Posts Tagged ‘reading weather’

March 2021

Work and not much rainy reading weather kiboshed my desire to read Monty’s new book in one sitting. However, it proved to be a soothing and comforting bedtime chapter book, and I was able to finish it on a rainy late March day. At just over 400 pages, it’s a good long read. I have already shared the beginning, including how startled I was to learn that all this time, Monty and Sarah had a wild hillside farm in Wales. How it made my head spin that they don’t spend all their home time at Longmeadow (real name, Ivington).

Monty on the farm; the book has several pages of photo inserts.

Isn’t it odd how startling it is….well, to me at least….when a memoirist who we think we “know” turns out to have a whole ‘nother aspect to their lives of which we knew nothing. Montagu (which is what his family and real friends, of which I wish I was one, call him) is a writer whose memoirs, especially The Prickotty Bush, The Ivington Diaries, The Jewel Garden and Nigel: My Family and Other Dogs, reveal much of his own personal life and struggles with depression.

Here are some of the takeaways that I found most informative or simply beautiful in My Garden World, a journal of nature in his two homes.

What he wrote about climate change…

…I found to be so true with the bulbs I plant. Twenty years ago, I could count on Narcissus ‘Baby Moon’ and May flowering tulips to be in full glory for the parades that took place in Long Beach and Ilwaco on the first weekend in May. But within the last decade, the bloom time has moved early to where those flowers are in bloom for the clam festival in mid April and are almost all done by May.

The same happens in our meander line pond; tadpoles are hatched but soon after, the seasonal pond dries up. It is worrisome that this year, we have heard no frog songs out at the meander line (the boggy ditch between us and the port parking lots) even when the frogs in our garden are deafening in the evening.

Mr. Tootlepedal has frogs that are photogenic. Mine are elusive.

Mr. Tootlepedal sometimes writes about the cutting of wildflower road verges in the borderlands of Scotland. That unnecessary practice is also hard on Monty.

Our neighborhood had collared doves. I had no idea that they originated in India. Because at one time, Allan and I watched a lot of Bollywood movies, that is fun to know.

The incomplete sentences in my book photos are there to inspire you to read the book.

I agree about elder, not just the fancy cut or colored leaf kinds but also the plain old elder, being welcome in my garden.

When I first moved to my previous Ilwaco home. I had no idea what the tree-like shrub was with leaves that looked tropical to me, on the steep slope outside my bedroom window. It was the red elderberry. I seem to recall that the ones with black berries are edible to humans but not the red ones, so I’m not even sure if the flowers of mine are edible. I have five red elderberries in my large garden today, and I think still they add an exotic feeling.

Monty writes lovingly about clover in lawns.

I have seriously considered quitting any job where weed and feed is used on the lawn. Unfortunately, that would probably mean having only the port and a couple of private clients left.

It is interesting how British gardeners and gardening shows welcome bird’s foot trefoil, which is considered a bane here (partly because it is native).

When I first moved here and saw it climbing into the beach pines in the Seaview dunes, I found it extraordinarily beautiful.

About trying to eradicate snails…

I am reminded of a woman in a northwest gardening forum who attacked me so angrily and repeatedly when I wrote that I do not kill snails…no, not even the invasive European ones….that I had to ask the moderator to get her off my back. It is a personal choice to not want my gardening to be all about slaughter all the time.

Now, if we had the giant snails that are invading Florida, I don’t know what I would do…but I certainly would not be able to stomach killing them. I was also filled with horror to read that snails and slugs in Hawaii can give humans a potentially lethal brain parasite from the slime on salad greens. That’s a ghastly situation that I am glad is not my problem.

Here is something useful when people here freak out about lichen on their trees.

It is fascinating to read about gorse, which here is on the noxious weed list as a plant which legally must be eradicated.

Monty writes about TH White’s book The Goshawk, which, in an interview, he said would be the book he would take to a desert island. And about kites, a bird which is making a comeback in Wales (as we have seen recently on BBC Winterwatch telly show). Kites use wool among their nesting materials. Our garden birds have no interest in the wool I left out for them.

The book closes with a chapter about Nigel, who died shortly after it was completed. I read the chapter twice, once having skipped ahead to see if there was a postscript about Nigel and then again when I came to the end. I wept hard tears both times, because Nigel died in a way similar to my dear cat Frosty, with seizures that must have been even more difficult in a large dog. The eulogy at the end of the chapter about just why Nigel was an especially good dog was comforting, and I, too, feel a Nigel shaped empty space when I watch GardenersWorld.

I ordered the book from the UK.

Postscript: Had a bit of mix up with the publishing time of yesterday’s post,, which ended up publishing retroactively on Saturday, April 3rd, instead of Sunday, April 4th, oops. At least it stayed in the right order and didn’t shatter my narrative flow

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Saturday, 6 March 2021

I cannot make myself go outside today except to open the greenhouses. My excuses are that, while the sun is out, the wind is cold and strong, with double wind warning flags flying at the port. And I heard a wee sprinkle of rain (but then the sun came out again) and maybe I feel lethargic from the Covid jab and the lingering effects of a powerful “double strength” antibiotic (not to mention I was direly warned to stay out of the sun while taking it). A friend says maybe it’s just age! Maybe it’s good to rest. Yet I get a sensation of panic that spring is slipping away and I have so much to do, most especially sifting compost to fill the two half empty fish totes. I have to remind myself we no longer have the weeding of the beach approach or other Long Beach tasks hanging over us and it is only March 6 and it is not a crime to spend a non-rainy day indoors.

Reading: Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl

On February 25th, I began to read the new book by the creator of the Danger Garden blog. Work and good (non-reading) weather then intervened, followed by a health scare (almost over now) which had me turn to gardening videos because they shut my doom-laden thoughts off better than reading. I returned to the second half of the excellent book on March 4, surprised that so much time had slipped away.

The book itself was carefully designed with showy, colorful page edges.

Because it was a brand new library copy, I handled it with great care and didn’t have Cats on Lap.

Here are my favorite takeaways. (First, you might want to revisit the garden with me to feast your eyes on Loree’s spiky horticultural style circa 2014.)

The book is sprinkled with well-chosen quotations.

I like that Loree collects quotations and that she quoted Luvvie, whom I admire.

I pondered the words of Michael McCoy in the beginning of a paragraph quoted by Loree: “Given the fact that the most spectacular gardeners are the ones that fail most spectacularly, it’s really critical to get over your fear of failure.” At first, I thought, Well, I had no fear of failure in my three main personal gardens, my grandmother’s garden in which I wrought some changes once it became mine, my shady garden behind the boatyard, or my garden now. I then remembered the constant fear of failure in public gardening, where, as a public gardener said in a lecture that I attended, all your failures are on public view. I also remembered that I feel anxious (fearful?) when big city plantspeople come to my garden, that they will go away and make fun of it among themselves for not being cutting edge enough. Or too twee. Why do I care when it is just as I like it?

When I read this…

….I was reminded of these words, which I think Loree would appreciate.

People go through five stages of gardening. They begin by liking flowers, progress to flowering shrubs, then autumn foliage and berries; next they go for leaves, and then the undersides of leaves. -The Duchess of Devonshire

I must continue to maunder on about how things from the book started trains of thoughts about my past experiences. This, about a neighbor’s reaction when Loree first planted her front garden with small plants…

….reminded me of when I planted a small garden for a tiny restaurant in Seaview. The restaurant owner looked aghast at the small perennials that we planted in April and paid us grimly and did not speak to us when she saw us in the grocery store….until that same July when the garden was gloriously spilling over with the floriferousness she had asked for…and then she became warm and friendly again and said “Now I understand!” ….and asked us to plant up two more areas.

When I read that Loree admired the look of Corten strip edging in gardens, “custom fabricated….with bonded corners” and yet “I wasn’t sure where to get such a thing made and was pretty sure it wasn’t in my budget anyway”, I felt a wash of relief. I always feel stupid when I go on garden tours and see things like Little and Lewis inspired water features (or actual Little and Lewis water features) and gorgeous Corten steel low garden walls and have no idea how one would create or acquire such a thing. (I read somewhere that low metal edging without a smooth top can seriously injure dog paws, so keep that in mind. Maybe cat paws, too.)

I had forgotten about the perfect garden design word, “cramscaping”. And when I read this….

….I was reminded of when I cared for a garden at a local business. I “cramscaped” the two main garden beds full of choice plant divisions from my garden, including plants not seen much around here at the time, and the then-manager and staff loved it and took their lunches near the garden. (Pollinators had lunch there, too.) But a new manager came into power and said he did not want any plants to touch. “I’m not the one for the job,” I said, and wouldn’t try to do it his way when he asked me to just try, but instead passed it on to a friend…who later quit when he was told to remove a perfectly good plant in full bloom because it was too big or maybe dared to touch another plant.

Here is another great quotation collected by Loree, who wanted to send Monty Don a thank you note for saying “Half of gardening is just grown-ups going out to play.” I also remember laughing with delight when he said that.

She writes of growing bougainvillea as an annual in her Portland garden. I’m reminded that I grew up with one, in love with its pink papery blooms in my grandmother’s heated greenhouse, back when electricity was cheap. It was a sad day when she had to let it go because the cost of electricity rose so much. I could have sworn I had a photo of it, but the picture is just in my mind.

I loved reading that Robert of Felony Flats Garden got the Sunset Western Garden book from his grandmother. I still have the battered, well-thumbed spiral-bound copy that belonged to my grandmother, as well as all her old garden newspaper and magazine clippings that were inserted in the pages.

I’ve mentally swiped several planter ideas from Loree’s book. I won’t share them here; you’ll need to read her book for that, although later I will give credit if I implement any. Must find a rusty ….thing….and a big old funnel….and some skull beads.

Oh, my gosh, this isn’t even a British book and it mentions grit.

Around these parts, the only grit is turkey grit, small and glaringly white. We certainly can’t get the beautiful small amber-coloured stones that we see on British shows. Nor can we get small washed gravel. Loree, what do you use for grit? (I remember attending a workshop at Joy Creek Nursery, where they use 1/4-10 washed gravel in the garden. I wish I had a cubic yard of it, or more.)

A story about the “Felony Flats” garden being divided between the two gardeners made me smile…

….as I realized that probably most of what I like could be classified as “old lady plants”.

I (probably) couldn’t grow (well) at home most of what Loree grows because my garden has such a high water table and such cool summers, and I can’t grow spiky plants in well-drained public gardens around here because, especially in Long Beach, such plants are forbidden. The original guidelines for the city planters said no plants with thorns (or any poky bits), which didn’t stop volunteers from planting ginormous roses, phormiums and barberries in the planters, probably in an attempt to keep people from sitting in them. I almost planted some hardy cactus in containers for a western theme at The Red Barn until I envisioned a horse or dog’s soft nose making contact.

As you will see in Loree’s book, in more sophisticated city public gardens, spikes are celebrated and people and dogs are, I suppose, expected to behave themselves and stay out of the gardens. Fearless Gardening abounds with gorgeous examples, with most of the photographs taken Loree herself, making it even more of tour de force of creativity. I especially enjoyed the tours of gardens public and private that conclude the book.

One of several pieces of advice from Felony Flats: “Don’t be afraid to let the household chores slide during gardening season; that’s what winter is for.” (Unfortunately for the household chores, my winter is for reading and watching garden videos.)

Of course, I added some plants to my growing (and maddeningly unavailable here) acquisition list, and I’ve already shot my mail order budget for the year. My favorite Loree Bohl quotation:

“The only fear that should exist in gardening is, Is there enough money in my bank account?”

Among my new Plants of Desire: Eryngium proteiflorum, whose photo looks similar to Eryngium giganteum which I am having such a hard time growing; Passiflora ‘Sunburst’, which might prove hardy here; Accra sellowiana (pineapple guava). I want and have tried plants like Trachycarpus fortunei, a palm with gorgeous leaves that might do well in my sheltered garden, and Musa basjoo, the truly hardy banana, and tall echiums, with no success, maybe because we mostly lack summer heat. Loree’s book inspires me to fearlessly try again (if I can get my hands on such plants this or next year).

I was interested to learn that Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ is the true name of ‘Black Lace’ elderberry. Seems Black Lace is one of those trademark names. What a pleasure it was to read a book heavy on plant recommendation and identification after the Julie Moir Messervy design books, which I mostly enjoyed but which tend to recommend what I think are bad plants, and even to misidentify plants, and to only use the sometimes interchangeable common names.

No matter what your gardening style, I think Fearless Gardening would inspire you, too. It is available right here.

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A Countrywoman’s Year by Rosemary Verey

I read this in early December and am finally getting around to sharing my favorite bits. One of my regrets is that I out off for too long writing about the winter reading of Nella Last, several years ago, and of Marion Cran. I must stay caught up.

a collection of her newspaper columns

This is one of those books arranged by months, a style of gardening book that I like very much.

Her thoughts on winter (and reading weather):

I welcome winter as a time when I can slightly change my way of life, stay indoors more, read, and give way to a lethargy that I do not have in summer. …”A sad tale’s best for winter”, wrote Shakespeare. I believe he meant this to fit the winter mood of the reader.

(Miss Willmott’s Ghost, supposedly so easy to grow and yet I have been trying to grow it for years to no avail. Maybe next year I will succeed as I have a few young plants on the go.)

Rosemary’s close observation of “nut tree” catkins in a hedge in February put me in mind of the excellent macro photos of catkins and tiny flowers on the Tootlepedal blog.

We all know the golden tassels of the male flowers covered with pollen, but less conspicuous are the clusters of small red female blossoms, now open and ready to receive pollen from the catkins. They are small but you may see bunch of bright crimson pistils enclosed within green bracts. When they are fertilised, an odd thing happens, unique I believe in our garden happenings. The flower is growing on last year’s wood but as soon as it is fertilised it starts growing away from the old wood and forms behind itself a thin twig, four or five inches long, at the end of which it ripens into a nut. As it travels, it carries with it the bract in which the flower was formed and this becomes the cup in which the nuts will lie. The leafy cup has given its name to the tree: Corylus from the Greek meaning a cup or helmet. ……the old British name was Haasel—haesle is a cap or hat and the Haesel-nutu is the hatted nut.

She concludes that close observation with a thought that stands on its own:

Whatever the weather, there will always be some phenomenon of nature to pause beside and admire, to learn from and tuck into one’s memory.

Months later, as autumn arrives:

Now the shortest days are upon us and darkness descends soon after four o’ clock. I can come in from the garden to the welcome of a warm fire and the prospect of a long peaceful evening with all those books which have been accumulating on my table.

Here is my table of books to read….

It includes obscure books that I’ve purchased and many gift books that I long to read. I usually prioritize library books because they have due dates. I hope being half retired will enable me to catch up.

I suddenly envy Rosemary’s freedom from the temptation all social media back in those days. Once upon a time though, I would have written out these passages in my commonplace book and been able to share them with only a few people.

Because it fits so perfectly here, I am adding this from the biography of Verey that I read right after this (which will be the subject of the post).

On getting up shockingly early:

But suppose you stay up till two AM reading, doesn’t that add years to your waking life, too?

On dogs:

On peaceful coexistence:

Or give up on growing hostas, like I did.

I loved every bit of this wonderful little book. I got it via interlibrary loan.

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Every year, I do a post showing the books read the previous year. It’s another way to back up my list that I no longer write down in a notebook. Previously, these posts have just shown the book covers. (A search for “reading” should bring up the previous years.) Because I am doing it on my iPad this year and can’t access that screen view on Goodreads, this is in a different format. I think it’s better; it shows my star rating and sometimes a review. (Sorry you can’t click on “read more”; join me on Goodreads to share reading adventures.)

The books are not quite in order but almost. I didn’t have the patience to scroll through 3000-plus previous books to get to the exact proper order of 2020 books.

Top five books of the year, in no particular order:

And I Shall Find Some Peace There

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent

Modern Nature

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar

…and any (and all) of the memoirs of Diana Athill.

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On September 29, I started reading A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach, having recently read and loved her memoir, And I Shall Find Some Peace There.

My first reading session was enjoyable but too short. My favorite bits from that day:

Oh, yes, my garden is full of regrets, but not as many regrets as the garden I left behind. In moving on, I escaped gooseneck loosestrife, lily of the valley, sweet woodruff (or so I thought) and many more. In a later chapter, she turns again to thoughts about pushy plants:

Again, I felt unbecomingly envious that she is friends with Withey and Price.

My life feels inferior.

I want to figure out how to make tomato junk and have more of a self sufficient kitchen.

And I just like and identify with this:

Then I set the book aside till a rainy day when I had no project to do. It was a wait of a couple of weeks. I wanted to immerse myself in the rest of the book without interruption.

Finally such a day came along on a October 11th. I like this about botanical Latin. Maybe I will stop worrying about how to pronounce Agastache.

Then suddenly the book became far more useful than I had imagined it would be with a wealth of charts and advice and information about vegetable growing, my new Pandemic-inspired thing. I saved pages and pages of it in my “Notes” app to reference next year. If kitchen gardens are your thing, I advise acquiring this book.

But then the sun came out and I had to go outside, and then I had to prepare many tomatoes for the dehydrator. I had to laugh when I asked Siri a question about my jalapeño pepper plant.

Finally, on October 13th, I had enough reading weather to finish this rather large book. Margaret’s description of her compost pile lets you know how huge her property is.

more envy…

I saved many more pages of information about how to grow and preserve veg and herbs. Even if I owned the book, I’d find it useful to photograph those pages and put them in Notes.

I’m obsessed with autumn leaves and learned more about their value.

The leaves that I chop, burning mower gas all the while, are not raked off garden beds but are the leaves that fall on lawns or parking lots or gutters.

On a similar topic, she writes in favor of snags, with surprising advise about how many tree snags are invaluable for a landscape.

She goes on to talk about various thankful critters.

My final thoughtful takeaway is about why to buy organic seed. I should have thought of this!

That has me convinced to spend the bit of extra money from now on for organic seed, when given a choice.

If you seek this book out, be sure to get the updated edition. I am now eagerly awaiting the arrival of her second memoir. And for more rainy days, because I will require time to read it from beginning to end with the only interruptions beings from tea-making, snacking, and cats.

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Monday, 2 March 2020

At last I had the anticipated rainy day and could read the rest of the densely small print book, Modern Nature by Derek Jarman.

Skooter did not want to wake up; he dislikes rain.
When he did stir, he joined me in my comfy chair.
I loved Modern Nature so very much. It has more of the garden than the recently read Smiling In Slow Motion, simply because the author was in better health and able to spend more time at Prospect Cottage.

I would be hard pressed to say that I have ever read a gardening memoir with more gorgeous garden descriptions, partly because the seaside setting speaks to me. Derek’s garden in England’s Dungeness is on the shale beach in view of the ocean. His garden book has been a huge inspiration to me. I seem to have lent it out and have forgotten to whom!

Here are just a few of my favourite saves. 

How we lose time in the garden:76CD5675-F646-4B34-868D-D0A39AE4DC98
When Jarman quotes from The Poetics of Space….


….I have a quotation from that book on display in my garden: “The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

I adore his appreciation for the mixed view, the sea and the shale and the lights of the nuclear power station.

As I learned in his other memoir, Jarman likes to grow red geraniums (pelargoniums). He recommends the one called Paul Crampnel, saying the other modern colors are muddy.

My grandma’s red and pink geraniums:


looking down the hill from the path of lawn…Gram grew a neat patch of pink and red geraniums backed with a line of roses. I often wish she had been alive during our present day richness of plant selection. mid 1960s.


Every year, she planted this bed of geraniums.

And some geraniums which appear each year in Cannon Beach:



And the red and pink geraniums that we used to plant every year in Jo’s garden.


geranium (pelargonium) walk

You can see Derek’s favourite geranium here. Because I am easily embarrassed and prone to feelings of inferiority, I have let myself be influenced by friends who make fun of red geraniums.  Well, to heck with that. The sharp scent of the leaves takes me right back to life with grandma.  I still have one red geranium from Jo’s garden that I have nursed along through winters as my grandma used to do with hers.

I was surprised to learn that slugs and snails live on the Dungeness shale.

I so much love what he wrote about disliking clothes shopping.  You can read the entire passage about it here in an article which includes one of my favourite photos of Derek in his garden.  He finds clothes shops “intimidating and rarely ventured into them”.

When he mentioned a friendly day out with author Penelope Mortimer, I was excited to learn that she had written more books than the ones I’d read back in my twenties. I have ordered those that the library has and will seek them all out.  He also alerted me to another memoirist, Keith Vaughan, whose book I have ordered online…there are only so many interlibrary loans I can make at one time.

Toward the end of this memoir, Jarman’s health rapidly worsens.  He had been diagnosed as HIV+ three years before; he spends time in hospital away from the garden as his condition tips into having AIDs.


He was well cared for under the NHS, able to stay in hospital for as long as needed instead of being booted out as often happens here.


He used Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera as a motto when ill.  Just a day or so before  reading this book, I was using it, too, over various health and future concerns.

Did Derek feel he would not be remembered?


He will be.  I could read this every day and never tire of it:


He might have feared for the future of his garden because of what happened to the garden of one of his gardening mentors.

Now his Prospect Cottage garden is under threat  after having been preserved for decades. A fundraiser is trying to save it by the end of this month.

I have been inspired to try to add more driftwood artiness to the port gardens. This is not only from Derek’s ideas….


…but also from memories of my Gram’s garden. Although none of the photos I have of her garden show it, I remember the driftwood in it. If any friend went to the beach, she would ask them to bring her back a piece, a few of which were substantial. I am sure she rewarded them with bouquets and baked goods.  Her low rock walls in her back garden were made in the same way, by asking everyone who visited her to please bring a rock. (She did not drive and so scavenging on her own was limited, and there was certainly not enough money to order a load of rocks.)

When I told Allan of my long held desire to add some driftwood posts to the port gardens (also a long unrealized desire for the boatyard garden), he said that I would worry that people would poke their eyes on them. No, the poles will be either tall or fat!  It would be hard to dig the holes in the rubbly soil. Then I will dig the holes! And so on. My main problem is that I know where to get some driftwood, but it is on a steep bank and I cannot do it on my own. Watch this space to see if it happens….probably without lobster claws on top.
Also watch for more Derek Jarman passages; I saved some that apply to certain plants and certain months. How I wish I had known him and could have joined him and his friends searching for rusty debris and perfect rocks with which to decorate the garden.

Read more about Modern Nature here.

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January 2020

Due to almost endless rain and wind, very little gardening and no graveling was accomplished in January. I read 45 books, and while several were short (three poetry books, for example), two were quite long (“Ishyvoo” and May Sarton).

Here are a few more of the books and some takeaways.

I was pleased to get the latest Seaside Knitters mystery, from which I saved some passages to enhance my blog post about the series. Unfortunately, due to procrastination, my saved passages from the previous two books in the series disappeared in my big computer (and computer back up) crash in December. I have been too busy reading to deal with my computer problem any further.

Jazmin was a good reading companion.

From Rachel Maddow’s Blowout: Did you know that “Xena” was an eco warrior princess?

One memoir led to another in January. It all started with The Last Gift of Time, which led me to May Sarton and Maxine Kumin, and (although I cannot remember how) to an assortment of modern memoirs.

A theme in the modern ones seems to be some regret for ones behavior in one’s twenties. I have a bit of that, although age 31 through 36 were my most regrettable years.

I discovered Dani Shapiro and read all five of her memoirs (Slow Motion, Devotion, Still Writing, Hour Glass, Inheritance).

In Hourglass, I liked this passage about the sorting of inherited possessions.

She just hints at and never writes about in detail one thing I wish she would explain: “I could still feel the hug of the woman who was no longer my friend.” What happened?

In her mid life memoir, Devotion, she writes about crying a lot. And another memoirist, Claire Dederer, whose two books I read this month, also writes about herself and her women friends crying. I looked back at my forties and realized I had been so busy working and surviving that I barely had time for a mid life emotional crisis. If I fit one in, I don’t remember it well.

Like most writers, Dani enjoys solitude and describes the kind of non-peopling that I enjoy during staycation.

Dani Shapiro, Claire Dededer, and Christopher Isherwood all write extensively about yoga (the two women) and Hinduism (Isherwood). It felt oddly coincidental to find that theme repeated over and over. I had to wade through it to get to the other good stuff. Maybe the reason yoga does not appeal to me is that our local studio uses a Barbie doll as an avatar. (I kid you not.) Maybe it is because the one time I tried yoga, in my thirties, it reminded me horribly of being a failure in junior high gym class.

I loved, in Claire Dederer’s two memoirs, Love and Trouble and Poser, the Seattle settings–my home town–especially Poser’s first half, when she lived in my old neighborhood, Phinney Ridge.

She takes her daughter to the childcare coop at “the giant gray building that housed the Phinney Neighborhood Association” –and was my elementary school!

A block an half from my old house, Claire and her friends walk around “the flat weed choked lake that lay in the center of Northwest Seattle. Green Lake had no color at all; it was the most ill-named lake ever. But, just a little shy of three miles around, its paved path made a just-right walk.

That was my lake and my frequent path! Below, two of my photos from the early 70s…and me obsessively running the path in the mid 80s, before it became the tremendously crowded walking path that it is now.

Claire laments the loss of the old Fremont neighborhood…

I used to stop between jobs and eat humbow at that same long gone cafe.

She also writes about the wonderful Magus Books in the U District. Here, she has just gotten coffee at the Allegro around the corner. All former haunts of mine.

And the ferries….

…and the houseboats of Lake Union.

(In Love and Trouble, an entire chapter amusingly devotes itself to the old businesses –shops, coffee houses, restaurant, movie theaters–of the 1970s-90s University District.)

I appreciate that in her yoga journey, she addresses several times the possible cultural imperialism of it all (although she doesn’t use that modern and somewhat trendy term). She remembers how yoga figured in the Mapp and Lucia novels, to my delight.

I also read a harrowing memoir, Educated…

and if you leave out the survivalism and off-the-grid life, the scary junk yard, the fundamentalist religion and the home schooling, her father reminds me of mine. Unfortunately. Nearby, her extended family lived among “the constant gossip of a small town, whose opinions pushed in through the windows and under the doors.” A bit like certain aspects of my small town can be.

Warning: monsters ahead

Now… You can stop right here and wait for the next post, a nice one about compost, unless you want to read some sad memories brought on by the next memoir.

I was blindsided when The Rules Do Not Apply segued from a memoir of a relationship and a house to the story of a miscarriage that echoed mine. The author and I were about the same age (late thirties) and at the same stage of pregnancy. Like any story that makes one feel less alone in one’s memories, it was both agonizing and cathartic to read. Her experience was more terrifying than mine; she was alone in a distant country and a little bit further along so that the baby breathed ever so briefly. If this experience brings back a memory of your life, you may or may not want to read her essay about it, Thanksgiving in Mongolia.

A few sentences that spoke to me hard:

You’ll have another one.” ….”No, I want that one.” It was the savage truth. I had a longing–ferocious, primal, limitless, crazed–for the only person I had ever made …His soul.I had wanted to experience unconditional lovefor someone whom I alone had known in his whisper of a life.” (In my story, at least Robert was there, too. He had just gone looking for a miniature guitar to buy for his son the week before it happened.) “Logically, I knew the person I’d lost was not fully formed, that he was the possibility of a person. But without him I was gutted. If my baby could not somehow be returned to me, nothing would be right again.” She writes about something that I have seen mentioned in no other memoir, “one of nature’s less kind tricks” of lactating after a miscarriage. The worst and most physically painful stab in the heart. The doctor she sought out said that he felt desperately sorry for her that she would not know what her boy would have been like as a child.

She writes that eventually “the grief went back to sleep in my body.”

The best words of wisdom that she came to eventually were “everybody doesn’t get everything….as natural and unavoidable as mortality”. If my own son had lived and continued to live, he would be 28 this year. I have no idea how we would have survived financially. We had no back up. It is unlikely that my then spouse, Robert, could have kept our business going on his own, and even though my housecleaning clients loved me (I was their “jewel”, and all that sort of thing), I doubt if hauling a baby to our jobs would have worked out. We might all three have sunk into so much poverty that we lost our house, and I don’t think I would have ended up being a gardener by trade. Our son, Devon, might not have liked me as a mother; I doubt I would have been a good one. Don’t tell me otherwise.

Next: the great relief of some ordinary composting.

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I spent four delightfully rainy days in early January thoroughly absorbed in Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, volume one–900 small print pages followed by an ever so useful glossary of all the characters and of the many terms unfamiliar to me from his years in the Ramakrishna faith. I wish that all books with a multitude of characters, fiction or non fiction, had a glossary!

The diaries begin right after his 1930s experiences in Berlin, described in the memoir Christopher and His Kind. I haven’t read that book yet so am glad we had just seen a film of it. The Berlin experiences eventually became the famous musical, Caberet..

During World War II, Christopher had moved to the United States and spend a year living with a Quaker group helping refugees from Germany. The rest of the diaries, except for some traveling, take place in California.

I’ve already shared the following passage from near the beginning, the moment where I fell in love with these diaries. Gerald is the friend who introduced Christopher to the ways of Ramakrishna, which Christopher studied for his whole life.

More descriptive writing:


Here are some more of the bits that spoke to me, which is to say they reminded me of my life….and I found it comforting that someone in such a different world (the world of Hollywood in the forties and fifties) had some similar thoughts and experiences.

Christopher had a tribulation that I shared (from 1994 through 2003, culminating in divorce):

(Asit was one of the monk initiates who noisily lived in the room next to Christopher in the Ramakrishna house, described in an earlier part of the diaries.)



Like my sleep deprived relationship, Christopher’s ended in separation.

Even into his fifties, he agonized about and analyzed his friendships.

“What I really want is solitude in the midst of snugness,” he wrote. I found it most endearing that he complained when company came to stay and longed for solitude, and yet went out to dinner and parties what seemed like several times a week.

In his fifties, he wrote often of aging. (His partner, Don, was much younger.)


That was just in his fifties! I can’t wait (but must wait) to read about how he felt in his 60s, in the 1960s. He wrote of a friend who turned 65: “Billy in tears, drunk and lonely–and pitiful in a way that a woman of sixty-five is pitiful–her life over. But Billy’s life is by no means over. It may even be really beginning.” That’s good to hear, as I will soon turn sixty-five.

I loved his descriptions of his home throughout the years. He always included the addresses, so I was able to google them and sometimes see inside.

In the late fifties, he and his longtime partner, artist Don Bachardy, bought the house that they would live in till Christopher died, and in which Don still lives.

I was thrilled to find on google street view some photos of the garden along that block today.

Christopher had a garden problem that I could well relate to.

(He had some close women friends, including, to my delight, Dodie Smith, author of I Capture the Castle, one of my favourite books–and 1001 Dalmatians.)

Another close friend, Igor Stravinsky, was not bothered by garden incursions.

I was so pleased to be able to get from Netflix the documentary about Chris and Don…

…which had special features at the end with Don, now an old and accomplished man himself, taking the filmmakers on an inside tour around that very house. So when I read the next two volumes (I am waiting so impatiently for an interlibrary loan of the 1960s diaries!) I will be able to visualize the inside, where Don painted and Chris happily puttered with his houseplants.

Despite the weight and size of the 1000 page tome, Jazmin managed to read part of it with me.

Speaking of solitude, I am finally achieving the non-peopling days of rainy reading that my sanity (and disposition) requires. It was hard to emerge from the diaries and read other books while waiting for the next volume.

Isherwood’s mention of Anais Nin’s diaries–“seventy volumes already”–reminded me that I had read most of them in 1980-ish. I became disillusioned when, as she aged, Nin kept rhapsodizing about how much she wanted to be around young people. Even at age thirty, I thought that was just silliness. Despite the age difference between Christopher and Don, Christopher appreciated the company of friends his own age. Maybe my exasperation with Anais Nin is why memoirs did not become my favourite genre till I discovered May Sarton and Doris Grumbach in the late 1990s.

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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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