May 30, 2008

Pretty Kitchen Corner

I am not quite sure how the hours of every day get sucked into oblivion without my having accomplished much at all. It's possible it could be because of all the experimenting I've been doing in photoshop. It might also have something to do with how much time I've been putting into looking up all the job listings for my area even though there's really only one of them I actually want. I've done all I can for that one job and now I just have to wait and see if I get sifted to the bottom of the pile or if I get put in a brand new optimistic pile. Time to let go of it and see what happens.

There is a heavy distraction factor at work in the universe where there is so much to do, and most of it is stuff I actually want to do, that I don't even know where to look first. A strange miracle occurred yesterday that all my crafting/quilting friends will recognize as wonderful... my fairy Godmother (whose name is Joni) dropped off about ten or so boxes of fabric. FABRIC. Fashion fabric, quilting fabric, crafting fabric, old fabric, new fabric, and patterns too. I hit the fabric jack pot and it has made me believe that I must have some redeeming qualities because no one dumps that kind of treasure on the completely undeserving!


I haven't even gone through it yet. I want to. I want to do it right now. But I also need to finish building my garden beds. I also need to clean my kitchen and make food. In addition to that, I need to make cheese. I could have put the cheese making off for another week except that there was a sale on some local milk by the gallon and so I bought two gallons. We don't drink much milk around here so either I make cheese or I waste five dollars. I can make the cheese tomorrow. But much to do! Good God! I just realized I have a marathon of laundry to do too. It's almost enough to make me want to adopt a naked lifestyle.

I know I saw some thirties reproduction fabrics in there. There's a baby quilt top that Joni made but never finished which is so exciting! There are some patterns and buttons and some really amazing wool as well.

I'll bet some of you out there are dying for pictures so you can live vicariously through me. I think I should: clean the kitchen, start cooking but as soon as everything is going I need to sit down on the steps in the Williamson ghetto and start sorting through the riches. With a beer.

Are you all having a good Friday? Anyone making Challa bread or fish?

May 29, 2008

Cover Letter
The unwritable letter

To Whom It May Concern,

I have to figure out how to tell you, without sounding the least bit desperate (or insane) within the scope of one page, why it is that I am the ideal person for the job you are aiming to fill. I have to tread that delicate almost impossible line between modesty and confidence. I have to hit a note just south of arrogance with no hint of mousy retreat. Nothing lands me in a hopeless word stew like trying to say something without seeming to say it.

I propose to come right out and say it: I am the person you are seeking for this job. I have never worked as a librarian though I have developed all the skills that seem to be desirable in one such as the research capabilities of a blood hound: give me the subject and let me hunt, I have a tenacious need to find every last shred of information I can from a variety of sources such as books, the Internet, and from experts in the field. I once needed to know all about the fault line my house was built directly on top of because I didn't sleep for three weeks after we had a "mild" quake and I didn't rest until I had actually contacted a geologist at the USGS website. Needless to say, the information I received was disquieting and I had to move to Oregon.

I have spent my whole life dying to get behind the reference counter of every library I've ever been in because I feel sure that if I could only get my hands on all those sources of information I could uncover more than anyone else. I have spent so many hours of my life in libraries because I am in love with them. Public libraries are the ultimate source of attainable knowledge. For no money at all (if you don't incur late fees that is) you can learn about almost anything. you can visit almost every corner of the world. You can crawl into almost every human mind that has cared to imagine the world as it might have been, might be in this minute, or as it might become.

I have a deep respect for education through college, but I don't think anything compares to the knowledge you can uncover for yourself amongst the shelves of a public library under the steam of your own hunger to learn more.

I have been breathing words since I was a very small child. My Grandma Shirley actually scolded my mom for teaching me to read before Kindergarten, saying that my teacher would be displeased to see me getting ahead of myself. I don't remember life without the written word. I have been writing since I was ten because it fuels my body as well as my mind. I don't have a formal education but I have a feeling for language and through an extensive reading habit from the time I was small (most of the material coming from my public library) I have an instinct for language both formal and colloquial.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if you set me to the task of learning the dewy decimal system I will do it. I will meet all of your expectations. I will exceed them because if you hire me you will be hiring my passion for information, books, and making it accessible to the people who come in on their personal missions of curiosity. I will learn everything you need me to know and I will come in with impossible enthusiasm because I will be released from my financial worry. I will be free to live my life swimming in words.

You will not regret hiring me because I am smart as a whip but there is no moment in the day when I am not acutely aware of the fact that someone always knows a little more, that I always have more to learn, that I am far from perfect. You will not regret hiring me because I will shine for you.

I have always secretly wished I'd studied to become a librarian. It is as natural to me as breathing. Teach me this discipline and let me draw more people in with my enthusiasm and my friendly nature. If you hire me you will be inviting me to come home at last. I will come full circle with all of my lives.

Angelina Williamson

May 28, 2008

Strawberry Season
The Easiest Recipe In The World

It is finally strawberry season here in McMinnville. It's also rhubarb season. Obviously my mind is full of the possibilities...

Rhubarb/strawberry crisp
Vanilla custard topped with a compote of rhubarb and strawberries
Rhubarb/strawberry tart

I keep buying pints of strawberries, taking them home with the full intention of making something really fancy so I can post it here and have someone tell me I'm a genius (us humans really are pathetically fragile) and then I eat just one to see how good it is.

The insides are red, as strawberries should be, they are juicy, they are strongly perfumed, and the flavor bursts open like fireworks over a bank of snow. The flavor says the winter is truly behind us. The spring is nearly behind us as well. Straight ahead lies all the flavors and textures that make the summer so worth the wait!

Needless to say, before I know it the pint is empty, my fingers are red, and I still have rhubarb to use. I'm not ready to eat rhubarb without strawberries. I'm still vaguely suspicious of rhubarb, a vegetable that is still quite new to me.

We've been doing our version of the eat local challenge for six months now. Although there have been plenty of transgressions with items like condiments and Max's snack foods (I am having trouble not eating his packaged food when I'm really hungry and don't know what to make), we've really stuck to our guns with the produce which was the main goal anyway. Onions got scarce, garlic is nonexistent, and I haven't had salad at home for weeks. I still only get salad when I go out to eat (which is allowed in the rules of our making). No citrus but what was gifted to us. Not a lot of fruit for us this winter. Apples and home canned pears and peaches.

So the tangy sweetness and huge flavor of these small local strawberries (not the kind you can ship, they are very tender and exactly as a strawberry should be) is fulfilling a need for vitamin C foods. I feel thirsty for them like I haven't had water in months. When my body has been without fresh sources of vitamin C it feels dry and parched. I could eat a field of these berries. I am excited for the real season to begin- when I can go to the fields myself and gather u-pick strawberries to freeze and can. I didn't have my freezer in time last year to freeze any and all winter I wished I could chew on frozen chunks of strawberry or add them to muffins.

So for now, here is my recipe for enjoying the first local fresh strawberries of the season:

Rinse off the soil
Eat as many as you can at the kitchen sink

It doesn't get fresher or easier than that.*

*Unless you have a patch of them in your own garden...that is the ultimate way to eat them. Right in your garden with the dirt still clinging to them.

May 26, 2008

Hire me
(I'm the one you want by your side for the Apocalypse)

The best way to find out if your local economy is strong or weak is to try to get a good job in it. A job that will cover all your bills and leave you with a little extra for emergencies like shoes for junior and underwear that you wouldn't be embarrassed to be caught dead in, which is the kind of predicament I just might end up in if I don't get work soon.

The jig is up. I have done everything I have the energy to do, am capable of doing, and know how to do to not have to get a job in the outside world. I had a great five years of staying home, first as a housewife with no baby (total heaven!), then as a mom (also pretty great...though I can't say it wasn't really hard work), and then the last four years running a part time business which morphed into a full time business with the one theme running through the whole endeavor: I consistently made no money.

It's time to take stock because I have got to convince someone out there to pay me enough money so as not to lose my house, my dignity, or my happiness...or at least my house, now that I'm finally in one I completely love.

Let's take a look first at the job experiences from which I may draw in order to find a new job:

Babysitting- I was really good at it since I never did drugs or had boyfriends.

Underage nail salon slave- in exchange for gross manicures. Not my best job.

New York Fabrics. My first legal job.

Cashier- at Wendy's. What can I say? I was doing my laundry with bar soap in the sink, eating my room mate's government cheese, and no one in the fashion industry would hire me.

Salesperson- Radio Shack. It was next door to Wendy's on Market Street in San Francisco. It paid about ten cents more per hour and I didn't have to smell like thick meat grease.

Shipping Manager- Weston Wear. I loved it. One of my favorite jobs ever. It was very industrial, I had to wear boots and lift 50 lb boxes and I got to fill out UPS papers and feel very important. This was my big break in fashion design.

Costume Designer- self employed. I fancied myself in business but really I turned out to just be a contract worker for my good friend. Two years of barely making rent while sewing couture quality historical garments made anything else sound like better work.

Barista- we didn't call it that when I had the job. I was either a "coffee jerk" or just a jerk. I loved this work too. Very freeing to just make coffee for a lot of idiots and feel very smart and undiscovered behind the scenes. Hard work. Early burn out.

Stockroom Person- Loved this job. Again, had to wear boots and got to smash boxes and be generally a great ass kicker. I got to interact with the UPS guys and be the first to unpack merchandise, steam clothes, organize the chaos, and generally avoid customers except when doing them the fun service of beautifully wrapping gifts for them.

Design Assistant- Mulberry Neckwear. I loved this job too. Seriously loved it. I found I didn't want to be one of the designers because they weren't my kind of people except for a couple of them who became good friends of mine. I liked being in the thick of the action, doing the nitty gritty. Keeping all the designers organized, cleaning up their messes, and being necessary to the rest of the department. Production art is really satisfying.

Swatcher- Mulberry Neckwear. Aside from staying home to be a housewife and a mom this was my all time favorite job. I was the liaison between the pattern designers and the printers in Korea who had to print the colors the designers generated. I sat at brightly lit tables of color swatches matching them to computer print outs. I was speaking in color which was exciting. Everything is essentially language. I was very good at this job. I really had to speak up for myself to get it. The only reason I left was to go to community college. They wouldn't let me reduce my hours, so I left to learn math and French.

Barista- Copperfield's. Again?! Why did I come back to this? Good God, I still wasn't done being burnt out working in a coffee house. Why are people so rude to the underpaid people serving them snacks and caffeinated beverages?

Salesperson- Copperfield's books. I did really enjoy this job. I love putting books away and finding books for people. I was very good at it and it was obviously gratifying being completely surrounded by books, talking books, recommending them, ordering them, and breathing them.

Housewife- I have to be honest here and say that this was the single best job I've ever had in my entire life. I loved it. I blossomed and grew and came alive in ways I never expected and I found the heart of my self through finding joy in keeping my home. No one is ever supposed to say this but it was better than being a housewife with a kid. I got a lot more sleep and my house was actually kind of clean for the first time in my life.

Stay At Home Mom- Being a mom is pretty wonderful but it is way more work than being a housewife without a child. You are still expected to keep house, but you are now living with a little human whose entire purpose in life is to destroy order and keep you from sleep. Being a stay at home mom is harder work than any other job a person can have. Stock market? Oh give me break- that's total cake in comparison.

Business owner- Dustpan Alley. Started with handmade cards. Part time gig. Fun. But I can never just go a little distance. This became the obvious full time effort when we lost everything and moved to Oregon.

Store owner- Dustpan Alley. Seemed I had to do it. Spent all our money trying. Oh crap. Still kind of smarts. If you want to get to know a new town, opening a store in it is the fastest way to meet all of the movers, shakers, and the blood suckers in the shortest time possible. Closing your store down is the fastest way to find out what real friends you've made.

Blog Writer- the pay has been close to nil until I count all the friendships I've made and the very loyal same group of readers I've had for the two years I've been writing, not to mention that the discipline it has taken to write a post nearly every day that is good enough to be read by others has honed my writing skills.

Technical Writer-
for Studio Mongo. Excellent job. I got a chance to sharpen my writing wits to the specifications of others, which meant not using swear words or making fun of Paris Hilton for a change. Technical writing is not quite as lively as blog writing, yet it is so necessary there is a thrill in writing something so functional. I found myself getting into it and my boss said I was very good at it.

Total Waster. This is what purgatory would feel like if I believed purgatory was a real place. Wanting one thing, knowing that I can't have it, dragging my feet towards a future I don't want, a life I didn't expect, a path I have no desire for. I got a taste of what the ideal life for me is long enough to want it with every cell in my body but it is now like a treasure set adrift in a rough sea.

At some point you've just got to get on with it and make the best of life as it presents itself that you can. Maybe you can't make a silk purse out of sow's ears but you might be able to make some super funky moccasins and convince a bunch of really foolish rich people that they're really stylish, if this wasn't true then there is no explanation for Ugg boots. So I'm moving on to the part where I stop whining and grow a pair of balls. Because that's what you need to look for work these days.

Here's what's generally on offer here in my little corner of the world:

Line cooks
Office Clerks
Seasonal fruit workers
Medical workers

This wouldn't be such a bad line up really, except that you must read the fine print and find out how qualified employers expect you to be:

Cashier: full time hours for bright, honest, non-junkie. Pays minimum wage. Must have 10 years experience working on our own register system, have a bachelor's degree in anything, and must submit a vial of pee to screen for excessive vitamin B12 shots.

Administrative Assistant: Full time hours. Pay starts at $8.00 p/h. Responsibilities include: data entry, bills processing, ordering supplies, making spreadsheets, pretending not to be a smart-ass. Qualifications: must have bachelor's degree in office sciences, be proficient in Excel, InDesign (in case we want to exploit any latent design talents), two years experience with Microsoft Word (2008 edition), and be not only punctual and subservient, but must also have not smoked tobacco in five years.

Gas Station Attendant: will train. Minimum wage. Bring good attitude. Must have bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts. Must not have been in prison for at least two years. No need to pass drug test.

Every employer has an impossible laundry list of requirements for their prospective employees and the only way anyone could possibly meet them all is if they've already been working for that employer their whole adult life. Since when are so few people willing to train anyone for good work? Since when must we all come pre-equipped with qualifications we would have had to be fortune tellers to have had the foresight to acquire?

Since we became a depressed economy with a whole lot more people in need of work than there are jobs, that's when.

I don't even have a bachelor's degree. You'd think I'd be pretty far buried under the trash heap of educational regrets about now. What is keeping me from regretting having followed my singular path and not getting the traditional degree is that it really doesn't matter what degree a person has these days, it won't be the right one. It will cost you every penny you can beg, borrow, or steal, and in the end your dream job will turn up on a job list and they will want you to have the degree you didn't get.

Why You Want Me For The Job:

I am unbelievably loyal to good employers, I am honest (I don't steal time or money), I thrive on challenges, I am publicly easy to get along with and tolerant of nearly all human foibles (such as religion and dim wits), I have enough optimism to face down the Grim Reaper, I learn quickly, I am the ultimate Girl-Friday, I am fantastic in a crisis, I am level headed, smart, properly afraid of breaking the law (but not enough to be annoying to anyone besides my family).

Qualifications: Worked my ass off since I was a preteen for other people with the highest degree of dedication and have maintained a spotless work ethic, have an associates degree in fashion design which is useless to you but shows that I got exactly the education I needed in order to do what I set out to do when I was seventeen (over twenty years ago now), have owned my own business, I have been trusted with fabric archives to organize, children to care for, I am diplomatic in spite of my acerbic wit, I want to thrive and I want others to thrive as well, I will get the god-damned job done!

Bottom Line: I'm the one you want by your side when the Apocalypse comes.

Hire me!

May 25, 2008

Chicken Run

I miss our hens. I miss hearing them squawk, shuffle, coo, cluck, argue, and preen. A collection of noises that I find soothing, therapeutic, and charming. It's too quiet here. It's time to shake up the neighborhood and introduce them to their new existence living next door to the McMinnville hillbillies.

Oh, totally random (before I forget again): I keep meaning to say that the owner of the Burnside B&B (Liz) was fabulous and I adore her and she cemented her charm when she asked me who Martha Stewart was. How cool is that? Yes, some people don't even know who she is.

Back to the hens...we can't just bring the hen house over and let them roam the yard because the dog will kill them. So a run has to be built first. Although I have yet to see evidence of skunks or raccoons in our own yard, we know they are plentiful in the McMinnville neighborhoods and aside from dogs they are the most serious predator of chickens. Fortifications must be built that cannot be breached by digging or unlatching or climbing in via tree branches. For this reason, building a chicken run is a little bit like building a tiny Fort Knox. Burying chicken wire down in the dirt several inches is a good tactic. Covering the roof of the run is also smart, the other threat is chicken hawks. Yep, hawks that steal and eat chickens.
Because we live in a suburban area, there are set back rules for keeping chickens that we must adhere to. This is predominantly why we are building our chicken run right up against our lovely porch. Normally we would probably find a different spot for them.

All of our animals were intrigued by Philip's mysterious undertaking. They camped out around him, got in his way, perched themselves importantly on the tools, and generally tried to be as unhelpful as possible which is cake to cats and dogs.

Even our neighbor's puppy got in on the act. Chick dug a hole for her under the fence and I didn't discover it until I saw Chick run by twice in one direction...after my double take I noticed that the extra Chick was actually a Rottweiler puppy. This forced caused me to finally meet our neighbors over the back fence. We've agreed to let our dogs be friends since none of us can honestly figure out how to stop a determined black lab from digging her way to China if that's what she wants. Riley is very sweet, super soft, and more spazzy than Angelina on a farm.

Life is good here. We've discovered that we are much too poor to have our house up on the market but much too poor to pay for two mortgages so our friends Anna and Mitch are going to rent it because they really like the house and are supremely tired of living in a rental house with raw sewage leaking into their basement. Yeah, I don't blame them. We are all super happy with this outcome, though it's been a slightly bumpy ride working this all out. (Sorry for all the ups and downs Anna!!) (They've been very kind and patient with me.)

We are also too poor for me to lounge around here all day eating bon bons (locally made, obviously) so I'm looking for a job. I was really depressed about the prospect until I saw that our local library is hiring. Don't get your undies in a bunch over it, I'm sure there's a lot of competition for the position, but I got a glimpse of how working again might actually be exciting. I was beginning to imagine the drudgery it must be to pump ever more expensive gasoline into giant trucks all day when I saw this little light. It may be a long shot, but this is a job that I am ideally suited for, that I have secretly dreamed of even doing even after graduating from FIDM with my associates degree in fashion design.

Libraries are magical places. There were times in my childhood when I spent more hours talking with the librarians than I did my own parents. There are few places that hold as much promise of attainable knowledge and no other place in which you can broaden your experience of the world without leaving town. They smell of books; they represent the ultimate in organization of information; the human imagination is represented in thousands of ways and celebrated nowhere else so thoroughly than in public libraries...all for free.

Reality is a funny thing and who can say what it will look like tomorrow, but today is Sunday and we are all going to go for a bicycle ride together and I am going to dream yet another impossible dream.

May 22, 2008

(six of them, right now)

1. Brand new silver sequined flip flops to open the summer season with and a turquoise watering can all floating over cool long grass; the glitter and the color like silly decorations on a green coconut cake.

2. The first local strawberries of the season; so delicate they bruise when you covet them with your eyes and the juices meet you halfway across your fingers.

3. The microcosm represented in a single droplet of water suspended for only seconds on the leaves of lupines not yet blooming.

4. The anticipation of food still growing lushly in a pot; knowing that the best nature has to offer is right on your own front porch; planning meals while watching them grow.

5. The marriage of elegance and silliness in a flower so unabashed in form that it falls over itself to reach you; like a friend tapping you on the shoulder with delicious wit.

6. The constant purring, obnoxiously cute antics, bunny hopping bow legged ravenously hungry pip-squeak and her sister are a constant source of pure pleasure.

May 21, 2008

What You Bring Home

For most people the point of travel is to explore and find out what else is out there in the world. You see new things, you learn about other people, you try new foods, and explore new textures. Travel is a way we can understand more about the world than what is right outside our front door. Yet I believe that for many people travel is equally important for what you bring back with you. If you travel and return home with exactly the same perspective, ideas, and knowledge as when you left then it seems, (to me), that you have gone nowhere.

If this trip has taught me anything it's that my family and I don't actually really know each other that well. Which is a surprise to me because I believe we know each other better than most families do. It is clear that my family (yes, ALL of them) know me well enough to know that I'm a very specific person, that I'm a vegetarian, that I am stubborn...but they don't know much about what I've done and seen in the world and how it's shaped me. Equally true is that I have my own blind spots for all of them and what I've learned is that I must open my ears fresh to their stories and their viewpoint but without the kind of usual questioning I use on everyone that has a tendency to shut my family's communication down.

We are a prickly bunch and we seem to agree on the basics readily but lose each other endlessly in the details. I have discovered that I need to let my parents, my brother, and my sister tell me their experiences without letting my preconceived notions about who they are crust up my hearing. My preconceived ideas were formed years ago and so were theirs. I feel that this trip has given us a chance to review each other. To start a new chapter in our relationships with each other. Who else brought that home with them is yet to be seen.

I have spent a great many years feeling unseen by my family and I wonder if they have now seen something new in me.

Whenever I travel I always bring home with me new ideas for living. I can't help it. Even in a land where most of the food makes me burp endlessly and where I would sometimes prefer to get all my nutrition from Guinness than from more chips and sweet peppers there is always some new food inspiration I carry in my taste-buds. The wedding food was not particularly wonderful for me but there was one dish that, but for the fact that the cheese was very goaty, is haunting me and will continue to linger in my mouth memory until I try my own version of it.

It was a portabello mushroom thing. I don't even know what to call it. The base was a tender portabello mushroom (and how did they achieve the tenderness? I often know portabellos to be meatier and firmer than I find pleasing) that was baked with soft goat cheese on the top. Ring molds were used for keeping the cheese in place so I am tempted to call it a tartlet. The cheese was pleasingly creamy and if it weren't for the goat-hide flavor finish- it would have been sublime.

And yes, for the record, I did burp up goat-hide flavor along with the bell pepper flavor...ALL NIGHT LONG. I think it's a testament to my love for my dad and his new wife that I actually ate the whole dinner without complaint knowing I would pay for it for hours.

I also brought home with me a heightened sense of what I want my own home to feel like. It should feel like all the aspects of the best bed and breakfasts, but a little less tidy because the reality is that I'm not tidy. That doesn't mean I shouldn't try to arrange my house for comfort. The idea of a bed and breakfast is that it's homey but better than home. You always find nice baskets in the bathroom with little soaps and shampoos. Things are arranged in the most convenient way possible and there is luxury in the details even if the effect is simply to make you feel effortlessly comfortable.

It isn't about being perfect. It's about the little touches. Something I did in our last house that I haven't figured out how to do here (because of counter space issues) is to arrange my bath salts and bombs attractively on the counter in pretty containers so that you always feel invited to run a bath. It made going into the main bathroom feel more like a pleasant surprise. Plus, it smelled super good with the bombs out.

I would like the entrance to my house to feel like coming back to a favorite bed and breakfast ...every single time I come home. Look at the simple entrance to this tiny cottage. The tiny topiaries are so welcoming. I feel like this kind of detail is something I forget about. I achieved this feeling in my house on Beaver Street. My front yard was quite often a mess but the box hedges looked so nice and formal, even when they got a little hairy, and there was always something pretty blooming in the planted half barrels on the porch.

In Glasgow there is a lot of tearing down going on and I was enchanted with the exposed innards of other people's homes. Can you see the thick layers of paint that have gone on these walls for the last couple hundred years? Those were rooms that people lived in and they painted them to please themselves.

People in cities don't have a luxury of space unless they are very rich. Most people don't have a lot of space even if they live in towns. Many many people live in apartments. Or small homes. Or have decent sized homes with postage stamp yards.

I had the luxury of both a largish house and a very large yard and I moved to an equal sized house with a smaller yard. Being in Scotland reminded me of how much space I have in my house and even with a smaller yard it is still almost four times the average sized yard in Ayr. I spied glimpses into people's walled gardens and was amazed at what they've done with so little space to create a sense of miniature paradise. I now feel like I have so much and my previous obsession with having "property" feels greedy and silly. I'm not saying it's wrong to want or to have lots of space...just that I never really maximized the space I had so why was I so desperate to have more?

My plan is to maximize what I have. I have a lot.

I went to the nursery yesterday to see about getting another Elephant Heart plum tree because I waited too long to plant my other one and it died. While I was there I realized that I already had a Green Gage plum in a bag that still had leaves on it that desperately needed to get into the ground. I bought a couple of terra cotta pots that were expensive...when did terra cotta get so costly?! After I bought them I thought about all the containers I have at home that could be drilled with holes and used for planting the plants I need to repot.

Learning to assess what you really have and what you can do with it; learning to maximize the space you already have; learning to stop and think about what you're about to buy before doing it takes practice and time. I don't consider myself particularly materialistic or much of an obsessed shopper*, yet I realized that I had a ton of plants waiting to get in the ground at home and there I was ready to buy more.

I came home yesterday, yanked out my poor dead Elephant Heart plum tree, and planted the Green Gage. I potted up all of the pots I already have with flowers waiting for repotting. Today I will look around for more pots. I have some ideas and when I figure it all out, I will share it with you.

I always bring a lot home with me from trips but most of what I bring home is weightless and stays with me long after the trip has finally been paid for.

As much as I love traveling, I love being home much much more.

*I didn't do much shopping in Scotland. The one purchase I made for myself that I was totally excited about were two packets of seeds which the customs officer stole from me because seeds now require some special stamp on them to be in the country. I'd very much like to know what they are going to do with my seeds? Toss them in an incinerator? Throw them on a trash barge?

May 20, 2008

The Long Way Home

Glasgow is a working class city mostly featuring 19th century architecture. I like Glasgow because it has a really energetic and diverse feel to it. There's an edge here that is lacking in Edinburgh. This is the view from the window of the last hotel I stayed in which was a "Quality Inn" ensconced in a dilapidated Victorian building that must have had some sort of political use in the past (as a "chambers" perhaps?). It is huge and the Glasgow Central Train Station has been built onto it.

This may be my favorite picture of my gorgeous sister from the whole trip. A lot of Glasgow has a gritty feel to it but we took a walk through Kelvingrove Park and decided that we would live close to the park or on the West side of Glasgow which is where our walk landed us. The West Side is where you will find the University and, consequently, all the tattoo shops and student style cafes and it reminded us a lot of Brooklyn where my sister lived for a few years.

The East Side is where my brother found his favorite adventures. It's where all the Irish pubs are, it's rougher, it's grittier, it's louder, and you'd better be careful what colors you wear on the streets. I'd avoid wearing orange or green. If you have to wear one of them and prefer not to be stabbed or punched, I suggest you go with the green.

I have to admit that I got really tired. This was not, over all, a relaxing vacation. I did a lot of walking in Glasgow, til my feet hurt and my legs ached, and when the night fell on the last day I was not at all sorry to zone out on some British television and pack my bags for home.

Apparently, everyone in New Jersey craves steak, judging by the large presence it makes in the Newark Airport in which I spent six hours whiling away my time drinking Guinness and eyeballing queer giant chunks of flesh that are suppose to tempt weary travelers. In all it took 24 hours to get home. By the time I got on the plane to Portland I was fairly grumpy and desperate to see my guys and to nuzzle my nose into my kittens and my dog. It made the last plane ride seem interminable. A sensation very much heightened by my fellow passengers.

I sat in a window seat. Something I don't do anymore for several reasons, the main one being the diminutive size of my bladder and the deeply stressful psychological damage it has done to me: if I know I am in a situation where I cannot easily get to a bathroom I will instantly have to pee. I couldn't arrange to sit in the isle seat on this flight so I knew that every time I had to get up to pee I would have to disarrange two other people to do it. Knowing this made me feel like I had to pee for the entire interminable flight.

The person who sat next to me was a fascinating red-headed dread-locked guy who clearly had a cold (judging by his constant sniffling and occasional deep coughing fit) and had not heard of bathing or deodorant. I don't like the acrid smell of man-sweat. Five hours of the smell of man-sweat, nasty bad cheeseburgers (the Continental dinner), and canned air did a lot of damage to my already faded humor. I got the dude back good though by having to pee three times during the flight. That was out of kindness to him and my other row partner. I would have been much more comfortable if I had been free to pee at least six times.

At last I landed home. I could not have been happier to see my guys waiting for me than if I had just been given a million dollar check! Oh they were such a good sight! I love Portland. I love Oregon.

Right now I am stinky and in need of a shower but I'm enjoying my coffee and Pippa is purring in my lap. I am looking at my house and feeling so excited about all the things I can do in it. I am excited that I've brought home inspiration for decorating it and garden inspiration as well. It's raining today which makes me really happy too because it was warm for my whole trip and I need a break. I heard about the heat wave here and am so happy to have missed it!!!

Home is such a wonderful place to be. I might need to nap most of this day away.

May 17, 2008

St. Andrews Cathedral

I love cathedrals and old churches. I love religious music (organs, Catholic choir music, gospel) and I love religious art. I don't believe in God. Not as an entity that experiences jealousy, hate, has a gender, or a race. The best way I can explain my spirituality is that it is nature. Nature made us all. Nature is a force we are all a part of. It doesn't judge, it undulates through the cosmos, making new galaxies, planets, life is very large, so large you can never know the end of it and so small that you can't see it with your naked eye, and everything in between.

It is the cycle of life and death. It doesn't seek vengeance or punish us. We punish ourselves. Nature is simply the pull of the universe. Gravity. Balance. Nature seeks balance. When a species gets too plentiful to feed itself it will starve. If it learns to live on nothing, it will get diseases. Nature will find a way to keep the balance.

Therefore, if we ourselves put things out of balance, as we have, it will find a way to right itself. If there are too many people there will be some form of limitation to our survival. Not as a judgment, but as a way to keep all things healthier.

Religion is our way of trying to give voice and words to the forces at work. It is hard for people to imagine a force greater than themselves that isn't in their own image. I believe that we have formed ideas about God based on what we know of ourselves. The bible has it backwards. The bible says something about how god created man in his image. I think man imagined god in his.

What I love about churches is that here I see man seeking his best self. In the statuary, the saints, the beautiful architecture, the is the human imagination trying to embrace something beyond self, something close to universal love. It's true that often man may leave church or synagogue or temple and go kill another man...but religion is his attempt to get beyond that to his best self. It is his effort to find and give acceptance.

Which is beautiful.

Many terrible atrocities have been committed in the name of god. Humans have often believed that god is on "their side". If your idea of god is that god takes sides then either your idea of god is dreadfully flawed or else god is not a good being and I can never side with him/it/her. Nature doesn't discriminate against races, gender, or class. We all die. Every last one of us. We all will have sorrows and troubles.

I take these thoughts into churches and while in the pews I meditate on how man is constantly tangled in his own muddle of spirituality. He cannot seem to get beyond his own image. His own reflection into the greater pool of life. I would like to see in the pool the light that is the opposite of the dark. I would like to see the life bubbling up in it and dragging itself onto the shore where I can know it. Or I would like to dive into the pool myself to see what is outside of myself.

I sat in the cathedral yesterday and experienced it as man's great inspiration, his attempts to get outside of his own skin and let the world in. One of the things I love about catholic churches are the votives. I think it's lovely to light a candle for someone. I think it's lovely to use candles as a request for prayers. There are always candles lit. I love to watch the candles and know that here are human cares being released. I added my own.

I lit (and paid for, thank you!) ten candles. I lit them for the following: for peace, for plenty, for healing, for mother, for father, for child, for sister, for brother, for the forgotten, and for the homeless.

I found another church, this time a Church Of Scotland, which wasn't open. However, they had this prayer tree. I added a prayer to it.

A prayer for peace. A prayer for my country to stop killing people in Iraq. A prayer to end the war. I don't think my prayer is going to be answered, but what's important is that I put my wishes out there and that I have in my heart those who are dying in war right now and keep hope lit in myself that a temporary peace may come.

I am fascinated by the catholic statuary. Very gory stuff. Yet beautiful too. It would be equally beautiful if it were modeled after dark Africans, olive Arabs, or pale Asians. Catholics are certainly responsible for a tremendous amount of bloodshed and while I can never embrace the religion for my own, just as I cannot embrace any organized religion for my own, I think they've also been responsible for some of the most incredible art, architecture, and music.

These feet of Christ make me think of the song Johnny Cash sings "Were you there?" which is all about Jesus being nailed to the cross.

I would like peace and plenty for us all.

May 16, 2008

Scottish Food
a profile

Haggis in a can may not be your cup of tea but it's my opinion that never has a disgusting traditional food come in a prettier package. Plaid gets me every time. I've never seen new potatoes in a can and I'm not confident that I would like them but I love to see what food people are eating in a foreign country.

These jars of goose fat remind me of Riana. I've never seen it for sale in the states.

The Scottish love their mushy peas. Personally I think you should go ahead and call them split pea soup or pea puree...calling any food "mushy" makes me think of smashed bananas.

What Scottish people eat at home is not information that I'm privy to but I can tell you a lot about the food available to travelers and shoppers:

  • If you want authentic Scottish food, "authentic" meaning what Scots eat when they go out for food, you will eat at a pub. Pub food is what the Scots eat. They eat plenty of curries as well but when you walk a city in Scotland it becomes immediately clear that chips must accompany a meal if it is to be considered meal food. I have eaten enough chips in the last six days to coat my arteries permanently.

  • You must drink Ale with every meal. (or beer) Businesspeople drink a pint or two with lunch and then they have a pint or two with dinner. Then they go out with friends and have several more pints. This is a lifestyle I completely agree with.

  • Scottish people love bell peppers. It is nearly impossible to get a salad without them. Sweet peppers come on sandwiches, in salad, in vegetable medleys, and in pasta. I'm a little surprised they don't garnish pints of ale with it. I have been burping nonstop since I have arrived and I have stopped trying to avoid the peppers because it's futile.

  • Don't eat pannini here unless it is being made by actual Italians.

  • Most traditional Scottish food includes a lot of blood, guts, and oats. Tara tried vegetarian Haggis and said it was like a nut loaf.
  • Scotland is still grappling with the concept of vegetarianism. For the wedding dinner Tara and I* got sorbet and fruit instead of the salad everyone else got with melon, lettuce, cheese, and ham. I would have been happy with a pile of greens with vinaigrette. The sorbet was good but disconcerting. It was much better than the previous trip to Scotland when I got a "vegetarian" chicken potato leek soup. I have high hopes for Scottish food, however, because they do veggie burgers much better than most places in the states. In fact, I've never had a lentil-spinach veggie patty before today and it was super good!!

That's it for tonight. It's 3:13 pm your time but it's just after 11pm for me. Zeke and Tara are out sampling the loud Glasgow nightlife and I have some television to watch. I haven't watched nearly enough yet and I don't have any at home. I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow but I can tell you one thing for sure: I'll be eating chips, fried food, and bell peppers in one form or another. I raise my Guinness to you all and hope some of you are eating something wonderful!

*The only two vegetarians in attendance. When I tell more wedding stories I will have to describe the main course too. Very interesting. I promise it involved lots of bell peppers.

May 15, 2008

It's All Blue Sky In Ayrshire

There are a few things I didn't bring with me: sunscreen, a hat, sandals, or tank tops for the excellent reason that the sun isn't supposed to shine in Scotland. Everyone says it. Everyone complains about it. Just like in Oregon. Since I've never been to Scotland when it wasn't winter I had to go with the common belief that it is always cold and overcast. I've forgotten that people routinely exaggerate about "poor" weather and that what might be cold to one person might actually kill another one with heat exhaustion.

It has been nothing but blue skies and warm weather until just today. I don't completely mind except for the constant discomfort I've been feeling from the warmth* and being in cars where people don't want the windows down.

This grassy verge is a lovely spot on the Culzean Castle grounds that looks out over the sea and is, in fact, a great spot to sit and kill other people with cannon fire. I know this because it was hilled up and lined with cannons a few hundred years ago and the cannons are still there. But forget about war for just a minute. Forget about history and people and be alone in your mind, just for a few minutes. The sky is clear blue for miles, the air up here is whipping your hair up and cooling your head, and the grass is speckled with the sweetest English daisies. If you sit here and forget all the fussing and clamoring of your family, your friends, your many many loved ones, I think all your troubles will slip away here.

You look out over the sea and in the distance you can see the shadow of the mainland. But who cares about the mainland when you are in the sweetest spot on the Isle of Aaron? Time can go to hell because there is almost music here. The daisies smile up at you like children who have yet to discover that life is not going to provide them with endless summer ice-cream cones. You can imagine that it's always early summer here. Before it gets unbearably hot. When there's still a freshening breeze. While we are still all thinking that the months are going to last forever.

I have had very little time to myself on this trip. I knew that would be the case since it's really not a trip that's about me. I accompanied a very large group of family and friends to Culzean Castle. I walked with them through the actual castle but as soon as I broke free of the antiquities within I went off by myself. I walked through an orangery filled with the intoxicating perfume of citrus blossoms. I walked fast across vast lawns and slowly along stone walls covered in tiny ferns and other unidentified pretty creepers. I ate a mediocre lunch at the cafe by myself and bought two Bronte books in the used bookstore on the grounds.

Eventually I made it to the one thing I was most keen on seeing. I realize now that I ought to have gone there first. The walled garden. It's beautiful. I wanted to lie down in the shade on the grass and count apple blossoms. I wanted to crawl through the borders to inspect the roses not yet in bloom and sniff at the peonies that were. I didn't get to spend as much time there as I would have liked. I love walled gardens. I want to build a wall around mine. I have a fence but fences rot and rotting fences don't feel as permanent as stone or brick walls.

I snore. I'm not happy about it. My sister couldn't sleep. Neither could I for worrying about her not being able to sleep. So I got myself a room next door at the Daviot where my brother had a room. This ceiling detail is at the Burnside Guest House. The Daviot had some of these wonderful plasters but not as many. Can I put some in my own house?

This is the staircase next door at the Daviot. Very pretty, isn't it? It became the treacherous stairs I later almost killed myself on. I swear I wasn't drunk. I slipped and I can't say it's done wonders for my back. I have some bruised bits as well.

What do you think of the carpet? I happen to be plaid happy. I put industrial plaid carpeting in our finished attic in the Beaver Street house. It always makes me happy to see it because you have to really have a sense of play to have something so bold. I loath the usual beige pile carpet so popular everywhere. I have to tell you that in the old houses here there is a lot of colorful carpet. The first place I've seen much beige is in the hotel we're in now.

Not super happy with self at the moment, however, I love this self portrait because details are washed out by the damn sunshine that has a special affinity for me and follows me where ever I go like a sad little Chihuahua that can't leave alone the one person in the room that doesn't like Chihuahua. Go away bright rays! Although, if it can erase all my flaws like this, maybe I should find a way to enjoy it more.

Rust is everywhere here because they use stone and metal for fences a lot more than they use wood. You must keep metal painted in a wet climate or it will rust. So much here is touched by age and decay and somehow when you use such sturdy materials it weathers more beautifully.

I don't know what this plant is but it was creeping up the garden walls at Culzean Castle and I love it. It looks similar to heather and yet prettier, plus it creeps up the wall and so doesn't take up valuable space as a clump.

I would like to be a black bird. This guy was hanging close to the cafe at Culzean Castle hoping for crumbs. On the other side of the battlements here is a big cliff and below it the sea.

The soldier's view. This is for Max because I so much wished he was there with me to see what a soldier with cannons would have seen. This piece of metal has blown holes in ships. Probably in flesh as well.

The wedding was yesterday. We are now in Glasgow in an apartment with two bedrooms a living room, bathroom, and kitchenette. We have left charming decor and entered the city life of business-man from the 80's taste**. everything is black and white (leather couches and dining room chairs) black curtains and white walls. It's pretty nice but is missing all the charm of the bed and breakfasts.

I'm tired. Very tired. I'm tired of talking to people I don't know. I need down time and alone time. I'm wishing I could extend my vacation by a couple more days so I can fully decompress from people. The wedding was lovely but it was long and it exhausted my reserves completely. My brother and sister are tired as well. None of us have had much sleep. None of us have been free to just do as we please. That's what the next two days are about.

I miss my Philip and wish he was here with me to just walk and take it all in. I wish he was here so we could talk about everything and I could enjoy his perspective. It's less work talking with him and being with him than with anyone else I know. I miss my Max too. I wish he had been with me when I found the giant bug on the iron fence opening into the walled garden. I took a picture, but if he had been there we could have entered into a lively discussion about his possible dangerousness. It was HUGE. I wish Max was with me to see the wall covered in weapons at Culzean Castle: an entire room covered in pistols and swords and rifles arranged artfully. It was amazing. I wasn't allowed to take pictures. I love you guys!

Most of you are awake now. My evening is in progress. Soon we'll head out to find food. All of us are planning to turn in on the early side.

*Perhaps it's hot flashes? An early menopause?

**This hotel is located in the business district, right downtown, across the street from the central train station so it caters to the business people.

May 12, 2008

Ayr, Scotland

Queens Terrace, AKA: Bed and Breakfast Row. Our B&B is to the left of the green one. The Burnside Guesthouse. It's quite nice. I have so much to tell but I'm beat from 24 hours of travel followed by an 8 hour trip to the Isle of Aaron with Zeke, Tara, and my dad's good friends Bob and his wife Francis. It was grueling but worth the trip.

The beach in Ayr isn't particularly spectacular but these little sand noodles made me think of Max because I'm sure if he was here we'd be speculating about the creature who is making them. I wonder if it's really sand poop?

Ferry ropes. This picture is for Max and Philip. I love riding ferries and I'd love to ride them more often. I've ridden the ones in Vancouver and enjoyed it so much.

What I love about the British is their great love of drinking ales at all times of the day. Except for before 12:30pm on Sundays because you must commune with God prior to visiting the pub. It's in the Bible. Go check it and see if I'm right. This is a Tennents Ale. Philip and I discovered this ale the first time we visited Scotland.

Uh oh. Luckily we were just about to dock on the Isle of Aaron. Where we went to a castle whose name I have briefly forgotten but was really amazing- especially for the fully in tact original kitchen. I want a castle kitchen. I forget sometimes how much I love historical houses and how much even the medieval ones make me shiver with excitement and although everyone will argue with me (don't deny it) I believe I could be very content in a stone 13th century castle or a Victorian hunting lodge.

It seems to be under question whether I could really enjoy living on a cold island. Yes, I like to be warm...that's what fires (or central heating, when available) are for and I've also found coats and scarves to be quite useful against rugged cold weather.

Truly, I could be quite satisfied with a life of walking the moors, just so long as I can learn to avoid the body sucking pits of peat in which bodies get sucked down and preserved for all time.

Siblings. Intense, fun, contrary, argumentative, strong willed, opinionated, funny, quirky, maddening, different, the same*...and best of all? Together.

*I can almost guarantee that one or both of my siblings will not agree with this mini assessment I've made of us as a group.