Sunday, May 29, 2011


I've spent most of my life avoiding driving.  I just wasn't interested.  I had a license in California, but I almost never drove. I'm estimating that I've spent less than 30 hours behind a wheel.  Living in New York for nearly four decades always kept me thinking, "what do I need a car for." When I left the Manhattan two years ago, the cost of a garage for a car was topping out at more than $600-$1000, depending on the location. That's insane. Parking a car is a guarantee of dings, and a very high possibility of theft. Oh, I wanted to rent a car occasionally for a weekend trip, or when I was on vacation, but in the end, it was easier not to bother with the stress and expense.  

Before I got to Portland, I still wasn't thinking I needed to drive here.  The city has a very good bus and light rail system, that is until you compare it to New York City's.  I still have bitter memories of leaving a friend's house on a typically rainy Portland night (it had taken me an hour to get there via two buses, during torrential rains and a bus system that slowed to a crawl in bad weather)--by car it would have taken six minutes tops.  I left my friend's home at 7:15 PM.  I had a dinner date at another friend's home--by car a less than fifteen-minute drive.  The scheduled buses never arrived.  I stood out there for more than 45 minutes under an umbrella as the winds and rain lashed at me from all sides. In desperation, I called my friends to come rescue me. Just before she picked me up, a bus finally lumbered top a stop in front of me. "Where the hell have you been?" I bellowed at the lady bus driver. She said, several drivers had called in sick. In New York that would never happen but I'm in Portland now. Best to ignore the bus system unless it's your only alternative.  

Off the DMV I went in search of a license. I took the test study booklet and passed the written test on the first try. The next step was driving lessons. And then I didn't do anything about it.  I was still in denial about driving.  Maybe I was worried about driving at 60.  I have a temper. I'm thinking road rage could be a problem.  People do stupid things when they drive, and I hate stupid drivers. I love to drink.  I can't drink and drive. This is not fun. 

Then Kyle moved last year. He's got a truck.  Suddenly it's "driving Miss Daisy" time. Kyle was free to drive me wherever I wanted to go.  It was great.  He had a big white truck, and I had a drive-on-demand service.  It was great until Kyle decided the world was coming to an end and he had to find out how to stop it (another story, but I'm not getting into that now). 

So back to DMV my brother (on a visit) took me in the white truck (which I now own).  I can't have a truck in my driveway that I can't drive. I got the driver's manual and crammed for the test again, since my learner's permit had expired.  A few days later, I went back to the DMV for the written test.  I failed! My nerves got the best of me.  I took the test again the next day and failed it again.  And again the next day.  This sucks.  I'm a nervous wreck. I can't find a test on the Oregon DMV site that goes beyond ten questions, so I go on-line looking for a sample tests and find this site that features tests in every state--$19.95 per month.  I pay the fee and proceed to fail every sample test they give me. The questions were written so poorly that I would make mistakes on questions I knew the answers to.  I spent four days getting fewer and fewer questions right and by the time the following Tuesday rolled around, when I would take the test for the fourth time, I was ready to throw in the towel and buy a pair of skates. 

The good news is the fourth time was a charm and I got 90% of the questions.  Now I have to take lessons.  Tomorrow is my first--a three-hour marathon.  I'm just warning you. Stay away from the vicinity of SE Portland. I have to learn in a small car, but I have this huge Ford 4 x 4 truck and I have to be able to drive that monster around the city. So my buddy Sara, promises that we'll drive my monster into a parking lot of a Wal-Mart after hours and get used to manoeuvring a tank around.  

Wish me a be continued....

In the meantime, flowers are peaking up in the gloom of this spring, and you all know how much I love to photograph flora.

I always forget what these blooms are called.  This impressive bouquet comes from Trader Joe's and cost all of $3.99!

This is a hydrangea I bought from a plant at Easter the first spring I was in Portland. I've moved it several times as the sun tends to fry it.  It's found a happy place just outside my kitchen door. It will be gorgeous in a week or so. 

This is an English rose with an apricot bloom that I bought at the end of last season.  These are just the first blooms.  If I cut them, the roses will bloom all summer long.  A really beautiful rose. 

Peonies just as they are about to bloom.  Wait until a week or so.  They'll be gorgeous.

The first yellow rose on the trellis,

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Mount Hood: Taken from Mount Tabor Park, which is about two miles from my house on a 
rare and beautiful clear Friday afternoon. 

Just when we need leadership, ideas, solutions, the world gets sidetracked by a juicy sex scandal. There's been one right after the other particularly since Republicans went after Bill Clinton, who denied he'd ever had sexual relations with that woman.  It just seems that the higher they climb, their fall into disgrace is equally spectacular:  John Edwards, Elliott Spitzer, the governor of South Carolina (heterosexual), the governor of New Jersey (homosexual), Tiger Woods, and now Arnold Schwarzenegger (with the IMF leader crowding into the field).  We have legislators trolling men's rooms for sex and Charlie Sheen with his "Goddesses" joining him for ranting interviews for major TV network news programs.  Is it any wonder that people are no longer interested in real news when they can be distracted from their own lives by the colorful sight of a high-profile celebrity or politician caught with their pants down around their ankles?

The revelations that Arnold Schwarzenegger's housekeeper gave birth to a son a week after his wife, Maria Shriver, gave birth to their son seems to be the lowest of the low. Yet I read that when Shriver heard the news she ordered her husband to leave their home.  Arnold--being the generous person he isn't, refused, so Shriver moved into a hotel. The housekeeper worked in their home for the entire fourteen years of her son's life. I read that her husband left her upon learning about the baby's real father, which he thought was his. Her life isn't going to change much.  She still gets her pension for her years served and I'm sure Arnold has been generous in buying her silence.  Shriver and her children will now have to try and get past the betrayal of a husband and father.  I feel sorry for the kid of this unlikely union.  He's going to bear the brunt of curiosity, jokes, an the public's contempt and he's innocent.  Schwarzenegger can merely retreat behind the gates of his estate and the world can go away.

No doubt in the future, there will be lower forms of human behavior, but right now Schwarzenegger has to be inducted into the pond scum hall of fame, where he will be in a category separate from the rest of the mere pond scum.

This spectacular pink dogwood is a very common sight during the spring in Portland.  It seems nearly 
every house has one along with rhododendrons and Japanese maples. 

Frankly I'd rather watch THE GOOD WIFE with its ripped-from-the-headlines revelations rather than read about the reality of our lawmakers sexual shenanigans.  We've got two wars, a barely breathing economy, a Middle East powder keg that threatens to explode at any moment, massive unemployment, bankrupt cities and towns, with no fixes on the horizon. Shouldn't we be looking to our politicians to be helping us figure out a way out of our current problems rather than being assaulted by their out-of-control urges?  How about new jobs, making corporations and the rich pay their fair share of taxes, regulating Wall St. and the banks (because they refuse to regulate themselves), fix our broken schools, and put us on the road to being whole rather than mire us in their petty partisan politics.

This lavish pink rhododendron always peaks over my backyard fence in the spring.  

We now have three Republicans who, thank God, will not be challenging President Obama for the presidency next year:  Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Donald Trump.  Newt pissed off his fellow Republicans by bad-mouthing them (heresy--the party stays on message dontchaknow). Besides, he has debt problems to go along with his reputation for womanizing, even though he is allegedly happily married. Mike Huckabee likes the bucks Fox throws at him, and he's not at all sure he can win against a newly resurgent President Obama.  Donald Trump also has a TV show that, in the end, was where he was always going to be.  He used the media (stenographers everyone of them who cover Mr. Trump), who should rightly feel like whores.  He mounted this absurd "birther' campaign to get attention for his slumping ratings, and in his own delusional way of thinking, bows out of the race convinced he could have been a serious contender (not with three wives, bankruptcies, and I'm sure accounting that could never stand any kind of serious scrutiny).  Good riddance to the lot. 

Sarah Palin has quietly gone rogue silent on us.  Who knows what Romney has up his sleeve.  Stay tuned for the next shifting winds of the Repugs.

Al the bulb flowers have done well this season--daffodils, grape hyacinths and now my tulips.  
especially loved this deep purple variety.  

My friend and former boss, Arlene, lost her husband, Shep, last weekend after a long illness. Theirs was a long and happy marriage.  They were loving, but also boisterously contentious at times.  I admired their union--it seemed real to me.  I don't think they ever lost that spark that brought them together in the first place. They certainly had challenges.  Shep had a business that went bust in the 80s and he re-invented himself as a real estate mogul in East Hampton and did very well. She endured the loss of a beloved sister to cancer at far too young an age. She had a long and successful publishing career full of peaks and valleys. I used to have dinner with them often when I lived in Manhattan, though it had been more than a few years since we had last dined together.  They were fun to be with in a restaurant.  And they were good hosts.  I remember memorable holiday dinners at their home in the Village before they moved to midtown in the 90s. Shep was too ill to join us for lunch just before I left New York and it had been a long time since Arlene and I sat down together, but that lunch (with Belle, another colleague), was just lovely.  I hope she gets past this blue period in her life and is soon throwing off her own special vital glow again soon.

But even these lilac and pink "double" tulips were showy and thrived under the tall and very 
acidic cedar tree in the front yard.

The peonies, iris, and roses are all about to bloom within the next week or so.  If their buds are any indication, this should be some show!  My brother, Scott, has left after a month-long visit. Beau, Bit and I are looking forward to a house that is quiet. Hope the weather can hold out.  It's probably 80 degrees and dry right now.  Must go home and water the yards!

Clearly sage does very well in cool, wet climates. It did moderately well last year for the first time, and I 
was surprised that it came back so strong in its second season, but this sage has these purply flower tops 
which when they unfurl are actually new leaves.  By contrast, none of the other herbs in the 
raised vegetable bed has grown so vibrantly as this sage plant has this spring. 

I spoke too fast.  We're back into the mid-50s with gray skies and chilly temperatures (right now it's in the mid-50s at 3:00 PM on a Sunday).  I'm trying to cram for a my written test to get my license, finally.  I'm nervous about it.  I have failed the written test three times. I've read the DMV manual about 20 times and I'm still freaking out every time I sit in front of the ridiculously intimidating computer. So I put the manual down every 45 minutes or so, clear my head and do something else.  But I come back and study more. I have rarely been someone who memorizes lots of facts and figures. I find the process of figuring out how long your license will be suspended if you get slapped with a DUI the first and second time--well daunting.  I'm sufficiently intimidated about DUIs not to get one.  And in the unlikely event I do, I'm sure someone will tell me what the penalties are.  And sometimes the yellow warning signs don't make sense.  Just look at the lane reduction sign and you'll understand what I mean.

Bit, relaxing after a session with his new scratching post, which was covered with catnip.  He's very stoned in this photograph.  Catnip makes cats do amazingly goofy things, which are very amusing to watch. 

Beau and Bit continue to maintain 'safe' distance from one another. They get along, but don't seem to trust one another.  Last night I managed to get these photos while they were napping on my couch.  Beau takes the seat and Bit prefers being higher up on the pillows.  Sometimes Bit jumps up on the bed, but moves to the foot of the bed quickly. Most of the time Beau doesn't acknowledge that he's there, but his eyes open and are wary of his presence.  Bit doesn't much care for being cooped up in the house. I don't want a cat wandering in the back yard because it is too easy for them to get over the gate and out into the street where he would be very vulnerable to moving cars.  Besides, I don't want fleas. But he does love to be outside.  Lately, I've let him explore the balcony, but only when I'm out there to keep an eye on him.  Cats have been known to fall from balconies, as I chillingly remember in New York when a cat fell from a high balcony and died right in front of me.  I've never forgotten that terrible accident.

Humming bird feeders are up and drawing humming birds to my fuchsias with their bright red flowers. And last week I released a bag of lady bugs into the backyard, hopefully to lay their eggs and hatch lots of them to eat aphids and other nasty garden parasites.  I had to spray my roses with ginger ale so they would stick to the leaves and also to adhere their wings to their bodies long enough to lay eggs.  The next step will be to find a bat house.  Bats love to eat insects and are good for a garden.

At 6:00 PM last night, I poured myself a vodka martini, straight up with olives.  I rarely drink hard liquor any more, but this was a special occasion.  If the world was coming to an end, I wanted my critters close by and indulge with a delicious martini to send myself off into the abyss.  Fortunately, the Rapture has been delayed, and because the martini I poured was a generous six ounces, the only doom and gloom I can report is a slight headache when I awoke this morning to find out the world did not end last night. There seems to be remarkably little coverage about it. It's almost as if the media were embarrassed to cover it in the first place and by ignoring it, they were acting as though the issue had never been raised. I suspect the Religious Right will be have some excuse why God chose not to take us out, but hopefully, they will keep their reasons to themselves.

I recently visited the Portland Rhododendron and Crystal Springs Garden, which is very close to my home. Every year the park is opened the public during the spring and summer.  It is home to 2,500 varieties of rhododendrons, azaleas, and related plants (lots of hostas).  There are waterfalls, lakes with lots of ducks and geese swimming around.  They allow you to bring your dog, as long as it is leashed.  So Beau had a wonderful time.  He was curious and not aggressive about the birds, but they kept honking and hissing at him when he got near them.  Beau didn't growl and was most respectful.  The garden, which gets its 100% funding for the purchase of plants and maintenance from the public.  The $3.00 entrance fee is very inexpensive and you can spend hours climbing all over the paths, or sitting down on a bench to contemplate the beauty of it all.   

Saturday, May 7, 2011

BIN LADEN IS DEAD! A Shocking Bit of News to Jolt Us on Sunday

A spectacular Easter Sunday tart with layers if filo dough, mashed potatoes, cheese and cream 
and asparagus, from JAMIE AT HOME by Jamie Oliver. 

My phone rang at 8:00 PM--a friend from Boston was calling to say the President was due to make a sudden address to the nation in ten minutes.  Had no idea what it was about, but said "turn on CNN." It took more than an hour for President Obama to stride down to a lectern in the East Room to announce what we had already heard.  The United States was involved in a successful covert action resulting in the death of Osama bin Laden.  America's terrorist nemeses was at last dead and his body in U.S. custody.  The details will emerge in great clarity in the next few days, but the jubilation was swift and hysterical as thousands gathered outside the White House gates in full partying mode to chant "USA, USA," and sing the Star Spangled Banner.  I leave them to their happiness.  What I want to know is why Bin Laden has been in relative security in Pakistan for all these years and we haven't been able to get to him.

Now we also have to worry about reprisals from a furious Al Qaeda.  Losing Bin Laden will be a huge psychological blow the terrorist groups.  It will also be a huge blow to the Republican party.  President Obama has pulled off a huge coup, if we believe what we've been told thus far, and I hope it all proves true.  Trump and the whole lot of 'em can just shut the hell up and hope for something to break in 2016.

A charming pot of daffodils greets guests at my front door. 

I had no idea there were so many different types of daffodils.

In the meantime, the stunning weather demanded more time in the backyard where my brother, Scott and I cleared up flower beds swept the patio, dug up dandelions, and Beau-poop, while Scott mowed and then reseeded the lawn and then went into the garage to reorganize the mess in there--something that I had been loathe to do on my own. We dragged the umbrella out.  I hope I don't have to go through any more gardening sprucing up after last winter's long siege.  The backyard was a total shambles.  I hope to get the tomatoes planted this week.

My neighbor has a wonderful urban micro  farm and raises chickens, and cultivates raspberries an garden plants for sale, and makes cement garden tiles and birdbaths.  She's selling the property and moving to Panama.  It's a lovely property and her chickens are friendly with her cats.  Cool.  This gorgeous bird lays blue eggs. 

Found an amazing dim sum restaurant for lunch when my pals Rod and Trish scooped me up this week for a cheerful repast of shrimp and pork dumplings, and lots of gossip.  Must save this restaurant for friends visiting.

The chickens have the entire run of the garden.  I have an unused dog run on the side of my house, which would make a  great location for a chicken coop.  Imagine the eggs!  This one's eggs are brown. 

I've been so busy with a project that there's been little time for this blog or even my cookbook book blog.  I miss the writing.  I miss the immersion in cookbooks.  I forget about the things I'm doing, such as going to a concert, or having dinner with friends.  Sometimes, being too busy at my age, is not necessarily a good thing.  Everyone these days is just staying busy rather than slowing down.  My garden is demanding attention.  My house needs a good cleaning, yet here I am running around like a person with his hair on fire.