Monday, December 28, 2009

stuff and nonsense...

A few months ago, an out of town relative

noticed this sticker on our car, and started chuckling uncontrollably.

It seems he immediately pictured a canine character
with that name, and told me I should sketch him...

So I did.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

and the winner is...

The response to the fudge giveaway was simply astounding. What is it with you people? Has everyone started their New Year's diets already? Thousands six left charming and witty comments, making our judge's job of picking just one out of her food bowl quite difficult...

but (consummate professional that she is) Miss Abbie managed the task without drooling on it or swallowing it.

And the winner is...Bossy! Your box of Fern's Famous Fudge will be making its way across the country from Portland tomorrow...Happy Holidays to everyone!

Friday, December 25, 2009

the aftermath

Santa's Reindeer are pooped.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Don't forget to scroll down and leave a comment on yesterday's post for a chance to win a box of Fern's Famous Fudge! (Giveaway ends Saturday at Midnight...I'll announce the winner on Sunday...)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

a holiday tradition and a giveaway

Every family has its holiday traditions, whether it's latkes at Hannukah, or clam chowder on Christmas Eve, or black eyed peas on New Year's Day. In Dave's family, one sure herald of Christmas was the arrival of his mother's fudge. And lest you say, "Oh, my mom/grandma/aunt makes fudge!", I assure you this is not your garden variety fudge. This is fudge so creamy and smooth and light, you'll find you've eaten an entire pan of it before you snap out of the bewitching spell it casts.
I've heard people say that fudge is easy to make, and I agree that on the face of it, it appears to be the case, but in reality, it is not easy to do well. It requires a degree of expertise, and I might add, very strong forearms and wrists to pull off correctly. In this case, Fern (my mother in law) had the expertise, and Ray (my father in law) had the muscle. They made a great team.
Shortly after they passed away, my sister in law entrusted me with Fern's fudge recipe, and I had no idea what path that formula would set me on... now, almost twenty years later, I've made hundreds of pounds of the stuff, with no hopes of slacking off any time soon.

It all starts with a few very basic ingredients: butter, sugar, and milk.

These are brought to a very specific temperature

and more stuff* is added, after which you stir, stir, stir, stir, until you think your arm will probably fall off...and then you stir some more, until it's creamy and glossy and smooth...
(and by the way, that heart really did appear randomly- I'm not that good with Photoshop)

and then you taste it to be sure it's perfect...

and pour it into Fern's original perfect fudge pans.

After it's cooled, you cut it into squares and package it up in nice little square boxes with labels...
(Fern skipped this part and gave it out in pans and tins and whatever boxes she had saved during the year...she was very frugal that way)

and then you send it out to about a million family members and friends, and friends of friends, and kids of friends, and the mailman, and your hairdresser, and the garbage man, and your co-workers, and so on and so on, until you've made about 30 or 40 pounds of it, and you never want to smell chocolate again....and then you taste it to make sure it's perfect, and somehow feel compelled to make yet another batch.

In the spirit of the season, I'll be giving away a box of Fern's Famous Fudge. To be eligible for the random drawing, just leave me a comment, and my trusty assistants will eat draw your name from a hat food bowl.


*This is a top secret recipe. My lips are sealed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

up to our ears in it

Today was a crazy one. I woke up at 5:45 am to one of the dogs barking downstairs. Stumbling down to the first floor, I was hit with a stench so vile it made my toes curl. Abbie greeted me at the bottom of the stairs begging to go out. I checked on Cooper, but he was curled up on the sofa with his nose buried under his back leg. And then I noticed the huge pile of poop on the kitchen floor. Why does stuff like this always happen in the middle of the night, when all I want is a few hours of blessed, uninterrupted sleep? Maizy was crouched in the corner, making another pile.
I scooped her up and carried her to the litter box in the basement, and cleaned up the mess with one hand, while I held my nose with the other. After disinfecting the entire floor, I barricaded her in the room with a litter box so she couldn't go anywhere else. (like on the new rug in the living room.)
I dragged my now-nauseous self back up the stairs to bed and burrowed under the covers, trying to forget the stench, but I swore I could still smell poop. Thirty seconds later, Mr. Chubbs jumped on the bed, and settled down next to me. I couldn't stand it. I had to check to see if I had any on me from cleaning up. I booted him off the bed and checked my pajamas, and finding them poop free, I shut the cat out of our bedroom and went back to sleep. When Dave got up he found fresh piles all over the floor in the kitchen, and after picking them up, he thoughtfully sprayed the spots with disinfectant and covered them with paper towels. That's the state the kitchen was in when I got up...and lest you think that was the end of it, it wasn't. We soon discovered that the poopy bouquet I detected in bed had emanated from Mr. Chubb's furry behind. He, too, was in apparent gastric distress, but unlike Maizy, he wasn't confined to one room. On the contrary, he spread little bits on our comforter and upholstered chair, on the bath mats, the bathroom floor, our bedroom rug, on the stairs, (which I of course, stepped in) everywhere but his litter box...after catching him and carting his poopy ass to the sink downstairs, we managed to hose him off and shampoo him back to his sweet smelling self.
I would have taken pictures if I could have, (because there's nothing better looking than a half-drowned cat) but it took all four hands just to keep him from clawing us to death while we washed him...on the bright side, there are fresh sheets on the bed, and the whole house is cleaner than it's been in months.

It's a good thing I'm an optimist.

For more stories about crazy things we do for love, hop over to San Diego Momma's place for the latest Prompt Tuesday...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

in the home stretch

My life has been full lately. Too full to have time for a report, and as much as I'd like to, I couldn't possibly recount the past month right now, seeing as I don't seem to have two brain cells to rub together at the moment. Three weeks with very little sleep will do that to you. I've heard that sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations and all sorts of spiritual awakenings, but so far, it's just making me feel like a two year old trying to teach a class in rocket science to a classroom full of frogs. (see what I mean?) Anyway, I'll be back next week sometime...and hopefully making sense again. Or not.
Catch ya later,

Sunday, November 22, 2009

autumn essay

This morning we had a visit from the leaf people, and I got to thinking about what it is that I love about fall.
It's the crisp air, mornings and evenings. The icy cold east wind blowing down the Gorge and stirring up mini tornadoes of dry leaves in the street, making the dogs jump and snap at them with instant friskiness. The tangy aroma of wood smoke wafting from chimneys makes me nostalgic for my childhood and the smell of great big leaf piles burning in the streets.

But I think my favorite thing about fall is the trees. The sheer variety of color and shape and size is staggering. Portland has a thing for trees. Big old specimens line our streets: elms, oaks, poplars, walnuts, chestnuts, cedars and maples so large it would take three people holding hands to circumnavigate their massive trunks.

On my daily walks, I marvel at how different each tree's timetable is...the giant maples that line one street by my house turn color all at once and form a golden tunnel that stretches for three-quarters of a mile, yet two oak trees planted side by side couldn't be more different. One drops its leaves over a period of a week or two, and the other tree stubbornly hangs on all winter, only letting go when the new buds appear in the spring to push them off.

(photo borrowed from this site)

I love the ginko tree that I pass daily on my morning walks with the pups. All the leaves turn at once - seemingly overnight, then one day they all drop simultaneously, as if on cue from Mother Nature herself, and form a brilliant golden halo on the grass underneath.

(photo by Ken Lomax)

I think my favorite one of all is the japanese maple next to our house. Every year it turns three distinct colors: red, bronzy green and orange, putting on a crazy show until those gorge winds hit and blast off all the leaves in one fell swoop. Mother Nature is such a floozy!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I was tired of that kitchen anyway

The dishwasher blew a seal. Hot soapy water all over the floor.
It buckled the Pergo until it looked like this:

It ruined the subfloor and started growing mold under the cabinet.

Which had to come out to be repaired, but to take out the cabinet, the countertop had to be removed, which ruined the tile, and...and...and
I'm beginning to think I live in the house that Jack built.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

not exactly wordless wednesday: green

Jodi over at the Women's Colony has issued a photo challenge featuring the color green. Here are a few of mine...

Can you tell that green is my favorite color?
(It's a good thing I live in Oregon)
Now head on over and check out more
verdurous leafiness at the Colony!

Saturday, October 31, 2009


All photos were taken October 30, 2009 at Lonesomeville in Portland, Oregon.
Check out the story and their wonderful pottery at their website:

A happy, spooky Halloween from Camp Cactus!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

last thursday in october

On the last Thursday of the month in Portland, the galleries on Alberta Street stay open late for a monthly Art Walk. It seems like every town or city with artists now hosts a "First Thursday" or "Second Wednesday" event, where galleries stay open late to showcase new shows, and in some places, the art spills out onto the streets with the result that the ensuing sideshows are almost as interesting than the events themselves. This is especially true here in Portland, where artists and performers set up shop along the sidewalks teeming with people: gallery-hopping alt-yuppies (alternative types with jobs), burrito aficionados, stilt walkers, clowns on bikes, dogs, babies in strollers, and people watchers.

This month's art walk featured a Day of the Dead procession (in the rain, of course) to celebrate el Dia d los Muertos.

(photo by Matt Brown)

All in all, it was a very good night for burritos.

Monday, October 26, 2009

is this hell, or a life sized board game?

They lure you in with beautiful room sets, all sleek and clean and homey. See what you can do with only 350 square feet? A bedroom! A bathroom! A modern kitchen! Storage everywhere! A tiny office with an ultra cool desk and chair. They make it fun to shop, those Swedes.

The first time I set foot in an Ikea store, I fell in love. Everything was so stylish and simply designed, and oh, so cheap! Because I had stopped in on the way home from a field trip to the Seattle Art Museum with a couple of photo stylist friends, we didn't spend much time there that first day. Just long enough to buy a few cheap picture frames and get a sense of the wonder that is SWEDISH DESIGN. Little did I know that this short stopover would be the beginning of a love/hate relationship.

It's a good two and a half hour drive from Portland to the Ikea store in Renton, Washington. I began making that trip every few months, shopping for props to use on photo shoots, like the time I hauled about 800 lbs of laminate flooring, a bed frame, and countless mirrors, frames, towels and other do-dads home in a 1986 Colt Vista station wagon.

The old Vista made many such trips. The poor little thing was clearly not meant to haul such a heavy load, but she got us safely home with our booty time after time. I loved that car. But I was very happy when they finally decided Portland was big enough for its own store.

Ikea stores are designed to lead you through the entire place to entice you to buy something you didn't know you wanted, but find you suddenly need. It's a little like stepping into a giant board game of Chutes and Ladders.

You follow the arrows through the store, going from Textiles & Rugs to the Bath Shop, and on through to Home Organization, and if you're not paying attention to the arrows and make a wrong turn, you could end up back at Textiles & Rugs. So the Ikea folks have thoughtfully added "shortcuts" between departments that usually end up getting you even more lost. It can be a very disorienting experience, and you may feel like a rat trapped in a maze full of cheese* at every turn. (*I was going to name a Swedish cheese here...but after looking up "havarti" and realizing it was actually a Danish cheese, I wondered what kind of cheese the Swedes made, and all I can say is don't ever Google the term "swedish cheese.")

So, where was I going with this? Oh right. My love/hate relationship.

A couple of months ago, I embarked upon a (mostly) DIY remodeling journey. My studio was badly in need of a new door, and replacing it opened up a whole can of "while I'm at it, I might as well_________." You know what I'm talking about. It's the idea that if you've already got one wall with a giant hole in it, you might as well work on the other three while you're at it, since you've already got a mess started.

I quickly came to regret ever opening that can of "while I'm at it". You can read about my adventures in remodeling here.

But getting back to the love/hate thing: I'd been designing and researching and thinking about my dream studio for years. I had a list of amenities as long as my arm and a budget as long as a gnat's arm. Nevertheless, at the top of the list was STORAGE. I was tired of climbing up on the workbench to root through boxes stored on shelves. I wanted drawers! A whole bank of them. With neatly lettered labels. I wanted to replace the funky old workbench with a wall of storage that looks sleek and clean and gives the appearance that I'm actually organized. (Stop laughing, Dave!)

My budget being practically non-existent, I naturally thought of Ikea, that bastion of DIY. I bought four dressers, each with four drawers, and all a clean, crisp white. I stacked my four flat boxes in the car and drove home, daydreaming about how I'd have them all assembled and in place in a few hours.

I've assembled Ikea furniture before, and most pieces are designed to be idiot proof as long as you follow the instructions to the letter. This can be a little difficult, as the instructions don't even have words, but I'm a visual person, so when I opened up the first box and spread all the parts out on the floor and took an inventory, I wasn't too worried about putting them together.

Caught up in the spirit of being newly organized and logical, I perused the instruction booklet to familiarize myself with the details. First, some cautions:

Before you start, you'll need a few tools:
  1. a pencil (you can steal get a free one at the store)
  2. a straight-slot screwdriver
  3. a Phillips-head screwdriver (I don't know why they call them Phillip...I don't see the resemblance)
  4. what looks like an ice pick (or an awl)
  5. a hammer

Next, it appears you need a helpful friend with a pencil behind his ear to assist you in scrutinizing the pile of parts.

After that, they are apparently cautioning you to assemble it on a rug because it's too fragile for the floor.

Last but not least, when you try to attach part C to parts A and B, you may become confused and have to call Customer Service.

The next page shows pictures of all the fasteners supplied to put the thing together. I counted 181 pieces, plus the 41 parts shown in the photo above, for a total of 222 parts. (I really did count them! Murphy's Law almost guarantees a trip back to the store if you don't.)

"Piece of cake," I how long did it take me? The first one took two hours. And then I opened the bottle of wine. I finished the other three in about two days, all by myself. (48 hours divided by 3 = 16 hours each) A total of eight hundred and eighty-eight parts, and I did it all without the friend with the pencil, because he was really only there to supervise.

I never did figure out what to do with the dang ice pick.

Friday, October 23, 2009

a page from my sketchbook

Way back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, I was enamored of the fashion illustrations in the Sunday NY Times magazine. I thought I'd like to be a designer, or at least a fashion illustrator. Fast forward a *few* years, and here I am, designing haute couture for just goes to show you that when you follow your dreams, you never know where exactly they might lead you!

Click here to see photos of the actual gown on the studio blog.

Have a lovely weekend!