Posts Tagged ‘aging’

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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Sunday, 20 March 2016

After attending the Quilt Show, I spent the day sorting through my photos from 2012-13 for the first memorial post for Mary Cat. It took a very long time as I deleted many the photo from my computer.  I certainly do not need every before and after photo of jobs we no longer do.


evening: my Todd birthday bouquet still looked fabulous.


Monday, 21 March 2016

I spent the day doing the same project of deleting photos and making the Mary memorial with photos from 2014-16.  It was cathartic, with the gratifying side effect of deleting about 4000 photos in all.

Allan helped out by unpacking my birthday plants for me….


Lovely Asphodeline.

and running errands…


Cow Wow! mulch in the rain at Jo’s, when he went to pick up mulch money.


deadheading at Long Beach City Hall


zombie bouquet and Renee O’Connor sidewalk tile

Smokey sat right next to me watching me make the blog post.



He sort of fell asleep.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Today was my appointment with a knee doctor in Astoria.



beautiful clouds on our way across the Astoria Megler bridge


Allan’s photo; he said I looked “small entering the big building.”


knee doctor exam room art

The kindly doctor said my right knee has severe degenerative arthritis and is collapsing, that it is genetic and not unusual to have one knee much worse than the other (the left one is pretty fine still).  There is no temporary fix so I need a complete knee replacement.  I was not surprised.  He said that he has replaced many the knee for women in their 50s.  I told him that friends advise me to go to Rebound in Portland (because the basket ball team gets treated there) and that I DO NOT WANT to because going to the city 2.5 hours a way would just add to my stress and anxiety.  (And I don’t care about basketball although I am sure the players get great medical care.) He said he is an excellent surgeon with much experience and the very best of knees on offer, so I will be glad to be able to have it done in Astoria.  I am hoping to wait till November, though, somehow hobbling through another gardening year, as I cannot afford to lose three months of income.  Yes, he says the recovery time will be THREE MONTHS of not gardening. (My mind reels.)  THREE.  Maybe because he will also be straightening my leg. When he said something about “soft tissue”, I tuned out.  I also will probably not look at the knee replacement youtube video he told me about.

Late November through late February would just be doable for NOT GARDENING.  I like to think that the doc was impressed with my pain tolerance.  At least he did not pressure me, but he did advise me to give them two months notice for when I decide, and to call him if I can’t take the pain anymore.  He seemed amused when I told him I have such a bad case of ostrich syndrome that I have not pursued the results of last week’s MRI, since “each day of ignorant bliss is precious.”  (Surely I’d have gotten a phone call if at death’s door?)

I am reassured because I know Mr. Tootlepedal got through a knee replacement and says he has a fine new knee and is bicycling many many miles (although all I want to do is walk a couple of miles again).  My first memories of my grandma include her being in knee pain daily (affected by cold weather, which mine is not) with her knees wrapped in ace bandages daily.  She would have been just about my present age.  Would that this technology of knee replacement had been available to her in the 1960s.

I would have liked for Allan and I to stay in Astoria for a nice lunch with a view on the riverfront.  Ideally followed by a long and vigorous walk on the River Walk (next year?).  With the weather too fine and the following three days having rain and wind predicted, I felt the pressure of work so back to the peninsula we went.


view from the bridge going back

Penttila’s Chapel

I had recently added Penttila’s Chapel (a mortuary, not a church) garden to the spring clean up list.  I’d been thinking of passing the job on to Sea Star Gardening (Dave and Melissa) until I realized the job still has sentiment for me.  Allan and I helped install the garden with Dan’s partner, Wayne (his choice of plants, mostly), while my mother’s body was in the mortuary.  Although that sounds macabre, if you knew my mother, you’d know she’d have gotten a kick out that.  However, when mortician Dan drove up, I did give him Dave and Mel’s card for his own personal garden clean up.




3.25 hours later



I think it very strange to have McDonald’s across the street from a mortuary/crematorium.  (When I moved here, there was no national chain restaurant on the peninsula, and McD’s is still the only one.)



Allan’s befores and afters:




lots of sorrel in amongst the beach strawberries

I would love to clip back that lithodora after it flowers.  I loathe that stuff!  However, cutting it back after it blooms would expose some plastic liner that Wayne installed and I forgot to ask Dan if I could remove the upper part of the liner.





I added some Flanders Field poppy seeds because they seem appropriate for remembrance; I hope they take.



I cannot erase this off the work board yet as we still need to weed on the right of the front garden.


After (ish): At least I got the sword ferns cut.


finishing touches


lots of annoying little weeds, mostly sorrel, to haul off.

MaryBeth had stopped by while we were weeding and given me some garden decorations.  When told of the knee results, she commented that she had seen my right leg go out more and more sideways (the result of “collapsing”) in “the past two years”.  That’s what I had told the doc, and he had expressed surprise it could happen in just two years….apparently so.  Before that, I think limping around was the only evidence.  (“Are you limping?” I was often asked, as was my former partner Robert who had had polio as a child.)


lovely new tree baubles from MaryBeth

Allan found a beetle hanging out on the fence post, “with a spider and some tater bugs” and brought me this photo.  He said it was lady bug size (and then added, “No, a foot long.” I could not ID it, but, with help from a Facebook friend, I now know it is Calligrapha multipunctata – Common Willow Calligrapha (wonderful name).


Calligrapha multipunctata – Common Willow Calligrapha


Smokey and Frosty in the same chair

Wednesday, 23 March, 2016

I woke early, all anxious about perhaps having to cross the bridge during winter storms for 2X a week physical therapy after knee surgery in late November.  I called the doc’s office and was reassured I will be able to do the physical therapy at the PT place in Ilwaco.  So happy!

When I emerged into the living room, I found Smokey and Frosty cuddled up, and that made me even happier.


I woke them up.

A kind card came with a thoughtful and reassuring message from the vet who treated their mother, Mary, last week.



with Smokey sitting on the card.

Writing about the quilt show absorbed the stormy day, because I wanted to type out each of my favourite quilters’ description of their quilts.


Frosty and Smokey, making me happy


another day from the birthday bouquet

And now…to catch up on the Tootlepedal blog.  Here is an appropriate photo from the recent quilt show:


For those who are interested, I’ve published another set of old scrapbook pictures over on Grandma’s Scrapbooks.

Ginger’s Garden Diaries


from my mother’s garden diaries of two decades ago

1997 (age 72):

March 20:  Took all the branches that were on the wood box off but couldn’t lift it.  I pulled it partway off.  There is a lot of small (kindling) branches on top of some old wood.  I’ll keep burning wood in shed as its easier to get to and it burns good.

March 21:  Worked 2 1/2 hours weeding strawberry rows.  That plant that spews its hard seeds is in bloom so I’d better get them pulled before they go to seed.  [She must mean shotweed.]

March 22:  5 hours.  Finished weeding regular strawberry bed.  I now need to cut off the runners and move the daughter plants back into the rows—then plant the new Raintree plants (100).  The berries over by the asparagus bed aren’t as weedy as the main bed.

March 23:  I’m surprised that I’m not stiff and sore from over 5 hours sitting on my stool while weeding berries.

1998 (age 73):

March 20:  Beautiful day!  Well I started planting tomatoes with card table set up and planted about 8 hours mostly tomatoes.  I have 8 1/2 flats full.  I used the 9 part square pots mostly new pots.  I’m hoping that planting in the 9 section pot will enable me to get the seedlings out without root damage when I repot them.  Tomorrow I have to figure out where to put all these trays.

March 21: It was raining all day so I continued planting veggie seeds, then I saw the “SEED” sign on a metal box in the closet and found more veggie seeds.  Most are old old seeds.  I’ll plant some but I think I’ll just throw them out in the fall as a cover crop.

March 23:  It rained hard until late afternoon.  I moved some of the begonia trays so I could put some tomato trays under lights.  I also have them in bathroom fluorescent and on kitchen card table (with two heat pads under them).  I haven’t planted any flower seeds yet because I don’t know where to put them.




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Friday, 10 April 2015

Because the prediction of bad weather had become less dire by yesterday evening,  I was not entirely counting on a reading day.  We arose at the usual time and assessed the weather.  Just before breakfast, the various weather apps suggested rain would begin in 54 minutes.

I just could not relax because I knew how happy I would be to cross one more garden off the work list…and Mayor Mike’s is small and only a few blocks away.  When I told Allan that I did not want to drag him into a miserable weather experience. Even so, he agreed to give it a try.

Mike’s Garden

We were fortunate and got the fertilizer spread and worked in, and the garden and path weeded, and even weeds along the outside edge of the low outer wall removed, before the rain (which means the rain came about an hour later than predicted).

Mike's garden

Mike’s garden, looking south

The big red thing is an outdoor storage unit, due to home remodeling.

The big red thing is an outdoor storage unit, due to home remodeling.

one of Mike's lilacs

one of Mike’s lilacs

Pulmonaria (lungwort, spotted dog)

Pulmonaria (lungwort, spotted dog)

looking north from the front entry

looking north from the front entry


Ilwaco Post Office garden

We went to get our mail. Even though a light rain had begun and the wind was kicking up, I surprised Allan by getting out of the van at the post office with a bucket of fertilizer.  I wanted so much to apply it and let the rain wash it in gently for the sake of not disturbing  assorted seeds I had planted.

Allan's photo

Allan’s photo

Allan's photo

Allan’s photo

Tulip 'Chinatown' (Allan's photo) (with white stripe on leaves)

Tulip ‘Chinatown’ (Allan’s photo) (with white stripe on leaves)

I’ve noticed that the tulip foliage looks much better this year than the last two springs when we had lots more rain and they got terribly splotched and battered.

Allan's photo

Allan’s photo

Allan's photo.  Thatis a lily that has gotten so tall under the "o".

Allan’s photo. That is a lily that has gotten so tall under the “o”.

While working at Mike’s, I’d had a brainstorm:  Garden Tour Nancy and I had a date to have lunch on Sunday.  But what if the weather was better on Sunday?  I don’t trust forecasts to be accurate, and I feel I should be weeding somewhere (perhaps my own garden) in workable weather.  I had texted her and she had agreed to have lunch instead today, so Allan drove me up to her house in Long Beach…after I had quickly changed into clothes that did not have the faint smell of Dr Earth fertilizer.

As we drove down Lake Street, the rain began in earnest.

As we drove down Lake Street, the rain began in earnest.

42nd Street Café

a nice warming pot of tea

a nice warming pot of English Breakfast tea

Much to my surprise, my birthday was not over!  Nancy brought me a bag of birthday gifts.


They included a most excellent book about books, Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, and an Annie’s Annuals catalog from which I was instructed to choose 6 plants, one for each decade.  (More on this later.)  And some eggs from Nancy’s flock of hens; I wish that heavy rain had not prevented me from getting some photos of them and the garden before lunch.



We split an order of beignets, “New Orleans famed fritters, with a hint of spice, doused in powdered sugar”.

My friend J9, who lived in New Orleans for a decade, agrees that these are quite good.

My friend J9, who lived in New Orleans for a decade, agrees that these are quite good.

We each chose the same entreé, the Russian vegetarian scramble.

with red potatoes, fresh dill, mushrooms, and green onions

with red potatoes, fresh dill, mushrooms, and green onions

After a good long talk and being the last people in the restaurant at luncheon closing time, Nancy drove me home and I had at last an afternoon to finish the novel I’ve been reading.

From no puddle to this much had happened while I was gone.

From no puddle to this much had happened while I was gone.

The wind got to over 30 mph in the late afternoon.

The wind got to over 30 mph in the late afternoon.

Erasing Mike’s garden from the fertilizing list was a moment that made having gone out to work worthwhile.

getting shorter...for now.

getting shorter…for now.

Next week, we will be focused on getting Long Beach town and the Port of Ilwaco ready for the Razor Clam Festival.


Not only does Long Beach abound with events, but the Ilwaco Saturday Market will be in session for that one Saturday  (with their weekly schedule beginning on May 2) so we will have many garden areas to fluff up.


reading time at last

First, I perused the Annie’s Annuals catalog and picked out my six plants (perennials rather than annuals) from Nancy:


 I chose Penstemon palmeri, Penstemon ‘Stapleford Gem’,  Dianthus ‘Thea Marie’,  Fuchsia ‘Mrs McDowell’,  Salvia patens ‘Cabrillo Giant’,  Eccremocarpus scaber ‘Pink Lemonade’, and two alternates in case any of those are sold out:  Erioganum grande var rubescens ‘Red Buckwheat’,  Fuchsia ‘Galfrey Lye’.

Then on to the last third of my book:

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

I’m predisposed to like fiction or non-fiction by this author, one of my favourites.  I especially love his non- fiction about books and music, and his novel High Fidelity is one of my  favourite modern novels (and the movie made from it is wonderful).

All the cats were pleased with my afternoon off.



Frosty's tail does not a book marker make.

Frosty’s tail does not a book marker make.

Three take away passages from the novel about the creation of a 1960s English telly sitcom:

How to have a good relationship:

In a restaurant catering to entertainment industry luminaries, a writer for the sitcom says to his wife that other patrons are thinking,  “Who let them in?  They’re not beautiful or famous.”  She says, “Thanks,”….


Later, on the subject of old age, a subject that has always been of interest to me because of my closeness to my grandmother and her friends, and one that is getting even more interesting the older I get:

It was absurd that they were getting old.  Absurd and wrong.  Old people had black and white memories of wars, music halls, wrteched diseases, candlelight.  Her memories were in colour and they involved loud music and discos, Biba and Habitat….”

It was a different world they lived in now, [she] caught herself thinking, and then she told herself off.  Of course it was a different world.  Don’t be so banal.  Obviously 1980 was different from 1930, 1965 was different from 1915, and so on.  Oh, but dear God….to a twenty-two-year-old now, 1965 was like 1915 had been to her when she was starting out.  It wasn’t like that, though, was it?  She saw pictures of The Beatles and Twiggy everywhere.  Nobody had wanted to think about 1915 in the 1960s, had they?  And then she remembered the Lord Kitchener posters that used to be everywhere.  It was all so confusing.”

I am hoping for a reading day tomorrow and an at home gardening day on Sunday.

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The Measure of My Days by Florida Scott-Maxwell

I had recently read in a Susan Wittig Albert book a recommendation of The Measure of My Days as an excellent memoir about getting old.  (Others I have read and  much admired are by At Seventy and After the Stroke and Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year and Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year and At Eighty-Two, all by May Sarton and Coming Into the End Game and Extra Innings by Doris Grumbach and any of the later memoirs by Gladys Taber.)

Perhaps because I spent so mucn childhood time with my grandmother and her friends, I have always thought a great deal about being old.  Here are my favourite bits from The Measure of My Days, a book which I acquired through inter-library loan.


I like the following passage because my grandmother hooked rag rugs (and so did I, for awhile):


a rug by my grandma, Gladys Corinne Walker

a rug by my grandma, Gladys Corinne Walker





oldage oldage2I do like all that she has to say about loving solitude and silence.

It is clearly innocent to wish to be quiet or alone, but then others must not come where you are.  It is natural to wish to be the only one to leave your footprint on pristine sand; to lie in an unvisited wood is idyllic, but if others do the same then all is degraded.  What sort of climber likes a crowded mountain peak?…It is undeniable that one needs the absence of others to enjoy the magic of many things.  So vital are these joys that I am convinced that crowds endanger our quality; with them, in them, we become unworthy of each other.”


On being yourself:


Later, she writes “Must each of us come out of the crowd, the crowd in us, stand opposed, risk existence or non-existence, apart from the mass?  What birth is as painful as this, a birth that may be a death, but may also be a holy gift to one’s fellows.”

On expressing sorrow to others:


about the difficulties of life:




I find that a very comforting way to look at life’s trials: that life is meant to be heroic and greatness is required of us.


When I read the following lines, I had a strong sense of deja vu and was sure I had written them down in my pre-blog quotations book.

Disliking is my great sin, which I cannot overcome.  It has taken my whole life to learn not to withdraw.

I turned to my handwritten book in excitement, only to find that what I had written down was this:

I don’t much care for people anyway, truth be told.  That’s my failing and I’ve relied on it for much of my happiness.”  From The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

There is a certain similarity.

My favourite paragraph:


Some of Scott-Maxwell’s passages about faith, and her rather old-fashioned views of the equality of the sexes did not speak to me, but one must keep in mind that the book was written over 40 years ago.

Rather pitifully, it’s about the only quotable book I read in March other than trying and failing to get through The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and, of course, some lighter reading along with the always fascinating journals at the Sylvia Beach Hotel.

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December 2014

The high points of my December staycation reading was The Seaside Knitters series, which got its own blog entry.

Here are my other favourite bits from the rest of my December staycation reading.  If you scroll down to the last book, and your name is Mr Tootlepedal, you might like the descriptions of mosses.

Dec 2:  The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I liked the film much, much better than the book (which is unusual.)  This paragraph about lost friendship spoke to me:    “I wish I could report that it’s getting better, but unfortunately it isn’t.  It’s hard, too, because we’ve started school again, and I can’t go to the places where I used to go.

December 11:  I was catching up with the last few books of Susan Wittig Albert’s Pecan Springs mystery series.


It is a charming cozy mystery series.  It doesn’t grip me like the Seaside Knitters for two reasons:  I have no desire to live in Texas or anywhere away from the sea, and sometimes I think it gets a bit silly with its mystical side (inspired by one of the characters having a new-agey tarot reading magical sort of gift shop).  I like the herbal lore (because the main character, China Bayles, has an herb shop) and the small town setting.

I also appreciate the variety of physical types among the characters.




On December 15th, after a number of distracting busy holiday events, I settled down to reading again with a true story of miscarriage of justice, Damien Echols’ Life After Death. I followed that with the excitement of a new book in the Tales if the City series.  I re-read the second to last one in preparation.


The following passage took me right back to sitting on a silky brown easy chair in my grandmother’s living room perusing Christmas Ideals:  “She remembered a magazine called Christmas Ideals that her grandmother had sent her every year when she was a little girl back in Cleveland.  It was sturdier than most magazines, and glossy, and inside there were poems printed on scenes from nature.  If she were to see one today, she would probably find it corny, but back then her easy childish heart had soared at the sight of those snow-laden pines and starlit valleys.

Ideals had been the ideal name, she realized, since what the magazine had offered was the sweet reassurance that life could not be improved upon.  A pristine landscape was perfection itself; it was only when you added people that everything changed.



Next came the very last book in the series (although I have heard that before).


To think that back when I began this series in the early 80s, gay marriage was just a dream that I never thought I would live to see.  I am so delighted that I lived to see the day.

Heartrendingly, Anna Madrigal is elderly now, and her caregiver gives her some artificial candles because of the fear that Anna might fall asleep and let her home be set on fire by the real thing.  Anna accepts that with a grace that brought tears to my eyes.



Another longtime character, Michael, is finding his gardening business more difficult in late middle age.  “Gardeners aged better than athletes, but their bodies betrayed them just the same.” Oh, how I identify with that!

December 19th: After another round of holiday fun, I got back to reading a non fiction book.  A lot of my reading choices come from a book review pamphlet that I pick up at Time Enough Books.


The author writes for the New Yorker and had that droll New Yorker style that I enjoy:


Her book was engrossing and made me extra glad that I had attended a home-made garden wedding last summer.

After a couple more days of light reading interspersed with blogging, I was able to return to some days of pure reading.

December 22: Back to Pecan Springs.  I had caught up by reading Wormwood, Holly Blues,  Cat’s Claw, Widow’s Tears, Mourning Gloria, Nightshade, and…


I always appreciate the herbal lore in the China Bayles series.


about a particularly annoying weed

about a particularly annoying weed

Later that evening, I turned to a serious topic in a book to which I gave the top rating (five stars) on Goodreads:



How strongly the book reminded me of the fourteen year relationship that I had with someone who often drank to excess,



The book has a lot of train travel, so well described that I could hear the wheels on the tracks, and a bit of birdwatching.



Some more rather randomly collected favourite pieces from the book.

on insomnia (a chronic problem that I share):



on kindness:




I had no idea that Raymond Carver had lived in the Pacific Northwest or that he was born in Klatskanie, Oregon, not far upriver from where I live.  Here are some randomly collected snippets about that:





I think her stunning descriptions of the Port Angeles setting will inspire other Northwesterners to want to read her book.


She describes how, if you find his headstone, you will find a box where people leave messages.


Inspiring: “At some point, you have to set down your past.  At some point, you have to accept that everyone was doing their best.  At some point, you have to gather yourself up and go onward into your life.”

More holiday festivities happily interrupted my reading concentration.  I found that if I knew I had to leave the house for any reason, it became difficult to sit and read, so I devoted most of those days to blogging. On December 26th, I slogged through and deeply disliked Jimi Hendrix Turned Eighty. I kept hoping that the tale of rebellious old folks in a nursing home would get better.  For me, it didn’t.

On December 27th I read this, which I recommend even though I didn’t save any passages from it:


On December 29th, I was able to have some uninterrupted reading time.


From a character just about my age: “This aging thing had taken her by surprise.  She’s heard tell, of course. She knew it would happen, not just yet, and not all at once.  Of course she’s known in the abstract, she just didn’t know.  She hadn’t understood how bad it would get, didn’t expect these ongoing losses, this sense of parts falling off the wagon as it rolled downhill.  When she was younger, she hadn’t fully comprehended that she was part of this cycle, too, that she too would grow older, then old, and only then if she was lucky.”

“Somehow, all evidence to the contrary, it had seemed for awhile, in her thirties, even in her forties, that everything would stay the way it was forever or at least until some distant time in the future when she’d just cease to exist.  She hadn’t expected this, this process of public dismantlement, this precipitous downward slide, or for it to begin so soon.”

I wrote awhile back on Gardening and Aging, so the problem has been on my mind for awhile.

Another sign of aging:


Ramones = my favourite band back in the day.  (Now I'd say The Smiths.)

Ramones = my favourite band back in the day. (Now I’d say The Smiths.)

On fear:


Someone I met recently said to me, when I mentioned my phobia about the Astoria bridge, “I don’t do fear.”  How very nice for him.

on regrets:


Too late for me.  I can think of all sorts of ways I could have had a better relationship with my mother, now that it is too late.

A trivial point:  I was gratified to find that a character dislikes orange streetlights just as much as I dislike the one outside our front window: “The sky was that awful orange streetlight color the city had adopted in the seventies. It looked like poison gas now, caught in the mist.”

A very favourite passage (not the end) from the book:


I went straight on to the latest book by Anne Lamott.

You can see that I took down the Christmas tree early this year.  I was just done with it and wanted to move on.

You can see that I took down the Christmas tree early this year. I was just done with it and wanted to move on.

I had hoped it would be a completely brand new book.  It turned out to be a collection of essays, some of which I had read before.  I found plenty of comfort and inspiration thoug;, even though I have been unable to share her deep religious faith, her humanism also has much to offer.


How very much I love that she refers to “The Margarets”, as in discussions about authors I have often referred to “The Margarets”.  For me, there are four great writers named Margaret:  Atwood, Drabble, Millar, and Laurence.

I admired this about a church member who would not move on from her grief when advised to:


On December 30th, I moved on to a book that had been highly recommended to me by a couple of friends.  In both cases, they were halfway through with it when they praised it so highly.  I wonder if they felt the same when they finished it?  I would have given it five stars till I got toward the end, with a certain scene in a mossy cave that revealed that the protagonist’s life goal was a pretty trivial one.  At that point, the book dropped in my estimation.


Still, it had a lot to offer before I got to That Scene in a very long book.  (For those who have read it, and while trying to avoid spoilers, I’m not objecting to the plot because of prudery; I just wish her life goal had been loftier.)

Things I liked:

The well-described sad realization about one’s appearance:


I especially enjoyed her study of mosses, as those passages reminded me of the Tootlepedal blog and its many close up photos of mosses and lichens and fungi:





The descriptions of moss are some of the most gorgeous of any writings I’ve found about the natural world.


Later, here is something enlightening about botany:

“In the world of botany, such confusing language would have been called nomina dubia or nomina ambigua–which is to say, misleading or obscure names of plants that render the specimens impossible to classify.”

I liked the staunchness of a character who completely lives her political beliefs:


A remedy for sorrow?  “You must endure it—and you won’t be the first.    …This world is not a paradise but a vale of tears.  Look around you, what do you see?  All is anguish.  Everywhere you turn there is sorrow.  If you do not see sorrow at first glance, look more carefully.  You will soon enough see it.”

And a more uplifting note to end my quotations from Signature:


I entered January 2015 with one main plan: to read more.  Only Allan’s birthday on January 2nd and the beach clean up day on January 24th would interrupt the time of complete leisure, I hoped.  (And I should get the garden clipped back before we re-enter the work season sometime in February.)  I planned to begin with two lengthy tomes of non fiction:  The Warmth of Other Suns and The Talented Miss Highsmith:  The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith.









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By ten thirty AM on Thursday, Carol and I were ensconced in the luxurious Colette room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel.  My friend had slept poorly the night before, so she took a nap.  Then our plan was to go to the historic bayfront in Newport and have lunch at the Local Ocean restaurant, highly recommended.  While Carol slept, I read in a comfy plush dark red chair.  I still had a journal or two to read from our first night room, Emily Dickinson.

Emily's room

Emily’s room, real and recreated at the SBH

Emily's room

Emily’s room at the SBH

During my 2008 visit I had read ten room journals from the Colette room…before I had the notion that I could photograph my favourite entries.  Had I the time, I would love to reread them all.  However, the room journals all have a different flavour and Colette’s tends to be about love, passion, and honeymoons.  Given a short reading time I would much rather read the journals of the more reflective, even angsty rooms:  Jane Austen, Emily, and best of all, the dorms that used to be on third floor.



When I finished the Emily journals, and Carol still slept, I got a room journal out of the nearest room, Dr. Suess.  Someone has been marking certain entries with yellow post its.  One of the marked entries was by Pat Henderson, a frequent visitor and journal writer.  I look for his entries and last time I visited, spent quite awhile putting together in my mind some of the story of his life; at that time, I read one of his entries that revealed he also noticed and wondered about frequent writers, especially Patricia Lent, who might be in her 80s now, or older.



The Suess room journals are mostly filled with happy children’s scrawls, so I turned to the more recent Colette journals:

another poignant memorial

another poignant memorial…and magic

another journal addict

another journal addict

Shelley is the sweet hotel cat of this decade.

Shelley is the sweet hotel cat of this decade.

In two pages, enough of a story for a novel:

a romance

a romance

a romance

And someone all the way from France:



Again, the healing power of the SBH:

the only way out is through, through, through

the only way out is through, through, through

Imagine my thrill when in the stack of Colette journals I found one from the old dorm room!  It used to have bunk beds….now has five? singles.   I read somewhere that the health department did not like the bunk beds.  That may or may not be true.  The other dorm room has been turned into a retreat for hotel owner Goody Cable, who often visits.  In the dorm journal, I found an entry that I am sure refers to my long distance SBH friend, Destiny.  (Later:  She tells me that it does, and is thrilled that it is by her grandmother!)

desert friends

desert friends

Another entry hints at a great and painful drama:

the key to my father's heart

the key to my father’s heart

I would imagine that my stepdaughter, who stayed here for one catastrophic month in 2011, feels this way and cannot understand that I do not stand between her and her father.

I found deeply moving this woman’s two-page story of her father’s sadness:

page one

page twoSomeone wrote a four or five page reminiscence of his college years and how he came out of loneliness and learned to make friends:

just the first page

just the first page (His life got better!)

I wish now I had photographed all five pages even though the first was the most moving to me.

More on healing:

no longer broken

no longer broken

the quest

the quest

On this one, I rather maddenly cut off the last line.  I was feeling a sense of urgency that Carol would awake and then my journal time would end for the day and I would have to leave the hotel on our touristy excursion to the bay.

journal appreciation

journal appreciation

loving the oddballs

loving the oddballs

I found another entry from my faraway SBH friend, Destiny.  (She spent days, maybe two weeks, at the hotel this past February ( think it was).

a last visit

a last visit

This so reminds me of that poignant entry I read years ago by someone who knew it would be her last visit because she was too aged to get up to the library (third floor, see my entry called house of stairs).  I also remember an entry by someone who visited, as many times before, with her husband, whose Alzheimers made it impossible for him to play the game (Two Truths and a Lie) at dinner.  She also wrote it would be their last visit together.  My heart broke.

As I read another entry by Destiny (who, like me, very much hopes that even in the electronic blogging age people continue to put pen to paper in these journals)…

Destiny, with Colette room backdrop

Destiny, with Colette room backdrop

….my friend Carol awoke at a quarter after noon.  I thought it would be time for us to leave the hotel as planned.  On previous trips together, one in stormy autumn and one in a rainy April storm) she knew I would not leave the hotel because of my room journal fixation.  She completely supports me in this!  This year, because of the nice weather, I had brought up the possibility myself.  I have a hard time staying indoors in nice weather.

So….Carol awoke and we looked at each other and listened to the cold wind and looked at the sunny day outside.   I asked her if she wanted to go out.  She asked me if I wanted to.  I asked her if SHE wanted to.  We both mentioned the cold wind…and then we decided to stay in.   We repaired to the library, and while she did take a walk later (through the Nye Beach neighbourhood, too windy to enjoy the beach), I did not set one toe outside for the rest of our visit.

When we visited a perfectly nice lodging in Cannon Beach in March of 2011, we explored the beach and the town at length and had three meals out.  Most hotels….in fact, I can imagine that no hotel in the world has the pull to stay in and read that the SBH does.  That trip to Cannon Beach occurred because the SBH seemed like such a long drive.  I note that in the two years since, we are wholeheartedly back to the SBH for our yearly trip.

Next: an afternoon of readng journals.

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I am thinking deep thoughts about work and age as the work season begins this year.

On January 2nd, Allan turned 60.  This is hard to believe, especially since he does not look the least bit that age.  Apparently, I look much older than he does because someone asked me awhile back what my son’s name was.  (Sigh.)   I am actually two years younger and will be 58 in March.  I tell Allan that I have done hard physical labour since age 20, thus aged sooner (apparently), whereas he only started doing so when he joined Tangly Cottage Gardening in 2005!

We had a lovely birthday party at Olde Towne Café and I even managed to make it a surprise!

Allan's 60th birthday

Allan’s 60th birthday

Above, at the party: some of the folks who have been featured in my blog.   Left to right, our dear friend Jenna of Queen La De Da’s, our good friend Patti J (on the couch) who I have known since the late 90s at least, Allan (talking to Patti), and standing, my “gardening with neighbours” friends Tom and Judy, whose presence in my life has been the most treasured new development of 2012, our friend Nancy who organizes the Peninsula garden tour, and on the lower right, Luanne, owner of the beloved Olde Towne, heart of Ilwaco.

My mother gardening in 2008, age 83

My mother gardening in 2008, age 83

My grandmother gardening, age 75

My grandmother gardening, age 75

How long, I wonder, can we keep up the pace with gardening for a living?  We have still been capable of those summer ten hour days.  But the aches and pains are getting a little stronger each year.  I have been warned by friends in their mid 60s that they cannot put in a long full day in their own gardens, yet I know a carpenter who puts in long days at age seventy plus.  My mother was still gardening for six hours a day when she was 75, and my grandmother’s garden still retained its perfection till she was a bit older than 75.  As she grew older, she still gardened but took naps in the afternoon.

And then there is the fact that a number of our beloved clients are about ten years older than we are and will precede us into true old age.  Will the next ten years just be a process of letting go of gardens?

Twenty years from now, when I am almost 78 and Allan is 80 (should we live so long), will any of our jobs remain in our care?  While retirement looks enticing (but improbable till age 70), I hate the idea of giving up certain gardens and wonder if we could at least manage to do the Long Beach planters well into our old age.  Still, there are times at the end of certain days when I am dragging one leg behind me like the walking dead that I wonder….just how long can this go on?

My grandmother by her greenhouse, age 75

My grandmother by her greenhouse, age 75

One thing that has helped me a great deal is to move from our former multi-level garden to a new flat one;  I now can garden after work in the summer without being daunted by knee pain going up and down stone stairways.

I have found three books on the subject while pondering old age gardening and intend to read them:

golden years


gardening for a lifetime

This looks promising, too:

LastingnessI very much hope to keep having an intricate and complicated garden, and much as I love Ann Lovejoy,  I don’t want to follow the advice she wrote about a few years back:  to make one’s garden more low maintenance as one ages.  I suppose I will come to that when I have to, and hope to go on for as many years as possible with the motto “Gardening is my life”.

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After just a few days in the hospital, my mother had been doing a lot of thinking and planning.  She had already been inspired by the socializing on her garden tour days to imagine that someday she might live in the local assisted living center, Golden Sands.  Because of her crippling shyness, she had always found it hard to reach out and make friends.  In all my years I had never known her to have any but situational friends….workmates, and one neighbour in retirement with whom she’d lost touch when the neighbour moved away.

Even the social life inside the hospital made her feel, she said, that she did not want to go back to her life of solitude.  So Allan and I went up to have a look at Golden Sands for her.  We immediately took to the director, Linda, who showed us a room overlooking the courtyard garden, and said that we could create a garden for my mother outside of her window.

a room (center windows) overlooking a courtyard

The courtyard had four quadrants of boring lawn, an oval walking path, a center lawn/swale for drainage, and was completely enclosed by the building:  thus, no deer!

courtyard fountain

Linda pointed to the window that could be mom’s little studio apartment, with its own bathroom, bedsitting room, and tiny kitchenette with microwave and mini-refrigerator….and garden view.

Linda in the future garden

She showed us the studio and its view of the potential garden.  (The pillars are outside the dining room where residents can choose to take their meals.)

the room and the view

Below, another view of the possible garden from “my mom’s room” (as we thought it might be), and a view of the courtyard

two courtyard views

We went back to the hospital that evening with my computer to show my mom the photos we had taken…only to find she had already made her decision.  She had called Linda, met with her, and signed the papers.  She wanted to go straight from hospital to her new apartment, partly to avoid the wrench of going home and partly on health advice from her doctor, so we were charged with a quick move of a bed, dresser, and essentials into the empty room.

new home

She decided to sell her house rather than rent it. The photos we took while we sorted out all her stuff for an estate sale give some idea of the enormity of moving a person from a two bedroom home with sunporch and garden shed and storage room into a studio apartment.  She had not gotten rid of much over the course of her life, and we found (as we’ve heard is often true in these situations) cases of expired food, old home-canned beans that she had moved to her Long Beach home in 1999, old books and records and clothing, all of which had to be sorted, discarded, donated, or sold.

sorting out for the sale

Golden Sands allowed her to have her big plant stand in a nook of the public hallway.  Other than that, she amazed me by being right about the amount of stuff she could fit into that studio apartment.  I was sure there would not be room for two dressers, a table, a desk, the bed, three chairs for visitors and her recliner…but indeed, we kept bringing and she kept arranging with the help of the staff, and it worked.

the essential plant stand and Gram’s china cabinet

The plant stand with African violets passed down from my grandmother did go to Golden Sands even though there was no way it could fit in mom’s new room.  To our house went my grandmother’s china cabinet and its dishes, always intended to pass to me.  We had to tear out some bookshelves to make it fit, but so it did.

While sorting through papers, we came across so much from my mom’s life:  her youth, her years with my father, their retirement together, and her years in WWII in the Marine Corps.  She had always said the Marine Corps years were her happiest.

Virginia (Ginger) Johnston, champion sharpshooter, left and front left

Mom’s Marine Corps days

While I saved all such memorabilia for mom to share with new friends, the estate sale required much letting go of things, including some of mine that I had stored there.  Would I have kept more had I known that a year later Allan and I would move to a bigger house?  Possibly not, because I was afraid the hoarding tendencies might be inherited.

letting go….

We let go of paintings….and of dolls (who went to a doll collector who will love and restore them), the little desk my dad made for me (which I definitely would have kept had I the room), and even a dress I wore as a punk rocker, which I am happy to say went to a new generation rocker girl.  My mother did not want to keep the dark brown painting of the house she grew up in.  My gram divorced, back when it was a scandal, and did not have custody of her two children.  She saw them only on weekends.  My mother and uncle grew up in that gloomy looking house with their father and aunt, and mom did not have happy memories of that place.

As we had the weekend estate sale in mid September after two weeks of steady sorting, the garden still looked so beautiful that estate sale customers took impromptu tours of it.

September: lilies by sunporch, dahlias, the garden in bloom

I had made a photo album for mom as a Golden Sands housewarming gift with every photo I had of her garden through the years.  Her initial social experience had been discouraging, as she had been seated at a dinner table with residents who suffered dementia and could not carry on much of a conversation, but Linda had that sorted with a day and put mom with a group of sharp-witted and funny women.  For the first time in years, she had friends to share a garden photo album with, peers with whom to exchange life stories, and a roster of daily events that would keep anyone busy.

Golden Sands schedule

It seemed to me that year, and still does, that she did not look back with much regret.  I think I was having a harder time letting go of the idea of her garden than she was.  The development of a new garden right outside her window helped, as Allan and I removed the thin sod and planted many lilies and spring bulbs and divisions of plants from mom’s own garden.  We moved her two favourite rose bushes….two Joseph’s Coat climbers and the red velvety and the copper-sheened rose.  After we finished planting the quadrant outside her window, we also did the one across the path, to restore balance.

December 3rd, gardening up the second quadrant

For one year, my mom had an extraordinarily good time.

Halloween 2009

She wore her Marine Corps cap for Halloween, and had laughs with her friends and activity director Pam Fox.  Best of all, she made a true best friend, Wanda.

Mom at a party and with her best friend Wanda

In August 2010, she was proud to tell us that she had taken a ride on a motorcycle.

a ride around Golden Sands

Pam and Linda and the nurses and staff all thought mom would have ten happy years there.

Perhaps the best words of hope from this story are that memories of gardens live on in photos, and that there is hope even the shyest and loneliest person can emerge from her shell and find friends.

mom’s garden, 8 Sept 2009

mom’s garden, 8 September 2009

Mom’s Golden Sands garden in July 2010

P.S.  We continued to feed mom’s feral cats with the help of our friend Stacey until the house sold over a year later, and the new owner promised to take over the feeding.

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I did say that is was the summer of my mother’s garden.  Over the month of July it got better and better as more lilies, annuals, and roses came into full bloom.  Gardens are ephemeral  and  bound up with the fate of the gardener.  This summer of beauty was the peak of this garden’s existence.

mom in her garden, July 15th

It was easiest for mom to get out and enjoy her garden when we stopped by during the day.  She had had a couple of scary experiences of falling in the garden; the previous summer, she’d taken a tumble toward the end of the day and had to crawl to a chair to pull herself up.  After that day I initiated a daily phone call on the way home from work to make sure she was safe inside the house, so in the last year we had more conversations than we’d had in perhaps the previous ten years put together….although the conversation often went quickly with her saying “Okay, bye” and getting back to her book or the news.

lilies and a golden hyssop


lilies and cosmos

everywhere, sweeps of lilies

The beds closest to the house continued to be the most spectacular, but lilies bloomed throughout the garden beds.  Every year she’d bought mixed lily collections from assorted catalogs.

Allan helps mom deadhead in the gardens by the sunporch

Asiatic lilies, cosmos, Allium albopilosum

Cosmos, lilies, Allium albo and just the beginning of dahlias

Of course,  attention must always be paid to the shady fairy chair, here draped with calla lilies.

fairy chair

Allan checks on the garden, July 25th

the lilies of late July (7-25)

lilies backed with Cotinus (smokebush)

lilies and allium albopilosum (Star of Persia)

a rose like red velvet

mom’s favourite rose

In some ways my mother was a great record keeper.  Financially she had the mind of an accountant and kept meticulous records.  Woe betide a mail order catalog that sent her a plant in less than excellent condition.  She always had the receipt to hand and would write, longhand, to request a replacement….and always got one.  For years she had worked for the boiler  and elevator inspections departments for the city of Seattle and handled mountains of paperwork.

But oddly, once a plant was in the ground, the receipt listing its name (because most nurseries include a list of names) did not get filed and saved, and so she could not tell me the names of the velvety red rose or of the especially stunning coppery-sheened one (right) that was both of our favourites.

My only hint is that they probably came from Wayside or Jackson and Perkins, so I should peruse their catalogs.

birdhouses with apples red…

….and apples green….July 25th

gardens by the sunporch steps

cats on the sunporch path


Mom had adopted and cared for a black feral cat (Ebony) and her offspring (Tiger).  She had amazed me by going to the South Pacific Humane Society, getting a trap, catching the cats and taking them in to be spayed and neutered.  This would be quite an undertaking for a woman who was so shy that, in her reclusive older years,  she felt anxious just going to the grocery store.  Her favourite cat was Ebony, nicknamed Bonnie.  Neither cat would allow petting but they would sit close to mom when she took some sun on the sunporch steps.

Since the garden tour days of June and early July, mom had been talking just a bit about wanted to go check out Golden Sands, the local assisted living place.  She told us she thought she might want to move there in a year or two because she figured that a structured social environment would help her get over her shyness.  She’d tried once going to the Senior Center ice cream social but just couldn’t break through that barrier that made it hard for her to start a conversation.  We said we’d take her up to just have a tour of Golden Sands some time in the fall.  The time had not yet come; there was still too much enjoyment to be had in the garden.

the lawn before mowing, July 25th

Allan and Mom on July 25th

Sitting on the stairs of the sunporch was her favourite spot to be now that she could no longer putter for hours among the flowers and vegetables.  She looked forward to the next phase of flowers:  the dahlias; we’d planted many of them in the spring, and now at the end of July they were almost ready for their season.

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