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Earth Day is celebrated in Longview, Washington on grocery bags. Jillian Carter from Rose Valley Elementary created this beautiful work of art. Jillian is in the 4th grade. Her teacher’s name is Mrs. Bush.

I needed a wider variety of things than usual on my shopping list, and went to a different grocery store than usual. I don’t know what your local store is, the one that carries milk, avocados, rice, fresh salmon, summer dresses, screwdrivers, packaging tape, hibachis, shower curtains, potting soil, fishing poles, and greeting cards, but the one I use is called Fred Meyer.

The cashier was loading stuff into plastic bags before I noticed. “May I have paper for the rest?” I asked. 1) I grew up in timber families, and that’s a way to show your support for the timber industry, 2) I try to avoid plastic consumption when I can, and 3) ok the real reason: I use paper bags to start the fire in my wood stove.

Portland, Oregon is the nearest big city, and that city has banned the use of plastic bags by retailers. From the City of Portland website on Planning and Sustainability: “Plastic bags are extremely lightweight and can act like balloons blowing out of garbage trucks and landfills. These flyaway bags litter our parks and trees, enter storm drains and can eventually end up in rivers and oceans where they break into small, toxic pieces.  Plastics have found their way into all five of the world’s major ocean current systems and are one of the most common types of litter found in Portland’s rivers and on Oregon’s beaches. Sea animals often mistake plastic particles for food, causing harm to the animals and potentially affecting the seafood we eat.”

Longview, Washington has not banned them, and most cashiers at grocery stores default to them. Perhaps they are more convenient to fill? I do get the sense that customers ask for the plastic bags because they are easier to carry. But I always ask for paper, and the staff is always pleasant about complying. Longview is, after all, a lumber town.

My cashier grabbed a bag with a giant multicoloured Earth on it. I am used to seeing a variety of advertisement and art projects printed onto paper grocery bags for one promotion or another. On this one, I admired the quality of the printing, that made it look like real crayon, right on the side of the bag. The next bag she picked up was also decorated, with a sharp, bold image that was obviously magic marker and not crayon. My eyes followed the bag as she moved it into position to begin filling it. She noticed.

“I like when they do this,” she said, gesturing the bag. “The kids do art work for Earth Day.”

“Are those originals?” I asked, possibly sounding a bit over the top, gushing about original artwork on a paper grocery bag. “Is that real crayon and ink?”

“Yep! The local kids do it in school.”

Oh dear, my face registered. I explained to the cashier that the whole reason I asked for paper is so that I can use the bags to start fires. Now there is all this beautiful artwork on them, and I’ll feel terrible for burning them up. She nodded. I brooded. The counter between us continued to beep! as she scanned my items and filled more bags. Then I had it.

“I’ll blog them!” I told her, triumphantly. “I keep a blog, and I’ll post photos of these bags. That way they will be preserved, and I can then burn them when I need to.”

“That’s a great idea!” she said, obviously impressed with my social standing in the world: A Blogger. (Ok, I’m just wishing she was impressed.)

I got the bags home and emptied them. Inside each, and adding to the treasure of four bags covered in original artwork was the dutiful inclusion of each artist’s name and school on a slip of paper in the bottom of the bag. Fodder for a fitting tribute.

Marie Smith made this one. Marie is in the 2nd grade at Northlake Elementary. Her teacher is Ms. Magnuson.

This piece was done by future typeface designer, Shailia Wild, a Kindergartner at Robert Gray School. Her teacher is Jodi Hanson.

I found this on the back. I would like to believe this piece belongs to Shailia’s little brother Jordi, who wrote “Help Our Earth!”

One bag had a full sheet of paper with lots of information. The Earth Day grocery bag art contest is held in all Kelso and Longview classrooms. During the month of March, they pick up over 5,000 brand new grocery bags from Fred Meyer and decorate them in anticipation of Earth Day in April.

There is an art contest and the winning school districts win $250, which goes to the classroom with the winning artist. This year they have also partnered with City of Longview Parks Department and the Arbor Day Foundation, so the winning classroom from Longview will also have an Arbor Day tree planted on their school grounds the end of April.

The winning bags are kept aside for honors. See the winners on the Longview Parks and Recreation facebook page. The rest are returned to Fred Meyer to be used for bagging groceries for shoppers. Like me.

Jasmine Christopher made this Earth with a knowing smile. Jasmine is a Kindergartner at Robert Gray school, and her teacher is Mrs. Box.

Hey, Jasmine, Shailia, Jordi (I just made him up, by the way), Marie, and Jillian, your Earth Day art is beautiful original art work that inspired me to learn about your communities, your schools, your teachers, your hopes for prizes. I learned more about Earth Day celebrations, Arbor Day Foundation activities, and Fred Meyer. I thought about my personal consumption and the impact it has on the planet. You made me smile and you made the cashier smile. My wood stove fires are ever so much classier now. You gave me a great blog post.

If that isn’t winning, I don’t know what is. Thank you! And congratulations.

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

All images in this post used with permission from Portland Center Stage. https://www.flickr.com/photos/portlandcenterstage/sets/72157671722653471

I live 47 miles from Astoria, Oregon. It’s a lovely town at the mouth of the Columbia River, sheltered a couple miles in from the Pacific Ocean by a serious sand bar and Cape Disappointment (the name of the cape is a bit of foreshadowing).

There are three stories I want to tell you. 1) The story itself: the real life nation-building story. 2) The play about the story, which somehow totally works! 3) The Armory, the building hosting the play.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The overland party, looking ahead and realizing their destination remains far away.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

The wicked Captain Thorn gazes to the horizon from the deck of his ship.

I entered the theatre with a virgin understanding of the journey about to unfold. That is, no understanding. I had learned, in the course of reading a brief synopsis while buying my tickets, that the man who financed the expedition to found Astoria was John Jacob Astor. And in that way, two weeks ago, I learned how the town got its name. That should illustrate the level of not knowing the story I’m talking about.

Over the next 3 hours I began to realize it’s a *monumental* story of how my part of the North American continent became the United States instead of Russian territory, or British, or Canadian. Before the play I could tell you more about the founder of the McDonald’s franchise than I could about the early explorers of Oregon, because we are products of what we’re fed through media. Why oh why aren’t we fed the good and healthy stuff?

The play is based on the book by the same name, written by Peter Stark. It’s set mostly in 1810. Astor was a wealthy German immigrant who wanted to become more wealthy by capitalizing on the fabulous otter pelts that rumor had it were there for the taking on the Pacific Coast. From his home in New York City, Astor arranged for two separate approaches to the Columbia River: one by land and one by sea. Back then, the sea route was by way of Cape Horn, Chile. Remarkably, the sailors got there first. The time pressure is a plot point, since whomever establishes the first trading post will control the fur markets on the west coast and will certainly have access to the most wealth. Astor is constantly fretting about news that the French might beat him to the prize.

Early in the trip, future sailors of the Tonquin maneuver a smaller boat.

Sailors from the ship maneuver a smaller boat.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

One night around the campfire with the overland party.

Hundreds of people joined his expeditions, including men from Scotland, Hawaii, Quebec, Ireland, and England who joined the original Americans on the teams. And original, original Americans (indigenous people) contributed further to the survival of those who did make it to the destination. Because yes, many people died along the way, including the two Hawaiians who froze to death trying to cross the bar into the Columbia River. They were not the only men who died at the bar, in the shadow of Cape Disappointment. Remember I said “foreshadowing?”

What’s remarkable, and irresistible, about this story, is how much went spectacularly wrong. Many people died by accident, and some were killed. Two went insane. Often people fought with each other, and hated each other. Miraculous are the repeated incidences of survival in the snow, survival from starving, survival from drowning, from raging ocean storms. Though catastrophes don’t always result, there was always a threat: of mutiny, getting lost, scalped, abandoned.

Chris Coleman, the artistic director, pulled off magic with that stage. One set, mind you – with occasional backdrops – conveyed a ship on the open sea, or a wealthy fur-merchant’s home, or a frontier fort, or a camp in steep mountains, beside a creek. We got up close and personal with four people rowing a boat, we listened to quiet conversation among the bunks below deck of the ship, we huddled close to the fire and tried not to feel hungry while a trapper told a story, we gasped in despair when three provisioned boats smashed and were lost in a river, and we watched while travelers reluctantly slid from their horses to continue on foot. All one set, and it worked. Like I said: magic.

Scenes with all actors on the deck of the ship were convincing partly because everyone swayed in unison with the waves. We soon learned that tables can be anything, often boats. I enjoyed the artistic creativity throughout, such as when Astor meets with three potential leaders of the excursions. All three are on stage at the same time, in points making a triangle. As each one leaves the meeting with Astor, they rotate until another is before Astor.

More magic: 16 members of the cast! Just imagine how many people you would need to portray the multiple journeys (one by sea with all the crew to run a ship, the overland party split into two, and still Astor remained in New York), and then imagine only 16 people bringing it to life. It’s a tribute to the quality of the actors that they were able to pull this off, switching back and forth between dramatically different characters, such as when Leif Norby starts as John Jacob Astor but becomes a crusty, bearded Frontiersman Edward Robinson, and back and forth. DeLanna Studi is introduced as Astor’s elegant wife, then becomes a pregnant Indian woman, then switches back. The accents switched from thick Scottish to Kentucky backwoods to prim English to French to German. Wow! I’ll interject my only criticism here: impressed as I am by the ability of the actors to do this, it was distracting to look into their faces and recognize other characters. This was amplified because I was in the front row and so close I could discern crow’s feet. I think at a distance it would not have been such a problem for me.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Antoine and Joseph consider the finer qualities of distant mountain peaks.

Action never stopped, and even the slow moments were tense or foreboding. In real life the years-long journey was a grueling series of hardships day after day, but on stage the successes and catastrophes rode each other’s heels, barely allowing an audience-member’s heart to settle in between. Amidst the hardest times in life, humans manage to find a way to laugh at their circumstances, and thus we had a not insignificant number of funny moments, such as when a couple of Frenchmen gazing at sharp mountain peaks began comparing them to breasts (“Grand teton” is large breasts, in French, and we can only imagine our travelers must have been in Wyoming about then).

Surprisingly, there was a lot of singing, though it was not a musical. I found this to be very effective support to enriching the scenes, helping us to be back in time with the actors, and helping us to understand the cultures blending on stage. One funny example was during a scene with many people rowing a boat and singing to keep the cadence. It was one of those classic tunes that multiple countries claim, with their own lyrics, and the rowers from different lands were competing for which was the “correct” version of the song, with good-natured and rowdy aggression, singing louder and louder like sports fans arguing over favourite teams.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

Robinson and McKenzie face off.

At long last the overland parties reunite and find the Columbia River (though not yet its mouth). Captain Thorn sends enough sailors to the bar that eventually some of them live to find the entrance into the river. And that’s the end of part one! We have to wait until Portland Center Stage presents next year’s performances, to find out what happens in the end. In the meantime, I’m going to read the book.

I mentioned earlier that the performance was about 3 hours, but that includes a nice long intermission halfway through. Before the show I had admired some of the structure of the old brick building, called the Armory, and at intermission I investigated further.

The brick structure appears castle-like from the street, but it’s hard to get a good look at it because it’s downtown in the Pearl District and surrounded by tall buildings. Inside, I saw that the entire expanse is open: no support beams the length of it. There are two levels, but the second level is merely a balcony, a mezzanine level, that surrounds the open lobby with places to sit and chat, or look out the window. So I looked out the windows, which are bonafide rifle slits – glassed in and wood-framed, ha ha – leaving no doubt about the military origins of the building. I walked right up and put my hands on the bricks. Something about touching something helps me connect to the proper time and place to understand it.

So many bits were intriguing to me that I had questions about its construction, and sought out the concierge. I asked for an information brochure.

“We have a book, if you want,” he said. “It’s a regular, bound book, all about this building. We give them to people who are particularly interested.”

It was the most serendipitous outcome of a random question that I’ve had in some time. The man walked off, and returned moments later holding a large, gorgeous, illustrated, full-colour, 192-page book about how a crumbling and abandoned former military armory became a modern theatre. In fact, that’s the name of the book: “Voices of the Armory: A Chronicle of the Transformation of a 19th century icon into a 21st century theater.”

“Here you go!” he said, obviously pleased to hand it over. “It’s free! I think you’ll love it. I have one and I love it.”

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

This beautiful book was more than I could have expected.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

A peek inside, where there are hundreds of photos of the restoration of the Armory.

The show was originally supposed to run through February 12th, but was so successful that the run was extended. If you are in Portland, you can still see it, and you should! Look for it at https://www.pcs.org/ Tickets are available through February 19th.

The old, sad mailbox. It had a white strip of tape with one number on it, crossed out, and a different handwritten number in felt pen beneath.

The old, sad mailbox. It had a white strip of tape with one number on it, crossed out, and a different handwritten number in felt pen beneath.

Not that the old mailbox was completely unusable, but it was rusted, a bit mossy, and bent. Mail arrived as expected. Tara and I still felt compelled to replace it with a new one. Something with character, that shows we are new around here and we take pride in our place.

I don’t know whose idea it was, but we loved the idea of painting it with old, clumped and gummy nail polish. Looks terrible on nails, but it could look great on a mailbox. We’ve been collecting nail polish for years. A lot of years. Some of it was gross. But perfect for this project.

Tara found strips of tape and taped the outside into a random pattern, taking care to stick it very well to the white enameled mailbox. They spent a couple of sunny days out on the deck, choosing the oldest polish in the worst shape and painting it on. (We also used up polish that was in good shape, but awful colour. Just why did we purchase that hideous peach one? Must have been a gift.)

Partially painted mailbox with a collection of nail polish handy.

Partially painted mailbox with a collection of nail polish handy.

Tara worked away at this project. At first I meant to add my touches and make it a team effort, but it turned out so beautifully I couldn't bring myself to interfere.

Tara worked away at this project. At first I meant to add my touches and make it a team effort, but it turned out so beautifully I couldn’t bring myself to interfere.

Tape removal day, while we ate some delish fish & chips at a place we found not too far away.

Tape removal day, while we ate some delish fish & chips at a place we found not too far away.

We found both the box and the reflective numbers at The Home Depot in Longview, Washington (just across the Lewis & Clark Bridge). After the polish was dry, Tara removed the tape, then applied the numbers: nice and bright so people trying to find us will now be easily able to use the mailbox (the house numbers are hard to see).

My step-father came for a visit for a couple days  down from Moyie Springs, Idaho. He was restless looking for projects, and asked if we wanted the mailbox mounted. Yes we did! While I was working at the computer, my step-father removed the old box and got the new one ready, then called Tara and me to see if we wanted to witness the installation. Yes we did!

Finished! Isn't it gorgeous?!

Finished! Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Close-up so you can see how amazingly beautiful the colours are. Sadly, nail polish does not seem designed to withstand sunlight, and there are signs of fading already. I'll check in after a year or so, and let you see how it holds up.

Close-up so you can see how amazingly beautiful the colours are. Sadly, nail polish does not seem designed to withstand sunlight, and there are signs of fading already. I’ll check in after a year or so, and let you see how it holds up.

Ready for mounting, in the back of my step-father's pickup.

Ready for mounting, in the back of my step-father’s pickup.

Woo hoo! Our new functional work of art is in its new home.

Woo hoo! Our new functional work of art is in its new home.

We've made our mark in the neighborhood. It's a shady street at all times, so hopefully sun damage will be slow.

We’ve made our mark in the neighborhood. It’s a shady street at all times, so hopefully sun damage will be slow.

"Keep it badder, PDX." Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

“Keep it badder, PDX.” Artful graffiti on Alberta Street. PDX is the airport identifier for Portland International Airport, and has been adopted as one of the many nicknames of the city.

For some Middle School reason, I think using the word “art” as a verb is hilarious. As in, “Don’t interrupt, I’m arting.”

One of my inexplicable Crystal diversions is that I like to catalogue wall art. Many cities have murals and many cities have spectacular graffiti, and I am crazy about it. I am even won over by 3-D wall art, like parts of airplanes or cars built to look like they are jutting out, mosaic tiles that lift from the wall, and religious icons set into walls. I am impressed with this living art:

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

The living wall of a business on Alberta Street.

Last week I talked a friend into driving me around to look for wall murals to photograph. This morning, Andrew at Have Bag, Will Travel posted wall art and it was the push I needed to get my photos out to you all.

There is a street in Portland called Alberta Street, that has been building its reputation for 100 years. From the 1920s, Alberta Street was known as a place where inexpensive housing could be found, as well as bus and streetcar service to transport workers into the city. This reputation attracted many immigrants, and it also became the site of a massive relocation in the aftermath of a devastating flood in 1948 that wiped out a large Black American community. In the 1950s and again in the 1970s, public works projects leveled impoverished areas close to the city center and forced the people to relocate. Many of them crammed into the Alberta neighborhoods.

The people in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

The residents in this area have cultural influences that include German, African, Chinese, and Mexican.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists' styles.

One thing I particularly enjoy here is the variety of artists’ styles.

Crowding and poverty resulted in unrest. I was not in the area during the 1980s and 90s, but the reputation north Portland garnered for itself decades ago is still spread as fact by well-meaning neighbors in other parts of the city, in their attempts to help me learn the area. It was famous for gangs, drugs, and violence. At the same time, the Alberta residents put their collective feet down and said, “No more!” Always leaning heavily on the arts, a concerted effort of neighborhood improvements began, and was ultimately successful.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

Inspirational as well as attractive.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast.

This one is tiny: perhaps 2 1/2 feet tall. It includes a micro-mural of Haystack Rock, on the Oregon Coast, shown in a recent post.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

The artists are not only talented, but also engaged and aware of their impact on the community, which probably explains why so many sign their work.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

A new ramen house I will definitely return to with Tara.

Today, as often happens in diverse neighborhoods all over this country, the hard work of community activists has paid off, and the wealthy weekend explorers from downtown have “discovered” Alberta. The street hosts organic groceries and free-range chicken, gourmet ice cream, and a 100% gluten-free bakery. The cultural diversity of the local entrepreneurs overlaid with new trendy shops draws an entirely new crowd and – I assume – new growing pains as property values soar and gentrification claws its way in.

The character, the activism, and the arts from the complicated and heroic history shine through on Alberta Street today. It is one of the best places in Portland to park your car, get out into the air and join the community.

{Credit to Alberta Main Street for the historical facts.}

{My collection of Portland wall art on Flickr.}

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

We talked for a long time to these enthusiastic young men who had raised their own money through donations from passers-by, and then took it upon themselves to paint over unattractive graffiti. There must be no better affirmation of community action than when young men make it their own project.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

Here someone has salvaged an old Coke advertisement.

We share the same sun.

We share the same sun.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can't tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked "on top" of the recycling bins.

I get a total charge out of this one. The artwork makes me think of Mayan writing on columns. I can’t tell if it was intentional, but each column is stacked “on top” of the recycling bins.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Rose City is another Portland nickname. This is an example of when spray-painted graffiti can no longer be called an eyesore.

Endangered tiger on a thank you card for wildlife rangers.

Endangered tiger on a thank you card for wildlife rangers.

Tara is applying for scholarships. We are both interested in as much financial assistance as possible. Oregon State University is not the most expensive school, and there is in-state tuition, but the fact remains that college is startlingly expensive for regular folks like us.

Here’s one from dosomething.org: Thank You cards for wildlife rangers.

Students make cards for wildlife rangers who are involved with protecting endangered species. The theme of the cards must be from the list of key species, including elephants, marine turtles, tigers, giant pandas, and rhinocerouses. Rhinoceri. Rhinocerim. Rhinos.

For every two cards a person submits, their name is entered into a drawing one time. There is a limit of 10 cards, and therefore 5 chances to win. The prize is a $10,000 scholarship. Totally worth the effort!

Tara designing wildlife cards.

Tara designing wildlife cards.

This is how we did it.

This is how we did it.

early draft rhino

early draft rhino

early draft tiger

early draft tiger

Tara and I and a friend got together at a coffee shop and brought art supplies and pulled up images of endangered species on our smart phones… and started drawing.

Drawing is slow work. Luckily, Tara already had a bunch of elephant block prints from last year’s art class. I aboslutely love this elephant. You’ve seen it previously, on my Good Things Jar (where it remains, of course). There were several other versions of the same elephant in Tara’s art folder, so they cut them up and pasted them to handmade cards.

I have called myself an artist for a long time, but I don’t prove it to myself often enough. I consider my writing an art, and my photography is an art. The way I think about the world is through an artists eyes and ears. But look, I can draw too! (I drew the rhino) And look what Tara can do! (Tara drew the tiger) We went in jointly on the sea turtle – Tara drew the first draft, and I finished up the details and did the colours. After the fact, it occurred to me that we had just copied a copyright image (Crush from Finding Nemo), so I made the turtle purple and yellow in a weak attempt to say “This is not Crush, this is a different turtle.” Our friend did the other sea turtle, insisting that all he could do was stick figures, and look how good it turned out!

Cross your fingers for us in getting a few scholarships this year to help soften the blow.

My rhinoceros. I love how it turned out.

My rhinoceros. I love how it turned out.

The original sketch of the elephant, that Tara used as a guide to carve the block print.

The original sketch of the elephant, that Tara used as a guide to carve the block print.

Experimenting with different paints on the block.

Experimenting with different paints on the block.

Catch ya later, Dude!

Catch ya later, Dude!

The valid sea turtle card, based on an actual turtle.

The valid sea turtle card, based on an actual turtle.

Elephants in the mist.

Elephants in the mist.

colour experiments

colour experiments

colour experiments

colour experiments

P.S. Last minute addition below. We discovered that we had only 10 cards, so Tara quickly folded a scrap piece of paper in half and handed it to me. Since it was small, I thought just a face would have to suffice.

My Siberian Tiger in full colour.

My Siberian Tiger in full colour.

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

Flower casts a shadow against a wall.

An example of how my world is larger because of blogging: I’ve been watching this flower grow against the foundation of my neighbor’s house, and I can’t help but imagine it sketched by The Crazy Bag Lady over at Bulan Lifestyle.

The Crazy Bag Lady’s posts are filled with her delights and inspirations and many beautiful sketches. She will sketch anything that catches her fancy, but my favourites are the micro views of plants and flowers.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

I just love this flower. The recklessly long and wavy stems, the mismatched petals, the fearless orange center.

What a beautiful shadow.

What a beautiful shadow.

Some people are naturally inclined to see connections in life. It can be an irresistible game to play – a perpetual mind puzzle – to absorb as much as possible and then to link pieces together and look for patterns. My Tara has been doing it since the toddler days, and at first I thought it was an unlikely skill to have learned from such a young age. But the more I think about it, the more I think that appreciating connections isn’t learned but intrinsic to our character. It will blossom when embraced. Some people (myself included) delightedly blurt out connections we discover, even while people nearby aren’t playing the game.  🙂

This flower embodies the qualities I notice in The Crazy Bag Lady’s sketches: haphazard petals, white like the pages of her moleskine notebook, bending stems, delicate and proud stamens in an orange circle like a sunburst. The longer I live, the more intricately my web of connections is spun, now linking me to this flower (and soon only the memory of it), and a lovely lady far away, who expresses her joy in life through her art.

Face to face, flower and lens

Face to face, flower and lens

DSC_0518

Long stems bend to the sun

Long stems bend to the sun

A pile of unused raccoon stickers just waiting to find a home.

A pile of unused raccoon stickers just waiting to find a home.

Oh! Oh! Oh! I am so excited to get this in the mail, you can’t even know. I am simply giggling with happiness. Hee hee. 🙂

Several months ago I wrote a blog post about a raccoon that had captured my imagination. I searched the Internet and found a webpage from the artist, and I left him a note saying how much I liked the raccoon, and sending a link to my blog post.

Monday I received all this in the mail! A simple manila envelope noting “Jst Productions” as the sender, and I hoped, but wasn’t sure, till I opened it up and found a huge pile of handmade raccoon stickers. I was bouncing with glee. Thank you Just1!

In case any of you are wondering, the answer is “yes.” Yes, I do intend to deface public property. I play the part of a good girl pretty well, but I’m a rebel inside and I am dying to get out into the city and tag something. I am a little disappointed that I didn’t receive the package in time to slap something up in Anaheim. But maybe my partner in crime, Arno, will help me spread them into the Gorge.

The first one goes on my car. This way I can take the raccoon with me all over the place.

The first one goes on my car. This way I can take the raccoon with me all over the place.

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

I just heard the sound of a flame being pinched out by wet fingers.

Wuff, SSssss.

My heart is in such pain over the news of the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Young, talented, and responsible for some of my most moving moments in front of a screen. Yesterday he was capable of bringing additional decades of mind-blowing art to us. Today he is gone.

We just saw him in Catching Fire. He was just on Broadway. What the hell, Mr. Hoffman? What did you do to yourself, and why, for god’s sake?

I was in my car tonight, driving to pick up my kid from a friend’s house where she had been house-sitting. The words from the radio slipped into my brain before I had the chance to defend myself. I literally gasped out loud and took my hands from the wheel to cover my mouth. I know, such a silly movie pose, but it was instinctive. I thought back through the two-sentence newscast. When I realized I had really heard it, the tears began. I looked at the people in the cars around me, desperately looking to connect, to share this shock and pain. None of them were listening to the same radio station, or were reacting.

Crazy, huh, when a total stranger means so much to you that you cry at their death. It happened to me with Princess Diana, and Kurt Cobain. It makes my response totally inappropriate because I didn’t know the person; I just knew the way they could make me feel. As a stranger, the only things that come to my mind are weak cliches like “What a loss,” or thoughts that are so obvious it’s just stupid, as in “Fucking addiction,” and “His portrayal of Truman Capote was phenomenal.”

Forgive me, Mr. Hoffman, for not having the ability to honor you well. In words, no less, which are supposed to be my medium. Thank you for the way you lived your 46 years. Thank you for choosing to put yourself out there for public consumption for over twenty years. If the point of art is to connect to people, or to make the people react, or to empathize, or feel childlike joy, or weep like a betrayed lover, or flush red hot with anger, or yell at the screen, …or any of a number of remarkable human responses to effective art…

You have done it. 

Since my words aren’t working well tonight, I’m going to borrow from an old post that I wrote not so very long ago:

“Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him.

“The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathetic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.

“See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.

“In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.

“I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.”

Read that whole blog post here.

I collect snapshots in my “Pictures” folder on my laptop. They are images that caught my fancy at one time. I’m going to drop the latest into this post for you.

Ant with reservoir full, heads back home.

Ant with reservoir full, heads back home.

Here I managed to catch both an empty ant and a full ant

Here I managed to catch both an empty ant and a full ant

I had a very hard time photographing the ants, and will have to set up my tripod to do it properly one of these days. Sadly, the photos above are blurry because I was holding the camera in my hands. So here’s the deal: at the end of the branch of this fruit tree hangs the hummingbird feeder. The ants come from somewhere in the yard, up the trunk, aaaaalll the way out to the end of the branch, and down to the red plastic flowers with syrup in the center. They load up with juice, and haul the load back to the rest of the ants. I have stood, I can’t tell you how many hours, gazing in fascination at this never-ending train of ants. There are small black ants speeding out toward the end of the branch, and fat copper ants carefully placing their feet and methodically heading back toward the trunk of the tree. If the sun is setting, it shines right through their abdomen and lights it like a tiny amber bulb.

What else would a kid do while waiting for dad to show up after class?

What else would a kid do while waiting for dad to show up after class?

I captured this one from the window of the bus as I headed home one evening. I love the scene of the little flexible guy in his Taekwondo clothes.

Tara and carpet

Tara and carpet

We heard recently that the carpet is going to be replaced at the Portland airport. The local airport is a place packed full of memories for us, but the sense of place seems to be more striking for her. She exclaimed that it will be a loss not to walk into the airport from some plane, after having been in multiple airports, and knowing she’s home by the pattern of the carpet. My girl finds comfort in the Portland airport carpet; what a thought. Well, it makes sense for this traveling child. She has been flying around the country and around the world since she was an infant, and this has been HER airport for 10 years now, which is more than half her life. So we got a photo of Miss T and her comforting carpet.

Random Japanese things keep appearing and surprising me

Random Japanese things keep appearing and surprising me

It has been a year and four months since I returned from Japan. Sometimes I can’t believe it was so long ago, and sometimes it seems like it was only yesterday and I’m looking forward to talking with Norm, Kaori, Phil or Yasmeen, next time I’m in Sasebo. Then I shake my head and remind myself that I’m long gone.  On the days when Japan has almost vanished from my thoughts, I come across some random Japanese thing that is instantly both familiar and foreign. In my pantry I still have the powdered sugar bag that Tara and I found at a grocery store in Iwakuni, and in my filing cabinet is one of the many flat rounded fans that everyone carried, with a map of the west shore of Honshu on it. The other day, bored with tea and coffee, I spotted this packet and added it to hot water. A delicious orange drink with orange peel in it.

take care

take care

My boy- friend Arno is raising two teenage boys. Can I state the obvious? Boys are different than girls. At their house I must get used to the implements of battle in every circumstance and conversation. We discuss the value of fabrics in German military uniforms vs. Russian uniforms. I am entreated to admire the latest model airplane, or ship, or helicopter, or tank, or sub. Once I was treated to an entire Vietnam jungle scene with palm trees and soldiers dressed in green, made out of Legos for a high school project. There are the latest and greatest airsoft rifles (plastic beebees ALL over their house), homemade handgun replicas, and target practice in the backyard with bow and arrows. And always, always there is the excitement over the latest eBay acquisition: throwing stars, knives, goggles, helmets, leather ammo pouches, oxygen masks for high altitude pilots. It’s hard for me to absorb. I’m getting better. I can’t help but sometimes wish the oldest would actually enlist and experience the military, and see that it’s not as romantic and heroic as he is convinced it is. Where does this war-worship come from? It’s not a particular thing to the teens in my life: it’s common to boys for time immemorial. I just don’t get it. But then…on an anthropological level, I do get it. Being warlike has kept the human race alive. Our pre-historic ancestors had to perfect this characteristic, and a couple thousand years of advanced civilization is definitely not enough to wipe it out. (A concept perfectly elucidated in Charles L. Mee’s play Big Love)

Too beautiful to eat!

Too beautiful to eat!

Tara burst into the house Friday night overflowing with emotion and relieved anxiety and a fried brain. She announced to me, frowning and fierce, “I am going to take over the kitchen, make cupcakes and then eat them! I am not going to do anything else and you can’t make me!” It had been the last day of final exams, and she was exhausted mentally, which is so grueling after two weeks of hardcore schoolwork. Arno whined, “How come my boys don’t make cupcakes when they need to let off steam?” After leaving her alone for awhile, she called out to me, “Mom? How do you make fondant?” Heck, I didn’t even know what fondant was, so I was no help. Still banned from the kitchen, I left her alone to figure it out. By dinnertime, there were cupcakes with fondant roses. I am in awe.

A Graphic Design class project

A Graphic Design class project

She’s in two art classes this year, which balances out her other classes, like Pre-Calc and AP Environmental Science. She made the poster above for me, which is now hanging in my home office. Hil-air-ious.  We both love the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. Too bad she couldn’t have used large, friendly letters.

Taking her own advice, not panicking, in her new TARDIS blanket

Taking her own advice, not panicking, in her new TARDIS blanket

Our tastes are similar, which has been fun. We’re both crazy about Disney and Pixar, and now Disney/Pixar, and studio Ghibli. And we like the same TV shows, which we discover on the Internet, because we have no TV signal to our house. She introduced me to Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch, which is so great. I suppose that means I’ll have to check out Dr. Who eventually, because it’s another of her loves that I know nothing about. The previously mentioned teenage boys got her this TARDIS blanket for Christmas, and she is usually not found in the house without it. She’d take it to school with her if she thought she could make that work.

The last shots are not my own, but sent to me from a very dear and longtime friend, who is charting unexplored territory in virtual space. Vlad gets absorbed in his roleplaying games and is particularly impressed with the artistry of it. I don’t blame him: the scenes are amazing. These are from the most recent set emailed to me. I love digital artwork; for example was just awed beyond belief when I tried to play Myst. And failed to make any sense of it. I love the puzzles: Tetris, Flow, Minesweeper, Mahjong, and solitaire. I did waste a gazillion hours playing Age of Empires II, but in general, I haven’t got the right mindset for computer games. So in closing, please enjoy the snapshots from Vlad’s computer screen.

Aldrovanda

Aldrovanda

Mission Defera

Mission Defera

finished bowl with fruit in it

finished bowl with fruit in it

Honeycomb mug

Honeycomb mug

bee on the bottom

bee on the bottom

honeycomb pattern

honeycomb pattern

Honeycomb mug and fruit bowl are the completed fired pieces I talked about in my last post.

I am using the bowl as a fruit bowl right now. I originally thought I’d make a flower pot. The opening at the top is smaller than what would be ideal. But I’ll give it a try.

Tara has already used her mug multiple times for tea. Isn’t it awesome?!

golden swirls

golden swirls

One of my many guises

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