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27 May 2009

Cowboy TV

To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the world.
~Charles Dudley Warner (also quoted by Warren Guenther)

Spring, Summer, Fall, and the early part of Winter is spent in our backyard around the fire pit. I can't tell you how many get-to-gethers we have had that always ended in half-toasted people sitting around our firepit telling stories. If firepits could talk...
Warren and I lived downtown in an 1920's apartment complex on campus for many years. To experience campfires, we'd pack up our cars and head down to the nearest campground to town which was about 30 minutes away. Even on week nights, we'd order a pizza and head out to camp. An alarm would alert us early in the morning that it was time to head back into town so we could get showered and get to work and school. That ritual lasted until we eventually we moved across the river and officially became South-Easters.

We had our first deck and real backyard. One afternoon, soon after we moved, we took a drive back downtown, nostalgic for the good old downtown days. We found a garage sale in one of the downtown neighborhoods. What actually drew us to this sale was the perfect sized kitchen table but what we saw when we got closer was a black metal fire pit with sides and lid, like the $200+ ones you see at Home Depot stores. The lady of the garage sale told us we could have the table and the fire pit for $20. We handed her the money and loaded our stuff as quickly as we could into the truck before she could change her mind! On our way home, we picked up free pallet boards to burn. That night, under a cool spring moon, we had our first fire in the backyard. Our hats and vests kept us extra warm as we talked about never needing to go camping again now that we had our own little campground exclusively with a fire pit.

That fire pit has warmed up many people and has heard endless stories. It lighted up parties with friends and families as we celebrated our engagement and pre-wedding festivities. It became a favorite pastime for our cats to roam around next to us or sleep on our laps soaking up the warmth of the flames. One year, we set a tv up in the back yard and watched law and order epidsodes every night while staying toasty by the fire. Sometimes we'd light up the fire just to provide a place to relax in between games of croquet. Many times we'd invite people over and let their kids over to cook their very own hotdogs and sm'ores over perfectly tended hot coals. Other times, we'd sit around the fire sipping wine after a hard days work, relaxing to the crackling flames. Most times we have a fire, someone always ends up stopping by. It's like the hot roaring fire is an irresistable invitation to pull up a camping chair, sit down, crack open a beer and shoot the shit.

Not much has changed in the last 10 years. We always have stacks of wood, kindling, faded camping chairs and an open door. Anytime someone is getting rid of old wood, old garden boxes, pallets - we are the first to claim them then break them up into burnable pieces. The dogs too, have taken well to the tradition of nightly fires. They run and chase eachother around the pit as we shoo them away from flames intent on scorching. They finally settle in and curl up next to the fire. When we take trips to the beach, we are always on the look out for the perfect wood stoking stick. Some of our friends and family members have fire pits too. So the luxury is extended when we visit them. It doesn't take much to have fun around a fire. You can talk a lot or not at all. The flames and crackling wood can keep a 2 year old amused.

The backyard fire pit continues to be a gathering place for all those in need of a brief escape or leisurely laid-back respite from daily life. Whether we are away camping or hanging out in the backyard, the fire is our main source of comfort and entertainment and is now fully rooted in tradition and a more than seasonal way of life.

20 May 2009

Garden Yoga

I never had any other desire so strong, and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and a large Garden.

~Abraham Cowley, The Garden, 1666

When I became a gardener, I fell in love. I fell in love with the permanent dirt stuck btn my fingers, toenails and on my knees, the small scratches all over my arms and legs, and how I became miraculously immune to the toxic leaves of poison ivy. I fell in love with my new state of mind which grew healthy from the daily fresh air of being outdoors and my body responded by falling in rhythm with the changes of the seasons and the womanly phases of the moon. Mostly I fell in love with how gardening planted peace in my soul and exercised my already active imagination.

I could and still do spend hours envisioning the final established fully grown product, months from now and years from now. I loved becoming fully absorbed in thoughts about where will things thrive, how big will they get, how long will that take, what would look best next to that and rearranging plants and ideas until at last I have my future, lush and wild green garden exactly the way I pictured it in mind over and over. The imagination does not stop there. When my garden's established 3 maybe 4 years in, my soul is satisfied at last, yet my mind is already racing - for a gardener's work is never really done right? Plants need to be divided, transplanted, added, weeds pulled, more compost added. It's like Karel Čapek, The Gardener's Year, 1931 says: "Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart."

In the garden, every day is different. I have to see things from the plants point of view. The plants will tell me their needs and I will respond as their loving garden-mother, giving them everything they need to thrive and grow strong. Being sensitive to their needs is essential for happy plants. They all expect different things from me. Some like more water, some insist on shade, others demand sun all day. Sometimes, they require a sibling – like my blueberries who refuse to put out fruit unless planted close to their brother or sister blueberry. Some are extremely demanding and ask that I keep a close eye on them and give them haircuts every so often, pruning away their wild growth. Others keep more to themselves, asking only that I visit them every so often.

Sharing our garden is the most rewarding part of Warren and I’s hard work. When someone stops by to experience the feeling of our garden, I know we’ve accomplished our goals. Our current garden, in our front yard, serves the purpose of being a shaded, green, lush miniature rainforest full of zen and quiet calm. Friends and neighbors stop by to comment and walk around it, sometimes sitting for a bit, absorbing the tranquility, maybe hoping in a sense to take some of it with them.

Gardening is definitely laborious work but it’s not just the wondrous end result that I wait patiently for. Whether I’m weeding, digging, planting, mulching, sweating, getting sunburned, or using muscles I didn’t know I had, my body, mind and soul are being cleansed and revived. My mind gets to wander while my hands work in the dirt. And the outcome of each gardening session is like a satisfying yet intensive yoga class. I’m worked, I’m worn but I feel incredibly gratified and fulfilled. And after a shower and a good night’s rest, I’m more than prepared to go outside, grab my tools and do it all again.

15 May 2009

The War on Grass

Keeping your lawn nice while your young dogs are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.
Grass is the cheapest plant to install and the most expensive to maintain. - Pat Howell

The cost of having a nice grassy lawn with three young dogs is high. When we bought our house, the backyard was beautifully landscaped with a 1000 tons of river rock, 19 wild roses, 200 weeds at least 4 feet high and an ugly prickly holly tree. Yes, it was F-UGLY back there. It didn't take us long, as former landscapers, to rip out the weeds, roses and cut down the holly tree. It did take a bit longer to get the endless loads of rock removed but when we finally did, we had us one beautiful expansive mudpit. Not long after that, we brought in thick green sod, hardy evergreen leland cypresses and lots of mulch. It was frickin gorgeous. Did it last? Well, sort of.

We learned real fast that three dogs are hard on even the so-called toughest grass. When we open the door to let them outside, they gallop and barrell through the same path each time like it's the first time they've been outside in a century. They wear a lovely path through the entrance to back yard. They chase eachother back and forth and all around the yard for hours on end. Throughout the summer, there may be a few holes dug here and there that we try to patch up, only for them to get dug up again. And when the fall rains come, what's left of the grass turns into a muddy slimy mess. We re-seed every fall and every spring, gating off the yard, completely cutting off the dogs access to the grass as we try to revive it. This really pisses the dogs off and they plot together to jump the temporary fencing every time they go outside which usually results in us taking them out one by one on a leash to pee, it's either that or lifting each dog back over the fencing every time, risking smashing the new baby grass growing in.

So early this spring, we did it again. We fenced off the yard, leaving only the deck area for the dogs to do their business in. We re-seeded and the grass grew fast and within a month, we decided to open up half of the yard while we left the other half to grow a little longer. Oh man the dogs were happy. So happy in fact to have their yard back that they proceeded to spend the next two hours eating grass. We laughed at how happy they were only later in the middle of the night to be awoken to the sounds of dogs barfing up undigested grass. Well, that's alright, they hadn't had any grass in a month so they were just making up for lost time right? Well, each day since, and let me tell you, it's only been a little over a week, at least one dog has either barfed grass in the middle of the night or has pooped a grass log that we've had to help pull out. Come on, enough grass alright? They are fricking manic about it. Especially Huckleberry. I think she really has a problem. What do you do when your teenage laborador is hooked on grass? Mow it, says my father-n-law. So we did, we mowed it. Even better she says, she loves fresh cut grass even more. Hucky is just not a dog you say no to. If she wants it, she is going to do it and is willing to pay the consequences, well maybe not willing, but without enough mental capacity to realize the consequences.

I am in agreement with how this anonymous poet thinks: "I am not a lover of lawns. Rather would I see daisies in their thousands, ground ivy, hawkweed, and even the hated plantain with tall stems, and dandelions with splendid flowers and fairy down, than the too-well-tended lawn." However, poor Warren, his dream has always been to have the perfect green lawn like his dad did but now with these three houligans, he must hold dear in his memory the picture of our untouched perfectly green lawn - only available for the first few weeks each spring and surrounded by temporary fencing where no human or dog foot has yet touched. That's as long as it lasts. But it's enough to get us through the summer for nightly backyard fires, weekend bbq's, and many hours of lounging out there with dogs, watching them eat the precious grass.

14 May 2009

Bottled Poetry

Wine is bottled poetry ~Robert Louis Stevenson
Need I say more?

13 May 2009

A Little Motivation Please

How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterward.
~Spanish Proverb
Oh man, this should have been my motto from the day I was born. I guess I never realized it until recently but although I drew somewhat of a map of my future, I did it in pencil so I could take lots of detours along the way and change things up a bit if they weren't working out. I've never seen the point of setting anything in stone and letting this beautiful world pass me by because I was too busy to pay attention. I must be flexible like trees bending in the wind or I'll snap, literally. Roll with it, you know what I'm sayin?

Maybe it's the Taurus in me but I'm a bit lazy in the sense that I go through these phases where I get everything organized so I can sit back and do nothing until chaos takes over again. I won't constantly clean or perfect things just so that everything is always in place. If I did that, I'd never have my time to chill, which is essential for my well being.

But let me tell you, when I get something in my mind that I want to accompolish, nothing can get in my way, even if it's not conventional. I mean rules were meant to be bent right? Rules are just someone's idea of how something should be. Definitely many rules are meant to lessen our chances of falling in harm's way but other rules have no sense or at least don't leave room for exceptions.

Sometimes I have to pull myself out of my self-imposed slothfulness though. I've relaxed for a little too long and pandemonium is setting up all around me. It's the first step that is always the hardest to take. If it's a matter of life or death or some means of survival, that first step is no problem. But if the choice rests on something less life-changing, then I have a tendency towards putting it off for a bit or at least spending some time finding a different way to approach it that takes less energy.

I give 110% in my job, for my husband, my family, my animals and for my friends. I'll put everything I have into having a cool summer get-together or planning for a special event. I'll give extra time for causes I believe in. But when it comes down to it, once I'm done, I'm done. I can't keep going. It's time to slow down and enjoy the smaller and slower moments of life, letting routine fall by the wayside. I totally believe that I must have some sort of trust in the sense of where I am and where I want to go but it's nice to also just let life unfold as it should and be aware of when doors of opportunity are opened so I follow a new path once in a while.

Sometimes I think people think I may be a little less motivated because I didn't carve out a set path for myself or strive to be like the norm. But I do find extreme happiness in the comforts I have created in my life. And I see life for what it is - not perfect by any means and sometimes even cruel - but also full of wonder with endless time to contemplate that. So, I sit here fully conscious of the fact that there are more things that I could be doing other than laying my thoughts out here for you to chew on. This, my friend, is my motivation, my motivation to lay it all out there, these splendid words as if I invented them, because in doing so I am simutaneously motivated and comfortably tranquil. And that is exactly where I like to be.

08 May 2009

The Winter of 2009

Winter in Portland is a long and drawn out process. As soon as the hot dry August sun begins to fade, September and October sweep in with a coolness that gently changes the colors of the season. Then from November - March, the chilly rains come. The sun becomes a distant memory and our tanned skins turn pale.

Every Fall we all start urgently tossing around ideas as to how we can get through another endless winter. We could go to a cabin in the mountains, see a movie every Tuesday, have a potluck once a week, hold game night on Fridays... Despite our best of intentions and plans, none of us ever plan enough to keep us going. We hibernate in our little toasty houses and try to recall the reason we have called this rainy dismal place our home.

This last winter, the winter of 2009, was strangely different. It literally flew right past us and before we knew it, spring had arrived. The explanation for the change in the monotonous routine of winter was simple. We had purchased season tickets to the Blazers, splitting games with Jenny and Jason, our friends who live down the street. So as winter had just begun to rare its ugly head, the basketball season commenced.

It became an exhilarating routine each week after work to run home, change clothes, walk the dogs and drive to the Lloyd Center. From there, we'd park for free and walk with all the other fans the next 7 blocks, letting the packed trains of more blazer fans pass us by. Once at the Rose Garden, we'd go through our favorite entrance, pick up a program, head up the escalators, buy beer and sodas then head up to our 3rd level season seats we now called home. We got to know everyone around us as we gathered each week together to root on our beloved Blazers.

Nights we weren't at games, we were home or at friends houses watching the games on TV. In between game nights we got together to discuss the season, the trades, the issues, the calls. The games, became the perfect excuse to get out of the house. Wind, rain, snow, or ice couldn't stop us.

We watched in horror as Oden was hurt in the first game. We rocked the house when Roy hit the winning shot against Houston with .09 seconds left. Charles Barkley said we had the best fans. We cheered through the loss to Boston and a humilating loss to the Lakers. We watched as Rudy amazed us with his colorful style of play and his breath taking dunks. We were there when Batum became a starter and felt the pain as Roy nursed an injury that plagued him early in the season. We became unruly when the Ariza's flagrant foul sent Rudy home on a stretcher. We witnessed our Blazers become men as they thrashed the Spurs, the Lakers and the Mavericks down the stretch. And we cheered until our voices were lost when we made the playoffs for the first time in 6 years! Even though we couldn't afford it, we bought tickets to the playoffs.

As the season came to a close, and we washed, folded and put our jerseys away, we realized that winter had passed us by and the sun we had so long ago forgotten about, was blasting its warm rays across the land once more. Where had winter gone? How had we missed it? I'll tell you one thing that is for sure, we went right out and renewed our season tickets again. Winter of 2010, BRING IT ON!

Our little Blazer Fans!

05 May 2009

The Near Extinction of a Childhood Memory

One of my fondest memories as a child was when mom and dad packed up us four girls, put us in the VW bus or the Pontiac boat and drove us to the Pizza Parlour. As I transport myself down this particular memory lane, I will always remember the excitement of this outing. It's not that we were going out for pizza that was the cool part, it was the whole experience of being at the pizza parlour. As soon as we arrived, we'd push through the parlour doors like crazy banshees. It was a fantasy land for us. We wanted to play the game where for a quarter you try to pick with a pair of giant plyers through glass the stuffed animal of your choice. We wanted to ride the electric horse that bounced around. We wanted to play Mrs. Pacman. And so on.

My parents would order pizza and while we waited brought us pitchers of cokes. Oh me oh my. Cokes!!!! You see, we didn't get to drink sodas much at home so this was very special indeed. My mouth would water as my dad filled our glasses. We'd suck the sodas down like we were returning from the desert without any water for days. I'd hear my mom in the background saying, don't drink all your soda, you'll ruin your appetite. I don't think that stopped us as pitcher refills would keep coming. The pizza would arrive and of course we couldn't eat much with our tummies full of coke. We'd get up and chase eachother around the salad bar and steal croutons from the counters and we'd beg to play more games. It seems these excursions to the pizza parlour would last forever. It was almost like this was such a treat for us that we'd all embellish every moment of being there and draw this experience out as long as we could. I bet my parents had to save for a while to take us but the memories have stuck with me so much that even now, as an adult I reminisce about these experiences frequently.

Every now and then we come across a pizza parlour that resembles my childhood fascination. Usually it's in a small town up in the mountains. We always stop and enjoy a couple hours of cokes, beer, pizza, video games and sports watching. It's a leisurely experience. We never hurry out. Unfortunately, there aren't many of these places left in the bigger cities. Most city pizza joints cater more towards delivery and don't have that old time feel. It's more of a get a slice, eat it and go, have it delivered, or it's hoity toity and the pizza has weird stuff all over it - this last part is Warren's take on it.

However, a couple of years ago, we stumbled across a pizza parlour that just so happens to fit the profile of my childhood memory - and even better, it is about a mile from where we live. It's seriously nothing special. The entry way boasts video games and a mirror that will make you look all contorted. Then you pass by a GIGANTIC taxidermied-looking, yet hopefully fake bear named Fuzzy Wuzzy. The piano that plays all by itself for a quarter belts out old saloon tunes sits adjacent to a long classic salad bar. An old gas fireplace warms the old wooden booths with old brown leather seats where we relax with a large pitcher of coke. (ok, now as an adult, it's more like a large glass of red wine, but I always take big swigs of Warren's coke!) We order at the counter. The menu is basic and simple and they call your number when it's ready. The pizza is homestyle and delish.

I think a lot of people try to re-live their childhood memories here. I do. In fact, we've sort of made it a habit to meet up with Warren's Aunt Diane and Uncle Wally at least once a month. It's a chance to catch up, enjoy conversation, play video lottery, and take a little trip down memory lane.

Life IS Better in Coach

How many of you have flown coach? Nothing special, right? However, how many of you have WORN Coach? Those of you who have know what I'm talking about; Coach purses shake the very foundation of ultimate fashion sense. Let's start back more than a few years ago with my mom. For as long as I can remember and probably for long before, my mother has had a shoe obsession. Her closet was always meticulously lined up with shoe boxes from floor to ceiling. I can easily summon up the vision of her standing in front of her closet after a shopping trip trying to squeeze in one more pair. Well, my sister has inherited a similar gene, but hers is passion for Coach purses. Every year on her birthday, Christmas, or Mother's Day, she calls me to proudly report that she has just gotten THE Coach purse, the one she has been visualizing night and day since the last time she saw it on a shopping trip. I don't claim to discern how many of these purses she has gotten her hands on, but every time I see her, she's sporting her latest Coach find.

I'm not a brand name sort of person. I’m more likely to ask myself the following question: Can I get this item cheaper if I can find it used? Bargains are my forte and if I discover name brand clothing items for seriously cheap (we are talking way, way under 20 bucks), then I will, without a doubt, buy them. For example, last weekend I decided to take a quick shopping trip to my favorite trendy used clothing store. Quite predictably, I tried on every pair of sandals that were in my size. And, unbelievably, I found two pairs of fabulously cheap and fashionable sandals to purchase. I had been making a concerted effort not to look at the racks of hip clothes that were beckoning to me for a quick look-through. I forcefully looked the other way only to have my eyes land right on the most modish purse I have ever seen. There it was, arresting rusty orange leather, hanging from a long, buckled (just the way I like 'em) strap. The purse had a considerably large tarnished zipper attached to funky leather cut tassels. Very vintage and 70's looking. Very urban cool. Very just my style.

Knowing from experience how swiftly the finest accessories are nabbed, I seized that purse promptly and made my claim. I gave the purse a once over and then carefully scrutinized it for faults, of which I found none. The inside had this timeless cool fabric, a perfectly sized compartment for my cell phone, a metal hook for my keys, no tears, scratches or rips that I could see, and appeared to be only a mere bit worn. I modeled it in the mirror. I looked GOOD in that purse. It enhanced my very being. There was no picturing life without it now.

I scooped up the now blasé sandals along with THE purse and dashed to the counter to purchase it, only then noticing the $40 price tag. I hesitated for a millisecond, deliberating the high cost versus the must-have, only to come to the conclusion that this purse was worth every one of my precious pennies. Without wavering, I handed my items to the fellow at the counter who said, "Girl, you got yourself the deal of the century. I myself was contemplating whether to buy this purse or not." Unexpectedly, I felt to urge to protect my almost purchased deal of the century. Looking directly in his eyes while pulling my shoulders back and standing up extra tall, I whispered to him in a pleasantly firm voice, "Well, I beat you to it didn't I?" Sorry. No one is getting this purse except me.

What he said next sealed the deal for me. "Coach purses go fast here." I tried to look nonchalant. It was a what? A Coach Purse? Holy mother of pearl, I have to call my sister this minute. I didn't even THINK to look at the label. My sister would be so proud (and maybe jealous once she sees it!). After an agonizing couple of minutes, the clerk handed me my change and asked if I wanted a bag for my items. I said, “No, I will be wearing this purse, thank you very much.” I might have boasted somewhat of a strut as I made my way back to my car with my new hip purse strung stylishly over my shoulder. As I drove away, I thought to myself, "Who would have thought, life IS better in Coach!"

04 May 2009

The Story of the Two Pats

One spring, about 11 years ago, just shortly after Warren had moved to Portland so that we could finally be together, his mother came for a visit. We gave her the tour of our apartment near campus and walked all over downtown reviving memories of her childhood that included some time in Portland.

The next day we left her to her vices and she decided to walk down to the farmer's market near our apartment. When she returned, she had with her a small plant with the most delicate purple bloom. It was a dwarf lilac bush. She handed it to me and told me it was for our community garden plot on campus. I was overjoyed! You have no idea, but I am a lilac freakazoid. I'm not one of those people that has to have lilac candles, lilac soap, lilac fabric softener. No, not in the slightest. I am however, one of these people, who may just happen to clip a twig of one of your blooming lilac bushes in the middle of the night. I'm also one of these people that will stop the car and get out just to smell a ripening tree of lilac blossoms. I"m insane about it. Every spring, just before the lilacs bloom, I get this insatiable need to smell them.

So anyway, Warren and I had just gotten our garden plot going and needed something special for it. We planted the lilac bush in our plot and promptly named it Pat, in honor of Warren's mother. Every time she came to visit, we strolled down to the garden to look at Pat.

Two years later, we moved. We dug up our plot, including Pat, and transplanted her into a gorgeous new pot and brought her to our new digs. There she lived on our back porch. She bloomed just a bit later than all the other lilacs, which was very special to me given it just draws out the lilac season. Just as the fragrance of the lilac blooms were waning around us, Pat would begin to bloom. We always made sure she was never alone. She had many potted plants surrounding her to keep her company and we took great care to make sure that she flourished. We always sent pictures to Warren's mom every spring as she displayed her purple grandeur.

Then three years later, Pat moved with us again, three more times. I had always promised her that one day, we would own the land where we resided and that she would have her very own plot of earth to put down her roots for good. Then we bought our first house. Warren and I both immediately thought of Pat. She would have her wish. When we got our keys, the first thing we did was to bring Pat over to see where she would forever reside. She liked the SW corner of the front yard the best. Probably because that is where most people would see her annual lavish display of purple blooms. Well Pat proved to be right. Her roots had been contained for way too long. We had to crack the pot open just to release her. We dug a big hole and placed her in it with lots of love.

She's been in that same spot now for almost four years now. She loves it. She's grown another foot and gets more blooms each spring. She's been through a lot, being moved around, root bound, and finally transplanted. I was looking up information about these small lilacs and the first thing that was mentioned is they are the much hardier and more durable than most lilacs. You've got to be kidding me. I wonder if Warren's mom knew that she was picking out a plant for us with the same qualities she herself has. Pat, the person, moved around a lot as a child. She had a bit of a tough upbringing, although she does have some fond memories. Then she went through years of raising two boys (need I say more). Finally, as she was retiring and getting ready for her golden years, she was confronted with the biggest fight of her life - breast cancer. Of course, she made it through, Pat can make it through anything. She's as tough as the bat that hits the ball out of the park but she has a bigger heart than you'll ever see. Now she's enjoying her retirement to the fullest.

So I think it's a bit interesting that she bought us this plant, never knowing what kind of journey it would take with us or how much it resembles her life and her stubborn will to survive. So this year, even as the rains refuse to let way to sun, Pat, the plant, is preparing to bloom once again. And, even as the journey of life has had it's twists and turns, Pat, the person, is still flourishing and infecting people with her tenacity for life.

And that my friend, is the Story of the Two Pats.