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Seven Days in Toronto

View from Mt DallasMt. Dallas, San Juan Island, photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Sometimes you have to get away, and there it is. Waiting as always with open arms: O Canada!

We went to Toronto to attend the Rotary International Convention (6/21-27), as well as the Rotary Peacebuilding Summit that preceded it. First Nation blessings were bestowed on Rotarians from around the world as we gathered on ancestral land. Red Sky performances filled the stage with feathers and color, hoop dancing and drumming.

Toronto, we were told, translates to “where the trees are standing in water.”

Full disclosure: I went as an outsider. I am not a Rotary member, but I am married to one. When growing up, my father was also a Rotarian. He didn’t get up early and slip out to breakfast meetings, nor did he come home late at night after dinner meetings. Rotary met for lunch in the city in which he worked, and the meetings were folded into his day each week. We were not a part of that world.

Times have changed.

If I were to sum up the subject matter of both the summit and convention, I’d say it was an emphasis on educating and empowering women in the world, the global immigrant and refugee crisis, and an overarching concern for the environment. All this on the plate of the organization that has nearly rid the world of the poliovirus—only 11 cases remaining–a mission that practically consumed Rotary in my father’s day.

Regarding the environment, you might say Rotary is returning to its roots in that Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary, was a naturalist. Traveling extensively with Rotary International, by the end of his life Harris could say he had planted trees “… on all continents of the earth and on islands of the seas.” Indeed Harris thought the planting of trees the finest symbol for the idea of Rotary.

Last year Rotary International President Ian Risley proposed that every Rotary Club in the world plant one tree for each member. That’s 1.2 million trees. Living lungs in the face of deforestation and development.

Islands have the greatest stake in sustainability; as islanders we understand this. On San Juan Island, fifty-four more trees will stand for fifty-four Rotarians. A living legacy as well as a commitment to the future.Here too, Rotary can make a difference.

We all can, by planting a tree. I’m going to make mine a Madrone tree.

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Rock of Ages

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

A bench. A book. A cup of tea or coffee, and there you go. It’s been true since time as we know it. Indeed, it may be the one true thing. Yet the gray-green of winter still lingered in March. Winds had not yet subsided, and slapped with exceptionally cold temps, we were looking to do things indoors.

When we lived in the city, we frequented the theatre. Now on island, it is events like the Annual Rotary Spelling Bee that have us in the audience at the San Juan Community Theatre on a Thursday afternoon. Attending is a way of coming to know some of the children, 4th—8th grade, growing up amongst us.

You know the drill: a word is pronounced, used in a sentence, and repeated. If requested, a definition of the word is also provided. The contestant is now on her own to repeat the word, spell it letter by letter into the air loud and clear, and state the word once again. Then sit back down or leave the stage.

Here the mic had to be lowered and raised as much as two feet with the varying heights. After every successful round a couple girlfriends seated side by side exchanged hugs. One girl’s large sneakered feet pigeon-toed as she concentrated on each word on stage. And when it was his turn, a boy in big glasses spelled out letters with his fingers on his arm. In the end an extraordinarily poised girl, her shoulders wrapped in a shawl, took home the grand prize.

I have to hand it to them all. This is a generation that grew up with Google and spell check, and may not have ever looked up a word in their life. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that all the learning happened in those steps to the dictionary, and then in locating the word within that vast book, which could take some time. One almost needed to know how to spell it to find it.

“That’s a good question, you should look it up,” rings as a parental refrain from my childhood. And to make it easy, the den was equipped with dictionaries, World Book Encyclopedia, and Year Books to keep us all up to date.

One grandmother, a former teacher, corrected our letters from camp with a red pen—the spelling most likely—and sent them back to us. I didn’t mind. English is not an easy language, and we were expected to struggle with it.

In my own home as our daughters were growing up, a dictionary stand occupied a corner of the dining room. That was where they did their homework, and it was at meals that words frequently came up and were discussed. I know this sounds as old fashioned as parlor games, but people were not individually armed with smart phones in those days.

One thing is for certain today, these Spelling Bee students must be readers. That, I’ve decided, is how they know their words. Bravo.

 

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Flip Flops in January: Three Girls and a Truck at Village Nurseries, San Diego

photo credit: Jackie Mayer Blum

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

We are wintering in San Diego, living on a mattress with a small bistro table, a couple folding chairs, and two bright Hawaiian printed Tommy Bahama beach chairs in an otherwise empty house. The house is a job site. Our daughter and her husband purchased a new home in North Park, San Diego. A remodel, and we are here to help.

While the men are at home swinging hammers, we are on a landscape mission. My daughter is commandeering a pickup truck, bouncing over dirt roads and splashing through puddles at Village Nurseries Wholesale Plant and Tree Grower. Thirteen acres of planted bliss, a Disneyland to me. No lines, no crowds (to-the-trade only), and free of all the commercialization.

The bed of our truck is brimming with potted plants: 5 tall Barbara Karst bougainvillea, Mister Lincoln white rose shrubs, “bartenders choice” Mexican Lime Tree, a 15 gallon Strelitzia retinae Bird of Paradise shrub, and enormous agave plants anchoring them all. Clean and new at the U Haul lot, the truck will be returning with all the mud and markings of having taken the Indiana Jones ride at Adventureland.

You had to know my mother would be on board; she must have slipped onto the bench seat. It wasn’t until we turned into the nursery that we realized she was with us. https://alittleelbowroom.com/2017/12/05/my-imaginary-mother-in-winter/ Her breath, like ours, was taken away with the vastness and the serenity of the place.

Rounding Succulents and Drought Tolerant plants, I am back in the gray/greens with Mediterranean plants. Heaven for me once, for at one time I lived in Southern California. Today I recognize some full well, yet can’t recall their names. Other names I know, but can’t picture. My daughter is reintroducing me to some old friends.

Discombobulated I fumble forward. A Master Gardener from Climate Zone 4 (San Juan Island, WA) in Zone 24 (San Diego, CA), I try to be helpful. “Seasonal amnesia,” is there such a thing? All I know is that in a rush I just mailed a Valentine’s Day card–one month early. I recall that when living here: waking and having to orient myself with the season, with the month, before stepping out of bed.

Left to our own devises mom and I might have gone crazy, but my daughter was specific. A wall of her courtyard would be draped in bougainvillea. She knew the color. A lime tree would round out their citrus collection. And white roses and giant Blue Glow agave look exquisite together. Who knew?

And who knew about my daughter’s newfound passion for plants, and in the same place where I first got the bug? Her grandmother may have been the only one to have seen that coming.

 

 

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Cut Flowers

 IMG_8817

photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Cut flowers. You see them at the market, the farmer’s market, and flower stalls. They are given and received as gifts, and they are, of course, lovely. Fresh. Ephemeral. I’m OK with the whole thing now, but for the longest time—nearly all my life–I thought it wrong to cut off a flower in bud or bloom.

My mother wanted a debutante and what she got was a hippie. A naturalist from the get-go. Truth be told, I always preferred the wildflowers. The Queen Anne’s lace that seeded itself aside the highway to the heirloom rose. And to my mind, planted or wild, all flowers deserved to grow.

Pity the date who came to my door with a bouquet in hand. One look at the stemmed beauties wrapped in cellophane and I’d think, the poor things… When a relationship was lasting, I clarified my preference for potted plants. As it happened, my husband hung in the longest and our lives have been full of plants I have tended for months, years, and occasionally transplanted outdoors.

I was this way about cut flowers right up through becoming a Master Gardener. Now any gardener worth her salt will know that plants benefit from pruning, and cutting may keep some plants vigorously in flower. It just wasn’t in my nature.

I never knew where this came from until my mother lay dying last week. She was 89 years young and suffered a stroke in the hospital following a surgical operation. The stroke evolved, and there was nothing to do but keep vigil. And that is what we did for days.

I read to her from the book I had on hand, Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. Chapter after chapter of this horticultural memoir became intensely personal. I read how Hope’s strongest memory of her childhood garden was not how it smelled or looked, but how it sounded. “It might strike you as fantastic, but you really can hear plants growing in the Midwest,” she wrote.

When we came to the part about her mother’s peonies the size of cabbages, I put down the book and spoke of my own mother’s peony garden of many years ago. Closing my eyes I could see her on hands and knees tending her border alone.

“I’m sorry, mom, I never got down to help you,” I cried. “I was always running by, not interested in gardening yet. But I want you to know that I noticed how beautiful…”

And she nodded; she understood.

Suddenly I realized, right there by her hospital bedside, that in all those years of magnificent summer blooming peonies, we never had an arrangement in the house that I can recall. That’s where I got it, I thought! From my mother, who never cut the flowers she tended so lovingly.

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Indigenous Design

Pillows on chairs

By KIMBERLY MAYER

 

Do you remember it? All around New York City in the 1980’s people were hoisting lodge poles into their apartments, redoing floors in Saltillo tiles, hanging antler chandeliers with forged iron hardware, trying to grow specimen cacti in native baskets, and trading in their Limoges, Waterford, and Baccarat crystal for Indian pots and Mexican glassware.

Meanwhile, Christine Mather’s design book Santa Fe Style was selling like hotcakes off the shelves. I know, for I purchased a copy.

I remember too when my mother hired an interior decorator who remodeled a graciously large bath in our Georgian Colonial home c. 1823 in an abstract modern blaze of turquoise and aqua, papering even the cupboard doors.

I knew then, as I know now, something was not right.

Much as we have learned to prepare foods fresh, farm to table, we need to design our spaces with a sense of place. Local is the new exotic.

It doesn’t mean we can’t throw in a dash of turmeric or smoked paprika. In interiors too the excitement is often in juxtaposition, such as industrial steel with rustic. But to pull that off we must keep one solid foot, at least, in where we are—otherwise, the “other” won’t come off at all.

You can’t pretend you are living on Canyon Road in Manhattan.

You can’t make a vintage bath, in tiles, fixtures and architecture, suddenly modern with wallpaper.

And Tommy Bahama prints on retro rattan furniture are only going to fly where it’s barefoot and warm and by the beach. Preferably in Hawaii.

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Ode to Navy

Living Room View

By KIMBERLY MAYER

 

Think of a house as a living creature–I know I do—and it turns out that houses have auras too. I always saw this home’s aura as navy blue.

Perhaps it’s because at the time of renovation we were living on a boat where, against the teak, every stroke of navy was successful. It only follows that I would do much the same with the house.

The hardwood floors we put in are a rustic gray/brown, reminiscent of the weathered docks at Friday Harbor Marina. The window (pictured) is our artwork, just as we used to sit and view sea and sky from the boat’s upper helm. I knew that in doing this house, nothing should detract from the view by day. And that on velvety dark nights, we would just need a little warmth–what color, textiles and lighting can do–until sunup.

Navy is the only blue, to my mind, that is warm at night and in winter.

Even in August, it would be a stretch to read Mediterranean blues, turquoise, aqua, and seafoam into The Pacific Northwest. French blue would leave us chilled for half the year. Regardless of the season, our beach experiences are about wearing something sensible on our feet and building bonfires. The sand is not a hot blinding white, but soft and muddy. Our beachscape is described by sea grasses, driftwood logs gone adrift and come ashore, oyster shells, and rocks.

Like a good espresso or black coffee, navy blue works year round. And with it, some reds, taupe, and beige. Think: Pendleton  blankets. This is where nautical meets North Coast Indians.

In our remodeled home the living, dining and kitchen are one great space, one wall of which–the fireplace wall–is rock. On the cathedral ceiling, whitewashed tongue & groove pine boards. Ethnic rugs scattered on rustic hardwood floors. A deep, dark brown leather sofa and oatmeal linen upholstered chairs. Those are the “bones.”

The rest was easy: pillows and throws, table linen, pottery and porcelain, predominately in navy blue. The color I put my confidence in, because early on, the house and the land and sea whispered navy to me.

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Oh, Canada!

Grand Waltz at Homfray Lodge

By KIMBERLY MAYER

As I write, we have gone to sea. All our cares stay on land when we go. It works every time. The sea is its own reality. This summer has been characterized by inordinate heat, drought, and wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Living on a boat surrounded by water has a calming effect.

We are retracing much of last year’s voyage to Desolation Sound with my sister and brother-in- law.

At 6am sharp, we shoved off from Roche Harbor, Washington. Cleared customs on South Pender Island, never knowing what fruit they are going to confiscate, this time it was eggs. Twenty eggs. We could stay and hard boil them and take them with us, but we wanted to make it in time for passing through Dodd Narrows during slack tide. No time to boil eggs.

In Nanaimo the first night, a busted water hose was discovered and repaired. But when we reached Lund, the last stop before Desolation Sound, something really went wrong. This has happened before on other extended boating trips, so we knew what it was: a migraine. I had O.D.’ed on light in BC Canada yet again.

It was a day I have nearly lost recollection of, but lying in the darkened bunk I had nothing but empathy for my father who at 92 has undergone more medical procedures than humanly possible. I felt inside his body. And the hauntingly beautiful sound of the bagpiper who plays an ode to every sunset at Lund, bringing the sun down with her pipes. That mournful sound became a part of me. But when I heard my brother-in-law’s voice on deck, outside my bunk–clearly it was another South African– “You’ve come,” I cried. “You found us!”

In my delirium I lost a whole day. And wound up that night in the ER for dehydration. Luckily we were near Powell River where there is a hospital, before we had slipped into Desolation Sound where there would be none.

That night, a young physician and nurse were on duty. Both were refugees from the exorbitant cost of living in Vancouver and had come to Powell River to live. Arriving just two months ago, the nurse has already purchased a home she adores, just steps from the beach, “a house for $250,000 that would have cost 4 million in Vancouever.” The physician, a waterfront lot upon which he will build. She’s got her kayak coming and is looking to add a small sailboat to her fleet, “just to explore around.” The physician loves to fish. They will do fine.

With each sweet drip of saline solution in my arm, I was coming alive and began recommending books to the nurse. Books with a sense of place to her new homeland: A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki and The Curve of Time, by Muriel Wylie Blanchet. She wrote them both down and promised to read them. And I promised to wear darker sunglasses. Stay under the Tilley’s hat my sister gave me, and not substitute it for a straw hat no matter how warm. Stay beneath the bimini on the boat, and drink water water water from dawn to dusk.

Map of Desolation

Now onward and upward to Desolation Sound

Canadians know this well, we move through people’s lives and can act pleasant and say thanks where thanks is due. It was the physician, the nurse and taxi cab driver that night for me. But when we can recommend books that we think will mean as much to them, we have really given them something. Reading by the fire in the darkness of her house in the woods at night, she will look up and thank me. I just know it. Readers are a tribe; we recognize each other.

The physician? Naw, he’s a fisherman

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