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
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.