Friday, February 27, 2009

My Tiniest Artist

The Princess recently got involved in an artist trading card swap for kids through the Wise Craft blog. She'll be sending out six of her lovely creations and hopefully getting the same number in return from kids as far away as Australia. I love the cards she made. Note the awesome sailboat noses on the portraits! And clearly she's got her mama's love of shiny things and collage.

And in other artist offspring news, it seems The Dark Lord has been asked to contribute something to regional show for high school artists later this year.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sick Day

Miraculously, it's not me. But The Princess has another of her crazy fever/stomach episodes going on. Last night she slept all evening then woke up complaining that her stomach hurt. I tucked her in bed with me, along with towels and a big bowl, just in case. Every time her breathing changed or she moved a foot I popped awake, reaching for the bowl and fearing the worst. Happily, there was no drama, but I slept poorly nonetheless. We both woke up late, moved to the couch, snuggled in with blankets, drinks, and projects and almost never left all day. I even took the night off so I could stay home with her.

She was thrilled to have not one but two cats snuggling with her. I'm sure that will speed her recovery.

The End is Near

Not the end of the world, just the end of my yes-thank-you-very much-I-am-crazy-project--the reverse applique swing skirt from The Alabama Stitch Book.

A few more seams and some fold-over elastic and this skirt will be done and ready to wear in sunny (it had better be sunny) California next month. I suppose that if a person worked consistently on this and no other projects it would only take a month or so but I've been dragging this out since July. The closer I get to the end, the more I love it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Other Portland

A number of years ago when we were finally ready to buy our own home, it quickly became clear that we'd never be able to buy in any of the cool, quirky neighborhoods where we'd rented. Inner Southeast, where we rented three different places, was lovely. The neighborhoods had everything a person could need in easy walking distance but the home prices had been insane for years and only someone who'd been there forever or who had buckets of cash could think about buying there. Our last rental was a tiny little house on the cusp of the Concordia and Cully neighborhoods. Walk east and you hit an area of stately old homes and rapidly escalating prices. Walk east and you had huge lots, no sidewalks, but, again, rapidly escalating prices for houses which ranged from old and lovely to appalling 1970's atrocities, complete with bubble windows.

When we were ready to buy, The Spouse worked 2 doors down and I was teaching all of 4 blocks away from our rental house. Obviously we didn't want to move far, but as we quickly learned, a house that would hold all of us in a condition the banks would accept couldn't easily be found nearby. Portland is a city full of groovy, cool, and very hip neighborhoods and it quickly became clear that we wouldn't be living in any of them. We made the very un-cool choice of looking to the east. We learned that home prices dropped $20-30,000 just east of the I-205 freeway and that there were in fact lovely homes to be had in Parkrose. Our neighborhood is far from hip but it turned out to be one of the few places relatively close to our places of work where we could get a decent-sized house. And a lovely home it is.

But--there's almost nothing here. A great fabric store, a wonderful hardware store, and a good-sized Vietnamese market but no regular grocery, no restaurants I'd eat in and, saddest of all, not one decent coffee shop. There's a little coffee place attached to a huge church/motel complex down the road but I haven't visited because I just don't need Jesus with my coffee, thanks.

Our neighborhood is poorly lit with no sidewalks. People drive their kids just a few blocks to school because parents understandably don't want them killed walking on the streets. No bike paths, almost no parks, really very little that would cause you to get out of your car and meet your neighbors. The only reason I know anyone around here is due to conversations about my wandering cat.

But, ever so slowly, it seems that things are starting to happen. Graduate students from Portland State University's urban planning department began a conversation on neighborhood improvement here a couple of years ago though, honestly, I'm not sure where that's gone. Last spring a farmers market opened up, operating every Saturday May through October in the high school parking lot. This isn't your typical Portland market brimming with organic produce, fine coffee, and artisan breads and cheeses. In fact, the coffee is truly awful but since the concession belongs to the family that worked so hard to get the market up and running, I say let them have it (even though I just can't drink the stuff). The produce is local if not organic, and it's lovely to see my neighbors out in full force on market day.

And now it seems that perhaps City Hall is finally willing to concede that we are, in fact, part of the city. Not only a part, but possibly the most diverse and dynamic part, according to a recent Oregonian article which claims:

The area, with a population of more than 125,000, is growing twice as fast as the city in general. In the last decade, nearly half of all single-family housing and one-third of the apartment units built in the city have gone up here. And residents have complained about the low quality of much of the development.

The area also is becoming more racially diverse at a faster rate than the city as a whole, and low-income families are swelling the schools.
The article further details the Portland City Council's newly adopted East Portland Action Plan which addresses details relating to development including:
parks, public safety and transportation in eastside neighborhoods. It calls for more sidewalks, street lighting and storefront improvements, for example.
Sidewalks, which most of Portland takes for granted, would be a huge improvement. Maybe then I'd meet more of my neighbors on my morning walks, rather than watch them drive by in their cars.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bike Date

After all the fun I had riding on the back of Lynn's bike yesterday I realized it was time to haul out my own and get riding again. There are lots of stories I tell myself about why I don't ride more often. These have to do with time and energy and my neighborhood (where the only way out is up). There's some truth to each of these but there's more, too. I really can only ride on the weekend because someone needs to stay with The Princess. And if I go for a ride when The Spouse is home then that takes away from the very limited time I have with him. So today I woke up and pestered him until he agreed to go with me and then got the boys to agree to watch their sister. It took some work, but I'm a champion nag and eventually I won.

He rode The Dark Lord's bike which isn't a bad fit now the the son is as tall as the father. He immediately began complaining about the seat but I just kept on pedaling. We went first to the library and then decided to ride further for a coffee. By the time we got near our coffee destination we were starving and changed plans in order to get a proper lunch. We sat outside, chilly and hungry and very happy. Well, I was happy. My husband was still grumbling but he tried to be cheery. Given that his idea of a perfect morning is more likely to involve a newspaper and a cozy house than a bicycle and helmet I think he was rather a good sport. I couldn't get over how cool it was that we'd taken our first ever bike ride together in nearly 20 years of marriage. I know, I know, kind of ridiculous, isn't it?

Our return ride was right into the east wind and not ideal, especially when there was nothing to do but ride in traffic. I wish there were more low traffic roads out of our neighborhood, but an interstate freeway and a rather large chunk of rock force us to use the higher traffic roads for part of nearly any ride. I don't much like sharing the road with speeding cars but my poor husband was quite worried. Eventually the shoulder widened out as we approached home and we arrived tired but quite pleased with ourselves.

When I asked if he was glad I made him go out with me he insisted I didn't make him do anything-- it was his choice. Fair enough--I hope it's a choice he makes often in the near future. because I can't think of a whole lot that's more fund than a cycling date with my sweetie.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Not long ago, through the marvel that is Facebook, an old friend looked me up out of the blue. D was my first parenting buddy. We met a million years ago at a new mom's group when our now-15 year olds were tiny little babies. We didn't hit it off with many of the other moms--some of whom had clearly been driven a little bonkers by those post-partum hormones--so we mostly just hung out together. Given all the things that need to be done every day it amazes me to look back on that first baby time when all we had to do was nurse, change diapers, eat, nurse some more, and talk, talk, talk! D was the reason I never suffered any of that new mama isolation, and she really helped me build confidence as I muddled through with my new baby.

Eventually we lost touch. She moved north, we moved south, and somehow things got crazy. I often wondered how here family was doing but never really made the effort to find her, so I was more than touched when she looked me up. Since we've been back in touch I've been thinking back to 15 years ago and I feel like I've reclaimed some of those long lost new mom days. Of course I was delighted when she proposed a visit to Portland and I made great plans for all the things we could do while she was here this weekend.

I haven't seen D in a decade or so, but I was still crushed when she informed me that some kind of crud had gotten to her and her son and she'd be postponing the visit. I'd even set up a fun afternoon for The Princess so D and I could visit the sauna today! Never one to let free child care go to waste, I planned to sent The Princess anyway and go steam and sweat on my own but as it turned out, Lynn wanted to join me. Not only that, she wanted me to ride on the back of her bike!

I can't even tell you how fun this was. I felt like a little kid as I perched on the Xtracycle while we whizzed down the street. Lynn (and her Stoke Monkey) did all the work--there was nothing for me to do but grin and enjoy the sunshine. I really, really wished I'd had my camera with me, but otherwise our little excursion was the best. We rode all the way down to the river and back up the hill on a spectacularly gorgeous day.

The best part? Only a couple of years ago my dear friend Lynn had some very serious medical stuff going on. Very serious. Never in a million years did I think she'd be carrying me around town on the back of a bike! She keeps getting stronger and healthier. She makes me look like a slug and nothing could make me happier.

So it turned out to be the best day ever. I know I'll get to hang out with D soon, and that will be wonderful as well. But I am delighted that things turned out so well today. To top it off, D got me going with Skype and we managed to have a hilarious video chat which, while not a real visit, was a good preview.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I had a great visit with my doctor this morning to go over all the lab results that have come in since my dental cleanup and chelation therapy. I think it's all been worthwhile and not some expensive crackpot hippie doctor whim. I say this because as I sat in the dentist's chair for hours, hemorrhaging money all the while, it occurred to me that maybe this was all a crackpot hippie doctor whim. What do my teeth have to do with my thyroid? Mercury? What?

But lab results seem to indicate that my $5000 worth of dental work is in fact helping me get better. The antibodies that cause the autoimmune response in my body have decreased dramatically since I first began getting my teeth repaired last spring. Once those antibodies are in the normal range, my thyroid will no longer be under attack and causing my body to run at high speed. At that point I will be officially in remission from Grave's Disease. I honestly never thought the day would come but under the guidance of my most excellent doctor, I think it's a very real possibility and not so far off.

Two and a half years ago when I got word that I had a chronic autoimmune disease, things really fell apart for me in the sense that I felt like a powerless victim beginning the long slide towards the grave at just 41 years old. The doctor I had at the time did nothing to dispel my fears, and in fact seemed to exacerbate them as much as possible in an attempt to create a weird sort of dependence. This lady head serious control issues, and I am so grateful that I was able to walk away from her and find a doctor who was truly interested in my health. I feel so lucky to have a solid, respectful relationship with my current doctor who really feels like a partner in managing this stupid disease. Also she prescribes sauna visits. That's crackpot hippie doctor advice I can live with!

I'm not out of the woods yet, and there's more chelation and dietary tweaking in my future, but I am amazed at how empowering it is to know that I do have at least some control over my health. The food I eat and the choices I make really do make a difference, and I've managed to get healthier without the lifelong complications of the mainstream therapies.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Photo Talk

My groovy new tripod is already getting a workout. I think the first thing they always recommend for taking better pictures is use a tripod. I get it now.

In other related news, I made the sad discovery that my old version of Photoshop won't install on my new Vista computer. Damn. But really it's OK because the only thing I ever figured out how to do in Photoshop was remove blemishes. I know it does plenty more but nothing I ever seemed to need.

I've used Picasa for years as a photo organizer and a lightweight editor. It's a great (free!) program and every new release has had truly useful improvements. I especially like the current version's photo collage features. I haven't found anything better for organizing and tagging my zillions of photos. But what Picasa doesn't do is resize things. Since I like to shoot my photos in maximum quality, I often need to make them smaller to get them up on the web, including here on the blog. Photoshop does this, along with 50,000 other things, but since it wouldn't install on my new computer, I was stuck.

I googled free Photoshop alternatives and came across my new love, Photoscape. It does everything I ever needed Photoshop to do, but much more intuitively. I actually have a better understanding of what I'm doing when I adjust my photos, rather than just clicking buttons and hoping for the best. And I whipped out a new blog header in a snap, so if you're reading me in an RSS reader, please hop over to the blog and see what you think. I am absolutely delighted with this find and wanted to share it with you.

Thanks to Colin for the lovely lilies!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I had great plans to make a complex and spectacular meal for my one and only this Valentine's Day but we found out mid-week that that wouldn't be possible. I have his permission to tell the world that, due to some digestive issues, the doc put him on a 3 day cleansing regimen during which he's not allowed to consume anything other than fruits and vegetables. No protein, grains, dairy, sugar, oils, or seasonings apart from lemon juice. So that planned complex meal followed by homemade chocolate truffles went by the wayside when it became clear that he'd have other priorities this weekend.
Happily I came across a Valentine project that I felt would perfectly convey my loving sentiments this year, thanks to the folks at Sublime Stitching. I think I know my husband well enough to know what would make him laugh, but embroidered intestines are not your average Valentine's gift so I decided something a little less weird might be in order as well. A recent Soule Mama post led me to a dead-simple tutorial for making a simple journal using my own photo for the cover. I take a lot of photos but The Spouse is always complaining because I rarely print his favorites so this seemed a good project, using a 5x7 print of a photo I took when we were out and about on his birthday last spring. I chose not to use the recommended PVA glue after being informed that it was highly toxic and found Golden gel medium to be a good, strong, flexible substitute. I do wish I had a proper paper cutter, though, as the hardest part of this project was trimming the paper to size. I can see making lots more of these in time.

He can't eat chocolate right now, but my sweetie sure knows how to pick it. I was treated to variety of tasty chocolate treats as well as a beautiful hand drawn poppy card from the man I love. The dark choclate covered orange peel is heavenly and I can't wait to try the sea salt chocolate and the different varieties included it the Mini Pyramide des Tropiques. Also I learned that my sweet daughter slaved away for her father to earn some money to buy me the small flexible tripod I've had my eye on. What a kid! I was so touched by her thoughtfulness and am looking forward to sharper pictures.

I hope it's been a day full of loved ones and sweet surprises for all of you as well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I just noticed that I had exactly the same number of blog posts in 2008 as in 2007. Exactly! What are the odds of that?


One of the things I hate more than anything is standardized testing. The state of Oregon loves to put my students through a few horrific rounds of this every year. The tests have always been way too challenging for my students but at least we used to test on paper and I'd work one on one with students to elicit spoken responses which allowed me to be as gentle and encouraging as possible with them.

But no more. Now all these tests are computerized. My students have very little computer experience so doesn't it make perfect sense to test them using an unfamiliar medium? Why, keeping them confused and anxious is certain to elicit their best responses, right? But it gets worse. Tonight as I gave my students their annual English Language Proficiency Assessment (the dreaded ELPA) one after another got trapped by error messages, forcing us to log them in repeatedly, move them from one computer to another, and interrupting any possible semblance of concentration they might have had. I keep trying to explain that it's not their fault and they've done nothing wrong but how am I supposed to convey that in, say, in Burmese?

Why do we do this again? I think I'm supposed to be proving something, but I'm not sure what. The test is way too difficult for my students, I've lost an entire day of instruction, and subjected my students no end of frustration and doubt. But thank God we're in compliance with the state.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Not only did California vote to ban gay marriage in November, now 18,000 legal marriages performed before the election are in danger of being nullified, thanks to Ken Starr. How can this be?

Courage Campaign has put out this powerful video featuring Regina Spektor's Fidelity (which just happens to be in constant rotation in this house) and I encourage you to watch it, talk about it, act on it, and share it with anyone you know who's concerned with justice and equal rights.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

As Americans who believe in the rule of law and fundamental civil rights, we know that Ken Starr and the Prop 8 Legal Defense Fund's shameful attempt to nullify these unions will not be vindicated in the eyes of history. We know that, ultimately, love will prevail, no matter how hard they try to fight it.--Courage Campaign


Maybe all I needed to do was kvetch a bit. Things looks better already.

Many of you suggested that I just do something and so I did. I started small, just a batch of granola, but that simple act seemed to adjust my attitude.

It didn't hurt that I arranged for a massage at my beloved sauna place. I'd been hesitant to do so because honestly I couldn't imagine driving home after such an experience. Instead took the bus and arranged for The Spouse to pick me up.

It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, so I decided to skip the bus transfer and walk the last almost 2 miles down a street I've driven hundreds of time but never walked. I had my camera along (I can't take the photos if I don't carry the camera) and the walk was full of delightful surprises.

The massage was just what my aching back needed and the sauna was an added plus. I really did feel like a new person when I skipped out of there and met my husband for a late lunch (I was so ravenous I didn't even mind mediocre burritos and tasteless salsa) and a stroll through my favorite art supply store. I spent the evening playing with my new paints and papers and had a grand time so I'm thinking maybe the slump is passing.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to share thoughts about getting out of this rut. Of course I know everyone goes through this, but it's good to know I'm not alone.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


It's been a while, hasn't it?

I don't think I've ever posted so rarely since I started the blog. I don't have much to say, but today a friend encouraged me to say something anyway.

Shall I tell you about my slump? (This is your opportunity to move on to the next new post in your RSS reader. This won't be pretty.)

I look over my yarn, itching to start something, and then unable to focus on a plan. I get out my camera and realize with every picture I want to take that I already took that picture this time last year. I pick up the current panel on my skirt with every intention of finally reaching completion, but somehow I set it down and it languishes for days, still weeks from being finished. I try to help MonkeyBoy up the ante on his schoolwork in preparation for entering high school next year but I find that we butt heads over the same issues and he makes no noticeable progress. Every day I think I am going to get back into my exercise groove but I have no stamina and end up exhausted and annoyed with myself for my weakness. I've been concocting elaborate Valentine's surprises for my loved ones in my head but have done exactly nothing.

I feel drained, depleted, and completely lacking in inspiration.

So tell me, Dear Readers, how do you handle a slump? What gets you past it? What keeps you from falling in up to your neck?