A Fern Named Fair Maiden

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

My daughter in San Diego has a 5 foot cactus in her home she calls Ole’. The air is dry, the light is bright, and the walls are white. Ole’ grows as proudly indoors as he would outdoors. It was on a visit to San Diego that I became enticed with miniature succulents. Growing in gardens, in mini-pots, on wall gardens or living walls, it was all the rage. Back home I got myself hooked, then I gave some away and got others hooked. That is how it happens. But here in the Northwest, succulents have to come indoors for the winter. My arrangements took over the dining table last year. It was cute for a while, but it wasn’t us. In anticipation of another long winter, I am regaining my senses.

In outdoor gardening we are mindful to go with natives, but what about our indoor plants? Travel through any nursery’s indoor selection anywhere and you’ll find predominantly tropicals: palms, dracaenas, rubber tree, snake plant, philodendron. We’ve all done it, we all do it, yet few of us live in the tropics either.

It started with the idea of a centerpiece. Did I really want to look at succulent creatures from outer space crawling all about my dining table again, or would I like something soft and calming, something greener, something that moves? Something indigenous like fern? They’re all over my house now, one type or another of fern.

I feel like my house has come home.

The Pacific Northwest coastal region is home to approximately 40 species of fern. They blanket the floor beneath the tree canopy in forests, or in my case, beneath a wooden ceiling. With fern for indoor plants my home is as at one with the woods as the day we cedar-shingled the exterior. I seem to be onto something.

It asks more of me to be the mother of fern, but as an empty nester, I rather like that. Thirsty creatures with a penchant for daily mistings, I’m not quite sure how I will ever travel again. But for now I’m not going anywhere. I have an impending deadline with my agent on my book, and in the meantime have rattled off another blog post on the natural world.

Because what other world is there really?

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Something Blue

ChagallAutour D’Elle by Marc Chagall (1945

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

We ought to think that we are one of the leaves of a tree, and the tree is all humanity. We cannot live without the others, without the tree.

–Pablo Casals

 

I can’t seem to step away from trees. I move; they stay. And I keep coming back to them. In Philadelphia it was the gingko tree. On San Juan Island, where I live, it’s the Pacific Madrone. In Massachusetts recently, dogwood trees spoke to me. We were there for a wedding and I fell in love with dogwood trees, their draping boughs abloom in big full skirts—looking to my eye like brides, up and down every green leafed well-appointed street in town.

Our younger sister was getting married, and my other sister and I were falling all over ourselves trying to fill our mother’s shoes for the bride. This wedding was, after all, mom’s last wish. Anyone gathered around her hospital bed in those final days was witness to it. Having lost the ability to speak after suffering a severe stroke, she nevertheless made her intentions known. Pointing with her finger and darting her eyes, back and forth from our youngest sister to her beau, over and over. He got the message alright, and five months after the funeral he proposed.

Now the stage was set for the wedding in a Wedgewood blue manse outside Boston, at the home of the great grandson of Pablo Casals—which has nothing to do with anything, but just knowing that made it all the more heavenly, I thought. On a day in spring so temperate, it should have been bottled. All the dogwood trees, as I mentioned, in full bloom and finery.

There was something about the light that day. Anyone could have told you, it touched us all.

Fifty-five guests filed up the front steps entering a high-ceilinged foyer, which led to a grand dining room, which led to a grander-still living room. A house that told the story not only of its past, but of the vibrant people living there today as well. Accompanied by an acoustical guitarist, the guests took their place in folding chairs facing a staging area. Our father sat quietly up front in his wheelchair. And what held him for hours–all afternoon–we now know.

There was something about the air that day too, it touched us all. We were all drinking in the scene as we breathed.

The ceremony began, the officiate standing to one side, bride and groom to the other. Between them a tall window looking to green, light through the leaves. With each word and each vow exchanged, the breeze which had been so gentle became a declarative wind. The window treatment puckered, billowed, and ultimately blew straight out to the side.

Something was coming in.

In my family we’d all been wondering when our mother would appear. It had been a long time for us since her death, but we had to understand she was trying to find her way around. And until now, mom had never been on her own. But how else can we explain that it all went so flawlessly well, our youngest sister’s wedding?

It had to have been our mother.

 

 

 

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Welcome! Bienvenido!

Balboa Park  Balboa Park, San Diego. Photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

When I first laid eyes on Hunter he was smaller than I had imagined. I realize now I had been enlarging every photo his parents sent to us until his eyes were the size of walnuts, and his hands and feet humongous. I remember looking at those mitts and crowing, “our grandson is going to be a baseball player!”

Then we are in San Diego and he is in my arms and, to my surprise, holding him is one part scary. On one hand I fold right into position. On the other hand, I’m all elbows and thumbs. It is his parents that are best with him. I like being seated with pillows to help brace his rolling head. Seems half the weight of a newborn baby is in the head. Now I see him as cerebral—and this little boy is brilliant. In a gush I promise him an education and a drafting table, for I see AIA beside his name.

In truth Hunter mostly sleeps. His eyes dream and dance in his skull, and his little mouth moves with the memory of milk. Like a frog he keeps his legs tucked in, and his arms don’t know where to go or what to do with themselves. We are doing newborn babies a favor, I have learned, by swaddling them in a blanket or cloth. An old idea that’s come around again.

Like a procession we move into his nursery and out of his nursery. His parents, grandparents, and an aunt who flew in from NYC. A procession wherever he goes. If he has his days and nights flipped, we wouldn’t know. We’re with him. We venture out, bags and baggage and carriage. A procession to Balboa Park.

I once knew what it was to raise babies in San Diego. As my son-in-law says, my life is passing before me here. I know of no place better for being outdoors 365 days a year. Even now I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a sky so blue—not for a long time anyway. But San Diego in our day had fewer cars on the freeways. No one had air conditioning, and no one saw the need. The Safari Park was called The Wild Animal Park, and as members we nearly had it to ourselves. Pushing a stroller we hiked out on the mesas, the savannah, while herds of animals roamed. Do my daughters remember those days as I do? It was a part of me then, and a part of me now.

One more memory returns to me of the earliest days. Shut in, home alone, and hormones raging. I am nursing my newborn baby and crying uncontrollably. Across the room a small black & white television set is on softly. Public Service Announcements, particularly “Save the Children,” air frequently between daytime programs, and I lose it every time, day after day. I am holding my baby and weeping over the fact that she is one of the lucky ones born on this side of the border, when just a few miles away can be all the difference in the world.

Little has changed.

But this time I have to go, I can’t stay. So long, Hunter. You are in good hands and in a good place. From the vantage point of the plane there’s one long coast between us, one beautiful stretch. One ocean alongside us. And a kayak in the bay up here for you, always.

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Higher and Higher

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Hunter is here. My, how one newborn baby has turned everyone’s lives upside down in our family.

For twenty-two months and what-felt-like-years, we lived, breathed, and awaited The Mueller Report. Yes, we went about our lives as best we could, but always in the background—or foreground—loomed The Mueller Report. When would it finally come out, and would we live to see it? In some intricate loop in my mind, I’m sure I saw the release of his report as the gateway to the end of the dishonesty, self-dealing, and treasonous acts in our country’s administration.

I had an awful lot riding on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We all did.

Then Friday, after two long difficult days, our daughter gave birth to a little boy. Somewhere in the course of pacing and hand wringing, we got wind of the fact that Robert Mueller had finished his report and delivered it to the attorney general. Our daughter at the time was somewhere between labor and a Caesarian, and I’m like, “Robert who?”

There just wasn’t, and hasn’t been since, room for it on our personal newsfeed. Turns out, of course, The Mueller Report still hasn’t been released.

For now in our family, it’s all about Hunter. And this young couple’s job to raise an honest, intelligent, caring boy in this world.

That’s how I’m seeing it. A better world by one.

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Drawers

 BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Everything I know about the KonMari Method I learned from a baby not even born yet. Like everyone else, I bought the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, but it’s been lying around and waiting in the wings to be read. Like clutter. Nevertheless, on a visit with my daughter who is due any day now, we plunged in.

My baby is having a baby. At the same time she and her husband are remodeling a house in San Diego, and that fell behind due to one thing or another—most recently, heavy rains. Who would have thought? Anyway there wasn’t anything to do but turn a storage room in their apartment into the nursery for now.

With all the chaos that surrounds her in remodeling, my daughter says “his drawers give me a sense of calm.” At first glance in life, their baby will have what I am only beginning to appreciate: organization and minimalism.

Pacing through the construction schedule, my son-in-law has lately adopted “better done than perfect” as a mantra. I’m making it my mantra as well. We are all perfectionists apparently; it runs both in our blood and by marriage. But at some point projects have to be finished and babies will be born.

And the next thing you know, you’re a grandparent.

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Big Daddy and Me

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

A tall attractive woman carried an ethnic tote over her shoulder, hoisting it into the overhang compartment on our flight to San Francisco. Unlike my carry-on luggage, it slid right in. Ivory cotton with leather strapping, her bag had caught my eye while we were waiting to board. She looked like she had been around the globe once or twice. I came close to asking her where she had found the tote. But certain she’d sweep her long blond trusses back and mention a market in Morocco, I didn’t ask.

We had come to San Francisco to furnish an apartment in a Victorian building (c. 1896) on Buena Vista Park. Across the park is Haight Ashbury. So it seemed appropriate that, like many before us, we started off on an air mattrass in an otherwise empty flat.

Take a stroll with me down The Haight today, if you will. I make it sound like the Champs-Elysee, but really it’s more like a street scene out of Blade Runner. A psyche ward turned out. People without meds inhabiting the same corner day after day. Dark coats, seedy scarves, hats, and fingerless gloves. Unwashed, uncut, ratted hair—it’s not like the musical “Hair” anymore. There’s no music now.

Double decker tour buses roll through The Haight daily. Visitors gape, and I wonder what they see. Do they are seeing it as it is now, or as it was then?

For my part I like to walk it and imagine it in its glory, back in the day when we all knew someone who ran off to San Francisco. Young girls tumbling in and out of thrift shops, flinging feather boas around their necks like Janis Joplin. The thrill in the shrill of their voices. Guitars tuning through open windows. Skinny-legged tambourine men playing on the street. I see all this. What were once young idealistic kids in bell bottoms, and  what were once colorfully painted store fronts and buildings. Gone dark with dirt and grime, and everyone aged.

I’ve been thinking about nothing but juxtaposition lately.

Into the Victorian beauty with eleven foot ceilings and 12” molding, we had every intention to go modern and minimalist. I knew where I would begin: HD Buttercup. I Uber’d over so I could Uber X back in a SUV with my bounty. Three small tables, as it turned out. A side table in brass and glass, and a pair of night stands in brass with a marble top. Other contemporary pieces came in: a pair of Barcelona chairs, an over-scaled orb chandelier—the fixture Joanna Gaines draws into nearly every interior on Fixer Upper. Drunk as I was on modern design, I thought I’d be back. But that was before I ran into Big Daddy Antiques.

Every apartment should turn over now and then.

From Big Daddy we came home adding texture with a long Mongolian mohair pillow in white for a gray sofa, a Mongolian mohair ottoman in black for the Barcelona chairs, a cement table, and a low table topped with camel bone. But really, you could have just left me there, in that warehouse on 17th Street in SF. Apparently I can’t do one without the other; modern alone can be cold.

As for that oversized tote that had caught my eye en route to San Francisco, I found that too for sale at HD Buttercup. What are the chances of that? What are the chances of anything?

Now I’m throwing that tote over my shoulder, looking like I know what I’m doing. But we never really know. Like my decidedly modern design direction that took an artisanal and indigenous turn.

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Walking with E.B. White in NYC

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I was back in NYC accompanying my daughter on an apartment hunt in Brooklyn. A number of years ago I lived there, briefly. Times have changed. In my day finding an apartment in NYC was largely a matter of securing a sublet through a friend-of-a-friend. Today, agents host open houses and publish floor plans with photographs of rentals online, much like selling properties.

Getting about NYC on foot has changed too. No more notes in hand, maps in pocket, or memorized directions. Where we used to count blocks, look at street signs and be cognizant of numbers, now it’s follow your phone. Walking GPS style. Everybody’s doing it. It’s a different world.

That must be why, while trailing my daughter who was being led by her phone, I met up with a kindly old gentleman dressed in a gray overcoat and hat. He looked as baffled as me, in part; the other half of him was very much at home. No wonder, it was E.B. White, writer and contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine for more than 50 years. And here I thought he had been at rest on his saltwater farm in Maine all this time.

Just the thought of of New York and some folks rise to their feet with Sinatra’s song, “New York, New York,” ringing in their heads. Some settle in with Bobby Short’s melodies, while others get bubbly with Cole Porter. To me, E.B. White was, and always will be, not only the voice of the magazine, but the voice of the city.

I’m not sure my daughter even knew he was there on the apartment hunt that day. She was out ahead, as I said, but both E.B. & I walked rather slowly, preferring to see things as we go.

Not much of a conversationalist–he’s still making notes in his head for The New Yorker, I told myself–he nevertheless came up with just the right words every time.

At each appointment I went in to tour the apartment with my daughter, while E.B. lingered on the sidewalk. He just turned up his collar, adjusted his hat, and waited. Then we’d fall in step again. We did this all day, all over Brooklyn, through a dozen appointments. In short, a delightful day.

The apartment hunt, you ask? It ended on a well tree’d street in Boerum Hill. Sometimes it all comes down to a certain slant of light, and we found it in a lovely old home there.

“It’s where any one of us would place a writing desk,” I suggested to my walking companion, pointing out the window from the sidewalk. He looked up and nodded knowingly.

And with that he tipped his hat and walked off in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Back to his beloved Manhattan.

 

 

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