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Cut Flowers

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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 have 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 in 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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Window Licking

 

TartThe French have a name for it, that is, for window shopping in pastry shops: Léche-vitrines, translation: “window licking.” Well, if I left my imprint on store front windows in Paris, they certainly made their imprint on me. For, ever since we returned home I have never stopped thinking about tarts.

We are boating now in British Columbia, heading out The Strait of Georgia toward Homfray Lodge in Desolation Sound. Before we left The San Juan Islands I ordered a tart pan from Williams Sonoma, and any day now our contractor will be receiving the package for me.

Sometimes we need to walk away and let go, particularly my husband who has been on the site of our remodel every day of the week, every week, since mid May. We’re in good hands here with him at the helm, and our brother-in-law, Tug Yourgrau, who has mastered navigation. The house is in capable hands with our contractor, and whatever gets accomplished will appear to me, when we get back, like magic.

I’ll be starting from scratch with my tarts. I saw them as paintings in Paris, and only knew how they tasted through others. But if baking is anything like other arts, it is probably hard to taste your own tarts anyway.

I intend to make tarts for breakfasts. Tarts for entertaining. Tarts for the neighbors who have put up with all the construction and allowed us use of their parking spaces for the many trucks involved. Tarts for any new friends I make on island. And if all goes well, a tart table at the weekly Farmers Market in Friday Harbor amongst other bakers, produce growers, purveyors of fresh pasta, lavender, sea salt, oysters, grass fed beef and lamb, as well as goat cheese makers.

I’m thinking that baking is for me because I’m a recipe follower. I never learned to cook at home. Growing up, I was the runner for whatever ingredients my mother was missing in whatever she was making. Seems I’d just hop off my Schwinn with one thing in the wicker basket, and she’d send me back to town for another.

Then when I went away to school, the feminist who ran the school assured us, “If you can read, you can cook.” So as the years went by, I bought a lot of cookbooks and made some beautiful meals by following recipes.

Somewhere along the line my husband took creative control of the kitchen, and I was almost back to the girl on the bicycle. I knew to stand out of the way. But if there’s one thing he doesn’t touch it’s the dessert.

So I am going to master tarts.

I’m thinking baking works with writing. One can’t wander far when it’s in the oven. And this is berry country. It all adds up.

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At Last

muse-goddess-thalia Neighbors of ours for a number of years in Seattle recently moved to another home, another neighborhood across the lake. When they first moved in they were a newly married couple. Now they’re a family of four, and their search was predicated around proximity to a choice preschool and high ranking public school system. As I watched the moving van roll off with the contents of their home, I felt an abiding sadness.

I wanted to be in their shoes, for I knew what to do then too.

Our first baby hadn’t taken her first step yet in San Diego, when I whisked my family off to take residence in the nationally recognized “Blue Ribbon” Poway School District. With children grown and gone now, it’s more difficult to know what to do.

Nevertheless, we’re trying. The house remodel on San Juan Island, I realize, is nothing less than a life remodel.

Perhaps because of the extensive area they cover, flooring and wall color took an inordinate amount of time. Good thing we called out hardwood floors throughout and one color for the walls. Initially my husband longed for a blond wood, while I was drawn to dark. What we wound up with is a wide boarded medley of grayed browns, reminiscent of weathered piers and docks. Both of us are at home on that.

Following floors, when the 9 1/2′ cut yew log went up as a mantle, the wall behind it cried out for rock. Until then we had been drawing up some sort of fireplace surround. It was our contractor, Shawn Kleine, who heard the cry. The entire wall should be faced with rock. It was, and it was good.

But I was in danger of being browned out.

If there is one thing I know about interiors, it is that a room should have a foot in both masculine and feminine worlds. By that I mean wood, rock, and steel, should be augmented by something light, soft and airy. So as wood planks went up on the cathedral ceiling, I whitewashed the boards. The cross beams were then painted out white. Benjamin Moore’s pure clean “Chantilly Lace White.”

I was getting happier, but it was still not enough for this rugged room.

Then the skylights opened up and the quartz island top arrived, basically a white with a bit of gray/brown/black. A gender-neutral gray quartz went down like a runway on countertops. And above it, Carrera marble subway tiles, reaching to the ceiling. Like a crescendo.

This is where my heart stops.

It’s like watching Rome being built. No better, classical Greece. Light seems to pour through these tiles as if they were made of liquid or glass. I have never been as inspired to cook as I am now, standing before this marble. I could dance.

Maybe everything is going to be alright.

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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Duftkräuter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sitting in a coffee shop at San Francisco International Airport enjoying an expresso and the calligraphic quotations that wrap around the room high on the walls like crown molding:

One day if I do go to heaven… I’ll look around and say, “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.” Herb Caen. Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger as long as possible. Walter Cronkite. San Francisco has only one drawback. Tis hard to leave. Rudyard Kipling

Caen, Cronkite and Kipling. I’m in good company.

Aside from the fact that San Francisco is fast becoming my second city, I feel remarkably at home in this establishment of dark cherry tables, counters and woodwork atop a vintage black & white mosaic tile floor. Twenty years ago while working as an interior designer, I did a kitchen in this scheme for a client in San Diego. It was a grand house and my client was in over his head.

In the end, that traditional kitchen was what grounded the house.

It was the age of McMansions. Architects ran away with themselves upon the drawing board, and builders followed. Custom homes popped up in developments like track housing for the sheer newness of every home, the immaturity of landscape, and in many instances, the lack of land. Gluttonous sweeping driveways, elaborate portico entries, patios, pools, pool houses, sports courts, as well as the enormous house itself, consumed the lot. As a designer I inherited a few of these projects, and the challenge was to turn them into homes.

I’m glad those days are over. Apparently, we do learn.

But whether we learn fast enough, remains to be seen. Who would have thought, twenty years ago–when architects were drawing with a liberal hand and builders were building whatever was drawn—who would have thought we would go from a consumer throw-away society such as ours, to one where everyone learned to recycle?

A handful of idealists, that’s who.

Any gardener worth her salt has done her share of dumpster diving in the course of planting and cleaning up. Invariably, a plastic pot or tag gets tossed into the yard waste bin by mistake. Down, down, into the bin we go, making every effort to fetch it.

It always struck me as hypocritical that the growers, the nursery industry, were plastic dependent. So in planting my herb garden this spring I was delighted to see so many plants packaged in biodegradable pots. All we have to do now is go after the tags.

It’s easy to find fault, but let’s not overlook all that we are doing right too. People are walking where they once drove. Hopping on buses for longer stints in the city. Moving into the city or into town in order that we might reduce our environmental footprint.

In the city of Seattle, our collected yard waste fuels the city buses. Single-use plastic bags are illegal, and we carry our own totes to stores. San Francisco has now passed a law against single-use plastic water bottles as well.

With each passing year our recycle and yard waste (and food scraps) bins are larger, and the trash containers diminish. A generation ago, who would have thought that one day we would all pick up after our dogs? In biodegradable bags, no less.

Now we just have to go after those plastic plant tags.

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