Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Donate cash NOT "stuff" following Sandy

I hear that a certain GOP candidate that touts himself as a management expert is holding a rally where people are supposed to "donate items" to disaster relief for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

As any person who actually works in disaster relief will tell you, this is a BAD idea: people tend to donate broken, torn or unusable items, it takes a great deal of time and effort to go through all the donated items to find what is actually usable, it takes a lot of time and money to store and transport the items, and it's extremely difficult to distribute the items to people who might need them - especially as many people are displaced and are hard to find, never mind how hard it is for them to have any way to store such items. Often, all of the items end up being thrown away.

I would expect any person that wants to be PRESIDENT would know that it's money that's needed most, so that relief agencies can purchase and transport what's needed MOST.

Here is more about the realities of donating things instead of cash (and why it's a bad idea regarding disaster response). 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Portlandia is real

Five of us schlepped up from Canby to have dinner in Portland - specifically, to Tanuki, a restaurant on Stark Street that had gotten a glowing review in Portland Monthly for its Korean and Japanese cuisine. We were excited to get out of rural Oregon and have supper in the "big city." 

The outside of Tanuki is a lot of "NO" signs - "No Sushi" and "No Children" and "No Minors." As someone who is not at all fond of children in restaurants, you would think I would have been happy at at least 2 of those 3 signs. But all those signs made Tanuki look like HOUSE OF NO.

We stepped inside, to a quite dark, stark, unattractive interior, with about 1/3 of the chairs empty. A woman slowly walked up to us, looked us over and up and down, and sniffed,

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, there's five of youuuuuuu..."

She turned to glance behind her and then back to us, saying in that oh-so-Portland nasal style of disenchantment,

"Yeahhhhhhhhh, I don't have seating for five."

Long pause.

A member of our party said, "Well, what about this big empty area here. Couldn't we eat here?"

The server slowly glanced over at the completely empty area at the front of the restaurant - a couch and chair surrounding a small table.

"Yeahhhhhhhhh, we don't really allow eating in the waiting area."

The waiting area? Isn't this place where we're STANDING, and WAITING, the waiting area?

Another member of our party said, "Um... what about moving that table there with that table there?"

The server turned a bit in the direction of the tables, then back to us.

"Yeahhhhhhhhh, I don't think so. We're really not supposed to move those particular tables."

Long pause.

Another member of our party tried.

"Well, that table there seats four. We could just pull another chair up to it."

The server turned a bit as though to see where she was pointing, but never really did, and then pivoted back to us.

"Yeahhhhhhhhh, the chef wouldn't allow that."

Long pause.

The server spoke at last.

"Yeahhhhhhhhh, see those people there, they juuuuuuust came in and sat down, like, 5 minutes ago? If they hadn't, maybe I could have pushed that table with that table? But since they are in that place, I can't. So, like, the wait for yoooooou is going to be about an hour."

We all continued just to stand there. Were we really getting refused service at a restaurant because they didn't have room for us? The place had empty chairs everywhere!

Then I checked out the other diners - all young, mostly in black, except for a few guys in the requisite bowling shirt and hipster hat. Was this actually a we-don't-serve-middle-aged-suburbanites thing?

I spoke at last. "Um, we drove all the way up from Canby. It's a really long drive. We came to Portland specifically for this restaurant."

The server sighed.

"Yeahhhhhhhhh, I'll talk to the chef."

She disappeared and, after several minutes, another woman emerged. Same disenchanted look and tone.

"Yeah, we just really can't seat five people. All of our literature clearly states that we do not seat large parties."

And I had had enough.

"Hey, I think it's time to go. Let's go to a restaurant that would actually like us to be there. This clearly isn't it."

We walked back out to the rainy Portland night (is there any other kind?), and started to laugh. It was the quintessential Portland experience. It's so representative of what it's like EVERY time I go into that city. How could we not laugh? We'd just been in an episode of Portlandia.

Later, at the delightful Ya Hala, a friendly, well-lit Lebanese restaurant just a few doors down that serves AWESOME food - and has enough lighting for you to actually see the food, a member of our party pulled out a flyer for Tanuki, and started reading over its long list of rules. No where on the "literature" did it say they didn't serve large parties, but at the bottom of one side, it did say a hefty gratuity is automatically "added to parties of five or more." That just made us laugh that much harder.

So we're now calling Tanuki "Snooty's on Stark." The name so fits.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's a basic right, not a "special" one

I have a friend I'm going to call Carl. He has made me laugh a million times. He has a story about meeting Diana Ross that I could hear 100 times and never get tired of. When we worked together back in the 1990s, I couldn't wait to get to the office every day because I loved working with him so much.

Carl has a long list of health problems, and I've no doubt he would be dead from such were it not for his being covered by the healthcare plan of his partner, whom I'll call Joe. It is only because Joe works for a company that allows domestic partners to be covered under the company's health insurance that Carl has the medical treatment he desperately needs.

No matter how many legal documents Carl and Joe might have drawn up by a lawyer, any hospital can prevent Joe from visiting Carl if he's hospitalized - and Mitt Romney wants to make sure that right is protected. And, Zeus forbid it, if Carl were to die, any funeral home could prevent Joe from making any arrangements regarding the service or Carl's final resting place, per the wishes of Carl's sibling, his closest blood relative and with whom Carl doesn't speak to for months at a time. Mitt Romney wants to make sure that practice stands as well.

If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are telling my friend Carl and millions like him: tough luck if you die. I love the health benefits I can give to/get from my committed partner, but I do NOT want you to have the same.

It doesn't matter how many legal documents this couple draws up - this couple that's been together longer than many of the straight married people I've known - because, as their union, their family, does not have to be legally recognized by the government.

It's happened in Florida. It's happened in Nevada. And while the spouse of every astronaut that dies receives benefits to take care of her for the rest of her life, the long-time partner of astronaut Sally Ride will not. It's happening all over the USA.  

If you are against gay marriage, you never have to attend a gay wedding. You can choose a community of faith (church, mosque, temple, whatever) that will never host a gay marriage (there are also still churches that refuse to marry what they consider an interracial couple, or people from different religions - take your pick!). You can refuse to invite any gay couple to your pool party. You can refuse to call someone a wife or husband. You get to keep all those rights.

But if you are voting for Mitt Romney, then you are denying basic human rights to millions of Americans that you yourself get to enjoy. Don't you DARE say to any of your gay friends, "Hey, it's nothing personal." It's absolutely personal. You can't participate in the denial of a person's basic civil rights and make it all better with a smile. You need to own what you are doing, completely, utterly, instead of being a coward and trying to sugar-coat your bigotry. You should post to your Facebook status update:

I don't want gay people to be able to visit their partners in the hospital, nor to allow a gay person to be covered under his or her partner's health care plan, nor to allow gay partners to receive the kinds of benefits a straight widow or widower would receive. I want you, a gay person, to sit alone while your partner's estranged family gets to make all funeral arrangements and take away his or her belongings. That's what denying gay marriage means, and I fully embrace and own that meaning.

Another friend of mine posted this to his status update today, and it's what inspired my own blog now:

If you plan on voting for Romney, then - in essence – you are voting against my civil rights as a person. There is no cherry picking around this. You can’t get just get one small slice of the Romney/Ryan pie – you must eat – Every. Last. Crumb. Of. It. 

I own my beliefs. I dare you to do the same.

Also see: Please De-Friend Me.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

House hunting

We moved to Oregon in September 2009. We've now been here three years. As you all know, moving back to the USA hasn't worked out quite the way we had planned. In addition to my not being able to find a full-time, permanent job, we've had a lot of difficulty finding a place to call "home." And Portland hasn't at all lived up to its hype, which has been quite disappointing.

We know Oregon better than most Oregonians, thanks to our explorations by motorcycle. And while Portland has left us disappointed, Oregon has grown on us. We like it. We have even found towns in Oregon where we would be happy to live, were we able to find jobs there: Silverton, Salem, Corvalis, Bend, Ashland, Oregon City, Newberg, Troutdale, West Lynn... but none so much that we're wanting and willing to move there without jobs, and hope something happens.

Stefan has a job now at the Beaverton-Portland border. It's a good job. It's a job where he'd like to stay for a few years. And everything is telling us that it would make sound financial sense to buy a house now. All of those Oregon towns I've mentioned are too far too commute for Stefan's job -- including the town where we live now, in Canby -- so we have been trying to find a community nearer to his work where we'd want to buy a house - a home. To invest in.

We've zeroed in on Forest Grove, Oregon. It's still far from Portland, but it's closer than where we live now - Canby - and unlike where we live now, the local fire department in Forest Grove really does want volunteer firefighters (do NOT be fooled by the sign outside of the Canby fire station - volunteers might be needed, but not wanted!). Also unlike Canby, Forest Grove has a gorgeous historic downtown neighborhood, and a downtown of businesses that don't all close at 7 p.m. There's a college there - Pacific University, which began as a United Church of Christ institution (and while it's not anymore, any thing that has it's roots in the UCC can't be bad - said the Atheist) - and I always have a preference for college towns, as long as I don't live next to a party house. It also has more regular mass transit service to Portland - we're *really* like to stay a one-car family. 

We've looked at around 30 houses in Forest Grove. 30! And it's so... disappointing. Not that we haven't seen lovely houses, not that our real estate agent isn't trying to help us and being super patient and laughing at all my jokes. But every house has a deal-breaker:
  • the cheap or affordable house would require at least $50,000 of work just to move in, and then lots more work to make it where we want to live
  • it would take too long to be move-in ready after we bought it (we can budget renting our current place two months into owning a home - that's it)
  • it has no space to add a garage if it doesn't have one already
  • the driveway has a 25% grade (been there, done that, never doing it again)
  • it's too small, and would take too long to build on to/expand
  • the expensive house needs at least another $50,000 worth of work 
  • it's three stories and I'd have to go up and down those steps three or four times EVERY day
  • it's too far from downtown (we want to be able to walk or ride bikes to downtown)
  • the house is heated by heating oil, and we're not sure it wouldn't be crazy expensive and complicated to upgrade it to gas - and there's a pool, and how expensive would that be to maintain?! And it's got a weird layout...
  • the back yard would have no privacy or peace because two story houses look down on it or the neighbor's house - with several children - is right up against it (we live that now - no thanks)
  • it has no yard - we want a space for me to garden, for us to play cornhole, and for Stefan's weekend night fire
  • the neighbors scare us
  • there's no place downstairs for me to have an office (and for Albi, or future dogs, to sleep comfortably in the night, feeling like it was truly her/their space)
And then there's the couple of houses that don't have any of these problems - but, for some reason, we're just not that into them - neither of us look at it and see "home." Neither of us want to marry it. I'd be willing to buy a house that Stefan wanted to marry, and I think he'd be willing to do the same for me. But neither of us have had that moment of "I want to marry this house!" without one of those deal-breakers being present.

And... there's really no point to this blog other than to say that, wow, this is really hard, and I'm getting depressed over this process.

I will say that cheap, well-built houses near downtown are on the market for just a few days now - there's no question the economy is getting better.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Crockpot garlic veggies - something missing?

I'm trying to find a vegetarian recipe that Stefan likes - not just tolerates, because I've worked on it, but wants to eat. He doesn't have to love it - I just want to hear, "Yeah, that's good" when he finishes, and he'll like it enough to get seconds.

He claims that he can be satisfied with a meatless meal - even though he never has been satisfied with a meatless meal. He'll eat them, but no matter what the meal is, he will say, "Something missing." I'll respond, Meat? He'll assure me that it's not meat, but it is something

Here was my latest attempt to create a really hearty vegetarian meal. I based it on a chicken dish I make that is my current signature dish. I thought I had hit it out of the ballpark - it's the best vegetarian dish I have EVER prepared, and I couldn't get enough of it. I thought it was absolutely delicious. I thought I'd finally made that meatless meal Stefan would like. 

But Stefan again said, "Something's missing." And he ate just one, modest serving.

Crockpot garlic veggies, to be served over rice or noodles
Feeds 4-6 people

Ingredients:2 yellow squash, sliced
1 can green beans
1-2 onions (to taste), sliced or cut in rings
2 yellow or red peppers, sliced or cut in rings
200 g sliced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 cup dry white wine
2 can tomatoes in juice
1 tbsp olive oil 

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp Better Than Bouillon vegetable base
1/2 cup sliced pitted black olives  
1/2 cup sliced pitted green olives  
Finely chopped Italian flat-leafed parsley
1-2 bay leafs

Optional pre-cooking
Stir fry onions on medium, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, peppercorns, wine and cook about 1 minute. Put aside.

Arrange all veggies and mushrooms over bottom of slow cooker and cover with everything else (or sauce you've pre-cooked). Cover crackpot and cook on low for 7 hours or on high for 3 hours. Discard bay leaf.

Serve over rice or noodles
Feeds 4-6 people

Note: May not be salty enough for everyone's tastes. Encourage guests to salt to taste. 

So, other than maybe substituting chicken or beef bouillon - which will mean it's no longer vegetarian, but it's close - what could I do to make a meat love like this, without actually adding meat? BTW, he does not like egg plant. 

October 3 update:
Stefan says adding hot sauce made it much better, in his opinion. But he still isn't crazy about it (he'll eat it, but not ask for seconds).