St. Francis Leaves the Bluff

When we moved to Bainbridge two years ago, we wanted to make sure the move was right, so we didn’t sell our house, but leased it. Planning to visit often, we kept access to the guesthouse, the Buffalo. But the universe conspired to prevent visits, and time has come to put the property on the market. (I recognize this as a tale of privilege. Several times that’s stopped me from writing, but the blog began on the bluff, and now that part of the story ends.)

Only 900 square feet, the Buffalo is still a complete house with the utensils, bedding, linens, art, photos, books, and furniture of a house. And, because of a big closet, extraneous things got stored over the years – all our photo negatives packaged in labelled shoeboxes, beloved aged backpacking tent, sleeping bags, extra kid equipment. An empty file cabinet became the repository of my mother’s things when she died, her purse, her files and photos, and little stacks of expired passports and driver’s licenses.

In her book of essays, titled “Everywhere I Look,” Helen Garner quotes a clergyman’s wife on changing houses, “Every time you move you have to work through your whole life.”

Because we never really lived there, the Buffalo’s emotional weight blindsided me. In the first few of many trips to clear out, I thought it would be just sort, give away or toss, pack. But things speak of their provenance to a person packing up, voicing memories and original hopes.

A lot of the things I hoped for came to be. We built the bigger house and a garden and moved there, our sons came willingly to visit, and one married there in a beautiful ceremony. Eventually the Buffalo sheltered their growing families, and always it made it a pleasure to have guests.

In the drawing below, done early in the garden’s life, it’s orderly. But this spring, nature occupied every available space. Thuggish plants crowd and engulf plants once cosseted. Buttercups invade the beds, water suckers ruin the shape of the enormous Sambucus, the paths are clotted and choked by grass. I used to fantasize it was “contained abundance” – no longer.

My friend the wordsmith (who has been the most amazing help and support, making a sometimes hard thing cheerful) says it looks like the garden of an abandoned English estate. Kinda. The realtor will have it cleaned up for listing, and I’m hoping for a new gardener to love it.

The wordsmith’s husband muscled our statue of St. Francis (it stood for years in the center of the foursquare garden) into my car. I remember the first time Lady Baby spotted him and stood nearby, seemingly shocked he was taller than she. He looks contented now, in his tiny pretend Tuscan courtyard, surrounded by rosemary and welcoming hummingbirds who visit a nearby fountain.

 

Happiness in the Time of COVID-19

Writing in Slate, (https://slate.com/technology/2020/06/advice-on-reopening-activies-er-doctor.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab), Amita Sudhir, an emergency doctor, discusses what’s permitted now that states begin to open, and analyzes what and why we might choose certain activities. She’s clear-spoken and kind, and I appreciated reading her words as we grapple with acceptable risk going forward. While weighing pros and cons, she admits: “We are all in need of a little happiness right now.”

Dr. Sudhir considers the possibility of in-person family visits, and while I’m beyond grateful for all the electronic interchanges (and painting Lord B’s outfits has been a very real source of lockdown happiness), like all grandparents, I’m nostalgic for adventures of the past and wondering about the future.

Tiny Triumphs in the Time of COVID-19

Back in the Before Times, I wrote about Austin Kleon’s book, “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Keep Creative in Good Times and Bad.” In his recent newsletter, Kleon quoted from a letter he received: “Every time we make a thing, it’s a tiny triumph.”

Maybe now, after last week, there is a glimmer of political hope, racial justice hope, but probably not COVID hope, and while I ask myself what’s next (a friend suggested earthquake) – I relish the idea of registering an ordinary accomplishment as a tiny triumph. Making a mask, yes, and a rhubarb crisp or dinner – or a flower postcard.

And joy is to always get a flower postcard in return!

 

Optimism in the Time of COVID-19

Did you hear the NPR piece about whether optimism is learned or innate? After reading a transcript, I’ve been thinking about the psychologist Martin Seligman’s comments about optimists and pessimists – and wondering if alternating between these two ways of being explains my changeable reaction to life right now. Seligman says an optimist assumes the problem is “temporary, just this one time and controllable,” a pessimist believes bad events are “permanent, pervasive, uncontrollable.”

Controllable – whether the pandemic is controllable or not – that’s the fluctuation and uncertainty. If we knew more, I might indulge my fantasies about motorhomes (new for me). My first notion (mostly as something to talk to Sweet B about) was the proposal I rent an RV and park it in her driveway. I threw that suggestion out on FaceTime, and Sweet B said, “hmmm, my mommy’s car is parked there.” She was quiet for a minute, then said, “we need to give that some more thought.” Indeed.

When we next spoke I proposed the LA family rent an RV and drive it up here, and we discussed the logistics of such an journey. A pleasant distraction for people to whom planning (and controlling or at least arranging outcome) is a pleasure no longer available.

Creative projects can be controllable, but these days the big blankness at the beginning intimidates me. I’ve liked watching other people’s creative moves though: my painter friend makes little water media paintings that I picture as big oil paintings someday, and as a daily discipline, my old friend who lives on the island makes postcards to mail to her three grandsons. She includes riddles, odd facts, and lists the things she is grateful for. The Wordsmith grows a garden destined to be bountiful with food and beauty.

Some have used the time to teach and to learn. My friend who paints in the woods posts video tutorials about her work methods on Instagram, another friend, a woodworker, whose daughter expressed interest, makes furniture with her – imparting skills to last. My physical therapist completely gave in to his teenage son’s long held obsession with llamas, and together they built the llama barn and fencing required to adopt two llamas, Ned and Giovanna. My good-natured husband (certified optimist) continues his pursuit of the Greek language – ancient and modern.

But I often retreat to the repetitive, familiar, doable task of mask making – more than 150 now, sending them to the project initiated by Washington’s Lt. Governor and the United Way, where mask makers are matched with volunteer organizations like shelters and food banks.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d have done more creative work if I didn’t make masks, but maybe I’d just be doing more “doomscrolling.” (What a great new phrase to describe that which we do too much of!)

One heartening thing has been to see the ever-changing costumes of Lord B, like the one below. I asked for identification of the knight – Mrs. Hughes replied, “just a run-of-the-mill knight.” But the ballcap and basket lid seem inspired.

At least we can control our outfits and accessories, if not the outcome of our current plight.

Life Still in Lockdown

My thoughts flitted all over this week, always recognizing the need to keep them corralled and forbid awfulizing. And I’m in a privileged world with work and loving families in secure situations – for now. Maybe that’s it. We have no idea what’s coming – some recovery? Or the “darkest winter in modern history?”

To think I began the year imagining us walking along the remains of Hadrian’s Wall this summer – knowing Lady B would love that. She’s very interested in history these days, her prized possession a fat history of the world from prehistoric times to “the year my mom graduated from college.” My only concern then was how old Sweet Brother would be for traveling. “We were so naïve,” a friend said yesterday.

The other day I walked down to the ferry dock just to remember leaving the island and was shocked to see the totally empty parking lots. I can read about things, but seeing the vacant tarmac startled me.

I walked home thinking about the administration’s frighteningly successful attempts to dismantle our democracy, and their chaotic and pathetic response to the virus. What if this pestilence that’s touched the entire world had been some universal good circling the globe, sudden outbreak of fair treatment and kindness – a virus causing reasonableness.

At my age will I ever see the grandchildren again in real life? What will happen in the election? That’s what my mind does – goes a little way down the path of despair, and then remembers how lucky we are when getting through the day and the month, is a challenge for so many. Countless lost lives and livelihoods.

And then my mind veers off, into dailiness or into the legitimate enjoying of what is still before me. I can’t hug the grandkids (although I really loved the tale of a grandpa donning full motorcycle leathers, helmet, mask, gloves so he could hug his grandchildren or the family who erected a plastic barrier with plastic sleeve tubes so a grandmother could hug her little people), but I can talk to ours, engage with them on a screen.

We could be there virtually at reading time when Lady B discovered the dictionary definition revealed when you press a word on a Kindle – and learned the magic of looking up Stonehenge and seeing what the index of her history book can do.

We admired Lord B’s costume of the day (Artemis, goddess of the hunt, with tropical shirt and shorts) and viewed a favorite book of his about trucks and excavators, followed by his rendition of “Henry the Explorer.”

We’ve seen puppet shows and live performances (every detail planned by Sweet B), including “Sunset Performance” – staged in the garden and set to classical music as she twirled and posed in ballet moves, including lifts by her tuxedo-clad dad.

And Sweet Brother – he’s the one who has changed so very much in the lockdown – transformed in these months from newborn to chubby, cheerful guy, cuddling against his dad in matching gray sweats and blue t-shirt.

It’s greedy to want more. Being thankful for what is seems a better idea.

 

 

 

Another Postcard Project in the Time of COVID-19

But first – the time has come for a name change. I started to write that recently I saw a photo of Baby Brother wearing a helmet and sitting on a rock by scrubby grass on a spring bike ride with his family. He was drawing in a large sketchbook. He’s no baby anymore. He’s tall and smart, and has an astounding vocabulary. Therefore, henceforth, in keeping with his sister’s title, his name here shall be Lord B. He might like that if he ever knew, certainly like it better than Baby Brother.

And it’s time for a project with him. I asked his mom if he might like to do a postcard project, she said yes, and added that when he draws, “every scribble comes with a story.”

So, in postcards north I plan to ask about those stories, and maybe receive a drawing and story in response (this will require some dictation to his parents).

Lord B excels at costuming – one of the highlights of our three-times-a-week reading sessions with Lady B is the initial brief appearance of Lord B in the day’s outfit – firefighter jacket, mask, and sword, or police hat and cape – ever varied.

My first postcard depicts Lord B (or a boy looking vaguely like him) drawn from a photo where he’s dressed after the protagonist in “Alexander, the old Town Mouse.” I didn’t know that book, but looked it up and the re-creation is spot on. Alexander has a green sash, and to mimic this Lord B used his Super G cape slung over another cape. Perfect.

I hope I get to hear the story.

 

 

The Garden Here in the Time of COVID-19

Today, spring rain falls on the tiny patio outside the window where I sat so much during recovery – my spot for early morning tea. Last month I watched the rosemary bloom sky blue and eager hummingbirds visit. Beneath it, pink blossoms of thyme crowded the pavers. Planted three years ago, the clematis finally produced white flowers against the trellis. The old rose is huge and full of budded promise.

A pot of Apricot Beauty tulips, one bulb planted years ago on the bluff, produced three welcome flowers. I can see lily spears emerging from another pot, and the hollyhock from last year looks strong. A bundle of forget-me-nots – tagalongs from Alaska – fills a pot. Bags of potting soil and compost clutter the space now – spring cleanup and planting underway.

Theoretically. But this year, like everything else gardening is different. An old and dear friend, wrote that “it’s hard to match the exuberance of my outside spaces with the interior obsession with pandemic news.” That’s true.

At the garden center, with limited opening and strict rules, I bought compost and soil and pumpkin seeds – and sweet pea seeds (quickly, as we are one person at a time inside the building). You can wander the plants outdoors, staying apart from other masked people, but I came home feeling a little sad, the springtime enthusiasm seems muted, wary, gardeners stopping to chat a thing of the past. Employees looked windblown and exhausted. Plants limited. Something grim tinges everything with so much sad and awful news circling the planet.

So far, my sweet peas seeds and cannellini beans haven’t germinated. I’ve attempted to prepare the pumpkin patch from last year (it’s still lumpy with unbuilt planting mounds). Eager for their color, I bought a couple of tiny calibrachoa, destined for containers, at the grocery store on my weekly shop.

But exuberance? Thanks only to perennials (my friend has a perennial garden I bet). The sturdy, old and beautiful trees and shrubs left by the gardener of 30 years ago – the crab apple, rhododendron, and lilac – all burst forth undiminished. I greet the newer perennials with gratitude – the scraggly rose bushes, gift from a gardener on my morning walk, now fill their space, a California poppy rescued from the garden center (the one blossom such an unusual pink) has become a sizeable clump. Lavender, nepeta, and geranium, return and push aside the yellowing leaves of daffodils and tulips.

And on a self-seeded foxglove, gift from a bird, six sturdy stems head skyward. Out back, a grocery-store-purchased compact delphinium I never managed to repot, neglected all winter, reappeared with new healthy foliage – a rebirth I don’t deserve.

And in a cheerful quarantine garden activity, Sweet B and I are beginning a project. Each week we plan to send each other a little painting on a watercolor postcard of a flower from our gardens – adding words about the flower on the back of the card. We’re in early stages, but it’s a thrill to get mail from her. (On FaceTime recently, she advised me that I might want to add some figures to my paintings and they wouldn’t be so plain.)

It inspires to make a record of garden bloom – maybe specially in this pandemic year.

 

 

Create-ful

In the midst of decorating Christmas cookies, Sweet Baby asked her dad to help. While watching him make brown frosting to decorate a horse shape and add a single sprinkle to be an eye, she encouraged him, saying, “you are being very create-ful!”

The new year brings hopes and resolutions about being more of just that, and this year a gift from my friend who paints in the woods aided the thinking. She sent Austin Kleon’s book “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Keep Creative in Good Times and Bad,” a favorite she said, and a little treasure.

We know his 10 points, but reading the reminders in a new form inspired me: finish each day and be done with it, pay attention to what you pay attention to, go for a walk! Kleon would be the first to admit no news here, but his little volume refreshes our thinking.

During the weeks of blog break when considering its future, I read a John McPhee article where he writes of an “old man project,” something without a fixed end but engrossing (he’s 88 and beginning to revisit story ideas that didn’t see print). “Her spirits rose…” might be just that sort of endeavor – endless, no reason to do it, no reason to stop. I could go on for as long as I want or can – observing my surroundings, making note of things that inspire and seem important, and, getting a response if I strike a chord. Such an opportunity!

Another Kleon suggestion for keeping going is to make gifts, “making gifts puts us in touch with our gifts.”

Or our shortcomings!

I experienced this before Christmas when I set out to make a cloak for Sweet Baby, from a long-hoarded dark green velvet remnant. The soft fabric suggested a garment in keeping with the moments when a small princess needs a cloak with a hood! (No luck with that – not enough yardage.)

As muscle memory threaded my machine and filled the bobbin, I became engaged in the sewing – tedious and frustrating – but also engrossing and rewarding. I had plenty of time to be create-ful (adapting to the fabric shortage), and, allow my mind to wander to other possibilities!

 

December Days

Bustle – and I hope it is cheery bustle for you all – not just the stress of “to do” lists!

Music and lights and evergreen garlands, flashes of red and green and gold interrupt the dark, wet gloom outdoors. I always love this season, and this year more than ever in my gratitude for life and mobility. But am I behind in all I’d like to do? Oh, yes!

In Hawaii, Lady B, her brother and Sweet Baby added their creative touches to our Christmas cards – between swimming in pool and ocean, they sat at a table outside the sliding door and used watercolors (including swell metallic ones), colored pencils, and rubber stamps to make every card unique and colorful.

So, before I begin to mail them off, I’ll post a handful – though it’s hard to select just a few – I love them all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day on the trip, I found Sweet Baby and her parents at work – brushes in hand – so I can’t resist adding two of their cards.

December Days

Bustle – and I hope it is cheery bustle for you all – not just the stress of to-do lists!

Music and lights and evergreen garlands, flashes of red and green and gold interrupt the dark, wet gloom outdoors. I always love this season, and this year more than ever in my gratitude for life and mobility. But am I behind in all I’d like to do? Oh, yes!

In Hawaii, Lady B, her brother and Sweet Baby added their creative touches to our Christmas cards – between swimming in pool and ocean, they sat at a table outside the sliding door and used watercolors (including swell metallic ones), colored pencils, and rubber stamps to make every card unique and colorful.

So, before I begin to write them and mail, I’ll post a handful – though it’s hard to select just a few – I love them all!

One day on the trip, I found Sweet Baby and her parents at work – brushes in hand – so I can’t resist adding two of theirs.