Archive for Dec, 2019

21-23 December 2019

My Roots by Monty Don

I certainly don’t want to get in trouble with Montagu Don by sharing too many takeaways from this wonderful older book of his. This is to inspire you gardeners to find it; I got it from the public library in Aurora, Illinois via interlibrary loan. This is also a glimpse for my reading friends who do not have a great interlibrary loan resource like Timberland Regional Library and may not have the book budget to find a copy to buy.

The back cover has my favourite takeaway, about a method of getting a solitary staycation.

The book contains thoughts that go beyond gardening.

I wish I had said that last bit so I could use it in my blog description.

Monty’s wife, Sarah, appeared in the telly series Fork to Fork, and she co-wrote The Jewel Garden, but I have never seen her on Gardeners’ World, and so I love when she appears in his books, as in the preface.

And later, on page 115:


“If you garden with gaiety, then you are immediately at the heart of a great mystery that will unfold revelations for the rest of your days. If you garden with solemnity you will rapidly become–if you are not already–a boring old fart.”

Spend! Spend! Spend! ….People begrudge a hundred pounds on a dozen plants that will last as many years whereas they will blow that much on a bad meal with friends they don’t really like.”

Which reminds me of one of my favourite gardening quotations…..

….although there have been years when my annual gardening budget, in order to pay the mortgage and bills, was $25 or less.

Monty describes winter gardening as “tooling around doing little things between gaps in the weather….like rearranging the plates in the cupboard, which, if I am honest, is one of the reasons I like doing it.”

In 2005, Monty resolved to “rely less on labour-saving kit. I am starting to feel profoundly irresponsible using endless noisy machines to do jobs that could be done as well by hand… There are few bits of mechanical baggage that improve the quality of the garden and equally few that improve the quality of life for the gardeners and their neighbours.”

I do love his self-deprecating humour. “[My list] of unwritten books grows longer every year–which may be a blessed relief to the book-buying public but is a source of real dissatisfaction to me.”

He writes of how important a wood is in the garden, making me happy for my Bogsy Wood, even if it is just alders. “….the way that the light constantly plays inside the trees, falling in beams and spangles or distant splashes.”

And later:

Monty also suffers from celandine in the garden. I should have been out in the past couple of not too rainy days digging it up.

Why I feel I was born in the wrong country:

I live on a street which has, in a ten block stretch, only about six good gardens, three of which, including ours, are cared for by Allan and me (and a fourth one, below, was created by us but then let go.)

I believe that in any town of 900 people in the U.K., there would be gardens all along the street, maybe not at every house but at least at every few houses.

Below, this also applies to the repetitive nature of garden blogging:

Monty is more politically outspoken in this older book, it seems to me.

He also has some choice words for Thatcher, Bush, and even the RHS’s show gardens and the National Trust open gardens.

Everything he wrote rang true, though, and I think he had some influence on improving National Trust gardens and garden centres. I love him for it.

This, about makeover shows and designed gardens…

…made me think about how his own makeover show, years later (Big Dreams, Small Spaces), relies on the garden owners to mostly create the design and implement it themselves.

It reminds me of another favourite gardening quotation.

You’ll have to get the book to read his scathing critique of Chelsea Flower Show gardens at the time, including recreations of The Lost Gardens of Heligan and of a London blitz garden “complete with bombed ‘house'”. I probably would have liked them. He wanted to see original ideas.

I was well chuffed to find out that Monty and I have the same favourite gardening book.

And in googling about the book his son gave him, I found out that there is a documentary about Jarman’s garden, called The Garden, that I can watch online for under $5.00.

I used to carry this book with me to show any prospective client who wanted a garden right by the sea.

I also learned that Monty has two telly shows I had not heard of, Don Roaming and Real Gardens. I searched and could only find brief excerpts online. Later in staycation, I will allow myself to start watching garden videos again. (If I did that now, I wouldn’t get my pile of library books read.)


30 December 2019

The Pawnbroker’s Daughter by Maxine Kumin

It must have been in The Last Gift of Time that I learned about this book. It began as a memoir of growing up in the 1930s, becoming a poet, and then about halfway through segued, to my amazed delight, to a memoir of life on a farm with an old house, horses and dogs, a huge swimming pond and a big vegetable garden. The farm was called PoBiz Farm, financed as it was by poetry. (That link goes to a long essay that became part of the book. In this article are two more poems about the farm, one about how much work it was, in which her husband says “I hope on the other side, there’s a lot less work, but just in case, I’m bringing tools.”)

I will now read everything that I can find by Maxine Kumin. I am smitten. Other than her poetry books, I especially want to find her essays about country life and her memoir about recovering from a terrible carriage accident. I have two on order already. She also wrote many children’s books; our library has at least one of them.

One of the themes in the latter part of this memoir is moving into an old farmhouse. This passage…

…reminded me of something else: I want to reread, in order, all the memoirs of Gladys Taber’s country life. When I was a child, my grandmother bought the Family Circle magazine each month. She’d send me down to the corner store for “our magazines” (also Woman’s Day and Better Homes and Gardens). My favourite part was a column called Butternut Wisdom. In my 50s, I discovered Gladys Taber somehow, and soon realized she had written that column. In the early 2000s, I painstakingly typed out all my takeaways from her books and posted them in a Taber group in Yahoogroups, and then changed my email, lost my password, and could never get back in to retrieve them. After fifteen years, the books will seem new again and the takeaways be easier with a digital camera. Owning them all will make the re-reading easier than interlibrary loaning.

Back to Maxine Kumin. In her Pulitzer Prize winning poetry, the garden looms large.


She includes the stories of…and eulogies for…all of their many rescued dogs. “I have never been able to keep my animals, their births, eccentricities, and deaths, out of my poems.”

About one of the dogs, who loved to run with the horses.

That made me weep, as you can imagine.

As for porcupines…

…my dog Bertie Woofter was born for revenge and caused us three expensive trips to the vet with a snout full of quilly pig stickers.

I am ever so excited about discovering Maxine Kumin; I predict hours of good reading ahead.


Bonus book

School of the Arts by Mark Doty

Coincidentally, I had a book of poems checked out by the author of three of my favourite memoirs (Still Life with Oranges and Lemons, Heaven’s Coast, and Dog Years), with poems about flowers, Cape Cod, gentrification, sex, dogs, time, death. Dog lover friends, I encourage you to find the long poem called Letter to God.


Part of a poem about time and death…

….which is on my mind a lot because of the death of my old friend Bryan.

And then there are poems about flowers…

…including a two or three page poem about a pink poppy that I send to my friends from Pink Poppy Farm.

Suddenly, I find that I must read all of Mark Doty’s books of poetry, even though I haven’t read much poetry since my early 20s.

School of the Arts was book 125 of my reading year. Some say they envy my reading time. I doubt they would trade with me. I have the tiniest of families; any smaller and it would be just me and thus not a family at all (unless I counted the cats). I have really only two highly focused interests, gardening and reading. My friendships have dropped off to those few who are not offended by my craving for solitude. Thus–I have much time for reading during proper reading weather.

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Reading in December

Staycation so far has had too much emotion and worries to be the peaceful reading time I had hoped for. Maybe in January. For now, my concentration has been pretty much shot.

I am still longing for the month of January, after Allan’s birthday and going on till February 5th or so, to be non-peopling and not leaving the property.

Anyway. Did I even mention these two great books that I read early in December? I saved so many takeaways that I simply cannot deal with the effort of blogging about them. If you like non fiction tales of the social internet and related technology, give them a go.

We still had Frosty then.

I had a pretty good pile of books to read by mid month.

Having read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, I read one of her three actual memoirs and liked it very much. Cat lovers among you might like this cat description.

Via interlibrary loan, I got the second “Edward” novel, a trilogy (so far) about an aspergian man. I could so relate to his love for his new iPhone. I am thoroughly devoted to mine.

I have ordered book three of Edward via interlibrary loan and meanwhile read another aspergian novel which I recommend….the first in a series.

After the death on December 9th of my old friend Bryan, my former spouse the Leedsman reached out to me to make sure I had heard about it. We did a fair amount of messaging about it and during that conversation, he recommended a mystery series by a friend of his. (He is a renowned writer of mysteries himself. )

I enjoyed the first one, and a passage about photography reminded me of some thoughts that my favourite blogger, Mr. Tootlepedal, has written about taking up photography after retirement and how it has helped him notice things.

Frosty was sorely missed while I read this book.

Of course, any mention of Whitby brings back memories of a dreamy trip there with Chris. Most entrancing place I have ever been.

You can peruse the photos of Frank Meadows Sutcliffe here.

Skooter did not read a single book with me since Frosty’s passing. He spends his time with Allan while Allan has been moving loads of his old photos to a his computer.

Meanwhile, days were spent working on a garden project which I am waiting to write about when it is done. On one of those days, Tony, Scott, and their dog Rudy, brought us some delicious home made peppermint fudge.

Fudge and tea makes for delectable reading, as did this plate of cookies and poppyseed bread brought to us by Mary and Denny of Klipsan Beach Cottages.

When we went to our Christmas Eve dinner at The Depot Restaurant, I observed that the window box annuals still refuse to die. I came home and erased dealing with them from the work board. None of the indoor jobs have gotten done.

After Christmas, it took me three days to read My Roots by Monty Don. I was also making memorial posts about Frosty, so focusing on even the best book was difficult. There are probably more takeaways than I can get away with sharing; My Roots will have a post of its own, next, I hope before the end of the year.

We watched two slow paced BritBox specials about Christmas lights on English estates and in London. Earlier in the month, our nerves had been soothed by a season of the Great British Bake-off and by an increasingly charming three part series called Mum. Not to mention a Coronation Street Christmas retrospective and a Gavin and Stacey Christmas special during which I just about wept when they sang Fairytale of New York down the pub. (The Pogues figured large in my past. If you know the song, I think certain lyrics could be replaced with, “You scumbag, you tosser, you cheap double crosser” instead of…you know.)

Also on BritBox, we watched Christopher and His Kind, a biographical film about Christopher Isherwood, because I have an enormous book of diaries by him which I must read by January 7th. Interlibrary loans don’t allow renewals. I learned about the diaries when I read The Last Gift of Time; Carolyn Heilbrun wrote a biography of him.

The latest book I have read is a semi-memoir by the great food writer Ruth Reichl.

It is half memoir and half recipes. Some amateur reviewers complained about the idea that food “saved her life” after Gourmet magazine shut down, because her life is one of such privilege. Even though I am acutely aware of class and though she could be from a different planet than me in terms of how different her life is, I don’t discount her sorrow at the loss of a beloved career.

I skipped over the recipes as soon as I would get to something beyond me as a non-cook…but saved some of the ones whose terminology I could understand. We couldn’t even get most of the ingredients here. Our two closest local grocery stores are renowned not only for a limited selection but also for foods (bacon!! yogurt, cottage cheese, salsa) that are past their expiration dates.

The book made me long for the wider choices of food that I had back in Seattle. If I went to Astoria more, we could find better ingredients and could sample the assorted food carts that have appeared over the past few years. I do love good food cooked by someone else. Allan is an able cook who provides meals for us, because he would tire of my bagged salads and microwaved quesadillas. I tell myself I might learn to cook great food after we semi retire….but it consumes so much time and a meal is gone so quickly. Gardening is an art form that lasts much longer.

I share Ruth Reichl’s feelings about friendships made through the social internet.

And I loved this bit about her cats, after a badly broken foot kept her in bed for weeks.

Her poetic twitter excerpts made me want to tweet. But I think WordPress, Facebook, and Instagram are enough addictions to have.

Jazmin did sit with me for awhile during that book. It’s so large that there was not much room for her to get comfy.

My next book was quite small in size so that Jazmin fit perfectly.

The first in a mystery series recommended by Carolyn Heilbrun, it taught me something I did not know about the US constitution.

The mystery abounded in droll British humour of the sort I like.


It imparted these wise words about intense relationships:

I hope to read Sarah Caudwell’s three other mysteries before work begins again. She is far more educated than I, and the reading takes much closer attention than I have during work season.

Before the massive Isherwood tome, I intend to fit in a couple of shorter and easier books. The garden project is on hold until a few days of good weather are predicted.

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Our Frosty, part three


Out of eighty photos of Frosty in 2019, most if not all of which have appeared in these posts, I have tried to winnow part three of this memorial down to a mere fifty images….mainly because my original post attempt with all eighty failed to upload.

He remained my best reading cat of the current batch of three cats.

He also watched quantities of British gardening shows with me in January through March.

Work season has begun in February with books and shows fit in on rainy days.

i love this photo of him resting on a photo of Derek Jarman’s garden.

He and Skooter enjoyed the gardening season.

Frosty liked to ask for belly rubs wherever he might be. He never scratched or bit when indulged.

Skooter liked to chase. While Frosty did not mind running, he would stick up for himself if need be.

I would say that he and Skooter were sort of friends but not the sort who snuggle regularly. I did find them snoozing together sometimes, and on occasion they would even share the lap.

Frosty enjoyed sitting with me while I ate breakfast, just to be companionable. Unlike his brother, Smoky, he was not in it for cereal milk.

He helped me blog about it all.

As autumn weather came, we got back to more reading. Frosty was now somewhere around fifteen and a half years old and snoozed more than ever.

In October, he began to get attacks of the Wobblies and confusion, and started taking medicine twice a day. He enjoyed the new routine of getting canned food in the morning as well as at night. I very much hoped that we would have at least this last staycation together and perhaps one more summer.

We had adopted three and a half year old Jazmin in July. She started out by hating all other cats. Frosty’s reward for months of patient friendliness was some shared lap time in early December.

Frosty and I read together for two thirds of December….

This was our last book together (and an excellent book it is):

On December 19th, he has a bad seizure. He recovered and had a walk out into the garden…

..but on December 20th, his seizures were so terrible that we had to take him for that one last trip to the vet.

I mourn the last of the best cat family I could ever have adopted, Mary, Smoky, and Frosty, and I rejoice that we gave them years of comfort, affection, and glorious days in the garden.

Oceanside Animal Clinic excels at kind and tender care and at the most comforting of sympathy cards.

As always, I recommend this book to all who have lost a beloved animal companion.

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Our Frosty, part two

Memorial photos of Frosty, continued. As you will see, he dearly loved a belly rub and could be counted on to not bite or scratch.


Frosty fell in love with Royal, a little chi-pug who lived next door for just a couple of months.

If Frosty had been younger then, I would just have had to get him a little dog of his own…

Skooter had come to live with us. While he and Frosty never did get cuddly, they did become friends.

Smoky passed away in October 2017 and Calvin in the spring of 2018. With Skooter not being much of a lap cat (and also being more bonded with Allan), Frosty became my main reading companion.


Tomorrow: The conclusion of our Frosty memorial series.

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Our Frosty, part one

You know what this means. On Friday, December 20th, our fifteen and a half year old cat, Frosty, had his second day of serious seizures. There had been just one seizure on Thursday. I was still so much hoping to have him with me through one more staycation. But on Friday, he had two more shockingly violent seizures. I could not seem to make the decision to let him go…and reached out to the hive mind of Facebook friends, where I got exactly the help I needed, backed up with personal stories, of how it was better to make the big decision a bit too soon rather than too late. We got him to the Oceanside Animal Clinic an hour before closing, where the wonderful veterinarian assured me that we had indeed made the right decision. He had three more seizures just while we were waiting in the exam room for a short time. With a soothing shot to help him relax so that we could say goodbye before the Green Shot, his passing was peaceful and loving.

So now it is time to memorialize him. He is the last of the family of three that we adopted in 2012 when a friend died: Mary was the mother, and Smoky and Frosty her sons. All three had lived inside of a motor home in the Cove RV Park. How very much they loved our garden (which was on its second summer then) when they grew comfortable enough with their new home to venture outside. We already had shy black cat Calvin, whom we had adopted at age seven in 2011. (Calvin deserved but never got a proper memorial post, because he died during springtime busy work season. Someday….I will set up an anniversary post for him.)


The family of three arrived early in the year and hid in the closet for a several days, and then found two cat doors and a garden awaiting them.

Frosty had grown up with two nice dogs and he very much liked dogs. Here he is with the wonderful Sophie, our friend J9’s dog.


2014 and 2015:

Sometimes it did seem like Mary favored Smoky over Frosty. I was always happy for him when he was included.


Mother Mary had passed away. She had been quite the book cat. Frosty got more reading time when she was gone.

Frosty was a bit of a squirmer during book time, nudging his head under the book and turning around and around before getting comfortable. I’d gladly put up with that now to have one more reading winter with him….

More Frosty photos tomorrow.

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Saturday, 14 December 2019

Today I was grateful to leave my property for a day out with Our Kathleen. Far away on a remote Canadian Island, today was the memorial for my old friend Bryan. I needed to get out and about and not mope around at home.

Kathleen picked me up at one in the afternoon. Our first stop was the weekend Christmas market at the Salt Hotel.

Samples of local day boat tuna

Joe Nisbett manning the Don Nisbett art display

On the way north to Long Beach, we stopped at another Christmas bazaar, this time featuring all handmade gifts at the Sou’wester Lodge.

Part of the bazaar was in the pavilion…

….where I bought a lovely wooden vase, for dried flowers and twigs, for a friend.

The teahouse trailer nearby

The rest of the the handmade bazaar was set up in the lodge, and there we checked in on Allan’s kayak book table.

He did very well over the one day of the bazaar. And he got to listen to some good music from the table next to him.

As Kathleen and I returned to her car, we saw two good friends of mine.

Cotah and Bentley

In north Long Beach, Kathleen and I visited the one of the establishments that was open today for a Bed and Breakfast (and small lodgings) holiday open house. I was curious about the Mermaid Inn because, even though it is not on the ocean side of the highway, it gets consistently rave reviews on travel sites.

The mermaid statue, which used to be in a downtown Long Beach park, has a history of controversy and inspired irate letters to the editor to the local paper even after some extra locks of hair were carved to cover her bosom. She has also been described as ugly, to which I strongly object. Women come in all sorts of appearances and it is cruel to ridicule people for how they look.

Even without the many flowers and hanging baskets which adorn the inn in summertime, it’s a charming place.

Inn owner Karla Martin

Finally, we reached our main destination of our day, the holiday open house at the Boreas Inn, the most beautiful lodging on the Long Beach Peninsula, owned by our friends Susie and Bill.

Susie and Bill are famous for the inn’s lavish breakfasts and always put on a nice spread for the annual open house.

Their annual tradition, a weekend of decorating by regular guests of the inn in early December, had excellent results.

Their “Hanukkah Bush” got its name because they used to find a beach pine from their western property. It is quite tree-like this year.

Nearby is a cozy fireplace nook.

And on the north side of that comfy spot is my favourite guest room, the Garden Suite.

We joined Susie and Bill and some of their favourite inn guests in the west facing sun room.

To our delight, Lezlie Greco soon joined us.

Mist rolled in over the garden at dusk.

Allan joined us after his Sou’wester event and we stayed past the event’s closing time till well after dark. The overnight guests and those of us visiting for the open house all turned out to be politically aligned, making for absorbing and comforting conversation.

The open house was a benefit for the local food bank, with attendees asked to contribute a can of food. The Boreas had taken in a generous amount.

For anyone who dreams of owning a bed and breakfast and who has the dosh, the inn and the three bedroom owners’ quarters are for sale.

Upon returning home, I felt that the next day was the true beginning of my stay at home staycation. I had high hopes of not leaving my property for nine days, not till the Depot Restaurant’s Dickens dinner on Christmas Eve.


Here, for a bit more holiday cheer, are the window displays in downtown Ilwaco, created by Wendi Peterson. (Photos taken by Allan a week later.)


Tuesday, 24 December

Skipping ahead to Christmas Eve day…Allan and I went to see the new Star Wars film at the Neptune Theatre in Long Beach. They’d gone all out with lobby decorations….

Allan’s photos

…and a pun in the loo. (That is the plural of Han.)

I found the film completely satisfactory.

As soon as we got home, we turned around again for an early Christmas Eve dinner at the Depot Restaurant, picking up Marlene on the way.

Allan’s photos

Allan and Marlene had the salmon while I had the full traditional Dickens Dinner with Yorkshire pud. It is enormous; I saved some of the meat and the great big bone for my large canine friends, Cotah and Bentley.

Home again, after dropping Marlene off, I said to Allan, “Let’s do our presents now and then Christmas can be over and tomorrow can be a normal day at home.” He agreed with an excellent plan.

I had been intrigued to open a mystery gift that had appeared on the porch with a card saying “From your Secret Santa, glad you enjoyed the wind chime.” That message slightly narrows the field of mystery benefactors to someone who is either a Facebook friend or blog reader or both–someone who has read that I loved the Hello Kitty wind chimes that appeared in a gift bag on my porch earlier this year. The delightful theme repeated at Christmas.

I do like a big mug with a solid base, perfect for cats to not knock over. Plus a cutie orange for each of us. The mystery goes on. Will someone ever confess?

Not to be all “Look what I got for Christmas!” but I will mention a few things. Montana Mary, along with some culinary delights, sent a bead made by her landlady, designed in memory of my heart cat, Smoky. Don’t think I did not notice the thematic cleverness of including two mysteries about a bead maker who lives in my home town, Seattle.

I like the artist’s business card.

You can see more of her beads here.

A tea ball from Our Kathleen (accompanied by some Earl Grey and some Christmas tea and my favorite crispy rice chocolate), depicts the TARDIS.

I hope you can see, with my rather inferior phone camera, that it even says “Police Box.”

Along with the practical gift of a small food processor for making low salt hummus, something I did want (even though it may surprise some to hear that I’d want anything to do with cooking), Allan found a perfect book and a selection of real British chocolates.

And he found me quite the perfect t shirt design.

He did well in receiving, with a movie book from Kathleen and some boating books from me (and one fern for his garden, by the name of “Green Ribbons”).

Happy holidays to you of whatever sort you prefer and thank you for reading…and special blessings to our commenters, who warm the cockles of our hearts.

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Sunday, 8 December 2019

Here is a guest photo from our friend Donna of a hummingbird as bright and colorful as a Christmas tree ornament.

Allan made me cheerful by reinstalling the repaired broken lattice on the south wall of the house….

…and by getting me some leaves from the south patio of the Purly Shell Fiber Arts shop at the port.

Those may be the last of the leaves.

Jenna stopped by for a visit after borrowing our Christmas crab for a photo shoot.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

In the window of the Ilwaco post office:

They gave us such a pretty card with a peaceful nature message.

I had the great cheeriness of visiting the medical clinic and finding out that my ear is all better and that we won’t have to go on a long drive to see a specialist. Meanwhile, Allan took some photos of the memorial tree at the hospital, with its poignant and loving ornaments…

….and of a display of wreaths in a silent auction.

We picked up our last cheque of the year at Long Beach city hall and admired their tree.

Looks like all the staff and crew will get their stockings filled.

I had a bit of Christmas shopping to do at the pharmacy, outside of which are murals depicting seaside bounty.

Wednesday. 11 December 2019

I took my bricked MacBook to see an expert, whose opinion is that it is thoroughly unbootable. A friend is gifting me a slightly older MacBook which will work for blogging. I still have not entirely given up my faint hope about my old one….but I don’t want to spend staycation fussing over it. The new to me gifted one doesn’t have enough memory to take my Time Machine back up. I do not care one whit. I feel burdened by the idea of the 80,000 photos sitting on that back up device and am perfectly happy to start afresh for now and make my budget happy by not having to buy a new Mac for awhile. Thank you, friend! I swear that this time I will delete all before and after and quotidian gardening photos as soon as I have used them in the blog instead of letting them build and build for years.

We had a late lunch in Long Beach at the Hungry Harbor Grille while admiring their annual holiday village, a harbor town with signs painted to represent our local businesses.

I always imagine that I live on the top floor of this apartment building, with a balcony and a roof garden. Why don’t I pick one of the grander houses? I do not know…

….except that I think it reminds me of The Gables, where my apartment in 1976 ($75 a month including utilities) was all along the right side, second story, below.

My heart was sore about the loss of my old friend, Bryan, as we dined by the holiday village. Even though there was a muffling distance between me and its charm, I was able to appreciate that it was there.

I dropped a raincoat and a holiday sweater off at the free rack by the pharmacy.

I hope someone enjoys these pretty birds.

The rain blurred out the holiday lights as we left Long Beach for home.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

We rounded up two out of three cats to go to the vet for check ups and booster shots. A particularly festive tree sits in the vet clinic.

Skooter had his boosters and I decided to get a blood panel done for him. The results were “perfect across the board”. Poor old Frosty had come along for a look-over because he still gets the Wobblies about once a week. My best hope was to just get one more winter staycation with him.

Friday, 13 December 2019

After a day at home, we visited Marlene in her darling little house by Ilwaco Park for a fruit plate, wine, and cake and a good long talk. Her three quiet little Japanese Chin dogs sat nearby.

She gave us a present which we opened early, well before Christmas: the perfect tea towel.

Tomorrow, I’ll have a grand day out with Our Kathleen, and after that my stay-at-home-cation is scheduled to truly begin. I hope to not leave my property from the evening of December 15 until the eve of Christmas.

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At age 26, after seeing the movie Rock n Roll High School and becoming smitten with Joey Ramone (during this song, and I can’t explain why), I decided that I had to go to a real punk show. I was afraid to, having heard that punks jumped up and down and hit each other on the head. But I ventured forth with a friend who was renting a room from me at the time. We ended up at The Gorilla Room, a dark hole in the wall venue in downtown Seattle, and we became regulars there.

My first memory of really looking at Bryan was from a bus. From my high perch, I saw him walking down First Avenue with his hair dyed in three colors to match his tight leopard skin pants. I knew he was the manager of the Gorilla Room and had probably exchanged a hello with him there. I looked and thought…how interesting. And the summer passed.

Carla Leonardi took these photos of Bryan during his Gorilla Room year.

In late December 1981, after the Gorilla Room had closed down, I was waiting for a bus in the University District when a tall man came up to me and said, “I like your purple hair!” He may have had to remind me of who he was. My bus came, and I had to get on to go to my housecleaning job, thinking, “How VERY interesting.” That night I called Carla and asked her to create an opportunity for me to meet him properly.

At the very beginning of January, I sat with Carla and Bryan in her SoDo loft while Bryan told me that he was a genius and could easily invent a time machine. The time machine part I did not believe. Nevertheless, I was charmed. We left the loft and, even though the sidewalks were snowy and icy and I fear walking on snow and ice, we slowly walked and talked all the way from south of downtown to the Dog House, a famous 24 hour diner dive north of downtown, where I bought Bryan a cup of coffee and then, after more of conversation, took him home on the last bus.

I learned within the first few days that he was an avid reader who loved Jane Austen, AA Milne, and the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer. He recited to me a poem about geraniums red and delphiniums blue.…and moved in with boxes of books. Our conversation went on and on. We were inseparable for the next four years.

I took these photos during our first springtime together:

He took me to meet his parents, Louise and John. They attended the same Quaker meeting as the mother of my best friend, Mary. I had seen photos in the newspaper of Louise wearing her jacket with an appliqué of “War is not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.” John later made the news, at least the alternative news, as the Berlin Wall Walker.

Bryan and his sister Gwyneth

As a teenager, I had cut out a photo from the Helix, Seattle’s alternative paper, and tacked it to my wall. It showed three teenagers sitting on the hood of a car holding anti war protest signs. That newspaper clipping was in one of the photo albums that Louise showed me that day. The teenagers were Bryan’s three siblings, Anna, Gwyneth, and Morgan.

I felt that I had found my family. For the next five years and even after that, I had my Christmases and Thanksgivings in their midst.

I did only a bit of gardening during those years. Below, Bryan and Owen plant a hawthorn treehouse our parking strip, part of a city street tree giveaway.

Bryan and I loved cats. My two cats, Lucretia and Hanna, both had kittens during 1982. (Oops.). We kept two, Noodle and Pudge Bear.

Photo by Bryan

After two and a half idyllic years in my Seattle house, we moved to an old house on a dead end alley off of a dead end street on Queen Anne Hill. After seeing it on a wandering exploratory walk after a housecleaning job, I was so taken with its old and very British look that I took Bryan to see it the next day. A for rent sign had appeared in the front window overnight. We could not resist. Two of his friends rented my own house, and Bryan and I were moved to Queen Anne within a week. Our friend Wilum Pugmire moved in with us.

Wilum and I just after moving into the Queen Anne house

Wilum Pugmire

The eyebrow windows are what made the house look so special.

The house was on the very edge on the hill and had a daylight basement and a big sun porch on the south side.

That is Bryan’s old friend Owen in the window of the room that was “the library”.

I had only the tiniest of gardens by the driveway retaining wall. Below the house, a strip of grass on the edge of the hill was full Japanese knotweed. Our landlord told us that the landscape had once been terraced all the way down the steep hill to Elliot Avenue.

My tiny driveway garden

Bryan and Owen passing a smoke

My dear friend Carol lived with us for one summer.

In the living room with the sun porch behind

Reading in the kitchen

Bryan and his friends liked working on their cars.

The upstairs bathroom had one of the eyebrow windows.

Lucretia in the library

Valene in the library


Bryan and our very best cat, Pudge Bear

On a weekend trip

Playing with Dusty, a canine friend, at an Orcas Island cabin

We did have happy times in that big brick house. Our first Christmas there was heaven.

However….Bryan had firmly decided around the time of our move that he wanted to be a pot farmer. I am all about letting people be themselves but, as for my self, I wanted nothing to do with it. (Bryan said I should be good at it because I liked to garden.) As someone who does not one bit like being high (because it interfered with my reading ability), I had grown used to being in a cloud of pot smoke with Bry and his friends (which must have meant a bit of a contact high). The farm idea, which terrified me, was a juggernaut I could not stop.

During our years at the Queen Anne house, my anxiety was so deep that by our fifth year, we were no longer inseparable. I yearned for a partner who would go to a simple job every day, a carpenter or an auto mechanic or plumber (all skills that Bryan had). Bryan later said he liked “being an outlaw”. I hated it. (I will say his product was so good that it won awards at region-wide (very secret) pot competitions and was sold, through some sort of middle man, to rock stars whose names you would recognize.)

One day, I looked out the kitchen window and there, in our driveway, at the end of our dead end alley off the dead end street, was a police car. I was alone in the house. Bryan and his friends had gone out to breakfast, leaving pot leaf debris in the library. I hid in the living room in terror. The house, at the steep edge of the hill , had no back door for escape. Eventually, the police car drove away. I suppose the officer was just having a coffee break.

I started to have nightmares that federal agents were digging a trench around the house.

One morning I woke to shouting and found a sort of business partner of Bryan’s threatening to “blow off the front of your garage with an M80!”

Life was not restful.

In my nightmarish anxiety, I feel now that I did absolutely everything, and I do mean everything, wrong for the last year and a half that Bryan and I lived together. I will draw a veil over all of my mistakes and social inadequacies. If only I knew then what I know now…

In January of 1986, I announced that I had to move back to my own little house. It took eight months to fulfill my lease agreement with my tenants and get back there. Wilum moved with me, which was a great comfort.

Living apart did not work for Bryan’s and my romance. In February of 1987, I ended it. Even as we gave up, we were still, as he put it, “intoxicated” with each other. Maybe I should have paid more attention to that.

For the next eleven years, Bryan was my most steadfast and reliable and helpful friend. He watched over me through my deep and deadly depression of summer 1987. He helped me and Chris, my British husband of 1988-1989, with any household or vehicular crisis.

Thanksgiving with Bryan’s parents. His sister Anna, Bryan, me, my spouse Chris, Bryan’s brother Morgan, and Mark

When I became an obsessed gardener, he built me the most beautiful wave patterned fence.

After I met Robert and moved to the beach, Robert and I continued to visit and stay with Bryan regularly at his new rental home two blocks from the Fauntleroy Ferry dock in West Seattle. Bryan came to our little house in 1995 and helped Robert add a new room.

In 1996, Robert and I made him a garden at the West Seattle house.

Robert making a three tiered garden for Bryan

Bryan’s new garden in summer 1996

Flowers on Bryan’s fence.

Sometime just before the turn of the century, as my life at home was descending into chaos and misery, Bryan was about to get married for the first time. For his fiancée, he gave up “farming”. I made the hard decision to let our friendship go, much to his dismay (and mine). I had to, and I still feel that I had to, because “comparison is the thief of joy”.

I do have a long letter from him written a year later that I will treasure for as long as I can still read….

I heard a few years later that he and his wife and child had moved to an off grid Canadian Island. (He was a dual citizen by birth, and by then his mother, father, and brother already lived there.) That made the rift between us much easier, as did the fact that my own life was improving. But even in the almost quarter century of our separation, I doubt there was a day that passed without a poignant memory of him.

Last week, on December 9th, I woke to a text from his sister Gwyneth telling me that he had died in his sleep early that morning. He had just turned 67 and had seemed to be in good health. His family was devastated. Morgan built his coffin…

Even though in the eyes of society, he was not “mine” to mourn so intensely, I find that there is a terrible hole in the world without the knowledge that he is in it.

I am grateful to Gwyneth for sharing so much with me about his memorial, so that I know he is buried on that island next to his mother and father. I would feel lost without that knowledge.

I have been in a flummox for the past week about how to write this post. His death is not about me…but here in my blog, my thoughts are about us and the way we were. And so many memories….

….All the great shows we attended together by our favorite local bands, X-15 (later Life in General), The Fastbacks, DOA, Napalm Beach, Red Dress…

…in our first year, a weekly potluck with his friends to watch The Avengers (with a Emma Peel and John Steed, before the age of VCRs), and the weekly cry of “Oh, no, not that one!”

….The midnight coffee klatches at the B&O Espresso with Gwyneth, Craig, Owen, Megan and Gary (because we were all night owls)…

The birthday party when Gwyneth made me a cassata cake just like the one from the B&O….

…..reading in bed (PG Wodehouse, Philip K Dick, Ruth Rendell, Sue Grafton)……..

…….the long drive to Sunday brunch at the Hi Spot Cafe in south Seattle…

…his love of “goofing off”, meaning sitting around talking with his core group of friends…

…the vrooom vrooom vrooom of Formula One races that he and Owen watched on telly….

…the way he made coffee and breakfast for me every morning…

On the farm where Owen and Megan’s father, Pa D, lived

At pa D’s house

So many memories. ….finding the best Thai, Ethiopian, India, Chinese, and Vietnamese restaurants in Seattle…

…and our visits to Vancouver B.C. to visit his brother, Morgan, and Morgan’s wonderful partner, Kathy…

Morgan on stage


Bryan, Gwyneth, Louise, Morgan and me at the DOA band house in Vancouver B.C.

Bry and one of the DOA band members

Bryan in the DOA house

Along with that last precious letter, I’ll treasure those memories for as long as I live.

In a Facebook group for people who remember the Gorilla Room days and are also mourning Bryan, the words used to describe him are “a real mensch”, “kind, gentle, intelligent”, “one of the finest people I ever knew”, “I will miss his quirkiness”, “what a great guy”, “a true quality cat”, “a big heart, boundless curiosity and enthusiasm; he cared deeply about life and all that it entailed”, “such a great human and a positive force on the scene, an exceptional intelligence who always had something interesting on his mind”.

Sometime in my fifties, I had suddenly remembered that as a child, when I first learned about marriage, I envisioned the person I would someday marry as a very tall, thin, dark-haired, bookish man wearing glasses. The only person in my adult life who fit that description was Bryan. I must have recognized him when I first really looked at him, but I did not recognize him clearly enough to stay with him no matter what. If we had met in our forties, when he had decided to work with his great skills at home remodeling and might have been willing to quit farming for me, we would have made it, I am quite sure.

As for all my regrets, I have to realize that the path I took brought me to my present contented life, to a hard-working partner who loves to read, and to the right livelihood of public gardening.

In Gwyneth’s eloquent words:

Fade to black

It’s done now

Nothing can be changed

The choices made

Are made

Opportunities that were taken

Opportunities passed

All that is left

Are the memories we have made

No substitutions

No alterations

No returns

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Read on 4 December 2019

Long ago, I read and loved Carolyn Heilbrun’s Kate Fansler mystery series and her non-fiction book Writing a Woman’s Life. I had completely missed her memoir about aging until recently, when I learned of it and placed an interlibrary loan.

Here are a multitude of take-aways from what is, so far, my favourite book of my 2019 reading year.

In Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, I was struck by no mention of some of my favourite memoirists, including May Sarton and Doris Grumbach. I was so pleased to see Doris mentioned early on in Last Gift.

And then May Sarton herself appeared at the end of this paragraph about Grumbach.

I knew I was in for a heavenly read.

The subject matter of life over 60 is significant to me because I will soon turn 65.

Heilbrun quotes from a poem by Marilyn Hacker, called Against Elegies.

Soon came the story about one of my favorite things in a memoir, buying a house, coupled with another favorite thing, the joy of solitude.


The idea that something can be happening for the last time is even more poignant to me as I reread this next takeaway a week after an old friend, who wanted to live to be 100, died with no warning, in his sleep, at age just barely 67.

Part of a chapter is devoted to the joys of email (in 1996) and to Heilbrun’s extensive correspondence through that medium. I wonder what she would have thought of the social internet?

Next, I found a whole chapter about May Sarton. What bliss. I once read a disappointing and cruel biography about Sarton which criticized and excoriated her difficult personality. In contrast, her friend Carolyn wrote of her with sympathetic and understanding honesty.


A friend who knew May Sarton and was smitten with her told me a story about being invited over and then being told to go away, because May was in the midst of a writing inspiration. I think it was in her memoirs that I learned the phrase “a person from Porlock”.

I still have these books but must have lent out my two favourites, Plant Dreaming Deep and Journal of a Solitude.

I thought nothing could make me happier than a whole chapter about May Sarton, until turning the page brought me to a chapter about England.



And yet, and yet, something of that first fascination with writings by the English remained, like the aroma of a lost love, pure, fabricated, and enchanting.


I had to look that up.

The chapter goes on with the joys of visiting the home of English friends. Every paragraph is perfection and way too big of a takeaway to share here. Just a glimpse or two:


The chapter ends with this delightful quotation about friendship.


On memoirs in general, with reference to a memoirist named Maxine Kumin, whom I have not read.




More on aging:


Below: I remember as a child taking drives out of Seattle with my parents and being in the countryside in twenty minutes, with pastures and cows and horses and barns.

And I know that nostalgia for the past is a privilege.


On reading as an Anglophile:


The passage below is just how I feel about death. Perhaps if Carolyn Heilbrun were still alive, I could contact her on her Facebook page and we could share thoughts about it.

I am reminded of my favourite song, which I would want sung at my funeral, if I wanted a funeral, which I don’t:

Love It Like a Fool by Malvina Reynolds

Baby, I ain’t afraid to die,
It’s just that I hate to say good-bye to this world,
This world, this world.
This old world is mean and cruel,
But still I love it like a fool, this world,
This world, this world.
I’d rather go to the corner store
Than sing hosannah on that golden shore,
I’d rather live on Parker Street
Than fly around where the angels meet.
Oh, this old world is all I know,
It’s dust to dust when I have to go from this world,
This world, this world.
Somebody else will take my place,
Some other hands, some other face,
Some other eyes will look around
And find the things I’ve never found.
Don’t weep for me when I am gone,
Just keep this old world rolling on, this world,
This world, this world.
As Carolyn Heilbrun says…
….which is ironic, because my next post will go as far back as 1982.
My last takeaway to share :
It bothers me no end that Carolyn committed suicide at age 77, only a few years after this book was published. She had planned to do so at age 70 but had found life to be enjoyable after all. No one among her family and friends knows why she did it. The clue to why she did it that I might understand is that “she didn’t want to be a useless person.”
I left out of this long post a few paragraphs about her decision, in her 60s, to get a dog, even though she did not like the idea of getting up early to let the dog out. (I was so lucky that my dog, Bertie Woofter, liked to sleep late as much as I do.) She loved her dog. I wonder if her dog was still alive when Carolyn decided to depart? That seems a significant point that no one mentions. You can read more about it here, including a mention of how much she loved dogs up to her last day on earth. I am sad and mystified. I wish that she had continued to love now and had lived to write another memoir about being in her 80s.

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Although staycation proper doesn’t really begin until I have some steady uninterrupted time at home, I managed, among assorted holiday outings, to get started on my staycation reading. Here are some takeaways.

Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs

In Burroughs’ new memoir about being a witch, I appreciate and relate to all of his words about his chronic anxiety.



I identify more with his husband, Christopher, when it comes to material possessions.

While describing a book about magick, Burroughs has this to say:

And this is an excellent way to navigate the world:

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

Listening to the album Horses, which I checked out of the library when I was 22 years old, changed the course of my 20s and 30s by setting me on a trajectory toward punk rock. If not for Patti, I might not have met pretty much everyone I knew between age 25 and 35.

Her personal story continues with her third memoir, this one written as she is about to turn 70.


When I started following Patti’s Instagram, I was pleased to see her still wearing clothing with raggedy sleeves.

I think if her every time I wear my favourite long back sweater with raveled sleeves out of the house to public events.

What she wrote about libraries reminded me of the forty block round trip that I used to walk from my childhood home to the Green Lake branch of the Seattle Public Library.


The prevailing theme of the book was the death of two friends, one of them also an ex-lover. I did not know that within a week, I would hear of the death of an old friend and lover of mine. I sort of wish I had read this book right afterward. Clearly, because I saved takeaways on the subject of loss, the subject already spoke to me…a function of age. I knew that fairly soon I would reach the age where friends were dying. I already knew of two, but had not yet lost an old friend whose death sent me reeling. Now I have, but to write about that here would be getting ahead of the narrative flow.

I still keep thinking something wonderful is about to happen.”

Here is an image to keep ourselves hoping, about having seen a performance by Belinda Carlisle (of The Go-Gos) on a telly show.

Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister

I read this excellent history book between memoirs.

Something both discouraging and hopeful in our times:

It’s one of the better political books I have read; I recommend it.

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Memoirs have become my favourite genre. I haven’t read any of Mary Karr’s, but I will after this book. The Liar’s Club is now on my table in my stack of library books.

One of Karr’s main themes is how to tell the truth. I’m disappointed to read this about Vivian Gornick. I loved her memoir The Odd Woman and the City.


I want the truth. When I write a blog post, I don’t even like to switch the order of daily jobs to improve the narrative.

But memories are tricky.

One of my first memories is standing in the arched doorway between my grandma’s kitchen and breakfast nook while my step-grandfather, whom I loved and called “Bumpy” for some reason, tried to make my grandmother take a handgun from him. He shouted, “Just take it! Just shoot me!” and I cried, “Bumpy, stop! no!” I see it so clearly…but do I remember it or did Gram tell me about it? My next memory, though, is crystal clear: I am at my uncle’s house, where Bumpy was staying. I was watching him in the mirror while he shaved with tears running down his face through the shaving foam. Later, I understood the story behind the events: he had come home drunk from a fishing trip and had hit her, and she had told him to leave.

On telling the whole painful truth:

On why memoirs are so mesmerizing:


Mary Karr has excellent advice on how to use language that gets one as close to the truth as possible, especially when remembering long ago conversations.

Next, and coincidentally related to Patti Smith’s book, a memoir about life after 60.

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