Monday, November 28, 2011

To Idaho and Back Again

When my friend Amanda mentioned that she would be staying at the Ezra Pound House in the Sun Valley area to work on a video project, I was jealous. We had some big adventures there last year. When Amanda suggested that I fly out to Boise and join her on the trip, I dismissed the idea as too expensive and impractical. But then I found an airfare cheap enough that generous birthday gifts from my family would just cover it, and Shaun agreed to take a Friday off work to be with the boys. So after much dithering and hand-wringing about doing something so fun without the rest of my family, I found myself getting up at 4am to catch a 6:30 flight to Boise.

There are times when everything that can go wrong does, but this trip was the opposite of that. I didn't even have anyone sitting in the seat next to me on the plane, a luxury I appreciated even more when we hit several patches of turbulence and I held onto my armrests with a white-knuckled death grip. I don't enjoy bumpy plane rides the way I used to when I was a kid.

We had beautiful weather for our drive.

We stopped along the road at one point so Amanda could get some video of the crazy sparkle landscape. We put the hazards on so we'd be more visible. Two kind-hearted souls stopped to make sure we were OK. I hope we didn't induce any pangs of conscience in all the other folks who drove on by.

It was supposed to snow all weekend, but it didn't. Here's the view from the living-room window of our place.

Here's Ketchum...

where I found this vintage wool rug at the thrift store. According to the tag, it was imported via New York from Poland. We had spectacular success at the thrift stores in Hailey and Ketchum and acquired an embarrassment of affordable riches.

We gathered our strength here, at Grumpy's. I'd give you the link to the website, but they don't have one. They don't even have a phone.

They do have good hamburgers. And $5 32-oz. schooners of beer at happy hour, which it just happened to be when we arrived. I didn't finish it, if you were wondering.

We shopped, we ate, we read, we drank tea, we watched The Bourne Supremacy on cable while Amanda made a necklace, and of course we worked on our various projects (I brought along an essay I've been working on sporadically since the summer.) It was the best birthday present ever.

Shaun told me to shop for a house while we were there, but I didn't get to that.

I thought nothing could be more beautiful than the drive there, but I was wrong.

The drive back was.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Our Philosopher

"I hate everything," says Willem.

"You can't hate everything," Nels tells him. "Because then you would hate hating everything."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Had a Birthday Too

It was a while ago now, on November 1st. In discussing my birthday plans with Shaun I was acting princessy, grouchy that the day wouldn't feel extra special because we weren't going out to dinner to celebrate until some time later. By the actual day, I was thoroughly ashamed of my selfish attitude and lack of perspective. I realized that every day of my everyday life is so stinking good that it's pretty hard to make one day stand out even more. But still, Shaun managed it.

Shaun's folks joined us for dinner. Linda brought bulbs as part of my gift, and braved the mud and drizzle to plant them. She is hardy and kind. Then she hung the packages on the tree to festive effect. Some naughty critters must have come in the night and dug up the snowdrop bulbs, because the next morning I found them all on the ground resting neatly next to the holes they'd been planted in. I guess the bulbs smelled better than they tasted. I re-buried them all and they've been left alone since.

Here's where Shaun working in the same building as Olympic Provisions comes in handy. He brought home charcuterie and cheese plates and mixed me a martini and I was the happiest princess in all the land. Here's what's on the plates: very spicy pickled vegetables, a salcichon salami with paprika, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg (it tasted like Thanksgiving in a sausage), sopressata with oregano, garlic and chili flake, pork liver mousse, pork and pistachio terrine, and, our favorite, pork rillete. The cheeses are Mt. Townsend Creamery Seastack, Casatica di Bufala, Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, Idiazabal, and Valdeon blue. Ridiculous, I know.

I could have made a dinner just of that, but we also had BLT's jazzed up with a spicy remoulade. Linda brought corn from her garden, but I was so distracted by all my treats that I forgot to serve it.

I chose simple BLT's for dinner (which Shaun fixed) so we could spend all our energy on the dessert I'd been planning for months. I first saw the Swedish pre-Lenten pastries called semla or semlor on this blog, and the pictures were so beautiful that I'd been dying to try it ever since. Happily I found a recipe.

We made it a team project...I baked the yeasted cardamom buns while Shaun was at work, and when he got home he did the laborious work of scooping out the insides, mixing the milk-soaked crumbs with marzipan, refilling the buns, and topping them with whipped cream.

O happy birthday. I cannot believe that I am 39.

I went to bed counting my blessings, with more birthday fun to look forward to. Shaun and I waited until the boys had a weekend with the grandmartins and then used a Groupon-type deal for a dinner at Gracie's at the Hotel de Luxe in downtown Portland. The food gets mixed reviews, mostly good, but it is a romantic spot. Also, the restaurant serves drinks from the hotel bar, the rightly renowned Driftwood Room. And it was a really screaming deal.

Here I am, dark and blurry, about to tuck into the best steak I have had in at least five years. Maybe ten. It was everything I want a steak to be.

We had fun wining and dining. Shaun felt compassion for our waiter because he was waiting tables rather than being a movie star. He looked like a cross between Clive Owen and Jon Hamm. He was even named Kai, which I think would do nicely for a movie star these days.

We tried a lot of cocktails with ingredients that were unfamiliar to us. I started with an Old Tom, which had Ransom gin, agwa, Krogstad aquavit, fresh lime juice and barrel-aged bitters, served on the rocks. It was subtle and balanced and unlike any drink I'd had before. Shaun and I both gave it a thumbs up. I also had a drink with pine liquor and a rosemary sprig, and Shaun had a variation on a Sazerac that was very nicely done.

It was slow and almost empty in the restaurant: the mayor's deadline for OWS Portland to clear out of the parks happened to be that night, and the hostess told us that a lot of folks had gotten nervous and canceled their reservations. So the bartender had plenty of time on his hands, and after we'd ordered several of the more adventurous cocktails, he wandered in to chat with us and see how we were enjoying our drinks.

Later he brought us a complimentary dessert-y cocktail. It wasn't something we'd ever order, but a free drink is a gesture that never fails to give me a happy glow.

The aftermath isn't pretty, but the evening was.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Shaun's co-worker brought his pet spider into the office on Halloween, which was of course documented and shown to our little arachnophile, Willem. And that's why Willem's stuffed tarantula just doesn't cut it anymore.

The boys love to carve pumpkins. They can mostly do it themselves now, thanks to those little pumpkin-carving kits they sell everywhere. Did they have those when we were kids? I seem to remember that we used big knives from the kitchen, and that the very real dread of severing a digit (pumpkin guts are so slippery) added a macabre note to the otherwise festive carving proceedings.

The pumpkins came from Grandma's garden. We didn't get enough sun this fall for them to get good and orange, but the boys didn't care at all. I don't know if I've ever seen a pumpkin with flesh as thick as the one Nels has here.

Being obsessed with all things Halloween, Willem had drawn up a sketch of his jack o'lantern's face well ahead of time.

Pretty impressive execution of his concept, I'd say. He realized pretty quickly he'd have to forego the bloodshot eyes.

Trick-or-treating was a lot more fun this year than it has been in the past. It wasn't raining and it wasn't freezing, and the boys have acquired enough social graces to manage a "trick or treat" and then a "thank you" without too much prompting. Best of all, they then turn to go. This is a vast improvement over last year, when, after getting their candy, they would just stand agog and stare into the stranger's home like they were wishing to be adopted.

This was the first year I really felt like we were in "our" neighborhood. We've been here long enough that it doesn't seem like we're just passing through, and it was fun to recognize neighbors and schoolmates of the boys. People really did things up for Halloween, but everything was warm and welcoming rather than evil and creepy. I couldn't believe how many fun, creative carved pumpkins we saw. This one was a favorite:

And here are ours.

I should have put our bowl of candy out on the porch, because we only got two trick-or-treaters while we were home. I bought less than I have in years past, but with what the boys gathered (some people were giving out full-size candy bars) we have enough to keep us in sugar until next year. Anybody want a Butterfinger?

Monday, November 7, 2011


I never go to the bank anymore. Anyone who's ever written me a check knows it can take me a long time to deposit it. (Which is rude, I know. I mean to improve.) We've had our paychecks directly deposited since I was working, which is a long time ago. And when we lived in Germany and had to keep paying our bills back in the US, we discovered the joys of automatic bill pay and never looked back.

Of course when I do have a check to deposit, I make use of the ATM. Which is what I was doing last Friday, only to discover that my debit card had expired the week before. Fortunately for me, the strip mall with the closest ATM also happens to house a branch of my bank. It's a humble little branch in an even humbler strip mall whose anchor store is a Grocery Outlet. There's also a McDonald's, a Dollar Store, a DMV licensing office, and a medical clinic. Across the street is a giant feed store and several "restaurants" with no windows. It's not the most cheery part of town, but it certainly serves its purpose.

I pulled away from the drive-through ATM and told the boys we would have to go into the bank. We walked in to a tiny unremarkable institutional space. There were no marble surfaces and nothing gleamed. There were some beige cubicles and a counter, and that was about it.

"I've never been in a bank before," said Willem, looking around with wonder. "It makes me feel like I'm in a movie."

We obviously need to get out more.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


On the morning of his sixth birthday, Willem said "I wish for a pet tarantula," and blew out the candle on his doughnut. Then he opened his present.

While Willem was completely in love with his new friend at first, he has become increasingly discontent with the fact that the spider is not real. He's taken to moping around the house and sighing, "I'll never get a real spider for a pet." Being thus reminded (by himself) that his will has been thwarted, Willem adopts a mood I like to call "Belligerent Eeyore." Belligerent Eeyore is a very trying mood.

Once we had the house all decorated and the Happy Birthday sign up on the party day, Willem told his brother to sit by the fireplace for a picture. Then he disappeared down the stairs for five minutes. When he returned, he seated himself at the other end of the fireplace. And held up the word bubble he'd just made. Quite the director.

Willem picked out a craft for his monster-themed party: the boys made little monster hand puppets from kits. It was pretty awesome, but it would have been even better if it had taken them more than 10 minutes to finish. And if we had planned some games. It was basically 10 minutes of calm followed by 1 hour and 50 minutes of mayhem.

This is Willem's best buddy from pre-school last year. I love his "more is more" approach. He basically piled every sticker he could get his hands on onto that sucker.

"Everybody take one step back. Everybody take one step back. Everybody take one step back." That was the mantra of the gift-opening time. Any closer and Willem would have been in the fireplace. Here he's just opened one of his favorite books, Ghostopolis. I blame his word-bubble preoccupation on an early introduction to graphic novels.

I love that the boys raided the costume bin in Willem's room and wore various guises throughout the party. Here they are oohing and aahing over glow-in-the-dark eyeballs from Grandpa Scott and Grandma Juli.

And one of Willem's two favorite gifts, glow-in-the-dark fangs.

We had fun drawing monster faces on all the balloons, which you really can't see. You can, however, read Willem's word bubble on the balloon in the foreground. Give me cake.

The cake was obviously Shaun's doing. He went off-theme (but equally beloved) with a spider.

There was one other favorite present, but I'm having technical difficulties with the video of it. (If you're my friend on Facebook, you saw it.) I'll put that up in another post if I can get it figured out.

I am super glad to have the birthday parties behind us, but it was fun to celebrate our birthday boy.

Our one-of-a kind.