Monday, April 28, 2014

I'm a tomato mommy

A couple weeks ago, Terwilliger Plaza had a signup for tomato plants. The Plaza gardener, who gave me that great interview a while back on English ivy, does all the work -- planting, watering, fertilizing -- and individual Plaza residents get to enjoy the result, picking fresh tomatoes off their "own" plant on the roof for a mere $8 fee.

I missed the signup. To tell the truth, I wasn't all that excited about the possibility. There are people who are revivified by getting their hands in dirt. I am not one. I believe we have discussed in the past my geek nature, which kind of counteracts any tendency toward earth mother-tude. And plants know it. I believe I once managed to kill a cactus through either neglect or over-attentiveness, I don't know which, this is really not my thing.

But a couple days ago someone told me that the gardener had actually planted more tomatoes than he had sponsors for. And I thought about it again. There they were, orphan tomato plants sitting up there in Tomato Alley with no one to care whether they produced anything or not. A clipboard opposite the elevator door on the roof lists the unclaimed tomato pots -- #141 through #145.

Stepping out onto the sunlit roof, I found them. Most pots around them have both numbers and names on their labels. These have only numbers. In each pot is a little hard plastic label telling the name of the planted variety and describing its characteristics -- how fast it grows, how long it keeps producing tomatoes, how big the tomatoes are and what they will taste like. The one I chose, a perky, vivacious little plant, is a momotaro tomato, described as a good slicing tomato; according to a seed catalog, "...its flavor is an intricate and harmonious combination of sweet and tangy". Momotaro, I discovered through Wikipedia, is a figure out of Japanese folklore, a child who floated down the river inside a giant peach, to be discovered by a lonely and childless couple who raised him as their own. He later heroically conquered a tribe of demons, brought back their treasure with his talking animal friends, and he and his family lived happily ever after.

So Pot #141 is now Pot #141 Taussig, my diet will be vastly improved by the addition of fresh produce all summer, and I get the rewards of gardening without actually having to, you know, garden. Here's what I can expect in a few weeks.

Anybody know how many tomatoes one plant can produce? Am I going to end up like all the zucchini growers begging friends, associates, and total strangers to PLEASE take some home?

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Had the medical procedure this morning. No aftereffects, and I'm not dying this week, at least not of what they were looking for.

But the experience of anesthesia was amazing. There I lay amid probably eight or ten medical people talking to one another in medicalese, not very comprehensible, but at least I could recognize some of the words they were using. I had met most of them -- Debra, Susan, Drs. Mehta and Chen (they told me first names, but I've forgotten them), Tyson, the tall thin woman who looked like a rancher's wife -- and I felt included and informed and cared for.

Then someone, probably Susan, the anesthetist-nurse, said, "We're going to start giving you the anesthesia now, it may sting a bit." I waited for the sting. No sting. Then, for about three seconds, I found it very difficult to make sense of the words I was hearing. I closed my eyes.

And the next instant -- I mean, the very next instant! -- I was back in the recovery cubicle deciding whether or not to open my eyes. No fogginess, no confusion, no disorientation. Just wham! It was an hour later, people had been poking around in the innermost of my insides, even chopping off small bits that they didn't like, and I hadn't been there. For an hour, I just wasn't there. Like a light switch. Click, I'm gone, click an hour later, I'm back.

It feels like there's a very interesting conversation to be had now about life after death, in which I could make arguments on either side. But I didn't sleep very well last night and I think I'll take a nap instead of philosophizing about the persistence of the soul. (I think the philosophy classes here at Terwilliger Plaza are luring my mind into unaccustomed weird paths.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

on following medical instructions

On of the less delightful aspects of growing old is the panoply of medical tests the AMA has decided it needs to inflict on me to make sure I'm not sick in various specific ways. Next week, I will undergo one of the least fun pleasant, a colonoscopy.

In preparation for this ordeal, I have been given instructions on how to make my insides as cleanly visible as possible to the probing gastroenterologists. For the seven days before the test, I am directed not to eat anything with seeds: no corn, popcorn, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, berries, poppyseeds, sesame seeds, or nuts. I am appalled to realize how difficult I'm finding that simple direction.

Yesterday, my son Jeff took me out to lunch. I was very good about not ordering anything with tomatoes or corn salsa or nut garnish, but when it came time for dessert, the cabernet blackberry cheesecake slipped right past my (not very alert) guard. It was delicious, but it was garnished by four or five actual blackberries, which I ate happily before realizing I shouldn't have.

Well, OK, there are directions for what to do if one's guard is slipped past, just drink more fluids, apparently to sluice out the offending seeds. I figured, "How much harm can five blackberries do?" and grabbed another can of ginger ale.

But then today, I decided to treat myself to an Easter Dinner at Burgerville: a pepper bacon cheeseburger. And I was good: I had it without tomatoes and felt enormously virtuous. I like tomatoes. It was mostly devoured  before I realized that (a) it came on a sesame seed bun and (b) it came with pickles, direct descendants of seed-bearing cucumbers. And it was the first day for Burgerville's fresh strawberry shakes, which are delicious because they contain fresh strawberries, which are, you'd be elated to learn, the only fruit that carries its seeds on the outside.

So in four days, as people peer deep into my inner self, there is a possibility that they will see little chunks in there looking like pre-cancerous polyps when they're actually just evidence that I can't do as I'm told. I wonder how many cans of ginger ale are required to wash them all through.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

blogging at April TUG

And here we are.

Which is all I wrote during yesterday's Terwilliger Users Group (TUG) meeting. My talk was brief and somewhat babbly, and no one had any questions at the end. We'll see whether it results in anyone taking up blogging.

my readership

One of the features of blogger (the platform on which this blog is published) is that it keeps track of who reads each blog -- not by name, but by what browser they use and where they come from.

To my amazement, I had a reader in Alaska, four in Germany, and four in Russia. Russia! How in heaven's name did someone in Russia find my little Terwilliger Plaza blog? Probably a hacker looking for someone on the web who gives away their bank password or has a nephew who works for the CIA and tells his dear auntie about the top-secret stuff he's doing. But still. Russia!

And for that matter, how did someone in Alaska find me? It's spring there, they don't have the excuse (at the moment) of being stuck with 24-hour nights or daily high temperatures below freezing. Still I suppose there are people all over who spend their days trolling the web looking for someone they can sell something to or steal something from.  Or, to be a bit more optimistic, looking for something interesting.

But still -- Russia!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

condo sold!

The place I moved from has been on the market for about a month. There has been only tepid interest -- one offer at $20K less than my asking price, and the buyer bowed out when I made a counter offer. 

Suddenly this past weekend, THREE separate buyers made offers, one of them slightly over my asking price. Electronic documents have zipped back and forth for electronic signatures (much less intimidating than the inches-thick piles of paper I remember from the last time I did anything in the real estate market), and we have not only a pending sale, but a backup buyer in case anything goes awry with the first folks.

A month or so until closing. So only one more month for me to pay home owners association dues and electricity bill on the old place, only one more month for me to pay interest on my bridge loan, only one more month for me to carry around too many keys to too many doors. 

I'm happy.

a very Terwilliger laundry story

So this package shows up outside my apartment door. It's from the laundry service, it's labeled "Taussig 629" in two places, and it contains a purple flannel sheet set I have never seen before. I sigh, imagining the package sitting on a laundry room shelf for the next two years waiting to be redeemed by its mysterious owner, and take it down to the laundry service.

I was expecting the conversation to go, roughly:
Me: "This isn't mine."
Laundry guy: "But it says your name on it."
Me: "But it's not mine."
Laundry guy: "Well, where did you get it?"
Me: "It was left outside my door."
Laundry guy: "That's probably because it's got your name on it."
Me: "But I've never seen it before."
Laundry guy: "Well, what do you expect me to do with it? It's got your name on it."

Etc., ad infinitum.

But no, this is Terwilliger Plaza. The Hispanic man on the other side of the counter thought for a moment, then said, "Oh, I know whose this is. It's the woman who had your apartment before you, she's in the medical treatment center now, I'll make sure she gets it back. Thanks for bringing it down." 350 people live here, and he knew me, the woman who preceded me, where I live, where she lives now, and what her sheet set looks like.

Things like that (and the fact that the class on Socrates this morning almost didn't have a chair left for me to sit in) make me really glad I live here now.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

the problem with research

Researchers studied a group of 86 women between 70 and 80 to see the effect of twice-weekly exercise on intellectual function. Turns out aerobic exercise resulted in bigger hippocampi (a part of the brain associated with memory) but worse verbal learning.

How the heck do you parse that? Yes, I should definitely get set up to connect with some of the many opportunities offered at Terwilliger Plaza to get regular exercise. Yes, I'm sure it would benefit me in all sorts of ways -- healthier heart and lungs, trimmer body, more energy. And, according to the study, a bigger hippocampus. But worse verbal learning than if I had just sat and stared out the window (which I do a lot here, since I have a mountainside and burgeoning greenery and birds to look at).

But aerobic exercise (the kind that makes me pant and makes my heart beat faster and makes my blood vessels work harder and makes me sweat and makes me ache the next day) might make me stupider.

Or maybe the experimental result was a statistical anomaly. Maybe if they did the study again, the decrement in verbal learning would disappear. Or maybe the hippocampal size increase would disappear. Or maybe they'd all turn bright blue and fly away into the cloudless sky.

Dang. I am a geek. I believe science is the best we can do to move slowly toward actual new knowledge about the world around us. But it seems to work more reliably on things than on people. How often have you read "New Study Reveals Secret to ..." ... to eternal youth, to better orgasms, to losing weight while eating chocolate, to curing acne or cancer or underarm odor? And yet still we suffer.

Probably the problem has to do with reading news reports about specific studies on populations of less than 100,000. That's it. The problem is verbal learning. So if I just get going on the exercise, I'll be physically healthier and less likely to believe in news articles about small studies.

See? It all works out in the end. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

a card catalog!

So I was riding in the elevator with a woman resident, and we got talking about a book her husband had written about the history of Portland. I had tried to find it on without success. "Oh, there's a copy in the library," she said. "At least we donated a copy, so it should be there."

I had not been to the Terwilliger Plaza library. It makes no claims to completeness -- it's mostly mysteries and thrillers, with a sizeable collection of large-print editions. But the Portland history sounded interesting, so I dropped in. It has a card catalog! An actual card catalog, with little stiff-paper cards for the books, organized by title in one drawer and by author in another. You tick through them with your index finger, looking for the card for the book you want, then going from the information on that card to the actual shelves on which the physical cardboard-and-paper books rest.

It has been a Very Long Time since I dealt with card catalogs and searching through shelves and checking books out by writing my name on cards from the pocket on the inside of the cover. (I couldn't find the book I wanted, but I found another one that looked interesting, as one always does.) Oddly, it took me back to college days and the peculiar whispery echoing spaces in the main reading room of Carnegie Library at Oberlin College. This resurrects a general sense of historic guilt because I was never as thorough or as deep in my researches as the topics deserved, in part because there was always this other book that looked interesting.

But a card catalog! Wow!

looking together into the void

I'm now attending a second class besides the one on Greek classics. This one, called "Brainstorming 101",  is following a Teaching Company DVD of lectures on neurology. The class has been going for over a year and is almost done. It's led by a man who seems to have credentials in neurology (come in late and miss the professor's self-introduction, but he keeps referring to his work at OHSU).

This week, the class was on Alzheimer's. Talking about Alzheimer's with people who are my age and older is a very focused matter. The topic is not theoretical. Some of my classmates have been or are currently caretakers of Alzheimer's patients -- one woman this afternoon spoke feelingly of the burden of being married to a man who is no longer anyone whom she knows or who knows her. And all of us in that room worry that we are hearing our own future described.

Some people wanted to insist that there are ways to avoid it -- eating Indian food was mentioned, since apparently the incidence of Alzheimer's is lower in the Indian subcontinent. (The professor tried to quickly explain the difference between correlation and causality, but those who want to believe were not deterred.) Others wanted to discuss extending Oregon's "Death with Dignity" act to allow people suffering early stages of Alzheimer's to specify how far they should be allowed to deteriorate before they are allowed legal suicide: "When I can no longer spell my own name ..." or "when I can no longer remember my own birthday ...".

It was a fairly grim class but one blessedly free of euphemism or the imagined invincibility of the young. The professor was not feeling well, so he asked that we postpone our discussions until the next class in two weeks. My mother died of Alzheimer's. This is live stuff for me. I'll be there.