Saturday, December 31, 2005

Test your Psi-Q

Ack. Went out to the mailbox today and found my 2005 tax booklets. Nice send off to the old year, eh?

Just for fun--we need some fun right about now--try this little psi-meme. Make sure to use honest answers. I'll know if you don't!

take the psi-q psychic test yourself

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Northern Exposure Season 4!

Hurray! Hurray! Northern Exposure season 4 will be released on March 28, 2006—just in time for Spring Break! (I feel an all-NX day coming on….)

My favorite season is #3, but season 4 is pretty danged good, including episodes in which a pregnant Shelly sings all of her lyrics, Chris builds a sculptural homage to the Winter Solstice, Cicely’s Thanksgiving-happy Indians throw tomatoes at the white people (“They have lots of anger,” explains Marilyn Whirlwind), Joel and Maggie "make hay" (inside pun), Maurice throws a blow-out party, Maggie digs up women’s relics in her yard (framed by Loreena McKennitt’s haunting music), and Shelly gives birth (in a room above the bar) in an episode backlit by a magnificent old tree.

(Erin: the picture's for you!)

Okay, okay…. So it’s also the season when Mike Monroe, aka, the bubble man,” comes to town. But I can forgive them that in the midst of the above magnificent episodes.

Now, if only they’d release Thirtysomething, I’d be happy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Solstice+7, Christmas+3 (DEFCON 2)

It’s a dark, rainy, cool, perfect morning, and I’m sitting in my very quiet living room, in my amazingly peaceful house. Mom and Joe left Monday morning, and Rebecca and Scott headed home that evening. Erin left yesterday evening on the 6:15 Amtrak Cascades. It was kind of fun to be in the train station—I’ve never seen it so busy.

Before Erin left, she and I carried out our annual see-a-movie-at-Christmas tradition and saw The Family Stone. It’s a great holiday flick, about a quirky family whose eldest son brings home his fiancĂ© to meet the family. Of course everything goes wrong, beginning with the fact that the fiancĂ© (played wonderfully by Sarah Jessica Parker) seems to have an extra-large stick up her… well, you know, and is about as far away from this bouncy, awkward, enthusiastically liberal family as one could get. The complications—both hilarious and poignant—ensue, and it’s a great ride. I heartily recommend this for anyone simply looking for an enjoyable two hours.

Today reality has struck, and it’s time to do the annual post-holiday recoup, i.e., vacuuming, general pick-up, etc. Bits of ribbon and tinsel and glitter keep popping up, and every time I turn around I run into an empty box or a ball of tissue paper. I went looking for some ‘uns this morning and realized I hadn’t done laundry since last Thursday. Yikes. So now there are five piles of laundry lined up in the hall—plus one in the wash—as well as two beds to change and a load of towels. This should keep me busy.

I’m treating myself to an 'Individual Breakfast Strata' for lunch. This is a great recipe for one person, and easily multiplied for more. It’s the perfect way to use up those last bits and bites of leftovers in the corner of the fridge. The one I’m making has leftover chicken-apple sausage and brandied mushrooms, plus slivers of fresh onion. Yum!

Breakfast Strata for One

1 slice bread, crusts removed
1/3 C. milk
1 egg
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
Dash black pepper
Fillings of choice: diced or thinly sliced veggies, meats, cheese, etc. (about 1/2 C. total)
Sliced or grated cheese for topping

  1. Butter or grease an individual-sized casserole dish or an ovenproof bowl.
  2. Dice the bread and place in the casserole dish.
  3. Top with the filling.
  4. Combine milk, egg, and seasonings and beat until smooth. Pour over the bread and fillings.
  5. Top with grated or thinly-sliced cheese.
  6. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes, until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Monday, December 26, 2005

We made it!

Above is a picture of the holiday aftermath. We came, we saw, we destroyed house. As I write this it’s 1:20 on Monday. The dishwasher is running again, the kitchen mostly clean, the papers and boxes and gifts and ribbons corralled. The kids went to their Dad’s an hour ago and Bill just left for a half day of work. I’m thinking I should perhaps get dressed and shower. ‘Ya think?

So, here’s a recap.

Dec. 25, 8 a.m. While I readied breakfast, Erin played for us, a command performance mandated by her grandmother. As Mom put it, “I paid for the piano lessons—I get a concert!”

Breakfast was sectioned oranges and grapefruit, homemade concord grape juice, Hoska, cinnamon rolls (homemade), scrambled eggs, maple-cured bacon, and chicken-apple sausages. Starting with the guy standing at top left and going clockwise: Bill (my S.O.), Erin, Rebecca, Mom, Joe, and Scott.

While I got the kitchen cleaned up, the family did what families everywhere do on Christmas morning…. They gathered around the iBook. Ah, tradition…..

Here's a picture of Bill and I. The pile of gifts doubled with the arrival of Mom and Joe and again when the Erin-Scott-Rebecca sleigh pulled in.

The opening begins…. Left to right, Erin, Scott, and Rebecca oooh and aaaah over the latest present.

Ernie—who turns 17 in two weeks—was a quiet presence during the holiday (right, with Erin).

We missed Katie a lot. Plane tickets were sky high to and from Anchorage this year, and she would have only had a few days off at best. So she stayed in Alaska and celebrated with boyfriend John and friends. She and John plan a nice long visit to Portland next April, which will be wonderful. In the meantime, we mourned her absence with a shrine made of her stocking, canned olives, Ya-Ya beads, and a martini glass.

Katie’s been hard at work knitting gifts for all of us. Above is a shot of us modeling our new hats and scarves. (Mom’s plum-colored scarf matched her hair).

Here’s a picture of my favorite 6’5” son…. I’m guessing you have a few questions. Well, Mom always gives us new sleepwear for Christmas—for the guys, this usually means boxers. Over the years, Scott has received an interesting collections of “uns” from his favorite grandmother., the most memorable being a pair of singing California Raisin underwear many years back. This year? Green satin elf shorts and cap…. With bells.

Above and right: Mom and Joe.

All in all it was a great holiday, our own family’s combination of a Pagan welcoming of the Winter Solstice and a tribute to the traditional family Christmas we’ve always celebrated. Now I get to enjoy my favorite part of the winter holidays: the time between Solstice/Christmas and New Years. It’s a time of peace and quiet, time to read the new books, listen to the new CDs, try out the new coffee pot, eat leftover cookies. The pressure is off. It’s time to just sit back and enjoy.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy eve....

It's Christmas and Hanukkah eve-- peace and plenty to all, heartfelt blessings, and lots of joy. Here again, for your viewing pleasure, is the GG tree!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Hoska day

Today was Hoska day. Hoska (HOE-skuh) is a braided holiday bread that has been made by the Czech side of my family for generations. Most years I make it with Mom, and for the last few, my friend, Valerie has joined us. This year the schedule on both ends kept us from making it to Mom's in Redmond, so Valerie and I made the Hoska here in Milwaukie instead. We started at about 1:30 PM today and finished 8 hours and 10 loaves later.

Here's how Hoska begins:

That is my great-grandmother's stoneware bread bowl in the picture above. I can't even imagine how many loaves of bread have gotten their start in this fine cauldron.

Hoska is made of butter, eggs, lemon, mace, almonds, raisins, milk, yeast, flour, and lots of muscle power—you end up kneading each batch for about 10 minutes. I think it’s the mace that makes it special. Mace is the outermost part of the nutmeg, and it’s got a rich, sharp scent that fills the kitchen and tells you that the holidays have arrived.

After kneading the dough, it's formed into a series of braids.

The loaves are decorated with whole blanced almonds, candied cherries, and green pineapple. These don't add much to the flavor and are mostly for looks. Valerie notes that they also add excitement when they fall off in your toaster and cause flames to shoot out of the toast slots. ("Chestnuts roasting on an open toaster....")

The work area.... (GG's rolling pin in foreground....)

Here's Valerie, hard at work....

Below: Hoska!

Of the 10 finished loaves, we picked out the prettiest one for Mom.

Valerie, Bill, and I then decided that in terms of quality control, it was our responsibility to try the Hoska, so we cut into one of the smaller loaves and stood there in the kitchen eating the warm slices spread with sweet butter. Half an hour later, the entire loaf was gone (including a couple of slices set aside for Valerie’s husband). Full of bread, we are. A happy day, it was.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Last minute stuff

Busy day today…. One Solstice celebration down, one family Christmas to go. Got lots done. Did the final lay-in-provisions shopping trip and found a couple of last-minute stocking stuffers. While shopping I got caught in a cloudburst so dense that by the time I’d walked from the car to the front door, I was soaked. A couple of hours later, I was working in the family room (downstairs) and realized that water was seeping in around the fireplace hearth. Sigh…. This is an old, although (thankfully) rare problem that has happened when we either have flood levels of rain or when there is a sudden huge DUMP, as there was today. Anyway, I sopped up the carpet with a couple of towels and turned on a space heater to warm up the room, and it seems to have fixed the problem. Since Scott and Rebecca will be staying in this room in two days, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it being dry!

I now find myself in the unusual position of actually being ready for the holiday. Imagine—time to sit in front of the fire, read, hang out, etc. As they say in that annoying commercial, priceless.

Above is a picture of the tree and our presents. Our tree is small this year—a table-topper. I think it’s perfect—especially for my small living room, with space at a premium.

Tomorrow I’m getting a haircut and then my friend Valerie and I are baking Hoska (say HOE-skuh), a traditional Czech braided bread. Two days from now, Mom and Joe will be here, and Erin, Scott, and Rebecca will be en route. No Katie this year—sniff. She’s holding out for a longer (and cheaper!) spring visit, which will be wonderful. She may own a dog by then—see her blog!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Solstice!

The Winter Solstice passed today at 10:35 a.m. here in Ory-gun, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year.

I celebrated by baking bread with my dear friend, Amanda, an annual tradition we began in honor of her father. He had been the bread baker in her family, and when he passed three years ago, she decided that it was her turn to put on the baker’s apron, to measure flour and salt and yeast, to learn to knead and work with and talk to the dough. We made cinnamon rolls today—they turned out great. Even more important, it gave me a chance to slow down and spend the afternoon with my friend.

However you pass the Solstice, pause for a least a moment and give thought to the inexorable turning of the great seasonal wheel…one thing after another, everything happening as it should, or as it must. Remember, too, that the Solstice is all about the light, symbolizing the lengthening of days and the return of the sun. We’ll be leaving our outdoor lights on all night tonight in tribute. (The GG Tree is happy!)

This brings to mind another of my favorite holiday TV episodes: Northern Exposure, episode 4.18: “Northern Lights.” Amanda and I watched it today, while our bread dough was rising. Here is Chris’ speech, given to his fellow Cicelians as he unveils his sculptural work of light on the night of the Solstice.

“Goethe's final words: ‘More light.’ Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry: More light.’ Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlelight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and foot-candles. Light is metaphor.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Arise, shine, for thy light has come.

Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Holiday flicks

I’ve been having fun the last couple of days, fun sorting through our holiday DVD and tape collection. There are some real gems. “Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas,” “The Wonder Years” Christmas shows, the famous “I Love Lucy” Santa episode, and some two-hour movies that you can’t find on DVD today, like “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” with Hal Holbrook, Eva Marie Saint, Peter Gallagher, and a young Courtney Cox. Then there are the series episodes—Northern Exposure’s “Seoul Mates” and My So-Called Life “So-Called Angels” as favorites. Both series, incredibly, are more than 10 years old. There’s also a “Buffy” holiday episode—I haven’t seen it yet but just moved it to the top of my Netflix queue.

Sappy as it is, watching these makes me happy, and it’s part of my holiday ritual. Every year I seem to add one or two things to the collection. This year, I found a DVD of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Also, “Christmas in Connecticut” finally came out on DVD this year, which means I don’t have to worry about wearing out my old VHS version.

Favorites? I love “White Christmas,” and also “The Christmas Story,” a.k.a., “The Tongue Show” (so-named by my kids years ago for its scene where a kid sticks his tongue to a frozen metal pole in the school yard). Also “A Christmas Without Snow” and the holiday “Little House” shows. And “Muppet Family Christmas.” And “The Snowman.” Okay, I’ll stop.

Your turn now. What are your favorite holiday shows? Do share, please.

The Solstice approaches—winter begins tomorrow morning at 10:35 a.m. here on the Pacific coast. The Grey School’s solstice newspaper published today, and it’s full of solstice lore and interesting goodies. If you’re interested in checking out a copy, you can download it from this page.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Intelligent Design

It’s raining and in the 30s and the snow is almost all gone. Boo. Last night Bill and I were out in the cul-de-sac talking to our Ukraine neighbors, who—missing their cold, snowy winters—were thrilled with the 1” snowfall.

It’s getting darker by the day. Today in Portland, the sun rose at 7:46 a.m. and set at 4:29 p.m. Not a real long day, but longer than Katie’s 5 or so hours in Alaska! Soon, the pendulum swings the other way—the winter solstice happens in two days, on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., Pacific time. The solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year, after which it’s all uphill, the light and life returning once again to warm the world.

I’ve had a very productive day! Got a wonderful box of goodies from Katie in Alaska, courtesy of the FedEx delivery truck. Getting packages is always fun. I also wrapped presents, baked cookies, puttered around the house, and never made it out of my pajamas!

But no, that’s not where I was going with the intelligent design title. Please go to the Doonesbury cartoon site. If for some reason the link doesn’t work, the strip I want you to read is from yesterday: Sunday, Dec. 18. Sometimes Garry Trudeau gets it exactly right, and I’ve never seen this argument framed with greater success. Tell me what you think….

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It's snowing! It's snowing!

Added at 4:20- p.m..... A picture of the snow and the house and, of course, the GG tree.

(2:45 p.m.) The snowfall started about an hour ago, and it’s coming down steadily, and sticking. I’m sitting in the living room with a cup of cocoa, addressing Solstice cards and glorying in the sight of the whitening world outside. Snow is a rare treat for us here—I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Bill just left—he has some shopping to do for me, so he headed out alone. It’s funny—whenever it snows, I have the urge to sit in front of the fire with a book and a mug of something hot, and just watch the snow. But Bill wants to get into his Jeep and drive around in it. Some sort of testosterone-fueled desired to not be subdued by nature, perhaps? Last year (or the year before?) when the kids were home we had some snow and he took them out driving in his Jeep, showing them how to spin snow cookies in an empty parking lot.

Anyway, it’s beautiful. I’ll try to get out and take a picture later. For now, you can go to this NASA page to find a link to the “International Snowflake Classification System.”

Friday, December 16, 2005

Here We Come a Costco-ing!

I went to Costco today—mostly to lay in supplies for the holiday. You know, eggs, paper towels, fire logs, bird seed. Usual stuff. I thought about going right when it opened at 10:00 a.m., but last time I did that I found myself standing in a sea of middle-aged women, each armed with a shopping cart and wearing sweatshirts with flowers and kitties on them. Anxious to avoid that scene, I decided to go at noon, figuring it wouldn’t be as crowded, all the ten o’clockers having already shopped and left.


Not only was it crowded, the parking lot was full, people circling in their cars, waiting to nab the next open parking spot. Of course, my parking gift held up, a spot opening up for me just one aisle and seven slots from the front door. Hee hee.

Inside Costco it was complete mayhem. Honest, I’ve never seen it so crowded. It was made worse because instead of staying on the right-hand side of the aisles—which everyone knows you’re supposed to do, right? (Do I sound like my mother?)—people had their carts here, there, all over the place, even stopped dead right in the middle of the aisle, and you’d get wedged in and couldn’t even move. Not much fun, although I did find a great gift for Mom, which I can’t describe here in case she reads this. With that find, I believe that my shopping is done!

Now I’m sitting in the living room, gazing out on the GG tree and waiting for Bill to come home. It’s Date Night, but we’ll probably just get dinner and do some shopping.

I had a party on Wednesday night—for my fellow graduate assistants and our professor/advisor. I served a wassail-esque hot mulled wine and everyone asked for the recipe. Thought I’d share it here, too. This is a yummy, warming beverage, perfect for those chilly winter nights. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Mulled Wine (based on a recipe from "The Joy of Cooking")

In a small kettle, combine 2 C. water and 1 C. sugar. Boil for 4-5 minutes, covered. Cool

In a large kettle, combine:
Peel from 2-3 lemons and 2 oranges
1.5 C. lemon juice
Juice from two oranges
The sugar syrup (above)
6-8 cinnamon sticks
2 T. whole cloves
1 T. whole cardamom seed
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (do not omit this—it is essential!)
1 T. whole allspice (optional)
4 bottles good red wine (I used Shiraz; burgundy is also good)
Fruits: a small apple, sliced; half a lemon, sliced; 1-2 oranges, sliced; a handful of fresh cranberries; raisins (use any fruit that is handy-- it adds flavor and makes the brew look very old-worldly)

Bring to a simmer-- do not boil!

Before serving, stir in a generous grating of nutmeg (fresh, if possible).

Taste before serving. If too sweet, add a bit more lemon juice. If too tart, a bit more sugar. As the mixture sits and simmers, you may need to add some water to keep it from becoming too concentrated.

Note: the above recipe also works with apple cider.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A very special full moon!

Here on the Pacific coast, the Moon was full this morning at 8:16 AM. Tonight and tomorrow, those of us with cloudless skies will get a real treat as the Moon travels across the heavens on its highest path since 1987.

The Moon will rise at 4:10 p.m. (all times Pacific) in the northeast and will reach its peak altitude of 72 degrees above the horizon at about 12:41 a.m. on Friday morning. It will set at 9:12 a.m. on Friday, allowing 17 full hours of lunar viewing.

December’s full moon is always a “tall” one, but this year the Moon is nearing the peak of what astronomers call a major lunar standstill cycle. Lunar standstills occur every two weeks, when the full or new Moon reaches its northernmost or southernmost point in the night sky. But a major lunar standstill occurs only every 18.6 years.

December’s full moons have many names, including the Full Cold Moon, Wolf Moon, Full Long Nights Moon.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Happy Birthday, Katie!

8:37 AM, Dec. 14, 1976. Me, stretched out on an operating room table at Portland's Wilcox/Good Samaritan Hospital, numb from the armpits down thanks to the miracle of modern spinal anesthesia. Ralph sitting in a chair at my head, the first father allowed to be present during a C-section in the hospital’s history. They told him that he had to stay seated and out of their way. “If you faint, we’ll just step over you,” they told him.

I worked in the ICU as a nurse then, and knew most of the people in Labor & Delivery; thus, the room was full of friends, including my number one choice of anesthesiologist, Dr. Jerry Bass. Because of problems with my blood pressure during the latter part of the pregnancy (according to Dr. Bergstrom, my body was a hostile environment for the baby), I was having a C-section at about 35 weeks gestation, amniocentesis having verified that the baby’s lungs were mature enough to be delivered.

At about 8:33 AM, Dr. Bergstrom made the incision—there was no pain, but lots of really weird tugging and pressure. He delivered the head and said, “Cute little baby ears.” I remember asking if it was a boy or a girl. (I really, really, REALLY wanted a first-born girl.) He said, “I can’t tell from the ears!”

At 8:37, there was a big tug and Dr. Bergstrom said, “It’s a girl!” And with that, Katie Marie Pesznecker (who was already crying loudly) was born. Everyone in the delivery room laughed and clapped (really—they applauded her!). Birth weight was 6 lbs 3 oz, length 18”. Oh—and Ralph didn’t faint.

We went home two days later. I remember the really odd feeling when Ralph and walked into the house. Two of us had left, and three of us returned. All of a sudden, there was this tiny new human staying with us, sleeping spring-loaded in an antique laundry basket bassinette next to the Christmas tree.

I’m thinking about this, because today this little baby is 29 years old. Have a great, wonderful, amazing day, Kate! I love you! Many, many blessings….

Monday, December 12, 2005

Behold, the GG Tree!

My grandmother-- known by me as Garmie but after my kids were born as GG, their shorthand for great-grand- mother, died in 1991 in her 90s after suffering a sudden and devastating stroke. She apparently had the stroke at night, as she slept. The following morning, I was at a high school in Portland, working in my then capacity as Asst. Vice President of Adult Training for Cascade Pacific Council, Boy Scouts of America. On the day that GG passed, I was running a 1000+ participant training event known as “Pow Wow.” At day’s end came the closing ceremonies, and among the lovely parting gifts I received was a Douglas-fir seedling. It wasn’t more than a stick, its small root ball wrapped in a baggie. Half an hour or so later, and still clutching the tree, I found out that GG was gone.

I’m skipping some details, but let’s go ahead to the time that the tree was planted, in the front yard close to the sidewalk. For the first two or three years, not much happened. But then the tree had a growth spurt that turned her into a very awkward adolescent—more of a fat round bush, actually, with several tops. Bill took the shears to her, giving the tree an all-over haircut that at least made her look like a Doug-fir. We started calling her the GG tree.

In the last three years, the tree has shot up and now looks like a real fir, like she belongs in a forest somewhere, growing up among her fellow ents. Of course, it’s too late to dig her up. But hard truth be told, the tree is probably going to have to come down, for now she's so big (about 26 feet, we figure, and putting on 8-10 feet/year) that there’s real worry about her roots taking out sidewalk, water lines, etc.

All of this is terribly symbolic, for in the years before GG died, she lost her legs—was cut down, literally—by vascular disease. Did it slow her down? Not a bit. She had prostheses and a little cart and continued to live a very active life, right up until that awful stroke. She was an amazing woman—very strong, very positive. An incredible role model for me.

The idea of having to cut down the GG tree is a sad one. For the last couple of years, Bill has put lights on her at Christmas. This year, she’s simply too big for us to do the job (last year Bill fell off the ladder and was lucky not to break anything). And yet this year might be her last, and I wanted her to have a good send-off.

So, starving grad student that I am, I ponied up some $$ (sheckles, my mom would call them) and got a professional lighting service to light up the GG tree, maybe for the last time. They did it today, and above is a picture of how she looks. She’s the brightest, tallest, most beautiful thing in the neighborhood. Everyone’s oohing and ahhing and Bill is happy because now he thinks he’s “beaten” the next-door neighbors in some sort of unspoken holiday lighting contest.

I don’t think my blog is always going to have these long stories…. But I guess it’s that time of year, full of memories and the time to rejoice in the return of the light. Today, I just wanted to share the GG tree with all of you. And GG, if you’re reading this, I hope you like her.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Big wheels keep on turnin'....

A good day today: a long sleep-in, the Sunday paper, good coffee (Jingle Java), and an afternoon of successful erranding and holiday shopping.

But the best of all was when Bill and I were driving toward OMSI and saw the unmistakable rhythmic puffing of vast clouds of white steam, and heard the ghostly sound of a steam whistle. This signs could only mean one thing: that one or more of Portland's famous steam enghines were out and about.

We pulled off McLoughlin and drove down by OMSI to take a look. And moments later, from around the bend suddenly appeared the vast orange, red, and silver bulk of the Southern Pacific 4449, also known as the "Daylight." We stood maybe 8-10 feet away as she passed. You just have no idea.... No idea. The ground literally shook--not just vibrated, or trembled. SHOOK. The sound of the steam whistle was so loud that even with ears covered, it was almost intolerable, but thrilling.

Five minutes later, the SP&S 700 followed the 4449. Once again, the ground shook. Once again, we were filled with the electric thrumming, the sense of power as the massive engine passed. Once again, we held our hands over our ears as our hearts pounded along with the steam whistle.

These are immense engines. It's hard to give any idea of their size unless you're standing a few feet away from them, like we were. The 700 is slightly bigger than the 4449. How big is it? The 700, built in 1938, is 111 feet long (that's one-third of a football field) , 17 feet tall (just a little shorter than a two story house), and weighs 440 tons. The wheels on the 700 alone are almost 8 feet tall. The boiler creates up to 5000 horsepower, and the engine can reach sustained speeds of 80 mph. This site shows a really nice view of the engine, parked, while this site shows some excellent action shots.

The SP 4449--at 110 feet, 16 feet, and 433 tons--is only slightly "smaller" than the 700 (Funny how "small" can be such a relative term, isn't it?) However the 4449 is much speedier, having traveled at recorded speeds of 100-110 mph. (Does this even make sense, the idea of something a third of a football field long motoring along at 100 mph?)

Both engines pulled onto the tracks behind OMSI and stopped there. A temporary depot had been set up-- one of those plastic tent-buildings. Bill parked the Jeep and we walked over, and that's how we discovered that for the next week or so, the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation is offering holiday rides on the two trains as a fund raiser for their restoration and upkeep. Will we try to take one of the short rides, to Oaks Park and back? Maybe--but whether we do or not, it can't be much better than what we saw and did today, hanging out with others like us who'd heard about the trains or heard their whistle, all of us oohing and ahhing and taking pictures, and smiling and jostling in that way that people have when they're in common company.

There's a little more -- some family history about the trains. It happened many, many years ago (yes, I'm telling a story, so pull up your chairs and get comfortable), when Ralph and I were still married and when Katie and Scott were little (if Erin was there, she must have been a baby). We were all sitting at the dining room table when all of a sudden, we heard a train whistle. For those of you who haven’t been to my house, I should explain that a major north-south train line runs past our back yard. We’re used to the sight and sound of trains—they go by several times a day. Sometimes, if the train is heavy enough, the glasses in the china cabinet even jiggle.

Anyway, on this day we heard a train whistle. But this one was different, with a thick, rich, melodic sound. It was a steam whistle. At about the same moment that we realized this, we also registered the chug-a-chugging sound that goes along with steam-driven wheels. We rushed out onto our back deck, just in time to see the SP 4449 go by.

As you may recall, in 1976 the 4449 got a new, temporary paint job and became famous for pulling the bicentennial Freedom Train. Thanks to this, we could identify the engine from magazines and television. But to see it this close up--right behind our house—was exciting.

We grabbed coats and shoes, jumped into the car, and within one minute (actually less, I think) we were in pursuit of the 4449. We arrived at the train station just ahead of it and were able to watch its approach. It was an amazing experience.

What is it about humans and trains? It's said that there’s a true romance to the rails, and I must say that I agree. When I was little, Mom and I often took the train between Portland and Spokane, an overnight trip then of about 12 hours. We’d get a sleeper, and I remember drifting off to sleep as the rails clickety-clacked beneath us, the movement of the train car rocking us to sleep.

I wish for anyone reading this that you get to know what it's like to travel on a train. And the way Amtrak is going, I’d suggest you do so quickly. In the meantime, go here for a sound file of the SP&S 700. It's nothing like standing 10 feet away from the engine, but it's still haunting and beautiful.

Like I said, it was a good day.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Only a piece of paper....

From this Capital Hill Blue comes this happy tidbit:

GOP leaders told Bush [last month] that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the [Patriot A]ct could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”

“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”

“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

Enjoy the above this morning, with your raisin bran. It's my gift to you.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Tired.... very tired.

Bill and I just got back from dinner at Stanford’s. Now he’s on the couch, already sleeping, and I‘m trying to keep my eyes open long enough to write a short post. The tension and chaos of finals week—and of not having more that 5-6 hours of sleep for any one night for the past 2-3 weeks—has finally caught up with me and I feel ready to melt into my bed.

It’s really cold here—supposed to be 20-ish tonight. My Alaska daughter is probably scoffing of this characterization of “really cold.” But like everything else, it’s all relative.

I had a nice day. Had breakfast with my very good friend, Amanda, and then got some shopping done. Also went by the main post office to mail Katie a box o’stuff. (Kate: it should arrive at your office on Monday!)

Must sleep….

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I guess I should mention....

I guess it would be fitting to mention that I am a grad student, and this is finals week of fall term. Today I turned in my last bit of fall term course work: a research proposal on Michel Foucault and the 'blog' as an incitement to discourse. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Whatever.

The important this is that fall term is behind me, and I now have 4 weeks and 3 days off. (Darn-- I wish I still could use an exclamation point here. Ah, well....)

Book recommendation: Speak, Memory, the memoir of Vladimir Nabokov's boyhood in pre-revolutionary Russia. Gorgeous writing, and the opening line is something that my youngest daughter would memorize and carry around with her and put under her pillow before going to sleep at night:

"The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."

Night night, fellow moonwatchers....

Welcome to Moonwritings....

Merry meet, all!

Well, there... I just used the one exclamation point that one of my writing teachers (who I'll describe here with the cryptic initials 'DG') says that I'm allowed in my lifetime. Guess that's it.

Anyway, I've finally taken the plunge. I have a blog. Still no cell phone, though.

Enough for now--I'm off to try and figure out the rest of this.