Monday, October 15, 2012


Last year at college, Jenna started cooking for herself. This meant that in addition to clothes and school supplies, she would need an adequately stocked kitchen. We gathered (mostly from the recesses of my kitchen cabinets) used pots and pans, spatulas, a can opener, mixing bowls, pot holders, dishes, utensils, and two shiny, new plastic cups from the dollar store. Her new roommates had contributions of their own, so they hopefully had everything they needed to feed themselves.

A month or so after Jenna went back to school, I was searching for rosemary in my spice cabinet and accidentally knocked over a container of toothpicks. I suddenly thought of Jenna: Did she need toothpicks? What if she needed to test a cake for doneness? Hm. Actually, we really didn’t leave her with any spices, or vanilla, or cupcake holders, or … toothpicks. How would she get by?

It was a brief and useless thought; she’s a college student, she won’t have much time to cook, and as her specialty is boxed macaroni and cheese, she wouldn’t be using it anyway.

But the idea snowballed, and I thought about the cabinets and closets and drawers and a whole garage full of stuff that we had collected over the years. How did we ever manage without it?

When Dirk and I were first married a hundred and twenty or so years ago, among the wedding gifts from our friends and family there were five toasters. I thought this was hilarious. What would we do with five toasters? I told Dirk we should return four of them, because really we didn’t need more than one. He suggested that we keep at least three, just in case. And you know, in twenty three years (this number is real) we have not only worked those three toasters to death, but eventually purchased and used up two more. Turns out five toasters was not excessive.

How do you get by with less stuff? I haven’t figured it out. I guess I haven’t embraced simplicity. I love the idea of minimalists, but really I am a little disturbed by them.

A few years ago we were invited to a surprise party for our friend. (You don’t know them; they live across the water.) It was held at a beautiful home, tastefully decorated, neat and tidy. I marveled how everything could be so orderly and clutter free when there were several children living in the home. I was in the kitchen and someone asked me to find a utensil to help serve the cake. I opened one of the many drawers in this beautiful kitchen…and it was empty. Weird. I opened another drawer, and another, and another…most were empty. It gave me the willies. My friend, whose sister-in-law lived at the house, was helping me look.

“Are they moving soon?” I whispered, wondering if everything had been packed. She whispered back in the negative. We eventually found a drawer with a few knives and forks, and managed to serve up the cake.

I’m sure there’s something of a pack rat in me, but am I alone here? Isn’t there a balance between hoarding, and living such a Spartan lifestyle that you could move out with only one box marked “kitchen”? I just wish I could figure out that balance.

Jenna fared fine her first year cooking, and now this year Cassidy is off to college as well. Strangely enough, we found almost everything she needed to stock her kitchen by again scrounging through mine. As my kitchen continues to be well stocked, it’s a little embarrassing. If I keep this up, by the time all our kids are off to college, maybe I’ll end up with an empty drawer or two. Spooky thought!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Trees and I, a love story

Part one

Still moving in auto sleepy mode, I went out to the back porch this morning to feed the dogs.   Yawn, yawn, mundane stuff.  A hammering noise from somewhere nearby caught my attention.  I looked up, expecting to see a woodpecker, but the view off our porch was so enchanting that I forgot to look for the bird.

If you’ve ever been to the Seattle area or seen pictures, you’ve probably seen views with the white ferries, blue water, and, across Puget Sound, a land of tree-covered hills.  We live in those hills.  And, if you’ve been in Seattle on a day when fog lies purring and cozy between the stoic pines, you may have wondered what it would be like to live over among those trees.

Well, let me enlighten you.

We don’t have a traditional view.  Actually, if you cut down all the trees on our land and our neighbor’s land, we would probably have an enviable view of Seattle.  Then the people of Seattle could watch us, and we could watch them.  Maybe we would use telescopes, and wave, like travelers on cruise ships waving to strangers on the dock.

I prefer our view.  This morning, the sky was blue, sun was shining (yes!  The sun does shine here!), and fog drifted slowly through our trees like a shy creature of the woods, too large and sleepy to see us as a threat, but emerging to feed.  Feed on what?  Oh, probably the romance and vitality of the forest.  These woods are thick with it.

When I was in college, living in Utah and enjoying the very different beauty there (though, I admit, I sometimes counted the scant trees growing on the hillside), I read “The Romance of the Forest” by Ann Radcliffe.  You know how it is when you read something and discover yourself in it?  If you’ve read that book, you are probably frightened that I found myself there; but I realized when I’m in a forest, it’s all romance and story for me.  Musicians carry tunes in their heads, writers have a story; and when I’m in the woods, those stories are as alive as the trees.

It is so green outside right now, it’s variegated, wall-to-wall and floor-to-sky green.  Moss, grass, ferns, and trees – fir, hemlock, and my favorite, cedars.  Patches of blue sky light up between them, but in summer even those patches are pushed out by leafy maple and alders.

When we moved into our home ten years ago, I saw the last remnants of fog one sunny morning, curling gently upward like smoke.  I thought maybe a drifter had made camp in our woods, and had started a small fire.  I’m silly (and a bit territorial), so I tiptoed out through the trees for a peek.  There was nothing there, no fire, no person; just the wispy smoke without flames, floating through the evergreens.

I have mentioned that the sun is shining today.  Please do not think that it is always sunny here, and that you would want to move here amid the trees.  It does rain something like 370 days a year, and we often don’t see even a hint of blue sky for weeks.  So, don’t get any ideas to leave Arizona or Minnesota or wherever you are.   When you’re standing in a puddle, and you start thinking about windshield wipers for your glasses, it’s a fine trick to enjoy the view.  I’ve had a lot of practice.  Besides, the green is always there, whispering romantic tales, even when it rains.

I did finally see the woodpecker, a large male with a red head.  He was laughing at me in my pajamas, hyuck-hyuck, hyuck-hyuck.  I have the best neighbors.