Thursday, February 28, 2013

Books read in February 2012

I've joined a new book group which is going to send my month totals higher than they have been lately.  It's a book group consisting mostly of people who are Youth Librarians at the Multnomah County Library.  Every month or so they circulate a list of picture/children's/young adult books and then they get together and discuss them.  My favorite librarian friend mentioned I might enjoy this.  Would I?  You betcha'!  So my total this month is back up to eight, but three of those were picture books and went by quickly.

I, too, am America
Langston Hughes
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Read for Youth Librarian Book Group
I enjoyed the illustrations of this poem, and even more so when I read the note from the illustrator afterward.

Ellen's Broom
Kelly Starling Lyons
Read for Youth Librarian Book Group
One of the things I loved about being a history major was finding out little details from the past.  The author seems to have the same enjoyment because this book is based on a little bit of history she found: a list of former slave couples who were finally able to really marry once they were free.  In this book, Ellen tells the story of her parents who were first married by jumping the broom, but after freedom were able to walk to the courthouse and make it official.  Illustrated with lovely woodcut illustrations.

Terry Pratchett
Read for Youth Librarian Book Group
I loved this tale of the Artful Dodger as a teenager.  The book was lush with Victorian London details.  There was also fun slang and interesting characters, some taken from history, some taken from fiction.  Overall, it was a delight.

Love's Winning Plays
Inman Majors
My library branch (the most excellent Kenton Library) had a "blind date with a book" display and I took this one home mostly because the two hearts on it said "Romance" and "College Football." Intrigued, I tore open the wrapping and dove into a very funny tale of a Graduate Assistant Football Coach at a big football-centric state school in the South.  It did indeed provide me with both romance and college football and also enough laughs that I disturbed the boyfriend while he was taking a GRE practice test.

10 Little Indians
Sherman Alexie
Read for Kenton Book Group
Enjoyable stories about many different kinds of Indians.  This was the 2013 Everybody Reads selection of the Multnomah County Library and I found it (refreshingly) racier than the usual choices.  The stories were funny in places and sad in places and I greatly enjoyed reading them. 

The Leftovers
Tom Perrotta
A ticket-seller at Portland Center Stage gave this an "okay" review and thus I took my time getting around to read it.  I think he was spot on.  It was interesting to examine how different people deal with a good chunk of the population just disappearing, poof, into thin air. But it was not incredibly gripping.  A solid book, "good effort" is the rating I give.

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog
Kitty Burns Floey
A short book full of the author's love for diagramming sentences. As a child, I cried through most of my sentence diagramming units, but as an adult I want to have enjoyed the process.

Electric Ben
Robert Byrd
Read for Youth Librarian Book Group
History of Ben Franklin with each two-page spread covering a different period of his life.  Ben Franklin's quotes are sprinkled throughout the book and also included on both inside covers.  It was interesting to realize how many of our sayings come from Mr. Franklin.

Art Building

I've sensed a pattern.  Outside supports start to go up and the exterior of the next story is finished a day or so later.  Light shines through the windows of the newest floor.  Then the next level's ceiling/floor must appear and block the light, as it has with the second floor.  After that, the process repeats itself.  The building is going up fast now, and I suspect that after they hit the final floor, it will seem like a lot of nothing is happening, because I won't be able to see most of what's going on.

Yesterday, when I took the picture, the flagger said, "Hey! Take a picture of me!"  So today I did.  He's quite nice and will usually stop traffic when we cross the street for recess.  He's like our own crossing guard.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Art Building. Third floor creeping up.

I like how the next floor starts with braces.  If you look closely, you can see how there is a construction stairway outside the building which is climbing from the first floor to the second floor.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fuller's Coffee Shop

Fuller's is a coffee shop located near where I work.  They make their own bread and jam and probably a lot of other things.  The waitresses are of the "hon" variety.  Everyone sits at the counter, because there are no booths.  They don't take credit cards, their menus are laminated standard diner fare and you can buy rolls of mints and candy bars at the counter.  They open at six AM, god love 'em.  They are old-school all the way, the Pearl District before it was the Pearl District.  Fuller's is a restaurant that delights me.

Somewhere along the way, someone created an iconic drawing of people sitting at the counter.  The original hangs on the wall of the restaurant, and the drawing has migrated to shirts, including the shirts the staff wears.  Today, walking by after they had closed, I caught one of the employees sitting at the counter, wearing the shirt picturing people sitting at the counter.  Beautiful.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

More fun from the Parade Magazine

If you don't want to make any chair a cozy one, perhaps instead you need a magic pancake pan?
I think my favorite part of the ad says "You can make: French Toast, Grilled Cheese, Eggs Over Easy, Crepes and more!"

Then, there was a short article on a new film about the Bible.  Read this excerpt and guess what my favorite part is:

Did you guess this:  "Adds Roma Downey, 52, who plays Mary, 'We wanted the audience to think, 'I know these people.'"
Well, Roma Downey, I can't say I knew Mary, but I can say that she sure as hell wasn't FIFTY-TWO YEARS OLD when she gave birth to Jesus.

Seriously, is anyone in Hollywood sane?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Where were these nine years ago?

When I wanted to start keeping a five-year diary (one page per day, four lines per year, five years on each page) I looked everywhere for one, including Powell's and the Internet.  Nothing really worked, so I made my own.  What does Powell's have today on their shelves? More than five different kinds.
This one looked promising.
I know someone who would like this one.

I've still got the rest of 2013 and all of 2014 to finish my current diary, but I'm tempted to buy one of these and hold it in reserve, just in case the drought returns at the end of 2014.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Essay: 2/21/13

It seems my class has overtaken my spare time and there will be no more essays until March 21.  Them's the breaks.

Postcard from Poland

My second postcard has arrived.  It included a great quote by Oscar Wilde: "Never fear shadows, for shadows only mean there is a light shining somewhere near by."

I plugged the Polish statement into Google Translate and it said, "not embrace."  I am further translating that as "no hugs."

Good Old General Corn Wallis

The fourth and fifth graders are studying US History.  They are getting better at typing, but haven't hit 100% on proofreading yet.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

House and lot.

I've had my eye on this house since I moved to the neighborhood because it's right by downtown Kenton, plus it's a tiny house on a huge lot.  It looked like old people lived there and I worried they would die or move before I could buy it from them.  I could do a lot with a lot that size, even with that big tree plopped in an inauspicious place.

Sadly, the house went on the market in September and sold pretty quickly.  And there are suspicious signs that the huge lot will soon be no more and there will be a tiny house on a tiny lot and a huge new infill house on what was once the rest of the lot.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Postcard from Germany

I had planned to write an essay about why is so incredibly cool.  Then I would post this essay before I got my first postcard.  But life intervened and my first postcard has arrived.  So here is the short version of why is so incredibly cool.

You go to and you register by picking a username, giving the site your address and perhaps uploading a picture.  Then you tell the site that you want to send a postcard. The site kicks out an address from somewhere in the world and also gives you a code to put on your postcard.  You read the profile, pick out a postcard you think the person would like, write, address, stamp and add the code.  Then you mail it and wait.  Because the waiting is the hardest part, Postcrossing lets you send up to five postcards at a time.  When the person receives your postcard, they will upload your code and add a quick message to you via the site.  This will be delivered by a cheery email that says "Hurray!  Your postcard has been received." Then, the site puts you next on the list to receive a postcard from a random person somewhere on the globe.

It's the best combination of  postal service mail and email/website I've ever seen.

Here's my first card, from the Black Forest region of Germany.

The best part was getting it.  The second best part was that Matt read it aloud to me in German-accented English.

Should you want to participate in this wonderful invention, just go to  And then eagerly await as your mail becomes so much more exiting.

Art Building. Second Floor. Going up.

And a blue sky day as well.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Three sentence movie reviews: The Vow

This is my favorite Channing Tatum movie, as well as a very good movie in general and here is why.  I like that no one is the hero, no one is the villain,  no one person in the relationship is more right than the other person.  It's probably the most true portrayal of a relationship I've seen on screen.

Care to quibble?  Use the comment section.

The poster, however, is hideous.
Poster from:

Essay: Lost essays.

Here’s to the essays that never made it onto paper. Or into a Word document.  Here’s to the stray thoughts that formulated themselves into outlines, sentences, even some full paragraphs.  Here’s to the ideas that were bandied about between friends, but occurred at times it was too inconvenient to pull out paper and pencil or sit down in front of the computer and write.

Making a point of writing one essay per week means many more of those thoughts, sentences and paragraphs do make it into essay forms, but not nearly all of them.  It is not unusual for me to be declaiming about a topic and say, “I’m going to write an essay about this!” which for me is a way of saying, “I’m going to take my ball and go home.” Essays often seem like the best way to have the last word on a topic.  It’s also a way to say that the topic at hand is important, it deserves to have ideas parsed, sentences written, and paragraphs formed and edited.

So here’s to essay topics that were once close at hand, and their moment has passed.  Let’s take a moment to recognize:

MPAA ratings, the primary system and the Electoral College.  Why we are stuck with them forever.  This was the first topic I put on my “Essay Ideas” document in my computer.  It was during, you guessed it, the primary race, when I was frustrated once again, at being disenfranchised by the late date of our primary.  Both the MPAA ratings system and the Electoral College have bugged me for years, the former because it’s so arbitrary and has a bigger problem with sexuality (especially female sexuality) than it does with violence, the latter because it is a disenfranchising force enshrined in our Constitution.  All three of them will never, ever change because the amount of momentum required to reform them is nearly impossible to muster.

Anna v. O’Brien.  Watching the first season of Downtown Abby got me thinking about the personality differences between the housemaid and the lady’s maid.  Then I started comparing their personalities to my own. I came out more on the O’Brien side and that pretty much killed any interest I had in shaping that topic into an essay.

Intimate Theater and NWCTC.  About the time I began writing essays, NPR had a story about intimate theater.  They were reporting about really cutting edge stuff like one person sitting in the back of a cab with the actor and experiencing the performance that way.  It got me thinking about one of the reasons I love Northwest Classical Theatre Company so much, namely because the audience is so close to the actors.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Nora Ephron.  I was deep in the midst of writing other things when Nora Ephron died, which meant she was added to the “idea” list, but I lost the momentum of the shock of her death.  But Nora Ephron was a seminal figure in my adolescence and she deserves a full-form essay.  I’ll leave her on the list and hope someday I get around to giving her a proper tribute.

With that, I bid those topics, and many others who didn’t even make it to list, goodbye for now.  Thank you, ideas, for infiltrating my head and thank you for giving me something to think about.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Take home a romantic surprise.

Look at this juicy display at the Kenton Library.  Just in time for Valentine's Day.
How can you have a blind date with a book?  The library's new check-out system reads signal from a chip, so there is no need to unwrap your book to scan a bar code.
I took home a likely candidate.  Romance!  College football!!!

Colors, prints, you CAN have it all

Oh people walking downtown.  You delight me, at times.  This is one of those times.

Art building. Not much visible.

Nothing much has happened, but it felt like it had been awhile, so I took a picture.  Later in the day I realized there was a new cinder block wall on the right hand side of the picture.  But we're holding steady with the first floor, at least from where I can see. 

Are they in cahoots? Or just not very creative?

Have the advertising departments at Fred Meyer (ad on the left) and New Seasons (ad on the right) outsourced their design process to the exact same guy in China?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What will I think is neat when I'm 80?

I love the Parade Magazine and its crappy products targeted to old people.  I would like to say that I can't believe people actually buy this stuff, but I know they do.  My favorite part of the ad?  "For Chairs and Wheelchairs"  Yipee!

Micro SD Macro packaging.

That little black thing on the right is what I was after when I started opening the package.  It took a bit of work, but I was eventually rewarded.  When I look at its tiny size and its 8 GB of storage I think back to my first flash drive in 2004 with its amazing 56k of storage space.  Good times.

Three sentence movie reviews: The Broken Hearts Club

Yet another, "why not?" selection from the library, which seems to carry a goodly number of films with our gay and lesbian friends as subjects.  Aside from the absolutely hideously stereotyped token lesbian couple, I enjoyed this just fine.  It didn't really break ground on any fronts, but it was a good way to spend a cold, rainy afternoon.

Cost:  free from library
Where watched: at home.

poster from:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Who is using the cornbread mix?

Today I spied in the recycling bin multiple boxes of spent Jiffy Cornbread mix.

The recycling bin was equidistant between a daycare center and a soul food restaurant.  Who was the consumer of this packaged product?

Singles! We think you are totally stupid.

There are many reasons to be happy I am in a relationship, but today's reason is that I don't have to take this dreck personally.  Really?  Texting can create misunderstandings in the dating game?  I had no idea.

And this incredibly annoying advice that completely plays into gender roles:

Allow me to translate:
Women!  Uncross those arms!  Only the manly men are allowed to tuck their hands into their sides!
Women!  If you don't turn toward your date, he won't know you are interested!  This implies that 1)men are not responsible for assuring their dates they are interested or 2) guys always turn their shoulders toward women when they talk.
Women!  If you talk to much to your lady friends, how is the guy ever supposed to know you like him?
Women!  Don't forget that you must smile because that's your job!
Women!  Be sure to touch him a lot.
Men!  Nothing ain't going to happen unless you take the lead.
Men!  Did you hear us about taking the lead? No?  Well we are saying it again so you hear it this time.
Men!  We only had two things for you to do so we will say something inane about texting here to kind of even the advice out.

The thing is, this is all good advice for both genders.  I don't see why it has to specify one over the other.

Three sentence movie reviews: Side Effects

This movie was chock full of great acting by Rooney Mara and Jude Law* and a twisty, turn-y plot that I advise you to do your best not to discover any part of before you enter the theater.  Immediately after the movie I wasn't quite sure how I felt due to the many plot twists, but after lively discussion with the movie-going companion of the day, I decided I liked it.  I don't really want to think that Mr. Soderbergh will really stop making movies, but if so, this was a good one to end with.

Where watched:  Regal City Center Stadium 12
Cost:  Free, thanks to the generous folks at Pike Schemes.

poster from:

*sadly, Mr. Tatum's performance was awful due to massive amounts of jaw-clenching (he's regressed, just when he was doing so well) and declaim-off-of-cue-cards-type acting.  Catherine Zeta-Jones was also painful to watch.  That said, this was still a good movie.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bob Dylan's secret love child?

I think Jason Schwartzman and Bob Dylan look nothing alike, but there they were, sitting right next to each other at New Seasons, working the sensitive man eyebrows. I had to wonder.

Essay: Due for a broader discussion: PERS

Opening disclaimer.  One of my aunts is a PERS retiree and I am a current member of PERS, though I am in the “third tier” and will not be receiving the same benefits as my predecessors.  As an employee of an educational nonprofit required to pay into PERS, I also know how much my company pays for PERS each month.

If you live in Oregon and are a regular reader of the Oregonian, you know that PERS is a topic of conversation.  The Oregonian’s editorial board seems to have made PERS reform a main topic of editorials and the governor has built his proposed budget assuming that the reforms he has proposed will be passed and will hold up to court challenges.

If you don’t live in Oregon or pay attention to the news, PERS is the Public Employee’s Retirement System.  The whole PERS system is fairly complex and I don’t have a complete handle on how things came about* but essentially, state workers traded off higher pay in the 70s and 80s for what pretty much everyone refers to as a very generous pension.  Things were fine until the economy started to tank in the late 90s/early 2000s.  When that happened, the gap between what PERS was taking in and what PERS was currently and would be paying out in the future became quite worrisome.  So the legislature passed some reforms.  As part of those refoms, there are now three tiers of PERS employees.  General wisdom is that Tier I employees (pre-1996 hires) have it really great, Tier II have it great and Tier III (my people) have a different plan, though at least one financial advisor has told me is still a good plan.

The governor has two plans to reform PERS.  The first is to eliminate the extra pay that PERS retirees living outside the state get to pay their Oregon taxes.  People living in other states do not pay Oregon taxes, of course, so I’m all for this plan.

The second plan I think needs a lot more discussion.  Currently, cost-of-living (COLA) increases of two percent per year are automatic for everyone.  The governor wants to make COLA increases automatic for the first $24,000 of benefits, but benefits above $24,000 would not receive a COLA.  According to the governor and the PERS actuary, this plan “would reduce required employer contributions to the pension system by $810 million every two years.”**

As someone who enters the amounts my company pays to PERS, I see how troubling the employer contributions are.  Aside from paying into PERS for the employees—these amounts are based on the salary of each employee—we must also pay an additional amount so the system remains solvent.  This contribution is already best termed as “hefty”, in fact it is nearly equal to the 6% the employes put into PERS and the 6% the company puts into PERS.  This amount (it’s called the UAL) is slated it increase by 50% in July unless another solution is found.

Because I see how much my employer pays every month and how the increasing UAL amount affects our budget, the potential $810 million savings sounds like a very good thing.  But I also feel conflicted, because to me, it feels like changing the way the COLA is figured and only applying it to part of a pension is going back on a promise that was made to state employees.

Most workers in the United States today do not have pensions.  They have mostly been replaced by a 401k system.  401k’s are systems that are much cheaper for companies to run and, as a memorable Time Magazine article outlined a few years ago*** the 401k system does not really work for retiring employees unless the stock market is booming when they retire.  Also, even if there is a pension, some companies go out of business, some raid the employee pension fund, and others do all sorts of shoddy things to their employees’ future retirement benefits.  I believe the move away from a pension system to a defined contribution system is a win for companies and a very large loss for the average worker.

PERS benefits are generous yes.  Not every PERS retiree is making bank like that damn U of O football coach**** and most are living on reasonable, if generous, pensions.  But often when people talk about generous pensions they grumble that “most people” don’t have that and so people with more benefits have to sacrifice.  However, this attitude discounts the tradeoffs that employees made year after year, taking smaller salaries in trade for a generous pension.  Changing the terms of the pension after a person has retired seems dishonest to me, and the argument that PERS retirees have it good and others don’t so they should have to pay seems to be petty and small.

I think the debate that is happening now is “PERS is in trouble, PERS retirees have it good, therefore PERS retirees should have it less good”  But I think the question that we should be asking is, “is it okay to change the terms of a retirement contract after someone has worked for years under that contract?”  If the answer is no, then we need to find some other way to pay for PERS.

One PERS retiree recently wrote a letter to the editor***** pointing out that no one has ever done a survey asking PERS retirees what they think is fair.  I liked her point.  If PERS retirees are fine with COLA being capped with the first $24,000, then great.  Maybe they have other ideas too.  PERS is a complex issue and deserves a broader debate than what is happening right now. It’s more complex then “they have it good, they need to pay” and it’s tougher than “I paid my dues and I deserve every penny” and it’s very hard to come up with answer to this revenue problem.   But I think with more conversation, we can.

*One summer I planned to fully research and understand PERS so I could write a simple guide for people.  I never did this, but wish I had.

**”Oregonian Department of Justice offers possible legal arguments to reform Oregon's Public Employee Retirement System.”  Ted Sickinger February 6, 2013

*** I don’t have a citation and I’m not going to look one up because I write these essays for free.  But there was an article.  It struck fear in my heart.

****His pension makes my blood boil.  But he played by the system and completely won.

*****Again, cursory searching has not turned up said letter.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The debut of the new skirt.

It occurs to me, as I write this post, that I was planning to do a big write-up about the genesis of the skirt and then post the completed picture.  But I forgot to do that, so that will be coming later.  In the meantime, I made this skirt!

 I'm holding an iron while I model it, because I find modeling rather awkward.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Three sentence movie reviews: Beginners

You know when you think you know how a movie is going to go and then it doesn't and it's kind of disconcerting and then hard to regain your equilibrium?  That was this movie for me.  Once I found my footing, I greatly enjoyed it, for it was a pretty movie to look at and a sweet movie to watch.

Cost:  free from library
Where watched:  at home.

poster from:
Repeating the actors on the poster annoys me.