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4BY3: Quarterly Report October 16, 2015

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If there’s no travel, the third quarter of the year is not likely to produce much of a count. At least not for me. The slowdown that began in June got even slower. I added four species in July and August (and none in September). But all four of those species made me happy.

On an early-July mountain hike, Tim and I got both the black-throated green and the black-throated blue warbler. We even found a black-throated blue baby, which we could not have ID’d if its dad hadn’t flown over to feed it.

Near the end of the month, we followed up on a radio report that there were whip-poor-wills at a particular preserve within an hour’s drive from us. I had no idea that there were whip-poor-wills this far north; I stopped hearing them in Pennsylvania years ago. I’m sure I hadn’t heard one in more than a decade, if not two. But we hunted them down in two locations (the second much closer to us) and heard them both places. Totally thrilling.

And in August, the red-breasted nuthatch, who had been alluding me, at last hung out at my feeder long enough for me to set eyes on him.

Year-to-date count at this quarter: 124. (2012: 110. 2013: 173 [which turned out to be that year’s total]. 2014: 116.)

Fish or Not?: Part 5: The Verdict October 15, 2015

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Here it is the middle of October and I still haven’t reported whether I made my goal of ten no-drinking days in both August and September. August, of course, you know about, even the details. I could give you a similar rundown for September, which began with my drinking expensive champagne at a 6-year-old’s afternoon birthday party. (Don’t you think I would have been safe from temptation at such an event? Not in Parts West.) The next night, though, I sat alone at a bar, listening to a singer who’d been on The Voice, and didn’t order a single drink. Sipping my club-soda-with-lime, I watched the bartender prepare concoction after concoction and found myself getting snobby and judgmental: A screwdriver? Really? Who drinks those after high school?

I got back to Portland ever so briefly, and then I went to my high school reunion. There seemed to be parties and events galore last month. But I made it. Ten booze-free days in September.

Some of those days I really, really wanted a drink. Some of those days I didn’t really notice the absence. Some of the days that I have to count as drink days I only had half a beer (truly). Some of the days I that I drank, I found myself thinking, Did I really want that drink?

So maybe it’s made me a little more aware.

Experiment over. I’m going to Europe.

Skylark as Barn Swallow September 15, 2015

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If you spend time on the right water, eventually you’ll see mayflies. And you’ll see some of those mayflies disappear into hungry mouths.

It’s always exciting to watch barn (and other) swallows swoop down to the water’s surface for a snack. It’s equally exciting to watch fish swim up for a slurp.

It was exactly this tension—potential swallows from above and below—that inspired Tim to create a painting years ago: a mayfly, a brown trout approaching from beneath, a barn swallow swooping down.

He worked hard on this painting: water tumbling over stones, a small stand of birches, a kingfisher on a branch. But something wasn’t working.

Eventually, I suggested that it might be the barn swallow.

Reluctantly, he agreed, and the barn swallow flew away. Now it’s a beautiful painting that exists without record of its full inspiration.

I’ve been thinking about that painting a lot lately.

A friend of mine has been working on a musical review of his father’s work. He found a venue in London, and the show was going to open in October. He insisted I be there on opening night and the afterparty. Sounds great!

My high school best buddy was on the producer’s list, and she was going too. In April, she reserved rooms for us at the hotel where everyone—the cast, everyone!—was staying. In July, I bought my nonrefundable plane tickets and based my flights on her carrier and her (return) schedule—in part because I’ll be flying in and out near her, but also to travel with her on the way home.

Tim and I had been thinking about heading to England this year, earlier, because we got engaged there thirty years ago in April. We didn’t manage the spring, but the show was great justification to make it happen in the fall.

Then I realized that the Chunnel is convenient and affordable, and Tim has never been to Paris. And a friend in London, someone I haven’t seen in more than a quarter century, offered to put us up. So our trip took shape.

And then, about a month ago, the show was canceled.

I am so disappointed. The show will likely happen sometime, somewhere else, but not in London in October, when we moved work-and-money mountains to make it happen. I was really looking forward to it.

But we certainly weren’t going to cancel. We have a two-week trip planned. We will spend more time with John, whose generosity is astounding. We will not be traveling with Sue, who has no reason to make a trip to London that she didn’t really have time for anyway. I will likely not go to the opening of the musical if it happens in Europe.

So I’m sad that the inspiration for the trip, the catalyst that made us at last plan this, has evaporated.

But it was our barn swallow, and the result will still be beautiful.

Fish or Not?: Part 4: The Market Closes September 14, 2015

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I know this won’t last forever. Nothing does. I am living in a brief moment when fresh fish is practically being delivered to my doorstep.

Me, on August 6

On August 27, we received the official announcement that our Friday night market was over. It had lasted 3½ years, apparently, which is a pretty good run for such a tiny community. Fewer and fewer people were showing up. There were likely multiple reasons for that (some political, alas), but our community was too small to ever be able to offer big profit to the small vendors. No doubt many were lucky to break even.

At the moment, the fish runner still comes once a week, and we all meet where the market used to be. But how long will that last?

Fish or Not? Part 3: Here’s What Happened September 1, 2015

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August 1st was Sioux’s annual champagne/art party, and on the 2nd we had dinner guests, and the 3rd, well, I did go to a wonderful yoga class that a friend’s houseguest was hosting but when I got home I think Tim had had a rough day, which translated into Martini Monday, but on the 4th I distracted myself by going to hear a friend sing at a concert on the green and on the 5th I went to hear a local writer/comedian I never seem to have opportunity to check out, and those events required driving and I was by myself so that took care of that and so I got two days under my belt, but on the 6th a photographer friend had a stock photo shoot session of women in their 50s and 60s and there was in fact a bottle of tequila floating around and on the 7th summer friends, whom I’d barely seen this year and the summer was nearly over, had happy hour on their porch, and the 8th was the Old Home Days parade and the annual potluck party of friends we seem to only see there, a favorite event, and I ran into a friend who moved away and I hadn’t seen in years and invited her and another friend over on the 9th for happy hour and noshes, which was truly wonder, so by the 10th and 11th I had to get serious, and somehow I managed, so that was four, and on the 12th Sioux had a girls night that was supposed to feature the appearance of Mary Ellen, who was the one person who didn’t show, and on the 13th we had dinner out with our friend Joe who was in town from Portland, and on the 14th Nick and Andrew had us over for a garden party with the summer friends because we hadn’t been there in years and I acted as bartender making them all a drink called Late Night at OOB (rum, other things, shame), and on the 15th we had fabulous fish from the fish runner, which had to be paired with a fine wine, and on the 15th our neighbors, who will be moving away soon, had us over for backgammon and pizza and good beer, and somehow, on the 17th, in spite of going to the river and being surrounded by alcohol, I turned it down, so that was five, and on the 18th Mary Ellen hosted a girls night to make up for the one she missed, and that night I had one drink and oddly didn’t even want more and maybe didn’t even want that one, and the next night friends had a going-away party for the summer people, and again, I had just one drink and didn’t want more, and I was dry on the 20th, so that was six, and on the 21st we had dinner guests, and on the 22nd I really needed a martini and it had been three weeks since Martini Monday, after all, and on the 23rd Tim had his music buddies over to play and have dinner and drinks, and Mary brought her homemade rhubarb wine, and it would have been rude not to try it, and on the 24th we went canoeing for the evening and thus ran from happy hour, so that was seven, and the 25th was our 29th legal anniversary and we had a lovely dinner and an amazing bottle (Joseph Faiveley Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Morgeot” 2006—I was worried we’d waited too long but it was incredible), and then I somehow got through the 26th and 27th, the latter being the day I mentioned yesterday that I could barely get through and no doubt I substituted a lot of sugar instead, what with the music people leaving two pies and a cake in their wake and in my fridge, but that got me to nine, and on the 28th there was an impromptu happy hour with some neighbors, during which I drank that beer and bourbon I’d been craving, and on the 29th I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party, and on the 30th, the day we harvested the hops, I made it through, so that was ten.

And on the 31st, well, most of the day I thought I would skip it, but I got lonely and went had a beer across the street with Martha and Thom.

See what I’m up against here in Parts West? But I made it.

Fish or Not? Part 2: Under the Wire August 31, 2015

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It’s August 31, and I made it. Yesterday was the tenth day of the month that I did not drink.

It was (mostly, but not always) hard.

I was going to mention that when there were two consecutive nondrinking days, the second one was easier. Except the last time, it wasn’t. The last time, I really really wanted to chill out at happy hour on day 2. But I was sure if I gave in that day—the potential ninth day, when I very specifically wanted a hoppy beer and bit o’ bourbon, when there were so few days left in August and an entire weekend ahead of me—that I would fail. So I toughed it out.

If I can get through dinner—past happy hour, past wanting to pair wine or snooty beer with my meal—I can do it.

It’s probably helped (a little) that I’ve been watching Brideshead Revisited and Sebastian’s demise.

It’s possibly helped that I listened to a five-years-sober author interview and heard her list some of her reasons for falling in love with alcohol in the first place. Social lubrication? Check. Being able to move past extreme self-consciousness? Check. As an introvert, I’ve often thought, “What if I’d truly discovered alcohol in high school? I would have been able to talk to people! I would have had more friends! I wouldn’t have felt like such an outsider!” I quickly follow that up with, “Thank god I didn’t truly discover alcohol in high school. I’m here.”

Some friends found this experiment of mine somewhat arbitrary, especially as they don’t perceive me as drinking a lot, and because many of them believe a drink or two a day is fine, possibly even healthy. It is an arbitrary experiment, of course. I can pick any ten days in the month, and I’m only trying to do this for two months. I don’t drink a lot (compared with people who drink a lot). But I do drink often. So let’s tap the brakes a little and see what happens.

Here’s what I still believe: I have a happy hour addiction.

Fish or Not?* Part 1: The Plan August 24, 2015

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Am I a fish? Well, I’m a Pisces. And I make part of my living based on the fact that some people are obsessed with this particular animal.

As most of you know, I enjoy my cocktails, my wine, my beer, my hard liquor. But do I drink like a fish? I don’t think so, but sometimes I worry that I drink too often.

Near the end of July, I hatched a plan to cut back. By one third. In terms of number of days drinking. The last week of July, I managed it: I took three days of seven off.

The plan is to not drink on ten calendar days in both August in September. That should be easy, right? It can be any ten days. I still get to drink twice as many days in the month as I don’t.

Some of my friends don’t understand this exercise. A drink or two a day is perfectly fine, they say. Basically, I agree. I just wonder if I can do it.

Because, you see, I know I’m addicted to ritual. I love happy hour, sitting with Tim or friends at the end of the day, imbibing and unwinding. Obviously, I love alcohol too—but I don’t think that I’m addicted to that. I think I just like it a whole lot.

It’s August. It’s the end of summer. I could say I’m occasionally drinking, because it turns out August is full of occasion. I have eight more chances to add days to this month’s tally.

I wonder if I’ll make it.



*With a nod to Bill Nye the Science Guy

Food Stuff: Fish Runner 2 August 6, 2015

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Each week I think “Maybe I won’t buy so much this time.” Each week I say “I need to save money.” Then, on Wednesday morning, the fish runner emails the list of this week’s two or three offerings. We have til 5:30 to order for Friday delivery. Each week I cave. And usually I buy more than one thing.

I have a baby octopus and two pounds of kickass shrimp in the freezer.

The thing is, the prices are really good. However, just because the prices are good doesn’t mean I can really afford it, especially given my upcoming travel plans. On the flip side, I know this won’t last forever. Nothing does. I am living in a brief moment when fresh fish is practically being delivered to my doorstep. I want it. I’m addicted.

(One time the fish runner helped me out with a cioppino. Special order.)

My understanding is that there’s a guy in Boston who buys for restaurants between here and there. Our fish runner meets the Boston buyer in a town about 65 miles from here and brings our order back.

On Valentine’s Day, fresh oysters were shucked down at the farmer’s market. We made a mignonette, shared it around. It was a good day.

There have been other offers of oysters, but I’ve never (ahem) learned to shuck myself. Most of my oyster consumption happens in Portland bars. I don’t get the lobsters either, mostly because I’m in denial about taking responsibility for killing my own meat AND I’m not really into the whole-lobster thing. Give me a lobster roll or grilled tail.

Here are some things I’ve been able to order over these months: black sea bass, haddock, scallops, mussels, clams, squid, octopus, smoked bluefish, swordfish, tuna, sockeye salmon, halibut, pollock, salt cod, shrimp, flounder, monkfish, skate, mahi, red snapper. Am I forgetting anything? Probably.

This operation seems to care about sustainability, often informing us as to how something was [allegedly] caught (especially in the case of those fish you know have been on endangered lists).

This week I ordered scallops for Tim and salt cod for me. Nothing like a good brandade…although it may be awhile before it’s cool enough to prepare it.

Baby Donas* August 5, 2015

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On Saturday, just as we were about to leave the house for the annual champagne/art party down the road, I got a text from my neighbor: “Do either of you have a minute for a baby bird ID?” Baby birds, eh? They can be tough. “We’ll be right there.”

We walked across the street, and Martha showed us the nest near the top of the Japanese maple. (I first wrote her Japanese maple, but suddenly that sounded like a euphemism.) Thom joined us and reported that the parent was grayish and had a crest. I was looking for tufted titmice.

But the babies, as best as I could see them underneath, didn’t look like titmice. For the briefest of moments, I thought they might be robins. But then I caught a glimpse of mask. Cedar waxwings! We Googled “baby cedar waxwings,” and there could be no doubt that’s what they were looking at.

And then the mama showed up and hovered, and glared at us.

Tim, being taller and having access to PhotoShop to work on the image a bit, managed to produce this from his iPhone:




You can see three!

It’s been four days. I wonder if they’ve fledged.


*Dona is our own Cedar Waxwing, of course.

Revolutions July 29, 2015

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It’s been twenty years since I turned 33⅓. I haven’t seen 45 in eight. On the flip side, I won’t be 78 for nearly a quarter century. This spinning, though, is dizzying and swift.


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