Monday, July 29, 2013


On this overcast day, with a threat of rain, I was out on my bedroom balcony watering the coleus, when I looked down and saw five "peace" roses on one stem in the garden below. The sight of something so beautiful just blew me away. I had to capture that beauty for the house. I clipped the stem and realized it had been six roses (one had faded).  It's in a vase in my kitchen where I can enjoy it's fragile and fleeting beauty for another day or two.  

Meanwhile, I'm reading The New York Times and find that Pope Francis told a bunch of reporters on the plane returning to Rome from Brazil, that essentially he cannot judge gay priests. Will this startling revelation pave the way for gay people to be out in the Catholic church, or even allow gay priests into the priesthood?  This pope is an interesting man, who just may lead the church into the modern world. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013


The new and improved dog run

This year July has been the most social month of my life since moving from New York City.  My twin brother, Scott and his fiancee, Bernadette, came up for July 4th.  I had been getting lots of things done in anticipation of their visit, including chopping down a huge and invasive holly tree. I was sick to death of raking up holly leaves and pruning it every year. My side of the fence had the male holly tree, while my neighbor had a female and between them, the leaves and branches had taken over. Time to call a halt. It's not as though Portland isn't awash in this annoying shrub. The Pacific Northwest's damp climate seems to make them grow as though they were on steroids. The tree was located in the dog run on the east side of my house. It was now time to clean out the weeds and make it presentable. I called in a garden service I use and they did a sensational job. I've planted tall, ornamental grasses, and moved a viburnum that was in a pot at the entryway to the house and planted it as well. This gives my new tenant something pleasant to look at from the egress window. There is now a brick path to the central air conditioning unit on that side of the house as well as the garden hose. And speaking of hoses, I have switched over to the new flexible synthetic garden hoses that are on TV. What a difference. The old hoses were heavy, kinked all the time, and knocked out everything in their path. I was sick to death of twisting out their kinks and hauling them around the garden. These new hoses are light as a feather, never kink and when you're through, you simply empty out the water in them, which makes them contract. It's easy to wind them up and place them on a hose caddy. I bought one at Walgreens for about $20 for a fifty-foot hose, but saw an ad on TV for 100-foot lengths and ordered one of them as well. Fantastic.

Before and after shots of the new backyard stairs

While I was on a tear, I decided the old stairs from the kitchen to the patio needed some updating. The stairs were very shallow and dangerous and ugly. I asked my contractor to cover them, giving me a wider step, a new handrail, and to use Trex, a petroleum product that mimics the look of wood without the splinters and upkeep real wood requires. My balcony is all Trex and it's minimal upkeep requires nothing more than hosing it down when the warm weather arrives. It's durable and attractive.

Scott and Bernadette arrived and set about the yard. I had bought a pressure washer, and Scott unpacked it, demonstrating how to pressure wash dirt and grime off of the patio, the house, windows, get rid of moss on the driveway and walking paths. Quite a good appliance. Scott comes up for a visit about once a year and he always re-organizes my garage, which is really more of a workshop. The previous owner had lots of power tools and set the garage up as his home-improvement space. I don't really do much in the way of projects. While I do have a generous number of power tools, shop work isn't really my thing.  Scott, on the other hand, came out of the womb with a drill, a sander, and tool belt. He's pretty good at fixing things, which is a huge benefit to me when they visit. Once Bernadette had the patio to her liking, she and I sat down with a glass of wine and gossiped while Scott did his manly thing in the garage. He fixed the pegboard, which was coming off the wall. He put everything to right (which I'll un-right after he leaves). I decided I hated the gas mower John Baker had so generously given to me. It was a beast to mow grass with and Scott took me to find a more manageable mower for that tiny plot of grass in my back yard. We found an electric "green" mower which can be controlled by fingertips. So much easier.

Scott and Bernadette have determined they like Portland and want to move here. So part of the time, we spent looking at houses with my real estate buddy, Brad Wulf. They want a two or three-bedroom ranch house with a small back yard, a large master bath, a two-car garage. The cost of California's real estate  has priced them out of the market and they can afford a nicer home here. We saw a few homes we liked, looking in the Beaverton area, which I thought might be better for them as the location would be close to Bernadette's job, if she's lucky enough to be transferred up here. But they have determined they want to be in-town, so when Bernadette is here in the fall, we'll look at more houses. Meanwhile, I'm checking out the real-estate market for them. I love looking at houses. The market is rebounding a bit here and it will be tougher to find a house as inventory has been low (very little building has been done during the housing/economic crisis), and many houses on the market are receiving multiple offers.

It will be nice to have family closer. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Oregon has got every kind of scenery you can imagine

Sara on our first evening walk

A young horse  takes a late-in-the-day meal

Cattle graze in the vast shadows the far-off Cascades

The last rays of sunshine turn the clouds a gorgeous salmon color

One of the ranchers brings his cattle up from California in the summer to graze on the 
endless pastures of the ranch

I've now seen Crater Lake. This was possible because Carol and Sara, my old music friends from New York who moved to Portland in the early 90s, proposed we take a road trip. Carol found a cabin located about 20 miles from Crater Lake, and last Monday, we loaded up Sara's Prius with clothing, food, mosquito repellent, hats, water, music, my iPad (the cabin promised wi-fi), and Archie, and off we went. The six-hour-+ drive to southern Oregon on I-5 is very pleasant with Cascade Mountains to view, and lots of attractive scenery. But it's one helluva long drive, even if the conversation is sparkling. We arrived at the cabin site just in time for cocktails. Unpacked, and organized, we declared the cabin ideal for our purposes. I had my own room and bathroom. Carol and Sara shared another room. Archie bunked with me, though the owner didn't want him in my room. The cabin had a cool, spacious living room, a dining room, and a kitchen, which was surprisingly well equipped. We had loaded up on groceries in Roseburg on the way down. We settled in very quickly. Our first night, we dined on a rotisserie chicken, salad, rice and washed it all down with red and rose wines.

Sara and I put Archie on a leash, and went out for a walk in the neighborhood. Right across the street is a road that seem to go on forever. On one side is vast cattle ranch. On the other side, is another vast cattle ranch. I caught some of the beauty of this area at dusk. Oregon is a fantastically beautiful state. I had been up to the Columbia Gorge the week before and saw falls, and the massive Columbia River in all its magnificence. I've visited Bend, which is dry and arid and has beautiful mountains. We have a stunning shoreline. I truly think this is the most beautiful state, and I've certainly been all through the South, the East, the North, the center of the country and the West Coast.

It wasn't a late night. We wanted an early start to the lake the next morning. How to describe this scenic wonder?  You can't. Basically it's a mountain with its top blown off when it erupted about 7700 years ago. It's six miles across and it's pristine waters are rain and snow only. There are no tributaries running in an out of the lake, which is replenished by more rain and more snow. The color of the water is a spectacular sapphire.  You can drive around its circumference, stopping along the way for better views from thirty-three advantageous stops.

No matter what part of the lake you're looking at, you eye is awed by the results of this natural wonder. A national park, Crater Lake is well-taken care of. All dogs had to be on leashes and were not allowed in certain hiking areas. Everything is well-marked and while busy, it never seemed cramped and over-populated which can happen at more popular national parks such as Yosemite or The Grand Canyon. We spent a good portion of the day just looking at as much spectacular scenery as we could take in. Archie loved it because it meant he could spend all day with me, including lunch on the patio of a concession stand which sold sandwiches, cold drinks and had a gift shop. I bought a beautiful book of photos and history of the lake. I thought the Columbia Gorge was awesome, but Crater Lake has to be seen to be believed.

Archie at one of the scenic stops at Crater Lake

Sara and Carol, modeling the latest in hiking haute couture

The town we stayed in has seen more prospersous days. It's mostly a town for small motels, inns, and cabins for the Crater Lake crowd. The rest of the town beyond the two huge ranches is in pretty bad shape. The timber industry has fallen on hard times and there's not much in the way of industry here. The hotel was closed decades ago, and looks very dilapidated and the gas station across the street looks even worse. People are very poor here. It's rustic and rural and isolated. The winters are harsh with as much as 20 feet of snow. Summers are hot and Crater Lake is about the only sight generating revenue. Out days started early and ended early. We checked out Klamath Falls, which is more populated, and there is some business there, but it too has had a difficult time particularly during this recession. 

We came home via Route 97 which is very scenic and took us through the prosperous Bend community and slipped back into Portland having driven around the magnificent sight of Mt. Hood, surely the handsomest mountain I've ever seen. The photos below are Carol's, and they are more fun than mine are. 

Sara take a good photo

There's that deep sapphire color 

Carol's panorama shot is wider and prettier than mine

Archie's hiding below the retainer wall. Me with Sara

Finally, who can resist a chipmunk. You're not supposed to feed them, Sara!


Spring came so early to Portland. Crocus were showing themselves at the end of January. Daffodils made their first appearance in early February. The whole spring timetable was out of whack. One afternoon I was in the garden and I noticed that my fig tree has begun to sprout fruit--in March! I think I counted something like twelve figs. Most of them didn't last long with birds, squirrels, and no doubt raccoons--for they have all made an appearance in my back yard--carried off most of the early crop. I didn't see any new fruit on the tree until last month, and then I saw a bumper crop of Brown Turkey figs sprouting all over the tree. My four years of persistence have paid off.  I look forward to making fig jam this year.

Yesterday, I was watering over near the fig tree when I was startled at the appearance of one of the biggest figs I've ever seen. It was one of the few figs that had sprouted early, and this time it was huge and sporting a beautiful brownish green purple skin. It had to be picked and this morning before eating it, I took a photo.  It measured just over three inches long.

My monster fig

Brown turkey figs are less sweet than Mission or Kadota figs, which seem to be the most popular varieties. I cut in into quarters, lengthwise and ate it out of hand. It was delicious. I have no idea why it got so big, unless all the other figs on the tree grow that size, and I don't think they will. It was a lovely surprise. My green thumb continues to amaze me. Here's one last look.

Another view of the giant fig

At least it beats amazing tales of killer zucchini!