Thursday, October 29, 2020


"You know, if you hang around this earth long enough, 
you really see how things come full circle." -Patti Davis

Every day, I walk past a sweet maple tree that grows atop a tiny hill near the woods. 
Every October, it bursts into riotous yellow and carpets the grass with golden leaves. 
And this year, like most Octobers, I stop and pose my dog, Gracie, in the middle of this scene to help me remember this circle of life. 

We humans are creatures of rhythm. 


are the touchstones with which we measure our lives. 

Though we may consider our lives to be a straight line, a one-way ticket from here to there, I think it's more likely that we travel in circles.  Round and round the sun we go, experiencing

another sunset, 
another rainy Saturday afternoon, 
another first frost, 
another newborn baby.

Each moment is a first, to be sure, in its own way unique and special. But we can also see these times a touch point, a handle that helps us make sense of our journey. We call up other moments like this one that we've experienced, and tuck away memories of the present mood to be recalled at some time in the future when we come round, once again, to a similar event. And the longer we live, the more experiences we have tucked away, and the more likely it is that we will realize that new happenings aren't so new at all; they're actually quite similar to something we've been through before. 

Now this brings me to thinking about the challenges of 2020. 

Never before, we lament, have we faced a worldwide pandemic where our offices, stores, and factories shut down; kids stay home from school; friends are reduced to FaceTime buddies; and facemasks have become a civic responsibility.

Never before, we worry, has our economy undergone such dramatic and tumultuous change with some businesses abruptly sinking, others exploding with controversial growth, and major industries wondering if they will ever rebound from the pandemic. 

Never before, we agonize, have Americans confronted a more polarized political landscape where our president behaves in profoundly unpresidential ways, disregards the foundations of our democracy, and encourages hateful, dangerous behavior from his supporters. 

These are, without question, uncertain times. 

But when I feel the ground shifting uncomfortably under my feet, I stop and think about circles, and the way history brings us back again and again to these kinds of challenges.

* * * * *

We have never dealt with Covid before. But the world has stared down many a disease-related disaster before this. 

* * * * *

Our economy has taken a cataclysmic hit, for sure. But this isn't the first time.

* * * * *

But surely we've never dealt with anyone like Trump before, right? 

And I vividly recall the nightmare of Richard M. Nixon's "I am not a crook" tenure, and the bizarre image of him jubilantly boarding a helicopter to leave the White House after he finally resigned. 

* * * * *

Yes, my friends, we are facing tough times. But our challenges aren't new, or even particularly different, than what the world has faced over and over again, in circles throughout history. 

In time, the dangers will fade, we'll feel a new sense of security, and life will go on.

Perhaps not the same as life before, but we will cope just as so many humans before us found ways to deal with their own versions of these troubles. 

The circles will continue. 

And everything is going to be okay. 

Here's my dear Ranger, in the last October of his life, under the same maple tree 
on the same little hill as Gracie now stands, enjoying the circles of life. 


"Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy." -Saadi
Gracie is a fan of my new ponytail palm and also the pillows on the couch. 
Covid does not interfere one whit with her naps. 

Back in March, when the original wave of Covid 19 washed over us and cut us off from our familiar life of doing whatever the heck we wanted, whenever we so pleased, I was unexpectedly consumed by an odd yet highly specific yearning.

I wanted a ponytail palm

For years, I'd been aware of these sassy succulents with their crazy pouf of curly leaves, but never had I given them so much as a second thought. 

Leave it to the vicissitudes of an emerging pandemic to trigger an itch.

At that time, the prospect of going out shopping for such a frivolous purpose was unthinkable. And more importantly, impossible, because most stores were shuttered to actual people. 

There was the online option, and for a time I trolled the plant-selling websites hard, seeking out these spunky specimens and hovering my finger over the Add To Cart button. 

But something told me that I wouldn't derive the same sense of satisfaction from a digital purchase as I would from picking my very own ponytail palm out of an IRL line-up.

So I forced myself to wait. 

This story has a happy ending as sometime in August, I stumbled onto a veritable herd of ponytail palms at Molbaks, chose one as the cheekiest one of the group, and brought it home. 

In the early days of its life with me, the ponytail palm was a beacon of patience, of desires deferred, of the waiting game that Covid has forced us to play. I felt a certain triumph, well-chuffed indeed, as if I had accomplished something important by waiting five whole months to buy a sodding plant. 

But over the past fortnight, my pony palm has come round to symbolize something entirely different. It reminds me that maybe the good old days before Covid were more self-indulgent and carelessly spontaneous than was actually good for me. Maybe there is a gift in this virus-driven slowed-down lifestyle that is worth hanging on to, even though the stores are now wide open and full of the face-masked mobs. And maybe I don't want to go back to rushing out the door with my wallet every time a new whim flits through my mind.

Maybe, just maybe, Covid has taught me a few important things, and I don't want to go back to life as it was before.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Fall Days

"My favourite season is autumn, and I love walking through the woods." -Lucy Davis

"I hate fall." -me

Every year, when autumn rolls around and I feel once again its sense of loss, of life's fleeting abundance, of death and decay, I grudgingly resent this season and the transitions it brings.


Near my house is a street lined with trees whose leaves turn the most delicious colors of red, yellow, orange; who frame themselves against the evergreen spires of Douglas Fir; who light up like fire on a sunny October afternoon.

And just when I think I can't bear the dreary darkness of another fall, I drive down this street, and my spirits lift.

Sure, it's true that fall is a time of, well, falling back as the summer season of growth and abundance slips away. But then I remember that this is alright. The fading light of fall makes possible the sparkling brilliance of spring, and I cannot have one without the other. 

Year after year, it's the trees on this street, scarlet and golden against a fiercely blue fall sky, that remind me to be patient with the passing of the year, and to admire fall days for their own spectacular part in the dance of the seasons. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Done Is Better Than Perfect

As usual, I'm up to my armpits in big, messy chores and long-haul projects around the house.

Weeding and laying fresh bark on a big section of the side yard, 
hanging the art for my worked-on-'em-all-summer-long gallery walls, 
decluttering the last few corners of my garage,
and laying in plans for an attic renovation

are certainly fun and rewarding assignments, but these are the kind of jobs that require weeks (months!) of patience, determination, and long-haul dedication. Rome was neither built nor decluttered in a day. 

But today, I was craving a quick and easy, high-impact project that would require no more than a damp dust cloth and a couple thousand steps, and I landed on one I've been considering for months.

* * * * *

My inspiration comes from a fantasy I've been harboring about enjoying a relaxing drink before dinner.

This fascination undoubtedly comes from childhood memories of the Dick Van Dyke Show, in which beautiful wife Laura often greets affable husband Rob as he bounces in the front door from a long day of work in the city by offering him a drink. 

I think it's a lovely tradition, this clinking of glasses and taking a relaxing breath before launching into the dinner hour and all the chaos that comes with it. And that goes for drinks with or without actual alcohol. I'm a huge fan of the mocktail.

* * * * *

After a few feeble and mostly failed attempts to instate this tradition in the family over the summer, I decided today was the day to stock these shelves in the living room with beverage essentials, and see if the dedicated space might help to kick start the habit.  

So I freed up some space and gathered up a handful of glasses and bottles to display here. 

This is just a start. It'll be a snap to add a few bottles of seltzer water, a lime or two, and a few of my husband's favorite high ball glasses. I'm also thinking about adding some fabric or patterned paper to line the back of the top two compartments, to hide that less-than-ideal view of the lamp cord and cold air return. 

For today, however, I'm calling this project done and I'm ready to celebrate. Care to join me for a drink?

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Gordon Skagit Farm Again

"One must dare if one really wants to live." -Vincent Van Gogh

Last October, I took a friend up on a dare.

"I don't like fall and I don't like pumpkin farms," I bah-humbugged. 

"You should try Gordon Skagit. I think you'd really like it," she encouraged.

"No, really, I don't like pumpkin farms," I begged off.

"Just go." She was adamant. 

So I did. And you know what?

She was right.

* * * * *

This fall, along with my second- and fourth-born daughters, I went back to Gordon Skagit Farm.

And you know what?

I adored it just as much as I did last year.

^Right from the get-go, colors explode out of the courtyard and greet me as I walk in.

^The cloud-filled sky, weathered buildings, and light sheen of fresh rain all do their neutral best to spotlight the main attractions: pumpkins and flowers.

^ I am obsessed by the oblong, chunky pumpkins tucked into the geometric haven of boxes.

^The pay station has been redesigned and Covid-proofed for this year's transactions. Safely socially distant and still crazy cute.

^The theme at the farm is round things in warm colors. Even the trees cooperate.

^Pumpkins heaped in a pile are not so much my jam. 
But pumpkins sorted by type, color and size, then placed in tidy rows make my heart sing. Throw in a few wooden baskets in their own geometric placement and I'm ready to turn some cartwheels.

^Dried flowers do a strong side business; their delicate shapes and relatively gentle colors create a nice contrast to the brash and outspoken pumpkins. Even the bright blue models.

^I keep losing track of my daughters as I stop and stare, gaping up at scenes like this one. The rain drops gently fall on my face, and I barely notice.

^It's a scientific fact that a few strings of lights exponentially increase the cuteness of an outdoor scene. Especially on a rainy day.

^White pumpkins are an elegant study in form. I love them.

^This was one of my favorite spots on the farm, and I stood here for a long time, just breathing in every detail of the scene. Those plywood packing crates fascinate me.

^A few steps further back broadens my perspective in some charming ways - oh, that one orange pumpkin on the bottom of the round table is such a gem - but also puts me out in the rain again.

^A classic old-school silo smiles benevolently down on the farm. Bet he's been watching over this place since long before the city folks came to breathe in the rarefied country air, and I'm glad he's still here.

^Beyond the market area lies the open pumpkin fields, and while we didn't explore them, I like just knowing that they're there. No doubt full of mud.

^Around every corner waits another eye-popping color-filled dreamy fall scene. It's mind-boggling and breath-taking, and I drink in each one as if I'm dying of thirst.

^There's something about the tiny window and the garlands of ivy decorating this massive barn wall that fascinate me. I wish I could recreate this in my backyard.

^Raindrops collect on top of the pumpkins and on some, fill in the creases with tiny swimming pools. 

^The gravel drive, overhanging cedar branches, and old red truck fill in the foreground and background of yet another geometric pumpkin display, and my heart eyes are falling out of my face.

^Did I mention that they sell food too?

Overcome by the visual gorguosity of the farm, I leave all purchasing decisions to my daughters. They pull together a selection of pastel pumpkins for my front porch, and a handful of farm fresh produce for our table. 

I leave, sated and satisfied for now. I'm sure we'll be back for more before the pumpkin season ends.

^ And no one will have to dare me to make the return trip. 

* * * * *

If this story doesn't convince you to visit Gordon Skagit Farm, then I suggest you keep reading:

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Lighthouse Flowers

"Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature." -Gerard de Nerval

* * * * *

To be perfectly honest, I've gone to my hometown beach so many times that one trip blends rather seamlessly into the next, and there's not much to make any particular day's visit stand out from all the others.
Washington State Ferry, Mukilteo Light, and the Light-keeper's Residence. 
And Gracie. 

Charming lighthouse.
Cloudy sky.
Rocky beach.
Enormous ferries chugging merrily across the water.

Big red dog wagging happily.
Polar Bear Club. 

And taking a few dips in the always-chilly water. 

But on this particular visit to Mukilteo Beach with three of my daughters on an overcast September afternoon, two remarkable things happened to make this a visit to remember. 

1. Despite my best efforts to keep up, my twisted chocolate-vanilla ice cream soft-serve cone got away from me and I ended up with streams of melted ice cream running down the entire length of my right forearm and dripping off my elbow. 

2. Delightfully inviting, the gates in the white picket fence around the lighthouse and the light-keeper's residence had been propped open and we decided to explore the property. 

I've prowled through the buildings before. They're charming to be sure - both the lighthouse proper and the larger residence, which was used up until the 1990s - but far more interesting to me were the flowers.
A short, yellow daisy amid drifts of sweet alyssum. 

All around the perimeter of the tidy clapboard buildings were narrow and well-kept beds of flowers. 

Instantly, they called me back through the decades to my paternal grandmother's house. 

Deep in the belly of Detroit, tucked into the shadows beneath the iconic River Rouge manufacturing plant where my grandfather had worked the engines in the freight yard, I visited this place only a handful of times during my childhood and felt mostly out of my element in the city. But outdoors, I marveled at the charming tangle of bright blooms that grew effortlessly in this foreboding environment and felt delightfully at home among the flowers.
Deep crimson hollyhock. 

These flowers gave me the same sense of ease. 

Old timers, classic cottage garden favorites, I recognized them all and noticed that most of them grow in my own garden just a few miles away.
Yellow daisy against smudges of magenta impatiens. 

But whereas my flower beds lay deep and wide, flowing in organic curves against the farthest edges of my yard, these prim rectangles sit snug between the buildings and the narrow sidewalks that wrap round them, exactly as was the fashion a hundred years ago.

I was, in a word, transported.
Lacy pink hydrangea. 

While they still bloomed heartily, these grand September beauties showed the change of season, with a few brown and wilting petals among their elegant ruffles. Unlike summer blossoms, bright and eager, the season's last blooms acquire a particular grace and wisdom that comes only with age.
A different pink hydrangea and a fern near the porch.

Around and around I walked in slow circles, noticing new details and hidden treasures with each passing by.
A magenta hollyhock. 

While I was absorbed in this reverie, Gracie entertained herself by scenting out the rabbits hiding in the hedges, and going into full hunt mode. 

We both enjoyed this gentle adventure and took our sweet time.
Japanese anemone.
Pink dahlias on sturdy stems.
Light blue hydrangea.
Red and purple hollyhocks.
Hydrangea and Japanese anemone. 

Eventually I became aware of the workers re-roofing the lighthouse proper, the pair of teenage girls holding a private photo shoot against the porch steps, my daughters waiting patiently at the gate for me to finish.

The spell was broken.

But I will be back to visit them again, these lighthouse flowers, and see their blossoming souls. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Some Pig

Every fall, as the sun tilts lower in the sky and summer heat fades into autumn's mellow warmth, it happens. Spiders of enormous size begin to appear in my yard (and sometimes in my house) as if they are gathering momentum against the coming chill. 

And for a few glorious days, they spin webs of outrageous complexity across my rose bushes and trellises and front porch. 

If I'm very lucky indeed, during this brief week of industrious hard work, there will be a foggy morning or two. Tiny beads of water accumulate on the delicate strands, and when the light hits them just so, these geometric marvels spring into bold relief and fairly glow.

On this particular morning, I counted eight gigantic webs, easily eighteen inches in diameter, within just a few feet of the window where I stood.

Some webs were empty but most were populated by their big, brown creators, and though I do not appreciate a spider cruising around inside my house, I adore them in the out of doors.

And though I know that she is merely a figment of a clever man's imagination, I can't help but think that one of my spiders may be the original Charlotte, or perhaps one of her clever children, and I peer into the fine white filaments, looking for one of her famous messages. 


So far, I have never found one. But I'll keep looking because as long as spiders spin webs of such beauty and detail, absolutely anything is possible. 

* * * * *

Care to read my review of E.B.White's classic spider story? Check this out:

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Reading About Being Myself

How To Be Yourself | Life-changing Advice From A Reckless Contrarian by Simon Doonan

If you enjoy a sassy and rollicking read that fizzes with sparkling vocabulary and effervescent wit, this may be the book for you. If you believe, as I do, that each of us are born with a particular set of gifts, abilities, and even flaws that make us uniquely suited to bring joy to this world, then I'm convinced you should check this one out. Written by a self-confessed aging white male Boomer who has dabbled in bottle cap operations, iconic window dressing, and a penchant for mod flowered blouses, I promise you that this little missive leaves all preconceived notions gasping in the dust, and will refreshes the mind with delicious drafts of fresh air

* * * * *

When I was in ninth grade, my English teacher decided that our class would take on a read-aloud performance of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel. 

Hey, this was the seventies and the education professionals in my minor league Michigan high school decided to throw Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Hemingway out the window and treat us to some morsels of contemporary literature. At least this one won a Pulitzer. 

Anyway, due to my ability to read well, Mrs. Priestkorn decided to cast me in the role of lead character and bitter antagonist, Beatrice. A miserable failure in all she has ever attempted to do with her own life, Beatrice's current goal is apparently to beat down her teenage daughter Tilly's hopes for a promising future. She's a mean-spirited, seething, manipulative addict, well along on her journey toward self-destruction, and every word that spews from her mouth is dark and poisonous. 

I was not impressed with this task.

Bless her heart, my teacher tried to coach me into a startling portrayal of this bleak woman's soul. As I read my part of the dialog aloud in my normal everyday 14-year-old good-girl's voice, Mrs. Priestkorn would interrupt my performance, direct me to try to sound more caustic or more angry or more dysfunctional. Though I gave it my best shot, I knew in my heart that I had no interest or desire - or ability - to be a convincing Beatrice. 

On the third day of our read-aloud, Mrs. Priestkorn sadly excused me and gave the part of Beatrice to someone else. 

* * * * *

Though in the moment, this experience made me miserable and tempted me to feel like a failure, I've since come to love this story about myself. Because it taught me that I cannot act, and I don't want to act. That's not who I am. 

And while I think it's a very interesting and creative process to inhabit another psyche and bring that person to life, I'm certain that acting is simply not my jam. 

Way back on that third day, I began in earnest my quest to define myself not by who I am not, but by all the wonderful things that I am.  And that, my friend, is an adventure that continues to this day. 

Walking Partner

"It's fun to have a partner who understands your life and lets you be you."
 -Kim Kardashian

We walked along the quiet lane, tucked behind the back of my secret building and edging up along the forest, each of us wrapped up in our own thoughts. Gracie quivered with controlled exuberance as she scented rabbits and birds in the underbrush; I was lost in a reverie of my own. A warm October sun shone down and a sweet late afternoon breeze stirred the soft air.

As we rounded the bend that led back toward the main campus of the school, my dog and I came upon a family out for a walk - dad, mom, and two boys. The older boy, probably four years old, took one look at me and in a clear, high tone of innocent curiosity asked, " Dad, why does that girl (Editor's note: !!!) have a dog?"

Without skipping a beat, Dad smoothly replied, "That's her walking partner."


He summed it up perfectly.

Gracie is my walking partner and I'm very lucky to have her.