Archive for the ‘There’s something about Salem’ Category

The Dude abides in Salem

August 8, 2010

The dude sitting next to me gets it.

He has watched The Big Lebowski 15-20 times already (his estimation) and is talking along with the movie, shouting out at the right parts, anticipating our audience cues, loving every minute of the first-ever live, interactive Big Lebowski movie spectacle.

I’m the gutter ball.  Taking a cult classic and experiencing it interactively can be fun, but for me, it’s a little awkward, since I have only seen this movie in snippets while it was playing at parties about ten years ago.

I can’t say I didn’t get the memo. When we arrived at High Street Cinema, we were handed a bag, a ticket with a rug on the back (stolen in the movie), and a handful of goodies and props to use at strategic points of the film.

  • Mustaches – to wear during any Sam Elliott scene
  • Badges – to wear when a police officer is in the shot
  • Sunglasses – to wear whenever the Dude is wearing them
  • A Rug Ticket – to hold up during the rug theft scene.
  • Bowling score cards – to hide behind and peek over during the Over the Line scene
  • Pretzels – to eat during the bar scene (yum! not enough!)
  • Bell – to ring when Walter throws the ringers from the car
  • Beaver picture – to throw into the air when Maude talks about movies
  • Leaf – to flick and dance with during the performance art scene
  • Larry’s homework – to shake during the Larry’s Living Room scene
  • Candy – to eat whenever

In all, a brilliant and inspired adventure. But I am always just a little behind —  a leaf late, a bowling score card short.

This, I think, is the challenge of taking something that is already out there in the culture (rabid fanboy obsession with The Big Lebowski) and taking it to the next step (mashing it up a la Rocky Horror Picture Show). There will always be curious people like me who go to a movie to watch a movie. The real experience starts when you have retained the kind of muscle memory necessary to interact with the film.

Throughout the movie, Culture Shock Community Project, who put on the event, had a crew of live actors performing the movie in the aisles and below the screen. I invite Ryan Rogers to explain in the comments section here how it is possible to find someone in Salem who:

1). looks like the Dude
2). has the Dude’s entire wardrobe

Word on the street is that this is just the first showing — and the first adaptation of an interactive film — to be launched in Salem. Next on the docket? The Princess Bride, which I have seen 20+ times and which I am actually in wuv with.

Wuv, twue wuv, fowever and ever…

Gotta start drop-kicking those R.O.U.S’s.


Lessons learned from blogging class, vol. 2

July 20, 2010

Every teacher will tell you that one of the boons of the profession is the vitality of the classroom.

You can have a real clunker of a class, with disinterested students and hours that feel like days, and then you can have a class that just bubbles with energy and enthusiasm.

The latter kind of class really sustains me. I leave them boiling over with might. (Then I go home and try to get to sleep when I really should have used that mojo to just keep working…)

I’ve had two of those mighty classes now at Clockworks Cafe, and that has everything to do with the excitement that people in this community have about blogging, whatever their current knowledge or abilities with the medium.

Our first free class there became an exercise in the limits pushed by the new journalism as we all struggled with the presence of one silent camera (thanks, David!).

This last one? Well, this one was all about what happens when you put your name behind what you say.

What does it mean to blog as a person and not as an anonymous entity?

One of the students in my class was interested in writing a blog to share her political views, since she had already accumulated quite a few readers of her opinions through the email list that she was serving. This student was intent on staying anonymous to protect herself from the evil whispers of her neighbors and her fellow Salemites.

My response? Don’t do it. If you can’t put your name behind what you say, then don’t say it in a forum that everybody in the world could possibly have access to (disregarding the digital divide).

I’ve paid the price for my comments in a very real way before. Months ago I made some snarky comments about the closing of the scrapbook store on Hawthorne Boulevard. I don’t hate scrapbooking per se, I just hate the idea that you have to buy a bunch of Leeza Gibbons junk to scrapbook. (For the record, I have three from my days living in Germany).

Then one day I was hanging out near the dessert case at Christo’s, holding my baby in a sling, when I was approached by a woman who pretty much told me off for being so mean.

“Those people lost their livelihood!” she said.

“It’s just an opinion,” I told her.

She was actually pretty nice about it. (Strangely, she thought she had read the comments in the local paper. That’s another lesson in blogging. If your site looks good, people might think you’re a legitimate news organization…).

But back to the idea of anonymity. What bothered me most about my student’s desire to go anonymous was her fear that her comments on her blog, if connected to her name, might affect her children and how they are received in Salem.

So my answer to her is this. If you want a blog to serve an audience of people who already know you and your opinion, sure, run an anonymous blog. But if you want a successful blog that engages people who don’t agree with you as well as the ones that do, readers who would likely refuse to have anything to do with text that might as well have been written by a random Internet troll (and this is most readers), then put your name where you mouth is.

And then be prepared to stick your foot in it.

The crazy ants in my Salem kitchen

July 17, 2010

A single ant can seem almost heroic.

There he is on the counter searching for food, lifting one hundred times his own body weight in – what?

Cupcake crumbs? Dried juice? Spilled honey? Maybe I left a few granules of sugar on the counter after serving guests coffee one evening and forgot to wipe down the surface.

But there he is.

Surely, we all can identify with a tiny ant going about his business, one working, walking stiff just trying to find his way.

I don’t always know what it is that I’ve neglected in the kitchen the night before, but I can tell you there is nothing heroic about waking up to an army of ants moving in a silent mirage like a Salvador Dali painting come alive. In fact, the word that springs to mind is always “teeming.”

And that’s when my skin begins to itch and I become an angel of the ant apocalypse, raining vengeance on them with a spray bottle of Clorox Green Clean. I leave them in a mass grave, crumpled, wet and destroyed.

My brother-in-law Jeff says the ants that share our kitchen here in Salem are similar to the “hormigas locas,” or “crazy ants,” that live in Panama. Crazy ants are travelers foraging far from their nests – our guess is that ours actually live under our herb garden about seven feet from the outside wall of our kitchen.  These crazies are highly adaptable and prefer moist environments. The more I learn about them, the more I have started to consider them just part of the fabric of living here in Salem.

But the word on the street (okay, on NPR) is that these swarms are becoming increasingly more common across the United States.

The other, infinitely more troubling characteristic of these buggers is that they move in what entomologists would call a highly erratic fashion. At the moment you discover them, they scramble, exploding like fireworks in every direction.

In Panama, Jeff found, the way to cure the crazy was to accept a life lived in balance with the ants, which is the only real solution when your house is basically an unsealed wooden shack and your Peace Corps stints lasts only two years. But we live in a 1910s cottage in Northeast Salem, near the State Hospital, and we didn’t sign up to live in a group home.

So naturally we’ve done what everyone else has done – buying plastic white ant hotels, dribbling boric acid at the baseline of all the cabinets and at the all of the edges of our house.  These are temporary solutions that fail when these tiny travelers revisit, or as I often imagine, get smart.

Pesticides can only offer a short-term relief –real peace of mind comes from scrubbing down your surfaces and evolving into your own Mini-maid. This is no small task for someone like me, who once thought that doing the dishes after dinner spoiled the meal.

These ants have brought out the best in me.  Ant season may only come for part of the year, but now, I’m like a woman on fire who has her settings set to “hospital-grade clean.” It’s so sparkling in here that no one is eating off of our floor.

I still come across the occasional ant scouting for food. But he’d be crazy to stop here.

Next session of free classes at Clockworks

July 1, 2010

Mark your calendars. Clockworks Cafe has put out its roster of classes (PDF) for its free summer session.

I’ve had a lot of interest in my blogging class — we’ll be doing the same intro to blogging at the cafe on July 12 at 6:00 p.m.

See you there!

Just to be clear, I won’t be there to walk you through the nitty gritty of working with WordPress or blogger. This class is all about engaging an audience and conceiving a successful blog project. If there is enough interest, I’ll likely be offering a four-week class on the same subject next fall (for a fee, of course).

Now that I’m done with self-promotion, time to rant. I’ve been hearing through some sources that some of these free classes have been woefully under-attended.

How under-attended?

Some classes have had zero people show up.


Now, you can look at this a few ways. You could blame the gorgeous sunny weather for enticing people to barbecues and late days at the pool with the kids. You could say you didn’t know — but then, if you’re reading this, you probably did. You could also guess that in the marketplace of ideas, not all of the classes are as in-demand as others.

Or, you could be as cynical and say, as we heard last night, “That place might actually be too cool to fly in Salem.”

So I’d like to suggest something. If there is something you want to learn — say, SEO, from Rob McGuire! — get in touch with the people at Clockworks and let them know where your interest lies. That way, the class offerings can be more market-driven and we can have a packed cultural center.

In other words, Blogging: Yes! Kazoos… maybe not?

Lots of expertise in Salem, but there’s no need to be an autodidact.

Strawberry Season in Salem

June 29, 2010

These June weeks have been drab and grey, overcast and a tad glum until the sun hit hard and strong at the end of last week, leaving our love for summer in Oregon more than a little rekindled. All that unusual coolness has translated to a late season at area strawberry farms.

Am I wrong to believe that Oregon’s weather has conspired to save for me the most wonderful treats of the season — strawberries so beautiful, so ephemeral, so special that if you don’t do something with them right away, they’ll just waste away in front of you? Yes, they have come late this year, but for me, they are just in time.

We headed to Olson’s earlier last week knowing we wouldn’t have time to process more than a few pounds and spent the morning atop a hill overlooking the Willamette Valley, the din of I-5 masked by the crunch of straw and a crisp breeze. Yes, I know you can get U-pick strawberries for a little less per pound at farms in West Salem, but I’ll pay a few bucks more for the premium view.

Strawberries! Shout it out!

This is our first season of berry-picking with our own strawbaby — probably the first event of many in which we force him to do something together with us that he just doesn’t care for…– but he handled being strapped to my husband’s back pretty well.

But just like babyhood, everything beautiful doesn’t last, and neither do strawberries, especially local ones. The pickings were sparse that day, but I am hearing that those berries up there on the hill are warming under green cover into a delightful hue of red. Get them before they’re gone!

But what to do with all of these strawberries when they are the May flies of fruit, living for a day and then dying a glorious death? (I know this because no fewer than 10 of my perfect strawberries were already moldering by the end of the day I picked them).

Last year I made strawberry jam in an effort to share the taste of Oregon with my family members back East and in the Midwest. This year I’m being a little lazier and a lot more selfish and am working through my favorite new book, Rustic Fruit Desserts by Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber. It focuses on fruits that grow rampant in the Pacific Northwest  including, yes, strawberries.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

On the docket we have Rhubarb Cream Cheese Pie with Fresh Strawberries and Fresh Strawberry and Ricotta Tart. You may have to process these strawberries quickly, but my experience is that the pies are gone even faster.

Trader Joe’s debacle — Salem’s the punchline

June 20, 2010

I remember the first time I walked into my first Trader Joe’s in Tyson’s Corner, VA. It was 2003, the signs were hand-written, the shirts were Hawaiian, the wine was cheap, and the brands were unrecognizable. Seven years later and Trader Joe’s is almost as ubiquitous as Bed Bath & Beyond and Joe might as well be my uncle.

Well, almost.

Kelly Williams Brown has a funny fake musical script over at the Statesman Journal this morning lampooning the silly sign snafu that happened last week, when a signmaker “accidentally” put up a sign for some businesses that aren’t to be found in the Keizer Station concrete shopping district, including Trader Joe’s.  The error was a slap in the face to many Salemites who have been dreaming of access to cheap specialty foods and trips to TJ’s that don’t take minutes to get there.

I’ve been one of those people campaigning for a Trader Joe’s here in Salem. I too go over the moon for mini toasts, gaga for whoe grain , somewhat batty for baby beets. But as I was driving past the one off of I-5 last night on my way home from Seattle, I couldn’t help but be struck by how easy it is to get some of the many Trader Joe-like products here in Salem already.

And so, some consolation:

  • Life Source and Fred Meyer both carry the brand of stone ground oats I buy — stuff so good you can eat it for dinner.
  • If you want boiled beets you can do them yourself. And I do.
  • Olive oil is available in every sexy virgin non-virgin category under the sun these days.
  • E.Z. Orchards carry’s a 20-year balsamic that is younger and wiser than I.
  • If you really like wine, you probably can’t stand Two Buck Chuck.
  • Israeli coucous is seasonal at TJ. You can get it every day in the bulk bins at Fred Meyer.
  • Speaking of bulk. Why buy dried blueberries in a package when you can customize the amount at the bulk bins?
  • TJ hummus, as most packaged hummuses, tastes as if it were churned by feet.
  • Jarred marinara is jarred marinara is jarred marinara.

I would like to end by saying that I love paying for brie that costs $2.65 for a wedge, but I know that it comes at another price. But cheese is the one area where I will maintain that Trader Joe’s has everyone beat in terms of price and variety.

I cringe to pay $4.99 for a chevre log at Safeway when I can pay the same and get a log three times as long at TJ’s. But I really shouldn’t be driving 35 miles each way for cheese. And I really shouldn’t be eating a whole log of chevre now, should I?

I can only speak for my own consuming habits. What’s the real draw for people other than cheap specialty foods?

Photo finish

May 25, 2010

If you find a bill for $3.00 on your credit card statement and it says it’s from “Fantasy Photos” and offers you an 888 number to call, don’t punch your partner in the gut.

It’s from the time you stopped by that photo booth at the Salem Center mall downtown.

I’ve always been a sucker for photo booths, but I never imagined how difficult it would be to harange a husband and baby into the booth and try to get all of our faces in the shot. Who can think of smiling when you’re so worried about composition?

Ours turned out like our lives: messy, frantic-looking, glazy-eyed, and yes, deliriously happy.

This isn’t your most user-friendly of photo booths. You have to wade through about 356 backdrop images of “Hot Stuff” or “Gangsta” themes in order to get a classy black strip.

Also, this isn’t one of those booths that spill out gorgeous, perfectly colored and developed prints. They are glossy and blurry. But at least they give you two strips of them. Perfect for two 12-year-olds I guess.

We don’t go to the mall much. Seriously, we go so seldom it’s worth documenting.

Welcome to the Secret Society

May 21, 2010

I had to giggle a bit a while back when I got lumped into Salem’s new creative class, but that got me thinking. An influx of new creative folks into Salem’s affordable, sometimes charming, often grubby Northeast city section? Is there any legitimacy to that?

There is!

I’ve always held that stuff happens in Salem — it’s just laughlingly under-the-radar. Well… something is definitely afoot in the Northeast Salem neighborhoods.

All it took was one party at my friend the poet’s house (also in NE Salem) to determine that there are a lot of us small-housers out here milking the city for its historic properties and living large on a tiny footprint. In addition to me, my sculptor of a husband and my baby Dash, a.k.a. The Next Alexander Calder, we have:

Michael Chasar, a Poet with an Penchant for Pop

Stephanie Lenox, editor of Blood Orange Review, a well-received online literary mag

William Bragg, photographer – or you might know him as a champion for the underpriveleged

Jonathan Bucci, multimedia artist, and his writer wife, Rachel Bucci

Any more you can think of? Whom have I forgotten? Whom haven’t I met yet?

As far as I know, all of the people listed here have been in Salem for five years or less. Yay for new blood — and for E.B. White quotes that can lend themselves to cities other than New York.

A Clockwork Awesome

May 16, 2010

You were probably among the hundreds who gathered at a retooled space on Commercial Street last Friday to celebrate the opening of Clockwork’s Cafe and Cultural Center, a project dreamed up by Ryan Rogers and his merry men (and women) of Culture Shock.

I wasn’t.

I was throwing together dinner while preparing Dash for his oh so early 7 p.m. bedtime. But I heard it was a great party and I knew I had to get down there soon to see what’s brewing.

For one, Stumptown! Perhaps the best development for us coffee-addicted snooty sippers, the cafe is serving the country’s best coffee. Stumptown doesn’t let just any old coffee place serve its roasts. From what I hear from Ryan, they  interview you. Clockworks must have been deemed worthy because I’m sipping some Indonesian varietal at this very moment.

As you can tell from the pictures, Clockworks isn’t your garden variety cafe that’s been thrown together with no concept. Opening as it does, just as the Steampunk aesthetic is reaching the mainstream, it’s got a clock fixture and found art sensibility that hasn’t been done well (if at all) in Salem before.

Clockworks is a nonprofit, and as such, it will be offering a wide program of events. I’d be tempted to say something for everyone, but I kind of throw up a little in my mouth everytime I read that, so I’ll just say that I might even want to offer my own writing class in its rocking spaces.

Some things one might do at Clockworks:

  • Take a class (perhaps even by yours truly, more on that to come) at C4 Academy
  • Give a class (Salem creatives, contact Christy Seehey, 503-399-7076)
  • Learn how to dance
  • Rock out, slam towards, puppet over, laugh in on the Clockworks stage (seen above)
  • Make out in the huge barrel at the back of the main room
  • Let your kids play in the kids space in the mezzanine
  • Cut some digital audio once the sound room is finished
  • Find some space to clear your head in the little writing nook
  • Hang with friends in the (actually very cool) lounging area
  • Read a book in a pillow-laden bathtub (to come!)

Something for everyone? (Blech! Sorry…) Perhaps not. There’s definitely nothing for the Keep Salem Lame-r’s here, but they’ll just stay at home anyway.

Statesman Journal’s Best Of’s – Where the Masses Get it Wrong

May 3, 2010

It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time to furrow your brow and shake your fist and cluck incredulously at how the public in Salem so often gets many of its own Best-of’s wrong. Say what you will, James Surowiecki, about the Wisdom of Crowds, but there are areas in our lives where it really helps to have a real taste maker tell you where to go and what to eat, what to see and what to do. Otherwise you might just end up eating your Cheap Eats in the charming digs of Costco instead of at La Perla downtown.

Some categories of the Statesman Journal’s annual best-of’s are obviously spot-on. Word of Mouth wins Best Breakfast? Yeah, I’ll agree with that one.

But man, are there some hilarious entries and hilarious winners in this year’s poll.

Best Place to Give Birth:

1. Silverton Hospital
2. Salem Hospital
3. At-home with midwife

What’s number 4? In the the back of your Subaru on the way to the hospital? Under the rotunda at the State Capitol building? Spontaneously in line at Fred Meyer?

Best Hot Dog

1. Casey’s
2. Costco
3. Mt. Angel Sausage Co.

I love a hot dog, but does the hot dog really warrant its own category? A better bet would be best grilled cheese. Casey’s would win that, too.

Best Coffee Shop

1. Dutch Bros.
2. The Grind
3. Starbucks

Love me some Dutch Bros. on the way down to Eugene to work sometimes, but people people PLEASE!, Dutch Bros. is not a coffee shop, unless you consider sitting outside on a lawn chair next to the water feature a coffee shop experience. Best coffee shop is the Beanery downtown. Best coffee SHACK is Salem’s Latte.

Best Food Cart

1. Casey’s Cafe
2. Capitol Dog
3. Adam’s Rib Smokhouse

Do these restaurants really have food carts or are they just selling food cart food? Someone please enlighten me. Where are the Salem food carts? I know there are a few on Silverton, and there’s a Latino fruit cart that parks sometimes on Savage Road. Can we count Canby Asparagus Farms at the Chemeketa St. Farmer’s Market as being a food cart? If so, they win.

Best Bookstore

1. Borders
2. Book Bin
3. Tea Party Bookstore

I’m done talking about how much Borders sucks. But here’s a note in case you’ve forgotten. My friend and I meet often at Borders for our Bored Meetings. Can’t find a book there because they never have what I want or need. I heard they carry Twilight, though.

Best Adult-related Business

1. Santiam Wine Co.
2. Enigma Adult Toy Boutique
3. Eve’s Boutique

That’s not a best-of list, that’s a recipe for a kinky Saturday night!

Ah, best-of’s. You say so much about Salem. I’m nominating this mobile from our nursery for Best Sculpture AND Best Zoo.