Saturday, September 20, 2008

A little political reading for the season

The Supreme Court Justices

If you, as do I, believe the administration produced by this upcoming election could be most notable not for its economic policy, tax changes and foreign relations, but for its effect on the composition of the Supreme Court, then like me you might have been refreshing yourself on that institution.

Many years ago, I think it was in the late 70's, the public was given an inside look at the Supreme Court in Bob Woodward's The Brethren, a sort of "tell all" book he managed to put together from interviews with justices disgruntled with Chief Justice Burger.
A bit more diverse commentary is the recent The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin. It is well written, and provides a great deal of historical background on the modern Supreme Court.
However, for pure enjoyment, you need to read Christopher Buckley's Supreme Courtship, a wonderfully funny, but politically astute tongue in cheek satire on the vetting and the appointment process for the Supreme Court. It is fairly short for a novel, so it makes a good companion for an airline trip or a slow day/weekend. While pure satire, it is rooted in the political insight for which C. Buckley is known. He was recently interviewed on Book TV (Link to streaming replay of the interview here.)

(Link to the publisher)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Great City! Great Kids!

Early this month, Barbara and I had the chance to visit John and Rachael in Portland for the first time in a year. Interestingly, we were able to purchase 2 round trip tickets from Denver and 3 nights in the Portland Marriott for less than a single round trip ticket from Cedar Rapids.

Portland is a great town. It has a wonderful light rail/trolley/streetcar/bus network that is easy to use and free in the downtown area. We departed the airport and walked no more than 150' from the baggage carrousel's to step on the light rail that took us to the Pioneer Square stop which was a block and a half from our hotel.

We had WONDERFUL weather for our stay. We took a short walk along the river to stretch our legs after flying tourist/sardine class. Most of the major bridges are historic (and old), but apparently in reasonably good shape.

Seven days a week, there is a farmer's market somewhere in the metropolitan area, and most of these are not far from the light rail system. There are a series of blocks with grass, fountains, and walks, but no buildings in the downtown area. These are known as North Park Blocks and South Park Blocks. The big Saturday Farmer's market is on one of these; and it is really large. There was excellent and affordable produce, honey, meat, cheese, bread, wine, pizza, etc. Below are Barbara and John discussing things, while Rachael buys some food for a later meal.

There is a lot of historic preservation in Portland (as the house at the corner of this market), a process in which John wants to become more involved.

Within a block of this market is the Oregon Historical Society, where Rachael works in Public Relations/Publicity (mainly fund-raising as I understand it). She treated us to an excellent tour of the exhibits. It's quite impressive if you get a chance to visit.

In front of the museum, and scattered around town are interesting four-headed fountains; "Benson Bubblers." Simon Benson (link) was a turn-of-the-century lumber baron, philanthropist and teetotaller. To provide fresh drinking water downtown - and discourage his workers from drinking alcohol in the middle of the day - Benson commissioned 20 elegant freshwater drinking fountains, now known as the Benson Bubblers. Beer consumption in the city reportedly decreased 25 percent after the fountains were installed, and the water fountains still bubble on Portland's downtown streets. (But there are still more breweries per capita in Portland than any other city in the country.)

That night we had dinner at the Park Kitchen restaurant (link). We did a bit of experimenting and sharing . . . it was a good choice. Everything was excellent, and we lingered at our table which was barely inside, giving us a little protection while still enjoying the outdoors.
On Sunday, after pulling in to the downtown Firestone dealer to get a tire leak fixed, we headed out to explore the northern part of the "Fruit Loop" (link), an area near the junction of the Hood and Columbia Rivers that is a patchwork of Orchards, Vineyards/wineries, and berry farms. The weather continued to hold. Along the treeline in the background you can just see one of the snow-covered mountains peeking above the ridge, maybe Mt St Hellens?

Pears and Apples were perfect! Fruit/berry stands dotted the area, sometimes within a hundred yards of each other.
We stopped at a "flower farm". Here Rachael, scissors in hand, selects cuttings at 15 cents/stem (regardless of the number of flowers). Beauty surrounded by beauty!

The flowers subsequently graced the table Rachael had set for dinner in their condo. Rachael and John have a really, really nice condo, close to everything in downtown Portland and The Pearl (link). Built in 1909, it is open, and has lots of windows for light.

For dinner, Rachael prepared a "fungi con risotto" (like me, she likes LOTS of mushrooms in her risotto). John/Matt did some greens, and Barbara and I contributed the wine. Great dinner.

In addition being where John and Rachael live, Portland is a great city just to visit. It has a mixture of old and new architecture, excellent museums, gardens, restaurants, brewpubs, and (sometimes) great weather.
Thanks for visiting. Enlarge pictures with a left click. Comments can be left by clicking below.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thar's Bars in them thar Woods!

We have lots of black bears in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and one is occasionally spotted in town here in Estes Park. For the last two weekends in a row however, a black bear has ambled past our house. The pictures below were taken by our neighbor to the west, Walt Borneman (author of the recently published book on President Polk) from his deck, looking towards our back yard. (left click on picture to enlarge)

We also are having other guest visit the neighborhood for dinner:

Barbara in the past year has also seen a mountain lion, a bob cat, and numerous other species in our neighborhood. When you come for a visit, be careful if wandering around outside at night!