What to Put on French Fries

Sanguinity over-browned some roux while making creamed spinach and decided to start over. Later she turned the browned batch into Sauce Espagnole, and we rediscovered how wonderful our 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking is:

Legion are the children of this mother-sauce, and only the cook’s clumsiness or lack of ingenuity need convert them into the changelings we lump together as “gravy.”

Graaaaaavy.

Basil

Basil the standard poodle
This is Basil, the standard poodle next door. Sanguinity and I spent the week taking care of him and his kitty. Basil’s interests include playing ball and not being alone. <3 <3 <3

Once, years ago, in a job interview (with people I didn’t like) when asked, “what’s the next thing you’re working on?” I said: “A biography of the trees in Karstula, my grandfather’s village.” That did the trick, the lights went out in their eyes. Boy do I know my trees.

Stephen Kuusisto

canyon report

salmonberry blossom against background of briars and evergreens

  • salmonberries are blooming and skunk cabbages are out! I’m sorry I missed that cute stage when just their snouts are emerging.
  • fresh beaver-work. You know, I think I saw the resident beaver in the water a few weeks ago, but I didn’t see tail or teeth so can’t be sure it wasn’t a nutria. I’ve only seen the beavers a few times; apparently when they’re around humans they shift to being nocturnal, to avoid the riffraff.
  • the bee tree was surprisingly active.
  • no beeps (of the duckling or gosling variety) yet, that I saw.
  • When sanguinity and I were students, everyone got a daffodil bulb in their campus mailbox in the springtime, to go plant wherever you thought best on campus. The canyon hardly had any trails then and wasn’t managed nearly as intensively. Pretty sure there’s no sanctioned planting of random non-native bulbs there now, so seeing the occasional daffodils gives me an Old Reed pleasure.

I’ve been really happy with my New Year’s protocol of everyday walking. I’m currently at two miles a day, which can be split into two unobtrusive walks but is also small enough to tack onto my evening commute without a fuss. It seems so modest, but my monthly Million Mile Ultra numbers are way up.

Bright Morning

cover of Bright Morning

I have been ILL-ing some Margery Williams Bianco, after snagging Winterbound from a Newbery Honor list awhile back and loving it. Kids managing without the grownups! Butch girl makes good!

Other People’s Houses was also good– another sensible teenager on her own, scrambling for temp and domestic jobs in New York City when Plan A has fallen through, and meeting up with her best buddy to commiserate over cheap spaghetti dinners once a week.

Not that I don’t like The Velveteen Rabbit fine, but so far I’ve tried to stay away from the toy-and-doll end of her work, and more toward YA, going by titles and page counts in the card catalog. So I was surprised when Bright Morning turned out to be a sort of “Little House in Victorian London,” stories from the daily lives of sisters age 6 and 8, in a well-to-do family in Kensington.

I assume the delicious domestic details come from the author’s childhood memories, as she was born in 1881 and moved to the U.S. when she was about nine. (The book was published in 1942.) One of my favorite chapters had Mama fretting about when to call the chimney-sweeps in, because once they’ve cleaned everything out, you don’t want to light any more fires that spring and mess it up again. If there’s a cold snap, you’ll just have to shiver. Anyway, once the fireplace is swept clean, it has to be filled for the summer with a cascade of decorative white horsehair with tinsel mixed in. But Papa keeps absent-mindedly continuing to flick his receipts and burnt matches into the fireplace, and they have to be picked out again. So Papa decides to get a WASTEPAPER BASKET, only he and Mama have different ideas about what a proper one is…

I ate it up! It all had the immediacy and detail with which I remember my own childhood. (Wait til you read what respectable bathing at the seashore was like.) The writing reminds me of Elizabeth Enright–maybe I just love 1940s prose?–and I think Betsy-Tacy fans would feel at home too. I’m eager to see what will come in for me next.

Batman, cupcake reading, trees

The middle day of a three-day weekend is a beautiful thing. Sanguinity and I went to our favorite coffee shop and ate this:
breakfast sandwich and lunch special from Pieper Cafe
and I drew Batman (a bit Loki-ish now that I think of it):
Batman as drawn by Holly in a spiral notebook
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Last week I started reading Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and did not want to stop til it was (sadly) over! (But there’s going to be a sequel!) It has a bit of a Little Women vibe, with three close sisters and the boy next door. It’s about family and friendship as well as romance, and the characters were likeable, good kids just trying to figure stuff out. Even the mean girl was not that mean and had an understandable motivation based on the characters’ past interactions. It’s the kind of sweet comfort reading I call a cupcake, light and well written.

I was a little taken aback at how much of my pleasurable sigh as I got into this book was based on the setting of universal affluence. I mean, starting on page two, the characters are talking about a possible trip to Paris over spring break. And when they decorate their Christmas tree, it’s “We run out of lights, so Daddy goes to buy more at the store.” (I grew up middle class, but you unwind the lights and redo them with more space between the rows!) It’s not a gossip-girl type thing where conspicuous wealth and glamour are what the book’s offering; it’s a shiny, normalized wealth where teenagers have cars and no one thinks twice about ordering pizza delivery once a week. I love it when books show working-class families (Ramona and her Father, Please Ignore Vera Dietz), but apparently I love this too, in a different way. Maybe it’s nostalgia for Nancy Drew and her roadster, or the baby-sitters in Stoneybrook? Some kind of relaxing escapism going on.

At the same time, I happened to have also just started Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life in a desultory way. (It’s my backup bus book, in case I finish my book on the bus, or don’t feel like reading my regular bus book. Not an exalted position in my book hierarchy.) Weirdly, the unremarked-on affluence in that book made me grouchy and resentful! She buys a pricey chaise longue “covered in an antique Tibetan blanket” because why? Because “although I have an office in my home, it had grown stale. My desk was piled high with papers, mail, and various forms that had nothing to do with my writing life.” A few pages later, she’s like, “I can’t imagine what my UPS delivery guy thinks when I crack open the door to sign for a package. There’s that weird lady again.” Um, he thinks you don’t have to go to a job. Right? By this time I was pretty much hate-reading (“On my desk, propped between two Buddha-head bookends,” grrrr), until on page 47 I came to: “my friend Peter Cameron.” What? Really? Well. Just in case they really are friends and I am missing something, I will quit with the judgey and keep reading to learn something. I’ll let you know.
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Yesterday Sanguinity and I went on a Heritage Tree Walk down in Sellwood. The rain was coming down like it meant business, but there were still about a dozen of us there, led by an arborist and an AmeriCorps volunteer and someone from the city’s street tree program. We saw a gorgeous pair of American Chestnuts that escaped the blight, a big Oregon white oak, and an amazing huge European Copper Beech in a big yard. But one of the coolest things was when one of the leaders started measuring the trees that were on public property or in the planting strip between sidewalk and street with a diameter tape!
diameter tape for measuring trees
It’s a cloth tape with a little crank for winding it up again after use, and each “inch” on the tape is actually 3.14 (or so) inches long. So you measure around the tree and the number on the tape is the diameter. I wish every kid learning about pi and circles could play with one, it is so pleasingly concrete.

At the end of class we got a booklet with maps and descriptions of every heritage tree in Portland. And an application in the back in case you know a tree you think should be designated. (They’re pretty choosy, accepting only about 25% of applicants.) So we are equipped for a project if we ever want to go visit them all. :)

Walking home

soft sculpture of DuChamp's "Fountain"
Since the new year turned I have been getting off the bus after work at one of the parks a mile from my house, and walking home. It’s no longer quite dark at that hour, but it’s mostly dark. Parents are pushing their children on the swingset, in the mostly dark. Every night this week I’ve heard geese honking overhead and searched the sky for the V, finally able to see it but just barely.

On Tuesday night I crossed paths with another walker by the playground, and after he had passed I could smell his fresh chewing gum. I spent a moment idly trying to ID the flavor, but it wasn’t quite bubblegum, and it wasn’t Juicy Fruit or spearmint, the other flavors that are imprinted in my brain from my mom keeping them in her purse. Still, I walked on with a warm fellow-feeling for my fellow human animals.

The next night I got off the bus at the same stop, and took the same route through the park. There was no one by the playground, but…I smelled the fresh chewing gum scent! Ghostly possibilities ran through my mind until I saw the porta-potty stationed on the other side of the path.

It was clean-porta-potty smell that had given me that glow of benevolence toward all humanity. I laughed at myself…and took a different route for the rest of the week.

Friday I got off the bus at the Reed campus and walked home past the art building. The display at the front had soft sculptures of sculptures, with signage about the hours and materials costs involved in making them. My favorite was Hirst’s For the Love of God, which Tiphany Laney made in 17.75 hours for $24.50. Here it is next to the original.

soft sculpture of Damien Hirst's "For the Love of God"Damian Hirst sculpture For the Love of God (jeweled skull)

Wednesday reading post

Just finished: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King. I liked it more than any of hers since Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Yes, the future that Glory sees is implausible in its facts, and yes, I do think the book partakes in the character’s slut-shaming, or at least doesn’t counter-write it. But the questions about friendship and how to cope when your vision of the world isn’t shared by anyone else redeem it for me.

Just started: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World, by Mark Miodownik. Going to get educated on some materials science at $0.25 a day until I can turn this overdue book back in! Started with a great origin story of being stabbed on the subway as an adolescent and becoming obsessed with steel as he examined the weapon at the police station.

Bedside book: Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. …Again. I finished it and turned right to the beginning again. At least in ten-minute installments, it never seems to get stale.

Bathroom book: Syllabus, by Lynda Barry. Induced me to seek out Staedtler non-photo blue pencils, and I have never bothered to pencil before inking drawings or comics before.

I just found my bookmark for making wordcount progress bars, so here’s Biosquid‘s current stats:

3912 / 50000 (7.82%)

the bad poetry method

When I’m stuck in writing or don’t know what to write in my notebook, writing short lines that are lyrical and/or angsty and vaguely like song lyrics or bad drippy poetry usually works. By “works” I mean that at the end of a page or two I feel unburdened and maybe a few tiny ideas have trickled in about what’s coming up in whatever I’m working on. And maybe I’m laughing at the ridiculous emo of it, but kindly. Sometimes I mix in the actual song lyrics I’m hearing if I’m listening to music, or phrases from overheard conversation.

Here’s a sample. The middle part is noodling over my next bit of nanonovel. And Leif Erikson is the name of a local trail.

[redacted]
what does she think
of me what do they think of me
a v of geese flying away
or maybe just to the next golf course
the wild cry is the same
we’re the same
wild playing candy crush
wild on the bus
wild eyed
yesterday, combing 24 hours
finding so little. Wasn’t I supposed to find more?
working on something alleviates this.
why are these dinner tables
so explosive?
Because these people wouldn’t, and don’t usually, eat together.
There are expectations.
Hey Mel. So this tutor will be kind of a big deal.
Unless she or he is a flake and you conceal it.
Someone who knows lots of professors.
Maybe a Quest editor.
Or another faculty brat, but an older, tenured one. A library rat. A lifeguard.
Burping into my Emergen-C like an aquarium.
Staedtler non-photo blue pencil from Blick’s.
near the Chinese Garden.
Thursday?
So fucking tired of this already chores
and where to stash the car and what
can we do with no exercise
I want to walk on Leif Erickson
maybe Sunday

It isn’t worth much, and yet it inched me forward. I think I like this method because it has just a little more breathing room than “the pen must not stop moving” freewrites. And it can switch mood on a dime, and whatever came before is left behind more completely because of the line break. It feels more emotional yet I feel in less danger of being carried away.

It’s something I do that I’ve never run across in a class or a book, and I guess I like that too.