Friday, June 29, 2012

Portland Rose Gardens

Earlier this week on a grey but temperate day headed over to the Portland International Rose Test Gardens. I’m so glad I did but will warn you: photos ahead, lots and lots of photos mixed in with my thoughts.

When you enter the first thing you notice is the scent- heady and rich with an opium-like feel to it. I was reminded of a grandmother’s perfume, almost as if she were standing nearby, which would have been lovely as she would have enjoyed a stroll among such diverse beauty.

You might think a rose is a rose is a rose but as you progress through these amazing grounds the breadth of color, size and shape makes it apparent that a rose is anything but predictable. It's almost hypnotic and as soon as I was certain I could not take another picture...well, there was another flower that demanded it.

 Yellow but not, peach but not quite. Sorbet, I think.

 Orange flame

Salmon with fluted petals

 Just launching into its lipstick red perfection

This sly shy fellow with his fierce scarlet color was hidden behind a screen of glossy green leaves. Pulling them aside to get the photo was the only 'editing' I did all morning.

Such beautiful indecison- starting as white and becoming red or pink at the tips.

White flowers are not generally my favorite but when it is this pristine I get it. Not a single stain of any color.

One of my favorites. Such a sweet soft lilac bud, opening but with more to come. Unassuming in its perfection. 

 These grande dames are moving towards the end of their season, ceding the field to younger rivals like...

these extravagent ruffled blooms. Their color may be soft but their multi-layered petals are anything but.

 The only true purple still left (any early blooming color, I wonder?). Royal in size and bearing.

 The debutantes of the garden showing their frilly petticoats. The one on the left, especially, makes me smile. Can you imagine an entire vase of such exuberance?

 A true stand-out. Sunny yellow flanked by soft pink. This is when I really marvel at nature...or botany, I guess. How do you know what strains to breed to achieve such a thing?

Probably not too suprising that I close the show with a perfect pink, my favorite color. The softly frilled tips of each petal makes this feel like a rose that, while commanding in her fullness does not want to overshadow but simply enhance. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Reading: Book GIVEAWAY!

What is summer without vacation, sunshine and good books to read? To help one lucky reader with their summer reading I have a giveaway of two new titles perfect for the beach or just lazing in the backyard.

Julian Fellowes is the creator of Downton Abbey, one of the best TV series out there. They’re on hiatus right now but if you want a modern day version of Downton Abbey then you’ll love Snobs: A Novel of Modern Manners. It’s Fellowes’ first book, just released in the U.S.

Sophie Kinsella, of the fabulous Shopaholic series, is the pen name of Madeleine Wickham. She now writes books under her own name as well and 40 Love is one of the latest. It’s a hilarious tale of social climbing and back-stabbing with a smattering of real-life thrown in. Reading that won’t tax your brain but will provide escape.

For your chance to win these books, leave a comment telling me about your summer plans (I’m not going anywhere and so need to live vicariously through you) and if you’re not already a follower become one. Just click on the link "Join This Site"in the right-hand sidebar. Don’t worry- being a follower does not cause a flood of spam. In fact, the good karma means you’ll get less junk email. A winner will be picked randomly.

Given that it is summer and everybody moves more slowly you have until next Monday, July 2, to enter.

Free books and summer- as good as it gets!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Farmers' Market Time Again!

Slowly Portland is heading into its season of beauty; the reason we live in 9 months of drizzly, damp, grey, chill-to-the-bone weather. One of the first signs of impending glee is the opening of our many farmers’ markets. I’ve written about them before so won’t dwell too much on the subject but I went with J yesterday to the one in Beaverton and it was a delight. Even since last year it has grown and I’m not sure how much longer it will last in its designated space next to the library. You can get virtually every foodstuff you can think of from eggs, bison, seafood, breads, flour, cookies, fruit and veggies…the list is almost endless. This year I even saw 3 wineries which is new but fun. In addition, there are always the food vendors and while my favorite (Zest Crepes) is gone (why o why???) there was a new crepe place. Not quite as good as my old standby but still I had a delicious breakfast of a thick cut bacon, spinach, egg, and cheese crepe.

The other reason these markets are so great is the personal contact. You’re not just buying wild salmon or oysters you talking to the man who caught them yesterday. Or the farmer who can tell why now is not the right time for leeks or the tiny elderly woman who grows some of the best butter lettuce in the country. It’s food shopping as its meant to be- local, fresh and transparent. No concerns about if your product has been genetically modified (Walmart Selling GMO Sweet Corn) or the chickens fed animal by-products. These are small scale, sustainable producers and for me, it’s worth the extra money to support them because ultimately it’s the best thing for me.

It's not tomato time yet (sigh) but I will eat asparagus in every dish before it disappears. Luscious!

 These tiny, adorable radishes are so crisp and fresh sliced in pasta salad.

The parade of color is beginning

Is it market time where you live? What do you like?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beauty Balm Break Down

If you’ve looked at a women’s, fashion or beauty magazine in the last 6 months then you have some idea about the new skincare wunder-product known as beauty balm (or BB, if you’re excruciatingly hip). It’s discussed in Real Simple “The Best BB for Your Skin”,  Marie Claire “BB Cream”, InStyle “The New Multitasker” and Oprah “Why We Can’t Stop Talking About…”. Even more mainstream magazines are talking:  New York Magazine “Which Beauty Balm is the Best” and The Wall Street Journal “Beauty Balm Makes Quite an Entrance…” (seriously, Spain needs $40B to get through next week and you’re writing about make-up?). If you don’t know what I mean then you’re probably a guy and should head to some DIY truck blog.

Beauty balm is the general term for a group of products that have been around in Europe since the 1950s when they were used to help the skin recover from plastic surgery. They were just that- a balm to provide super healing to traumatized skin. It’s only recently that they’ve morphed into what we’re now seeing in the United States: tinted moisturizer on steroids.

Depending on what you’re looking for there is likely a BB that will work for you. I wanted anti-aging properties with only sheer coverage. I’ve used translucent powder for the majority of my life and only recently have found that it’s settling into fine lines- not a look I want.

My BB journey began at the low end with Garnier’s Skin Renew. For $11 it can’t be beat but this is a product for women who want foundation. I found it to be far too heavy and it only comes in two shades. If you are fair skinned this product will not work for you as even the ‘light’ is more of a mid-tone.

I realized that, maybe with a product like this, you get what you pay for and I prepared to up the ante and go to Sephora, which in its usual marketing savvy fashion, has capitalized on this trend. I made the first trek by myself with a product in mind, Clinique’s Age Defense BB. Only after getting home and trying it did I realize this one also falls in the make-up category and while it was noticeably better than the Garnier it still felt too heavy on my skin and the color was not a great match.

Time to go back to Sephora, suck it up and ask for help. I haven’t been a big fan of this option simply because the sales help there is so young and often so extremely made-up that I don’t believe they’ll understand my needs. The good news is that I met an incredibly knowledgeable woman whose first question was, “Are you looking for a skin-care option or more of a make-up one?” Yes! Thank you! Hayley not only gave me several options but gave me SAMPLES, a concept of which I was unaware. This is the greatest thing ever and now I’m a Sephora convert.

My first trial was Boscia’s BB Cream. The company is out of Japan so this is definitely a skin-care product. It’s plant botanicals with no phthlates or parabens and is SPF 27. While it looks like a mid-beige color, don’t panic, because it will disappear into your skin providing a nice, light, even coverage.

My second trial was Dr. Jart+’s Water Fuse BB. This is another Asian company with the focus on the skin and another great product. Again, it appears to be pigmented but when on the skin it simply provides a nice texture. I even gave it the gay friend test (because they will always be honest) and asked in broad daylight, “Do you see any lines? Can you tell I’m wearing make-up?” and was pleased when the answer was, “No, you just look really rested” which at my age equates to “You look like a supermodel.”

Final trip to Sephora, where I dithered for 20 minutes between the Boscia shelf and Dr. Jart+s. Truly? I liked them both and went with Dr. Jart+ because it was the one I had used most recently and its texture was slightly more appealing. I’d highly recommend either.

In the time it’s taken me to write this there are probably three more companies who have released a BB. I know of one (Origins). The most important thing you can do is know what you want. The lines are pretty clearly drawn between products that focus on skin-care and those that focus on coverage. Once you know the type of product you want, don’t just rely on an in-store swipe of it along your jaw line or on the back of your hand. You’ll never get a true sense of a product with store lighting. Ask for samples and use the product at home in a variety of lights. Rely on yourself, not magazines or sales help, to find what works best for you.

Beauty balms may not solve all the world’s woes but for women who want help in the fight against aging and also want to look polished with a minimum of effort this is a great solution.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Looking Forward

Some words of wisdom from women on the path ahead. All actresses this go-round but by-and-large they've let nature take its course and if they haven't they've owned it.  More women from other fields another day.

I love being in love- it’s the greatest drug of all time- but I also love my solitude.

A sense of freedom is something that, happily, comes with age and life experience.

 I’m actually, at 73, a whole person.

I think your self emerges more clearly over time.

The more I do, the more frightened I get. But that is essential. Otherwise why would I go on doing it?

Where there is age there is evolution, where there is life there is growth.

It's brilliant, really, the way life organises itself, because you just slowly get used to what you are, don't you? (when asked about being in her sixties)

After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It's better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.

Any actresses of a certain age with something to say that you admire? (that means don't quote Miley Cyrus or Lindsey Lohan)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Back to Basics

There were a lot of words in my last post so thought I’d give everyone a break and let you revel in something as exquisite and untouched (I swear, no photo editing done at all) as these peonies from my garden. Two stems of flowers are enough to fill a vase with bright showy color. Unbeknownst to me they also have a lovely scent, like lilacs, only lighter. A beautiful lift to the room and my spirits.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Unemployment Diaries: Listen

Being unemployed is much like having a disease. Initially, people care and inquire and encourage but after a point when things aren’t changing or getting better the topic becomes one better left alone. I know no one wants to hear about my situation anymore. I don’t want to hear about my situation anymore and yet I’m stuck, buried up to the neck in it with no relief or escape in sight. Nothing but the growing realization that as each day passes without a job I become more and more firmly entrenched in what is now known as the ‘unemployable’ category of the business world. The only statistical category that still awaits me is “discouraged worker” (i.e. given up looking) and many days I feel it is not far off. My demographics are among the worst in the country: I’m ‘old’ (not 55 but still playing for that team) and I’ve been unemployed for 18 months. Today there are 5.4 million long-term unemployed, comprising 42.8% of the total unemployed population of 12.5 million people. To every HR person and recruiter out there I’m leaking skills and proficiencies like a sieve. It’s been 18 months since I created a drop down menu in Excel or tracked my changes in Word.

I am left to wonder what else can I do, what am I doing wrong, why is this happening to me? I had a long and established career in my field. My work has always been praised. I learn quickly and am always the first to volunteer for new projects that will expand my skills. Blah blah blah. Me and 12.5 million other people. I have friends and family who care about me but the topic has become off limits. Why bring it up? The wise ones know that hearing; “You’re going to find something soon, I just know it”, “You need to keep a positive attitude” or “Everything happens for a reason” is going to result in a stony-eyed stare and a fake smile. It doesn’t help and only makes the speaker seem that much more disconnected from the reality of my situation. What I need to hear is: “I know someone looking for someone like you. Here’s their number, call them.”

It matters not that I was once a valued employee, I earned respect from my colleagues, I was responsible with my finances and saving for retirement, living beneath my means. Now, the savings goes to pay for health care (which I am fortunate to have) and crazy fun things like the mortgage. So I write reviews, blog, write articles, volunteer, volunteer and volunteer come more but none of these count as a job. Oh, I put in the hours and I’m working (sometimes nights and weekends) but there is no remuneration and even more depressingly, no magical contacts or networks of people who DO know of jobs and are willing to hook me up. Until such a time as someone hands me a check this is all a hobby.

There is solitude which is pastoral and lovely- sitting in a green meadow under trees, being alone because you choose to be. Then there is loneliness, a condition imposed by self or situation. It can look and feel like this:

or this

Source: via Catherine on Pinterest

The thing is I’M. NOT. ALONE. There are millions of me out there and yet there is nothing about this experience to bring people together. If I watch the news and see the interviews of people in similar situations it makes me cry because they're doing what I'm doing and getting nowhere. Whoever said misery loves company was not unemployed.  Much like hanging around people with MS, hanging around people like me right now would make me stabby and yet it is soul-suckingly painful to be this alone. I am beginning to feel less than, as if my self-worth is being depleted. To know that no one I know has experienced this; that they cannot commiserate but only silently thank the gods that it's not them.  I am alone and want only to ask: Can you hear me?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tsunami Sushi

Earlier this week J and I went to Utah for his son’s high school graduation. A happy event but one with the potential for awkward and possibly unpleasant scenes and feelings as it involved his ex, a woman who has been, by and large, unhappy with her life and a negative person. I was not looking forward to seeing her but hoped to be able to channel my mother’s decades of etiquette training and maintain, at the least, my outward composure, if not my sanity.

It was then an unexpected surprise when we found ourselves without dinner plans on Monday. It took me less than a minute to come up with a solution but, of course, it will take me three times as long to give you the back story.

Living in Portland means living less than an hour and a half from the ocean and from such havens for fresh seafood as Alaska; surprising then that our journey to discover a truly great and reliable sushi restaurant has been a struggle. Let me clarify. At no point, in any sushi restaurant have we had bad fish. OK, once I had some tuna that I was pretty sure had been frozen but that was an anomaly. The fish is always fresh and delicious but what is missing is innovation. I know it is American and inauthentic to like rolls in a sushi restaurant but I do. I leave the purist “I only eat sashimi and nigiri’ attitude to my poncey husband. I like combinations of flavors and ingredients but with fish as the focal point. This is what we have been unable to find in Portland but which we found in abundance in Salt Lake City. Go figure because if you said, “Do you want sushi in a landlocked city or a coastal one?” it would have been an easy answer but not the right one.

Anyway, one of our go-to favorite restaurants for sushi was Tsunami and on Monday we went back. An interesting visit because yes, it was still good but as good as it had been? No. There were two white guys behind the counter which was different and a bit off-putting. Not that they can’t learn to make sushi but the best work in crafting beautiful sushi comes from those who grew up with it. Is that racist? I hope not but if so, sorry. This was just a bit sloppier than anything we’d had before- maybe because it was Monday or maybe because they now have 3 locations and can’t hire/train people quickly enough.

That aside, it was a very good meal and satisfied my sushi cravings. The search will continue in Portland.

Sushi poppers- smoked salmon with scallions and rice, wrapped in seaweed and tempura fried. Served with a spicy aioli sauce. These I could eat until I exploded. Crunchy, tender, spicy.

Guess which side of the plate is mine and which is J's? Whatever- mine is beyond yummy. In the middle was a special roll of the day with spicy tuna, yellowtail and avocado. On the right my all-time favorite roll- the Jenny. Crab inside with salmon and a very thin slice of lemon on top, drizzled with ponzu. A flavor explosion that's making my mouth water right now. I'm a lemon freak so this is it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Journey Back

Life is supposed to about moving forward but sometimes a journey back can be just as significant.

Do you have anything in your life that once meant a great deal and yet it slipped away? I don’t mean a first love kind of thing but something for you that for whatever reason you quit/stopped/left. Yoga was that thing for me. After my MS diagnosis it was one of the keys to my not losing it completely and for 4 years I practiced 4 to 5 times a week. I progressed from not even being able to touch my toes to being able to lay my palms flat on the floor in front of me. I went to yoga classes and made friends who went beyond yoga. I practiced at home with CDs. Yoga was a part of my everyday life.

For whatever reason, I stopped doing yoga when we left Utah. Why, I’m not sure, but it might be that the same reasons I began yoga now propelled me away. In the beginning growth and progress came quickly. Kind of like dieting where you make the initial effort and the pounds slip off. My flexibility and balance were a marvel to me. Each time I let myself slip into the space on my mat I not only quieted but my body softened and relaxed allowing me to achieve positions I never thought I could. I left each practice renewed with my mind and body calmly energized.

Unfortunately, control over my body is an illusion. Even though I look ‘normal’ multiple sclerosis is acting on my physical being and it started to show. Most specifically, balance is a delicate concept for me. I found I could no longer stand on one leg for long minutes but needed to be next to a wall so I could place one hand there for support. Triangle pose caused a vertigo-like effect and other favorite poses began to challenge me as well. I was no longer progressing but regressing and rather than peace I felt only frustration. Leaving my favorite yoga teacher made the decision easy- I simply stopped practicing. Rather than freeing me, yoga had come to remind me of what was happening to my body and so I wanted no part of it.

And yet I missed it. Sometimes, very much. A few days before our trip it occurred to me that I could go and do yoga. My teacher, Scott, had opened his own studio and when I went to the website I saw that he was teaching a restorative class the morning after we got into town. Fortuitous. 

I arrived early and was able to catch up with Scott. Seeing him felt so calming and his first words, “What a great gift for me!” confirmed my gut feeling that I needed to do this. The tenets of Eastern philosophy (and therefore a large part of yoga as well) are that attachment is not a good thing. Any feeling I had that only with Scott could I do yoga is limiting but there you have it. I’ve never come across another teacher who inspired me both physically and spiritually. Mind and body.

Class was exactly as I hoped. The number of poses was minimal and we spent much of it lying on our backs gently supported by bolsters and blankets listening to Scott talk about his theme for the week- crossroads. Need I point out that another reason I grew attached to this guy is because his talks always seem to coincide with whatever I’m dealing with? Once again, he hit a nerve but calmed it with his point of view and musings. It was a blissed out hour and I was filled with peace and gratitude when I left.

Now what? I had hoped that Scott could put some kind of uber-yogi spell on me that would woo my mind and body back to that point of needing yoga rather than the hesitant, reluctant state I’ve been in but that is wishful thinking. Instead, I need to be more accepting of myself and in the silent moments of meditation each morning, look to why I push away something I loved. The answer is back there and in finding it maybe I can move forward again.

The Hindu altar at the front of the room. The chime on the floor is used to softly bring you out of shavasana.

Me with Scott after class. Probably as relaxed as you'll ever see me.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I don’t often write about movies because my fifteen minutes of being the target audience has lapsed. I eschewed the whole ‘having kids’ thing and so am bored/disinterested in animation and repulsed by  anything with the word Disney in front of it (read Intern Nation if you want a reality check on that company). I’m not an 18-24 year old male (last time I checked) so violent, comic book hero movies with vapid bordering-on-slutty females and things exploding ad nauseam don’t work for me either. I’m left with chick flicks and foreign films and sadly I’ve grown too lazy and near-sighted for subtitles. Chick flicks can be all right but when the plot is centered around making a man love you, getting a man to marry you, getting back a man who loved you…well, really, isn’t there more to being a woman then a man?

What a lovely surprise then to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where a disparate cast of senior citizens decides to chuck it all and head to a hotel in Jaipur, India that promises to cater to them. Of course, nothing is as advertised or planned and the next 100 minutes follow the characters and how they deal with this ‘adventure’.  

There are many instances when an all-star ensemble cast can’t carry a movie (New Years Eve, anyone?) but this is not the case in Marigold Hotel. Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and the incomparable Maggie Smith all shine. Add to that the loose-limbed bemusement of Bill Nighy and this is a group that will captivate from beginning to end. The final well chosen ingredient in Marigold Hotel is the location. There are few places in the world that can delight and dismay, welcome and hide like India. The cacophony of sound and color and the exuberance of Indian hotelier, Dev Patel (from Slumdog Millionaire), is a perfect foil to the natural reserve of the Brits.

If you are a particularly jaded film devotee you may leave Marigold Hotel thinking it was predictable. My response? Tell me a movie that isn’t (and don’t say Memento because that was crazy genius). Even in life, there is an element of predictability, so let go and enjoy this charming, funny, tender movie.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May Reading

Logically I know that May has 31 days but somehow I lost at least 10 of them. And so the reading list for this month is a bit shorter but no less interesting. In fact, I was fortunate enough to read two debut novels that I found to be absolutely amazing.

Intense but with flashes of humor. Ultimately touching. My full review is at Portland Book Review.

Sometimes you need to go to another time and place and Tsarist Russia has always been a favorite.

This may not be your cup of tea but I am one of those people who has been interested in this group for a long time. This is a well-researched look inside. Full review.

My only problem with this book is that I procrastinated on writing my review and had to go back and read it again. Which was not a bad thing but lesson learned- read it and write about it asap. Powerful and thought-provoking

What an amusing way to end the month. A clever concept (the 12 gods of Olympus living in modern day London) executed with humor. Enjoyed it enough that I tweeted the author and got the scoop that it's being made into a movie w/ Sharon Stone.
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