Friday, February 26, 2010

Easy Company

My father has instilled in me a great sense of reverence for the American Military.

I know most people feel this way, and nations around the world feel it for their own brave forces who serve and protect. It is nothing new. I am not unique in this. I am even far-removed, having only one military man in the family: my papa, who served on the USS Mt. Katmai in the Korean War with the Navy.

I even grapple ideologically with the idea of nation-states and border-lines and the protection or separation therein, and thus the idea of a military force run by a government, tied to a patch of land on which I just happened to have been born.
While exploring a certain career path in the last year, I expressed these frustrations to a young man working for a branch of the government in Foreign Service. He responded,
“You're exactly right, however, the few sometimes have to sacrifice certain comforts for the masses. I'd love to live in Portland, work at a nice little ski shop or cafe, take the kids to Forest Park and spend summers singing Garth Brooks classics at campfire, but somehow I found myself speaking Arabic with five years of experience as a Marine Sergeant. …I have an amazing family and network of Oregon friends, however, like I said above, in order for them to continue living a comfortable bike-friendly life on 23rd and Burn', some of us have to go abroad and make sure their best interests are maintained”.

I think that he so eloquently articulated the reason people serve their country- we have a way of life we want to continue enjoying, and other nation states are going to do the same, and sometimes, that causes conflict that merits defense.

So despite my interest in, and deep gratitude for, our nation’s military history and presence, I haven’t done a whole lot of research or been very involved in further understanding it or supporting it. I had some great high school classes and college courses that really engaged me, and I do my best to express my thanks to servicemen & women when I meet them in my daily life, but I think largely I avoid learning too much lest it really disturb me or call me to an uncomfortable level of action.
I have admittedly never seen the film Saving Private Ryan (1996) from beginning to end, and had not seen the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (2001).

Until this week.

On Sunday, I wasn’t feeling too well, and decided to let myself have an afternoon on the sofa watching whatever I could find, for as many hours as I could. After making it halfway through a Lifetime Movie (“The Pregnancy Pact”…don’t bother) I came across the HBO On Demand selections for this month and there was Band of Brothers.

My dad has loved this show since before he even got to see it. We bought him the DVD set for Christmas one year, and he has watched it multiple times since then, though carefully spaced through the years so he forgets just enough of the details in between viewings to really enjoy it again. He is an avid reader, and has read the Stephen Ambrose book on which the series is based. This makes him an invaluable asset to have around when watching.

So as soon as the swell of music started in the credits and I prepared myself for the emotional ride that was to ensue, Dad slipped into the room and situated himself in the leather recliner to watch with me.

It is now Friday, and we have made it through six of the ten hour-long episodes, last night getting in two and staying up til 12:45 or so. To hell with waking up for work on time: we’ve got more important things to worry about.

Last night as I was going to bed, again moved and shaken by the drama of Easy Company, of the 101st Airborne Division, that had played out before us, Dad said to me, “You know, I think this is going to rank as one of my favorite things I’ve ever gotten to share with my daughter.”

If you’d like to borrow him, he is an excellent provider of footnotes and explanations, or you can come to my house to watch The Pacific, HBO’s follow-up to Band of Brothers that tracks what was going on in the other theater- arguably an entirely different kind of war. It starts March 14th, and I am sure will be equally as informative, inspiring, and humbling.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I Could Afford These Clothes...

...I just don't want them, that's all. (Pssssssssssssssssssshhhhh yeaaaahhhh).

Spring fashion week in NYC is underway with the usual mix of new and established houses touting their Fall 2010 Ready to Wear lines.

(My lucky girl Ba is there, gallivanting with Tim Gunn and sharing tents with Anna Wintour's icy bob- hope you're having fun while I sit here in my cube, love).

Some things I am seeing (not with my own eyes, but via the ever living-vicariously-friendly

(All photos from by Marcio Madeira)

Adam Lippes Fall 2010 RTW collection makes me want to burn everything in my closet and wear only his line during autumn months. Lots of warm textures, cognac leather accents, slouchy layers (in both clothing and accessories), and refreshingly earthy palette with metallic pops.

Tracy Reese
Loving the hair on these models! Lots of untamed wave in a big side pony.

Noticing lots of platformed, close-toed, nude heels (this particularly from Victoria Beckham):

And, since apparently it's best to leave the serious fashion-blogging up to tweens now, I will willingly admit I don't really know what I'm talking about but here are more pictures of stuff I like and will have to patiently wait to see trickle down into affordable bastardizations at chain department stores.

Erin Fetherston:

Diane Von Furstenberg:

Devi Kroell:

I NEED that hat. For what? For... um, romantic Siberian adventures, duh. And running to the grocery store when I'm out of red wine and Cheez-Its.

I also have decided that I have to be a LOT more careful about the clothes I give away in the future, because if I still had all the stuff that used to be in my dress up box (grandma's shawls and tiny clutches, mom's skirts from the late 70's, patent leather pumps, amazing costume jewelry...) I used to torture my brother by dressing him in such things, so if I find those pictures, I'll be sure to share so we can look at what my wardrobe Could Have Been.

Monday, February 15, 2010

At 13 the only mag I was reading was Cosmo...

...and that was just for the quizzes.

May I introduce to you, if you aren't yet privy to her musings on fashion, style, and icons, Miss Tavi Gevinson.

(Photo Credits: Tavi herself)

Newsflash: girlfriend is 13.
She has one of the most buzzed-about blogs STYLE ROOKIE in NY Fashion circles and is sitting in primo seats at all the fun shit going on in NYC this week (which, if you didn't know, is fashion week).

I am totally impressed by her sense of humor, her discerning eye, her articulate compositions, and her total bravery.

Seriously, when I was 13 I was definitely tearing pages out of magazines and plastering them on my bedroom wall, but they were of mostly naked male models, not of Rodarte designs, McQueen inspirations, and Lanvin runway shows. I also only wore Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren Polo brand items of clothing so I would be cool, obviously, with the occasional Paul Frank tee thrown in there if I felt like being alternative that day.

It gets a little demoralizing, though, when you start looking up to people who are ten years your junior, but for this spritely being, I'll cope.

Tavi, I'm yours.

Friday, February 12, 2010


“I was thinking about having Papa over for dinner on Sunday. You haven’t seen him for a while and he’ll probably really want to hear about your trip,” my Mom says as she files her nails in even strokes. She’s sitting on my bed, which is comically large in this bedroom. The heavy, wood framed, queen-sized piece, sits about eighteen inches away from the massive matching bureau, both of which served as sort of consolation prize for my significant downgrade in square footage when we moved into this house four years ago.

“What do you think I should make?” she continues, “I could make salmon but, OH MY GOSH! WHAT-“ she points at the spot above my bedroom door, “WHAT IS THAT??? IS THAT A SPIDER? PAAAAAT! PAT! COME HERE!”

“Mom! Shh, stop.” I laugh, “It’s a spider, yes, but, it’s dead.” It has, in fact, been dead for probably about as long as we’ve lived in the house.

“Well what in the world is it still doing up there?”

We take a second to examine the dark, crumpled smear, our heads cocked and noses scrunched in question.

“It’s a scarecrow,” I explain.

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, more like a scare-spider I guess."

“Huh. Okay.” She pauses, and then, “That’s just kind of…gross, don’t you think?”
“I mean, I guess,” I shrug. “The weird thing is though… it works.”

The pest control in our house has always largely been managed by my father. Instead of bug-killing, he humanely and calmly would grab the Spider Trap from the laundry room (a mason jar and a piece of thin, stiff cardboard) and would neutralize the situation in our bedrooms and common areas by scooting the many-legged creature into the jar and releasing it from the back door in a perhaps-just-as-lethal arc. Over the deck, out into the lawn it would soar, though one would be remiss to come back into the house without first double-checking the jar and doing the obligatory jim-jam body wriggle to ensure the security of the home.

The rest of us could manage the silverfish infestation well enough- there was no crunching noise or excess of paper towel needed as insulation against the act of the smush.

One summer, we had a flying ant infestation. I kid you not, those things were positively TERRIFYING. Just AWFUL. Fodder for a Ridley Scott film, the stuff nightmares are made of. They were coming in from some hole in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and were about a full inch in length.

The very worst part was their thick, yellow stained-glass wings that made the most skin-crawling sound when fluttered. I am struggling, even now, not to vomit as I recall it.

You’d be home alone one afternoon, microwaving a hotdog or some such summer sustenance when you heard it: the unmistakable friction of scaley wings. The microwave would sound its beeps of conclusion, and you would freeze, the gooseflesh rising despite the sweltering July temperatures. Slowly, you’d reach behind you, fumbling for the microwave door, the frank, the white enriched bun and the ketchup bottle, all the while keeping both eyes on the ant-soldier. It would amble, stop, rub its filthy legs together over a crumb on the floor, and you, barefoot, would contemplate your escape route while munching on the hotdog.

A napkin squish had proven earlier in the week to be a really disturbing experience, as the strong armor of the ant-beast really required a firm and unswerving commitment to squishing. This proved difficult when your thumb and forefinger went in for the kill and were met with thrashing, thick legs and the whole napkin/half-dead ant-dragon situation was thrown to the floor with a girlish shriek, the kitchen fled on sunburned legs. At this rate, they were going to have full range of the house in days.

Vacuuming appeared at first to be a good solution, but the idea of just moving the living creature into another space where it seemed it could just mate with the other prisoners really freaked me out, and I abandoned that idea, dreaming of flying-ant armies marching back out the tube attachment, coming for me in my sleep.

Thus, necessity was truly the mother of my invention. I found a small, dense rectangle of plywood in the garage, about 9 inches by 7 inches. I brought it into the kitchen, and wrapped a paper towel around the board once, Scotch taping the edges on the backside of the board.
I either carried the board with me while making lunches, or left it near the microwave, in the event of an ant ambush.

What this weapon allowed me was the safety of distance, protection from creepy sounds, and absolute victory, until Dad had time that weekend to spray. It worked best if I had a stool, or if I had time, to scramble onto the kitchen counter. There, I would wait for the ant-demon to be in the middle of the kitchen floor, and, before it could sense its impending death, WHAM! The plywood weapon had been dropped on it squarely from a height of probably 6 feet: the collision of the wood and the linoleum shrouded the sound of the crunching of the exoskeleton, which made me queasy, and I didn’t have to get anywhere near the disgusting thing to kill it. Plus, clean up just involved removing the paper towel over the garbage can, and re-wrapping the plywood.


Until my more-genius notion of bug scarecrows, or, in this present instance, of the Scarespider. Since its fateful smooshing, I have honestly, I swear to you, not seen a single other bug in this bedroom. It is immortalized as a broken-legged, gut-smeared testament to my strength and don’t you forget it, arachnid community of Oregon.

Surprised even still by its effectiveness, sometimes I stare at the spot in the morning when I wake up, before I can rouse myself from bed. I think about the ability of the display of one defeat to preempt another. How beings can sense, out of self-preservation, when they are not welcome somewhere, as if they can smell the ghosts of the failures of their predecessors.

It’s why we don’t waltz into dark alleyways in cities; why we don’t willingly vault ourselves through manhole covers into sewers- why you don’t ever ever ever lock yourself in the bathroom when the murderer gets into your house: we have heard stories, and seen examples, of how these are not havens of hope and life, but dark tombs. So we try to avoid these situations- just sidestep them altogether.And gazing at that that Scarespider made me realize I’ve had a Scareboyfriend up for over a year.

The sad, smeared remains of the last one left on display, constantly referenced in conversation and determinant of moods – at first certainly meant to keep other possibilities at bay, but then, after a time, just a weird reminder of the power of hurt and decay.

When I get home from work tonight, I think I’m going to wipe the Scarespider off the wall, and clean up the stain with a little soap and hot water.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Healthy February!

In college, I would have ridiculed this idea, and the person presenting it to me would have likely been met with a Cheesy Gordita Crunch to the face.

A friend of mine created this personal challenge for himself a few years ago, and it has since evolved into a group month-long effort to promote health and wellness after the fatty fall-out of holiday debauchery. Since graduation, I have struggled to find a healthy balance of all my vices (vodka sodas, keeping really odd hours, anything full of melted cheese, walking home from bars barefoot) and will often eliminate one at at time from my life, but decided the time had come for a full overhaul.

Thus, Healthy February has begun.

The ground rules are simple: No fast food, no junk food, no caffeine addictions; Try to work out 4-5 times per week; Drink the recommended 64 oz of water a day; Get more sleep; and, the hardest one for most of us- no boozin'.

I started to wean myself off coffee and most edible crap in the last week of January, and then went full steam ahead last week. I suffered minor caffeine headaches (I really really miss my morning cup of coffee with my crossword), and then this weekend, suffered minor alcohol withdrawals (symptoms included shyness, boredom, and coordinated dancing).

It's only been a week, but I have been really good about buying more fruits and vegetables and incorporating them into my diet.

Tips and Tricks I've used so far:

- Drinking green tea instead of coffee. At work, I like to have something hot to drink, and this is a nice alternative to the office Folgers IV I ususally ram into my jugular.

- Making lunch the night before. When everything is all packaged and easy to grab in the morning to throw into my reusable lunch tote, I am guaranteed to eat healthy and save money.

- Substituting fiber rich, low carb pitas for bread. Great lunch = one pita, smear it with low or non-fat cream cheese, and pile on the cucumbers, green peppers, baby spinach, celery, and turkey lunch meat. Finish with a twist of fresh ground pepper and roll it up!

- Smoothies for snacks and breakfast! Dump 3/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt (I use Nancy's), 5-6 frozen whole strawberries, 1 banana, a dollop of orange juice, and 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein powder into a blender in the morning and stay full until lunch time.

- Zumba class at the gym is probably the best thing that ever happened to my workouts. Dance Fighter came with me the other day and concurred. There are always guys in the class, so don't be shy, boys.

Other than that, I am totally failing at getting more sleep, but all in all, I feel less sluggish and more energetic once the day gets started.

Who knows how much of Healthy February will spill over into March Mayhem (the Iditarod fast approaches...) and Alcoholic April, but for now, I feel great and want to get you on the bandwagon.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Piano Lessons

Piano lessons are every other Thursday at 6:30 PM.
I drive in from work, eat at the little Lebanese restaurant Habibi, and then walk across the street to the Arts Building. Each studio is a concentration of creative energy, and all over the building, people are creating and dreaming and thinking in these little rooms. You can hear the uncertain tapping of drum kits, the repeated arcs of the practiced aria, and the fluidity of Chopin preludes imbue the halls from the space beneath each door. If all the tenants were there at the same time, say on a rainy Saturday morning, what would happen if all the doors were flung open at once? All that energy bursting out to fill the negative space in the hall would create a collision. A symphony? A cloud of dissonance?

I go to the door where the heavy and dutiful pounding of a Bach piece beckons me and wait to knock, because I don't get to hear Diana play often. She gets to a place that I feel is an appropiate hesistation and I knock twice and turn the knob.

The room is chock full of things, in part due to her living situation: she and her husband have been living in a hotel for years now. When you ask her for how long, she'll say a few years. When you really press her, the truth surfaces: "Twenty years, now, I guess...gee, has it been that long?" The other reason is her livelihood, as Diana has turned into a fierce merchant of books in her later years. Every morning she wakes up, gathers her empty suitcases, takes the lightrail, and then a bus, out to a Goodwill donation center in Beaverton. There, she fights for elbow room and prime position with the other book hawks for classics, rarities, out-of-print editions, and literature on music. She buys them up, stuffs her luggage, hefts the suitcase onto the bus (or cons a man to heft it for her, depending on her willingness to play the part of a senile old hag), transfers to the lightrail, rides back into Portland, and treks to Powell's Books where she tries to sell her acquisitions.

She also deals in antique silk scarves and vintage mens' ties at local resale shops, teaches piano lessons, and plays the piano at Rimsky Korsacoffee in SE Portland on Saturday nights.

She is a character in the most brilliant ways, and deserves, after a Hobbesian "poor, nasty, brutish" latter-half of existence, immortality. Diana belongs in a book, and I intend to put her there.

"I love Bach," she pauses for emphasis, "Because Bach loved God."

Diana is always convinced that someone has been in her studio, meddling, stealing, confounding, and "putting their paws" on her extensive collection of sheet music. She typically spends 7-15 minutes per lesson searching fervently for a piece that she is sure she stored one place, but is inevitably in another place. This is never her fault, and she is constantly raising suspicion about one conspiracy or another that must be building against her. The most recent one being the inspector who came to assess the home she and husband own near Lewis & Clark college (why they don't live in it is fodder for the novel - I wouldn't want to ruin the story): "He said we need a new roof...I don't know about these things. Just because it has a hole in it, that means we need a whole new one? I just don't know. I think he's low-balling us so his slumlord wife can buy up the house cheap."

I picked my way through a dumbed-down Sibelius piece, and then drove her home, to her hotel in the city, where she doesn't belong.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yes, but, which direction?

"...A long
in the same

-Friedrich Nietzsche

Though Nietzsche can be credited with the phrasing, it has since been appropriated by Eugene Peterson as the title of a book, which I am currently reading.

This sentence fragment has been looming in the recesses of my mind since the first time I heard it, replaying itself as a cadence, scrolling on a marquee.

I quite like the sound of it, though the implications are daunting. What could it mean? What does it mean for me? What would such a discipline yield?

I'm learning that it creates a rhythmic peace; a quiet determination; a humbling of the self. Humility is such a mystery to me, and it is a transformation that actually frightens me. It is the release of control, the relinquishing of the reins and the admission that I might not know, or I might not be, which bubbles up my anxiety

But we know that humility is an important lesson- it is a virtue, one that we are taught as children and one that is drilled into us as we age. In fact, I think I have come to realize it is the last thing we learn on this earth- a parting shot as our liver-spotted skin sags and our hair falls out and our teeth rot with age. There is nothing graceful about aging, which is why aging gracefully is such a lovely and desirable trait in people. Humility is a by-product of obedience.

In addition to humility, "a long obedience in the same direction" suggests a decision- a repentance, or a turning away from the alternative, which is to say, the other direction. Obedience is willful, as opposed to simple compliance. Obedience implies a striving, a longing. It also implies a sort of reward, or at least does to me, because it isn't an infinite obedience - it's a long one. Something that is long eventually ends.

Anyone who has read anything I've been processing through this last year knows about my fascination with obedience, freedom, and decision-making.
I think this is just another tool in learning how to harness those powerful ideas. The full quote reads:
"The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is. . . that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living."
Even Nietzsche, with his nihilistic tendencies, could believe that.