The mannequins on Fifth Avenue are wearing party dresses. One day they were helter skelter, naked and sideways in their windows, no clothes or even arms to keep them warm. But now they’re back upright again in sequins and feathers and silvery drapes, holding tiny little glittering boxes. I admire resilience.

It’s pretty cold in Portland right now. Everyone is hiding inside, and even the morning commute seems to have vanished. Not even lingering street kids with pit bulls. Not even corner canvassers for Greenpeace.

The women in my office building, lawyers mostly, are still in pointy heels and black stockings and skirts much shorter than what I remember from my dad’s law office in the eighties, but now they have black coats with trim, and coordinated hats and mittens. I don’t have a coat that will fit around me anymore so I’m mostly layering sweaters and anything else that covers my belly. Staying true to my hippier days in Eugene.

This morning when I opened my Outlook a reminder popped up that I must have put in months back saying Thirty Days To Go and there you have it, plus or minus. In the mean time we are hanging lights, and painting walls, and wondering. What will it be like after this winter arrival?


thinking about you, maryann

There’s a new room in my basement, because it’s now our basement, because the AD moved in at long last. Now there are boxes in the garage. Now there are at least six toothbrushes. My old housemate Emily has moved on to a space of her own. Some nights the AD’s daughter is with us, and suddenly I’m aware of the cracking walls and the lack of shelves.

Camping out in a construction zone is all well and good for a girl going it solo, but it’s hardly the setting for a family. For some reason I always thought that when that transition took place it would take its time. Time enough to call the drywallers. Time enough to paint.

So now there is a room downstairs, but there is also a room upstairs – the back bedroom once reserved for a renter, soon to be home of a bunkbed. And even though there is a woodstove and even, unlike last winter, wood, there is still no insulation, there are still windows with noticeable missing parts. I wonder how this happens. Once your life requires sound walls, that life itself takes up all the time you might otherwise use to build them. Mystery.

Did I mention we’re having a baby? I guess most of you knew that already. We don’t do things one at a time around here. We’ve found that with one-at-a-time you can only fit one lifetime into one lifetime. This way we were able to do the whole Lost And Alone In Portland thing, the whole Crisis of Self Confidence And Subsequent Fling With A Loser thing, the whole Hippie House thing, the whole Kickass Barista thing, the whole Heart Broken By A Self Absorbed Artist thing, the whole Finally Getting Ones Shit Together thing, and still have room for the Two Kids Three Bedroom House With Potted Plants thing, all since the (bitter, bitter) end of 2006. The downside being that when you try to do everything at once you might get a little sloppy. One of the bedrooms might have no ceiling. There might not be an oven.

I think it’s going to start raining soon, and it’s not going to stop. Good thing I bought two new umbrellas. Isn’t it marvelous?


some time later

The gingko leaves are still green but it’s feeling like fall already, and any day now I suspect the air will begin to smell of woodsmoke. I feel a little like a hot cider and a gentle book and a chair by the ocean. I feel like feeling safe.

There’s a little beanbag frog who lives on my desk, and I’ve sat him over the blinking light on my phone so that I don’t have to see there’s a voicemail. I don’t feel like answering questions. I’d rather just let the temperature drop around me, and watch the days grow shorter, and enjoy the change.

This morning a young woman walking in front of me in the park turned around when she heard my heels clicking quickly against the path. Everyone is running this morning, she said. I feel like I’m missing something. She was carrying a gallon of milk.

And I wanted to make an offer: trade me today. I will have a slow day listening to leaves and drinking milk, and you can go see what you’re missing.

I love the fall for how vivid it feels, for how peaceful it is and for how there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I think most of us would stop it if we could and it would be a terrible loss.


sooner or later

The original plan was to have an electrician come a year ago – but there were a lot of house-related Original Plans that didn’t quite come to pass on schedule. In any case he’s there right now as I write this. He is installing outlets and re-routing wires so that by the weekend there will be smoke detectors and a bathroom fan and places to plug things in. The bedroom lightswitch will no longer be in the dining room. Marvelous.

I was also supposed to make reservations several months ago for a conference I’m attending in Seattle in four weeks. I finally got around to it this morning, and it turns out that several of the area hotels are running specials. So instead of staying at the conference hotel, full of conference participants and twenty dollar a day internet, I’m staying down the street at a five star place for six dollars less per day. It has one of those workout rooms where the treadmills have personal televisions. There is a lesson here about procrastination, but probably one you should ignore.

Did I mention that I was also in charge of getting firewood for the far away winter? It’s cheap in spring and then gets more expensive each month until fall, and then sometimes you can’t find any at all. I wrote down numbers from Craigslist half a dozen times and never called a single one. Then last week my coworker told me he was cutting down some trees, and two cords were mine for the taking. The thick rounds are drying in my drive.

Similarly procrastinated with fruitful results was the booking of the trip the AD and I were hoping to take in September. We couldn’t decide on location and then we couldn’t decide on dates, and with each week that passed it seemed less likely our frequent flier tickets would still be available. And then on Monday the tickets we had looked at over and over inexplicably dropped in price, and we picked up a pair of seats to Buenos Aires for less than ninety thousand miles. Buenos Aires!

And this is my summer so far: one unexpected, poorly planned success after another, a string of unrequested gifts out of nowhere, ever since the rain stopped. My tomatoe plants are bursting with tiny tomatoes, my friend is on her way north from Los Angeles to see me, and in October a Portland theater company is doing Stephen Sondheim. I am not waiting for anything.



I still feel bad from time to time about the directions I gave more than a year ago to the German tourists – the two middle aged couples who stopped me on the street downtown at night looking for a brewery. They wanted something casual and reasonable with good beer, nearby, and I didn’t know what to tell them. There are lots of good breweries in Portland but not in that neighborhood. I wanted them to like the place I sent them and to like my city.

The only thing I could think of within walking distance was City Sports Bar, a spot I’d been to only once before for a game – a spot that had fused in my memory with the also nearby Rock Bottom Brewery. Neither is a place I would go out of my way for. But both have beers and cheap food. It was the best I could do with what they needed.

I didn’t know the exact corner so I sent a quick text off to Google, and Google returned an address. I wrote it down for them and sent them off. But I realized two blocks later that the address Google sent me was for City Grill, not City Sports Bar. City Grill is a fancy restaurant on the top floor of an office tower. I imagined the couples going up there in their casual walking clothes, confused at why I would think this was what they wanted, out of place, and at a total loss for what to do next.

And maybe after that the City Grill maitre d’ gave them directions to just what they were looking for. Or maybe they decided to splurge, and had a fine meal looking out across the city. Or maybe they passed a pub on the way and ducked inside, and had the best night of their trip. I have no idea.

So I don’t know why it comes up in my memory from time to time, when I am passing one of those restaurants or giving directions downtown. I don’t know why I remember it at all or why that memory bothers me like a bad decision. Recently I have been trying to let go of certain pieces of the past, and it surprises me sometimes which ones will not go gently.


jiggedy jig

I guess I have a thing for midwestern boys. One of my college loves was a Minnesotan, who took me back for the winter carnival and the state fair. We went sledding and toured the aerial walks of St. Paul. He introduced me to A Prairie Home Companion.

Then I had a crush on the Boy from Illinois. This one was unrequited but I fell for him all the same. I visited him in Chicago and he played the harmonica. He liked to bake pie.

Operaman was from Wisconsin. When he finally invited me out to meet his family - nervously, reluctantly, as if he was out of other options - we went to a dairy and a lake and an evangelical church. Add a Packers game and it would have been the complete Wisconsin Experience.

The AD is a… Michigonian? What do you call them? So I’m going there tomorrow. I guess it was only a matter of time. I’ve never intentionally sought a Midwest Conquest but apparently there’s something there that resonates with me. Maybe it’s the cheese curds and the custard. Maybe it’s the earnestness. Maybe it’s that I meet the particular midwesterners I meet only because they have left the midwest, so they have the kindness they were brought up with but also the curiosity to head for the coast.

I was about to muse on what it is the midwesterners like about me, but in the end my lack of midwestiness has been as problematic as it has been appealing. The Minnesotan wanted me to settle down and stay still. The Wisconsinite hated my sarcasm. The Illinois Boy was scared of me altogether.

The AD is surprised sometimes by my cursing, and sometimes he’s so literal I think he must be trying to pick a fight. But otherwise we seem to do ok with our respective origin-inspired tendencies. He opens doors for me, and carries the heavy things when we go camping. When he disagrees with me I disagree back, which he likes. And here we are both of us rerooted in the northwest, enjoying the hot springs and harboring mixed feelings about the hippies.

Tomorrow I’m going to Michigan, and so far I’ve only ever been to Detroit. This time I’ll see Ann Arbor and Jackson and some little town on a lake near the Ohio border where his sister lives, and there will be fireworks and motor boats and an RV and extended family and probably meat loaf. And this is why going to the midwest feels oddly like going back home.



I bought a pound of peas at the farmer’s market that cost me more than five dollars, and I thought, this is crazy. Five dollars for a pound of peas! But they are bright green and so so crunchy and they taste like sweet and like summer, and the peas in my garden are still only as high as my hips.

People spend five dollars on less all the time. You might spend five dollars on a beer or a pack of cigarettes or a very fancy coffee drink or a Big Mac, and I hardly spend five dollars on those things ever at all. Whereas these peas will make me happy all week long, if I don’t eat them all at once.

This evening after work I will pick up my first CSA box, filled with fruits and veggies from a farm a few miles north of town. These mysterious boxes will come once a week all summer. I don’t get to choose what’s in them - whatever is ready for picking each Wednesday morning is what I will get. Today I expect strawberries and onions and maybe beets. It’s going to get thorny when the arugula and parsnips start coming in, because what do you do with these things? I guess I will learn.

Craigslist magic has got me my first chest freezer. There’s nothing like frozen blueberries in March to remind you that the sun will be back. But it’s a not-so-fine line between throwing plastic bags of berries in the chest and pickling kohlrabi, which is more than my current putting-over proficiency allows. Sure, I jar jam. I grow carrots. But I don’t own a food mill. I don’t make my own yogurt. I’ve never brewed a beer or a jug of wine. I’m not sure where on this slippery slope of urban homesteading I will settle.

For now I’m crunching peas. I will miss going to the farmer’s market for little indulgences like this. I’ll still swing through for eggs and bread. But for the next few months my veggies will be whatever grows in my garden (the kale continues to thrive while the slugs have consumed all the pole beans) and whatever comes in the box. Lettuce, anyone? I have a whole lot of lettuce.



No one is writing much anymore and I’m no exception. I don’t think anyone has time for reading, either. It’s practically summer. The days are so long now that life seems to have doubled. My friends are frenzied. My camping gear stays packed. My radishes are as big as your head. Ok, not really that big. But big.

This year is going somewhere fast, and I’ve given up keeping track of it. At this point I’m just holding on. I’ve been to Bend twice so far, for the hot dry days of hiking. I’ve been to fireworks and parades. I’ve pinned up my laundry in the yard. The AD pruned my maple and hung my gutters. All the babies I know keep doing things they didn’t used to do. What if this is how it goes from here on out?

I’m sitting at my desk right now, sipping chocolate milk, being in the moment. But in one hour and five minutes I will head out into the sunshine, and the bright warm world will be mine for four more hours, and suddenly it will be September. My calendar keeps filling up so I print out more pages.


i'll learn to speak lion

Saturday morning, start of a three-day weekend, my little purple truck rolling through the lava fields of central Oregon, hot air blowing in the windows so loud it practically drowns out the stereo, bed packed to the gills with sleeping bags and folding chairs and a soccer ball and hiking boots, cab filled with me in my sunglasses singing and the AD in the passenger seat with his shirt off flipping through a map book and the AD’s daughter playing with her favorite Ironman action figure and the AD’s daughter’s fifteen favorite stuffed animals stacked on top of one cooler of string cheese sticks and soda, and here comes the high desert, here comes Madras and Metolius and Terrebonne and Deschutes, one shallow river and one deep cave and an impossible number of stars, but for right now just me and these people I love and the hot dry air and the highway. And I used to want other things from this life, I’m sure of it – but I can’t remember what they might have been.


Nine Great Things About My Truck Break-In

1. The thief left behind my stereo.

2. The thief also left behind my GPS. Apparently the fact that I had wrapped it in a plastic grocery bag was effective camouflage, despite the cord connecting the plastic bag to the cigarette lighter.

3. Less surprisingly, the thief left behind my CDs, including John Denver, Man of La Mancha, and several good mixes.

4. The only thing the thief did take was the emergency bag that I bring out on my volunteer calls. The contents included a flashlight, a bottle of water, several pens, a glue stick, hand wipes, and a hat. It also included a packet of tissues, which perhaps the thief made use of when he realized the bag did not contain a laptop.

5. I discovered the smashed-up window ten minutes before last night’s downpour – exactly enough time to find a trash bag and some packing tape.

6. I have the sort of job where I can shoot my boss an email saying “My truck got broken into – I’m taking a long lunch to get it replaced,” and he will respond, “That sucks.”

7. Halfway between the AD’s house, where the truck was parked, and my house, is an auto glass place called Apple Auto, and their office is full of apple-themed trinkets.

8. Next to Apple Auto is the Sheridan Fruit Company, where they sell very good zucchini crepes at lunchtime.

9. An hour later, I had a good-as-new window. I went back to work.

This morning I came across an article about the passengers of US Air flight 1549 – the plane that to any reasonable expectation should have disappeared under the Hudson River with everyone aboard, but which, thanks to a very talented crew and tremendous fortune, landed safely on top of the river instead. Now, five months later, the passengers are angry that cash is missing from their returned belongings; they are banding together to sue for emotional damages. I think its time for each of them to make a list.


magic the house

Winston Churchill had a daughter named Marigold. Marigold.

I wonder if I will ever have a daughter. If I do perhaps she will already come to me with a name. Maybe I will have two daughters, or three. I have a friend with three and they seem to bring her nothing but joy. Of course they are still small, and daughters – if I or this particular friend are any indication – can grow into quite a headache when we’re older. But I think if she has another baby it will be girl again, and secretly she will be pleased.

In a game of Life last weekend I filled my plastic car with little pink pegs, surprising even myself. Greg Brown has a lovely song about daughters. I guess she lives on air and sun and noodles. Greg Brown has a daughter named Pieta.

My friend in Los Angeles has a daughter who last week locked her out of the house, and this daughter is only two. She knew what she was doing. She laughed as my friend pounded on the door. My friend was furious, and proud. She does not want her daughter to be obedient. For this she endures many things.

The AD has a daughter who is eight. I’m not sure if she likes me, but I’m sure she doesn’t like the idea of me. It’s a complicated distinction to be able to make at eight, and for this I give her credit. It is strange to admire someone for their ability to not like the idea of you.

I think if I ever have a daughter, and if I get to name her, I will name her something silly and marvelous like Marigold. I will try to teach her about all the things that don’t matter and about the few things that really do. That’s what I think now. You have all these plans about what kind of parent you will be, says my friend in Los Angeles. But then you have a child, and it turns out you had no idea.

Happy mother’s day.


I'd buy whatever you would sell to me

The thing about Portland is that at two pm on a Tuesday afternoon you can decide you feel like Going Out, and you can flip through one of the two alternative weeklies, skim the readings and theater and film and music sections, weigh the potential fun of a Blazers game and darts in a neighborhood bar against three dollar Slumdog Millionaire in an old restored church that now serves up movies and beer, and decide finally on the alt-rock Austin band you haven’t heard about in seven years that’s playing again up on Mississippi.

And even though you live in a place with all these choices, you can drive there at five minutes to showtime, park half a block away right there on the street, walk up to the door and buy a ticket for fifteen dollars. The audience is small and on their feet already for the opener, and everyone is quiet and attentive. Between sets you sneak across the street to the place that serves southern food, open at ten to ten with a single waitress; you share a pile of fried okra as big as a basketball, and blackened catfish, and mac n cheese.

You hurry back in time to catch the headliner’s second song, and the room is more full now and vibrating, but still so small that you are reading the insignia on the lead singer’s t-shirt, admiring the bass’s crooked smile. Between songs the keyboardist chats with the audience like it’s a dinner party. He asks someone to look up a fact on her cell phone, and she does.

Before I moved here from Eugene I had this Portland fantasy, and the fantasy went something like this: Portland will be what I love about Oregon, plus what I miss about New York. It will have things to do on a Tuesday after dark, but these things will not require reservations and the right outfit and copious amounts of cash. And here I am dancing around in my blue sneakers with stars, and once in a while my boyfriend slips his hand into my back pocket like we’re teenagers, and I can’t believe my fortune.



On our first night in the desert we slept in the front of a convertible that the lonely Enterprise late-night countergirl had upsold us in the Palm Springs airport parking lot. We had landed late, and then gone grocery shopping, and then stopped for food n’ drinks at a candlelit patio bar. So by the time we rolled into Joshua Tree, past the darkened ranger station and the shuttered guardhouse, it seemed like the sleep of least resistance.

We pulled over by the side of the road and left the top down. The stars were out but the back was full of bags and the seats didn’t fully recline, so for at least two hours I curled up in the passenger footwell. It was perfect.

In the morning the ranger caught me leaning over the trunk in my slippers, and she should have given us a ticket but didn’t. After that we hardly saw a soul. We parked the car by a trailhead and scrambled over rocks for three days straight, sleeping out without a tent and heating soupcans on a sterno. There were a lot of lizards. The cacti and dry little wildflowers were in bloom.

We crouched in the shade in the late afternoons, waiting for the sun to sink behind mountains after a long day of heat. We drank our heavy water. We talked. The AD read to me chapter after chapter of the book we brought along. This I could do for a long, long time, I thought.

On our last day in the desert we packed it out, passing a palm grove and a tortoise in the path who watched us watch him eat a flower. Like him I feel dried out and delivered, ready and in no rush at all.


Portland in the third week of April.

They said it was going to be seventy-five and sunny but they’re liars, all of them – it’s gray as far as the sky and raining cold wet rain and it’s soaking through your sweater. It’s been this way for every day you can remember. You can’t even call up what you thought might be different, how the sky could look any other way. This is the part of Portland that makes you cry. Makes you cry at the smallest thing and sometimes nothing. Because you realize it is never, ever going to stop being gray. Every day from here on out, this is the sky that will greet you when you finally pull yourself out of bed, this is your permanent atmosphere.

And you will never fall in love, or if you do it will wreck you, and you will never succeed at your job, or if you do it will be at unreasonable expense, and you will never choose an electrician. Your outlets will always be two-pronged and sparky. The kitchen switch will dangle from the rafters. All is lost.

So you sit up straight and breathe to the bottom of your lungs and focus on the little lettuce and kale starts you pressed into the damp earth only yesterday, how they wilted at the shock of relocation, how they crumpled under assault from the hose. And you know that this is the day that will revive them, this spitty foul rain is the very climate they would each request to live out their lettucey days. And you think of the peas that you pushed in one knuckle deep beneath the climbing trellis, which is really just a stapled length of chicken wire, and of the beet seeds like little comets, and the radish and carrot seeds nearly too small to count out. This rain, right now, is floating them into some sweet little crevice inside the compost you’ve been tending since autumn. It is wetting their dull shells and inciting aspirations of red and orange sugar.

It is hard to remember.


3 years later

Drinking Diet Coke makes me feel like a bitch, just the sound of the name Diet Coke all hard with edges, and the slender silver can, like I should pop the top with long painted fingernails and slump back in my chair with boredom. I’m not much of a soda drinker.

I’m not much of a soda drinker but when I do drink soda it’s because I’m in Guatemala, say, and they are selling tall glass bottles with real cane sugar, bottles chipped from being stacked in sticky crates, or because I am at the movies with a big bag of popcorn. Then a few weeks ago I spent the weekend at a friend’s house with a fridge full of Coke Zero and since then the craving just comes up.

The craving just comes up and mostly I push it back down but today I gave in. There’s no Coke Zero in the lobby shop so I picked the closest thing, this Diet Coke with the word Diet in special script for women, a soda a man would never buy. I paid the eighty cents with a five even though there were two crisp ones folded in my pocket from when I meant to take the bus to work this morning.

I meant to take the bus to work this morning but as I was coming down the stairs I couldn’t ignore the clear blue sky, and I couldn’t help feeling I’ve been making too many excuses. So I got on my bicycle and halfway the rain started falling, pok pok pok on my helmet, splashing my jeans with fat spots. My fingertips and ankles stung with the cold, and my whole right shin. I was red-faced and damp by the time I got here.

I got here and it’s been the sort of day where I’m not sure what I’m doing at my job besides accruing experience, and by experience I mean days spent sitting at this desk. Last night I was planning a trip to Rio, a trip that will last one single week, and it makes my stomach turn – to fly all that way and not get lost in Brazil, not take long bumpy bus rides and pick up Portuguese riddled with errors. Instead I am going down and checking it off, turning around before it’s touched me. All because of vacation days. This is not what I am supposed to be doing. But raise your hand if you feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I am not supposed to be rationing vacation days and I am not supposed to be drinking Diet Coke. Drinking Diet Coke makes me feel like a bitch.