that all those colorful leaves in actuality represent death, but still fill me with such feelings of comfort and renewal. But I know poets have already discussed the irony and the meaning of this, and I am not a poet, so I'll leave it with them.

But I will say toodleoo, summer, I know you are the season of passion and romance and energy and fun, but I am ready for those leaves to start changing, because fall, you to me will always be the prettiest.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Project Runway.



I don't watch much reality TV, with the exception of a Real World every now and then in the '90s (before MTV's ruin), and the very important and big exception of Project Runway. Which is, of course, one of the best shows of all time. I usually get antsy after watching a couple of hours of TV or movies (ask Kathy), but I feel like I could watch Project Runway forrrreeeeevvvvver. It sucks me into its fashion vortex and it's hard to escape it. It has enough cattiness to make it entertaining, but still stays on a far higher rung than the rest of reality TV in terms of classiness: it's not about who's sleeping with who but is about an actual innovative and interesting artform and people's talents. Being that it's now in the 8th season I have a hard time remembering all of my & Project Runway's good times, but here's a list of my favorites from the show:

1) Tim Gunn. DUH. Tim Gunn has to be number one. My love for Tim Gunn is neverending, limitless, freeflowing. He is one of the loveliest men on the planet, and whenever he laughs my gut is filled with warm happy feelings. And when he is angry it is SO BADASS and always deserved. There was one bitch a season or two ago who kept talking smack about Tim Gunn, and I should say there is a difference between not necessarily wanting to take his advice and talking smack, and talking smack makes me want to rush my face to the TV and shout, "Oh no you di'nnnnnn't." You did, but you SHOULDN'T.
2) Chris March from Season 4. You know, the big, flamboyant costume designer with the fabulous laugh. Everything about him was fabulous.
3) Stella from Season 5, mainly just for this clip above. "Everything is LEATHA." So good.
4) Anthony Williams from Season 7. A sassy black gay fashion designer from Atlanta. What more do you need to know?
5) Ping, also from Season 7 because she was so wacky and kooky. I always love the wacky and kooky ones. Although when I looked up YouTube videos for her I found this one of her crying when she was kicked off and I remembered that horrible partner competition show where her partner, whatever his name was, was SO MEAN TO HER and it was SO SAD because I LOVE PING! OMG it made me cry.
6) Santino from Season 2. One because his Tim Gunn impression was amazing, and two because one of the first things I watched of Project Runway was him basically being a douche to everybody, and then when Tim visits him at home, he was all of a sudden this really sensitive soul and it was mindblowing.
7) Christian Siriano from Season 4. Ooobviously. Everybody loves him, and I do too. His fierceness never got old.
8) All the guest judges. Always so random.
9) Heidi, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia. I really don't like when they are downright mean (which I haven't seen that often, but sometimes, especially in later seasons), but I loooove when they are sassy. Especially Nina. Nina Garcia, you are so badass.

Who's to say what will happen this season, but I hope Mondo and Valerie stay on as long as possible. And although I like the occasional cattiness, the everybody-being-mean-to-Michael-C. thing is so irritating to me. Yeah, you don't like him or his clothes, whatever, grow up and stop being meanies. Cattiness is entertaining; meanies are just annoying.

There is probably more I could say, but my brain feels tired from trying to do all that remembering from 8 seasons. So all I'll say is, Project Runway gives you great advice for all things in life: the cards you get dealt suck sometimes, but in the end you have to make it work.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New bloggy blog!

Daily Daffodilly!

I have long admired photo blogs and have long tinkered with the idea of my own. Back in 2005-2006-ish I had a livejournal that acted as such and actually did document my life through somewhat daily pictures for awhile, but became sporadic at best after that. For years I've dabbled around in HTML to try to create a daily photojournal component for my website, but in the end that took too much work. In any case, Blogger is working for me at the moment, and my philosophy for this one is a bit different: no more ramblings or explanations with each post; this one is just for the pictures to speak for themselves. It's not to necessarily document my day to day life, but to look at things in the bigger picture: the things and the places I have taken pictures of throughout the years, a random surprise each day. I'm enjoying it a lot so far, so I'd love for you to take a look, too.

If you're interested in some real, professional, amazing daily photo blogs, I would recommend Joe'sNYC, A Walk Through Durham Township, and Daily Dose of Imagery, among many others. Especially Joe's NYC. I don't look at it every day, but if I did, it'd probably make me miss the East Coast just way too much.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.


(4th of July on the Charles, Boston, 2005)

If you have not experienced Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture live, played outdoors on some balmy summer evening, accompanied by real booming cannons at the the finale and followed by fireworks, you seriously need to add it to your Life To Do list.

Before we heard it tonight, performed by the Oregon Symphony Orchestra at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the amazing conductor gave us a little history lesson about why this little ditty is so popular in this country. When really, isn't it a little odd that this is always the finale at Fourth of July and other patriotic festivities, when it's by a Russian composer? As if we have a history of really loooooving the Russians. We were pleased to learn that it is in fact due to the Boston Pops (which of course made me feel even prouder of all those times I squeezed myself onto the Esplanade on the 4th of July with thousands and thousands of other sweaty bodies, with the Pops in the Hatch Shell somewhere far, far away, up yonder behind the trees). When ticket sales were down in the 50's for the Pops, some genius thought up a marketing scheme of: Hey, it would be super neat if we played this song and shot off live cannons at the same time the drums go boom at the end of it! This genius obviously understood Americans very well. We like loud things that go boom and make lots of smoke. It worked.

Even though it is obviously the very last section of the song that is most famous and most recognized 'round the world, I find the entire thing beautiful and mesmerizing from the very first notes. I have to admit that my knowledge of classical musical is close to zilch, although it is my dream to, one day when I'm rich and successful, be able to attend symphony concerts all the time wherever I'm living. (Although I'll be less snooty and wear brighter colors than my fellow frequent symphony goers.) I was a band geek throughout middle and high school and loved it to intensely nerdy degrees; I also have dreams of playing in a symphony band again (although this is perhaps even less plausible than my future-symphony-going). We played a Tchaikovsky song once in high school and although I can't remember what it was I remember it being one of my favorite things we did. That combined with the 1812 Overture pretty much makes Tchaikovsky my favorite composer. (Admitting that my knowledge is close to zilch allows me to name my favorite composer after knowing two songs--only one of which I know the name of--obviously.)

This entire song is all so dreamy and wonderful, all 20 minutes of it or however the heck long it is. I know whenever I hear it that most of the people around me are waiting for the cannons and the fireworks, which of course I love too--I am human, after all--but for me, the music could really go on forever. As Shakespeare says, "If music be the food of love, play on." I don't often quote Shakespeare--yeah, my knowledge of him is really close to zilch, too (add another item to my future dreams list)--but that's how I feel when I listen to the 1812 Overture. God Bless the USA! And, you know, Russia. And everybody else, too.



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yellowstone.




Here's the scoop on a hobby of mine: I constantly have stacks of photographs laying around my desk (and probably always will), and every now and then I pick one up. It's always a surprise what will be in the stack; sometimes they're from a month ago, sometimes from years ago, but regardless they're all waiting for me to go through. 'Going through' them involves a somewhat anal process of labeling the back of each and every photograph with the place and date of the picture before I can put them in chronological order in a series of photo storage boxes (I have been doing this since high school). It also involves deciding which ones are worthy enough for me to scan. Once those are scanned, I then go through all of my digital pictures from that same time or excursion (although I always like the print photographs better, with the exception of night shots), and begin the process of creating a gallery of all of them for my website.

I have had this website for ages; I pay a decent amount of money for ownership of the domain each year; and organizing one of these galleries of pictures? Takes me a long time. Between going through all the photos, scanning and organizing all of them, making thumbnails of each one for the left frame of the webpages, and then typing up all the HTML. It takes me a long time to do all of this, and I know that no one ever looks at any of them. Seriously. But the thing is, I don't care! No, really! I used to make long LiveJournal entries back in the day and then be hurt when no one commented, so if I said I didn't care that nobody read, I'd be lying. But this is different, because I really enjoy this big waste of time I've been doing for years. I document my life through pictures, and creating a gallery of pictures from an experience for my website is my way of reflecting on that experience, of remembering it and putting it all together in a way that makes sense, a neat little box to wrap it all up in, and it is immensely satisfying. In fact one of my favorite things is picking up a pack of photographs off the desk, and hoping that whatever is inside will be as random as possible, something I will be surprised by: "Oh, man, I remember that. That was awesome. I can't believe I was actually there. Regardless of whatever crap is going on in my life today, I have done all these cool things, and my life is good."

But anyway, now I have this blog here, and I can do whatever I want with it, so why not shamelessly promote these photo galleries from now on? So, after a few months of working on it off and on, I just uploaded a gallery from Wyoming, from our cross country trip in 2007. Devil's Tower, big empty spaces accompanied by big towering mountains a few miles later, Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons, abundant wildlife I'll probably never see again (grizzly bears, elk, bison, oh my!), a huge looming perfect blue sky full of perfect puffy clouds at every turn. This place was wonderful. Weird, very weird, and somewhat disconcerting--all that bubbling mud, all that steam rising up from cracks in the ground at every turn, man oh man!--but wonderful. I'd go back in a second. Now let's just hope Yellowstone doesn't blow up in our lifetimes and kill everyone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Multnomah County Library: An Update.

It occurs to me that in addition to continually posting new awesome things I like, every now and then I would also like to do some updates concerning things I've already liked. This time it's Multnomah County Library, which I wrote about way back in January. But when I read this article in the Oregonian this week, I felt the need to brag about how awesome it really is. In other words, We're number 1! We're number 1! We're number 1 (still)! I also read this article last week about how there are over 1,000 holds on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at MCL, even though there are already 200 copies of it in circulation. I know the article was mainly talking about readers' frustration at having to wait for copies, but I came away with only thinking (no matter how you feel about Stieg Larsson), Over 1,000 people in one place really want to read a book. And that, in my opinion, is really cool. I like that a lot.

I realized how truly lucky we are, however, when I read this amazingly depressing article about Camden, NJ. Although I realize libraries across the nation have been struggling and cutting back due to the recession, Camden will be the first place to close ALL of its libraries due to budget cuts. Libraries closing anywhere are a huge loss for society, but they are especially needed in cities and towns that are troubled and poor--like Camden. As the article says:

"Of all places, they're one of the places that needs free public libraries the most," said Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association.

The city of about 80,000 residents across the Delaware River from Philadelphia consistently ranks as one of the nation's most impoverished. It's a place where most families don't own computers, where just one big bookstore serves the local colleges and where some of the public schools don't even have librarians.

Free public libraries are simply one of the greatest ideas human beings have ever come up with, and even though I know budgets are hurting everywhere, the idea of them being completely closed down seems like an atrocity to me, something full of deep sadness. Unemployed people need those libraries to craft resumes and look for jobs; busy parents need enriching activities to send their children to during the summer; homeless people--or just people in general--need a warm, dry, quiet place to feel safe for an hour or two. Libraries are not just a bastion of knowledge; they are a safe place. Libraries are a bedrock of communities. We need them, especially now.
Szpila already is starting to work on plans for what to do with the 187,000 books and artifacts the library has acquired since it opened in 1904 with a $100,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie. They would have to be sold, donated or destroyed, he said.
Destroyed! My heart is aching. Hopefully the media coverage will garner some fundraising and donation efforts and at least one of the branches can be saved.

But to end on a more positive note, while I'm talking about libraries, I also need to mention The Unquiet Librarian. I had heard of this blog from a professor two terms ago, but only recently got around to actually adding it to my blogroll and reading all of the updates. It's written by Buffy Hamilton, library media specialist extraordinaire at a high school in Georgia, and it/she is amazing. Every time I read an entry, I feel educated and inspired about this field that I will hopefully one day devote my life to. It's especially nice to read now that my current studies for the next year are related solely to education and not necessarily librarianship (although the two are of course intricately and inherently related). Reading it brings me up to date on things I've been talking about/studying with other school librarians over the last year, so I don't lose sight of things. Honestly she does so much stuff for her kids and her school I don't know how she has time to maintain such a professional and up to date blog and internet presence, but I'm grateful for it. In fact, I am pretty grateful people like her exist. The more Buffy Hamiltons there are, and the more school administrators there are that allow libraries like hers to exist, the better off our next generation will be.