Tag Archives: Seattle

Rosemary for Remembrance

If I could live my life over again, I’d start gardening at an earlier age.

My first mentor in the gardening world was a woman we called “Mere.”  (My grandfather loved to work the land and grow things, but Mere was there when I was ready). And for all her horticultural knowledge and experience, she could not be accused of being a garden snob. I like to think I inherited that too.

Mere, or Marge Potter, was my grandmother’s friend, having grown up together in Connecticut. Marge recalled the day grandma’s father surprised his little girl with a pony in the kitchen on her birthday, as she was coming downstairs to breakfast. My grandmother lived her entire life in that enormous house, whereas Marge moved with her husband to Cleveland, and later, retired in San Diego. And that is where I was living at the time with my husband and our two young daughters. As a courtesy to my grandmother I went to call on her old friend, never guessing I would become so enamored with her too.

Marge is the one who threw me out of the house and down the garden path. She believed in herbs the way a witch or an old medicine man believes in them. Herbs had meaning and health benefits and a prominent place in her garden always. We spent many a late afternoon and early evening sitting on her terrace where a weathered, wooden St. Francis sculpture held court in the herb garden, my daughters tumbled about on the lawn, and the sun set over purple hills.

Today in Seattle, and everywhere we have lived since knowing her, I have made an herb garden of my own. My herbs grow in pots that have become wonderfully mossy and white, and perch upon a black wrought iron etegere that looks decidedly French. A St. Francis stands on my terrace as well. We use the herbs in cooking, enjoy the scent, and as much as an herb garden is a part of our lives now, it is also a memorial to Marge. I think of that every day I water.

Many of the herbs, such as the vigorous mint and oregano, hop around and seed themselves between pavers on the terrace. Marge would approve and say something like, “They know where they want to go.”

So I water them too.

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Over Our Heads

Sometimes you just have to do something that is outside your comfort zone. “Do one thing a day that scares you” is written all over the Lululemon bags. I don’t know about you, but I always listen to my tote.

When my friend, Lynn, and I found that each of our submissions had been accepted for publication in “Minerva Rising,” a new literary journal for women, we thought, this is great. We’d show it to our families, mention it in our bio’s, and then it would retire to our shelves…. Or, we could throw a party! A perfect excuse in this case, as it’s the debut edition. And so, The Seattle Launch of Minerva Rising was born.

I’ve lost track of time, that was a few weeks back. Shortly after releasing electronic invitations to all the local literary illuminati we could think of, we lost control of it. With four or five files where there should have been one, we could never be certain of the count. (I knew I preferred paper invitations).

A few years ago on an island off Seattle, an ancient Japanese woman named Sally lived next door to me. Sally and I saw a lot of each other because both of us were always out, weather permitting, to garden, weed, clean up, and in the course of it, exchange conversation and plants. Sally owned a block-long warehouse in downtown Seattle, worth millions in real estate alone.  She and her husband had built up a wholesale floral business, after what I can only imagine may have been a period in internment. (She never mentioned that). Her husband passed away, and well into her nineties or hundreds Sally was retired and their daughter ran the business, but every now and then Sally insisted on going to the office “to be sure the money was flowing in the right direction.” I loved that line.

Well, Lynn and I may have lost count with our event, but acceptances have trickled in daily, assuring us everything was flowing in the right direction. The day before the event we will round up fresh flowers from Pikes Market (most likely from Sally’s warehouse), and arrange them. Lynn’s son will man the door, my husband will play bartender, and the Northwest Girlchoir will make an appearance at the event and sing a few songs. We will dim the lights, light candles, and pump in soft music when the girls aren’t singing. It will be a reunion of sorts among Goddard MFA alum and friends. We will treat our guests to readings, always our choice for entertainment at MFA residencies. And from our coast and our fair city, we will help, I hope, launch this new literary journal for women.

The editors are flying in from Atlanta, Georgia and Portland, Maine. They will stay at our house and we will drive them around town like dignitaries. The beds are made, steps are swept, and yesterday I added purple pansies to my window box. (Purple being the color of “Minerva Rising Literary Journal”). Afterall, it isn’t everyday one’s friends start a new publication. And it isn’t every day you get published in one. Soon we will pass the mark where we’ve done all that we can anticipate, and there will be nothing more to do but celebrate.

 

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Five Hundred Writers in Search of an Agent

There we were, five hundred attendees at a conference wearing “Character” tags around our necks and carrying totes emblazoned with the same word. A clown convention, you ask? No, nothing other than the 57th annual PNWA’s Writers Conference, which just concluded this week. Of course I don’t know of a writer who isn’t, in some way, a character.

You could cut through much of this Seattle summer in UGGS and a down parka. Throughout the conference, it was day after day of forecasts reading “a high of 67.˚” And nature even threw in a little rain. Everyone from all the baking and broiling states had to love it.

Writers attend a writers conference for a host of reasons: to hone our craft, to get out of the house and find our tribe, but the biggest catch of all has to be landing an agent. From the moment the registration desks opened, there were power pitch sign-ups and opportunities to practice one’s pitch with fellow attendees. Scheduled into Power Pitch Blocks A-F over the course of the next few days, we were just out of the gate and everything was building to the pitch: the 3 minute opportunity to capture the imagination of an agent. Each writer would have a few stabs at it, as many agents and editors as one writer could see inside a designated block of time. Entering the big top for Power Pitch A, I didn’t know how this would work.

The agents and editors were seated at one impossibly long table with a perpendicular row of chairs before each one. This is where the expectant writers sat, moving up one chair at a time, until it was our time to pitch. And if I think the pressure was on us, I can only imagine what it must have been to be the agent or editor—much like the target in a carnival booth. Receiving one pitch after another, after another….

I fit in four pitches and had requests from each agent to send material. Exhausted and elated, the conference ended. Now home to deliver. To anyone out there who wants to be a writer, I hope you have a lifetime as it may take it. Perseverance, passion, and a bit of carnival-like luck.

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Goodbye to a Market

Warning: I’m in a dirty rotten supermarket sort of mood.

A sad thing happened this week in our Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle: the dear little Metropolitan Market closed its doors. Let me say, Metropolitan Market was one of the reasons we moved here. We drew an area about six blocks around “The Ave” and confined our house hunt to that. The idea was to live where we would always walk to town, whatever the weather, and no matter how old we may grow to be. We had found our village in the city. “Why drive, when you can walk?” is our motto, and Metropolitan Market was central to our lifestyle.

Now I don’t know what is coming in, but I do know that recent development in town would have it that every block look the same. Metropolitan Market was different, mid-century architecture, impeccably kept, the staff most personable, produce you could trust to be organic (vs. the supermarket trick, or so I’ve heard, of replacing an empty organic bin with the other variety), and the foods they made, the soups, cioppino, sushi, Dungeness crab cakes, and bakery goods, splendid enough to go on the finest dining table. It was where we all placed our order for fresh turkeys every November, and could find quality kitchenware, chocolates, magazines, and even literary journals. Outside, a plant stand to rivel any street corner in Paris. Come to think about it, Metropolitan Market was our only local nursery too. Now I really am depressed.

Plus I have just come back from a very crowded Safeway where the music is sick, the loudspeakers are loud, the prepared food is fried and the like—although nobody eats like that except maybe the construction workers on their breaks (the ones who are tearing the town down). I don’t know who is employed at Safeway or where they come from, and as for the floral department, their way with plants is to dye phalaenopsis orchids blue.

I simply have to find a way around supermarkets. Something I can walk to, such as the bucolic farmers market on Thursdays. Come winter, move downtown and shop Pikes Market? Everything that is anything is so much further now and it’s time to go from carrying totes to using that cart I bought. A rainproof canvas shopping cart, bright red so cars can see me on gray days. I haven’t taken it out yet because I have some things to work out. My cart questions: do I push it or pull it? Do I push/pull it down the aisles and put the groceries I want to buy into my cart, and take them all out at the register, or will I look like I am shoplifting and be apprehended? Or should I fold up my cart and put it in the grocery’s shopping cart when I arrive?

Didn’t I know this would happen? A long time ago, after my first marriage fell apart, I lived in NYC for a year. I wish I could tell you it was marvelous: The Met! Lincoln Center! Central Park! But it wasn’t. Not that year. I was half crazy with a broken heart, and Central Park wasn’t even considered safe in the daytime. I don’t know if you could call it a phobia exactly, but I developed an irrational fear of bag ladies that year. Not a loathing, more of a trembling. An apprehension that it could happen to me. I knew that there had to be a story behind each and every one of these ladies, and my best guess was that some man had left her in the lurch. I am not sure if I ever got over this fear per se, but I up and moved to California. And now, here I am, thirty-something years later, further up the coast, and about to take up a cart myself. Didn’t I know it?

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Being Here (Where I Am)

“Do you think the wren ever dreams of a better house?” Mary Oliver

The desire to live here, there, and over there, in this, I may be the craziest person I know. On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon I went looking at high rise condominiums in downtown Seattle. I wanted to see what it would be like to reinvent my life from that vantage point, overlooking the port, The Sound, and into sunsets every night. Then hours later, setting up my city lot terrace on Queen Anne Hill, I thought, how could I ever leave all this….

This is the terrace we imagined from the deck that had been out back. A stone paved and planted formal outdoor room, evocative of many places: France, New Orleans, Boston’s Nob Hill…. This is the rock wall we envisioned and the climbing hydrangea we planted that now completely covers the high wooden fence surrounding us. Assorted wrought iron pieces collected in consignment stores up and down The Main Line in Philadelphia, painted black, and cushioned in a black & white awning stripe. The pair of magnolia trees that grew from saplings to their two-story height in a few short years—such is the growing power of the Pacific Northwest. The trees are shaped like topiary, low box hedges beneath kept trim, and potted herbs lined up like sunbathers on a étagère. Into this black & white outdoor room I specified all white flowers: rhododendron, climbing hydrangea, the stand of lilies beyond the fountain, and the dinner-plate sized blossoms the pair of magnolia trees serves up. Of course, the lavender plants will bloom in a lavender color, the rosemary, a blue, chives, mauve/pink, roses will climb over the fence, and other assorted plants, such as columbine and forget-me-not, have a way of hopping or dropping in. And like friends, they are all welcome.

As a child I frequently rearranged my parents’ furniture in the night. People would wake up and bump into things. As a single person and later, married, I was all too game for every move. I even remember the moves that we didn’t make, because I had, in a sense, inhabited them. With the position that would have relocated our young family to Iowa, I pictured a house with a wrap-around porch on a prairie where one could see anyone coming over the horizon in any direction. The house, the landscape and its serenity, grew on me such that I was almost disappointed when my husband did not take that position. Iowa.

I could fill volumes with all the houses I have loved that I did not live in. “The ones that got away,” I call them. Some people have affairs; I look at houses. Perusing MLS listings, attending open houses, drawing up floor plans if I’m interested, sketching, coming up with color schemes, and re-imagining life with each one. It’s like a chemical dependency, this willingness to make a complete overhaul of one’s life. In an effort to get more than one life in, I have to wonder, might it be at the expense of one life fully realized?

Yet there is hope. While I continue to look and sketch and imagine, I do notice a waning in the energy to pull off any of these desired moves. This has come with age. For the first time in my life, the thought of moving is exhausting—something others have known all along. And while I may still harbor harbor views, all I have to do is sit still on this terrace, plant, or clean up in this garden, and I can be where I am. And this I must do more often. And keep the drama on the page.

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The Politics of Place

The city of Seattle is teaming with Eastern Gray Squirrels. My understanding is that the Woodland Park Zoo first imported these pesky little creatures in order to have something wild running amongst the visitors, so not everything would be encaged. In their effort to create a bucolic atmosphere for the zoo, they gave it to the city as well. The Eastern Gray Squirrel simply thrives here.

My neighbor over the fence is a bright, attractive woman. She lives in an art-filled house and approaches  her perennial gardens like a painting. When we first moved to Queen Anne, I called her Beatrix Potter for her habit of feeding the squirrels. Dizzy with all their comings and goings, I admit to having called a trapper in the early days. But that was a futile idea as long as the feeders were up and the word of a good buffet at her place had long been out. So we all live with a “mess” of squirrels (that’s what it’s called), and the high wooden fences between our city lots are their thoroughfare. Congeniality is learned by living in real neighborhoods.

Like most of my neighbors my politics are liberal, Democratic, and I like to think, progressive. But I have noticed this: it is often the Republicans who have the best-kept homes and grounds, and Beatrix Potter is one of them. And I admire that. I am into architecture, design, and gardens, and this has always been kind of a conundrum for me: a Democrat at heart, and a Republican as far as appearances go. While most of the Republicans seem to have weekly landscaping contractors who descend and maintain perfect lawns, perfectly trimmed hedges, keep window boxes filled, in short, everything ready for a magazine shoot, Beatrix, on the other hand, by doing her own gardening, actually falls in more with the general scheme of things in Seattle—where it’s so “blue,” it’s turquoise, and so “green,” it’s emerald. (The irony to me now is that she is the one with a heart of gold for the squirrels, and I was the one calling the trapper).

It has been said, “A Democrat falls in love; a Republican falls in step.” While the first part remains true for me regarding the upcoming presidential election, the second part, is not, not this time around. But might this be just what we have needed as a country, for the Republicans to lose their lock step? Perhaps they have always been too sure of themselves, and Democrats, too questioning? When it comes time I will have my Obama/Biden sign out there with the best of them in their lawns and gardens—that is, if they ever make up their minds on a candidate.

Recently Beatrix invited me to come and meet Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, Republican candidate for Governor.  Feeling a bit like an undercover agent, I went like a good neighbor. And guess what? I like the guy. Certainaly there are other issues such as education and he covered them well, but I was particularly interested to see if he was friendly toward same-sex marriages—something our current Governor Chris Gregoire recently signed into legislation. I wanted to know that Washington would not back down on this. And McKenna said he would indeed support it, “if that is what the people want.” An amiable guy, as I said.

O.K., now I have a confession to make: Remember the pristine Republican lawns and grounds I can’t-help-but admire in my neighborhood? During the presidential election of ’08, I know that by lingering there I may have inadvertently encouraged my little dog to pee wherever there were McCain/Palin signs. I feel bad about that, and won’t do that again. Unless it’s Newt, or Santorum, or….

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