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Monday, April 28, 2008

Journeys-long and short

Sunday evening-
I'm home from another journey. It was just a short one this time, from Tacoma north to Port Angeles and back. Still, it's good to come home, to a cozy leather chair, a dog asleep in the lamp glow, rain hitting the window, coffee, and a good book.

I'm reading a book about journeys of a much longer kind. The title is Barrow's Boys-the Original Extreme Adventurers, by Fergus Fleming. It's about British expeditions of discovery covering over three decades, beginning in 1816, conducted by naval officers personally chosen by John Barrow, second secretary of the British Admiralty. They were all long on bravery, vision, and resolve, but short on financial backing, clear orders, and practicality. Yet all of "Barrow's Boys" put themselves at great risk repeatedly, to live lives of deliberate adventure. The book covers early voyages in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, and to the Arctic and Antarctica, as well as overland treks deep into Africa seeking Timbuctoo, the source of the Niger, and more.

My journey was only to the northernmost edge of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, but wedged there between the the snow covered Olympic mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I thought about this book and journeys, long and short. In Port Angeles I relished the fresh marine air, islander that I am, as I looked out at the oceangoing ships anchored there, with Canada's Vancouver Island not too far distant beyond them. I thought of how Captain James Cook, in 1778, sailed along its western shore in Resolution II, along with the ship Discovery. Fourteen years later Captain George Vancouver. who had been a midshipman on Discovery, returned to circumnavigate this large island and name it after himself.

Most of us will never circumnavigate an island in the course of life's voyage. Sometimes though, we must circumnavigate our circumstances, before we can finally drop anchor in the place where we belong. Through calm seas and gales we explore, take risks, learn, persevere. Some try to stay safely in port, accepting the status quo. Others have the yearnings of Barrow's Boys, to see places they've never seen, to test themselves, to experience as much as they can for as long as they can. Maybe the port they dream of cannot be reached except by traveling the long way around, but they have faith that it exists.

Every great journey, every great voyage, begins with imagination. Your life is the product of your imagination. It creates and shapes your life, but also focuses on the goal, the heart's safe harbor you have always longed for. None of us can guess what seas we might have to sail to reach it, but through our intent, that place will appear on the horizon, someday. When we get there at last, we will arrive with a cargo of memories.

Quoting an anonymous writer-

"If imagination is the morning of the mind, and memories the evening, I wish for long, glorious sunsets."

Life itself is a an expedition of discovery, a long journey. It should be one of discovering the truths about who you are, what you really want out of life, and the meaning of memories, experiences, and love. By these maps and charts we can find our way back home. I wish to wake each morning inspired and full of imagination, and know that there are glorious sunsets waiting for me in the end.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Highway to Heaven

I'm in love, and my husband knows about it. He found out over three years ago when we moved to the place I'd always wanted to live: Tacoma. By now he hardly pays any attention to my sighs and dreamy expressions. I thought about this condition of mine late yesterday afternoon as my long and tedious journey south on I-5 finally neared its end. After making it down the stretch from 405 through Milton, my heart rate began to quicken as I made the big curve into Fife. No... (sorry, Fife residents, whoever you are) not because of the flat and sprawling expanse of crowded roadways, businesses, casino signs, and bill boards. It was because I knew I was on the home stretch. Way off ahead to the west, where the clouds were parting, and beams of sunlight pointed down in straight lines, right out of some religious painting, there awaited my beloved city of Tacoma.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you finally near the Puyallup River, after the long, boring haul over that commercial dessert you've just passed through? You see a little sign that says "Entering Tacoma" and suddenly the roadway curves seductively and rises, and you feel your car whooshing over the bridge as if by magnetic attraction. It's like a recurring dream: I see the Tacoma Dome and I'm taking the City Center exit, north onto 705, the shortest, sweetest little freeway in the country. Where did all the traffic go? Oh, that's right. This is the highway to Heaven for the lucky few. Have I really been good enough to deserve living here?

As 705, then Schuster Parkway, sweep me past the elegant bridge at 21st, the old train station, the museums and downtown mix of vintage and modern buildings gleaming in the afternoon's glow, I feel the day's tensions melt away. The city slides by and suddenly I am down on the waterfront, heading north along Commencement Bay. There are woods on my left, Mt. Rainier at my back. Ivy tumbles over walls. Nature and good old American enterprise live side by side. The train clatters along while an eagle circles slowly overhead, and out on the water ships wait for cargoes to be loaded or unloaded. The road is low here. I can imagine being in a canoe in the 1800s, gliding over the water, feeling the cold of it, and seeing the higher, tree covered masses of land rising up from it, surrounded by it.

I came to my senses when I started up 30th and had to watch for pedestrians. I waited at the light in front of the old Spar Tavern, with easy patience, while people crossed the brick covered street, on their way to have coffee or shop or do a little business. Then the long ascent up the 30th St. hill began, where one inviting home after another cherishes, and becomes part of, the view. As always, I looked to the right, northward, at the vista I love most in the world: a paradise between two mountain ranges, puzzle pieces of green land and blue sea, and Vashon Island, my birthplace, where a piece of my heart will always reside.

The Proctor District came next. I thought about stopping in at the Pacific Northwest Shop to say hello and find the perfect gift, or Culpepper's Books, where rare and wonderful treasures from the past are matched with new owners, by people who love them. But I wanted to get home. There was still time for me to walk my dog on the high streets of my neighborhood, where I can see the Olympics and the Narrows Bridge. But it had been a good ride, on the Highway to Heaven, and a time to remember to be grateful for the life I have here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and to remember to keep that feeling of being in love everyday. My husband isn't jealous. He's a man of few words, but I know he loves Tacoma too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Remembering the first Earth Day-and its roots in the Northwest

Happy 38th Earth Day! How can that be? The sixteen-year-old who still lives inside me can remember the first one perfectly. In 1970 teenagers at my high school on Vashon Island certainly knew how to have fun, but we also took a lot of things seriously. Mine was the class whose big brothers went to Viet-Nam and didn't all return. Two years earlier we'd been in the middle of a school day when we'd heard the news that Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated. And the environment, bad as it is now, was even worse then, with air and water pollution menaces none of us could ignore, although the government still did. . . except for Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Senator Nelson cared. He wanted to make the environment a top priority with the government, as it was with so many of the citizens who felt like they had no voice or power. In 1962 he approached President Kennedy with the idea of a "conservation tour" and Kennedy was all for it. The following year, in September, the President began a trip lasting five days and covering eleven states, talking about the environment and the problems of pollution. It flopped. The smoke of factories still hung above the cities and rivers were poisoned with industrial waste. However. . . a little spark can start a fire, and the kindling of change began to crackle.

Six more years went by. These were the days of anti-wars protests, "sit ins", "teach ins", Hippies, and the "back-to-the-earth" movement. Senator Nelson was in Seattle in for a conference in September of '69 when he thought to himself, "Why not?" Why not have a huge protest over what was happening to the environment? He loudly proclaimed that in April of 1970 there would be a day of nationwide grassroots protest to draw attention to the problems he felt were being ignored. April 22nd was slated for the very first "Earth Day". He built it, and the people came! All across the country, in small towns and big cities, and in high schools like my own, the people rallied. There were 20 million demonstrators. . . 20 million. The people cared. They started to make change happen. I was proud of my generation and what we stood for. But what do we stand for now?

What happened to the kids who gathered at our school assembly on that beautiful spring day thirty-eight years ago? Well, a lot of them still care, but a lot of them became CEOs of companies that are part of the problem today. A lot of them got rich. A lot of them are poor. Ours was the generation that grew up mostly as members of the hard working but happy middle class created by our WWII generation parents, and we have been the ones who have witnessed it's demise. Some of us live in mansions, and are a lot more concerned about having a green lawn than the chemicals that requires . Some of us can't afford health care and are eating fast food and getting fat. Most of us are wasteful and careless in our own ways.

What if we remembered the passion of that first Earth Day? What if you "unplugged" your child or grandchild from their cell phone or electronic devices and took them out into the woods to watch birds and find some wild flowers, had them get their hands dirty planting a tree in your yard, picking up trash, or helping to restore a salmon stream? What if we all did our part, as citizens, consumers, and inhabitants of the planet? What if we reminded those who don't seem to care that they have children and grandchildren who will inherit the mess they've made. We DO have power to change the world. The first Earth Day, with it's 20 million protesters, was only a glimpse of our power. Please remember that day, if you were here then, or honor it if you weren't, so that when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it might be in a better world.

Here's a truly interesting and useful website to explore:

Washington State Department of Ecology

I was surprised by how good it was. Senator Nelson would be very pleased.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring Cleaning- smart, money-saving, non-toxic ideas

If you live in Western Washington you might feel very confused this week. Last Saturday we broke records with the official temperature at Sea-Tac airport at 79 degrees. Now the weather forecast is threatening snow in a couple of days. Those of us who like to save money by "doing it ourselves" may be thinking more along the lines of sewing quilts or adding insulation to the attic, but it really IS spring and time for spring cleaning.

I'm starting to avoid the cleaning products aisle in the grocery store, and that's only partly because I'd rather be writing or playing music, than cleaning the house. I'm avoiding it because since I've been using homemade or purchased natural and non-toxic cleaners I'm ultra sensitive to that weird mix of harsh perfumes and chemicals that assault my nose, eyes and lungs. However, even though I might prefer to spend my time writing or playing music, I still love a clean house. I just don't want to poison myself and our planet to have one.

Today I want to share with you some web links with wonderful recipes for cheap, non-toxic cleaning products you can make yourself. These are based on formulas using things like baking soda and vinegar, that have been around since before your great-grandma scrubbed her first floor. But do keep in mind (and I don't mean to scare you) the verb in that last sentence,"scrub", does indicate a certain amount of physical involvement on your part. This is not to say that these everyday cleaners don't work easily and efficiently, but Honey, if you've REALLY let things get bad, the unmentioned, but implied, ingredient in these recipes is old fashioned elbow grease. Please don't succumb to the temptation of standing there with a cup of coffee while chemical warfare takes place right before your eyes, toxic fumes, raging bubbles, and violent corrosion obscuring the silent screams of your bathroom tiles. That's just not right! Come on, give this a try by clicking on these links:

Here's a simple recipe a friend gave me for a drain cleaner:
2 cups baking soda
2 cups salt
1/2 cup cream of tartar

Have a kettle of boiling water on the stove. Mix the ingredients and pour 1/4 cup of the cleaner down the drain. Quickly follow that with 1 cup of the boiling water poured down the drain. Wait 30 minutes and repeat. After the second time flush the drain with cold water. Do this once a week to keep your drains open and clean.

Note: Please remember the following points-
-never use food containers for cleaning products (mistaken identity)
-label your homemade cleaners
-keep them out of the reach of children
-clean often, before the situation gets too scary, and these eco-friendly products will do the job.

Happy Cleaning,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Going Home Again-Family, Memories, and Time

Last week a friend expressed to me the need for "a place to call home", and I thought about that Sunday morning as I stood on the deck of the ferry Rhododedron, crossing from Tacoma to Vashon Island. The smell of the marine air, the cry of the gulls, caressed my senses like a mother's touch as the distant land drew closer, into focus, and the magnetism of the place I call home exerted it's pull. I was beginning a day of profound reflection on family, memories, and time.

I had come to the Island for the release of a new book, by the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, called "The Past Remembered". The project, a collection of stories of pioneer and long-time island families, had begun in the '80's but was never finished, until now, and I had been a contributing writer, chronicling the story of five generation of my family there, since the 1800s. A photo of my grandparents was chosen as the cover design. A celebration of it's release was planned for two o'clock at the museum, once a Lutheran church, just west of the one main intersection in "town".

My husband and I had come over early to meet friends for brunch at "The Hardware Store", a lovely restaurant that, when I was a child, really WAS the hardware, store. I sat there eating and chatting in this pretty space, but off to the side were the ghosts of my grandfather, in his bib overalls, talking at the counter with his old friend who owned the place. I could still smell that wonderful smell of hardware stores, a mixture of wood, rope, well oiled tools, sacks of feed and fertilizer, onion sets, flower bulbs, bird seed, and rugged men in flannel shirts, jeans and work boots. I pictured the shelves, bins, and cases, with things like electrical outlets, mouse traps, hunting and fishing gear. I could still see myself as a child, standing at the rack of seed packages. Dad had given us each our very own row in the garden, where we could plant anything we wanted. Of course I chose flowers, but the decision was so difficult, and important.

Then it was time to take my husband back to the ferry because he could only stay for awhile. On the way south we stopped at Center, another crossroads, where an historic building marked as "The Fuller Store" held a cluster of small businesses, a bakery, a wine shop, and a barber. Tourists would find it charming, but as I stepped inside again the spirits of the past greeted and surrounded me. This was my grandparents' house. I wandered through the rooms. The barber shop had been the master bedroom, the place where my mother as a newlywed had returned home to give birth to her first child, just as her mother had given birth to her brothers and sisters there, with the same country doctor attending. In that space the drama of lives had played out: a married couple's joyful love, the arrival of babies, the comfort of warm quilts on winter nights during the Great Depression, births, and also the inevitable passing of loved ones.

In the space that had been the kitchen I could still imagine the wood burning cook stove, the radio on a shelf, my grandmother in her apron. Where the bakery now is I pictured the sofa, the parakeet in his cage, the portraits of ancestors. In the area near the entrance there was a blank wall where the roll-top desk belonged, and where the claw-footed oak table once stood, nothing. Everything looked different, and yet beneath the surface the essence of the place remained the same.

At two o'clock the gathering at the museum commenced, a room full of mostly older people, some I knew and some whose features held flickers of familiarity, family traits of those I'd grown up with. Some I felt, knew me, recognizing that look of my own clan, but being unsure, after all these years, we just exchanged glances and didn't speak. I sat next to the son of my parents' best friends, rejoicing in the gift of seeing those dear people again in his face, but trying to grasp the fact that he was now the age of his father as I remembered him.

After the event ended I called a friend I hadn't seen in years and met her for coffee. How wonderful and strange to sit across from a woman with whom I struggled through puberty, remembering our high school days, talking about our children, noting our recently acquired wrinkles.

One more stop on the way to the ferry and Tacoma...the home of my aunt. She's in her eighties, somehow becoming more petite with every year, and I found her watching the news in a favorite chair, under a blanket. She had ordered "The Past Remembered" books for each of her children, and I was delivering them. I watched her face as we talked, and saw there subtle glimpses of the whole family, her parents, even her brothers, and her only sister, my mother, now gone.

It was a good day, I thought, sitting in my car at the ferry dock. The rain had arrived as promised, but that too was comfortingly familiar. It was a good day, but one I will always remember for it's meaning and the question it posed: what is time? Is it really a chronological line, or as some have suggested, are the past, present and future actually all around us always, slipping in and out of our consciousness? Whatever truths exist for some of us, here is one of mine. "A place to call home" can seem elusive, in a world of change, unless you know where to look: inside your heart.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Man With a Mission -- and wonderful FREE or DISCOUNTED offerings!

Good Morning! It really will be, because today I'm coming through for you with the things I promised when I started this blog: introductions to interesting people who are making a difference in our world, ways to make life better, and ideas for saving money while doing so.

Let me tell you about Geoff Rinehart...

Here is a man who must get up every morning excited about his job, knowing that while a lot of people talk about the environment and what needs to be done, he's actually out there DOING something, day after day, and he does it with heartfelt passion. Geoff works for the Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department, but he really works for ALL of us. One aspect of his job is educating home gardeners about the ways in which their choices impact not only their own health but the health of everyone in the community AND the health of our planet. This is a "grass roots" effort is there ever was one!

My husband met this dynamic person a year ago when he attended a a free natural gardening workshop Geoff taught in the Proctor neighborhood of Tacoma. I couldn't go, unfortunately, but my husband came home so excited about the evening. He had learned a lot and was loaded down with wonderful literature, coupons, magazines, and most of all, great inspiration which this man created with his enthusiasm for his work. The subject of natural gardening is near and dear to my heart, so I was disappointed that I hadn't been there.

Then recently Geoff contacted us to let us know about some new workshops he's doing this spring. I jumped at the opportunity like a hungry robin after a worm! These workshops are FREE!!! But space is limited. I will share the basic information with you here, but if you have questions or would like to reserve a seat please contact: Geoff Rinehart at 253-798-4587 or email him at
Please remember that your interest and participation in this type of important educational opportunity helps to keep such programs alive and growing!

In North Tacoma, sponsored by the Tacoma/Pierce Co. Health Department (as they all are) along with the Point Defiance Zoo, which is the workshop location:

Wednesday April 16th- Natural Lawn Care and Sustainable Garden Design
Wednesday April 30th-Growing Healthy Soil and Backyard Composting
Wednesday May 14-Garden Pest Management and Smart Watering
All are 6:30-8:30 pm with refreshments and door prize!

In Lakewood, at Lakewood City Hall, sponsored by Tacoma/Pierce Co. Health Department along with the City of Lakewood and the Lakewood Water District:

Wednesday April 23rd-Soil Basics and Backyard Composting
Thursday May 8th- Sustainable Garden Design and Smart Watering
Both are 6:30-8:3o

In Puyallup/South Hill, at the South Hill Library-
Thursday May 15th- Natural Lawn Care and Garden Pest Management
Thursday May 22nd-Soil Basics and Backyard Composting
Thursday May 29th-Sustainable Garden Design and Smart Watering
All are 6:30-8:30


Geoff also told me about how he's been coordinating with Tacoma Water to produce some wonderfully helpful and informative Natural Yard Care brochures, which will be available at the Health Department and also distributed at workshops, fairs and festivals.

What's more, he made me aware of a regional program called Northwest Natural Yard Days. This is very exciting because retailers are cooperating with this program by offering DISCOUNTS on less toxic and alternative pest control products, as well as push reel and mulching mowers, April 15th-May 15th. Check out:

Another thing...have you noticed the link I've added for Envirostars? Be sure to check that out!

Workshops: Geoff Rinehart at 253-798-4587 or email him at

Sharing all of this with you is so much fun, and somehow, through the power of attraction in the universe, I'm finding out about all these people and events that fit the goals of my blog perfectly. The ideas are popping up just like the bulbs in your yard. Stay tuned! There is much more to come that you won't want to miss.

My greyhound is letting me know it's time for a walk, and the sun is shining, so goodbye for now. Let's visit again tomorrow.

Best Wishes,

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Have you met Psaltriparus minimus?

I'm not always ready for unexpected company, but today it was perfect timing. This afternoon I returned from my walk with Bella, our greyhound, basking in the warmth, jacket over my arm. What a beautiful day! I decided to fling open several windows and give the house a good airing, from one end to the other. An unusual feature of our home is the large window in the master bedroom, looking out onto terraced gardens that rise in layers of texture and color above the lawn. At the left edge of this view is a mature blue spruce, inching ever closer to the house. I love this tree but barely glanced at it as slid the glass away in a rush of fresh air, and turned to go.

Then I heard them. It was just a little twitter, a quiet conversation among themselves, not for my ears. I had to look closer to notice the quick movements of tiny gray-brown bodies, so busy among the branches. Then I smiled with delight. I had company, the bushtits, Psaltriparus minimus!

If it were possible to choose a favorite bird I would give the honor to these little visitors, probably no more than three inches long, with the delightful appeal of all things miniature, bringing on my fantasy of holding one in the palm of my hand. Years ago, at another house, for unknown reasons they chose to build one of their intricately woven and delicate nests in a thorny rose bush, at the height of only three feet off the ground. It hung there like a forgotten silk purse, caught in the intersection of three rose canes. A mating pair had chosen this unlikely spot and worked for days to build a home for their babies, but my own maternal instincts were on alert. Too dangerous! There were cats around. My husband and I found an old roll of wire fencing and surrounded the rose bush, afraid we might be disturbing them, but having the best of intentions.

Then we saw the bushtits no more. They had abandoned the nest. I watched it for many days but all activity had stopped. Had we run them off? I felt guilty. Finally it was clear that they were really gone. The nest was so perfect I had to save it. I sacrificed the sections of the rose canes the nest was suspended from, and carefully cut it free, feeling like a thief as I held this work of art in my hands, in awe. Then I went to place it in a shoe box, and out rolled several tiny bluish eggs, no bigger than the smallest jelly beans.

I'm so glad the bushtits chose my tree for their industrious food gathering this afternoon. I thank them for reminding me of all the "other" worlds and societies and individuals that coexist with ours, and how fragile and precious they are. And I thank them for reminding me, on a day when I had been just as busy and industrious as they were, that it is a good thing to stop for a minute and appreciate the gift of unexpected visitors.


April is the month for the Tahoma Audubon Society's annual BIRDATHON fundraiser. This important event takes place April 25-May 31. How can you help? Find sponsors who will make a pledge to TAS based on the results of your birdwatching, either the number of species counted or just a donation of their choice. For more information call Thelma at 253-564-8210 or check on

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

April afternoon in Tacoma

For the moment the sun is out and beaming in my window as I write. A recent shower left the feathery new tips of evergreen branches adorned with sparkles,scattered like glitter with each gust of wind. From my second story window I look down on green grass, the white fringe of Japanese Magnolia, daffodils and my patch of primroses, in crayon box colors.

Whether you live here in the Pacific Northwest or someplace far away, it's spring! The thought I want to share today is that we all need to immerse ourselves in the feeling of spring, a sense of renewal and happy anticipation of the good things coming into our lives. No matter what your life has been, the long winter is over and possibilities are limitless. Live in a state of gratitude and wonder!

In this blog I'll be sharing ideas for ways of making the most of your life, especially if you live in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Be looking for information on fun free or low cost things to do, what's fresh in the farmers' markets, where you can catch an interesting workshop, demonstration, exhibit, festival, nature walk, concert, lecture, or other enriching experience. Check here for tips on saving money when shopping for everything you need. I love bargains!

Each week I'll feature a local business owner, artist, community activist, or other individual among the many who make this a better place for all of us. Don't be surprised to open my blog and find a book or theater review, a recipe, poem, or inspiring quote. Anything can happen here, because just like spring, everyday is a fresh start on a happier, more interesting and fulfilling life! Thanks for visiting Good Life Northwest. Come back soon.

Best Wishes,