Saturday, May 21, 2016

You are the one who decides if your life is beautiful or sad, or both. When I ask our Floyd, our head of Facilities, how excited he is to move into his new home, he says, I'm most excited about the commute, I'll get an hour of my life back every day, and I say, If we get this drug approved, I'll get a third of my life back. He laughs. We both do. The intractable space planning problems we've been trying to solve together have put us in the habit of laughing at everything. We joke about getting rich on stock options and never suffering in any way again.

What is "just a headache"? It's never just that. It's a heaviness that settles into sinuses, a feeling at the back of your throat that ruins all hunger, the feeling of your ears popping again and again. How do you convey the feeling of doom to it, and how your eyes are not quite right?

What secret things does everyone else harbor in their bodies? Is a sudden sharp pain somewhere sometimes just nothing? Stabbing pains vanish suddenly, a dull ache goes away on its own. Are they a quirk or glitch, everyday wear and tear, or for some of us, are they always something?

It has taken time to connect certain things. Years, even. I never gave much thought to the times I stood up quickly and got lightheaded. It's nothing. Maybe it was my low blood pressure. Maybe it was hot out or I hadn't eaten, or, everyone's favorite, I hadn't had enough water to drink. Then the second neurologist I see does a gaze stability test and asks me if I sometimes get lightheaded when I stand up quickly. Her nod is almost smug when I say yes, she's seen a slight glitch in the way my eyes track her finger. She says something about a minor instability at the base of the brain, common in migraine patients, and moves on to something else. What did I ask when she told me this? Some small, vague thing that got an answer like the wave of a hand. Not enough. Was it the hypothalamus she was talking about? The brain stem? The medulla oblongata? I think about it later, try to google it,  and though I don't find exactly what she was talking about, I find things about migraine and vertigo, and suddenly things about me coalesce. Maybe I am broken in just one way.

When my mother comes back from Japan, she brings pottery. A piece breaks in her luggage, and she talks about fixing it the way they do there, with something mixed with gold, so that the cracks are bright with it, the idea being that the broken part can be made beautiful, part of the history of the object, emphasized instead of hidden. Kintsugi, it's called.

That was the neurologist who made a note in my file about depression. Tears ran down my face throughout our appointment. Not sobs, just sudden leaking tears, as casual as a runny nose from allergies. I didn't call myself depressed. I just had fucking migraines all the time. All part of the same piece.

You are the one who decides if your life is sad, or beautiful, or both, or some other combination of adjectives entirely. Watch for deer when driving at twilight. Never check a reference over email. Don't leave a job just for a higher title, or better salary. Figure out what you are walking into. Who is going to stop by your office every day? What is everyone talking about in the break room? Is some part of your work going to be worth staying past 6:00 on a Friday, even when no one tells you to? Will it give you a third of your life back? Will it do that for someone else?

After I sort through the employee suggestions for our summer reading program at work, narrow them down to six fiction and six non-fiction, I take them in a brown paper bag to the conference room next to Randy's office so that he can see them. There's a surfing memoir, and a glossy white cookbook the size of a large paving stone, a management book that takes its lessons from the Mars Rover project, a novel about a paralyzed man and his caregiver, another told from the point of view of an aging dog, and a memoir written by a neurosurgeon with terminal cancer. Randy asks, Jeez, is there anything that's even slightly funny? and says, I'm going to rename the list you call fiction, Tragedy. Later in the day he calls me to tell me that the buzz from employees in the lunchroom who are sorting through the sample copies is that they are going to have a hard time choosing, and asks me to send out another email that says we will have extra copies of each for people to borrow, if the two choices we give them are not enough.

There is what is sad, and what is beautiful, but so many things are both.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

I was never a fan of cooking shows, particularly. Top Chef, yes, but that was more about what someone else might make me, more about eating in restaurants than about anything that would ever be possible at home. Now, I can't get enough of the Great British Baking Show, of all things. Last week, I had lunch with a SeaStar employee who ordered the fish and chips, saying that she had just heard that they are about to wrap up the halibut season, and she wanted to have it while she could. Tomorrow night is a downtown night, going to see Gloria Steinem with Jenn, dinner beforehand at Locosho. Even with halibut on the menu, I don't feel that excited about a restaurant meal.

What is much more exciting is the surprise of having counters again. Not in a state I can use, obviously, but I hadn't known they would be there when I climbed the ladder up to the back door and opened the horrible hollow core door that is currently standing in for the beautiful new one that waits in my garage for the day when its turn to be installed comes. It was such a nice surprise to see the cabinets, blue painter's tape standing in for handles, and the new pantry, and all the nice solid trim around the freshly painted new windows. I bought such very nice windows. The kitchen will be a new world this winter, all windows and wide open views towards the field where the birds migrate in heavy, loud flocks. Inside the house, you know if there's an eagle in the yard from the sounds, and now the sight will be easier to catch too.

But what I really want is to just make a cup of tea again. To go back to roasting vegetables for dinner and eating them from my own bowl, and then stand at my new windows and wash the dishes in my new sink. I've started bookmarking recipes again and suddenly baking seems interesting, which is ridiculous, given my issues with timing, but there was a little stretch there when my kitchen always had a batch of granola, homemade by me, so, maybe. Hard to believe that ever happened. I barely even make cheese toast any more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hedgerow Report #1 - April 4

Christy and I walked along the dike near her home, before it was time to open the shop on Saturday. Raylan came with us, bounding ahead, flinging himself in the wet grass as though he was rinsing a winter coat off with the new green. Coming around the corner where you catch your first glimpse of the bay, there was something - it looked, at first, like a finely-done chainsaw sculpture, burly wood with some lighter, maybe almost golden tones, and I turned to Christy to ask what it was just as it moved. It was a bird, though that word isn't big enough for what we were looking at - it was a raptor, and it stayed still as I came towards it, for longer than I expected, until it lifted off with it's broad wings, husky shoulders and flew out over the flats. Juvenile bald? Too big. There was a mature bald in a tree just beyond and you could see the relative sizes. It didn't have the heron's long neck or pale colors or that particular set of the head of a vulture. Golden Eagle, we settled on, though I could hardly believe it. Later, in Slough Foods for cheese (some snacking, some melting), I asked John - do you think it could have been? And he shrugged, maybe. The Skagit Audobon Society notes list a sighting on February 21st, so yeah, maybe.

The day was warm enough that we could walk without a coat, just a decent sweater. We both wore tall boots against the damp that hasn't yet been drawn out of the soil by sun. In my garden at home, it's still too wet to plant, not passing the clump test. I hold a ball of soil in my fist, toss it up, it falls to the ground in a lump. It's a good time to weed, but nothing else. Christy's garden is all exotic tulips and fritillaria and good looking hedges right now. The containers in front of the shop are blooming and cheerful, and there are vases of immodest tulips and forced branches for inside. The field tulips have been in bloom for weeks already, and soon it will be the paths between green stems that are full of color, instead of the plants themselves. Town is full of good-looking visitors and their mostly cute dogs every sunny weekend. Kristy gives me a beeswax tealight to test at home, from the people who do San Juan Island Sea Salt. There isn't much test to it, since one of my New Year's resolutions is to stop saving the good stuff, and in my book beeswax candles are always the good stuff. I put it inside a little house ornament which holds a candle and the windows light up and the candle burns well and long. The same people also sell blocks of pure beeswax, stamped BEESWAX, and it occurs to me to ask Christy if she can get her hands on some spoon oil. It's easy enough to make at home, but I'm lazy and prone to burning anything that goes on the stove for long, so, maybe?

This week, everything in the shop makes me want a cup of tea, and a soft place to sit, and after an hour of weeding the blueberry bed, that's exactly what I go for.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What I Bought

A lot of takeout. More film, 400 this time, since there is no Ektar 100 daylight left at my disposal. Pasta salad, green salad, crispy honey prawns, four slices of pizza, more powdered espresso. I post an article on Facebook about never cooking again and plan my trips home around what food is on the way. A week later, I buy a cookbook and half a huge cranberry turkey sandwich for dinner at the same time. Socks. I've bought seven pairs of socks in the last two days, each time refusing a bag, shoving them instead into my purse. Of course, they are not the plain socks that come in packs of three. They are all patterned socks, in colors I like, with toes and heels in good shades, costing no less than $9 a pair before tax. Some of them say things, secretly, on the in-step. I buy more pajamas, leopard print, flannel with metallic polka dots. More tea. Every Sunday I fail to read the New York Times that gets delivered to the newpaper box across the road from my house, and still I pay for it, and bring it into the house. I get through a section occasionally, usually a week later.

After I bought the camera, I started wanting to write again, sentences and ideas started to unspool in my head, even when the first rolls came back with lines scraped into the emulsion side of the big square negatives. At the camera store, the man at the counter looks at the film under a loupe, on a small light board, points out the different colored grooves, says that the colors indicate that the scrapes are hitting at different depths. I don't know. I think I am probably loading the film wrong. I can tell that the exposures are bad too, which I expect, overexposed mostly, since all the photos are taken in haste and I know that overexposure is easier to correct later. The photo I like best is the only one that was underexposed, one of the twins lit by daylight coming from the window in the living room, and of course it's the one where the scrapes are most visible. I drop off the last three rolls, decide I will finish what's in the camera and then start again. The problem must be in the way I began. In the car, I stop listening to words, go back to the jazz station and let my thoughts unspool, mostly about what a humbling season it has been so far.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Since you asked

It took more than one thing to keep me away from this space. There were things in my life that had a silencing effect on the chatter that went on here. Thoughts that were a confused tangle that seemed to only get worse the more I tried to tug at them. I can't say I'm past that now, but there is one thread that caught my eye a few weeks ago and led me back here.

Photos were always a big part of the blog for me. In the early days, they were tiny snapshots, taken on a point and shoot, almost an afterthought, just something to keep us from facing a wall of dense, insect-legged letters crawling across the page. Even the early photos made this a real space, though, and the more I wrote, the more I wanted to take photos, and the point and shoot gave way to toy cameras and then an old Pentax and finally the big Bronica, culminating in doing my own color printing, which I loved so much. The color darkroom at PCNW went away and with it, my color printing, and that had such a cooling effect on even taking the photos. It's fun to have photos to share online, but once you've walked  away from hours in the darkroom with a big light-filled color print that makes you feel like you are in the same room as your subject, you know you're missing something when you're just looking at your photos on a screen. Getting an iPhone didn't help. Too easy to go back to snapshots, shared quickly and without the kind of care that goes into getting the image you really envisioned. iPhone photos, for me, are more like fortune cookies. You get what you get, and they great ones are a nice surprise. I was never interested in the digital fiddling process.

Some of my girls came and visited me last weekend, so the film came out. The film, and all the vintage dresses, and every hat in the house and the hot fudge sundae supplies. It felt like spending all the money you've saved up, on the exact thing you had been saving it for, and finding that it was really just what you wanted, and totally worth it. It's been summer here for weeks now, oddly, and my progress on the inside of the house has slowed as I try to keep up at least a little bit with the outside. Even on the nights that I don't mean to stay out late, the sunsets call me back out, or I think I should just check to make sure nothing is dying from lack of water, or I decide I want to harvest a little bowl of ripe raspberries for my yogurt in the morning. Dinner happens late, not til 10 many nights and then it's just getting through until the weekend for sleep.

No complaints, just a sort of eternal adjusting, trying to make the days work better, always contemplating what this is all about. I remind myself that the garden, for now, is just an experiment. Planting things late is fine, not knowing how to guide the tomatoes into their most productive shape is fine, losing a dahlia tuber or two is fine, having the rabbits eat the top off every leaf of new lettuce in a single night is... well, not that fine. But there are always more lettuce seeds, and it's not that expensive at the co-op anyway.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Garden Notes 2013

The weather has definitively turned now, the heat kicking in as the house gets below 62 for the first time this season, and so much more water everywhere. What will I do with those full to overflowing rain barrels from now until July? It's hard to imagine that anything will really need watering again. Ever, almost.

The dahlias keep coming, and I'm grateful for them. Somehow, they say "I'm sorry" and act as consolation. People say that dahlias don't have a scent, but it isn't true. It isn't the scent of a bloom, it's the scent of cut stems, sharp and green and mournful. I don't leave any outside, just keep cutting and cutting them, bunching them in vases in the bathroom, on the kitchen windowsill, at my desk, on my night stand. They are little soldiers in service of beauty, reminders that the world can't help but put good things in front of you, no matter what else is happening.

For the weekends, I hope for a break from rain so that I can put things to bed in the garden, fend off weeds and find a way to protect some possibility for next year. I just want to make room. It's hard work to do that, tiring and a little painful. The garden was prickly and sharp and stubborn all summer, my hands were always secretly wounded, little thistle bits embedded in them, a rash halfway up my arm, but so much good stuff came out of it. It makes sense to remind myself of that now. Here's what grew, and will be back next year:

- raspberries - Overwhelmed by raspberries this year, but there they are in the freezer, and there were enough to give away finally. The canes have overtaken their bed and need to be dug up, transplanted, thinned, tamed.
- strawberries - They are always eaten mostly by the slugs. This year they were plentiful enough that there were even a few left for humans though.
- crabapples - I finally got out the loppers and snipped off branches from above the mini barn, having found a poached crabapple recipe I wanted to try. They were surprisingly addictive, fussy to eat, clovey and complicated.
- apples - There were three big apples on the old tree by the greenhouse this year. Two were lost in piles of leaves after not being picked soon enough. I found them half hollow and slug-filled and hated to throw them out. The last one was picked with a ladder and eaten, tart and rare and delicious.
- pears - I experimented with thinning the tiny fruits as they started to grow, but once they got big enough to start dropping on the ground, you couldn't tell at all which branches had been thinned and which hadn't. One of the trees was loaded with fruit, just started to lose the gnarled, scabby look it had last year. They are all waiting in the kitchen, half in the refrigerator, half in paper bags on the counter.
- currants - In early spring, we planted a little black currant bush. It yielded a surprising amount of fruit, which I stewed into a syrup that I ate in plain yogurt for breakfast.
- cherries - So many blossoms and so much green fruit on the tree, but none eaten by people.
- blueberries - There are four little blueberry bushes now, two by the greenhouse that need to be moved, and two by the back fence. They are starting to pick up speed and there were several weeks where there were always ready berries.
- horseradish - Tom planted horseradish, after I said I wanted some, and then I dug it out and threw it over the fence, thinking it was a valueless weed. When he asked what had a happened to it, I remembered and went back to stick my hand through the thistles and the fence to retrieve it and tuck it back in. I was surprised how well it grew in spite of this. The truth is, it is weed-like.
- oregano - Every time I picked raspberries, I smelled spaghetti sauce as I brushed past the overgrown oregano bush. In spite of this, it rarely found itself into a dish. 
- asparagus - The new crowns I planted this year didn't do as well as I might have hoped. Last years yielded more stalks than I expected though. I let them be, hoping for a plateful next year. 
- artichokes - Only the raspberries have flourished more. Everyone who came was sent home with a few, and still there were more and they bloomed purple and tall and are there still, color long gone now. 
- mint - There is always mint. There was mint when we came and will be mint after. It made its way into sun tea a few times, and generally behaved a little better than it had last year, not crowding out nearly as many starts. 
- blackberries - The blackberries take up as much room as the raspberries but never taste as good. Tom rescued the pear trees from them this year and now the vines seem resigned to living along the fence, encroaching less and less each year. 
- nettles - The first thing harvested every year, they made soup and seemed to contain the promise of everything you could ever hope for. Appropriate then, that they are also the thing that stings. You have to know how to make use of them, and I do. 
- sorrel - Sorrel goes well in a nettle soup, and is an even more aggressive grower, at least where I have planted it. It's hacked back regularly, and doesn't care at all. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Like fireworks, someone said about these squash. The garden is exploding these days, little dahlia explosions of color, squash swelling, blackberries taking off, the bird-lovers flower mix taking up one glorious row of the beds on the northeast corner of the property. I do not feel so flourishy these days, but I'm working on that. The hollyhocks on my yard have between 3 and 6 buds left, which I read somewhere means 3 to 6 weeks more summer. Next weekend is a five day weekend for me, and that will have to serve as summer break, so I intend to make the most of it. 

Summer's not over without:
- another ferry ride
- more ice cream cones
- a pitcher of never-ending Arnold Palmers in the fridge
- more iced coffee
- more farro salad 
- at least one summer read
- floaty things
- zucchini fritters
- zucchini bread
- zucchini everything
- more planting for fall
- reading the New Yorker
- reminder to self: all of this is better than a case of shingles

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I grew a dahlia for the first time, and that counts towards the New Year's resolution about growing more flowers. It's a Wednesday and I had an ice cream sundae for dessert, and it certainly seems like that too ought to count for something. As should wearing white eyelet anything, as should drinking frozen lattes, which I have gotten very good at indeed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

summer resolutions :: lake swimming :: iced coffees :: Arnold Palmers :: cut flowers :: farro salads :: time to finally use that spa gift certificate :: a postcard or two :: more ferry rides :: self-forgiveness :: garden time

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's sunny every day these days, warm, in the 80s, and dry all day long. At the nursery, they tell us they are watering twice a day, that we probably need to do the same as well. I haven't been, of course, and the tomatoes have gone through several cycles of thirst and drown, even the raspberry canes are looking a little fed up. Seeds planted don't come up if you just leave them there, in dry beds, with no water. Might as well have sprinkled the seeds in a desk drawer. The dahlias were planted early enough to be small shrubs in one bed, buds intact, but no more than tufts in another. The bed of flowers loved by birds is just now starting to bloom, differentiating itself at last from the beds of weeds of similar height. 

The garden is solace and focus, an exercise in absorption, of infinite perfectibility, hopeless love, aspiration, so many other things. There is no loneliness in the garden, as though every plant looking for care was also company. I make my way through the beds, visiting little by little, wondering always what to do next. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Four Months

considering bringing back the to-do list :: picking raspberries every day :: summer hours :: a festival of audiobooks :: when you get a moment, weed :: avocado cheese toast :: coffee mornings :: the end of an era

Monday, March 11, 2013

Like wearing short sleeves in sunshine

So, in the spirit of the word of the year, here are a few things I've enjoyed recently:
  • This poem, which pretty much sums up the spirit of enjoyment. 
  • Breadfarm's Irish Soda Bread. Not what I grew up with, but still totally addictive. 
  • Our Sunday trip to Christianson's nursery. Every time I plant a fruit tree, I feel like I'm making the mini-farm better. This year, two more blueberry bushes and a currant. There's also another lilac, for the front of the house this time, and we are still mulling over the espaliered asian pear....
  • This book on audio. I had that sad feeling when it was over. So glad she has a new book coming out this year! 
  • New gutters plus rain barrels. hard to believe, but true, these are making me very happy!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I finally picked a word for the year. So perfect that I can't believe I didn't think of it before. Everything lined up for it, the new year's resolutions, the way things are just easing up, the fact that my vacation time increases to four weeks per year in June. Big sigh. 

I've been thinking about photography, having finally retrieved a roll dropped off from late summer, several from a few months ago. There are some shots I'm happy with, but in general it tends to feel like I am starting over at the beginning again in some way, after so many months of not taking many. Starting over feels like getting through all the obvious shots, getting bored enough with them to push through to a different approach. I'm not there yet. I'm mostly the kind of bored that prevents me from picking up the camera in the first place, and that's not the kind of boredom that's going to get me anywhere. So, I'm thinking about other things, like maybe a return to black and white, or using the 35mm back for the Big Camera, instead of always using the 120 back. Little changes like that, which hopefully introduce just enough experimentation to make this whole photo thing something I can once again really enjoy. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Good things

1. Being taken into someone's confidence
2. Having a little extra
3. Knowing what you're going to cook
4. A new movie to look forward to
5. Reading before bed
6. Making something people like
7. Knowing what you're going to get someone for his birthday
8. Elbow patches
9. 70% off something you really wanted
10. Chocolate with toasted quinoa

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where we finally get down to the resolutions

1 - Listen to way more Blondie.
2 - 2014 New Year's party at the mini-farm.
3 - Perfect either my Baked Alaska or Bananas Foster. Or waffles. Or all of the above.
4 - Get a haircut. In NYC.
5 - Send more postcards. By which I mean, any postcards.
6 - When in doubt about what to knit, go back to socks.
7 - Serious girlfriend time, every month. 
8 - Read 20 books (not including what I listen to on CD).
9 - Grow more flowers.
10 - Plant more asparagus.
11 - Make resolutions all year long.
12 - Secure my own oxygen mask before helping others.
13 - "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." - Lao Tzu