1. Sal has been surprising me with gifts almost daily for the last week or so. The latest gift -- the 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (containing all three cuts), one of my all-time favorite movies ever ever ever -- came on a day when I really needed a little pampering. So he's still pretty much the greatest.
2. My discovery of a bento emoji on my phone today has made me hyperactively excited out of all proportion with the importance of the discovery. I may have seriously considered texting everyone in my contacts so that I could use it over and over.
3. The Veronica Mars movie comes out tomorrow and if the last few weeks hadn't been packed to the gills with tasks, plans, and appointments, I would've indulged my desire to marathon the show and get reaquainted with Veronica, Logan, and the gang. The next three days are similarly jam packed so I'll have to wait until Sunday to see the movie. Boo.
- seasoned chicken strips
- steamed broccoli
- nut & berry trail mix
I'll have an update soon (with lots of pictures!) of all the home improvement sanity taking place at Hall House, but in the interim, wanted to get a bento post up. It's been almost a year since I posted one, even though I've been doing bentos since, including taking pictures, just haven't been posting them. But I got all of my pictures from the last year uploaded yesterday and I'm going to try to resume posting them as they happen.
There weren't even that many to post, at least compared to years past. It's not Bento Burnout, exactly, but I've just been ambivalent. It happens. (Bento 2.0, Baby! was obviously a reboot after a similar period of meh.) I do still enjoy doing my bentos, just not like before.
But I took advantage of the home improvement binge to clean out the cabinet where I store my boxes and gear and reorganize everything so it's all easier to get to. The collection had outgrown the bin I had for them, and reorganizing the bathroom cabinet freed up some organizers that weren't working well in there but fit perfectly in the cabinet I use for bento stuff. (I love it when that happens!) And I got a new box (purple Lunchbot Uno, woot woot!) for my birthday that I haven't used yet, so I have that to look forward to. (Today's lunch needed heating, so a metal box wasn't going to work.)
So here I am, posting my lunches again and planning to continue. Not the prettiest one I've ever done, but at least I did it.
- chicken, broccoli, and cheese baked potato
- carrot sticks and peanut butter
- Granny Smith apple half; berry nut trail mix
- Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Bento -- breakfast (greek yogurt and vanilla granola in a Syrup O'Clock sidecar) and snack (Granny Smith apple half and almonds in the Tomo Tomi sidecar)
[The pictures I posted to catch up can be found in the daily bento gallery, starting about halfway down on page 4 and onto page 5.)
For those just tuning in, after months (and months and months) of planning and financial wrangling, our massive series of home improvement projects are now underway. The good news is that we're going to be getting it all over with in one fell, relatively short, swoop. The bad news is that we might possibly be crazy. Because our plan involves accomplishing almost all of the following in 2 weeks:
- new roof and gutters
- repairing dry rot and water intrusion damage on the front facia and west gable/porch overhang
- replacing all the plumbing (including installing shutoff valves, which I never realized how much I would appreciate in my previous life as a non-homeowner)
- new furnace and thermostat
- new heat pump to replace the decrepit and long-overdue-for-replacement water heater (no seriously, we have pushed our luck beyond belief with this water heater -- it was past its life when we moved in...12 years ago)
- bathroom renovation, including: refinishing the original cast iron clawfoot tub; tearing out the tile floor and replacing with a new tile floor; installing wainscoting with trim and new baseboards; stripping paint from trim, window frame, both cupboards, and all drawers/doors; painting walls, cupboards, trim, ceiling; installing bathroom ventilation; installing a clawfoot shower kit; replacing the sink with a new pedestal sink & fixtures; replacing the light fixture; replacing window and cabinet hardware
- replacing the attic dormer window (a 7 foot, 3 unit casement window) with a custom wood frame window
- 12(!) Indow Windows for the main floor and attic (to make our original, single pane windows more energy efficient)
- energy efficiency improvements -- air sealing, duct sealing, rim joist insulation, attic insulation, wall insulation, floor insulation
Today was actually Day 4 of this whacked out home improvement schedule of ours. The whole rolling snowball of insanity actually began last Wednesday -- which, I will note, was also my birthday -- with the removal of the tub. As mentioned above, it's the original cast iron clawfoot tub, over 100 years old and weighing about the same as a dumptruck. Much of its porcelain finish has worn off over the decades so we're having it refinished, which means it has to be physically relocated to the refinishers' shop in Vancouver.
The plumbers needed the tub out of the way before they could begin work, and the plumbing work needed to be done before the bathroom contractor could do their renovations, and suddenly we're in that song about the old woman who swallowed a fly. The kicker is that while the tub refinishers would pick up the tub, they would only pick it up from the street -- something about "liability" and "potential damage" and "holy crap all those stairs are you crazy, lady". Moving a tub that weighs a gazillion tons from the bathroom to the street is also not in the plumbers' wheelhouse, which meant we needed to hire movers -- because what's another contractor in a cast of thousands, really? -- to move it from the bathroom to the street. (It ended up being easier to just have the movers take the tub to the refinishers.)
Complicating all of that was the plumbing, which, like the tub, was also over 100 years old and thus had no shut off valves anywhere but at the main. So removing the tub meant turning off the water to the house until the plumbers could install shutoffs as part of the rest of the plumbing replacement, which is also why we had to time it closely with the plumbers' arrival, since we kind of, you know, need running water.
So the tub came out on schedule, and the plumbers worked their magic in two days, also on schedule. Next up on the schedule: the simultaneous arrival of the bathroom and roofing contractors today, who have this week to do their work so that the furnace, hot water heater, window replacement, Indow windows, and energy efficiency improvements can all be done next week. Also arriving today: 2+ inches of rain, finally ending months of abnormally dry weather.
Not all of the work will be done by the end of next week, unfortunately. The tub won't be back from the refinishers until mid-March, nor will the shower kit, sink, and fixtures. So what are arguably the most crucial and personally impacting portion of this whole complicated plan -- the tub/shower and toilet -- will also take the longest to be restored to normal.
The loss of our bathroom means using The Bathroom That Shall Not Be Named for toilet needs, which has the extra super duper bonus of being in the Totally Not Creepy basement. (As for bathing needs for 4 weeks, well, that's a whole other story.) This was planned insanity, to be sure, and we knew the loss of our bathroom was going to be a hardship. Somewhat less planned was that everything would get underway on my birthday, that it would coincide with a visit from The Albino and Family, or that it would come on the heels of a pretty spectacular winter storm that wreaked havoc with everyone's schedules. Completely not planned and really unnecessarily sucktacular was both of us getting struck with the flu riiiight as everything got underway, because apparently we stole Karma's lunch money in a previous life. Which meant spending the weekend that we were planning to do a lot of preparation for everything to kick into high gear instead doing a lot of sleeping and feeling generally miserable, trekking up and down two flights of stairs to go to the bathroom, and taking about four times longer than usual to empty the bathroom in preparation for the renovation.
But Karma's personal vendetta and flu obstacle notwithstanding, we were ready and waiting for the contractors bright and early this morning. It worked out that I had the day off as a work holiday, which was fortunate for coordination purposes, if not exactly relaxing when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head. I had to stay out of everyone's way so I spent the day in the kitchen with the kitties while a bunch of guys ripped our roof off and another pair of guys ripped out the floor of our bathroom. And in my NyQuil induced haze, I sometimes couldn't tell the difference between all the hammering and the pounding inside my skull.
The area around our house looks like the aftermath of a tornado, the front porch is overflowing with power tools and orange power cords, the toilet is in the library, my desk is functioning as a temporary vanity/medicine cabinet, and our toothbrushes are now being stored in the kitchen. But the roofing crew managed to get three layers of old roofs off in the midst of a downpour without once springing a leak, the bathroom crew laid all the tile before they left for the day, and by the end of the week, we'll have more than half of that list up there crossed off.
When Peri moved into our house, she built her home inside the living room wall. But with all our talk of home improvement projects recently, shewanted in on the action. She decided to move out of the walls and into one of the built-in bookcases in the living room. Which meant she needed a new house.
Or, being an urban fairy, more of a studio apartment.
A shoebox was just the thing, but it took some time to find the right one. Then there was wallpapering to be done, and floor covering to put down, a ceiling and an exterior to paint. Then, the fun part: decorating! Peri is a very thrifty and resourceful fairy, and expert at repurposing, so nearly everything came from stuff we had. A new bed (with a bit of fabric designed by my friend Neva for the bedspread), a repainted bookcase, a treasure chest for all the gifts from Miss S last year. Mugs for me and Sal and artwork from Miss S for the wall. I even happened to have a seamstress mannequin that Peri used for the dress Miss S and I made for her last year. (The only item I purchased was a wee copy of The Little Princess, one of my favorite books ever. Because obviously.)
Of course, moving out of the wall meant she also needed some camouflage for her house. Fairies need their privacy, too, after all. And I thought, what better than books to hide a house built in a bookcase? They're the perfect cover. ::rimshot::
With so many crafts these days utilizing old books in some fashion, it wasn't hard to find someone on Etsy willing to send me cut off book spines from one of their repurposing projects. Some wooden shims left over from an IKEA project and lots of heavy duty glue turned them into facade sure to fool anyone who doesn't know not to judge a book by its cover (oh yes, I went there). Some LEDs and a bit of wiring (finally, a chance to put that engineering degree to use!) and a few other little details and the house was finally complete.
Just in time for a visit from Miss S....
We have a fairy door. We've had it for about 8 years, in a quiet corner of the living room near one of the built in bookcases. It just appeared very coincidentally one day after I read about the urban fairy doors of Ann Arbor. Most people don't even notice it until they've visited a few times.
Miss S first noticed it during a visit a few years ago*. She and her mom had built a fairy garden at home, but she was very intrigued by the idea that we had a resident fairy who lived in our walls instead of our yard. She knocked on the door repeatedly, but no one answered. Where was the fairy? she wanted to know. On a business trip, I told her. She's a career fairy. A Professional Daydreamer, a very important job. Miss S tilted her head and squinted at me, trying to decide if I was yanking her chain.
*(Miss M, interestingly, has only recently asked about the door, even though it's been there since before she was born. I'm sure she noticed it at some point, but she must've just figured that of course a fairy lived at our house, because I am her fairy godmother and therefore, duh.)
When Miss S visited last March, she knocked very politely on the door, but no answer. She tried the doorknocker but still no answer. The fairy, unfortunately, was on vacation at the coast. But since Miss S was herself headed to the coast the next day, maybe she'd see her on the beach! (She had her mom text me from the beach the next day to ask if the fairy liked playing in the water, because she was pretty sure she'd seen the fairy swimming in a tide pool. That might've been her, I agreed. Tide pools make excellent swimming holes for fairies.)
During her visit, I'd bought her an activity tube from SCRAP -- they fill old tennis ball tubes with odds and ends for kids to get creative with, usually with some kind of theme (ex. everything in one color or sports-related bits and pieces; Miss M's was full of blue things) -- and following the creation of a scavenger hunt game within minutes of opening the container, Miss S decided that we should make a dress for the fairy with some of the pieces of fabric from the tube.
So without sewing or needles or scissors or thread, we made a "dress", complete with a belt made from a scrap of ribbon and two little blue "jewels". Other items in the tube soon became part of a gift basket to be left on the fairy's doorstep (a milk jug cap served as the basket), with the hope that the fairy might share the secret of opening the door. She also included a note that the belt went with the dress, just to be sure the fairy knew what to do with it.
On April Fool's Day, I texted a picture of a new package -- an empty dental floss container tied with a pom pom string -- waiting on the fairy's doorstep that I had been instructed to send to Miss S. (I recognized that pom pom string. It had come off a pair of my slipper socks, then disappeared before I could sew it back on. Apparently, the fairy had taken a liking to it....)
A few days later, a text with pictures. Someone was very excited to receive a special package wrapped in a pom pom string from a slipper sock. Inside were gifts of a very fairy-like nature: a pink feather, a shell from her beach vacation, a pretty button, a ship charm, a shiny bead, and lots and lots of star confetti. And there was a letter from the fairy, introducing herself at last to Miss S -- Periwinkle Mapletree, Resident Fairy at Hall House and Professional Daydreamer -- along with ::gasp:: the key to her front door!
"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
Sweet holy Batman, we have internet again!
We've been without internet since an outage on Wednesday morning that subsequently scrambled our modem and wireless router. Wednesday was bad news bears from start to finish, really -- internet down on a work-from-home day, news that the neighbor's insurance company was quibbling about paying for the damage to our yard from the neighbor's fence*, our first mortgage payment since the refinance not getting paid electronically as scheduled (and thus late), and bumping up against the data limit on our phones due to the lingering effects of being without computers for weeks on end. And to top it all of, I was fighting off some kind of bug thing, secretly worried that it was the flu.
*(Not the neighbor's fault. She argued on our behalf, and wants to make things right; it's not her fault her insurance is being a shithead.)
Wednesday was primarily lost to dealing with Comcast's phone tree hell and "technical support". For future reference, trying to get your internet up and running while simultaneously juggling your job duties, all while using only your smart phone AND checking your data usage every 20 minutes to verify that you haven't gone over your alloted amount? Shortcut to a panic attack.
The bug got the best of me yesterday, after a night of not-good sleep, and resulted in yet more lost time for some really pressing work stuff, not to mention cancelling my evening plans. And still no internet, but I didn't have the energy for eating, let alone for arguing with the internet provider about IP addresses and modem serial numbers. Never mind poor Sal, who had spent his entire morning on the phone trying to get it fixed while also trying to get all of his final grading done for the last day of class for this term.
But, as I said, hallelujah, we have internet again. It took three more hours of phone calls this morning with five different technicians at two different companies, along with some petty extortion – excuse me, “short term warranty fee” – from the last company in order to get them to fix the router remotely. I guess I should be glad it didn't involve a ritual sacrifice or something. Of course, our neighbor’s back fence is still laying across the back bed of our yard, her insurance company is now adamant that they don’t have to pay for the damage to our side, and that flu/cold bug is digging in deep just in time for the 3 day weekend Sal and I had planned.
But by god, at least we have internet.
It's both coincidental and not that the last post on this here website (7(!) months ago) was a reflection about how blessed we are. It would've been a good stand-in for the obligatory end-of-the-old-start-of-the-new year post, and I suppose still is, since everything I wrote about then is still true. But on the whole, 2013 was a hard year, and by the end, I wanted nothing more than to see it in my rearview mirror. Hence the dearth of posting.
I've had a lot to share. I have drafts of posts I never got the time to finish, loads and loads of pictures to upload, bentos pics to update, and of course Hall House projects to finish writing about. But things were busy, like they always are, and as the amount of things to post about built up, it started to become A Thing.
And then November happened. Well technically, the end of October to the end of November, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was apprehensive about 2013 from the beginning, and as soon as I returned to work from the holidays, found out I had good reason to be. From the first day back, we were faced with some big challenges at the office that ended up taking months to resolve, a friend received terrible news, and it was looking increasingly likely that the plans I'd made for my milestone birthday would have to be cancelled. By the end of the first month, I had fired January altogether and put 2013 on notice.
Thankfully, my birthday plans didn't have to be cancelled, after all. I celebrated my 40th in several ways, with family and with Sal and with my own quiet little sojourn. And later, with the Albino, whose birthday is just a month after mine, and our mutual friend, Twinklebugs. A year in the making, we celebrated the entry into our fifth decade with a Girls' Weekend in Manzanita. We rented a house on the beach and when we weren't just staring out the windows, we were out on the sand and shopping and eating ridiculously good food and staying up very late talking.
Signs continued that 2013 might not be so bad after all. In April, I attended the first ever Swords for Scribes workshop put on by my friend Kim and her partner. I got to handle swords and machetes and rapiers, oh my, and practice three different sequences and learn all the awesomely gruesome physics of blades in battle. We then vanquished a melon army and watched a live duelling session between people who know what they're doing. I also learned that I am madly in love with the two-handed long sword.
Our summer technically kicked off in May, when we spent a long weekend at Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, which I planned to post about in yet another brilliantly-written-only-in my-head post. We lucked out with temps in the 80s all weekend and a cabin room with an unparalleled view. We dangled our feet in the water and snapped pics of an otter swimming around the dock and climbed the roots of an ancient Sitka spruce. We took an epic 5 mile trail hike, up ravines, past waterfalls, and through a wetland.
My mom and grandmother came out for a visit for five days at the end of May, and we ran them (gently) ragged, to rose gardens and the forestry museum, Powell's and a plant nursery. We enjoyed dinner at the OCI restaurant so Grandmother could eat the food Sal teaches his students to make, and we enjoyed dinner at our own humble kitchen so Grandmother could eat the food Sal masterfully creates. We made a trip down to my office, so she could see where I work at my "very grownup job". And we spent a significant time doing my Grandmother's favorite thing of all: Visiting. (My family doesn't just talk. We visit, which is talking taken to the level of an Olympic sport, because my family are world-class caliber visitors.) We started a list of the things we'll do during her next visit.
At the end of June, we took our summer vacation to Oceanside and enjoyed a nice bit of time off together. We celebrated our 17th anniversary in mid-July with a driveabout, something we hadn't done in a long time. Our destination? The Arctic Circle in Prineville so we could have a Bounty Burger and fry sauce like the ones we had at the Arctic Circle in our hometown back in the day.
Our driveabout led us to the Crooked River Canyon and we had the best, best day of adventure, windows rolled down and singing to our favorite road music at the top of our lungs and making it to a gas station juuuuuust in time on the way home. We capped off our wonderful day with a romantic dinner of takeout pizza by candlelight and talking until late into the night, hands held and maybe tears of gratitude a time or two.
(We made a similar nostalgic fast food daytrip on Labor Day weekend, this time to TriCities, which we'd never been to before but happens to be the nearest location of a Taco John's. Because sometimes, you just gotta drive three and a half hours for six pack and a pound.)
The beautiful weather that started in May continued almost unbroken through the first half of September, which is how I found out there really is such a thing as Summer SAD and wow, do I have every single symptom. If there ever was any doubt that the PNW is my homeland, this summer cleared that up definitively. I actually like summer okay, and Oregon summers are pleasant and mild for the most part. But I do battle insomnia and loss of appetite when the weather turns warmer and this year, they came with a low burn anxiety that had me agitated and restless by mid-August. But the rains finally came in mid-September and we crossed into blessedly cool and wonderful autumn at last. It took a few weeks, but I started to feel like my old self again.
Really, 2013 could've been an okay year, my struggles with the summer notwithstanding. But there had been one particular shadow casting a long silhouette across everything all year, and in the back of my mind, I knew something very hard was coming.
Back in January amidst all the work stuff, my dear friend and colleague and mentor, Geri, received terrible health news. The kind of news that measures time in weeks and not years. The kind of news that brings everything else to a stop. Two months, they said. Maybe three.
She leaped into a battle for more time. Not time for the sake of it, nor time increasingly occupied by specialists and last-ditch treatments. She was determined to have good, quality, make-the-most-of-it, leave-no-regrets time. And warrior that she was, she wrested eight extra months of time from that initial diagnosis and in true Geri fashion, she packed a whole lot of living into it.
I was one of many incredibly fortunate beneficiaries of that extra time so fiercely fought for. We met for lunch regularly and I visited her at home when treatments left her tired. We texted all the time. We played epic rounds of Word Feud and Draw Something until well past either of our bed times. She regaled me with tales of a life well-lived, of a fearless woman who blazed trails and kicked asses left, right, and center while wearing very fashionable footwear. I showed her whatever artwork I'd recently finished and told her all my funniest stories and caught her up on the latest goings on at the office. I got to visit with her and laugh with her and hug her and hold her hand. I got to make sure she knew, every time, how important she was to me.
Her partner very kindly notified me the morning she died, and my colleagues very kindly shouldered the responsibility of figuring out how best to notify our staff, and my husband very kindly asked me what did I need. It was a pretty fall day, season of my heart, all blue sky and autumn colors ablaze in technicolor intensity, the kind of day that's so brilliant your soul feels too small to contain it all, and as I sat looking out our kitchen window, I knew it was a day to be outside, breathing that air and digging in the earth, connecting to life in a profoundly simple way.
It's a tradition in my family to plant something to mark events and occasions and to remember those we love. A lilac for a mother's day, perhaps, maybe a pretty clematis for a birthday. A favorite rose bush to mark a great grandmother's passing, a silver leafed tree to mark a daughter's graduation, a willow for a significant anniversary. Geri was a gardener -- she would appreciate such a tradition. A tree would honor her well.
At the nursery, as we wandered among maples and oaks and birch and ash, I thought a lot about her, touching each trunk -- was this Geri's tree? This one? Maples are my favorite, but the birches kept drawing our attention. The birch is a symbol of renewal and strength, the first to leaf when spring hasn't yet taken firm hold, quick to repopulate after the ravages of fire. Resilient in times of adversity, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed, a symbol of hope and a reminder that the dark days will brighten. Yes, that was Geri.
We decided on a birch variety called 'royal frost', which has red and burgundy leaves in spring and summer, turning gold in fall, and striking salmon-colored bark until it matures. We made a prominent place for it in our back yard near the stump of the old apple tree we had to take down last year, tucked in among ferns and bleeding hearts and snowberries and heuchera. That pretty salmon bark stood out beautifully, the last few leaves burning dark burgundy against the late October sky. Damp dark earth, sharp scented bark mulch, a hummingbird hovering nearby as if to oversee our informal little ritual.
The serenity of that day became a touchpoint of calm in the weeks that followed. There was the office remodel that became both a logistical and scheduling headache, the abrupt demise of my laptop a week before my clients' websites needed their monthly updates, the scramble to get the house ready for an appraisal for a refinance that moved faster than expected. There was my granddad in the hospital, and a week later, my dad. My granddad's surgery went well, thankfully. Dad's surgery did, too, but there were complications and days of worry and frequent check-ins, waiting to hear if everything was going to be okay.
There was Geri's memorial. There were the hard days that followed.
There was a health scare for Smaug that saw us at Dove Lewis (emergency veterinary hospital) at 1 AM on a Monday night, where we waited for nearly five hours through a series of tests and scans, ending in inconclusive results and us returning home long enough for an hour nap before our regular vet opened for more tests.
There was me forgetting the disk with the scans from the hospital in the rush to get out the door, which meant Sal had to bring them to me instead of getting a couple of hours sleep before work, and all of that complicated by a financial snafu that threatened to derail the refinance, which Sal heroically straightened out while we waited for the vet. Afterward, there was a mad dash to the office for a meeting, still in my clothes from the night before and barely able to keep my eyes open. There was a text from Sal when I got out of my meeting that his laptop stopped working because of course it had.
Smaug's recovered, thankfully, from what turned out to be an e.coli infection. But she and Hobbes will be 18 in a few months, and she doesn't bounce back like she used to. They've been slowing down a bit this last year, but she seems to be aging quicker since this last incident. I have a feeling that this was probably our last Christmas with her, and as close as she and Hobbes are, wouldn't be surprised if he follows her soon after. They both seem okay, but something seems to have changed, and I feel like she's giving us little signs to prepare ourselves. Maybe for months, maybe for longer. Maybe not.
So we make extra extra sure to enjoy our time with them each day, and continue to be grateful for the many years of joy and immeasurable love they have brought into our lives. We will let them go gracefully and painlessly when their time comes, whenever it does. I don't know how I will face those days, or a home without their delightfully demented and crazed little selves. This is the price we pay for love.
But if the month of November was heavy with grief, it was not unrelenting. ProcrastiGirl got engaged and her obvious happiness is an infectious sort of joy. The appraisal exceeded our hopes, the refinance closed successfully, and we'll be able to start some long overdue projects soon. The laptops were replaced (after a not insignificant amount of sturm und drang, but compared to everything else, it's hardly worth a mention), and I was fortunate enough to borrow one from work in the meantime, managing through two months of client website updates without a hitch despite the disarray of our technology while we waited for our new laptops. Family and friends provided support and encouragement throughout the chaos. We squeezed in time for little diversions to relieve the stress. We enjoyed our annual Hall-Smiley Thanksgiving Extravaganza of laughter and fun and food and love.
And even after she was gone, Geri was still working her special magic. It was thanks in part to her that reconciliation came from an unexpected quarter, renewing a lost relationship. That loss was an old wound, deep, but long since moved past. But she healed it just the same, as if to remind me that she's still got her eye on me. On all of us. That was the kind of person she was, to have an impact on all the lives that surrounded hers. Renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed. Yes indeed, that's Geri.
Heading into December, I think 2013 decided we'd had enough. December came with spectacular bouts of fog and downright frigid temperatures, conjuring something akin to the winters we grew up with -- as close as you can get in the PNW, anyway --which it made it feel more festive somehow. We had some much-needed time off together, in which we baked cookies and listened to Christmas music and watched every single one of our Christmas movies. A few days before Christmas, we dressed up for a nice night out -- dinner at Veritable Quandary followed by the tree all lit up at Pioneer Courthouse Square and enjoying being out and about in our city all dressed up for the holiday. We went to all the movies we wanted to see and took walks through the neighborhood and brewed beer and spent time in the studio making glorious artistic messes.
Between Christmas and New Years', we made our winter pilgrimage to Oceanside, enjoying unusually warm days, a bit of sunshine, and the sounds of the waves soothing us to sleep at night. Sal found four intact sand dollars, the first time we've ever found one intact, let alone four, and that seems like a good omen. And we ended the year the same way we started it, with our Smiley family and all the little traditions we've created together for the last day and the first.
That's by no means all of our highlights -- nor all of our lowlights -- of the complicated year we've just put behind us, but they're the parts I wanted to share here, to memorialize. I won't remember 2013 fondly, but I do want to remember that so many good memories happened this year, too, and maybe 2013 was a lesson in taking comfort in those things amidst the difficult ones. To remember the symbolism of Geri's tree: of renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed.
She was saying it from the vantage of acquaintanceship, looking into my life from the outside, seeing the picture I showed her, of the old house lovingly remodeled, the dear husband who is talented and kind and hilarious and so very thoughtful, the two cats with more personality than their little bodies can hold. And surely to someone with two little kids at home and free time a far distant memory, my life of writing and artwork and frequent trips and neighborhood adventures must surely seem romantic and enchanting. She does not see the dishes that pile up more often than I'm comfortable admitting, or the tumbling tumbleweeds of cat hair that roll across our dusty floors, or the week-long dash of work and responsibilities and mismatched schedules that mean Sal and I only see each other for a couple of hours each day Monday through Friday.
Nonetheless, she was right. I had fresh strawberries and cream on waffles my husband made for breakfast this morning. The weather has been unbelievably perfect, all temperate air and sunny brightness and brilliant blue sky and we spent yesterday on the patio reading before family arrived for an overnight visit.
We made our dinner as a family and blew bubbles and built a fairy house in the backyard and stayed up late playing board games. After they left this morning, Sal and I spent our day on the back porch, surrounded by the oasis of our little patch of earth, doing artwork and being affectionately exasperated by the kitties, feeling awash with contentment. Dinner was easy-going, something on the grill and the rest pulled together from odds and ends, so that we sat down to a meal that could have featured in any magazine. There was a table with view and star lights for ambiance and pretty little dishes to eat from and a bouquet of flowers, and none of it required any sort of fuss, it just all happened, like magic.
Today and yesterday, I walked barefoot through my house, my sweet little cottage of a house, windows thrown open to let the outside in, and just took a moment to be in each room. To be and to be grateful.
Here is the front porch: view of steep forests and the green arc of a man-made sculpture, a rocking chair and a lazy swing as front row seats to a tiny little paradise.
Here is the dining room: all rich wood turned deep dark by age, anchored by tables customized with our own artwork, and in the wide window alcove, two kitties curled into one furry ball on the cushions put there just for them.
Here is the kitchen: inviting and warm, filled with layer upon layer upon infinite layer of every meal and treat made with loving care for four generations of families.
Here is the back porch: a view to rival the front with a table for two and a reading chair tucked in the corner alongside the flower pots full of cheerful daisies.
Here is the studio: a room of creative energy, meant for paint and clay and stories of imaginary places, a room that turns briefly to magnificent gold at a very specific time of day and magic becomes very, very real.
Here is the library: a refuge for books and long days of nothing but escaping into them from the comfort of an overstuffed chair, the place to be when it's cold and rainy outside, when the only things that can warm me up on the inside are a cup of hot chocolate and sleeping cat and a well-worn copy of my favorite book.
Here is the attic: a nook for reading and a nook for leisurely Sunday breakfasts, a bed dressed in luxurious sheets and a pile of pillows and a blanket made of feathers, set beneath the stars, where we fall asleep to the sound of foghorns when the mist sits so thick on the river that ships the size of small villages call to each other in the damp dark.
Here is the yard: filled with plants and trees and shrubs planted before us and others we planted ourselves, transformed to a little patch of forest, with beds of vegetables to one side and moss-covered walls we built by hand, and silvery bells tucked amongst the ferns chiming at the passage of a breeze or a raccoon or a hummingbird.
Yesterday marked 11 years since Hall House officially became ours. Today marked 23 years since Sal and I officially became a couple. Without even planning to, we celebrated both anniversaries with this, our charming life.
Celebrating Sal's birthday w/dinner & a movie. Dinner @ Mextiza, where we've never had a bad meal & tonight didn't disappoint, either. Holy gods, the rotisserie chicken roasted in red corn, gaujillo peppers, & avocado leaves is worth selling your soul for. Also, one of the perks of being married to a chef is when a former student happens to be working the line & sends out a complimentary appetizer made just for you. #livinthehighlife
Sal cut this pretty bouquet for me from one of our rose bushes. This variety is called "Heart o' Gold", with enormous blooms and a divine scent.
It's a rare Friday date night & a terrific, warm evening with the whole neighborhood out to enjoy this eve of the St. John's Parade & Bizarre (yes, Bizarre). Just had a lovely dinner @ Thai Cottage & now waiting in line for the entertainment portion of the evening. Afterward will be a late night gelato from the shop next door before the pleasant walk home. Have I mentioned lately how much we love where we live?
I am not a coffee drinker. My husband, the poor dear, is a connoisseur of the stuff and living in the The Coffee Bean House of Worship (aka Portland, Oregon, or the Pacific Northwest if you want to mollify Seattle) means that he essentially lives in Nirvana, Shangri-La, Eden, and Valhalla all at once. Which also means that I, the non-coffee drinker, spend a lot of time in coffee houses, bakeries, cafes, and bistros.
The good news is that these places all recognize the non-coffee drinker, offering alternatives of chai, tea, and hot chocolate. Some even offer a variety of each of those things! Which means I, too, can enjoy the experience of reading a book or surfing the 'net whilst sipping from my goodwill mug in some esoteric little place with paintings of radiators and bird feathers by local artists decorating the walls and a mix of indie, rap, and 80s pop (played ironically, natch) in the background.
I order the hot chocolate*. I love tea and chai, but I almost always order the hot chocolate. With whipped cream. And a pastry on the side. It's the small luxuries in life.... And after countless cups of hot chocolate in a countless number of aforementioned coffee houses, bakeries, cafes, and bistros, I have learned that coffee places cannot make hot chocolate for shit.
*(Yes, yes, I know. It's not hot chocolate, it's hot cocoa. Hot chocolate is actual melted chocolate, generally served in a demitasse cup because no one could possibly drink 8 oz. of it at a sitting. I have enjoyed the ecstasy of actual hot chocolate -- drinking chocolate -- and I agree that the distinction is important. But I have grown up saying "hot chocolate" not "hot cocoa" in the same way I have grown up saying "pop" not "soda" and these language differences are a signifier of regional nuances and cultural variations make us a tapestry yada yada and some things you just can't beat out of a person.)
I'm pretty sure that 90% of the coffee people who put hot chocolate on their menus have never actually tasted the hot chocolate they serve, and they universally labor under the delusion that a squirt of chocolate syrup in a mug of warm milk, stirred until it's no longer white, is all that's needed to call it hot chocolate. I get that coffee people do not deign to sully their palates with the plebeian tastes of the great unwashed. Nonetheless, it seems sensical to taste the items you're selling. If for some reason you cannot, then perhaps it should not appear on your menu. I have been tempted on many occasions to march back to the counter with my mug, hand it back to the barrista, and say, "I ordered hot chocolate. This, sir, is tinted milk."
I am utterly baffled by the dearth of a decent cup of hot chocolate in this town. With only a handful of exceptions, every hot chocolate I have ordered has been an exercise in disappointment variance. You would think, in the gastronomical mecca that this city has become famous as, in which we have elevated the donut to a performance art, beer to an elixir of the gods, and bacon to a freaking staple, that we might have mastered the simple combination of chocolate and milk. I'm frankly surprised that we don't see the same experimentation with hot chocolate that we see with waffles, ice cream, and potatoes, but I would just settle for mastery of the basics.
So to the coffee joints of this city that I adore, a simple request: please, learn to make hot chocolate. Taste what you're selling -- you don't have to be a fan of hot chocolate to know that what you're serving isn't cutting it. It doesn't have to have the consistency of sludge to be considered chocolatey enough. "Pale brown" is not a signifier that you're done. Topping with a big dollop of whipped cream does not transform a crappy mug of hot chocolate into a gourmet treat. And the bitterness of straight unsweetened chocolate and no sugar whatsoever may please your coffee-conditioned taste buds, but for a non-coffee drinker, it just makes me hate you.
You are officially fired from 2013. Please collect your things and turn in your keys, HR will have your final paycheck.
You have not gotten off to a good start with me. As you'll recall, I had some reservations about you before you even started, so it's in your best interest to try to gain my favor. You don't want to follow in 2012's footsteps -- that path doesn't end well for anyone. So step up your game, 2013, and consider yourself on notice.
We actually saw the movie at a midnight showing on opening night...? day?...whatever, it was a Thursday at midnight. Not as the obsessive fans we were for LOTR, purchasing our tickets well ahead, leaving work early, and standing in line for hours, but just because it worked out. We did not even trek to a technologically advanced theater with the best sound system and reclining seats. Our trek involved only the four block walk from our house to our little neighborhood theater about 30 minutes before the movie started. But more about that in a minute.
See, I never felt about The Hobbit the way I did LOTR, which is kind of odd since it was my gateway to the world I fell in love with. I loved The Hobbit in the same way I loved The Chronicles of Narnia and The Chronicles of Prydain*, as wonderfully immersive and thrilling adventures that satiated my hungry imagination. But even at that age, I understood the fundamental difference between The Hobbit and what came after, the difference in tone and scope and magnitude, and that deep, deep mythology of LOTR satisfied me in a way that The Hobbit did not.
[*Although in truth, Prydain was elevated even amongst these, and was as formative to my childhood as LOTR, A Little Princess, Ramona Quimby, and To Kill A Mockingbird. Prydain was what developed my taste for the tragic with the triumphant, the flawed characters who start as endearing dreamers and end with a hard-won and tattered nobility.]
Which is to say that I was looking forward to the movie, but not with anywhere near the anticipation that I had for LOTR. We weren't even planning to see it until sometime the first weekend, but I'd noticed on the neighborhood theater billboard earlier that week that they were advertising a midnight showing and thought hey, that might be fun. We love our neighborhood theater, and it just seemed the perfect way to enjoy the movie.
Of course, our neighborhood is comprised of many types of very Portlandesque Portlanders, including a large representation from hippie to hipster, and that alone was guaranteed to make the whole experience even more entertaining. The wonderful thing about the neighborhood theater is that it's this great old theater that's been restored, but not by people who were slavishly devoted to the architecture and intent on turning it into a monument to some golden era. The place looks fixed up, but fixed up on a budget, and it still has some of its shabby charm and juuuust a touch of funky aesthetic to give it its own character and sense of home. Which is characteristic of our neighborhood in general, but I've already digressed enough.
Anyway! As we settled into our seats and watched the place fill up around us, it became clear that the hipster contingent of the geek crowd was going to comprise the majority of the audience. Which became an anthropological exercise of its own, since I'm far more versed in the culture and traditions of the full-blown nerd subset of fandom, and there are definite differences between the two. The nerdy part of fandom is more likely to dress in costume, for instance, and argue the lineage of Numenor, while the hipster sect will top each other with how early they were into LOTR before it was cool. But, you know, geeks are geeks in all our different flavors, and we share more in common than we do with the general population. Like showing up at midnight for a movie about a hobbit who lived in a hole.
If it seems like I have a whole lot to say about the experience of the movie rather than the movie itself, that's true. The movie itself was fun and silly and enjoyable. It captured the tone of the book well (i.e., that the book was a children's story, and had an entirely different focus than the later books). Middle-Earth was as lovely and magical as ever, and I would've seen the movie for that alone. Martin Freeman made Bilbo relatable and likeable. Thorin was appropriately driven by duty, and depicted with far more gravitas than I think every came across in the book, no doubt to serve the need for an Aragorn-like hero. Also, LOL Thranduil and your haughty disdain for all things dwarf.
Like everyone else, I wondered how the movie would fare by being stretched into one of three, a ridiculously transparent money-making scheme that I worried would ruin what could be a good movie (or movie and sequel at most) with a bunch of filler. As expected, the filler came from other Tolkien works, giving backstory that happened off-screen in the book, but I thnk it was generally handled okay. The little detour with Radagast, for instance, was fun and set the stage nicely for "The Necromancer" and of course the appearance of the Witch-King of Angmar and the infamous Morgul Blade was a nice bit of foreshadowing. (Although I was disappointed by the characterization of Radagast, as I always thought him more akin to St. Francis of Assisi than Dr. Dolittle.) That said, three movies is still going to be much more than necessary, and just makes me wish for more LOTR than more Hobbit.
Still, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the experience we had in seeing the movie, and I'm glad we didn't go to the lengths we went for LOTR. I didn't have my socks blown off, but I didn't expect them to be.
Goodbye, 2012. You weren't my worst year ever, but I'm not sorry to see you go. You weren't that deadbeat 2008 crashing on my couch and playing Halo all day in your underwear, but you didn't do much to distinguish yourself, either. Not that you all have to be like 2006 and 2007 and being a mixed bag isn't necessarily a strike against you. But you started out a better friend than you ended up being and the more I got to know you, the less I liked you. Plus, you were kind of bitchy-nice. At least 2009 had the decency to just punch me right in the face instead of this passive-aggressive bullshit.
As for you, 2013, your reputation precedes you and it is not reassuring. Turmoil, disruption, chaos...those are generally the characteristics of a toxic personality that I could not wait to be rid of. But maybe all those rumors about you are mistaken. I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but don't push me, 2013. Ask 2003 and 2004 what happened when they ganged up on me. If you can find them.
Of course, you're bringing me the big four-oh right off the bat. That's a gift I have mixed feelings about, though not for the reasons you might assume. But I'll keep an open mind and see what you bring me. You might be one of those challenging friends that's hard to get to know, but one worth having just the same.
So my hatewatch of the Twilight franchise is officially over and I no longer have to march in the Zombie Shame Parade. When the credits were mostly done, ProcrastiGirl and I turned to each other and said, "Well, we survived it!", then broke down in giggles. There may have been a tinge of hysteria.
This last one was definitely better than the others, in much the same way the first circle of hell is better than the seventh. Although I admit I have a bit of affection for the first movie, just for its endearingly earnest awfulness and for all the hilarity that ensued when ProcrastiGirl first realized that the sparklepires don't have fangs. I seriously haven't laughed like that during a movie in a long time.
The main reason this one was better is because for about 10 or 15 minutes near the end, the movie showed the possibility of what this story could've been, as if the screenwriter snuck in a great big FU as a major plot twist. Before the reveal of the twist, I was suddenly all, "WHAT WHAT WHAAAAAAT THIS IS THE GREATEST THING THAT COULD HAVE POSSIBILY HAPPENED IF THIS IS REAL I AM GOING TO OWN THIS MOVIE AND JUST PLAY THIS PART OVER AND OVER AND OVER."
And then there was the reveal of the twist and I was suddenly ::sadface:: because seriously, that brief glimpse of kickassery made me long to live in the alternate universe where that's how the Twilight saga really ended. (Although let's be honest: in said alternate universe, Edward would've gotten the beatdown for being an abusive hosebag and Jacob would've gotten kicked in the nutsack when he assaulted Bella and Bella would've realized that they were creepers who didn't deserve the time of day, then focused on her studies and gone off to college and gotten a degree in literature and her happy ending would be teaching classic romances from a feminist perspective by day and staking vampires by night. In that alternate universe? I would've read the shit out of the Twilight books.)