Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poem for December: Now Winter Nights Enlarge.

Now Winter Nights Enlarge
Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

After the glum "I hate winter" poem of November, I chose this poem because it captures what I like about winter. The lines "Let now, the chimney's blaze/and cups o'erflow with wine" is delightful.

Like November's poem, the old-fashioned language made this a bit tricky to memorize, but it wasn't very difficult.

Thank you, John Hughes.

His name hasn't come up in the "Goodbye Dead Famous People" lists of 2009--at least not the one's I've seen. Checking IMDB, it's not hard to see why. Looking over the list of movies Hughes wrote from 1991 onward, tells us that an entire generation has grown up only knowing him as the writer of (sigh with me, Gen-Xers) Dennis the Menace, Beethoven's 4th, Baby's Day Out and Home Alone 3. But let's roll back a screen or two. Scrolling over the movies Hughes wrote in the 1980's is a treasure trove of lifetime movie highlights.

Mr. Mom. (1983) I wasn't even ten, yet my entire family watched and enjoyed this movie. Among other things, this movie opened my eyes to the idea that one shouldn't assume that the husband is going to get a new job before the wife does, and an iron makes an excellent instrument for warming up cold grilled cheese sandwiches.

Vacation. (1983) My family didn't watch this movie until 1988, after we spent a month driving across the country and back in a station wagon, but oh we did laugh. Classic scenes, classic lines, classic story.
Sixteen Candles. (1984) A preview of what it would be like to be a teenager, though I knew even then my teenage years would be a lot more of Joan Cusack, and a lot less of Molly Ringwald.

The Breakfast Club. (1985) Lori Tollinger's mother came downstairs at just the wrong moment, leaving me with an awkward memory of the most dramatic scene. This movie also fed my bad boy fixation and I worried for years that my hair would unknowingly be as dandruffy as Ali Sheedy's. Now, thanks to psoriasis, it is, though my adult self handles that better than my teenage self ever would have.

Pretty in Pink. (1986) Girls who can sew do get the guy. Also Annie Potts as the coolest small business owner ever.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (1986) Forshadowed my teenage years: upon viewing with my mother and brother I grew annoyed that my mother kept saying, "Principals aren't really like that," "Parents aren't really like that," "That isn't even possible." Being an adult and not a pre-adolecent like me she missed the point. This is the perfect movie about what we all wish adolescence was like. Also includes one of the most beautifully filmed visits to an art museum ever. And Charlie Sheen as a bad boy. Which it turns out he really is. Hughes could have stopped here, with this movie, he really could have. But he continues.
Some Kind of Wonderful. (1987) This movie will forever remind me of Lori Tollinger. Captures the delecate negotiation between parents and children. What happens when their dreams are different? Also a reminder that getting the girl isn't the point, sometimes.

Uncle Buck. (1989) Aside from starring the funniest fat man ever, John Candy, it also includes the best illustration of why a toothpick is not the best prop when trying to make a good impression on a girl. I saw this the first week of school my ninth grade year, on a school night and it will always represent that freedom of adolescence, even if I can't really recall much of the plot.

Home Alone. (1990) I saw it. You saw it. Heck, everyone saw it. The irony of John Hughes in my life was that by the time I had actually caught up to the age of his characters in his best movies, he started writing movies for children the age I was when I started watching his movies about teenagers. But Kevin McCallister's fight against burglars will forever be remembered by millions of Americans.

And thus ends my relationship with John Hughes. He went on to write movies that I consider really awful, though I've not seen most of them. I went on to face my high school years without movies about teenagers. But what he did write about teenagers before I came of age, I found to be true to my experiences. When I watch John Hughes movies, I'm usually reminded of the elementary school me who saw those films and tried to figure out what being a teenager would be like. He offered a portal into a world I hadn't experienced yet, and many of his observations turned out to be true to my experience.

I like to think that, had he not died this year, he would have turned some corner and begin writing movies that mattered again. But maybe not. Maybe his movies that mattered only came at a certain time in his life. That would have been okay too. They were enough.

Best movies watched in 2009

It turns out that the best movies watched in 2009 list became folded into the "Top 49 Movies Watched in the Last Five Years" post which will be coming in January. Stay tuned.

Best books experienced in 2009

In 2009 these are the awards for:

Best novel based on another novel:
Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher
Lenore Hart

Best book that illuminated the creative process behind a sitcom of my childhood:
Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, same dog and a lot less hair
Gary David Goldburg

Best gardening book for people with not a lot of money to buy fancy stuff:
Gardening when it Counts
Steve Soloman

Best Historical Fiction Combined with Star-Crossed Love, the Boston Molasses Disaster and Pro-Labor Leanings:
The Given Day
Dennis Lehane

Best Tiny Book that Propelled the Creation of a Landscaping Focal Point:
Arches and Pergolas
Richard Key

Best Thing You Can Probably Do for Yourself
with honors in Best Title:

Full Catastrophe Living
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best Account of My People:
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKennon

Best re-reading of a Top-Ten Book:
Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver

Best start of a YA series:
City of Ember
Jeanne DuPru

Best How-To Book Written by My People:
The Urban Homestead: Your Guide for Self-Sufficient Living in the City
Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen

Best Book to Transform Your Pacific Northwest (and other regions too) Backyard:
Gaia's Garden
Toby Hemenway

Best Book Featuring a Hard-as-Nails Heroine:
These Is My Words
Nancy E. Turner

Best What-If:
Abraham Lincoln: A Novel Life
Tony Wolk

Best Collective Voices And I-Can't-Recommend-This-Enough!:
Three Girls and Their Brother
Theresa Rebeck

Best Set-In-WWII-Historical Fiction:
Skeletons at the Feast
Chris Bohjalian

Perhaps the Best Fiction Book I Read in 2009 and You Should Read It Too:
American Wife
Curtis Sittenfeld

Worst Book That Totally Dragged Down The Series:
The Prophet of Yonwood
Jeanne DuPrau

Best Meander Through Some Characters' Lives:
Eat, Drink & Be From Mississippi
Nanci Kincaid

Best Intriguing Premise Historical Fiction:
The Birth of Venus
Sarah Dunant

Best Re-Reading of a Book I Loved as a Teenager:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith

Best Youthful Voice of Which I Probably Won't Like in Movie Form:
Me & Orsen Wells
Robert Kaplow

Books read in December

The books this month seem to be more of "passing time" books than anything. Nothing groundbreaking here. Although, I did like Me & Orsen Wells. When is that movie coming out, anyway?

Keeping Faith: a novel
Jodi Picoult
Engrossing story with dumb title, I quite enjoyed the twists and turns. It wasn't high literature (even for my low standards) but it was a fun read.

Side note. In the author interview at the end of the novel Picoult mentions that she researches like crazy for books because she can't stand to have errors. I found two, one of which was quite glaring: the grandmother character, who is in her 50s mentions that the War of the Worlds broadcast "scared her and her husband to death." I find this to be amazing, because the novel is set in 1999. This puts the grandmother's character as being born in the early to mid 40s. So, not only would the grandmother not have been married in 1938 when the broadcast was first aired, but she also woudn't have even been alive. Also, there was a reference to a nail being put "in Jesus Christ's side." I found this to be off and three minutes of googling has indeed revealed that Jesus' side was pierced by a spear. Geez oh Pete, for an author who is a stickler for accuracy, these should have been cleaned up early on.

The Last Blue Mile
Kim Ponders
I checked this out because this story of a female Air Force Academy Cadet does not intersect with my own life experiences in any way. The book provided a nice window into Air Force culture. Based on what I read, I'm glad for the window and will not be seeking a door into Air Force Culture any time soon.

A Model Summer
Paula Porizkova
The book that convinced me there is little actual glamor in modeling. How does a sheltered fifteen year old girl spending her summer working as a model in Paris fare? The answer is not surprising. As the quote on the back of the book says, the novel "bravely offers no easy answers." Engrossing and disturbing.

Me & Orson Wells
Robert Kaplow
The "voice" in this novel is fun and fresh and the novel itself is a fun time capsule to 1930s Broadway and Orson Wells. I found out about halfway through that Zac Ephron will be playing the main character which didn't match the picture in my head at all, but I look forward to seeing Orson Wells recreated for the screen and this book also inspired our next choice for the Shakespeare Project: Julius Caesar.

Rex Pickett
I found this movie to be highly annoying--the main characters were incredibly juvenile and idiotic. Someone nicely summed up the movie as "Dumb and Dumber do Wine Country." So why read the book? Though I hated the movie, the story and characters have stuck with me, and when I came across the novel on the library shelves I figured the book might provide a little more insight.

Indeed, I liked the book much better than the movie. The book had the advantage, as books do, of letting us into the minds of at least one of the men. This humanized him for me and softened my judgment. The story is well written, clips along, has some incredible passages and uses vocabulary that had me reaching for the dictionary several times. Don't get me wrong, the men are still idiotic, but much more human. This would be a nice vacation read.

Unplugging Philco
Jim Knipfel
My initial reaction was enjoyment. This futuristic novel is set in New York City, where massive amounts of freedoms Americans enjoy today have voluntarily been given up due to "the Horribleness"--an incident that flattened Tupolo. This novel was clearly written to skewer the post-9/11 world we live in. However, as the story dragged on, the life Wally Philco lives left me sad. Near the middle of the book, things look like they would work out for him in some small way, but I realized I was about two chapters away from the end and this wasn't going to end well. I put down the book for a few days, and eventually returned to find that, indeed, the ending was not what I was looking for. Not only that, I found it to be not believable. Two days later, I'm still thinking, "But wait. If the ending is true, then how did X work?" This is not a good sign for a book.

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns
Elizabeth Leiknes
A slim novel, this initially had me tittering as I read along. But somewhere in the middle--which I guess would be about page 80--it bogged down and I lost interest. This was a clever premise, but not the best execution. I'm interested to see if Leiknes' next novel will be a bit better.

Started but did not finish

Braided Lives
Marge Piercy
It's the 1950s and Marge Piercy's main character doesn't want a man to posses her. Hmmm. Good luck with that. Having just read her memoir, I can tell that large portions of this novel are inspired by her own life. It seemed like things were going to be grim, and so my attention waned. Also? Horrible 80's-esque cover. So bad it is almost good.

Past Caring
Robert Goddard
I never really got to caring about the character, so I couldn't move through to past caring. When I hit page fifty and I'm still wondering if I will start to be interested soon, it is time to put down the novel.

Our Lady of Greenwich Village
Dermot McEvoy
A manly novel, that takes the men in it too seriously. Pete Hamill writes better novels set in bars. This suffers from the book equivalent of the movie problem of "too many identical white guys in suits." About the fifth time I asked myself, "Who is this person and why are they on the page right now?" I decided I really didn't care and gave up.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Candidate

Man, has this been a vacation of not-so-great movies. This movie is excellent for the following: looking at Robert Redford; fun 70s fashions; wondering whatever happened to singing, scantily clad campaign workers; and Don Porter's excellent performance as Senator Crocker Jarmon. I got this for free from the library, so I guess I didn't lose much, aside from two hours of my life.

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews--Central Station

Yet another movie I just didn't connect with. The story was interesting, the characters were fully formed and well acted, and yet, if the power had gone out in the middle of the film I would have happily moved on to another activity. I'm so ambivalent, I can't come up with a third sentence.

I finally enter Steve Duin's reading contest!

Every year Steve Duin, columnist for the Oregonian holds a reading contest to see who can read the most pages during the year. The winner always reads some number that even I, a voracious reader, think insane. Like over 100,000. This year, I sent in my entry of 21,177 pages read which was 71 books. I sent this note along with with spreadsheet.

Dear Mr. Duin,

My page total isn’t anywhere near winning, but my goal this year was to actually get my entry to you. I’ve never been able to keep track of pages read on my own—that extra step of flipping to the back and seeing what the last pages was has always eluded me. In the back of my journals, I’ve kept track of “books read” since 1987, but in 2008, I began using Goodreads. At the end of last year I discovered I could export my list of books read and they listed page numbers. This year I just had to export, sum and save in Excel and voila! I finally enter the contest.

This was not the best fiction reading year. Around March I got annoyed at all the unsatisfying novels I was reading and just started re-reading things I liked. Hence the appearance of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. Things picked up mid-summer and I devoured some books during my August vacation. I would say the most quietly delightful “what if” sort of novel was Abraham Lincoln: A Novel Life, by our own Tony Wolk. What if Abraham Lincoln showed up in 1950’s Illinois? My absolute favorite novel, if forced to choose, was Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife. Aside from being an engrossing story, the novel itself was a gentle reminder that the famous people I know (and judge) everything about, may in fact be media creations. Which reminds me, the other favorite novel I read the year—do your readers really actually stick to one? I can’t imagine—was Three Girls and their Brother by Theresa Rebeck. A commentary on the media culture in our country, the voices of each character are amazing. This book also wins the “don’t judge a book by its cover” award as its cover was hideous and not at all reflective of the novel.

Nonfiction-wise, it was a smashing year. I discovered permaculture theory and, thanks to the library, devoured many books on the topic. I have a tiny back yard, but I think I’m a farmer at heart, and due to the permaculture books I read, I am transforming my “land” into a more sustainable environment. The best non-fiction book I read was Urban Homestead, your guide to self-sufficient living in the city. Unlike 99% of the books I read, I finished my library copy, returned it and immediately bought my own copy. Reading the various tutorials on growing and foraging for food, making bread, cheese and preserves, all I could think was “these are my people.” What could be more fun than that?

Next year, I aim to not only enter my number of pages, but also write an essay. Until I retire (30 years hence) that seems to be my only hope for winning your contest.

Good reading,


6/25/10 Note: I just looked at the contest results (published 2/1/10) and I got 34th! Not bad. But seriously, do those 100,000 plus pages people ever go outside?

Here is the list of books people chose as their favorites. (Published 2/1/10)

Here is the annual column about the reading contest. I, sadly, am not mentioned (Published 2/1/10)

I love librarians

For years I've been describing one of my favorite kind of books as listed above. Who knew that there was one word to say all that? Well, probably a lot of people. And, more importantly, librarians, who not only printed up a handy sign, but had a whole bunch of buildungsromans set out for us to check out. Thanks librarians! And also thanks to the clerks who probably fetched all the books!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Woman on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

This was my first Pedro Almodovar film and I don't think it was the best starting place. I didn't really connect to any of the characters, though I thought their fashion sense was interesting. When the Mambo Taxi Driver is the most exciting thing in the movie, something hasn't worked.

poster from:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Lars and the Real Girl

Despite good reviews, the concept of this movie weirded me out and I didn't see it. Recommendation by a movie watching friend convinced me to watch it and while doing so I realized my feelings were similar to the characters in the movie. This is a sweet, fabulous, hopeful movie about the human condition, and one innocent enough--I kid you not!--that you could watch it with your church-going grandmother.

ps. Paul Schneider! Patricia Clarkson! You MUST see this!

poster from:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Die Hard.

Another film I hadn't seen since it's debut. It was remarkable how well it held up. Alan Rickman is too fabulous as the extraordinary criminal, and Bruce Willis is about the best Bruce Willis he can be.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Talented Mr. Ripley

I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out and remembered it as an "eh" movie. My second viewing left me with a different impression due to a fabulous cast, beautiful clothes and top-notch acting. I remembered the plot and how it would all end, but I was still tense the entire film.
poster from:

Monday, December 14, 2009


Remember how I wrote about the new (lack of) Trimet shelter on the new transit mall? Well, it has started raining and the above sight is not unusual. For shame, Trimet, for shame.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Notting Hill.

I've seen this before, of course, and it is one of my favorite romantic comedies. Aside from the silly car driving at the end, everything is perfect about this film, especially the four seasons of long shot. I will also never forget my original viewing in the theater when the mentally challanged couple sitting next to me made out through the majority of the film.

poster from:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

One of those movies I didn't love or hate, but was happy to watch because it is so often referenced. In my mind, I confused the ending of Thelma and Lousie with the ending of this movie, so I had trouble matching what was going on on the screen vs. what I thought would happen. Also, this thought occurred: George Clooney and Brad Pitt are the Paul Newman and Robert Redford of the 2000's.

poster from:


I've not been feeling well. It's a busy time of year at school--although when is it not--and I've been feeling run down and my throat hurts. Strep is going around school. But I've googled all the symptoms and everything says that adults don't get strep. Still, I'm not feeling well. I call the doctor and the nurse orders a strep test for me. At Nurse treatment, she tells me that while adults often get sore throats and infections, it most likely is not strep. I tell her I know. I walk the culture over to the lab and wait 30 minutes. I've got a limited amount of time because I have to take my Calculus final soon. The technician calls my name, "Patricia Collins?" I approach him. "Are you Patricia Collins?" he asks as he holds shut a pink piece of paper. I affirm that I am. He opens the paper to reveal that my test came back...
"Really?" I gasp. I feel like I won the lottery. "But adults rarely get strep throat!" I tell him, repeating what two nurses and the internet have told me.

"Well, you've got it." he assures me. Still feeling like I won the lottery (I was right! It was totally worth it to miss the December fire drill to get a strep test! I will soon feel better!) I make my way to the pharmacy, get the drugs required and run to catch my train making it to class just in time for my final.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Informant!

Before watching this movie, I thought the exclamation point in the title was really a little bit much. Having seen the movie I know that the exclamation point is just right. Theoretically an incredibly boring subject (price fixing in the lysine industry) this was one of the most interesting and funny movies I've seen all year, with excellent performances by Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey--an incredibly underrated actress--and the soundtrack, yes the soundtrack was a star in of itself!

poster from:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Picture of the day.

Art instillation at Albina Community Bank

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Picture of the Day

Full Moon in the North Park Blocks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Picture of the Day December 2

For a time when I lived in South Boston, I took a walk every morning and took three pictures with my 35mm camera. The idea was to learn about my camera and get some exercise. I got some exercise and some great pictures. In early December I decided to take a picture and post it to the blog every day. I lasted three days. Perhaps when I get the blog caught up, I can revive that project. It may turn out to be a weekly thing, though. We shall see.

December 2, 2010:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Poem for November: Autumn, by Thomas Nashe


Thomas Nashe

Autumn hath all the summer's fruitful treasure ;
Gone is our sport, fled is poor Croydon's pleasure.
Short days, sharp days, long nights come on apace,—
Ah, who shall hide us from the winter's face?
Cold doth increase, the sickness will not cease,
And here we lie, God knows, with little ease.
From winter, plague, and pestilence, good Lord deliver us!

London doth mourn, Lambeth is quite forlorn ;
Trades cry, Woe worth that ever they were born.
The want of term is town and city's harm ;
Close chambers we do want to keep us warm.
Long banished must we live from our friends ;
This low-built house will bring us to our ends.
From winter, plague, and pestilence, good Lord deliver us!

I'm not so much a fan of winter. I memorized this poem simply so I could declaim the last line in each stanza on particularly nasty days.

This was somewhat challenging to memorize, mostly because I wasn't sure what some of the references were. Because I memorize while walking, I tended to forget to look up "Croydon" (now a commercial center south of London) and "Lambeth" (a district of South London) and see what they were. For difficult lines I tend to associate words with a picture in my mind. This is very hard to do when you don't have any idea what the poet is talking about. And "want of term" what does that mean? Ah! I've just googled it and found a link with a website that tells me. It means "lack of an end" which makes sense now. It also helpfully decodes Croydon and Lambeth. Thanks, Poets Corner!

Books read in November

I only read three books this month! Three! I started a bunch over Thanksgiving, though and so December will have more books. Also, alas, the books I read weren't very good this month.

Little Earthquakes
Jennifer Weiner
This suffers a bit from some of the characters being just a bit too much. The control freak was just a bit too controlling, the mother-in-law from hell was just a bit too hellish, the depressed one was too depressed. It distracted from the story. Though I probably won't remember much about this book in five years, the characterizations of early motherhood were nicely done and I enjoyed the humor sprinkled throughout the book.

The Elements of Style
Wendy Wasserstein
Oh, how I detested this book. This was disappointing, as I enjoy Wasserstein's plays, and was hoping that this book would recapture some of that magic. It didn't. Stuffed full of entirely unlikeable, incredibly wealthy Manhattenites, who attempt to navigate their very privileged lives in a post-9/11 world. I could care less about them, their "problems" and their entirely vapid hopes. I only finished reading this novel because it was the only thing in the house and it was slightly more exciting than the back of soup cans. Not recommended.

Revive: How to overcome fatigue naturally
Jill Thomas
I attempt to combat my seemingly unending fatigue by reading this book and another one. This was the far superior version. Not surprisingly, I need to eat more vegetables and fruit as well as up my fiber intake in general and recommit to regular exercise. The inexplicable red font was a bit distracting, but other than that, the quiet helpful and succinct tone of this manual was just what the Naturopath ordered.

Started but did not finish

Honey in the Horn
H.L. Davis
Oh, how I want to be the type of reader who actually reads classic literature. This isn't even very old. My Grandmother was in her 20's when this won the Pulitzer Prize. It's set in frontier Oregon, the narrative is a strong one. I just couldn't force my lazy reading self to keep on keeping on. Alas. If you are made of sterner stuff than me, enjoy.

The Exhaustion Cure: up your energy from low to go in 21 days.
Laura Stack
This did not speak to me as much as Jill Thomas' Revive, though people not familiar with Naturopathy might be more comfortable with it. Includes quizzes, but also a lot of product placement, which I ultimately found distracting.

Lapham Rising: a novel
Roger Rosenblatt
There's good quirky (Wonderboys) and then there is a bit too quirky. This fits into the latter category. The sculpture of the ex-wife sitting at the kitchen table; the bazillionare's mansion being built across the street with a device that air conditions the entire property; the skinny-dipping Realtor; the dog that actually speaks? It was just too much.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Sting

The long-setup-for-big-swindle is a favorite movie sub-genre of mine (see: Oceans 11, 12, 13, The Italian Job, etc.). This was fun and engrossing with just the right amount of tension. The stars are easy on the eyes, too.

poster from:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Lilies of the Field.

I watched this movie with my mother when I was quite small and have had the "A-men" song in my head ever since. Re-viewing it, I was happy to find that it is an amusing movie that is amazingly free of racist content (Breakfast at Tiffany's, I'm talking to you.) It might be a little slow for children today, but would be a good choice for a multi-generational family gathering.

poster from:
Since I'm not really making time to write for this blog, you can read this response I wrote to the article "Miserly Manor" by Dylan Rivera, published on 11/27/09

The original article is here (for a time, I would imagine.)

Dear Mr. Rivera,

Two phrases stuck out in your article about the so-called “green” house built by Scott Lewis. The first: “The current house has a dining room and living room separated from the kitchen and family room—extra space that isn’t necessary.” However, earlier in the article the house’s size is given at “nearly 4,000 square feet” which sounds to me like a tremendous amount of extra space not really necessary for a family of five.

The second phrase: “Lewis demolished a small mid century house from the site.” Both of these statements gloss over the troublesome American obsession with destroying (instead of retrofitting, or remodeling) what is already there and putting a much larger home in its place. I would argue that building a house that gives each person in the family 800 square feet (a size that, once upon a time, was not an unusual size for a home for a whole family, not one individual in the family) is not a green practice. Small houses are easier to heat, take fewer resources to furnish and probably strengthen family ties by increasing proximity. Could Lewis have retrofitted the existing house in such a manner? We will never know.

The vast majority of your readers will not have an opportunity to build a 4,000 square foot house, green or no. Scott Lewis felt his previous house was a source of “inner turmoil” because it didn’t use materials that are local or energy efficient. I believe that His uber-expensive, super efficient house is just a super efficient McMansion, and doesn’t really fit his green aesthetic.


Patricia Collins

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mom's House

"You should take a picture of the front of my house so I can enter it in this house redo contest." My mother said when I was over for Thanksgiving preparations. I did. But then I never sent her the pictures. But here they are here.

Thanksgiving Rolls

So I need to confess my "thing" about Thanksgiving Rolls. I love dinner rolls. A nice hot, flaky dinner roll made with white flour and topped with melting butter is one of my favorite food things in the world. I rarely have dinner rolls. The yeast, the rising, the this, the that. They take forever to make and I'm a busy person. But at Thanksgiving, there HAS to be dinner rolls. Not Rhodes Bake-N-Serv rolls. Actual scratch-made dinner rolls. Usually I volunteer to do this. And I make some good rolls. Except that one year I forgot to plan out my baking schedule and it turned out I didn't have time to make rolls. That year we had cornbread biscuits. Those were okay, but not the transcendent dinner roll experience I was looking forward to.

So this year I'm informed that my Mom's friend Linda was coming to Thanksgiving. Yay! We like Linda. Then my mother tells me that Linda will bring the rolls.
"Wait." I said, instantly suspicious, "does she know about the importance of Thanksgiving rolls?"
"Oh, yes." My mother replies.
"But," I continued, not believing her, "does she understand that they have to be from scratch?"
"She said she was bringing rolls. She has the perfect recipe."
"But there are a lot of kinds of rolls. Does she know how to make them from scratch? They aren't going to be Rhodes Rolls, are they?"
"Oh no," my mother assures me, "Linda can cook. She's a good cook. "
I am not convinced.

I arrive at my mothers house Thanksgiving morning to find Linda working on her rolls. At the time, she was heating butter and coloring it pink. When I asked why, she showed me the mold. She was making pink doves out of butter. I tried to integrate pink doves into my flaky, fresh baked from scratch dinner roll concept. It sort of works. A little. I guess.

"So tell me more about the rolls," I say in a casual, no big deal manner.
"Well, it actually was kind of a pain," Linda begins her story. My mother chimes in intermittently. It seems that the store (store!) was out of the kind of rolls (rolls!) the recipe calls for. They had to go to three different stores before they gave up.
"What exactly were you looking for?" I asked. My vision of Thanksgiving rolls--even ones with pink doves of butter melting on them--began to fade. Memory doesn't serve as to the exact answer, but it seems that Pillsbury or some other manufacturer does not make the exact kind of refrigerated (!) rolls specified by the recipe. They eventually gave up and bought another kind of refrigerated rolls.

While half watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and then the incredibly boring Dog Show, I keep an eye on roll preparation going on in the kitchen. The sheets of refrigerated rolls are being cut into strips. Linda is arranging them on a baking sheet. There are green sprinkles appearing?

"What are those for?" I ask, unable to let the green sprinkles go by without comment.
"The rolls." Linda answers. As if green sprinkles are often paired with rolls. Although they do seem to go with pink doves of butter. At this point I'd resigned myself to the Thanksgiving rolls I'm getting, not the ones I want and I amble over to see what Linda has created.
"So what exactly are you making?"
Linda explains. "See, the rolls get shaped into a tree, and then I put the sprinkles on and a little star at the top and then, after I bake them, I put the doves in the tree."

And lo, she did.

"What are these?" Chris asked as they were coming around the table. He'd been over at Aunt Pat's all day, and missed the initial roll preparation. Linda explained all about the rolls.
"Would you like one?" she asked.
"Well, they are interesting..." Chris trailed off, but took one. I think he might have a thing about Thanksgiving rolls too.

I took one. And ate it. And ate another. Not bad.
I enjoy having guests at our holiday tables because they always bring new directions of conversation and new things for us to enjoy. I hope Linda comes again for Thanksgiving. However, next year? I'm bringing the rolls.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--The Simpsons Movie.

Unlike some TV shows with full length feature films *cough* X-Files *cough,* this translated nicely to the movie screen, though I was watching it at home for free, so it wasn't that much different from television. The Simpson's team has honed their game to an art form and there were many delightful moments including Lisa's cute boy interest explaining that though he was from Ireland and his dad is a musician, he wasn't Bono. I laughed out loud several times, which is a rarity for me when watching comedies alone at home.

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It's been several decades since the 70s

However this gentleman has apparently not gotten the message. Those familiar with the cruder--and less generous--side of that decade know that this sticker says, "Grass or Ass. Nobody rides for free."
The best part? The sticker is affixed to an El Camino. It's not a car. It's not a truck. It is possibly the ugliest car every made.

Monday, November 23, 2009

We have a problem with the bus mall, er, I mean "transit mall"

The Portland Transit Mall is the new name for the Bus Mall. Before 2008, the major bus routes ran through downtown North/South along the Bus Mall, which took up SW 5th & SW 6th avenues. The Red, Yellow and Blue lines all ran East/West through the downtown area, so the buses and the trains crossed. The Bus Mall was easy to navigate. The city was divided into four regions, each designated by an icon, and each block had a stop for two regions. This was quite handy in two ways. First of all, you could access all the buses that ran though the bus mall in the length of two-blocks. Secondly, if you lived in an area that was served by more than one bus, as I did when I lived close-in on Barbur Boulevard, you could stand at the bus stop serving your area and grab the first bus that came by.

The transit mall has changed all that. Because the Yellow and Green Max lines now run on the former "bus mall"--as do cars, which I really hate, but that is another post--Trimet has changed the "area" plan. The icons are gone, instead replaced by letters. I can never remember what letter I'm supposed to stand at. The stops are much, much further apart and it is harder now to catch multiple buses that go to one place. But the biggest problem of the new Transit mall? Shelter.

If you have heard of Portland, you might know that it rains a lot here. Sometimes, in the dead of winter, I think of Forrest Gump talking about the many different kinds of rain in Vietnam. It's a bit like that here, just minus the tropical setting. We have beautiful summers (July, August and September) but most of the year it's raining very hard, raining a little, or looking like it is going to rain. So when waiting for our famous public transit, it is very good to be out of the rain.

Here is a picture of the shelters that used to be along the bus mall. Notice the huge, overhanging lip. That's to keep the rain off. This is because the rain rarely falls straight down here, unless there is a downpour. Notice also the wooden bands around the outside and inside of the shelter. Those give someone something to lean on. When it is really rainy and the weather is blowing everywhere, there is also shelter inside. This inside shelter provided a place where you could stand, lean, and watch for your bus all at once. There were also a few seats to sit in, too. There were two of these per block, so everyone waiting for a bus had the option of shelter.
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Here's the block downtown in the new Transit Mall where I wait for my train. Do you see any shelter here? There actually is one, and you will see it a few photos from now, but it is so insubstantial as to not show up in this photo. The Max trains are one city block in length. In November 2009, Max had an average weekday boarding of 117,300 people. That's a large city getting on the Max every day. This stop is one of six northbound stops for the yellow and green lines. It's also right in between the east/west Red and Blue lines. A lot of people stand here waiting for a max train. Some of them are tired after a long day. Where are they supposed to sit? What can they lean against? Notice that gray building on the right? That's Pioneer Courthouse. It is a working federal courthouse.
Here's the sign on the fence around Pioneer Courthouse. The sign tells people not to sit on the historic stone wall. Yet this is also a place to wait for Max with little seating or places to lean. Guess what happens?
Here's a view from halfway down the block. Due to the lack of seating or sheltered leaning space, someone has taken respite on the ground. You can barely see the shelter in the background.
So here's what happens. That shelter--that would be the flat, glassed roofed thing on the left, has two seats and very few places to lean. So people sit on the stone wall.
A close up view of shelter. When the wind blows, where does the rain fly? Right into the "shelter." Because there is only one of these per Max stop, an entire city block worth of people have to take shelter in this tiny space. This is ridiculous, and not workable on a commuting day when it is raining.

In addition, the two (TWO!) seats provided are at an odd height. When I sit in them, my feet don't touch the ground unless I slump over as the woman in this picture is doing.
Many of the shelters have a vertical wall of glass on one side of them. But there is a gap between the top of the glass and the flat top of the roof. The rain and wind fly right in and there is nothing to lean against, except the glass itself. Who designed these? Did they have any knowledge of Portland weather patterns? Did they take into account any commuter preferences?

When the old shelters (one has been preserved and will be turned into a coffee shop) were pulled down to make way for the bus mall there was a lot of talk about the drug dealing that took place inside them. I've spent a lot of time waiting for buses in those shelters. I never once saw a drug deal. You know what I did have? A clear view of the bus, with places to sit and lean and protection from the rain. The current shelters say, "we have to give you something for protection from the weather, but we don't want you to be comfortable. We don't want to spend very much money on it, either."

Thanks Transit Mall. So far I don't like the "improvements" at all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Whip it.

Like the goldfish in the bowl, one thought kept reoccurring as I watched this movie: "Why can't they make more movies like this?" How often do we get to see a smart, articulate young woman work very hard for something she loves who is not a boy? Even Juliette Lewis didn't bug me, and I can't recommend this enough.

Bechdel score: two women: yes. Who talk to each other: yes! About something besides a man: YES!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

End of two trees

This tree and another one like it live down the street from me. They are old and clearly planted in a time when people didn't plan for where the power lines would go. So today seems to be their last day. I stood outside the Indian grocery watched the man in the tree remove a few limbs. It was rather hypnotic.

I felt a little sad for the trees, but not knowing anything about the situation, I didn't get too worked up. It must have been an interesting task to cut them down without also taking down the power lines.


A rare sight in my laundry journey. An empty laundry basket. I'm pretty good at doing laundry on a regular basis, so dirty laundry never really builds up. But clean laundry? Often times the laundry basket is holding the clean laundry waiting to be folded and put away as the dirty laundry is piling up in the closet in the space where the laundry basket goes. Interestingly, in the summer, when I can hang out the laundry to dry, I don't have any trouble putting away the clean laundry. I think it is because I can fold it as I am taking it off the line. The other problem I have is that in the winter time, I'm mostly headed for bed when the dryer buzzes. So I've moved past chore mode to rest mode.

Black pants.

Due to secret project that is upcoming, I've been videotaping and seeing myself live and on screen. What I've discovered? I really need new uniform pants. Like a lot. And quickly.

And here we go on the hunt for black pants that fit. I hate everything about this enterprise--the going to the store, the finding the black pants, which are always in six or seven different locations at the store, the dressing room mirrors which are always much too close to me, the having to bring two sizes of every brand because there is not standard sizing, the feelings of dissatisfaction with my body. Other things I hate about the process? Limits on the number of items you can bring in dressing rooms and store personnel who want to assist me. Thanks, I'd rather experience this disappointment and annoyance on my own. I avoid those last two by hitting Macy's first. They leave me alone and don't guard their dressing rooms.

At any rate, I managed to get myself to the store and through all those obstacles. I narrowed it down to two contenders. The Macy's brand which was okay and a pair of Calvin Klein pants that I loved how they felt but the larger size was just a bit too big and the smaller size was just a bit too small. Due to the not-quite right fit and the fact the Calvin Klein's were twice the price of the Macy's brand, I went with the cheaper option. The pants look great, but they are lacking in any pockets which would be a big problem at work if I didn't wear an apron to contain all the items needed for important Administrative Coordinator work.

One big check off for me today!

Some good cookin'

Due to my tardiness in posting, I can't really tell you why I have this picture of one of my meals. But I remember that squash was delicious and the cabbage is from my favorite way to cook salmon and the scrambled eggs are delightful any time, as is a crisp, fall apple.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kid-made signs

A trend in education that has more fully developed since I was a kid myself, is to let the children make signs and posters explaining things. At school we have kid made posters to explain our recycling system and classrooms usually use kid generated posters to explain topics they are studying. So of course, when a class has a fundraiser the students make the signs. This makes for some fabulous signs including this one where the child was suddenly transported back, syntax-wise, to the early 20th century:
Donate money
to Allegra's Class
in need for hobo's
homeless people
and more.

The sign stayed up for about a month and I giggled every time I read it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Three sentence movie reviews--Where the Wild Things Are.

I wanted to like this movie much more than I did. I think Spike Jones and Dave Eggers did a good job of making a perfect book into a movie, but I couldn't really get absorbed in the story. It was a very visually stunning movie, yet not engaging.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Director Park. Eh.

The beautiful Portland Park Blocks are split into two sections: the North Park Blocks and the South Park Blocks. The South Park Blocks start at PSU and run North past a number of churches, the PCPA, and the Schnitz where they run smack in to the Arlington Club. From there, there is a run of blocks of normal commercial development before the park picks up again just North of Burnside. Some people dream of demolishing all of those buildings and connecting the park blocks, which will most likely not happen in my lifetime. The park blocks don't really connect anyway, as the North Park Blocks are one block East of the South Park Blocks.

At any rate, awhile ago there was an open block that was being used as a parking lot and the powers that be got together and suddenly (actually it took a long time and was delayed for seemingly ever) there is a park where there once was a parking lot. So I bring you my review of Simon and Helen Director Park.

It looks better than a parking lot. But I think the scale is weird. The Southwest corner has a large awning type thing that is very very high and I think it makes the rest of the park look small. It looks like it is looming over the tiny people, ready to stomp on them. Interestingly, the picture of the artists rendering in the link above cuts off this structure almost entirely.
I do like the granite color they have chosen. However, I'm still distracted by the large sheet of glass, ready to cause mayhem above me. Aside from the height of the roof, the supporting beams seem too thin and thus out of scale.

Unlike Pioneer Courthouse Square, which really is Portland's Living Room, there also seem to be few places to sit. I think this makes the chances of the park becoming a cold, windswept plaza even more likely.

Here's the Teacher's Fountain in recognition of teachers "selfless and untiring efforts to inspire the hearts and minds of their students." Right now it looks like a granite ball. Yay. A ball. But perhaps that water in the artists rendering has something to do with it.

Here is a closer look at the out of proportion glass cover, with actual human people so you can get a sense of scale. The building on the left will be a restaurant of some sort.

In conclusion, I'm not immediately charmed by Director Park. We shall see if my view changes over time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Books read in October

A nice balance of fiction and nonfiction this month. I should check and see what my usual ratio is.


Toolbox for Sustainable City Living
Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew
A great book, not as friendly and chatty as "The Urban Homestead" but is required reading for anyone contemplating a gray water system. Also, good information about how to grow bugs, which your chickens (you do have chickens, don't you? Yeah, me neither.) love to eat.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith
I read this first at the end of my junior year of high school, at the same time I was realizing I liked a boy. It turned out he liked me back and this book has always been linked in my mind with that boy ever since. In a year of somewhat "eh" fiction offerings, I was eager to read it again. I most wanted to get to the part where Francie is an older teenager, on the cusp of her first relationship. That part of the book loomed large in my mind and this time through I was surprised to find what a tiny section of the book it is.

The other surprising thing was how much of the story was lodged in my subconscious. I can't tell you how many passages I read and thought, "Oh yes! That was in this book!" This is a great story, of course, how else would it be a classic novel? The writing sometimes can be a little Dick-and Jane-y, a bit pedantic. Due to the lack of italics, I also sometimes got confused as to if a character was talking or thinking. But I recommend this book because the story is such a wonderful one.

Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody
Mike Davis
The book section of the Oregonian recommended this to me and I missed the fact that it was a graphic novel. As I've said before, I'm not the biggest fan of the genre, and reading this I realized why. There are no paragraphs. Each picture has a sentence or two, but then my eye has to move a great expanse across the page to the next sentence. It is too choppy for me and there isn't enough description. I like description better than pictures.

But this book was okay. Davis and I are essentially the same age and I enjoyed his connecting Queen songs to various points in his live as well as following Wham!, his sister's favorite group. In my opinion, the book should have ended long before it did, the final 20 pages felt very tacked on.

The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls
I found this story very readable--it took me less than a weekend to finish it. Walls' descriptions are clear and the portrait of her family life is very well painted. Aside from that, halfway through the book I found myself getting impatient. Just as Dan Brown engineers each two-page chapter to end in a "dum, dum, dum" cliff hanger, so I found that every vignette in this book ended in a way that seemed to be manufactured for the liberal middle-class reader to think some form of "oh, those poor children!" or "what irresponsible parents!" or "how did they ever survive?"

Reading the book, I am amazed that not only did Jeannette Walls escape the situation she was born to, but that of the four children, three because productive citizens. There is a lot to discuss upon finishing this book: nature vs. nurture; the role of citizens to interfere in family life; what choices make sense for parents to make for their children; how we treat children who come from different situations; which parent was more to blame. This would be a good reading group selection and I am surprised my edition did not include the reading group questions I find at the end of so many of the books I read.

The Cactus Eaters
Dan White
There isn't much for me to say after finishing Dan White's chronicle of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. There were a few "read out loud" passages, especially describing nerds and drug use on pages 200-201, but I mostly found this book "fine." I read it, I finished it, I judged him perhaps too harshly for his post-trail decline and that was that. I heard about this book through the Multnomah County Library's blog An Embarrassment of Riches. Here is part of what Tama had to say:

So far it’s the funniest book of my still new summer reading season. I’ve forced friends and loved ones to listen to entire paragraphs. The other day I was laughing so hard it actually made my son pause Lego Star Wars II to ask if I was ok. I couldn’t wait to finish it yet I was sad when I did, and in my world that is the sign of an excellent book.

High praise indeed and the reason I put it on the list. However, while I found parts of the story amusing I don't think I ever actually laughed out loud. Though there may have been a few snorts.

So, read it, don't read it. It's all the same to me.

Henry IV part II
William Shakespeare
Good god, but this was boring.

The Birth of Venus
Sarah Dunant
An intriguing premise (dead pious 16th c. nun discovered with large tattoo of snake on her body.) An interesting time (Florence during the end of Lorenzo de Medichi's life and with a fiery catholic priest making trouble.) A girl who just wants to paint. How does she end up the pious nun? How does that tattoo get on her body? Read and discover!

Started but did not finish
Edible Forest Gardens Vol I
Dave Jacke
Very textbook-y,and I mean that in a nice way. I would have finished this, but it is very thorough, and others at the library are in line behind me. This is permaculture for the east coast of the United States, which works better for me than permaculture for Australia. I'll reserve this again, and am contemplating buying it.

Poem for October: To Be of Use

Because Marge Piercy is still alive, and I'm concerned about copyright, I will link to the poem. Find it here:

I found this poem by flipping through the readings in the back of the UU hymnal one Sunday in late September. I needed a poem for October and the last two stanzas were a responsive reading. Memorizing it wasn't too hard, though Piercy is very precise in her words and I wanted to be doubly sure I would get each phrase right. I'm having trouble with actually remembering to include the third stanza, I want to jump straight from the "mud" to the "work of the world," bypassing the fields entirely. This is even though I love saying "parlor generals and field deserters" and the image of work done in common rhythm.

I also enjoy the lines about everyday work vessels being put in museums. Sometimes, when looking at something historical on display, I like to imagine all the hands that have touched said item, through its long history.

Marge Piercy has a few of her poems excerpted as readings in our hymnal. And she wrote one of my top five books of all time (Gone to Soldiers.) I expect we will be seeing her again.

Three sentence movie reviews--American Zombie

Were I elected president, I believe my first act--after passing a resolution to encourage more production and consumption of the vegetable kale--would be to pass a law limiting mockumentries to a maximum run time of 45 minutes, based on the fact that the joke gets old after that point. This movie would have benefited tremendously from this legislation as it had a good premise, but just kept going on and on and on. I got bored.

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Three sentence movie reviews--MST3K's Werewolf

If you only see one MST3K* movie in your lifetime, let this be the one. Some of the humor is dated (mid 9os) but I have not laughed so hard in years. The following make this movie so bad it's good: bad hair, incredibly bad acting, uneven story line, awful continuity, and the unintelligible English spoken by a pretty, but not understandable, actress.

I can't help myself, here is Julian Kennedy's review from IMDB:
Werewolf: 2 out of 10: Wow, this is a classic mess. First off, it “stars” Joe Estevez. Yes, Martin Sheen’s brother. Star of some of the worst films ever made. (A shocking 191 films according to his IMDb page with a discouraging 13 still waiting to be released.) Maybe one of the reasons he can star in so many films is that he only works for a few days at a time. In Werewolf, he disappears without explanation a third of the way through the film and was barely in the movie to begin with. However, I guess when your cast consists of non-English speaking Eurotrash, Estevez seems like a draw.

Speaking of the rest of the cast, we have Jorge Rivero whose hair changes every scene and is the most interesting character in the film (The hair not Jorge). Richard Lynch who plays the male lead with all the charisma of soggy toast. Adrianna Miles who I thought was two different actresses. (One character lives in the house with the gun toting Santa Claus where she types in panties. The other character has never been to the house and lusts after Lynch.) Turns out the script was more confused than I and it is the same girl.

Adrianna Miles is certainly attractive and has those nice deer in headlight eyes but her grasp of the English language is tenuous at best and she simply cannot wrap her lips around the word werewolf. (It comes out wahr-wil, wahrwilf, wearwaollf etc) Speaking of confusing, the “werewolf” appears as a large bear, a broken bat puppet, an elderly version of teen wolf (driving a compact car no less), and something else from the depths of cinematic hell. At no time does it actually look like a werewolf. I could go on for hours (The moon stays full through the entire picture we are talking two weeks in a row minimum.) But I will let Mike and the Bots take over.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 10 episode 4: 10 out of 10: This is simply one of the best riffing jobs Mike and the bots have ever accomplished. Obviously, this is the only way to see the film.

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