Monday, April 30, 2007

How does our garden grow?

Well, up until yesterday afternoon, the answer would have been 'awash in weeds'. Dandelions. Fireweed. Popweed. This fuzzy-stemmed stuff that re-seeds EVERYWHERE. Same with a yellow-flowered weed that is not only invasive, but about impossible to wrangle out of the ground.

I put in three hours of weeding last week, one hour a morning, and managed to fill a 30-gallon green-waste bag with the results of my labors. But David put in about six hours over the weekend, filling another two bags in the process. Some of our work was pruning/thinning (the strawberry patches needed thinning really badly, and the grapevine was begging to be pruned back). He cleared out all of the popweed and grass that had grown between the stepping stones on the various paths down into the garden - a painstaking task that required tremendous patience (which he has, and I definitely do not!). He found a half dozen stepping stones buried in the weeds in one of the garden beds, and used them to fill in the main path that leads down from the gate. That path got pretty treacherous in the rain, especially for a gimp like me, but now there's a safe pathway that even I can manage!

It's still a bit too early to think about new planting, but when we return from Minneapolis in mid-May, I'll start planning for some summer-blooming additions to the garden. For now, we're both enjoying the new, green barrier that surrounds our back yard, blocking out any glimpses of rooftops or the unsightly billboard we can see in the winter months.

Ah, spring!

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Seat of Enlightenment Rulz!

The Chair Affair auction was held last night, and I gotta take this opportunity to say that The Seat of Enlightenment kicked butt! The chair was one of only a dozen entries that made it into the live auction (the remainder of the fifty entries were sold in silent auction) and we were hoping it would bring in a lot of money for the Community Warehouse. It sold for THREE THOUSAND, SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!! When you consider that this was the first time David and Larry collaborated on a project, and that it was the first time David attempted to build any kind of furniture, this success becomes truly amazing. I'm not surprised, mind you. The chair is both unique and beautifully crafted. But the competition was fierce, and included quite a few well-known artists/artisans, so it's clear that these two guys make one hell of a creative partnership. Oh, and not only did the chair sell for that astounding amount of money, the next-highest piece sold for $1,000 LESS than the Seat of Enlightenment! We found out last night that the Warehouse estimates it costs about $100 a family to provide the household goods/furnishings people so desperately need, which means the proceeds from the sale of this one chair will help close to forty families at some point in the future. Not a bad outcome, huh?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

At the animal shelter

This is Martin

I've attempted a couple of options for volunteering since we moved to Portland, none of which really felt right to me -- until I was accepted as a volunteer at Animal Aid, a no-kill shelter that's less than a half mile from our home. Our wonderful neighbor Deb suggested that I check out volunteer opportunities there (since she knows what a sucker I am for cats), so I downloaded the volunteer application and mailed it in about a month ago. I got a call from the Volunteer Coordinator who signed me up for an assignment socializing (read 'petting') cats one morning a week. I started two weeks ago, and had to force myself to leave without committing to adopt at least one cat (my mantra is "remember the litter box!", a gentle reminder that we already have two cats). I skipped last week after hearing there was an outbreak of ringworm at the shelter (we of the Suppressed Immune System can't risk exposure to something like that), but I was back again this morning, visiting every room except the ringworm-ward, and falling in love with several cats while I was there.

I spent a lot of time with Martin, a somewhat shy guy who lives in one of the four smaller rooms (for cats who are skittish or too shy to live out in the biggest room). He is an absolute love, and it was hard to leave him after I'd spent a full hour at the shelter.

Before I met Martin, however, I spent a good deal of time with Caruso, a 12-year old gray cat whose owner passed away, leaving three cats behind. Apparently, it's taken him quite a while to recover from the trauma of losing his beloved person, but today he was about as sweet and friendly as a cat could be. At one point, while I was petting him and talking with one of the women who works in the office, I stopped scratching his ear momentarily; he put out a paw and gently grabbed my hand as if to say "Hey! You're here to pet me, not talk to some other human!" He's another love of a cat, and I sure hope he finds a home soon.

The truth is that I feel as if the cats are doing as much, if not more, for me as I am for them. There's nothing quite as wonderful as an hour spent scratching kitties behind their ears and listening to their purrs...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Being human

David and I were talking yesterday, about the horrific events in Virginia. I keep thinking about those lives, snuffed out by a sad and obviously disturbed young man, and am overwhelmed with sadness for all of the people who loved them. This event opens the door to my Fear Closet, the place where all of my deepest fears lie in wait (the door tends to open in the middle of the night, when I awake from a sound sleep), where I worry that something like this might happen where my beloved son attends college. It's usually easy to close the door to the Fear Closet, especially during the day, and I do so with great relief every time.

What we'd both thought, within moments of hearing about the carnage in Virginia, was that the loss of only 32 lives in one day would represent a good day in Iraq. It seems as if the number of innocent people killed in daily violence in that war-torn country escalates every day, at least according to the headlines in the Oregonian. If you think about it, we should be damned grateful that only 32 lives were lost to madness and hatred this week. We could, after all, be living in Iraq.

So where is the sadness and empathy for the husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children and grandchildren of each and every human life snuffed out in Iraq? Do you feel that every time you read a newspaper headline or watch the news on TV? To be honest, I didn't. As so often happens, I've become accustomed to these awful statistics, just as I did during the Vietnam War. I'm not proud to admit this, but sadly, it is true.

So here's my latest resolution: I will stop every morning, if even for a moment, and think about the people whose lives are ripped apart each and every day in Iraq, with love and compassion. As if they were Americans. As if they were just like us, human beings. What a concept, huh?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

We did it!

"The Lib*erators", nearing the end of the 2007 MS Walk

For the second year in a row, our little team of friends and family participated in the annual MS Walk, a fund-raising event in support of MS research. The final tally isn't in yet, but it looks like we've raised close to $5,000!

Unlike last year, when it poured buckets for most of the morning, we had perfect weather for a 5k walk (or, in my case, a 5k roll!). Several of us learned from last year's wardrobe malfunctions (one should never sit in a wheelchair in rainy weather without some kind of waterproof protection on one's legs!) and we were prepared for rain and wind; luckily, we didn't need that protection this time!

I want to thank my beloved friends and family (those who walked and those who contributed to our effort) for their love and support. You guys are the BEST!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A few more photos

...of The Seat of Enlightenment.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


This is something we used to talk about a lot, back when I was working. We did a lot of work focused on 'transforming' organizations, or departments, or teams or individuals, mainly so the corporation could sell more widgets and make more money.

Now that I've been forcibly removed from the corporate universe, now that I spend the majority of my time in and around our home, I had a thought about transformation - real transformation.

I know I've rhapsodized about spring in Portland a few times (maybe even a few too many times?) in earlier posts. I'm not here to retract one word of what I've written (spring in Portland is absolutely the best) but watching the changes - or, if you will, the transformation - taking place daily in our back yard, has caused me to think about that process in a very different way.

A few minutes ago, I cut the first tulip (a lovely, yellow blossom), brought it into the house and put it in a vase. It occurred to me that the tulip buds hadn't even appeared at the beginning of last week, and now - presto! - we have buds and tulips appearing all over our yard. Trees (there are several huge trees in yards that abut ours) that were just barely showing green if you looked carefully a week or so ago are now so covered with green blossoms that we can no longer see through to the road below (which means, thankfully, that we can no longer see the billboard either!). Within a week or so, we won't be able to see the houses to our south, and we'll again feel as if we're living in semi-isolation, rather than in a thickly-settled neighborhood in Southwest Portland. The split-leaf Japanese maple that traveled with us from Berkeley, and now sits on our front porch where I can see it from the kitchen window, is suddenly covered with open leaves. Two weeks ago, I had to strain to see the first buds appearing on its branches.

In my current incarnation as a stay-at-home, non-working person, I see all of this amazing change in our landscape as different kind of transformation, one that doesn't have to be taught or mandated or demanded. This beautiful, quiet, delicate, elegant and silent transformation happens because - well, because it's part of an organic and natural cycle.

I very much prefer this natural transformation to the kind we tried to facilitate back when I was working. With 20/20 hindsight, I finally realized that the best we were able to do was effect temporary changes. Calling what we did 'transformation' was the ultimate in arrogance.

It's the trees that really understand transformation.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Running on empty

If you've ever been so sick or so tired that the thought of doing anything beyond brushing your teeth and throwing on some clothing makes you want to weep, then you have some idea of how MS-fatigue feels. A friend of mine said it was like sinking into quicksand. I used to think of it as a heavy, dark curtain falling over me, forcing me to stop whatever I was doing and rest. Regardless of the metaphor used to describe it, MS-fatigue is both unrelenting and overwhelming.

It's been six years since the Big Exacerbation hit, six years of gimpy legs, canes, ever-more limited physical capabilities and fatigue, fatigue, FATIGUE. Fatigue is my appointment secretary. It dictates what I can and can't do every day, whether I can manage to exercise and go to the grocery store in one morning or whether I'll need to spend all day doing nothing but checking email, watching DVDs and sleeping. On a 'good' day, I can manage 40 minutes on my trusty Theracycle, a drive to New Seasons for groceries and maybe even a light chore or two before I have to collapse and sleep. But I still haven't adapted to this way of living, not even after six years, not really. Because I still want so very much to live my old, 'normal' life, the one where I could do pretty much whatever I set my mind to do. Change jobs? Sure. Change careers? Absolutely! Move across the country and start a new life on the West Coast? Hell, why not? Travel to China - alone - for work, in the early 1990's, before China had truly opened up to western visitors? You betcha!

Now? It doesn't matter one teeny, tiny bit what I want to do, or how much I will myself to do it, because my new Appointment Secretary controls what I'm able to do, regardless of what I want to do.

So why am I whining about this issue again today? Because I'm trying to recover at least some of my energy after a week-long visit from my beloved son and his sweetie, who spent their spring break week with us. I LOVE having my son nearby. I love being able to talk with him, to hear what new things he's into, to see him so in love with his sweetie and, best of all, to hug him whenever I feel like it (he's very tolerant of my need for hugs, which I appreciate). He and Emily are extremely undemanding visitors, asking for little more than visits to the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, access to cats, and an adequate supply of Diet Pepsi. But I'm determined to make the visit something good, something special, and I always end up doing too much, resting too little and running on empty, energy-wise, when they leave. This visit, I was too damned exhausted to sit in the car when David drove them to the airport, so I stayed home and rested instead. This damned MS Appointment Secretary made it impossible for me to spend an extra half hour with my son even though I desperately wanted to grab that extra time with him before he left.

And I've been more limp than the proverbial wet noodle ever since. I sleep eight or nine hours at night - deep, uninterrupted sleep - and I'm too tired to do anything requiring energy within an hour of waking. I'm too tired to cook (last night, I made a tossed salad and that was exhausting). I'm still running on empty, three days after they went back to Minneapolis (three lazy days spent doing nothing) and I'm not quite sure how to fill that energy tank back up.

Maybe I should end this post and rest a while, huh? Or even better, maybe I should figure out what my limits really are.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Seat of Enlightenment

The Seat of Enlightenment

A good friend of ours has been working, non-stop, on a fund-raising event in support of the Community Warehouse here in Portland. The Community Warehouse is a righteous place that provides furniture and household goods to people in need, at no cost to them. This year's fund-raiser (The Chair Affair) is an auction of about fifty chairs designed or re-created by an amazing group of artists and artisans -- among them, my husband David and our good friend Larry Shifrin.

Larry is the 'Owner and CIO (Chief Illumination Officer!)' of Lumen Essence Lighting, a fascinating and creative shop in the Pearl District selling an impressive range of reclaimed-and-refinished lighting fixtures as well as fixtures Larry has designed and created himself. It's a terrific place, and well worth a visit even if you're not in the market for a new wall sconce at the moment!

So when Larry approached David with an idea for crafting a chair to include in the auction, there was no doubt in my mind that this duo would create something absolutely spectacular. Which they did.

Here's their description of the chair:

The Seat of Enlightenment

Designed and constructed by Larry Shifrin and David Dunning, this chair is an expression of West Coast Pacific Rim fusion. The Buddha floats in repose over translucent arcing waves of Pacific tranquility. He sits centered, at home among forms reflecting both East and West. As Frank Lloyd Wright drank in the aesthetics of the orient and drew them into his forms, we seek an expression that makes the old new, and the new, timeless.

For his part, David built and shaped in hardwood, forming over ninety wood-to-wood joints involving no metal fasteners. The chair form is seven feet tall and features fifteen legs. He developed the layered, crackled paint effect and finished the hardwood in urethane. Meanwhile, Larry selected the brass and bronze elements and produced the rich blend of subtle polychrome finishes seen on those pieces. Larry also chose, from his extensive inventory of period glass, the 1912 leaded glass shade illuminating the Buddha. The gifted glass artist Carol Hall was kind enough to contribute the highly textured curving glass from her studio, recycling and re-slumping it for this piece. To complete the piece, Larry illuminated the forms with ten integrated light sources.

  • Lost wax cast bronze Buddha
  • Recycled, re-slumped art glass donated by Carol Hall Glass Design & Lighting
  • Leaded glass from the venerable Jefferson Glass Company, dated 1912
  • Hand-blown aurene glass with delicate glass webbing
  • Hardwood
  • Brass and copper
  • Paint
What the description doesn't talk about are the 12-plus hour days spent creating the design (and fine-tuning it a gazillion times - these Myers/Briggs 'NTs' are all about perfection), cutting the wood, measuring the various elements to ensure that each and every piece/cut/joint was as close to perfect as possible (and measuring again, just to be sure), talking on the phone, consulting in the workshop, figuring out how to place all of the wiring required for the amazing lighting, sanding, gluing, painting layer upon layer upon LAYER to create the final crackle finish -- and making at least one wife (and probably two!) totally CRAZY in the process. Larry got to experience me in Full Cranky Bitch Mode one evening when dinner got postponed way, way too late; I must have scared him, 'cause he came over the next morning with a peace offering of beautiful Shasta daisies (Which worked, of course. I'm a sucker for fresh flowers). And that's just the stuff I got to see. I'm quite sure that Larry put in tons of time when he wasn't in the workshop with David!

But I gotta say that these two men (along with Carol Hall, the glass artist who donated the two beautiful pieces of slumped glass) have created something beyond special.

If you're in Portland, OR, or can get here on April 26th, why not buy a couple of tickets and attend the auction? It's for a very good cause, and you'll get to see some amazing, beautiful, quirky and interesting creations (and who knows - maybe you'll bid on something and take a piece of art home with you!).