Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dangerous Toast

Don't argue with me: the best way to eat toast is darkly toasted, almost burnt. (The toast, not me.)

The problem with this, though, is that I usually can't wait long enough to get that perfect nearly-black hue, when the smoke-alarm is precariously close to blasting and the first spirals of smoke are rising from the red coils. I don't consume much bread, so it lives in deep freeze. And takes longer to toast in its frozen state. And, the rest of my meal — an omelette, a bowl of soup — is already hot and ready to go while I tap my foot and peer anxiously at the toaster in anticipation.

I know, I should time it all better, but I don't. Blame a rampant hunger, a long day at work, a glass of wine. Whatever. All I know is that I end up waiting, or trying to wait, and somewhere between 40 and 50 seconds, I cave and hit the "up" button and the inadequately toasted slices of bread pop — POP! — into the air at least 6 inches above the toaster and fall back askew: a disappointment in iron-poor brown, a "milk-toast" toast. Lacking backbone. Lacking burn.

Tonight was no different. My beef stew: peppery, steaming. My toast: in progress. But I had time to think while I waited:

1. There was my ex-husband who insisted we spend $$$ on a toaster. I disagreed. "Look," I said, "it's a set of electric coils in an insulated box. The bread doesn't care what the box looks like or how many  settings (bagel? pastry? waffle?) it boasts."
2. Never put a knife in a toaster in an attempt to extract toast while the toaster is plugged in. How many times had I violated this cardinal rule, and lived?
3. What was it that had been too close to the toaster and melted onto it? And how many years ago had this happened? Had I tried recently to scrub it off? (Yes, I answered myself, I had.)
4. How many settings, that I never use, are on the blender? And don't they all do the same thing: blend? (Either the blades turn, or they don't)
5. (Isn't this damn toast done yet?)
6. When was the last time I opened the little door on the base of the toaster and shook out the crumbs?
7. Is the butter soft enough to spread?
8. My ex-boyfriend and his current 20-years-younger-than-me girlfriend are in London, and I wondered if they've been sitting across from each other at breakfast, holding hands across the table, sleepy after a night of no-sleep love-making; between them, a plate of phallic sausages oozing grease. Fried eggs. Half a watery-tomato each. And the requisite toast rack with upright slices of pale, cooled white-bread toast.
9. How long has it been since I've waited for my toast to properly almost-burn?
10. Too long.
11. How long has it been since I've slept with a man?
12. See #10.
13. There it is! The curl of smoke!
14. POP!

And there it was, the almost-charred, the just-about-scorched, cauterized, dessicated slice of multi-grain bread.

Perfection, rubbed with just enough butter. It had just the right amount of crunch. Enough, in fact, to reel me back from leering dangerously-close to thinking about my love life. Maybe this was the reason I've not let my bread linger in that insulated box long enough: a little time to think can be a dangerous thing. Let's just stick to marginally-toasted bread, and leave the romance for another time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Second Summer

After a week of rain, and relatively-warm October temps, I walked out into my garden this morning to see a sudden surge of growth had occurred, a late flowering, a last gasp. We are just weeks away from the first autumn frost, and yet in a few days the mint has sprouted up new green tips. The lamium, after our seasonal August-September drought (when I water only what is necessary), is once again lush and vibrantly green. The nasturtiums, which languished and seemed to merely exist through September, have sent out several 2-to-3 foot runners, as if to say, I can still do it! Watch me! (Perhaps they need their own facebook page.)

I've yet to do any fall garden clean-up. This fleeting resurgence is as beautiful as the decline, though: a late shoofly flower as lovely as a skeletonized leaf, one last lingering ruby rosebud in November as spectacular as an apple gone to worms. The remaking of all life, the blossoming, the fruiting and going-to-seed, the decline, where we nurture youth and make room for the new. Endlessly repeated, measured in numbers of years for which there is no number, going back before there was a single soul to charcoal a slash mark on a cave wall. Before there was a cave wall.

Not quite time yet to fire up the furnace, or set a pot of soup simmering on the stovetop. But already I'm thinking of the warmth of autumn spices: cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. There's a small sugar pumpkin on my kitchen table. Might just be time for pie.
Virgin of Guadalupe disappearing in a flush of late-season lamium

the ongoing decomposition of James Fenimore Cooper

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The end of summer — admittedly three weeks ago — always seems like, well, The End. A shutting down. The show is over, the lights are out.

And now. How to get through these other essential months now that the main attraction has run its credits by us, played its closing music, and gone dark?

How indeed.

Have you seen this?


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hooting Lessons

The Seward Park woods possess their own variety of solitude — that sense of walking in a true forest, with its velvet-humus paths and ferny, salal undergrowth, while still holding (in the back of the mind, hopefully) the reality that we're in the middle of a nearly 4 million person bio-region with all its attendant traffic, pollution, crime, density, etc.

Mostly I try to forget the urban as I detour from the main trail bisecting the park, and venture down any of the winding side paths where one is more apt to see a pileated woodpecker than a sidewalk. Yesterday, though, that fact was quickly diminished when the blare of music from one of the weekend-anchored yachts in Andrew's Bay cut through the primeval silence like manufactured thunder: at once obnoxious, offensive, painful. Never mind that someone else's taste in music is not my taste in music; never mind the fact that whoever the arrogant bastard was that cranked the volume up was in blatant violation of a city noise ordinance. This was just a simple violation of the laws of nature. I doubt the owls — who I'll get to next — threw a party to coincide with the blare. Nor, I'm thinking, did the otters, or the turtles, or the tanagers or bushtits or chicadees or finches or salamanders or eagles or.....

But what do I know?


Finally the music stopped, and lo and behold, if we didn't hear an owl hoot, from just above us, and then another, from the other end of the park, and then another from yet another direction, and then a fourth, in varying tones (including a series of almost comical hoots about which my companion said, "sounds like someone's getting hooting lessons!")

We stopped, backtracked a bit to try to find the source, but the sounds were coming from high up in the camouflage of the maple and fir canopy, a swirl of a thousand shades of green with late afternoon sunlight cutting through. I turned in a circle, my face turned upwards, and they hooted again, like park sentries from the four directions, seeming to reclaim their euphonic rights in this 300 acres of temperate rainforest.

And then they were done. Silence: the silence of thousands of tiny white mushrooms just beginning to emerge from the sides of decomposing logs, the silence of a single leaf releasing itself from the canopy, the silence of worms beneath our feet, the silence of a slug or a hundred slugs, each without fanfare, going about their quiet business.

We were not silent; our footsteps, however calculated to lightness, sounded their soft thuds. And our breathing announced us to the gnats, to the spiders strung out in a lattice from alder to hazelnut branch, from huckleberry to Oregon grape.

Far down the hill, the lake flashed sparks of light through the trees. For a few moments, I forgot the city humming on every side of us, and heard, however briefly, the earth sending out a sigh: the sound of our unspeakably magnificent planet precariously existing.

Maybe I'm lying. Maybe I heard nothing. Maybe it's only the poet in me believing that there's a larger hum to the universe, and that the absence of peripheral noise opens up a wider auditory ability in our decidedly limited human consciousness.

And then again, maybe I'm telling you: this is what I heard.

And it is.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Switched-On Gutenberg, Weather Issue

Delighted to see these two poems of mine today, published in the online zine Switched-On Gutenberg. (Their pairing of my work with cloud photos caused me to gasp with delight.) It's moments like these that make the mostly-solitary work of writing poetry worth it.

You can read them here and here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I don't cotton to religion.
For the record.
But an endless fascination with the iconography, well, yes.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Another Dune day around the big table, the almost-over-summer-sun burning through the morning haze shortly after noon, the air warming to just about perfect, temperate, just short of balmy. C. announced that the lure of Dune is a great work incentive, and he grumbled about not taking the time to bring his lunch, which necessitated a walk down the hill for his meal, which meant we had to pause the recording.  A. settled in to her end of the table, quietly listening, applying masks. I expected to be more excited about this book than I am, but it's about war, essentially, and the war theme exhausts me. I can barely read the news these days without feeling like all the hate/violence/corporate-greed/corrupt-politics is boring into my skull with a suctioning dremel, extracting my brain matter, abrading my epidermis. Nothing seems to change. Maybe it's the onset of Old & Jaded, but whatever you want to call it, it's grim.

But not all grim —

The cosmos (flowers) whose seeds I gathered last summer from a neighbor's parking-strip flower bed have bloomed in a dazzling display of cross-pollination: pale pink with dark fuschia ruffled edges, white with pale pink edges, ruffled white petals with dark fuschia centers, fluted fuschia petals, dark fuschia petals with pale pink centers.....  The variations seem endless and provide daily fascination and delight. If I had my way I'd plant them up and down the street, an entire block of them, the beds eight feet deep, an elixir, a balm against all that is wrong in the world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the Job with Frank Herbert

We listened to an audio recording of Dune, by Frank Herbert, today at work, for at least four hours. It's grim, but Herbert is a superb storyteller and language-spinner; and the production, on Audible, is top-notch. As I'm on my feet a lot, I kept missing pieces of the story, but I think I'm getting most of it.

The invented vocabulary is fascinating and marvelously odd. There is a term that kept coming up— Kwisatz Haderach — which means one who can be many places at once — and every time I heard it I also heard knick knack paddy whack which then evolved into cuisinart heart attack.

No way to explain any of this. No need to. The brain loves patterns.

It's a rare treat, listening to an audio book on the job. We are so rarely all sitting down at the same time, and it's even more rare to be able to go long stretches without the necessity of some work-related conversation.

This book may take months, but no one's complaining.

(And yet another reason why I feel so fortunate to be making art for a living.)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Please Don't Be My Neighbor (please)

This morning there was a knock at the door, and I opened it to an older woman, (she seemed "normal" enough) who told me she was going to make an offer on the house next door and wondered what the neighborhood was like. After extolling its virtues (possibly, in retrospect, a mistake), we walked down to the sidewalk and stood on the boundary between both properties.

"Something's gotta be done about the landscaping," she said. "And look at that fence!" (Pointing to my old lattice fence between houses.) "Is it a fence or not? It goes one way, and then another! I don't know. Will I have to put up a new fence? Is that my responsibility? Something is clearly wrong with that one."

I didn't bother to tell her that it's my fence, on my property, and that when we put it up, it had to veer a few inches from the straight line on one end to accommodate tree roots.

She went on: "And this tree! The ivy! LOOK AT IT!"

I was looking at it.

I said, "Yeah, once a year I come out and pull out as much ivy as I can. It's a bear to deal with."


(She shouted.)

I didn't bother to tell her that she was talking about MY YARD. The feral part. Funny thing is, it's on my list of things to work on this weekend, but because it's been 85 degrees, I haven't done it. Yet. But I didn't tell her that.


I was looking at it. It's an 80-year-old Douglas fir which straddles the property line, which is beloved by me, and is ecosystem unto itself, which I did tell her. I also told her that the city came and trimmed that side of the tree, away from the power lines, 20 years ago. And I told her that topping a tree is probably the worst thing one can do, as it makes the tree susceptible to rot from the inside, which kills the tree.

She ranted on, about how the realtor told her this, and the realtor told her that, mostly a lot of hogwash which had obviously gotten her considerably worked up.

Twenty years ago, a previous owner had approached me about taking down the both the trees on her property, because she didn't like the way they dropped things on the grass and hurt her feet when she walked barefoot. Keep in mind, for the three years she lived there, she went out in her yard possibly 2.3 times, give or take. Anyway, this previous owner and I were standing out on the sidewalk, and the conversation was beginning to get heated, and Mark came out and escorted me into the house.  Of course, I was furious — at both the neighbor and my husband — but nonetheless, the tree still stands.

Anyway, at this point in this morning's conversation, I was ready to retract my earlier statement about the wonders of B-Street, but couldn't get a word in. She talked. And talked. And talked some more.

the cinderblock foundation the carpet I hate carpet I have lung problems I love wood the sewer line the grandkids AND THAT GARAGE THAT NEEDS PAINT [my garage] the dirt the grass the other tree the bidding war why aren't there cute trees planted in the parking strip what's wrong with these people doesn't the city have a program don't these people know it looks cute to have trees in the parking strip up and down the street it shields the houses from cars even fruit trees the paint the siding the the the and and and. . . . 

God help me. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Will You Be My Neighbor?

The house next door is for sale, and today is an open house, so there have been people in and out all day, poking around under things, picking at the siding, peeking a look over the fence where I've been sitting on my deck eating the remains of a brownie/chocolate-chip-cookie concoction that my son made.

The yard next door, which for most of the 27 years I've been here, has been mowed, and that's about it. Last week some yard maintenance people came in to spruce things up, and I swear, they brought out their vacuum cleaners and sucked up every shred of dried leaf from the property. They also mowed down a lovely patch of vinca and severely pruned some shrubs in the front yard, so where my side yard was previously private, it now is in full view of anyone walking by on the side walk. Sigh.

And there are now two Grecian urns on the front porch planted with conical conifers. (Eye roll.) Whoa there, Nelly. Let's not get all fancified here.

Twenty-seven years ago, this neighborhood was boarded up windows and cheap rent. Today it's gentrified and hip, and I fear that I've become one of the remnants of a previous era, kind of a post-hippie oldster with a falling down garage out back and a garden that wants to go feral. (And parts of it does.) Rising property values, rising taxes. The world spins on.

A house on the next block listed this week for $950,000. Um, that's slightly less than a million dollars. A MILLION DOLLARS.

The good news is, despite the fact that my mortgage is inordinately high because of ongoing payments to dead men, I've gained a little equity, so all is not lost.

Soon I'll be leering down from my balcony at the new neighbors, if they're the kind that goes out in their back yard. (I've enjoyed many years of relative solitude outside with stay-inside neighbors.) Who knows — maybe I'll like them, and vice versa. Maybe they'll be the kind of neighbors who aren't averse to sharing a glass of wine or two, in keeping with our B-Street traditions.

Of course, the best possible neighbor would be male, single, late 50's, erudite, literate, easy on the eyes, etc.

I can only hope.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cognac and Fire Vents

Sitting on the back deck tonight with my boys, the light fading, sipping some VSOP Cognac that R. pulled from his stash, and I couldn't help but let my mind drift back to 1983, on my honeymoon with Mark in France. Cognac usually is the key to this memory-visit, and Calvados sends me back without hesitation.

Normandy. September. Apples everywhere on the ground, trees weighted low with them, the air overwhelmed with their fragrance.

The boys (well, men, actually) were rambling on and on about this and that while my thoughts drifted, and N. mentioned how he and his dad installed some special fire-protection vents in the soffits when we did the remodel back in 2003. He said, "you know, Dad was pretty freaked out by that fire." (He was referring to an apartment fire in 1987.)

This was the first I'd heard of this particular detail. N. does this every now and then — he comes out with some fact or other about his dad, something I'd not known, which just astonishes me, all these years later. That there are things I don't know — that's the surprise. And it's hubris to think that I know it all, because, well, obviously I don't. And what great delight it is when one of my sons tosses me the gift of a new fact about their dad — my husband.  Like someone out-of-the-blue mailed me a photo of me from years ago. Like I'm peeking through the fence boards with one eye for a view of something which I cannot possibly see full-on, because it's so far away.

There are few left who possess any of this knowledge of my boys' father, as his mother and sister — both chroniclers of history — have passed. Those who remain — his father and older brother — are remarkably taciturn individuals, quick with a laugh but eschew anything even remotely sentimental.

So anyway.

Tonight it was Cognac and fire vents — incidentally the fire vents had been pulled out to access the hornet's nest.

I can only wonder how many other secrets this house holds, and what pesty invasion will be the key to another unveiling.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bee Gone

There are dead hornets lined up on my kitchen window sill, dozens of them, finally given up after visit #4 from George the Bee Man who wreaked his havoc with poison powders. It all makes me a little nauseous. Who gave me the right to authorize this small-scale (in the scheme of things)
hornet-ocide? More aware than ever of the delicate balance in which we reside on this planet, tipping as we all are to certain annihilation.

This was brought to mind this week, as we dumped trash at work into plastic sacks:

The journey of trash, coming soon to an ocean near you.

Remember when litter on the side of the road was a big issue?

But back to the hymenoptera who were munching away at my sheetrock, constructing their exquisite and alien-looking condominium development in my crawlspace. It came down to them vs. my house. And I won, I guess, seeing as we didn't seem to be able to co-exist without doing each other harm. And, well, I'm bigger.

Not a sting to be had, though.

I'm thinking that perhaps a hornet funeral is in the works for this weekend.