Friday, May 30, 2008

another gemini birthday

I've written about my dad here once before, on this day (his birthday) last year. He would have been 93 years old today.

Today also marks the first birthday of this blog. Is that a coincidence? Not really. Dad was a big influence in my life. We shared similar temperaments and interests, like Tom Clancy and Alistair MacLean novels, minor league baseball and Dinty Moore's beef stew. (Although I don't usually admit to the beef stew thing...and it's been years since I've opened a can of the stuff-I swear!)

When I was a kid, my parents used to take my little sister and I out on Long Island to watch polo on the weekends, and afterwards we'd go to a place called Patrick's Pub for brunch. I'm pretty sure it was an excuse for Dad to eat exotic foods like blood sausage and eggs for breakfast. I don't recall what my mom ate, but I do remember my parents drinking Bloody Marys, and that Patrick made one hell of a Shirley Temple.

Dad was a writer with a degree in journalism from NYU, where he met my mom (also a journalism student). Most of his career was spent as an editor for various newspapers, some famous, and some not. He was highly regarded by his compatriots for his editing skills and mastery of the English language.

Early on, after a stint in the Army on The Stars and Stripes, he worked at a daily newspaper called "PM" with such luminaries as Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Suess), photographers Margaret Bourke White and Arthur Fellig ("Weegee"), as well as many other well-known writers of the day.

By the time I was born (kid number 4 of 5) he had settled in as an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer for a few years, and confined his extracurricular writing to penning witty letters to family and friends all over the world.

So today, in honor of Dad's birthday, I'll raise a toast (not a Bloody Mary, but his other drink of choice: a Screwdriver) and re-read his old letters, a yearly tradition.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

what's in your front yard: odd balls

I've always had a thing for art created with everyday objects used out of context...and a few years ago, I repurposed Matt and Caitie's old bowling balls in the garden. Dave didn't exactly see eye to eye with me on the "sculptural" interpretation I took. I think he thought it was a little weird, but went along with it, although he did firmly institute a ban on bowling pins as sculpture.
Lately, I've been gleefully pointing out examples of this spherical art form popping up in other gardens all over the place:

I'm thinking about stealing the bowling ball as fountain idea.

Dave took this one himself in California.

Here's one from a place in Bend, Oregon called the Funny Farm. (photo by TinaTwice)

This one in our garden seems kinda tame after looking at
a bowling ball tree, doesn't it?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

happy birthday, Smead

I've been thinking about my brother Jim a lot today, on what would have been his 65th birthday. I've always loved the month of May. Our extended family is full of Geminis: Jim, my Dad, Dave, his dad, my nephew Seamus, two former brothers in law (Tom and Tommy), and almost every one of them male, except for my friend Suzie (the first girl Gemini I'd ever met). I can't help thinking there must be some reason I'm surrounded by so many of them...I have to admit, there's never a dull moment when there's a Gemini or two around.

Anyway, I've been thinking about my big brother a lot today. He was a teenager when I was born, and always seemed more like a grownup than a sibling to me when I was a little kid. By the time I was four or five, he was already in college, and when I was nine, he shipped out for India with the Peace Corps. He married there and had a child, and brought his wife and daughter back to NYC to live with the family in Queens. After a long, incredibly cold and very uncomfortable NY winter, my homesick sister in law returned to India with my niece, ending the marriage, and it would be more than thirty years before he saw them again.
He moved to San Francisco and remarried, starting Duck Soup, a moving and hauling business. When Elmo, his beloved and bedraggled pickup truck finally threw in the towel, Jim turned to driving a Yellow cab to support his growing family.

Jim was a talented musician, able to pick up practically any instrument and make it sing, and was known to break out his accordion with very little encouragement. He was a lover of baseball, photography, humor and writing, and corresponded with our dad for years under the pseudonym "Smead" to Dad's "J.R. Tincup". I remember so many things about him...too many to go into now. I miss him more than I can say. So for now I'll simply say: Happy Birthday, Smead.

Monday, May 19, 2008

why do I even bother?

Ever notice how sometimes the most mundane household chores turn into ludicrously complicated and nearly insurmountable tasks? Simple things. Like, oh, for instance, painting. The basement stairs. It should be easy, right? Not too involved. Vacuum. Wash. Maybe sand a bit. Paint. Done.
Not so fast, sucka!

Around here, it gets a wee bit more complicated. First, I have to consider that Caitie lives in the basement. Second, the door to the backyard is on the landing to the basement. This means there is regular traffic on the stairs, so any painting has to be done after all traffic ceases for the evening, which is generally around midnight or later. That doesn't leave a very big window right there.

Then, there are all the other little things to think about, such as: which way do I paint? If I start at the top and work my way down, (the easiest and most obvious choice) I'd be trapped in the basement all night, unless I'm willing to climb through a window, which I'm not. If I start at the bottom and work my way up, you can imagine, it can be a difficult balancing act.

Finally, there's the problem of the drifting dust bunnies and tumbleweeds made of dog hair. No matter how thoroughly I vacuum, by the time I've washed the surface and let it dry and start to paint, the hair is back! On that point I've given up...I just think of the hair as texture now.

So this weekend, when I realized Caitie would be away for a few days, I thought I'd seize the opportunity and get the job done. I vacuumed thoroughly, washed (scoured) the stairs, and let all the animals out one last time for a pee and late night romp, and assessed the situation. I painted from the landing to the bottom, leaving a trail about 6" wide on the top few stairs as a path to get out, then balanced precariously on those spots to paint out the trail behind me as I ascended. It was a little tricky, and I only got paint on my ass once while backing up the stairs...and did I mention I was in my pajamas?

The next part of the plan involved placing a baby gate at the very top of the stairs so nobody could violate the fresh paint while it was drying overnight, then painting my way down to the landing and out the back door. I could then reenter the house through the front door. There used to be a gate, complete with hardware, at the top of the stairs, but it had become redundant when we put a gate across the lower stairs. I decided to improvise by wedging a gate across the top step as a temporary barrier. We've learned that the dogs are so used to the barriers that they don't even bother to test them anymore. We could probably make a gate out of crepe paper at this point and it would be an adequate deterrent. (What can I say? They're not the brightest bulbs in the pack.) The cats, however, are another matter entirely...I'm pretty sure you can guess what happened next:

Needless to say, just as I was painting myself out the back door, the gate game crashing down, followed (or maybe preceded by) one crazed long-haired cat bouncing off the wet stairs, the wall, and then leaping over me and shooting out the back gate into the night. When I was done cursing like a longshoreman and wiping the paint off my back, I went to look for him so I could wash him off before the paint dried (a foolhardy venture, best not attempted sober), but he was nowhere to be found. Until the next morning, that is. He came sauntering in for breakfast as if nothing had happened, his butt and paws and chin and tail covered with dried paint embedded with leaves and all manner of stuff from under the porch where he had obviously spent the night...

He left me with no other choice but to break out the scissors.

Friday, May 16, 2008

slamming head first into summer

It's hot.
Spring in Oregon is usually mild and cool and very, very rainy. I'm beginning to think Mother Nature has gone off her medication. She can't seem to decide if it's winter, fall, spring, or summer. I've stopped reading the weather reports, because the highly trained meteorologists don't seem to be able to distinguish a warm front from a hole in the ground.

Another thing about spring here is how fast everything grows. One day it's bleak and cold and gray, and the next thing you know, the daffodils are waving their cheery little yellow heads in the breeze.  The grass needs mowing every 3 or 4 days, and I just can't seem to keep up.
Here's what the lawn looked like after I mowed a swath at the highest setting today:

Here's another shot for scale:

Ahhh, Summer. We missed you!

Monday, May 12, 2008

was gravity extra strong today, or what?

Matt and Caitie and their friend Sean came over and cooked a great dinner for me yesterday. Chicken breasts with sauteed peppers and onions and topped with smoke gouda cheese, grilled asparagus, a mixed green salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries and toasted pine nuts, and a mountain of cheesy garlic smashed potatoes. (Do we sense a cheese theme, here?) Then for dessert, the yummiest Euro-trash dessert: crescent rolls stuffed with chocolate chips and Nutella, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Dave arranged the flowers and contributed moral support and clean up for the cooks, while I kicked back with a bottle glass of Oregon's finest pinot noir from this vineyard.

The dinner was served with more wine, (see the cocktail napkin card Caitie made me at the bar after church?) and finished up with a locally made blackberry port.

I was moving very slooooooowly all day today. Was it a high gravity day, or what?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

happy mother's day

Here's my mom shortly after Mother's Day in 1943...she's holding the first of her five children: my brother, Jim. She's 22 years old. Miss you, Mom. Thanks for everything.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

about those baby gates...

Living in a gated community isn't all it's cracked up to be. I always assumed the gates were there to keep the "undesirable elements" out, not the other way around...Oh, wait, maybe I'm really living in some kind of asylum, and they just tell me that to keep me quiet. I get it now.

Four years ago we adopted a couple of puppies. From the same litter. I know, all the experts say not to, and for lots of reasons: they may have sibling rivalry and end up killing each other, or they may become so bonded with each other, that they hardly notice anyone else exists (except maybe if that person has treats), or simply because it's much harder to try and train two puppies at the same time. Maybe all of the above. I know all that now. It just would have been easier if I'd known that then.
But they were just so darn cute! And full of mischief. Don't let that cuteness fool you. The biggest problem is that they're mostly Labrador, or maybe goat. They'll eat anything and everything, without a split second's hesitation. So, like the paranoid experienced parents we were, we baby-proofed the house. Everything edible went on a high shelf or in a cupboard. We gave them lots of safe toys to chew to keep them occupied. We crate trained them so that we, I could actually sleep at night knowing they'd be safe. And we barricaded various rooms of the house with baby gates to keep them out of trouble. The one thing we seem to have failed at so far, is to actually train them not to steal food off the kitchen counters, or eat the cat food, or root through the garbage. So, almost four years later, we're still living in a gated community.

This gate blocks the basement stairs. It keeps the dogs out of Caitie's suite, and from going through all the stuff in the storage area. The cats can get under it...also, the litter box resides in the basement. Mmm. A delicacy to most dogs.

<-- This gate blocks off the upstairs. It serves a dual purpose. It keeps the hell hounds downstairs, and it allows the two younger cats to have access to an unlimited amount of food, (because they're active and fit, and need the calories) unlike Maizy, the cat pictured above, who's on a diet, and is too fat to jump over the gate to get at the food (maybe she's part goat, too). Which brings me to the last of the inside gates: the all-important kitchen barriers. We fashioned these out of leftover picket fence sections bought to surround the Christmas tree when the evil twins were just pups (and only just became trustworthy on their third Christmas). When we installed these gates, the kitties could all jump easily through the slats until one day, a certain chubby kitty (and not the one named Mr. Chubbs) got stuck between the slats in a, shall we say compromising position? Think of Winnie the Pooh getting stuck in the hole with the honey pot, but imagine two giant black dogs sniffing his butt, and you get the picture... So Dave took pity on the poor dear, and after helping her get unstuck, cut a larger hole to accommodate her girth.
Sigh...the things we do for our kids!

For more tales from this zoo also known as Camp Cactus, check out my other blog, Dietary Indiscretions,
where I'll start posting about their exploits this next week.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

how not to reorganize a bookcase

Ever get fed up with something in your house, and think "I can't stand this another *#@% minute!"?
Well, I'm kind of famous for getting an idea on the spur of the moment, and starting a project, like, RIGHT NOW.

The other day, I walked into the front hall and took a long, hard look at the built-in bookcases flanking the window. The bookcases covered with hippie fabric I bought on sale years ago at this place in San Francisco.

The very same bookcases crammed with just a small portion of the vast collection of books on every subject, from boogers to zinnias, that take up lots of space (and collect lots of dust) in the house.

Okay. I admit it. I'm obsessed. I love books. But it's my parents' fault, really: we had tons of books around when I was growing up. Stacks of them. Bookcases and shelves groaning under the weight of them. Fiction and non, all categorized like a library. I can't help it. They make me happy and nostalgic, and I usually don't like to part with them. (because you never know when you might need to research how to replace the seal on your toilet, or read up on what to do when your kid has a suspicious looking rash.) But the other day, something came over me, and I had to reorganize those shelves RIGHT THEN.

So, I ripped off the fabric (which was there in the first place to shield the books from the eyes of a certain canine who loves to read chew the spines off them when he gets bored) and started sorting. And dusting. And I actually managed to bring myself to put a few in a box for Goodwill or to pawn off on our less disciplined neighbors. The rest I stacked on the floor in the hall as I continued to sort and discard, the four-legged book eater lover drooling over my shoulder the whole time. As with any project I start around here at Camp Cactus, the mess morphed into something bigger and bigger, then ultimately moved by necessity (remember who's drooling over my shoulder?) to another floor, making an even bigger mess.Of course, by the time I got through reading sorting and dragging 2,000 pounds of books up the stairs and over the baby gate, I was ready for a glass of wine. And the shelves were nearly empty, ready to receive their makeover.

After taking a big swig deep breath, I started arranging objects on the now empty and dust-free shelves. This sounds easier than it looks. I'm a freelance photo stylist by trade, you see. It's a profession which requires a degree of attention to detail usually found only in people with a terminal case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (hereinafter referred to as OCD). In fact, just this morning I worked on a job at a local well-known athletic shoe company, where I spent close to an hour picking infinitesimal bits of stuff out of the stitching on a pair of soccer shin guards, readying them to be photographed. It's not unusual for a stylist to spend long periods of time artfully arranging french fries, or painstakingly placing wrinkles in just the right place on a blanket made to look as if it were casually draped over a sofa. Really. So, when I tell someone what I do for a living (and right after they ask me if I do hair and makeup, which I don't) they usually assume that my home must be a showplace. Of course, I don't actually deny it; it is kind of flattering, after all...but it eventually becomes clear that it's a case of the cobbler's children going barefoot.

Every now and then, though, I manage to get fed up enough with the sorry state of my showplace to change things around a bit.

Here are the "before" and "after" pictures. I have to say, I do feel much better about the bookshelves now, and I'm glad I finally got inspired to reorganize and prettify the front entry. I did cave and put a few books back on the shelves, seeing as it's been several months since the knucklehead has eaten any, but I recognize that the reality of living with these two Labradors is something akin to having a couple of 80 or 90 pound toddlers who will never fully grow up past the baby gate stage. I'm not done yet, though.. I still have to decide where to put all those displaced books upstairs. Wish me luck.