Portland’s Japanese Garden

I don’t think yesterday could have been more beautiful…but that’s how autumn days are in Portland. Beautiful.  The temperature was a comfortable 72 degrees and the sun was shining like a beacon of love from the sky, its warmth caressing me as I strolled through the Japanese gardens.

We drove out to Washington park and took the shuttle up the mini-mountain to the Japanese garden. The roads were under construction, so we had to take a long hike up a straight hill.  There was bamboo art scattered along the path that was created by Jiro Tonezawa, Shigeo Kawashima, Charissa Brock and Anne Crumbacker.  All magnificent.

When we entered the front gate, John noticed a sign that advertised free tours.  I preferred to see the garden without a tour guide, so we agreed on a meeting place and time, and went our separate ways. My friend called while we were there, and I  described everything to him as I strolled through the gorgeous grounds.

The koi in this video are worth upward from $1000 each!  A few winters ago, when we had a deep freeze, most of the garden’s koi were killed from lack of oxygen when the top of their habitat froze.  Garden administrators investigated the problem and learned that by digging their habitat 3′ deeper, enough oxygen would exist to sustain future schools of fish, so now, I think they’re safe. Each one looked like its own little work of art.

I have a beautiful picture of my husband in Japan , meditating in front of one of the famous raked stone gardens there.  This one, he said, looked very much like that one.

This is a stone bench in a simple Japanese tea house.  John had my wide angle lens, so I couldn’t get a shot of the entire house.

The prevailing sound at the garden was the sound of falling water.

The roof ornament at the peak of the teahouse roof.

The garden is set deep inside a beautiful forest.  It is quiet there…serene.  Peaceful.

A Japanese Jizo – protector of travelers, animals and children. I once did an entire installation of jizo art.

Portland artist, Anne Crumpacker, whose work is shown in the next photo, interweaves scale and proportion to create living topographies. She has created a magical bamboo and wooden boat that references the 11th century classic, Ukefune, The Floating Boat.

If I’m not mistaken, this one is by Chrissa Brock, but it, too, might be one of Crumpacker’s pieces.  I will find out and make the correction at a later date.  The piece below was along the path through the forest and up the steep incline on the way to the garden.

The following (amazing) woven ball is by Shigeo KawaShima.

The following view was the only hint of civilization beyond the forest-sheltered garden.  Mt. Hood rose up to the sky behind our city center, and I felt grateful, when I saw it, to be alive.

I love living in Portland.

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Arrive as Friends – Leave as Famly – Casa Mia

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Casa Mia

The Detour coffee shop was a popular landmark at 3035 Division Street, but its owners decided to move on, and now we are graced with a fabulous new replacement, Casa Mia. This is the Italian restaurant the Richmond neighborhood has needed for a long time. It is quaint, cozy, and lacks the corporate vibe that so many of the new neighborhood restaurants have. What it lacks in the hip and cool area, it makes up for in its genuine charm,  pleasant atmosphere and friendly service.

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The interior has been completely revamped since the cramped days of the Detour in a pristine solid wood and black metal decor.  Fresh roses grace each table, sleek silver mirrors reflect the soothing pale gray interior, framed, Italian-themed posters add to the decor, all tempered by the rustic cement floor.   The place looks nice!

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Chef Benito Omana, originally from the Mexico City area, loves Italian food. His humble restauranteur beginnings were that of a dishwasher who keenly observed the chefs in the restaurants where he worked, learning bit-by-bit as he observed, and who gradually worked his way up through the ranks by demonstrating his own talent as a chef. In 1992, he began cooking at popular Portland restaurants, such as Pazzo, Piazza Italia, Southpark, Wildwood, El Gaucho and ElGuero.  In 2014, Benito opened Bellino Pasta & Cafe in Hillsboro, but he lives here in my neighborhood, and when the opportunity arose to open Casa Mia, he jumped on it.

I stopped by for lunch and immediately felt a little wary, because no one else was there. I was further dismayed to note that there were few, if any, vegetarian entrees on the menu.  However, when I expressed this to Benito, he told me he could whip something up off menu, the sign of a truly good restaurant, if you ask me……and he did!  He said that he plans to add more vegetarian options at some point.

I was first greeted by a plate of delicious house made foccacia bread with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I was starving, so this tasted really good.  I was half way through my first piece when my husband, John, decided to stroll over and meet me. He polished off the rest with great enthusiasm.

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Benito served us a moderately priced Italian wine made from  Nebbiolo, Nascetta, Eau-de-Vie, Pelaverga, and Dolcetto grapes, which went perfectly with our entrees.

Benio whipped up a delicious penne dish for me that had outstanding fresh tomatoes, lots of garlic, basil and some of the best parm I have ever eaten.  It was simple, and quite delicious.  I loved the fact that it was served at a very hot temperature, too.  Great mouthfeel.  Teriffic flavor that made me smile.

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John had the fresh minnestroni, right off the stove.  Every ingredient was fresh and delicious, and it went beautifully with the wine and bread.

We had cappuccinos and some of the best tiramisu we had ever eaten for dessert.  We’re talking some serious dessert here, folks. It was out of this world delicious!

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The entire meal cost less than $30, and we made a new friend in Benito, so I’d say we made out pretty well.  Wouldn’t you?

Because of its location along Division street, and the manner in which it is set back from the street, Casa Mia is easy to miss….which is why  I am writing this blog article to urge people in the Clinton-Division-Richmond neighborhood to stop by and check it out.  Benito has big plans for weekend brunch, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all week long.  This is a call to action to stop in and introduce yourself to the chef and delight in the wonderful food that John and I experienced at Casa Mia!

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Casa Mia – Affordable fine dining in a quaint, friendly atmosphere.

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Boutonniere Inspirations for a Wedding

Long ago and far away, I worked as a freelance wedding planner.  My specialty was economical weddings in dramatic settings, such as beach weddings, foreign destination weddings and weddings in authentic Texas locations.  I once planned an elegant wedding in an old Austin Texas  barn, attended by some famous C&W musicians.   As they invited me to participate in the wedding celebration, we all had the times of our lives. The juxtaposition of elegant finery contrasted with the rustic elements provided by the barn was just perfect, and I was rewarded handsomely for my efforts.

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As part of my promo literature at the time, I gave tips about wedding attire, honeymoon accommodations and other useful things.  What follows is some advice I had for boutonniere inspirations.:

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Nothing can quite add the panache to a groom’s wedding attire  like the classic style embodied his boutonniere. This traditional symbol worn on the lapel of the groom’s jacket is a gesture brimming with meaning that reaches  far beyond the flower itself. Boutonnieres symbolize beauty. They symbolize the fragility of life, and love undefined all captured in a single blossom.

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Classic Wedding

A classic wedding calls for a classic symbol. A single red rose boutonniere with, perhaps, a tiny spray of baby’s breath embodies all of the characteristics any bride could wish for in a groom. The red rose symbolizes courage, sincere love, respect and a hearty congratulations to the happy couple. The baby’s breath symbolizes everlasting and undying love.

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Beach Wedding

Keeping things natural at a beach wedding is the way to go. Tiny white lily boutonnieres trimmed with raffia and miniature seashells can add a nice touch, or for something more ornate,  earthy boutonnieres with lavender, green blueberries, wax flowers and rosemary can add a subtle, yet beautiful touch the blends right in with a stunning ocean environment.

Western Style Wedding

A sunset wedding on the ranch, or at the beach, calls for shades of yellow with a boutonniere made from dusty miller, billy balls and handmade wooden button flowers tied with twine. This is a winning combination that can dress up any groom’s lapel without going over the top.

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Castle or Mansion Wedding

Any  groom can  look like a prince in a beautiful purple boutonniere made of royal ranunculus buds and rose hips that are wrapped with white or purple velvet ribbon.

High Desert Wedding

Ranunculus and rice flowers in soft desert pinks, corals and yellows are a perfect combination for a high desert wedding boutonniere. An alternative choice is silvery brunia and tiny, mint green succulents wrapped in a pale pastel ribbon.

Elegant Cocktail Lounge Wedding

Imagine the beauty of an elegant cocktail lounge wedding atop a skyscraper overlooking the glittering lights of the city. What better boutonniere could adorn the groom’s lapel than one inspired by the fresh ingredients and herbs found in the fine spirits that are served there. An aromatic boutonniere made from cinnamon sticks, Douglas fir, hops, bay laurel, grains, juniper and rosemary will be the highlight of the groom’s suit.

Hawaiian Wedding

Hawaii is one of the most popular destination wedding locations in the world. The groom will fit right in with a simple orchid boutonniere, or, for a little more flare, a boutonniere made of astrantias and jasmine blooms against a background of local foliage.

Remember, a successful wedding celebration is all about the details.  The marriage?  That’s all about the couple.

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Happy Leap Day…well, I think…

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On this, the last day of February, I recall how I used to pity those poor kids who could only celebrate their birthdays on the actual date, every couple of years.  I felt uncomfortable about the ambiguous nature of the leap year birthday. I mean, those poor kids had to hesitate and figure out an understandable response to the question, “How old are you?”.

I have always had a distaste for ambiguity.  Therefore, I ask a lot of questions.  (Liars HATE it that I ask a lot of questions.  I catch them off guard, it seems…)  I ask people a lot of questions, not because I’m nosy but because when I have all the facts about a given situation, I can make better decisions for myself.  It isn’t a judgement issue.  It’s more like:  “If you’re going to do this….then I’m going to do that.”   “If you are going to call back later, I’ll leave my phone on.  If not, I’ll turn it off so I won’t be disturbed while I work.”  It isn’t that I’m asking someone TO call back.  Whatever their decision about this is, will be fine with me.  I just want to know one way or the other so I can take action accordingly.

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Turns out that science has now substantiated why ambiguity bugs me ( or all of us) as much as it does.   The phenomenon  actually screws with our heads.   According to a study published in the Journal of Science, the reason lies in how the brain responds emotionally, and sometimes, even illogically, when forced to make decisions based on conflicting or little evidence.   These so-called ambiguous decisions are different from decisions that we think of as risky decisions.  No wonder the person who is being lied to, for example, appears so nutty to the rest of the world. That person is being fed conflicting information.   The heart hears what it wants to hear, but the head says, “Um….hold on there just a minute….That doesn’t make sense!”

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Wait….If it looks like a duck…then, it IS a duck….but it also looks like a rabbit.  Which do I choose?

When faced with a risky decision, one  is not sure about the outcome of a particular choice but can have a notion about the probability of success. In an ambiguous decision, a person is ignorant of both factors.  Thus, the uncomfortable feeling….the uncertainty, and sometimes illogical and absurd behaviors.

Brain specialists  would say ambiguity is the discomfort from knowing there is something you don’t know that you wish you did.  This probably stems back to the fight or flight area of the brain, the hippocampus, and is a matter of survival.   In the previously mentioned experiment,  subjects were given the opportunity to place  ambiguous bets while their brains were scanned using a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI).  In this part of the experiment, participants  were given the choice between placing a monetary bet  on the chances of drawing a red card from a “risky” deck that had 20 red cards and 20 black cards…that is, where the probability of choosing either color was 50-50, and making the same bet with an “ambiguous” deck where the color composition of the cards was unknown.

In the majority of  cases, the participants  decided  to place the risky bet. Logically, however, both bets would have been equally good because in both cases, the chance of pulling a red card on the first draw was 50-50.

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The brain scans taken during the experiment revealed that ambiguous betters were often accompanied by activation of the parts of the brain known as the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).  These are  two areas of the brain that are involved in the whole emotions processing thing.   The  amygdala has been found to be closely associated with fear, which, again, harkens back to being in survival mode.   If you think about it, a correlation between aversion to ambiguous decisions and activation of emotional parts of the brain makes  perfect sense from an evolutionary point of view.  Do I go into that dark cave or don’t I?  Well, first, I need to know if a saber toothed tiger is in there, right?  And I’m going to be a little nervous about it until I find out.  Should I leave my boyfriend or not….Well, first, I need to find out if he really IS cheating on me.  In the modern human brain, this translates into a reluctance to bet on or against an event if it seems at all ambiguous.

The results of this study could help those of us in the field of Psychology,  understand how humans make decisions in the real world, because the choices people make are often based on very limited information.  (i.e…..All signs point to cheating, but he denies it….or I’m not going to walk into that dark cave if there’s a tiger in there, because it will eat me alive. )

Makes sense to me.

Anyway….Happy Birthday, Leapers…er…Leap Yearlings…um…people whose birthdays are on leap year.  Here’s a nice mug.  Have some coffee.

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