A horrible thing happened to me recently. I discovered the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in in my entire life.

The reason this is horrible is that it’s located in Bend, Oregon. Bend is a delightful, quirky little city in the high desert region of Oregon. Sadly, I can think of no really plausible scenario that will find me back in that neck of the woods. Which means I’m destined to go through Spork withdrawal.

Spork is a fascinating restaurant that serves a fusion of cuisine from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Just as a spork is a combination of a spoon and a fork (and no, there are none of these handy utensils to be had in this place), Spork combines food in ways most people would never think to combine them, and the results are absolutely delicious.

Even better, these meals are extremely affordable, incredibly plentiful, and come from locally sourced, seasonal, humanely raised ingredients.

I had the Lomo Saltado, which the menu describes as “Peruvian stir-fry with wok-seared bavette steak, red potatoes, sweet peppers, onion, grilled tomato, soy, crema, radish, fried egg, green onion and jasmine rice.” My mouth waters just describing it to you.

Dear husband had the Thai Steak Salad. “Grilled bavette steak, greens, cabbage, beansprouts, herbs, fried shallot, toasted coconut, and nam jim sweet-spicy tart tamarind dressing.”

The casual atmosphere was amazing, too. It features international décor that, just like the food, manages to blend together perfectly in unexpected ways. We sat in an elongated wine barrel, near African wood carvings interspersed with Mexican tapestries. And the international music fit the restaurant as if it were composed for it.

Woe is me. I found an amazing place and will most likely never get to return to it. But I’m telling you, folks, if you are ever within 300 miles of Bend, Oregon, make it a point to go to Spork, even if the line is stretching out the door, as it often is.

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Book Review: Lab Girl

I consider myself a strong, intelligent woman who is equally left- and right-brained. By this I mean that I’m analytical and fascinated by all things scientific, but I’m also creative and love to write. So it was gratifying to come across the book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, because she can be described in the exact same way.

Hope is a professor of geobiology at the University of Oslo. Science is her passion as well as her bread and butter. Because of that, you’d think that any book she wrote about her life and career would be dry and pedantic. But no.

This book is a work of art. Read it. Seriously. You’ll be glad you did.

This is not just a book about plants, although if you read it you’ll learn all sorts of amazing things about them, and you’ll never look at a tree in the same way again. For me, though, what it is about, more than anything, is friendship.

Woven throughout this book is her relationship with her senior research laboratory manager, Bill. They have worked together in various labs around the world for 25 years. Theirs is not a romance. It’s something better. It’s unconditional, platonic love and respect. It’s dedication. It’s mutual support. It’s the kind of relationship that all of us aspire to, and most of us only dream about.

The book also talks about being a woman who chooses a career in a male-dominated field, which is something to which I can definitely relate. It’s also about mental health, and finding your place in this world, and never quite feeling like you fit in. It’s about being misunderstood by many, except for the most important people in your life. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

And it is amazingly well written. I keep a quote book where I save passages from books that really resonate with me. Here are some of the ones I plan to save from Lab Girl.

“He (her father) taught me that there is no shame in breaking something, only in not being able to fix it.”

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting.”

“In Georgia, when someone walks up to you wearing overalls with no shirt underneath them, it is unlikely that something good is about to happen.”

“A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.”

“Being paid to wonder seems like a heavy responsibility at times.”

Because of this author, I went out and planted ten trees. How many people have gotten you to do that? And hey, she has inspired me to write a future posts about Stuckie the Mummified Dog and about Anomalocaris, “a segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever” that, thanks be to God, no longer exists. Now if that doesn’t intrigue you, nothing will.

Lab Girl

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The Best Book You’ve Never Read

No, this is NOT a cheap attempt to get you to buy my book, although I’d love it if you would. Actually, I do manage to raise my gaze from my navel every now and again to read the writing of others. That’s how I came across this rare treat.

The Scottish Buddhist Cookbook is by Jay Craig, a new coworker of mine. It’s quirky and irreverent and hilarious on the order of David Sedaris. You get an insight into Jay’s world. He’s bipolar, and clearly many of his life choices have been made during the manic times, but he’s all the more charming for it. His coping skills, when he chooses to employ them, are really amazing. He has a very eclectic group of friends, and he is accepting of all their eccentricities because he knows he has his fair share.

What I love most about this book, aside from the frequent laughs, is that I learned so much from it. After reading it, I could build my own bagpipe from plumbing supplies if the spirit moved me. I also learned about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, the ultimate way to give an ex-wife closure, kilts, Huggy Jesus dolls, how NOT to break out of a mental health facility, hoarders, and, obviously, Scottish Buddhism.

Best of all, interspersed with the fascinating anecdotes is the quintessential single male’s recipe book. Easy things, mostly for crock pots, that are guaranteed to harden your arteries in no time flat. I can’t wait to try the meatloaf, the pot roast, the lasagna, and the carnitas. However, the double deep fried Scottish eggs might be slightly beyond my skill set.

Fair warning: the language can be a bit foul at times, and if you are the least bit religiously sensitive, you might want to give this book a pass. It’s not for the easily offended. Personally, I found it equal parts funny and thought provoking. I’m not sure I’d want to live full time in Jay’s world, but it’s an awfully fun place to visit!


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Don’t Mess with the National Monuments!

Okay, this is the last straw. Trump has gone waaaaay to far. With his executive order to review national monuments that are at least 100,000 acres that were created by Obama, Bush, and Clinton, he’s poking a bear, literally and figuratively.

If you didn’t already know it, it is now blatantly obvious that Trump is out to destroy this country. He wants to squeeze every drop of oil, every mineral, every penny of profit out of it, and to hell with the future. He doesn’t care if there will be anything left of beauty in this country for your progeny. He would leave it a torn up, destitute dust bowl, as long as he and his rich cronies make money in the here and now.

You know what? No. Absolutely not. How dare he? Hop on over to this article from the Los Angeles Times to see what national treasures he wants to destroy. It’s heartbreaking. And as I wrote in a previous post, this is OUR land he’s messing with. Every American Citizen owns 84 million acres of land in the form of parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and even the WHITE HOUSE!!!  If he gets his way, do you really think he’s going to limit himself to the monuments? This man is a big old orange wrecking ball, and we have to stop him.

Here’s an idea. If we’re going to review a national monument, let’s review the White House first, and its putrid occupant while we’re at it. Hands off the national monuments, you evil little money-grubbing troll!

Please call your congressmen, folks. #resist

The Vermillion Cliffs. One of the monuments “under review”. Do you really want to lose this?

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Let’s Review

Every single day, my e-mail inbox is filled with requests that I review some product that I’ve purchased. Or someone wants my feedback on the service they recently provided me. (The only company I know that doesn’t do this is AT&T, because they already know that they give piss-poor customer service, and they couldn’t care less.)

I get it. It’s annoying. And I have to admit that like you, I often ignore these requests.

But by doing so, we are all shooting ourselves in the foot. Think about it. We all know that the larger the organization, the less they really care what you think of the goods or services they provide. They can afford a certain level of customer angst, because there are always more customers for them. Especially if they have the market pretty much cornered.

We as consumers benefit more when there are a large number of small businesses competing, rather than one big indifferent one. Competition brings prices down. Competition means much better customer service, because your business actually means something to these mom and pop companies. They desperately need your feedback. The only way most small companies can build up their reputations is through customer reviews. And who provides them? Us.

So help out that little company that’s selling stuff on Amazon. Give honest feedback on eBay. Give credit where credit is due. It may seem insignificant, but it helps us all.

Having said that, I’m one of those people who desperately needs your review. If you’ve read my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, please leave a review on Amazon.com. This helps me in many ways. Enough reviews will get Amazon’s attention, and they’ll promote the book more. And you might encourage someone else to buy the book. That’ll help keep my dogs in kibble.

C’mon. Do it for my dogs. Thanks.

A Bridgetender's View _ front cover only.jpg

The Danish Girl

I had a very unique, delightful and emotionally fraught experience on my birthday recently. I invited a friend of mine who just happens to be transgender to go with me to see The Danish Girl, a movie about one of the very first people to go through gender reassignment surgery.

First of all, if you deprive yourself of this movie, it will be a tragedy. Not since Doctor Zhivago have I seen such epic cinematography that sweeps you up and places you right in the time and place, in this case Copenhagen, Paris, and Dresden in the late 1920’s. Every single frame of this film is a work of art.

And the costumes are luscious, the color vivid, the music spectacular. And the acting? If this movie doesn’t bring home a boatload of Oscars, especially for Eddie Redmayne, then there is something wrong in the universe.

So now let’s address the elephant in the room: the controversial subject matter. I can’t pretend to understand what it must be like to be transgender. I can’t imagine the struggle for acceptance, the feeling that you’re being forced by society to be someone that you really aren’t and never were, the utter confusion as you try to make it to selfhood despite the resistance of pretty much everyone around you. But this movie helped me imagine it more clearly than ever before.

And then try making this type of transition in the 1920’s, when many women weren’t even allowed to vote. Talk about piling on. It must have felt like trying to embrace being a sub-species. No doubt about it—Lili Elbe was very brave. And I just discovered, thanks to Wikipedia, that she shared my birthday! That makes me proud. While I watched that movie, celebrating my birthday, I was unknowingly celebrating hers, too.

The experience was all the more intense because of the friend sitting next to me. Every tear shed on screen, every physical blow endured, every yearning moment, seemed to be radiating outward from the seat beside me. It made me want to cry. And all I could do was hold her hand. In the face of such brave struggle, that gesture seemed pretty darned pathetic.


Fifty Shades of Meh

The book Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James seems to have become a cultural phenomenon. So much so that they made a movie out of it. So I decided to read it to see what all the fuss was about.

What a disappointment.

First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, I do love erotica when it’s well written. I actually read a ton of it, mostly in short story form. But this book is not well written. Not at all.

I think this book’s popularity stems solely from the titillation factor. You’re reading something that many view as forbidden. You’re being scandalous. But ladies, I’m here to tell you there is much, MUCH, better stuff out there, and it’s free on dozens of websites. Yes, you’ll have to wade through about 10 miles of yuck to find it, during which time you’ll get a really strong sense of exactly what will turn you off, but once you find the type of thing that works for you, this book will make you laugh, it’s so amateur.

The most frustrating thing I encounter in bad writing is that the authors tend to make the same point over and over again. Have faith in your readers. They’ll get it without you having to beat them about the head and shoulders. This concept seems to be utterly lost on Ms. James. For example, she wants you to know that Anastasia feels uncomfortable and disconcerted around Christian, and she must point that out approximately 50 times in the first chapter alone. I wanted to scream.

She also uses an annoying literary device. It seems Anastasia has an “inner goddess” who pole vaults, does the merengue, peeks from behind couches, and covers her eyes in reaction to Anastasia’s latest actions or comments. She also has a subconscious, and it’s cruel, hostile and a downright bully. If my subconscious thought so little of me, I’d be in a straitjacket somewhere.

The reason erotica is better in short story form is that it requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief. You can only maintain that for so long. Christian may be fantastic in bed, but he’s also incapable if genuine intimacy, a stalker, a control freak, extremely moody, jealous, and easy to anger, likes to inflict pain, has major issues with commitment, and demands that everything be in writing. And we’re expected to believe, for the length of a novel, that Anastasia is madly in love with him.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. And I wouldn’t buy the book. The only redeeming factor in the entire read is that (spoiler alert!) she leaves him in the end. But there are sequels that I refuse to subject myself to, and based on the plot summaries in Wikipedia, I know that her rare moment of common sense doesn’t last. Lord knows why.

[Image credit: funnyand.com]
[Image credit: funnyand.com]

Life is Like a Bowl of Pho

First of all, if you’ve never had pho, that Vietnamese delicacy, the soup of soups, the comfort food of all time, then stop reading this right now and go get some. Drive for 4 hours if you need to. Slap your mama if she stands in your way. Seriously. What are you waiting for? Go! Go! Go! You haven’t lived until you’ve had pho. And for the love of God, when you order it, pronounce it properly. Call it “fuh”, not “foe”.

Egg Roll No. 1 -- our favorite Pho place.

Having said that, and since I have just come home from a delightful evening of pure pho indulgence which has warmed the very cockles of my heart, I feel I have earned the right to wax philosophical, so here is my theory: Life is like a bowl of pho.

The rice noodles are long and tangled and look deceptively unappetizing, but once you dive in, you find that you love the experience. It may be a bit messy, and it may not portray you at your most attractive, but after a time you will find that you don’t care. You’re too busy basking in the experience to notice the reactions of others.

And the broth, good heavens, the broth! It looks simple and clear, but it is such a sophisticated taste sensation that you know you’d give anything to reproduce it at home, but you’re most likely never going to make the attempt because, surely, if it’s that delicious, it must take so much effort and efficiency that you’ll fear you lack the ability.

The most delightful thing about pho, as with life, is that no two people will ever have the same experience. Not only can you choose pho beef or chicken or brisket or meatballs or tripe or…you name it, but the restaurant wait staff will provide you with a variety of items that you may add to your soup. Lime, mint leaves, culantro, bean sprouts, Thai Basil, chili peppers, a variety of sauces, each one hotter than the next. Some people prefer their pho to be spicy. I myself am not a party animal. I stay out of the clubs in life, and I don’t drown my pho in chili sauce. Even so, pho is the first thing I crave when I have a cold or when it’s cold outside.

Pho provides you with a great deal of choices–not only the garnishes mentioned above, but also how to eat it. Are you talented or brave? Then go for the chopsticks. Are you more pragmatic? Would you rather make the most of your ability to consume? Do you not care if your actions fly in the face of impressing your dining companion? Then ask for a fork.

I’m a fork girl, myself, but I also believe in living life to the fullest, so I will give you one very important piece of advice. In pho and in life, order extra, because the second half gets even better.

Sigh. Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry. I don’t think those leftovers will make it to lunchtime.