Sunday, August 31, 2008

favorite Oregon recipes: Cioppino

With the dusty, unused smell of the furnace permeating my place, drizzling rain outside and wool socks on my freezing toes, it seemed like a good day to post my favorite Oregon recipe: mom's Cioppino. For the uninitiated, Cioppino is a sort of bouillabaisse, a red sauce-based seafood soup recipe that's overflowing with fresh fish and seafood still in the shell.

The bouillabaisse recipe takes some time to prepare (run to the seafood store, clean the goods and ready the spices), but it's really quite easy to make. Cioppino looks lovely on the table, impresses the heck out of your guests and it's so, so good. If you try it, let me know how it turns out and feel free to share your choices for catch of the day ingredients.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

this time things will be different

When I was growing up, my parents used to have huge parties. Stacked crates of bottles of Pop Shoppe Pop in every flavor the brand carried looked like a rainbow rising out of the wet bar. Strange adult drinks that included eggs and bourbon heated in the 40-gallon silver urn and delectable dishes strewn around the dining room captivated me, as did the white tablecloths, pretty china and harried preparations for the party.

And all through the house, people readied themselves for a night of fun, while I excitedly wandered around, inspecting the goings-on. I stayed up well past my bedtime, relishing the adult conversation, admiring the long, filmy gowns and elaborate hair-dos of family friends until someone finally caught sight of me, round eyes burning, stuffing myself with cheese-filled dates and commanded me to my canopy bed. A considerable letdown.

As I got older, my sense of raw anticipation about the new, the unknown, never wavered. If anything, I got even more wound up when it came time for the keggers and the homecoming parties of my teen years. Any excuse to get dressed up in my new Guess jeans or in a fancy formal gown was momentous, and evolved out of long days of surprisingly extensive planning and highly detailed organization.

Giggling girls crowded my bedroom phone line with questions about what I was wearing, could I lend them this, and did I think they should wear that, what time would I arrive at the party? And oftentimes we’d gather at my house before we went out, I think just to draw out the getting ready time… Envisioning ourselves dancing, drinking clouds of champagne and falling for some as yet unnamed, no-faced suitor.

The anticipation, it always seemed to me, was the best part of any event.

And as an adult, I still approach any new adventure with my usual wide-eyed optimism. Excitement builds, in tandem with anxiety, as I worry whether everything will go off correctly. Gripping the drink that helps assuage my worries, I’ve had (mainly fleeting) thoughts that I should both drink less and apologize less for scheduling difficulties and my own insecurities that everything won’t be perfect.

It’s the same thing with relationships.

I want to keep a clear head, and not be naïve about whom I trust and who I allow to get close to me. Understand that I need to take the time to really learn things about people before I let them in. But mostly, I find myself swept up in the newness of it all, carried along by sensation and by my own, foolish fantasies about how things will be.

And just like a party, the anticipation and excitement that a new relationship brings often dwindles in the face of reality.

While our fantasy lives often far outweigh our real lives, we still always have that hope, don’t we? That everything will be perfect. That somehow, things are moving of their own volition into something bigger than two people, and that it’s an inevitability that everything will turn out just right.

Confronted with the awful truth, that you are, after all, ordinary, and that the goings-on around you are just ordinary, or second-best to someone else, makes me feel like I’ve fallen flat. Like I didn’t do everything that I could have done. I could have made better plans. Could have dressed differently, or worn someone else’s brittle, sparkling personality that would have made me seem more interesting. Second-guessing myself. It comes with the territory.

It’s hard to let people in, even harder to let them go. But sometimes, you have to face reality. Even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. But still, I love that anticipation. The idea that someday, something good will come of all of this.

At least that’s what I hope.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

things to do in portland: Free Summer Symphony Concerts

There are only a few free summer symphony concerts remaining this season.

An overview of free concerts in Portland and a few highlights:

Saturday, August 23rd The Oregon Symphony at Mt. Scott Park- an afternoon festival begins at 2 and culminates in a show at 7 pm. Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Berlin are among the show highlights.

Thursday, August 28th A free symphony concert at Tom McCall Waterfront Park- The Portland Youth Philharmonic plays at 5 pm and the Oregon Symphony takes the stage at 7. More Tchaikovsky, bits of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody and Verdi makes this show look promising. And the Portland park concert ends in the 1812 Overture, the biggest crowd-pleaser there is.

Sunday, Sept. 7th at 4:00 pm at the Foothills Park in Lake Oswego, the Portland Festival Symphony finishes off the free concert season with selections including Liszt, Tchaikovsky and the Toy Symphony by Haydn.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

i’ve had nothing to compare it to

Once when I was in college, my hairstylist, on a whim, died my hair a deep chocolate brown. When she suggested it, I immediately thought of Michelle Pfeiffer and her starring role in that really awful movie, Married to the Mob.

I know, I know, for dumb, right? But I’d just seen the movie and the only thing that really stood out, other than the terribly inept acting, was Michelle’s charming cap of dark brown hair. It was such a surprisingly theatrical look for the light-eyed, Nordic-fashioned Pfeiffer. I thought it was stunning.

Drama, I thought, was just what I needed. And a change. And why not? I’d been blonde since I was young and I wanted to try something different. When we dried my freshly shampooed hair and checked it out in the salon mirror, we loved it. It was dramatic. The fresh change I needed. I cheerfully paid her and went off to show my best friends.

Who, to a person, hated it. Hated it.

It was bizarre. More than bizarre. Clearly, my friends were repelled by my new darkened tresses. And I heard so many people ask me that same, annoying question, “why?” that it really started to get under my skin. To the point that I actually started to feel less dramatic and more… dull.

At the time, a guy friend of mine explained it to me like this: there’s nothing better than long, blonde hair: It’s the absolute American feminine ideal. So to get rid of it, to hide it under a brunette shade, well, people think you must be crazy. Astounding.

Case in point: Carly, a best friend from college, listened to me complaining that everyone else was complaining about my hair for several minutes before she cocked her head and peered up at me closely. “It looks really good,” she said sincerely. Ah, thanks, Carl. “It’s just… that it was so pretty before.” I rolled my eyes at her and we both started to laugh.

And it was funny. Funny and ridiculous that I offended people by coloring my hair.

But still, I only did it once. I never ventured down that darkened brown path again. I did, finally, cut my hair. Like I wrote about here, I worried that with the loss of length I’d somehow lose my powers, like Samson. It didn’t happen. Chances are, it only happened when I dyed my hair brown because I allowed it to happen. I know that. It was a big change and I didn’t own my appearance the way I do today.

And nowadays, highlights from a stylist in the winter and from the sunny Oregon sun in the summer keep my hair bright, shiny and blonde. And regular Brazilian waxes eliminate any other evidence. Evidence that might indicate the truth: I started going a lot darker sometime after college. Not that you’d ever know. Well. Not that anyone who doesn’t read the blog or know me personally would ever know.

Moving to Oregon this spring my new stylist, debating with me about colors and highlights and the rest of it, thought about my hair color intently for a long moment and then put her hands on my scalp, speaking seriously to my reflection: “You’re a blonde Lisa. You couldn’t be anything else.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Question: Do Blondes Really Have More Fun? Answer: See the Title of this Blog.

Monday, August 11, 2008

unexpected time

Almost a year ago at this time, I was in South Carolina visiting a friend when in a flurry of text messages and phone calls, I found out that a family friend had passed away.

It felt so strange.

To be surrounded by so much beauty; and yet, to keep getting reminded that there's so much pain and sadness, too. I had been working on a lot of funny, silly story ideas about Hilton Head hotties, the dearth of sad sack starter wives and the outrageous plethora of second-time-around sex kittens on that island. My trip was made up of Mai Tais and Pina Coladas, noshing on sushi and wading in the ocean. But mostly, I found myself alone inside my thoughts. I had a hard time absorbing everything and finally sat down with my friends for a heart to heart.

And so I cut the trip short to be able to attend the funeral. I had just seen the young woman not two months’ before, at a baby shower. She looked so good, I kept signing that to her and I remember teasing her about the obvious lack of piercings. For years, longer than most pierced people that I know, she’d been dotted with a variety of metals. “I’m a mother now,” she signed to me. “It’s not right anymore.”

And the baby was luscious. A charming chunk who grabbed onto me, arms windmilling, to tote him around the buffet and delight him by pointing out the babified shower decorations of chicks and ducks. It was a happy day.

Later, I learned about the depression she’d had since the baby was born. How she’d taken pills and fought with the baby’s father. Felt like she was failing. At the funeral home, I looked at photos taken when she was little and remembered her when. The priest was from the deaf school and he signed a beautiful service. And later, I pressed the letter into her dazed mother’s hand.

In my letter, which was and is private, I tried to explain how much the young woman’s mother had meant to our family over the years. To tell her that she was a beautiful mother. Pitiful small words that didn’t say much at all, not everything I wanted to say. Not hardly at all.

One year later, I think about that little baby. Remember the way the proud young mother looked that day, smiling serenely and happily telling me her news. Teasing and laughing at the young grandmother, who seemed happier than she had been in years.

Still, I remember.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

the long sweet minute

Like a parish priest in gym clothes, the sight of me in a heavy metal t-shirt takes some people by surprise. Bright red with a prominent skull on the front, the vintage tee I’m wearing today might portray my love for a little-known thrash metal band from the 80’s. Or just indicate that I buy fake vintage t-shirts at Abercrombie & Fitch. In fact, I was never a fan. And I hate the mall. But the t-shirt crept into my wardrobe a long time ago and there it remains: Evidence of an ex-love, who loved that band.

In the past I’ve written about my favorite concert tee. But there’s another type of relic that looms large inside my closet: T-shirts that belong to ex-boyfriends. The lost artifacts of failed relationships. Soft from years of washing and wearing, they’re still a perennial favorite. But what do they say about me? About the people I have loved… and lost?

I barely give pause when I come across one of these old t-shirts today. Except when someone notices, like the guy at the 7-11 did this morning. “Flotsam and Jetsam?” he asked, tilting his head and looking puzzled. Oh… right.

I tore up your photos. Threw away your love letters. And I really never think of you at all now, unless I need an anecdote: “I actually dated a guy in a heavy metal band. No, really.”

But still, I love your t-shirt.

Monday, August 4, 2008

fear of flying

Every step that I took on my way to the top hurt me in some way. I couldn’t look down for fear that I would lose my footing and tumble over the side. When I reached the apex, the mouth where I had to walk across the platform, my tongue felt stuck to the back of my throat. I took each step cautiously, but my legs were leaden and I felt myself dragging my weight with each step I took. I was so, so scared, and so worried that my incredible shakiness, my complete instability would make me lose my footing, plunging me to my death.

Does anyone ever fall off, I asked the guide? Yes, he smiled. I choked back my horror. “Que?” he asked at my confusion, clearly not having heard my original question. I shook my head slowly and turned to face my fear. The struggle to fit my feet into the bag took too long, since my legs didn’t seem to work. And the bag itself kept bunching up below me, ensuring that my plummet to the ground was imminent.

“Well, I’m going,” piped my puzzled eight-year-old niece, who until then had waited patiently. And off she sailed, down the big slide. I watched her slip neatly down to the bottom and, taking a ragged, shallow breath, I followed.

Yes: I am afraid of heights.

No, despite the title of this blog, I am not afraid to fly. Thankfully, I’ve been travelling since I was a kid and it seems to have inured me. But I have severe acrophobia. So severe that watching my neighbor, who locked himself out of his apartment, race to the top of the ladder and then jump through his open window on the 2nd floor almost made me faint, as I held my breath for his entire trip up the ladder. I am also afraid of steps with spaces in between them and walking by a scaffolding makes my hands ice cold with dread. I don’t know why, since I have no plans to stand on one anytime soon. But just the thought of that height makes me dizzy with my own fear.

The treatments for acrophobia seem to run one of two courses: slowly introduce patients to situations where they have to confront their fear of heights, so they become desensitized over time to the affects on their body. The second course involves throwing patients into the worst situations possible, in order to make small situations involving altitude increases less alarming.

Never having received any therapy for acrophobia, I’ve always chosen the “just do it” mentality. Forcing myself into situations where I have to confront my fear of heights to prove to myself that I am, in fact, stronger than my fear. Riding in tall glass elevators, I stand next to the glass and watch the ground drop before my feet. With small, but equally frightening tasks like changing a light bulb, I try to shake off my fear and take deep breaths in order to reduce the shakiness in my legs so I won’t fall. I want to prove to myself that I can conquer my fears and face them head-on.

But I only want to do it once.

I don’t see any need to prove, over and over again, that I can get on the Ferris Wheel, I can go down the big slide or that I can do any other number of these stupid endurance tests that I always force myself to do. My best friend Cheryl is talking about jumping out of a plane on her birthday next year. I might just do it with her.

Then again, maybe I won’t.

Talking with Dave Schappell about TeachStreet

Dave Schappell’s TeachStreet website rolled into Portland today. The website helps people connect with teachers, classes and tutors in their area. I had the opportunity to interview Schappell just before the website dropped:

Tell me about TeachStreet. TeachStreet allows users to find teachers and experts in their area. It’s not online learning or e-learning; it’s a place for students and teachers to find each other. There’s just no way to differentiate in Google SERPs when trying to find one good yoga class, for example.

In the past, many teachers used craigslist and classified ads to promote their services. TeachStreet gives them another, more direct avenue to find prospective students. We’ve imported information about local service providers and then we present them with the opportunity to claim their profile with one (and only one) email.

The inspiration behind TeachStreet? Everyone’s an expert in something. And anyone can participate. We're building an active, vibrant community online.

The benefits of TeachStreet? Teachers and experts don’t always have websites to promote their services; TeachStreet gives them a place to advertise their services. In addition to finding information about specific classes and class times, the website also includes discounts.

The future of TeachStreet? We’ll continue to launch city by city, offering free set-up and helping website visitors to find experts in their area.

The most unusual classes offered? TeachStreet offerings have included but are not limited to cat training, making grocery bags out of recycled materials and environmental knitting. Piano instruction, cooking, language, salsa and merengue dance lessons, introduction to acting and performance etiquette are among the classes being taught right now.

To find classes in your neighborhood, visit TeachStreet.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

day trips from portland: the benton county fair

The grizzled, sun-split skinned ride operator politely asked if he could sit next to me on the bench and then told me a. he’s been operating rides for 27 years and b. “that’s my wife,” indicating a beautiful young woman with three tiny children in tow. Teenaged kids flirted and laughed, teasing each other with cotton candy, queuing up to the ticket booth. I faced my fear of heights head on and walked the long steps into the sky to go down the slide.

A cowboy willingly brought his lasso outside of the barn to let me snap some photos with my crackberry and told us that he didn’t enter the rodeo this year; the $100 fee wasn’t worth paying since he wasn’t skilled enough to win. Watching his lasso swoop and swirl we laughed and told him he was wonderful.

And I felt an odd sense of relief at seeing the many baked goods on display. It’s comforting somehow, to know that people still care about things like cookies on a plate or jelly in a jar. I couldn’t hold back my giggles as I perused the lego creations and bizarre collections (rubber ducks, bugs) on display in the exhibit center. The band played loudly to a tiny audience and all around us, families chattered and took in the sights.

The 2008 Benton County Fair in Corvallis wraps up today. If the fair’s attendance doesn’t hit a certain number, they’re going to decrease the number of days for the fair starting next year. It’s sad, but over time, county fairs have decreased in popularity. Sad, because county fairs offer local residents a way to learn more about the agriculture that’s at the heart of many rural communities. And they’re just so much fun. If you’re looking for something to do today, go.

Benton County Fair and Rodeo
Corvallis, Oregon