Saturday, August 15, 2015


Sixteen One-Pint Jars of Vanilla-Pluot Preserves

Today was preserves day. A long and arduous task. Cutting five pounds of pluots (with five more pounds to go!!), then trying to balance the right amount of sugar, lemon juice, water and a vanilla pod (thank you, Gypsy). Cookbooks are hopeless on the subject.There is no lack of interesting recipes, but they are short on technique. Don't look to YouTube. I watched in astonishment as a woman demonstrated making her plum jam, which wasn't not going well. "Oh well, I'll just add pectin, which I would prefer to avoid. She had been given a large amount of plums and had some knowledge of making preserves, but this is a rather precise kind of work, and it deserves less "personality" and more tutorial. I'd love to find a large guide to making jams, jellies and preserves (conserves too) that offer a wide variety of fruits with suggestions for combinations, and with recipes for various amounts of fruit (small batch, medium and large batches that take advantage of the season). 

Peaches and nectarines have nothing on the color palette of Pluots!

Pluots are absolutely gorgeous. Many had a real ruby center, but others had a yellow center showing their apricot origins. With a canning kettle for boiling the filled jars (10 minutes for each five jars), sterilizing the jars, lids and caps, the cutting of the fruit (I will cut the rest of the fruit and freeze it for gallettes this fall and winter), cooking and skimming the foam that invariably rises to the top, this project took up three very concentrated hours. 

The yellow foam that rose to the top of the fruit as it was cooking has to be skimmed from the top, otherwise, it will cloud the finished preserves. 

So six jars of jam (from yesterday), sixteen of preserves made today, I'm done with jam-making this season. The pear tree gave no fruit this season after several of seasons of good yield. By then the pears should get back to producing fruit. And then I'll make pear butter.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

PLUOTS--The Most Beautiful of Stone Fruits

My Pluot Tree in full bloom this spring.

I should have realized this spring that my Pluot tree was going to offer me a spectacular crop when I saw the way the tree bloomed. Every branch was covered in pretty white flowers. What a display. About two months later, I suddenly saw fruit sprout all over its many branches. I had worried that by not pruning there tree this season that I had allowed it to get too large. But the Pluot just spread it's shapely branches and produced a prodigious amount of fruit. What was odder still, was the pear tree next to it simply gave no fruit whatsoever. In the four years since the trees were planted, the pear had always given me a modest crop, while the Pluot didn't give much fruit at all. So I waited patiently and was rewarded. 

The Pluot Tree in late July heavy with lots of fruit. 

So I'm finished picking all those lovely pluots from my tree in the back yard. I decided to make jam. Had to something with all that gorgeous fruit and after giving a bag to Sara and another bag to my brother Scott and his lovely Bernadette, the time came to make jam. I used a recipe from THE ESSENTIAL NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK by Amanda Hesser. She asked for two and three quarter pounds of fruit and a half a cup to be brought to the boil and then simmered until the fruit was soft. Then I ran it through a food mill. The yield was to be something like two and three quarters cup of pulp and juice. I got five and a half cups, which meant it would require more sugar than the one cup called for. I added another two thirds cup of sugar, and simmered it for about 45 minutes. A sample when placed on a freezing cold plate finally gelled. The jam was ready for the jars and a final 10-minute water bath. 

As gorgeous a color as these pluots are, the photo doesn't begin to capture the stunning combination of dark wine red skins with a touch of yellow representing the fruits combination of plums and apricots. This bucket of plots was the last of the fruit picked from the tree today. 

The first batch of Pluot Jam for 2015

The color of the jam is ruby red and gorgeous. I have five jars. Now I have to turn the rest of the harvest into more jam. By the time I'm through, I should have 30 jars! Better go get some more sugar. Some lucky people are going to have an interesting stocking stuffer this year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Restored Water Fountain

I'm an okay handyman--better than I thought, but not as good as I could be. But I'm working on it. Nobody told me that you have to drag things into the garage from the garden over the winter. That includes terra cotta pots, table umbrellas (I actually new that), and water fountains that look like their made of stone, but are actually made of fiberglass. My good friend, Dyanne, gave me a handsome water fountain as a house-warming present. I set it up and for four seasons, it has worked like a charm. This year, I cleaned it up, noticing that the old pain was chipping badly, and saw a few cracks, but they didn't look like the might be a problem. The next day, I came out to the back yard and discovered the tank was empty and the pump was huffing and puffing with no water to recirculate. As I do in all similar circumstances, I asked my friend, Bob Spivey for help. Bob is in his middle 70s, retired, and a man of few words. But he's always fixed things for me or told me how to fix things. Lately, he's been telling me more how to fix things than actually fixing them for me. No worries. I don't mind rolling up my sleeves and getting down to business. He pointed to the back of the fountain and said, "tear a hole in it and remove the old plastic tubing and replace it. fix all the cracks. Repaint, find a place for it. Fill it with water. Plug it in. Should be fine. I did specifically what he told me to do, and it worked like a charm. I bought a beige base coat in spray paint form. And then another can of spray paint from Rustoleum, which would give the topcoat a visual equivalent of texture. Though I brought the first can back to Ace Hardware because it wasn't spraying correctly. The replacement can wasn't much better, but it got the job done. I fixed the cracks with marine adhesive, but it took seven days to cure an when I was done, I discovered another batch of cracks. That took another seven days to cure after I sealed every crack I could find.

The fountain is in a new location, and it's got a new paint coating, and it's working like a charm. It looks brand new (as long as you don't look at the back side of it! And I'll remember to store it in the garage this winter.

Pluots ripening in a brown paper bag.

Pluots brought in a bucket from the back yard.

My pluot* tree has given me a magnificent harvest this summer. While my pear tree gave me nothing, the pluots were plentiful and gorgeous. But lately a bunch of slightly under ripe pluots have been falling to the ground, which is covered in river rock. They crack on impact and are useless. Something had to be done. I went on Amazon and found a fruit picker, but it was out of stock and priced at $38.00! I had some business to settle in Sellwood, a lovely neighborhood that abuts mine, and drove over today. I passed the local Moreland Hardware Store (part of the True Value network), and thought they might have one. I'm glad I stopped. I found one that extends practically to the top of the tree, and it only cost $18. Back at the house, I quickly filled two pails of pluots, which are in paper bags ripening (as instructed on a YouTube video). Pluots have a sweet, musky flavor and truly represent the best of a plum and an apricot.

Tomorrow I'll deliver some to my brother for installing these fabulous new lights in my backyard, which have added some awesome atmosphere to the back yard for summer dinners al fresco. It's been a summer of fixing and restoring things in my house.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


The New Grassless Garden

I turned 65 in late June and found myself delighted to finally be rid of expensive monthly health care. Cut my expenses in half, though doctors are lined up for tests through out the rest of the summer. Nothing scary, just tests. It didn't help to get the news that, Kurt Aldag, one of my favorite publishing colleagues and a dear friend of many years, had a stroke late this spring. He recovered fast, which was a huge relief, but he's turning 65 next month. Reminds us that life marches on.

This was the summer I finally made up my mind to do something about my garden. I hate grass. It requires watering, seeding, feeding, and always ends up looking like crap. I called Errin, who has done a bunch of heavy garden chores for me over the years, and told him the grass was going. He had to trim the hedges anyway. I decided it was also time to dig up the front garden, get rid of all that plastic the previous owner had put down to retard weeds, and give my white camellia a major trim. Four guys descended on my house over two days and the results were excellent. They dug up all that sod with the plastic webbing, leveled the dirt, put down a special fabric that allows water to sink into the ground, but also retards weeds. Then they brought in the river rock to cover the yard where the grass had been. It looks great against the red brick patio. I'm delighted and the low maintenance is the icing on the cake.

My old cement birth bath in the same of a maple leaf supported by it's new heavy wire stand. 

My gorgeous white camellia tree got a huge haircut. I'm told it will fill out and bloom 
beautifully again next February. 

It has taken me six years to finally get my garden to the the place where I'm reasonably happy. Gardens are a lot of work. I have friends here in Portland who dote on their gardens. Trish, for instance, spends hours and it shows. But I don't like working that hard, especially during a really hot summer like we're having in Portland. I also like to mix up the plantings with interesting things that make a garden fun to look at. Sculpture, water features, small statues, decorative pots both small and large, a metal holder that I found for the cement bird bath that I moved to the back of the garden. I'm not all that great at weeding and keeping things trim and under control. But with the changes this summer, I'm having fun reshaping and arranging my garden frog, an old skunk, a rabbit, a stone Cairn that Ken gave me when he moved into my house, a couple of old urns, a sphere. I bought a new bird  bath early this summer on a great sale. It's a blue pottery bowl set on ceramic base. I thought the cement leaf that I bought the first summer I lived in Portland, would look better in the back of the garden, with the new bird bath moving into its place. But I also thought the cement bird bath would look great if it were on some sort of cylindrical base. Last Saturday, I was at Stars, a local antique mart in Sellwood, a neighborhood near me. There I found a tall, rusty column of heavy wire in a graceful pattern. I had noticed black crows liked to visit the yard and play and wash in the bird bath. This would elevate the bird bath, which would benefit the crows, who are constantly being chased out of the yard by my dog, Archie. I brought it home and put it in place, but the minute I filled it with water, it leaked. So I put marine adhesive over any potential cracks, and let it cure. It was dry enough tonight to fill. I expect to see crows capering there in the morning.

Bamboo in Galvanized Planter

I love galvanized planters and I needed a large pot to grow bamboo which would give me some privacy from a neighbor. It is probably going to take a few years for the two bamboo plants to grow tall enough, for privacy, but I like the fact that it is bushy and with this planter, I can contain the bamboo, which is notoriously invasive.

We've had a brutal summer in the Pacific Northwest, which is normally cool. Upper 80s an 90s has been the norm since June. We had two days of downpours last weekend, but it was the only rain we've had all summer long. Though Portland isn't under drought, fifteen Oregon counties are,  dependent on mountain water, which is in slim supply these days. I've never seen Mount Hood with so little snow. Washington state is in even worse shape. Nobody knows when this is going to stop. Who thought drought would ever be situation in our water-rich region?  I never watered the grass in my back yard, but the garden needs watering when it is this hot. The sun has brutalized my garden this year. I've got roses, iris, peonies, euphorbia, and other plans that don't require much water. I'm not sad that my dahlias didn't do well because white butterflies love to eat them. It's astonishing how hungry they are and I refuse to use harmful pesticides, which have been harmful to our bee populations. But hydrangeas hate the sun. One large hydrangea in my front yard gets the full blast of summer sun, and is constantly wilting. It's already done for the season--a full month earlier than in past seasons. Even my tomato vines have leaves that are yellow and brown. Some of it is a little over-watering, but the sun is toasting them too. All these problems--or as my friend Jim says, "white man's problems." Is it any wonder that I hate gardening. Should have bought a condo instead.

Grape tomatoes from my garden

This would be the perfect summer to grow tomatoes, something I gave up during my first summer here. Lots of people have problems with their tomatoes. The next year I discovered cherry and grape tomatoes and I have never looked back. Here's a bowl of tomatoes that I picked during the last two days. They are so sweet. I made a dish of shrimp, Andouille sausage, peppers, and onions for dinner last Saturday. Along with rice, and a flavorful dish of sautéed white and yellow corn with red peppers, scallions, and red pepper flakes, we had a terrific Saturday night dinner. This bowl of grape tomatoes is candy sweet. The vines produce a huge crop, and we'll be eating them into the first two weeks of October.

Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, red peppers, garlic and scallions with rice sautéed with shallots, chicken broth and fresh bay leaf, and a big green salad, for a simple Saturday dinner for two.

It's been a summer of a lot of cooking. I made this blueberry pie from a favorite recipe by Ron Silver, owner of Bubby's in New York. This is such a great pie--a pre-baked crust filled with a combination of fresh blueberries, and a "jam" of cooked blueberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon. I add lemon zest for a little more zest. It is served with a pile of creme fruit and it represents summer at it's most delightful. It also tastes sensational for breakfast the next day.

Fresh Blueberry Pie from BUBBY'S HOMEMADE PIES

This particular dinner started with one of my favorite baked pasta dishes from Diane Rossen Worthington from her Seriously Simple Holidays cookbook. Baked Pasta with Tomato, Red Pepper, and Sweet Italian Sausage Sauce, is Diane's spectacular answer to finding a festive main course dish for a holiday dinner party.  Ziti is combined with a sausage and roasted red pepper laced tomato sauce, with  cremini mushrooms, baby arugula, grated Parmesan and Asiago cheeses, heavy cream. It's an extravagant, make-ahead casserole and a real crowd pleaser. I normally make it during cold weather nights, but it worked for this summer menu. 

Baked Pasta with Tomato, Red Pepper, and Sweet Italian Sausage Sauce

Crab is in season and crab cakes seemed like a great idea. The recipe I selected is from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. It has a lot of ingredients in it--celery, scallions, Italian parsley, eggs, crushed Saltines, red pepper flakes, Old Bay spice, and then dredged in fresh breadcrumbs. But the ingredients never mask the crab. It comes with an equally ingredient-stuffed remoulade sauce full of paprika, celery, parsley, garlic, scallions, etc. The recipe yielded twelve crab cakes--my guest and I ate half of them one night. She took three with her and had them for lunch the next day. I polished them off tonight with a gentle reheating in a low over. Notice the remoulade sauce doesn't have the consistency of mayonnaise. I'm hopeless with mayonnaise concoctions. Should have just begun with Hellman's and called it quits. But no, I keep thinking one of these days, I'm going to conquer my fear of mayonnaise. While the sauce refused to thicken, it still tasted great. 

A platter full of freshly made crab cakes!

Sauce Remoulade (not a success), but still tasted great. 

A quick saute of leftover rice, yellow zucchini, scallions, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Salad Caprese

One of my favorite lean meats these days is the always delicious pork tenderloin. This tasty cut has virtually no fat, and takes well to many kinds of flavors from spices to vinegars and condiments. I found a recipe for a pork tenderloin, fingerling potatoes and baby arugula salad in THE WHOLE HOG by Libbie Summers. I often brush the cleaned tenderloin lightly with grape seed or canola oil and roll it in a spice mixture (such as hot smoked paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, a touch of sugar), or in fresh, finely chopped herbs (thyme, rosemary, and Italian parsley is a favorite), and salute it briefly in a heavy oven-proof skillet on top of the stove before putting it into a hot oven for a few minutes to finish the cooking. It must be slightly undercooked (I pull it out of the oven at 145-degrees and let it rest for ten minutes before I slice it. Out of the oven, it continues to cook and reaches to 150-degrees).  In the original recipe, the dressing for this salad called for rice wine vinegar and olive oil, a good combination, but I wanted a more classic mustard vinaigrette enhanced by the kick of garlic. It's a great summer one-course meal and so versatile and receptive to many ingredient variations.

Roasted pork tenderloin salad with fingerling potatoes and baby arugula, with a few changes--this time romaine lettuce replaces the arugula and radishes provide extra crunch. 

All in all, retirement is rather nice. I'm trying to get away from the computer and get some reading done, but it's difficult. The computer is an addiction and hard to quit. Doctor visits tend to be a little more often than in the past, as all sorts of health issues need to be faced. The extra time, however, is often used in the pursuit of things you'd never knew were interesting. I'm astonished how often I turn to YouTube to find out how to prune a tree, create a non-stick surface on a carbon steel pan, create a sourdough starter, or make homemade compost. Netflix has introduced me to the strange and compelling activity of binge TV watching. Good a series as it is, you need stamina to watch seven seasons of THE WEST WING.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


When I came to Portland nearly five and a half years ago, it was to escape the unsustainable cost of maintaining a home in Manhattan as I neared retirement. That was in 2009, when the economy collapsed as a result of the sub-prime mortgage scandals that exposed the real greed of Wall Street. Not that Portland in the go-go years of 2002-2007 was immune to soaring real estate. When I arrived one could still hear some locals complain about all the out-of-towners moving here and pushing real estate prices out of the reach of the state's natives. Still Portland was the last major west coast city to watch the price of a home soar out of control, like San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. But as the city culinary reputation soared, its easy, casual lifestyle appealed more and more to beleaguered city types fed up with over-priced real estate, and clogged traffic. I was certainly one of those people.

The crash of the American economy was, I thought devastating and surely could not be repeated again. Well silly me. I have been helping a friend who just moved here from Seattle, lured to new job.  He and his wife had what I called a solid budget for a home here of between $375,000-$425,000. I had sent them up with a really knowledgeable real estate agent, and with a clutch of listings, the search was on. Now three months later, he had made five offers, the last one $27,000 over asking price and has been beaten out all five times. There's been story circulating on TV and at dinner tables all over town about a couple who had made sixteen offers and lost every bid for a house here. My friends wanted a walkable neighborhood. He wanted to bicycle to and from work, and hills were not a problem. They wanted a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a low-maintenance garden, a roomy dining room with an open floor plan where they could cook and entertain guests within eyesight. A basement was desirable for his wine collection of about 1,5000 bottles. We began searching through the listings on Redfin, and found all sorts of fine looking contenders in all major neighborhoods of the city:  Reed, Woodstock and Sellwood in the South East; Multnomah Village, Burlingame in the SW; University Park and St. John's in North Portland; Overlook, Kenton, Alberta, Irvington, Hollywood, Rose City, and Laurelhurst in the North East.

As I toured many of these houses, and viewed hundreds of homes on Redfin, the greed and the cynicism behind this latest "hot market" began to appall and dismay me. Like in New York City, people simply took it for granted that what they had to sell was of value, no matter how small, how dilapidated and unimproved the property was. It became clear immediately that the list price was only the starting point. No offers were considered before an Open House where on a typical Saturday or Sunday, you could bump into as many as fifteen different people looking at one house at the same time. I saw houses that no amount of staging could hide their mediocrity. $400K could get you a master bedroom with ceilings so low you couldn't stand up straight. Some steps were so steep they were dangerous and had no handrails. Kitchens were woefully outdated with shabby appliances. Tiny dining rooms were advertised as gracious spaces to entertain your family and friends. Old wood floors were scuffed, their finishes worn off years ago. All too often a house that had three or four bedrooms had only one bath, which was fine, I guess, when I was growing up in the 50s, but are impossible for families to do without these days. I wouldn't look at a house without a garage when I was looking, but my friend was willing to consider homes without them.

To be fair it was often a pleasure to encounter an older house that had been lovingly restored with well-considered fixtures, innovative kitchen designs, updated and well-lit bathrooms and if a house didn't have two bathrooms, it almost always included a powder room. Old windows were replaced. Leaded windows were repaired. These houses often featured new HVAC systems, central air conditioning, crown molding, new wood flooring, walk-in closets and newly-designed landscaping.

Smart, think-ahead types who had bought their homes and lovingly restored them, hit the jackpot as they entered this buyer's market. But did we really learn anything from the 2008 meltdown?  This current seller's boom has ominous signals about the future. During the recession, lots of people bided their time, stockpiling their savings and waiting for an opportunity. But inventory is very low (we didn't build any housing for about seven years and it will take a few more years for that lack of building to catch up to the market demand). This means higher prices for homes fueled by cash sales, thereby averting mortgages and appraisals which could temper the market's impulses for reckless spending and over-inflated housing costs. The result is an expensive housing market that shuts out new buyers with less cash.

At the same time, my twin brother was looking for a new home in the suburbs of Portland. He and his partner were lucky. They made two offers on two houses. The first house was a bank-owned house in King City, near his fiance's job. It was a nice-enough house--big and airy, with a three-car garage, soaring ceilings in the living room, and a charming back yard. The bank had paid for a new roof, new paint throughout the house, and new wall-to-wall carpeting. But the gutters leaked badly. The kitchen had no refrigerator, the stove and built-in microwave were filthy and badly aged. The dishwasher was fairly new, but it was stainless steel while the leftover appliances were black. The cabinets were old and in bad shape. The dated surfaces were tile with filthy grout. The two and a half-bathrooms all featured old brass fixtures. The hot water heater and air conditioner was shot, and the inspection revealed some problems with the furnace. The enclosed back yard had one side with the fence yanked out, and the yard itself with a  water feature, needed some expensive repair work. Yet the bank priced the house as if it were new and used the comps from the surrounding homes to establish the price at market value. There was at least another $100,000 in upgrades needed to bring the property up to the neighborhood standard. When my brother got the inspection report, he priced all the improvements  and sent the estimates to the bank, which declined to answer the demand.

House number two, a sweetly modest California-style modern home had 4,000 less square feet. It was priced at $375,000--yet the home inspection revealed the need for a brand-new roof--it's cedar shake shingles were rotting. Other problems brought the demand for a $16K reduction in the cost of the home, which the landlady was gracious enough to acknowledge and agreed to lower her asking price. I didn't go with them to view houses, but my brother and I would review homes he was looking at on Redfin. What emerged as a surprise to me is that homes in the suburbs are almost always higher priced than in the city (I'm referring to three-bedrooms, two or two-and-a-half baths, garage, etc.). The attraction of these houses is their relative newness and easy access to freeways for commuting and shopping. For all the complaints I hear about taxes in Portland proper, they seem about the same in the suburbs.

This newly hot real-estate market will probably continue to grow as demand grows. Lots of people are moving to Portland every day, according to local news outlets. This demand is going to be sustainable as the economy continues to grow, which means housing costs are going to be relatively good in this early part of the current boom. Four years from now, those who bought during the recession are going to be very happy with the value of their homes, while those who are still looking to get in the market will feel the pinch. Meanwhile, the city of Portland is in the midst of a vertical building expansion. There is a huge demand for smaller one and two bedroom condos and apartment rentals which are clogging up neighborhoods such as Clinton-Division and Hawthorne in the south east part of the city. Restaurants on Division between SE 20th and SE 40th Avenues, are drawing lots of willing customers, which must be trying to the local neighborhoods with snarling traffic and lack of parking.

Did we learn anything from the previous real estate bubble? I say no.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


My old living room is now the new dining room with room to spread out. No more cramped table.

While the rest of the country is buried in snow and sub-degree temperatures, we're enjoying one of the warmest, sunniest winters in memory here in Portland. It's also the winter/spring season where I've virtually had no work commitments or deadlines. I'm between books. I've got too much time on my hands and staying up half the night watching TV has lost its charm. It got me to thinking about my lovely house. One of the biggest frustrations of this home is the utter uselessness of my living room. I simply spend zero time there and it's become this conduit between the front door and my kitchen. It's handsome furnished and inviting, but doesn't demand that I stay and linger. I took the TV out of the living room because it wasn't being watched. What to do with the biggest room in the house?  At 18 by 13 feet, it's waste of space. Then in a burst in inspiration, I decided to see what might happen if I converted the living room over into a dining room. If I do say so myself, it's a brilliant idea.

The new living room opposite my stove where I can keep my eye on my guests while I cook.

So I rolled up my sleeves on Monday morning and got to work cleaning out the living room to make room for the dining table. Then I dragged my couch through the hallway into the old dining area opposite my kitchen. Aside from having a living room nobody used, it used to bother me that people gathered around my set table to have a glass of wine, and nibble on something while I cooked. But everyone looked cramped trying to make some space around plates and be in position to face me while we chatted and prepared the meal. Now the old dining area (never a dining room) is an inviting place with a couch, a small coffee table, and an upholstered chair with a Asian garden stool for accent. With the back door open to let in the warm spring air and sunshine, this room is a great place for me to read my email while I drink my morning coffee. Archie's and Bit's beds are on the floor, though it is still a battle royal between me and Bit over his insistence on clawing my relatively new couch. I keep a spray bottle handy and let him have it (a friend has recommended putting aluminum foil on the back of the couch in a long sheet for a few weeks. Apparently cats hate aluminum).

The new dining from from different angles.

The Indian Headdress has been located at the bottom of the stairs. It is moving to make way for the platter rack that was in the kitchen dining area. It will take a few weeks for the handy man to become available to help switch the fan in the living room out for the dining table chandelier. The fan will go into the "new" living room. 

The dining table has both leaves in it and seats six comfortably with room for two diners. 

The headdress will now probably hang over my great aunt's Art Deco sideboard in place of this still life. 

My old cherry wood drop-leaf table is in front of one of the windows where it will do duty in the future for holding serving dishes for a large4 dinner party. That ceiling fan will soon be in the "new living room."

I've been looking at a lot of houses lately because my newest housemate is looking for a permanent home with is wife since he took a job here in Portland from Seattle. My twin brother is also looking for a house. I see in modern construction houses a formal living room and a "family" room. I know some people grew up with a formal living room, but spent their social lives and TV-watching time in the den. I would much rather have a large family room than two smaller rooms that are cut-up and lacking roominess and space. My "new living room" is rather snug--about 12 x 12 feet square. But I don't feel cramped, and now I have rooms that I actually use. 

The new living room will also undergo a few changes. 

The platter rack now will movie to the "new dining room" along with the chandelier.

The bookshelf units here will move to where the platter rack now hangs. The couch will move to where the bookshelves are now standing. This will give guests a view of the back yard. 

While the changes have been coming fast, a few weeks ago, I rearranged my sitting area on the landing at the top of the second floor stairs where I read and watch TV. This was to make way for a new chair. I had hastily bought an inexpensive chair and ottoman when I first arrived in Portland. The problem with that chair is that the arms are the same height as the back of the chair. It was also a large chair, making it very difficult to get out of. I found this second-hand leather chair, which is also a recliner. It's comfortable, and cost me $100 delivered, from Craigslist. This room is also undergoing changes. Stay tuned. 

I'm keeping the old ottoman, because Archie loves to sleep on it while I watch television. I think the new wing-back leather chair is quite handsome. It reclines (I'm not really a fan of reclining chairs--I say go to bed if you need to be reclining!) and overall is very comfortable. 

Archie always love to get in the way. I'm always tripping over him. 

On the other hand, Bit hates change, particularly if it involves the vacuum cleaner. Here he is emerging from hiding after he hears that I've put the vacuum away. 

The best part of this re-organization is that Archie has now taken up full-time residence on the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. When the couch was in the living room, he would take up his guard duties, leaving my couch covered dog hair. The cat would sit up on the cushions above him (cats always prefer higher ground). I would prefer him on the stairs rather than on my couch. This is a nice photo of him. Notice how politely he holds his paws together. I sear he was a ballet dancer in another life. What a handsome fellow is. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Rough Late Summer

I haven't posted a thing since May. It's been so busy with freelance projects, and getting my third book published. This is a cookbook partnered with the innovative supermarket, apparel and home chain, founded in Portland nearly 100 years ago. FRESH IDEAS WITH LEIGH ANN: The Fred Meyer Cookbook is the company's first in it's nearly 100 years of operation. The company's culinary spokesperson is the very attractive Leigh Ann Hieronymus, who has developed a huge database of recipes that appear on the company's website. I thought a collection of them would make a nice cookbook for Fred Meyer's customers, and so we have 140 of Leigh Ann's wonderful recipes with lots of gorgeous photos, clear instructions for all kinds of foods for just as many occasions. The book arrived on my doorstep from the printer after I had been away for a stressful two and a half weeks. I'm thrilled with the finished book.

I had gone off to Salisbury, MD to visit my dear friend, Dyanne and get a look at her lovely home on a fine golf course. Unfortunately, USAir lost my bag right away and after two days with only my traveling clothes, I decided to buy a week's worth of things to get through the rest of the week. I helped Dyanne hang her splendid paintings on the walls of her new house, and when we weren't doing chores, we were sitting out in her relaxed screen porch, drinking and talking and making plans on what do do with the house. Then the day before I was to return home, I got the news that my mother, who had been in failing health, died at nearly 83. So I made a change of itinerary and joined by twin brother, Scott, and my mother's younger brother, Chris, who my mother named as the executor of her estate, in Hendersonville, NC to face the chore of figuring out what to do with her home and the many things she had collected over eight decades.

What a relief it was to find out she had made a will. We had started it during one of my visits, however, my mother and I were estranged the last few years. She left a lot of decisions to her sons to make about the dispensation of her things. It was a stressful week, made more stressful when my brother and I packed up a mini-van and drove 3,000 miles back to Portland. I was never so happy to see my bed and didn't get out of it for nearly two days.

But coming home has coincided with the completion of my last freelance projects as a book publicist. I had worked on two this spring and they were challenging and frustrating. Books are being promoted in a different way these days than when I entered the business forty years ago. Social media is far more important than the traditional print, radio and TV outlets that were the bread and butter of my PR efforts. It was now time to leave it to the kids. Other than some promotional activities for the new cookbook, I've had lots of time to devote to my house.

My housemate, Ken, also announced he had found a condo (or as he calls it, a "ken-do"). He enjoyed living in my house and was as fine a housemate as anyone could wish for (and also a great drinking buddy), but the 40-minute commute to his job at Lewis & Clark was wearing him out, and he was looking for a tax deduction. Ken's new ken-do is splendid and I predict he will be very happy there.

These are just a few of the small treasures I brought from my mother's home to mine.

I wish I knew the background of this dog. It wasn't in my mother's house when I was a kid. It may have belonged to my grandmother. It is of substantial size and measures 13-inches long and 8 1/2 inches high, and is surprisingly heavy.

I'm pretty sure this table runner belonged to my great grandmother, Hannah Gershel. The closeup below shows the beautiful workmanship of this piece. I'd love to re-purpose it somehow, as I don't set such a formal table these days. It is a thing of beauty. 

This silver bowl was not familiar to me. I'm not sure where it came from or what is was for. It 
seems purely decorative to me. 

This stunning porcelain transfer ware bowl belonged to my stepfather, Marvin Bein. It's been on 
display in their living room for decades. Now it is in my living room. 

This silver pin cushion belonged to my grandmother, Alice. I need to restore the velvet top. 

I remember this needlepoint, which remained unfinished all throughout my childhood. Mother completed 
it long after I left home, and it was on her bed for years. 

I didn't take too many things from my mother's house for myself: a sterling silver gravy boat and a lovely sterling decorative plate, a pair of Italian ceramic lamps, a fine china dog of good size, an exquisite embroidered table runner that probably belong to my great grandmother, Hannah. My stepfather, Marvin, had a large and striking porcelain transfer ware bowl that was displayed on as stand in my mother's home, and I decided to bring it to my house. In mother's library was a special edition of GONE WITH THE WIND in a slipcase to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the publication of that hugely successful classic. My copy had long since disappeared. It is one of the few books that I've read twice, and I decided it might be a great idea to re-read it again, now that I have some extra time.

At the same time that Ken was moving out, and as I began to think about incorporating these new things into my already crowded home, I began to think of re-organization, cleaning, and a general sprucing up of my home. I've gotten so busy on these projects. I have way too much silver and it all needs polishing. Cabinets were emptied, cleaned and re-organized, the stuff inside of them, needed cleaning, polishing, and re-sorted. I moved a cabinet up to the living room from the basement, polished and buffed it and stood back to admire my handiwork. The patina of the wood (maple) was gorgeous. My vacuums were out in rooms on both the bedroom and living levels of the house. I would vacuum the upper floors over two days--giving everything a serious cleaning, including ceiling fans, air transfers, baseboards, you-name it. Both my cat (Bit) and dog (Archie) are major shedders, and I'm constantly chasing their shed coats all over the house. The pictures all received dustings with a damp cloth to remove months of dust, as were all surfaces, widows, the rattan shades in the living room, the lamp canisters in the ceiling of the living room, etc. I changed the shades on my mother's lamps as I felt the harps were too large as were the shades. I bought new linen shades for them, and decided I preferred them downstairs in the living room. And so I moved a handsome pair of lamps from my living room upstairs to my bedroom. The results have been revelatory to me.
Steam cleaning the wood floors has restored their luster. So many surfaces have been de-cluttered and the house really glows right now. I'm all ready for the long holiday season.

These lamps were in my mother's bedroom, but I prefer them in my living room.

I had to sort out my computer problems, which had been driving me nuts. My computer's printer was not working because of the change to a wireless router. It's far more difficult to install a printer these days now that they're all wireless. While I was in North Carolina, my Yahoo mail account was hacked into--TWICE! I finally got fed up and opened up a new email account. The router change knocked out the caller ID service, so I couldn't figure out who was calling me. That took over an hour of time to get a Comcast operator on the phone and then get the ID business sorted out.

Yesterday, apparently a woman side-swiped my car while it was parked in a Trader Joe's parking lot, while I was inside shopping. A nice woman left a message under my windshield wiper that said a woman driving an old Ford car had been the culprit, and signed it "people suck." I had to call the police to report it so that I could then call my insurance company and put in for the claim. I'm nearly finished with my claim to USAir for the long delayed luggage, which I was finally able to recover, but only a day after I had returned from my long trip! I was so tired from all these projects (such as getting the rental room and bathroom cleaned up and ready to rent to the next tenant) that I would go upstairs after dinner and collapse in my chair to watch TV. I am astonished that I had the time to do half of these things when I was working more or less full time these past few years. Now today in the post comes the awful news that my insurance company will no longer offer individual and corporate health plans and are revising new HMO plans in "compliance with the Affordbale Healthcare Act." At approximately 9 months from Medicare eligibility, I'm having to search for new healthcare. I'm dreading the job, knowing full well, I'm going to be confused and angry at all the work it will take to make the change.

Another thing I've discovered of late, is all the fine cooking programs I can find on YouTube. I caught up with two series featuring Lidia Bastianich, my favorite TV chef. I've been through a superb Jamie Oliver series called Jamie Oliver at Home (I've had the cookbook companion to this series for several yard and often cook from it). Oliver is a great chef who happens to be that rare professional chef who writes his own books that pretty much ignore professional chef-style and concentrate on actual home cooking. I've been carefully reading his latest, JAMIE OLIVER COMFORT FOOD. Now I'm catching up with another favorite author, Rick Stein. This Brit is the chef of a fine seafood restaurant in Cornwall. Right now, I'm watching his series, Rick Stein's French Odyssey.

I had a very complicated relationship with my mother, and one of the things that surprised me the most about her passing was all the memories, good and bad, that were stirred up. I thought I had put most of those demons to bed long ago, so it was a surprise to find myself in the middle of all these emotions. Friends tell me it's normal and I suppose they are right. I prefer to think of my mother as a brave woman who kept her kids and home together after my father abandoned his family. I was only nine when he left. I think she suffered a great deal in her efforts to keep her family as whole as possible. She was after all, the daughter of a difficult and demanding mother. I'm certain she died unhappily and for that I'm very sorry. The one good thing to come out of it this is a renewed relationship with my Uncle Chris. I've always enjoyed a warm if distant relationship with my uncle, and given the circumstances, I'm very happy my mother chose him to be her executor. I would not have enjoyed arguing with my brothers about her estate (even so, there was far too much emotional bickering over her things, which I hated). My uncle certainly doesn't want to be the bad guy in disputes. He's naturally a giving person and he and I have had many wonderful conversations about family, politics, and special interests over these past few months. He has showed me far more of a family connection than I've had with my own parents, and I think all my brothers agree that he is a genuinely nice guy that we need to be in closer touch with. Getting to know him again has been very special.