“Dostadning” – The Doing

We’re moving!

Sort of. What was an idea for a couple of years – a dream or dread depending on attitude toward change – is suddenly a reality. In mid-April, a moving van will come and take many of our belongings to a little house in Winslow on Bainbridge Island.

“Sort of” because we don’t have to clear out everything by then. To start, we’ll take what’s needed to make the Bainbridge house comfortable, leaving bare bones here till the end of the summer. This house is small, but that one is smaller. And the accumulations of 12 years here, on top of what we brought from Alaska, won’t all fit.

From Margareta Magnusson’s “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” I know that’s a good thing. Last fall I wrote about Magnusson’s book before it came out, and now have read it twice. Enlivened by Magnusson’s little ink drawings, it’s a charming, humorous, practical, slim tome by a wise woman aged “between 80 and 100 years.” As she considers disposal of all the possessions cluttering our houses – and making them home – she admits, “my vice is really things.”

Magnusson says the idea of spending time with objects one last time and then disposing of them isn’t sad to her. But when it is, she remembers: ”I really do not want to give my beloved children and their families too much trouble with my stuff after I am gone. That is why I want to tell others about death cleaning, and how wonderful it can be.” Dostadning describes “a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.” Who doesn’t need that?

So after these years in the woods on the bluff we move to a town – within walking distance to restaurants, movie theatre, bakery, grocery, library, clinics – and will have close neighbors. My brain is full of plans of all sorts, lists, decisions, the complexities of privilege and possessions.

I debated long about how to keep “Her spirits rose…” going in the midst of it. Because I am both excited about the move and daunted, I think I need to keep doing what I do – write about it, draw about it.

Thank you to you faithful readers, I appreciate you! More to follow…


Good Luck, Serendipity, and “Trusted Housesitters”

How to describe the events I’m thinking about? Luck seems like when my husband can most always find a parking space close to our destination (as I repeat: “we should have left earlier, we will never find a place to park”), while serendipity seems a light-hearted term for important happenings.

But I want to make note of such occurrences – in part because I keep thinking about two recent ones, and in part to counter the opposite kind of event – bad things that come out of nowhere like accidents or illnesses. Plenty of those around.

One night, during a trip in February, with the Ladies Baby and Sweet, Baby Brother, and their parents, we emerged from a restaurant into a rainstorm. We had a walk ahead to get home, and huge, fat drops quickly threatened a drenching. As we turned the corner around a building, a man stood under an overhang and said: “How about an umbrella – just a dollar?” “Oh, look,” he added, “I have two.” I dug in my already soaked purse and gladly bought both.

In the following days, the girls and I talked off and on about Umbrella Man, as we called him, how he appeared by magic to offer us shelter just when we needed it, like in a storybook

Planning for that February trip included much worry about leaving Frances. The mother of our young friend had told me about the website, “Trusted Housesitters.” If you are in need of care for pets and house, you register on the site, pay a fee of about a hundred dollars, describe your home, its location, and pet(s), enter the dates of your travel, and wait.

People (often retired folks who love both animals and travel) contact you and offer their services. The sitters pay their own transportation to you, and they don’t charge. Sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. In December a capable woman from Vancouver Island (who lives on a boat in the summer) stayed with Frances and took very good care of everything.

But by mid-January I had no response to my posted dates for February. Belatedly I realized you could search sitters by geography and read their profiles and recommendations, so I took a chance and directly contacted a handful of people with open calendars who live in Western Washington.

An amazing couple answered (their reviews from past sits are over the moon). Adventurous empty nesters who work from home, they don’t usually do local sits, they’ve done housesits in England in the past, but they wrote to say they would be glad to come to the bluff and care for Frances. I was grateful and relieved.

As time passed and Frances began to fail, my instructions and worries multiplied, and our correspondence increased. Our fairy godparent housesitters, as I came to think of them, adapted to all my anxious changes and special requests for Frances’ care. In the end, we didn’t need all my notes, and after a departure delay, we left a sadder, simpler house. The housesitters still came to stay and were so kind to us in a hard time, kindred spirits, now friends. The “Trusted Housesitters” site seems a miracle.

I’m reminding myself here to appreciate such serendipitous moments of grace, such offerings of kindness – and such good luck.


Saying Goodbye

Two paintings by the English artist Mary Newcomb depict a woman and her dog in a rowboat just at dusk. In the first panel, the rowboat goes one way, and in the other, with dusk deepened, it returns. In Christopher Andreae’s book about Newcomb, he includes Newcomb’s words (and punctuation) about the scene:

“After half an hour when more light had gone she returned past us, rowing slowly, turning to talk to the dog. The dog sat on like a little black mountain Both were very peaceful and companionable to one another It was a perfect moment.”

Before we even moved to Washington, and the dog Bill and Frances the cat were so much a part of life, I painted an “after” from Newcomb’s painting, replacing the black dog with Frances and Bill. The little painting is tucked in a bookshelf, right by the nightlight we use to keep the stairs lit after dusk. So most days, twice a day, I see it. When Bill died, it was hard to look at it.

And now Frances is gone as well. Because so many of you have read about Frances since the very beginning of “Her spirits rose…,” I wanted you to know.

Frances was abandoned in an apartment with a litter of kittens, and lodged a long time in a vet’s office cage before living with us in Alaska for three years, and then 12 years here on the bluff (“arriving in a little soft-sided satchel and ending in command of all she surveyed” as our older son said). I’m thankful for all the good times she had – and there were many – she loved living on the bluff, patrolling her garden courtyard and sleeping in warm spots and with us.

A friend wrote afterwards to remark how willingly we enter into these arrangements with pets, knowing full well what we’re signing up for (and getting so much), but feeling such pain when we have to say goodbye.

It was time and it was peaceful, but the house is hollow and empty. Not so companionable.