Entries in pacific northwest paradise (93)


deception pass

Climbing the North Beach Bridge Trail at Deception Pass State Park for this view. In other news, today was pretty much perfect. #theoceanismedicine #natureistherapy


one item missing from the travel checklist

This is one of those "This will be a funny story someday" moments:

Sal has a conference in Mt. Vernon for a few days so I've tagged along. We've made this trip many times and we like the area so it's a fun little free getaway.

After an almost 6 hour drive thanks to Seattle's demonic traffic, we've arrived safely to a hotel room that's decent and quiet and are thinking about where we're going to eat. Start unloading the car, he gets the luggage cart loaded up, I ask, "Where's the suitcase?"

I don't think I've ever ever ever seen that expression on his face before.

No suitcase. Didn't get loaded in the car. I didn't load it, he didn't load it. No pajamas, underwear, change of clothes, toiletries, curling iron, brush, glasses, walking shoes, jackets. We did, however, remember the laptops and the lunch cooler full of homemade cookies and brownies, so we've got what we need to survive, at least.

We're now off to find some basic clothes and toiletries. And then dinner.


bountiful handful


You and I still aren't on speaking terms, Summer, but I suppose these little peace offerings get us a little closer to truce. Thank you for this handful of today's tomato harvest.






the obligatory foot selfie @ pdx

They started the tear up on Friday so of course I had to seize my last opportunity for a foot selfe on the iconic Portland airport carpet (if you've somehow missed the big to do about the replacement and are wondering what the big deal is about a freaking carpet...well, Google is your friend).


my unintentional year in review

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.

at Manzanita, looking toward Neahkahnie MountainThankfully, 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.

the rapiers are the prettiest, but the longswords are the most funSigns 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.

Lake Quinault LodgeOur 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.

summer vacation in OceansideAt 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.

Crooked River Canyon, looking eerily similar to our Wyoming homeOur 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.

it's been more than 13 years since we'd last had a Taco Johns softshell, and it tasted just like we remembered(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.)

rain, rain, glorious rainThe 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.

the lilac my mom bought for my new homeIt'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.

Geri's treeWe 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.

the day Smaug returned from her ordeal at the hospital and the vetSmaug'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.

Christmas Eve fogHeading 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.

winter vacation in OceansideBetween 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.




Friday night in the 'hood

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?

doubting your committment to sparkle motion

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.


saturday in the hood

Dinner & a movie @ St. John's Pub w/my sweetie. Life is good.

your perfect chaos is a perfect fit

Today is a post of odds and ends, wee tales of empowerment, quirkiness, and adorableness. Also, food.

A Tale In Which Our Heroine Gets A Sign From the Universe. Literally.

On the way to the store a few weeks ago, there was a handmade sign stapled to a lightpole saying "Go Brittney Go!" An unexpected exhortation to hurry, hurry to the store? Words of encouragement for braving the hordes in the produce section when I got there?

No, just a remnant from the Portland Marathon a few days before (the route brings participants across the bridge and down Willamette, which is the street I was on), one of many homemade signs of cheer and support along the route. This one was on neon pink posterboard and featured stars and glitter.

A little further on, another sign: "Brittney You Go Girl!" I grinned and said to myself, "Yes, Brittney, you go girl!" And then after that, "YOU ROCK BRITTNEY GO GO GO!" I nodded and pumped my fist a little, "Yes, Brittney, you do rock! Go, go, go!"

It was the most empowering trip to the grocery store I've ever had.

A Tale of What Makes This City Uniquely Fabulous

On the way home from that same trip to the store, I saw what would've been the most awesome thing that day, if I hadn't already taken the grocery store errand of champions just before.

In the bike lane on the opposite side of the street, a cyclist caught my attention from a few blocks away, which is saying something, since cyclists are ubiquitous in this city of that's a haven for bike lovers. It wasn't that he was an older man, nor that he was riding an older-style bike that forced him to sit more upright, nor even that he was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt instead of sporting the hipster-biker and/or Serious Biking Enthusiast gear that's more common. No, it wasn't any of those things, because you get used to seeing all types when bikes make up as much traffic as cars do.

What caught my eye was the white fur stole wrapped around the man's neck and shoulders. I kept staring as I got closer, trying to puzzle out this unusual fashion choice. Was it for warmth? It was a gorgeous 70 degree autumn day, so that seemed unlikely. And fur-anything is a rare sight here, the headquarters of Liberal and Vegan and Environmentally And Socially Conscious.

It wasn't until I passed him that I finally realized that it wasn't a fur at all.

It was his beard.

Parted in the middle and thrown over each shoulder.

I wish every trip to the grocery store was that awesome.

A Tale of What's Red and Black and Adorable All Over

Sister reported the following conversation between her and the Fabulous Miss M regarding favorite colors:

Miss M: And Aunt Bitty's favorite color is purple, like me!

Sister: Yes, and yellow.

Miss M: Mommy, what's Uncle Sal's favorite color?

Sister: I think he likes black. And red.

(I was impressed that she remembered that, by the way.)

Miss M: Uncle Sal is a Ladybug Man!

(And now you know why we spoil her rotten. When you're that adorable, it's a requirement.)

A Tale of Bento Catch Up

But not bento ketchup. Although that would be rad.

Super behind on posting bento pics, but there were too many good ones not to feature them here, and also, NEW BENTO BOX WOOT WOOT! In my search for non-plastic boxes, I've finally added a glasslock box called a Wean Green, which is a pyrex type of glass with a locking plastic sealed lid. This one is square and holds 490 mL, so it's a good in-between size with a nice depth. (For the locals: New Seasons sells them alongside the Lunchbots.)

10/15/12 lunch -- Ms. Bento

  • chicken noodle soup made by Chef Sal
  • carrot sticks
  • green beans
  • Cox's Orange Pippin apple with cashews as gap fillers
  • chocolate pudding

10/16/12 breakfast -- pink WeanGreen

  • molded egg
  • cashews
  • Honeycrisp apple
  • cheese cubes


10/16/12 lunch -- bento colors purple

  • King David apple with cashews as gap fillers
  • chicken teriyaki meatballs
  • steamed broccoli
  • carrot sticks with honey peanut butter for dipping


10/18/12 lunch -- pink Natural Lunch

  • chicken teriyaki meatballs
  • steamed carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • molded egg half
  • Anjou pear


10/22/12 lunch -- french bistro

  • crab
  • peas and carrots
  • King David apple with cashews as gap fillers


title from "Get On the Road" by Tired Pony


give us this day, our daily bread

We returned Sunday from a 4 day trip to northern Washington, where Sal attended a work-related conference and I tagged along, because hey, why not. More specificially, he attended Kneading Conference West, the purpose of which is "to inspire and educate novice and professional bakers, grain growers, millers, wheat breeders, wood-fired oven enthusiasts, food entrepreneurs, food writers, and anyone who loves to eat hand-crafted breads."

So basically, three straight days of talking about bread, literally morning, noon, and night, and Sal could not have been happier if he had been baked right into a loaf of artisan bread. He was so gleeful at the end of every day that he probably could've powered the entire city of Las Vegas with his excitement. And now there is talk of milling our own flour and (finally) building that earth oven we've been talking about for years.

While he spent his days at the conference, I spent my days writing and exploring the area around Mount Vernon. The last time we were there was with the Albino and Mr. T for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, (hence the picture up top). Even without the fields of rainbow flowers, the area is actually quite lovely and the little downtown area is also very charming. On one of my driveabouts, I ended at Bay View State Park, and another, discovered a really great park on a hillside overlooking the valley and enjoyed a wee picnic of cheeses and crackers while reading a book. Not quite the excitement of a conference about bread and baking, perhaps, but a lovely few days of R&R. I can do with a little less excitement at the moment, anyway.

Super behind on bento postings, but here are the last few. The rest are on the daily bento page, as always. (I just realized that I've had pretty much the same lunch for the last several meals. Hmmm, perhaps time to change things up.

9/6 lunch, Lunchbot Duo

  • herb roasted turkey breast
  • steamed broccoli
  • Jazz apple slices
  • cucumber slices
  • carrot sticks
  • strawberry
  • sunflower seeds

9/6 snacks, Lunchbot Pico

  • Jazz apple slices, cashews (morning snack)
  • hardboiled egg, carrot sticks, cucumber slices (afternoon snack)

9/10 lunch, pink Natural Lunch

  • herb roasted turkey breast
  • steamed broccoli
  • carrot sticks
  • pear slices

9/18 lunch, origami squares

  • herb roasted turkey breast
  • steamed broccoli
  • carrot sticks
  • Honeycrisp apple slices
  • dried cherries

the gerbils have gone on strike

<-- So that's pretty much been my life in the two weeks since I first started writing this post, except without the adorableness. The gerbils who make my computer go are way meaner and far less eager to help than kittens.

The good thing is that my problem (hard drive failure in my laptop) happened in slow motion, which gave me time while I waited for a new drive to get here to double and triple check my backups, make a list of programs I'd need to reinstall, copy critical files to a flash drive so I could use other computers (i.e., Sal's) while mine was down, and all the other things that make starting over much easier. I'm the most prepared I think I've ever been for an imminent hardware crash.

But oh, how much it sucks nonetheless. Even though I knew it was coming and had time to prepare, and have a second computer at my disposal and a smartphone to keep me connected to email, just the thought of the hours of reinstalling the OS and software, swapping out disks through endless reboots, the inevitable glitches and unexpected errors, etc. etc. etc. made my stomach churn, nevermind actually having to suffer through all that. Pile on the fact that it requires hours I really, really don't have right now, that I was up against a deadline for getting everything up and running again due to work and my website business, and most importantly, my book was being threatened in whatever minuscule way...well, let's just say I have morphed into a female Bruce Banner, on the verge of hulking out at any moment.

When you're tech savvy, I think people assume that these kinds of things don't faze you. But I can tell you that when you're trying to resurrect what is essentially your day-to-day life in a fancy metal box and you're only a blue screen of death away from utter devastation, you're just as liable to commit ritual seppuku as a less tech savvy person. You'll probably just do it in a really geeky way.

Anyway, I'm still here, I've successfully avoided hulksmashing anything (yet), and I seem to be reaping the benefits of all that preparedness, since the transition has been relatively smooth thus far. (With the exception of about 30 heart-stopping minutes very late Monday night, when I thought I had accidentally overwritten my backup. Sal happened to call in the middle of my building freakout to tell me he was on his way home, and I'm pretty sure nothing I said was coherent, but I don't know for certain because I've blacked it all out.)

Since I had a post mostly written before my laptop started bidding adieu to this mortal coil, I'll just quote it below. More for me than for you, if only to remind myself that we had a life before the gerbils went on strike, and we will again soon. (Also, I won't try to post makeup listings of my bentos in that time, but you can see them all here.)

(post originally written on August 14th, 2012)

Sal did the Bridge Pedal Sunday, riding his bike on a route that crossed all 10 city bridges. It's about 35 miles altogether, plus the 18 miles he rode to and from the race start/finish. Whew! We met up for lunch and drinks when he was finished, which is proof that I'm way smarter, since I skipped right to the good part with none of that silly bike-riding nonsense.

Sunday was officially hot enough that we set up the bed on the back porch and have been sleeping out there since. It's supposed to be even hotter later this week, so we're going to be out there for a week or more. [ETA: And so we did, for a full week, and it was glorious.]

Getting to sleep outside is pretty much the only upside when it gets hot. It's like camping, sort of! We camped all the time when I was growing up -- the really real kind of camping, where you hike into remote areas and cook your food over a firepit you dug yourself and the nearest bathroom is a good 20 miles away -- and I miss that kind of summer getaway sometimes.

It always takes a couple of nights to get used to the change and remember the details of sleeping outside: the rustling of the raccoons on their nightly sojourn through the backyard, the scritchy screetchy sounds the possum family makes as they shuffle under the porch and around the side the house, the occasional mortar round sound of an apple falling onto the porch roof.

Or, I should say, it always takes me a couple of nights to get used to those details. Sal sleeps like a damn rock, and whether it's the creaking sound of a floorboard that may or may not be the footfall of an axe murderer, or the unidentified but very clear sound of something rustling about under the apple and maple trees where it's too dark to see, he sleeps blissfully on.

I've gotten used to the nighttime sounds of our neighborhood wildlife, and with the exception of the apples, no longer shoot bolt upright in bed every time there's a new sound in the dark outside our screened-in porch. In fact, I've even been able to enjoy my current reading material -- a book about the zombie apocalypse -- in this setting, read under the covers with a flashlight*. Without nightmares! I think I'm officially a Big Kid now.

*(I have read many a book with a flashlight, snugged down inside a sleeping bag out in the middle the damn wilderness, but it's been a long while. It's kind of made me all nostalgic. )


and only the stormy hearts know what it says

While the rest of the PNW was suffering its first hot temperatures of the summer this weekend, we were literally basking in the glory of a beautific summer day on the Oregon Coast.

The timing was strictly a stroke of luck. We scheduled this bonus weekend at the end of June, when the proprietors of the cabins we frequent offered us first dibs on a cancellation for this weekend. The perks of being a regular.

So instead of sweltering in 102 degree heat in our non-air conditioned house, we were stretched out on the sand on a perfectly perfect 80 degree day under ridiculous blue sky.

And we remembered the sunscreen! And the sunglasses! So we weren't burnt to human-shaped crisps! Nor were our eyeballs broiled in their sockets! Hurray for responsibility!

A tempered victory, though. We have a standing Oregon Coast Checklist to help us remember the things we need/want/might bring. It's rare that we bring most or even half of the items, but it's indispensable in helping us remember everything for each trip. In our haste to get out the door, I didn't bother pulling up the list. We've made this trip dozens of times, surely we'd remember what we needed. And we were traveling especially light this time. Most of the list wouldn't apply.

Oh, nay nay.

Throughout the weekend, one of us would suddenly name a thing we realized we'd forgotten, accompanied by a facepalm. "Camera!" "Chairs!" "Butter!" Whoops. Lesson learned: always leave a note check the list.

Sunday was nearly as hot in Portland as Saturday, but in Oceanside, we had fog and cloud cover so heavy it was as if the sky was only a hundred feet high. No wind, no sun, and just the right combination of cool and temperate. It was goddamn glorious. Sal and I did not a single damn thing all day except relax and read and nap.

An hour or so before sunset, we changed to warmer clothes, filled a small cooler with ingredients for a campfire meal (hot dogs, buns, marshmallows, carrot sticks, etc.), and claimed a spot on the beach for building a fire. This is a pretty regular thing on Oregon beaches, so it's easy to find a ring of rocks and remnants of a previous fire someone else built. The sophistication of the firepits will vary, but it's rare that you have to build one from scratch.

We managed to snag a good one, complete with two big driftwood logs for seating, and only had to build a second ring on top of the first to make it deeper. Our luck ended there, though. We'd bought a small bundle of wood (with the heat, the beach was crazy-crowded, which means there was not a stick of small driftwood to be found) but didn't realize until we were trying to get a fire going that it wasn't seasoned and there were no pieces that were really kindling-sized.

We'd almost burnt through all of our paper trying to get the fire going and were about to admit defeat when a guy came down the hillside, saw that our fire, you know, wasn't, and offered to bring some kindling from his van. WAY too good to be true, this guy. It could've been a candy-from-strangers situation, but he was just a nice guy with good timing doing a nice thing.

A really nice thing, actually, since he didn't actually have kindling in his van, he had wood in his van, which he then chopped into a big bundle of kindling and hauled back down the hillside to us. And single-handedly saved our much-anticipated beachside picnic in the process. Then politely refused any offer to share in our fire or food, just left with a handshake and a smile. Faith in humanity: restored.

So we enjoyed our cookout and our fire until well past dark, ocean rumbling nearby, fog bank keeping the air cool and still, the smell of woodsmoke bringing back too many memories to count.


title taken from "Young Sea" by Carl Sandburg, which contains one of my all-time favorite lines:  "I am the last word/ And I tell/ Where storms and stars come from."


goonies never say die

Friday, we celebrated our 16th anniversary.

We actually celebrated all weekend. Friday was dinner in Astoria at a favorite restaurant on the water, then to our hotel with a lovely view of Youngs Bay. Saturday, a leisurely start of late morning coffee and pastries at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, a bit of shopping, a visit to Fort Clatsop. Then a pretty drive over to Fort Stevens, where we picnicked on the beach and read and sketched for a few hours. The day was dry and temperate despite a fog that hung heavy and low, which made the whole day feel deliciously still, as if everything had just sort of...paused for a little while. Sunday morning, brunch and a stroll through my favorite art gallery before leaving for home.

At the last minute on our way out of town, and despite a soaking drizzle, we acted on impulse and took a quick detour to drive by The Goonies house.

The Goonies, you see, are part of the reason I fell in love with Sal. On our second date, when I sheepishly confessed a secret wish to live in Astoria someday because I loved The Goonies and maybe kind of hoped I'd discover my own well-creased map that led to adventure and treasure and pirate ships, Sal didn't laugh. He squeezed my hand and confessed he maybe kind of had the same secret wish.

A month before our big move to Portland, we came out for the first time to register Sal for culinary school, look for a job, and find an apartment. We had five days to accomplish everything, and a budget so tight that two loaves of bread, a package of deli turkey, a handful of apples, and small jars of peanut butter and jelly had to stretch for a week's meals. Sal's admissions coordinator tipped us off to a small local motel that was clean and quiet and affordable. We walked a lot.

Sure that we were in over our heads, we were country mice in the big city, just trying to keep from being run over. But being terrified can be good for you, and it was incredibly good for us, that terrifying and terrifically exciting adventure, that leap from the safe to the absolutely unknown. Our lives were never the same, in all the best possible ways.

The last day of that exploratory trip before we had to drive home was our fourth anniversary. Sal was officially registered for culinary school, the beginning realization of a lifelong dream. No job or place to live yet, but I had completed the registration process with a temp agency, and we were hoping to hear we'd gotten the apartment we wanted. We'd survived the city all on our own, and we were making it happen, this intrepid new future of ours. We'd managed to set aside a little bit of money to splurge on something more than PB&J for our anniversary and we had lots of reasons to celebrate. So that afternoon, we headed west on Sunset Highway for a late afternoon lunch in Astoria.

We had only just gotten the hang of two of the main freeways and the streets immediately around our hotel. Driving west, to parts even more unknown, felt like we were driving to the edge of the world. As if we might go flying right off into the starry black if we drove too fast. On our map, I wrote, "Here there be dragons."

But the edge of the world, we discovered, wasn't an abyss stretching boundless past a sharp cliff of earth. It was an ancient sea breaking on verdant mountains, breathtaking and serene. No pirate ships, but no dragons, either.

We were still trying to absorb this monumental change we were undertaking. For a week, we had ridden a fine edge between elation and outright terror, both of us wondering at times if this dream was too big for us, too much for us to hold. But on that anniversary, as we stood along a dock railing watching ships bigger than buildings slide through the water like glaciers, deep blue sky overhead and deeper blue water below, our hands clasped tightly, if only to anchor ourselves to the ground, the realization hit more viscerally than ever before: together, we could face anything. Even flying off the edge of the world.

We've been looking back a lot recently. Marveling at how far we've come, how much more we became because of the leaps we took, the chances and the risks gambled to turn our dreams into this life, this wonderful life. So there was something neatly, perfectly circular about celebrating our anniversary in Astoria this year, in our special together place, our edge-of-the-world place, our we-can-accomplish-anything place.

The place that we discovered adventure and treasure with a well-creased map.


we are human beings, not human doings

contemplations on life, the universe, and everything, from under the apple tree on a perfect summer eveningAutumn is my season, but I seem to develop amnesia about summer. I enjoy summer, too, but I tend to remember the hot days and sweaty nights more than I do the heartachingly gorgeous days of just-the-right temperature, maybe a lilt of breeze to make the windchimes sing a little, a bit of smoke from the coals in the grill, and a whole day to just be. Perhaps I forget so I can have the joy of rediscovery every year, a gift to myself that reminds me about blessing and peace and abundance. A reminder about my cup, so full.

Our long vacation endI come home from the beach each time with rocks and shells stashed in pockets. I tuck them around the yard in little collections like this, under fern fronds and other secret green places to remind me of the ocean. Sal calls them Bitty Vignettes.ed with the holiday last week, but I've been determined to carry over a piece of it into my every day. Trying to leave the office earlier than I have been lately, spending time on the patio and the front porch and the back porch, reading for a bit during the daylight instead of only at bedtime. Setting aside some daily burdens for another day, trimming that to-do list to the essentials, and then trimming some more.

We've been spending our weekend days in a similar routine: breakfast on the back porch, our weekend NPR shows in the background, cats demanding scritches behind the ears and good morning wake-up snuggles. Then to the patio at some point for most of the day, and to the front porch sometime after dinner to enjoy the last sunlight turning the bridge gold, and to the back porch when the bugs finally drive us to the protection of screens. We read, we sketch, we write, we grill, we talk, we putter in the yard, we sit idly by. Such a luxury in lives that are harried and hurried, too much of both. It's good, all this just being time.

I always think of summer as the season of going and doing, and I love going and doing. But there are also the lazy days, the sit-back-and-enjoy days, the I-think-I'll-take-a-nap-in-the-shade days. I needed the reminder.

lunch, Lunchbot Duo:

  • Thai peanut chicken (grilled on skewers)
  • fried rice
  • carrot sticks
  • sesame green beans
  • cherries

it takes an ocean not to break

I think sometimes I was a mermaid in a mythic former life, beginning to shrivel and die a little inside when I'm too long away from water. I live within sight of a river, which helps, and cross a mighty bridge almost daily that soars so high, high in the air that some days the clouds sit low beneath it, and it's very possible that what lies on the other side is a secret city in the sky. Which means I might also be a bird or a seraph (though more of the "burning one" species than the angelic sort).

But even wide rivers across the feet of verdant hills and secret cities in the sky lose their appeal for a mermaid after awhile, and eventually, the sea is the only thing that will do.

The unintended hiatus of the last few months is an indication of how much has been going on, this thing and that thing, a teetering stack, everything piling on to a heap that would crush even the strongest person after a while. Haven't we all known that mountain that can only be carried, not climbed? We identify with Atlas for a reason.

So the salve for such heart weariness is those sacred places that refill us, let us set aside that damnable mountain for awhile and just rest and rejuvenate and remember what it means to be light and airy (and fishy, if you're a mermaid). And my sacred place -- one of many, truth be told, because a person can't have too many sanctuaries, really -- is a wide expanse of mercurial sea hidden at the end of a secret road and marked by the gravestones of three long-dead giants.

We arrived just after a storm had swept through (and indeed, had swept over us an hour before as we wound through mountain passes), sky clear and blue, the air warming and calm. We paused just long enough to unload our stuff and throw together a quick little lunch wrapped in dishcloths, then headed straight for the sand. And for the next few hours, we did nothing but sit in the sun with our tiny feast and spend a whole lot of time just watching. Watching the waves, the birds, the clouds, the people, each other.

And after, we sat on the little porch of our little cabin, drinks in hand and books in laps -- books that never quite got opened as long as the sun was still sinking to the horizon -- and we watched some more. Talked about this life, this wonderful life, what it took to get here and could we even believe it and how we are defined by the places that nurture us.

Then it was time for feasting. An easy accomplishment at the coast, really -- with a good view, even a bowl of cereal could be called a feast. What, then, to call our meal, with its varieties of meats and sausages and cheeses, crusty-soft baguette and sesame-encrusted loaf of Sicilian, fresh mushrooms and carrots, and juicy grapes so sweet we rethink our commitment to chocolate, all with the ocean waves rolling on soft sand a couple hundred feet from our door?

We usually stay longer during our summer break, but this trip was no less regenerative for being shorter. We had warm and cool, sunny and rainy, cloudy and clear, but not a lick of wind through any of it, which makes just about any weather bearable, if you ask me. (The only time I like wind is if it's positively gale force while I am safely ensconced inside someplace cozy and warm with a book and a good light and hot chocolate at hand.) We saw seals in the water and slept in a bed beneath an open window, had blueberry pancakes for breakfast and took pictures of pretty-colored rocks.

Mermaids love pretty-colored rocks.

And bless the dear folks who own and run the cabins where we stay, who call us family and treat us that way, always making sure we get our reservations (even when we're a little tardy in scheduling them) and give us first dibs on our favorite cabins. When we're there, they let us know about cancellations during the busy season, in case we want to snatch up a last-minute getaway, because even though we try to come out every three months or so, we'll never pass up a chance to visit more.

The cynical person would say it's good business to treat your regulars well, but I like to think they recognize a mermaid when they see one.

title taken from "Terrible Love" by The National


light and dark

An impending storm hanging over Forest Park and the setting sun turning everything to gold. Can't believe we get to live here.

tragedy and triumph

The tragedy: my mom sent me a package for my birthday that was supposed to arrive last Saturday (18th) via FedEx. The package, I would learn later, included the last quilt my mom made (hung on the clothesline "so it would smell like home"), a very valuable ivory carving from a family friend she had received when she was a girl and that I had always loved, the carousel horse music box she had handpainted when I was younger, and her Depression glass candy dish that had been on our receiving table at our wedding.

When the package didn't arrive, we looked up the tracking number to learn that their records show it having been delivered at 8:24 AM on the 18th, delivered at the front door of our address, no signature requested. Which was impossible, because Sal was home Saturday until mid-afternoon and no one came to the door, nor were there any delivery trucks on our street all morning. The delivery driver confirmed a few days later that he had accidentally delivered it someplace else but couldn't remember where.

A week of checking with neighbors, multiple contacts with FedEx (including via Twitter), and their delivery driver checking a list of addresses in our area with our house number have turned up nothing, and the package is now officially unrecoverable. My mom and I are both heartbroken. (The tiny blessing in this is that at the last minute, she reconsidered including her diamond ring or my great grandmother's amethyst ring in the package.)

The triumph: So that has been a dark cloud over the whole of the week, tinging everything else. But life marches on, and so did we. Saturday, we finally made it to OMSI for the BodyWorlds exhibit, which is closing here soon and which Sal has wanted to see since the first exhibit that came through the year before last. ProcrastiGirl also wanted to see it, so she joined us for a fun Saturday afternoon and evening. Which worked out really well, because I had absolutely no desire to see the exhibit, so that gave Sal someone to go with, while I headed next door to the planetarium to indulge my inner astronomy geek.

Afterward, we stopped at Guardian Games for the first time, after hearing my friends from Nerd Night (aka neighborhood game night) rave about the place for months now. Stepping through the door was like crossing into Nerdvana. Their inventory is ridiculous (they advertise 14,000+ games in stock), literally wall-to-wall games of every sort imaginable, with game tables and vending machines set up in the back, and staffed by the most sweetly helpful game geeks ever.

They had in stock all three of the games we were thinking about getting for ourselves: Dominion, Pandemic, and my most recent obsession thanks to last week's Nerd Night, Last Night On Earth. Sal and I debated about what to get for at least fifteen minutes, and nearly walked out of there with all three when it became clear it was going to be a Sophie's Choice situation, but reason prevailed and our bank account heaved a sigh of relief, and we walked out with Pandemic and consoled ourselves that we would be back soon. Well, and also consoled ourselves with Zombie Fluxx (because even Fluxx can be improved with zombies). And my own set of swirly purple and pink dice, which means I am officially That Girl.

lunch, Paris slimline:

  • last of the spicy meatballs
  • boiled eggs
  • carrot sticks and peas
  • tangerine
  • pumpkin seeds

the kitchen ninjas strike again

The new ad for OCI is up on their site! KITCHEN NINJAS FTW!

This is the commercial Sal spent a Saturday at the school for a few weeks ago. A whole day of shooting and there are only two brief shots of him.... The appalling lack of Sal-ness aside, however, they did a really terrific job conveying all that's great and awesome about the school and it's unlike anything out there for culinary schools (::coughWesternCulinarycough::). It will pretty much make you want to sign up for classes. I mean who wouldn't want to be a kitchen ninja????

OCI "Rock Montage" Commercial from Actual Industries on Vimeo.



Late lunch in Paris

Okay, not literally Paris. But pretty close, wouldn't you agree? Late lunch at Petite Provence after sleeping in, heading to Omsi for the BodyWorks exhibit (and then skipping it for another time because of the crowds), then a bit of shopping for Sally at River City Bicycles for some new bike gear. Collage is across the street so I suspect that will be our next stop, but not before we indulge in a pastry (or three)!