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.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Blooming Pluot

A week of beautiful sunshine and cool temperatures followed by nearly a week of rain, and then another week of brilliant and warmer sunshine lured me into the background. My housemate, Ken, fired up the pressure washer and gave the driveway, walkways, and patio the most thorough cleaning in five years. I didn't understand that you have to pressure wash moss off your driveway, it it will destroy it. I thought it was charming-looking. Ah the joys of home-ownership. If I had to do it all over again I would have bought a condo. I love my house, but taking care of a house AND a garden is exhausting. Next, all the garden statues need to be pressure washed. My bunnies and frogs have been blackened by the weather, water and sitting out in the cold. We've got another week of gardening and outdoor furniture cleaning and general sprucing up to do before we can be officially opened for business. I'd like to take advantage of my chimenea to light some warming fires to enjoy the backyard with a warm jacket at night before summer's higher temperatures make a fire less enjoyable.


Do you know what Fritallaria is? Look it up on Google. It's a very pretty and delicate spring plant that has upside-down blooms that open up like a single fuchsia with a lovely pattern on its petals. Now that I have looked at the possibilities for this lesser know spring flower, I want to get a bunch of them. I bought a new one on Saturday to join one other in my garden. John Baker and I went to the Hardy Plant Society's annual sale at the Portland Expo. I was a bad boy. I bought about $160 worth of plants. A yellow grape tomato, a red cherry tomato, two pink Lily of the Valley plants, a gorgeous pink Rhododendron (only $15), a pretty yellow-pink Honeysuckle, a red and green-leafed Geranium, a yellow dwarf Iris to go with my growing collection (Iris do well in my garden with little attention from me, including watering).

Everyone on Portland has a Rhododendron in their garden, that and a Japanese Maple. I had the Maple, and now have the Rhododendron

But my big purchase was a climbing Hydrangea with green variegated leaves. I can't wait for it to bloom (white flowers). It is going in front where the north facing light favors hydrangeas (they really don't like full sun). The last plant is a small shrub called a Spirea--this one is called Gold Flame and is a small-leafed plant with yellow and rust colored leaves--quite handsome.

My Lilacs

My neighbors showier French Lilacs

My lilacs are gorgeous--the first year of a really good yield of blooms. It only took five years. My French lilac took a beating and barely showed a pulse, but I do have a branch that is thriving, so we'll see. Ditto an unusual hydrangea that I bought at the end of last year. I also bought several lupines, but only one has returned this season. I really cut back my fig tree, and it is now leafing, the last of the fruit trees to do so. I'm so pleased with my pear and Pluot trees. I trimmed them in January and they are shaping up beautifully. One of the branches of the pear tree grows nearly straight out and I've used that green plastic garden tape to draw it towards the main trunk line to encourage it to grow up rather than out. Both trees had a ton of blossoms and are now fully leafed in. The peonies are budding! Iris will be up soon and I have some beauties. I'm always surprised the blooms last so long. They go fairly quickly when you cut them for the house. My semi-shade garden continues to thrive.

Anybody know the name of this plant?

I can't remember all the things I've put in there. There's a plant that is called something-tears that has a light green delicate and small leaves and throws out these shoots of flowers that bloom horizontally in pink the shape of tears. And I've bought more call lilies to fill in the back part of that area. The anemone continue to travel so from three plants, I now have eight or nine. Don't know how they do that, but the pretty pink blossoms come on strong in July. A purple and white Hellebores grows well in a shady area too. That huge cedar tree in the corner of my garden is magnificent, but also a dirty mess. It drops a ton of small branches and has this funny small brown grow on the tree in the spring. When the wind catches it, my entire patio is covered in this brown stuff the size of very small pellets. Sweeping it up would take hours, so I use my shop-vac to get it all up. It's also where Archie does his business. How my hosts thrive under that mess is a miracle, but they do. And now I've got ferns thriving there too. When I gave the tree a haircut last year, it let a lot more sun to balance the shade back there. Along the border, I think I'm going to plant New Guinea Impatience--my favorite and only annual. It did well as a border of my shade garden last year because it doesn't like too much sunlight. The border under the tree will balance sunlight with shade and if it thrives, it will be a feature of the garden every summer. I hate the idea of planting stuff that won't return the next season. And there is one spot flanking the stairs that gets wall-to-wall sunshine and I think I'm going to plant pansies there.

Newly pristine gravelled area behind the garage 

The other big project this spring was finally tackling the area behind the garage and on the side of the garage facing my neighbor fence. For years, previous owners had used it as a dumping ground for old discarded bricks, pavers, and other debris. I got a composter for Christmas, and decided the time had come to clean out the debris, get rid of the weeds (there was an actual small tree growing close to the garage), and put down weed retardant plastic and cover that up with pebbles. I plan to use this for container gardening and will set the composter on the side of the garage. I won't put anything into the ground and instead have bought big wood planters. The tomatoes will go into them this season and I'll get a few more for flowers. Right now the areas pristine.

The white Camellia tree took over the front yard this year. It's going 
to get a big pruning soon. 

The white Camellias sure looked nice on my table this spring. 

Now that the parking space in the front of the house (behind the laurel hedge) has been re-gravelled, it is time to rethink that whole front garden. In the next few weeks, I'm going to prune back the camellia tree (finally), and the guy who handles all my big garden projects, will come in and pull up all the weed-retardant fabric, get rid of those ugly brown grasses, and fix the side wall and I'm going to replant from scratch. There is an ugly cedar tree that squats in the middle of my property and my neighbor's property border. I've suggested to him that we split the cost of removing the tree because it is such an ugly shape, and it makes a mess in that garden. So far he is resisting. It will cost a bloody fortune to remove. But it is an eye-sore. There is plenty of sunlight there. I have a large hydrangea and there are tulips bulbs that do okay there. I used to have a black purple tulip, but I think the acid in the soil from that damned tree have turned it into a pale purple, and the pink tulips are now white. Weird. Not sure what I'll be putting in there, but I've got some time to figure it out. One thing I'm definitely putting in there is a Hebe--this handsome shrub has a lot of different shrubs and I've got one in my side driveway garden that is spectacular (uniformly round and very impressive and another in a large terra cotta pot on the border of my patio that isn't' as symmetrical but has these green leaves that are really beautiful and tiny purple flowers that bloom in July. Gotta make a decision about moving my laurel leaf bush. It's in the side garden of the driveway, but it's not doing well. I use them for my cooking and would hate for it to die. So a change is in order.