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I’ve had a growing fascination with what’s left behind—traces of life, flour clinging to a cutting board, a stubborn leaf imprinted in cement. The leftovers of the process of making.
These fragile decayed Chinese lantern blossoms are like miniature bird cages, each home to a red berry. How thrashing rain, snow, ice and winter wind left them intact is a beautiful little mystery.
I feel entitled, once in a while, to veer of the subject of the business of design and branding to cover one of my two loves—nature and food. Who knows how a rock or a shell or the pattern of seeds inside a cut piece of fruit will wend their way into that magazine layout or logo design? You just trust that what inspires you will work its magic at some point in the future.
Many designers I know are obsessed with rocks. The closest I’ve come to making sense of it is that rocks, with their smoothness, a wild streak of mineral deposit, surface pocked with teeny holes or perfectly oval shape, resemble the best intentionally designed objects, only they are accidents of the magic forces of nature.
Once such place where the forces of nature collide is Ona Beach on the central Oregon coast. Basalt rocks, both teeny and gigantic, have been sculpting this patch of coast for eons, creating an other-worldly landscape. You have to be here at low tide to be rewarded.
Even though anyone with Photoshop has long been able to “instagram” a photo, it’s still easier to add a filter or change the focus with Instagram. That ease makes me go for my iPhone as I make the rounds to local businesses.
And before you ask, why are you putting images on a blog post when they’re on Instagram and now, Facebook+Instagram, I’ll just say that no one venue does it all. Here, I can curate. And believe it or not, not everyone is on Facebook or Instagram.
Crate (above) and red truck (below) both at Porch Light in Portland’s Pearl District, an airy store that places great music.
(Below) Blackboard and reclaimed lumber at The Rebuilding Center of Our United Villages, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable practices by accepting donations of and selling used building materials.
(Below) Donald inspecting free-roaming chickens at the adorable Pistils Nursery on N. Mississippi—
country living in the city.
(Below) The Meadow specializes in gourmet items like this impressive array of bitters as well as chocolates, salts, flowers and vermouth.
(Below) The dry rock garden at the Portland Japanese Garden, one of the many wondrous spots to linger in.
(Below) A recent find at the Portland Farmers Market booth of Sweetwater Farm. Chef Kathryn of The Farmers Feast cooks up mushrooms alongside Sweetwater Farm. In this case, sauteed porcini and Douglas Fir tips.
(Below) Need a newsprint Chinese umbrella, a wooden head or a 10-foot-long paper dragon?
Cargo in the Pearl District might just have it.
(Below) I could roam the aisles of Beaumont Hardware store forever. My favorite find was this wall diagram of available springs. If they had let me, I would have bought the display.
And to top it off with something sweet, below is a portion of 21 pounds of Hood strawberries from Sauvie Island Farms, my favorite spot for picking berries through the summer.
Stay tuned for more…
I stare at the fresh space left — along with a bit of dust — after removing my old laser printer from the office floor. As I approach the 15-year anniversary of Allegro Design on April 1, I feel both sad and spacious. Myself and two colleagues on the east coast make up a small club — those who cling to laser printers long after most equipment has died. Our motto is “Use it till it dies!” or “Keep it out of the landfill!” or “Long live black and white!”
Actually, we have no such motto. Read the rest of this entry »
Insomnia. Like a hopscotch board, each square filled with failures, flaws, doubts, insecurities, hopelessness, that your mind hops back and forth upon. A cruel game you’re forced to play over the endlessly strung-together minutes. Insomnia doesn’t care what the coming day has in store, like the need to create a masterpiece, or at least an annual report. It doesn’t care if you planned a morning business call. Or if you’ve cut out caffeine and so cannot turn to that curative, even if its effect is only temporary. Insomnia doesn’t care about that stabbing back pain you hoped might have gone away by now. It also doesn’t know you live in the northwest where waking up on endless gray mornings is enough of a challenge.
This story appeared in the Smithsonian magazine’s Food & Think blog.
It was with a mix of excitement, curiosity and also a little dread that we’d visit my father’s Italian family in NY. We went most often at Thanksgiving or Easter. Brooklyn had what the Maryland suburbs lacked—subways rumbling overhead, the Chinese five and dime, colorful accents, and grandma Pell’s cooking. But it also meant a nail-biting journey in the car with my father, for whom driving was sport. He’d jockey for position among the black Cadillacs and Lincolns that sailed and bobbed on the narrow avenues. I’d slide down the vinyl seat of our blue Oldsmobile to avoid seeing the too-close cars. Instead, I’d try to think about the pizza awaiting us.
Grandma Pell, whose name was Lena, was born in Manhattan in 1908 a year after her parents emigrated from Italy. She’d never been to Italy herself but maintained her family’s ways around food. There were rules, sometimes concrete but mostly mysterious. Put oregano in the pizza sauce, never in the marinara. Fry sausages in olive oil, but the meatballs in vegetable. Soak the eggplant in salt water first; fry the slices not once, but twice. Rules were not universal, however. Once, an argument broke out between my uncle’s sister and her husband about whether to stuff peppers with raw or cooked pork. Heads turned when a hand came down hard on the table, “You put it in raaawwww!” People shrugged and went back to eating.
The kitchen was grandma’s domain and from these small spaces came humble, but glorious food—unadorned pizzas, stuffed squid, spaghetti pie, green beans stewed in tomatoes, and eggplant parmesan that melted in your mouth like butter. We saw these visits as an excuse to eat with abandon—salami and proscuitto and capacollo, slabs of salty wet mozzarella, extra helpings of rigatoni and meatballs. But most of all, for me, it was the stuffed artichokes. One by one, I’d savor the slippery metallic leaves and the slow journey to the heart.
Speaking to a friend, chef and creator of Lovejoy Food, about her first day back at the OHSU farmers market, I asked her how her day went, given the tremendous downpour we’d had. “Were there a lot of people you recognized from last year?” I asked her. There were, and she said it was a bit surreal, seeing all these familiar strangers.
The term was coined by Stanley Milgram in the 1972 paper The Familiar Stranger: An Aspect of Urban Anonymity. He is also credited with developing the concept of six degrees of separation.
The true definition of a familiar stranger is someone who is seen regularly (like a person on your morning bus commute) and one with whom you don’t interact. Intel did a study using mobile devices to connect strangers, not necessarily to be friends but, to explore how strangers interact. The concept of familiar strangers is that they are an important link that bridges the gap between friends/family and total strangers. They play an essential role in fixing us in a community and providing us context. We wouldn’t want everyone to be a friend, and nor could we tolerate only strangers and people we know. The familiar strangers act as a buffer.
In my friend’s case, her customers aren’t true familiar strangers. But one friend has been creative with her daily commute (fodder for another post—ways to make the mundane more interesting) by documenting via her iPhone, her fellow commuters’ tattoos, pets, fashion statements and books. She has a non-judgemental, endearing way about her daily documentary. There’s a richness about it because she’s bringing strangers to life and making us look at these people closely, whom none of us know!
An interesting aspect of familiar strangers is that we have an unspoken agreement to not communicate. But we are much more likely to interact if we find ourselves in an unfamiliar setting, like bumping into the person you see each week at the farmers market while on vacation in Rome.
Has this happened to you? Did you introduce yourself? How long should a familiar stranger remain a stranger? Do you ever want to acknowledge your shared presence, especially if your lives seem to overlap in more than a couple places?
In a city as small as Portland, there are people you see over and over in more than one place you frequent, even if there doesn’t seem to be a significant connection among the locations. Maybe this person should be part of your social or business circle.
1. Make rhubarb rosemary mini galettes.
2. Draw pictures of yesterday’s farmers market produce.
3. Rethink strategy to keep cats out of garden bed.
4. Harden off seedlings.
5. Deliver galettes and bean starts to friends down the street.
6. Return to garden store for more potting soil. Inquire about plans to reward customers who spend too much money there.
7. Pick up library book to add to the stack.
7. Put the sand paper next to the dining room chairs in the vain hope that the chairs will one day be resanded, repainted and recained.
8. Finish tilling the garden bed.
9. Do yoga because your back hurts from tilling the garden bed.
If time allows, work on business plan.
It isn’t every day that calling the IRS to complain about tax-evading politicians turns out to be entertaining. I had a few minutes to spare, and my new method for letting things go that make me incensed is to take some action. Even a small fruitless action helps me to move on.
What had me incensed was the news of Tom Daschle’s little tax hiccup causing him to withdraw his cabinet nomination for Health and Human Services. Is he too good to lose? Opinions abound, but many of us would rather take a draconian view and get rid of him. Our goodwill towards people in high positions is threadbare these days. Let some political forest fires rage and they might leave fresh ground for new growth.
I had just witnessed Barack Obama’s inauguration in person. Two days later I see news of my city’s mayor facing questions about his teen sex scandal. Opposing factions are calling for him to stay or resign. Is it my civic duty to consider his governing abilities before casting my verdict? I used to think so but who has the energy anymore? My fear is that events like this are becoming quotidian. How does remain interested and involved in the face of looming cynicism—our own and theirs?
Having just written a check for a $90 underpayment on last year’s taxes (that’s $90, not $900, $9000, or $90,000), I couldn’t help but wonder how the IRS could miss $128,000 of Daschle’s unpaid taxes. Sure, his taxes are more complicated than mine are. But that’s not my problem.
So I called the IRS expecting not to get through or to be taken seriously. I was transferred to the Procedures and Rules department. I pictured the cubicled workers snickering at the whack job who called to ask why the IRS wasn’t doing their job. I hope I wasn’t the only one calling.
I waited on hold for long enough to hear Mozart’s Symphony No. in G minor, then his Eine Kleine Nactmusik, and finally Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker. It was all quite lovely. I can thank my sister’s long-ago ex-husband, who was a violin teacher, for why I know the titles of these pieces.
I couldn’t help but laugh listening to Tchaikovsky. Anyone who has seen the movie Top Secret is familar with the famous ballet scene in which the Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Flowers is performed. Nearly every scene is a parody, and here the male ballet dancers have enormous codpieces on which the female dancers eventually leap to and fro. There are so many ridiculous lines and scenes in this movie. And this, coming from someone who doesn’t like slapstick.
Just recently, my brother and I were inspired, while inside a Catholic cathedral, to recite the scene in which a prisoner is given last rites by a priest before being executed. He reads from a bible every Latin phrase having nothing to do with last rites—veni vidi vici, e pluribus unum, ipso facto, pro bono and so on. We never fail to collapse in laughter and see which of us can remember the most lines. Perhaps Mr. Daschle had a little lapsus memoriae.
An IRS woman finally answered the phone and I was yanked out of my YouTube reverie. She assured me that “Mr. Dashle would have received notices from the IRS.” And that she “was also a taxpayer who pays her taxes and thinks the system should be fixed.” Oddly, it made me feel a little better. I say a little. This is either reassuring or disturbing to know that you can owe that much money to the IRS and not be thrown in jail.
At least the time I spent on hold and in YouTube meant no dollars earned and, thus, fewer taxes to pay.
(Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
Sure, no problem, I’ll accept your Friend Request. What have I been doing for the last 25 years? Do you mind if I get back to you on that? There’s an awful lot to cover and…well I see another Request just came in from…do I know you?
Well, I do love Thailand and I never did make it south to Phuket when I was there years ago. Oh, what the hell, sure I’ll let you kidnap me in pink fluffy handcuffs or was that giant gooey fly paper? I think I prefer the handcuffs, not that I’m into that sort of thing. Oops, gotta go. My friend Rick has just updated his status asking if anyone “knows how to get coffee out of a scanner.” Ugh, I hate when that happens. I did that once to my Syquest drive. It was like a sideways toaster, the disk like a piece of toast. Some of you weren’t even born when Syquest drives were around. Now look how far we’ve come. We’re virtually hugging and poking and sending each other phantom gifts right and left. Now that’s progress.
No, I don’t want to clean her virtual garden. Yeah, I see all the garden tools, but my own garden, the real one, needs some tending. Do you mind? Do I have wrinkles? Yes, but that’s really none of your business. That ad gets a thumbs down for “offensive” but thanks for letting me participate anyway.
Oh, when I clicked the Skip button, I thought that meant Skip. So I just sent everyone on my Friend List a Christmas Party? Oh well, Happy Holidays one and all. I hope I didn’t offend any of you non-Christians. We do have a tendency to think it’s the only show in town. Well, at least I only have to clean my virtual toilet and buy some virtual snacks for the party.
What does this little button do? Nifty. And they won’t find out I removed them? No offense Dirk but since I haven’t spoken to you in 10 years, you don’t mind if I see what my other friends are doing, do you? You seem to join an awful lot of groups and causes and change your status a lot. I want to know if my real friend Nadine is sick because she ate too many burritos for lunch or if Roger finally got to take that nap after all. (Note: Dirk received the axe before I was told about Options for News Feed.)
How did I get here anyway? Oh, yeah, it was that game of Scrabulous you challenged me to months ago. A game that took us weeks to each take a few turns. You were winning anyway so it’s a good thing the game got pulled. Phew, I almost dragged Mom into this just to play. I might have eventually Unfriended her like my friend Kate is thinking of doing to her mom. Go for it. It’s painless and she’ll never find out, except she probably will find out. I know she got upset about that photo of you and Shane where he proudly and publicly claimed you for his own, other guys be damned. If your mom wants to play in the kids’ sandbox, she’s going to have to deal.
Speaking of which, is there any way you can remove that photo of you grabbing my ass at Halloween. Sure it was fun, but look who popped up today—a client of mine making a Friend Request. Okay, yeah, that would be great. Confirm. It’s good thing I decided against posting that link to the Huffington Post of Obama shirtless with the comment “Hot Digity!”
No I did not meet the man of my dreams. Why do you ask? Jeez. No, I am still single if you must know. I was just trying to foil the advertisers by stripping down my profile to see if the ads changed to something less humiliating. But I do see that Craig and Samantha are No Longer In a Relationship. That’s too bad. I wonder if they know that we all know too.
So, you are alive and well after all. And successful I see. Boy, it’s been a long time. Remember in high school when we joked about how we’d marry each other if we were still single by the time we were 40? Whoa, who’s that gorgeous gal in your Photo Album. Oh…your girlfriend. Never mind.
Look, I gotta go straighten the books on my virtual shelf. I’ll have to get back to you on that Friend Request. I’m trying to remember if you were the one who stole Sarah’s jacket out of her locker in junior high or if that was someone else.