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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ode to the end of August

August can’t leave without long good-byes. Another year of life, a year now pregnant with the consequences of my thoughts and deeds, rounds out in the fullness of her eighth month. In these last few days, I wander through the garden, unhurried. Around me linger faded roses and blackberries, overripe, and the perfume of fallen apples rises from the ground. Corn stalks rustle in a slight breeze. Under the cornhusks golden kernels hide, swollen and crowed. This eighth month feels heavy with memories of Augusts past.

On a rare quiet afternoon in my Tacoma home I daydream in a chair by an open window. The unread book slips from my hand. A wind chime tinkles and I hear a lawn mower down the street. In my mind I am back in my mother’s kitchen on Vashon Island, forty-five years ago, releasing kidney beans from their dry tan shells. Plink. Plink. Plink. They hit the enameled bowl while the pressure cooker whistles on the stove. The canning never ends. I would rather look again through the new Sears and Roebuck catalog, at the school clothes we might order. Now I think of my mother in her apron, filling the clean Mason jars.

August means brown lawns, grasshoppers and ripe tomatoes. Leaves float in the wading pool. The porch furniture needs cleaning. The petunias look scraggly. Shorter days seem to symbolize its sense of impending change, from one season to another, from child to adult. In this eighth month, under a full moon, the first poignant summer romances of youth, ended. The memories of youth became never ending.

This August I pondered that same moon while riding the last ferry of the night from Vashon Island back to Tacoma. That moon never abandons me, witness to my years. It always seems biggest at this time of year. With my car parked far out on the open deck, I relished having a front row seat. I opened the windows to the warm air, the scent and sounds of the water. In the distance, on all sides, from Des Moines to Gig Harbor, the scattered lights of the human domain lit up the darkness, but it pleased me to see the great expanse of black that is Point Defiance Park, and to know that wild creatures, with their all-seeing eyes, still crept among the trees. The moon watches them too, and shines down on the pathways I walk, soon to be covered with autumn leaves.

Good-byes can be long or quick and painful, but to the human heart, never final. They are but chapters in the book that has dropped from the hand. We pick it up and read again, over and over, for as long as memory lasts, as long as the heart feels. The year that now reaches its fullness will give birth to more memories, but also new opportunities and dreams as the seasons change and the year goes ‘round again. Good-bye August. You are always bittersweet. Next year when the apples hang ready to fall, and butter slides over an ear of corn, my life may have changed, but you and I, the past and the present, and the moon, will all meet again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Recollections of Collections and Living Little

Candy the collector in 1956

Kids know something adults forget: there are tiny worlds of wonder right at your feet. Back in the days when I lived much closer to the ground, I knew those worlds intimately. Like a bug blazing a trail through a mini-forest of grass blades, I lived the exuberant life of explorer. Biology and geology were my favorite fields of research, often conducted barefoot on Vashon Island’s beaches.

The only problem with being a specimen collector came from sharing a bedroom with my big sister. That, of course, also meant sharing the bedroom closet, including the floor of that closet, which happened to be the location of my museum of specimens. (By the way, this was the sister who grew up to study interior decorating. Does that tell you anything?) For lack of proper display cases I kept my specimens in rumpled brown paper bags, unmarked but categorized none-the-less. For reasons I consider quite petty, she had “issues” with this.

Back in the 1950s, before the curse of plastic bottles, a walk on the beach could yield handfuls of beach glass, the power of nature made evident in colored gems ground down to frosty semi-smoothness after years of caressing by water and sand. Being a sharply observant beachcomber under three feet tall, I found plenty. Naturally one of the paper sacks contained beach glass.

“WHAT? ONE! DID YOU SAY ONE?” (That’s my sister yelling when she reads this.) OK. I’ll admit that there were three, one for each color: beer bottle brown, pop bottle green, and opaque white, (once clear). Actually, make that five. I forgot about aqua, and the most precious of all, cobalt blue. So there were five. What’s the big deal? The beauty of those pieces of beach glass made it all worth while. I admired and fondled them so often I think I took over where the water and sand left off, and smoothed them even more in my tiny hands. And if you held them to your nose you could imagine the faint scent of the sea. So dreamy.

“Somewhat-less-than-dreamy” might describe the scent that arose from a few other paper sacks in the closet. My penchant for seashells meant I couldn’t pass up any, even those rather recently inhabited. The clam shells left over from a seagull’s lunch, with half-dried bits of clam guts still stuck on, smelled pretty bad. But I found them beautiful. Just like the purple muscle shells, their insides held rainbows of mother-of-pearl, and sometimes barnacles decorated the outsides. I’d seen barnacles alive in the water, tiny creatures flicking hair-like body parts into the brine. Those stuck on my shells, though closed tight, still held the wonder of their underwater world. But the prize for smell and fascination went to the sack full of still moist sand dollars, their tops etched with leaf-like designs. They became to the closet what unwrapped Limburger cheese is to a refrigerator.

Did I mention the rocks? Rocks come in all colors, so that collection took up a lot of space. They look so gorgeous wet on the beach, in jade green, butterscotch gold, white and gray. Some came in brick red, and my Dad told me they weren’t really rocks, but ground down pieces of real bricks, from the many brickyards that once operated on Puget Sound, because of the native clay. They deserved their own special sack. Agates too. So did the “wishing rocks,” the ones with white rings around them, possessed of certain magical powers. All the rocks lost some color once dried, but it was nothing a little spit couldn’t fix.

Now when I walk the seashore in Tacoma, at Pt. Defiance or Titlow Beach, I catch myself crouching down, intent on the close-up view. It was a lot easier at age three. But I still wonder at the grains of sand, the lost feather, the bits of seaweed, green and brown. The kid in me can’t help hoping I’ll find something really special, a perfect periwinkle or the now rare piece of beach glass. My closet is still full, but not with these treasures. I finally gave up the collection, maybe as late as my early teens, when I discovered more interesting specimens: boys. And yet, if you showed up on my front porch today you could find a rock or two, or maybe a shell. I hope I never get so grown up that I can’t delight in turning away from the great big world around me and focusing for a moment on the one at my feet. Next time you’re out in nature, move a little closer to the ground and remember how it felt to live little.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Her Dream Will "Flourish" in This Tiny Space

“Could this be the world’s smallest store?” I asked Carol Pruitt, at the threshold of her shop. She’d just welcomed me in, but my sense of delight made me pause to absorb the atmosphere. “It feels like I’m a little girl, back in my playhouse.”

This petite woman, with her sparkling eyes and a smile as charming as the space, knew it was a compliment. In one second an understanding connected us. Carol saw that I too, appreciate the magic of all things miniature. Whether it would make the Guinness Book of World Records or not, she didn’t know. But she agreed that although you can run a business on a laptop, when it comes to a real brick-and-mortar enterprise (which this literally is) it must be a contender for “Smallest Store Ever”. It measures 5’9” x 11’6”.

“Flourish” is the name of this exceptionally little boutique. You will find it in the southwest corner of the old brick building on Proctor and 27th, in Tacoma, the building that houses Bill Evans’ landmark Pacific Northwest Shop. It’s tucked in behind the trees along 27th, right next to the corner door that goes upstairs. At a glance the charming multi-paned window and shingle sign will make you think of an Irish pub. So many times I had peeked in through the glass, but Flourish is only open on Saturdays, for now.

Finally I stood among the treasures I’d longed to see up close. Cheerful light from the old-fashioned window fell across her displays of gorgeous jewelry, gifts, and “necessities” as she calls them: the little decorative items that give our homes a special charm and express our taste. Looking around, I could tell a lot about Carol Pruitt‘s sense of style, by seeing what she loves. Cast iron wall hangers in bird designs are strewn with handmade jewelry and more. Miniature artwork, even scaled down pillows, garden d├ęcor, and countless other bits of adornment, are artfully arranged on the walls and surfaces.

It’s obvious that Carol is one who appreciates the little things in life, as much as she appreciates life itself. She’s had some rough times. During a family vacation with her husband and four children, of middle school and high school age, he suddenly and unexpectedly died. Her loving partner and the life they’d known, was gone. Tragedy can destroy a person, but as a mother Carol had to go on. She eventually realized that on her own, she needed to find a way to not only survive, but to “flourish”.

“The name has a double meaning.” she explained to me. “When we wear jewelry it’s kind of a ‘flourish’ on our body, and the word is also an expression of that need I had.”

Carol’s background laid the foundation for a dream. She has a degree in graphic design from the University of Washington, and an eye for beauty. Jewelry her daughter had found during a trip to Italy inspired the artist within, and before long she was collecting beads and creating one-of-a-kind pieces which she first sold from a booth at the Proctor Arts Fest. That was about five years ago. But all that time Carol kept walking by that intriguing space in the brick building and dreaming of having her own shop.

There is a real power in focusing on your dreams. Whatever we visualize, seriously concentrate on, and infuse thoughts of with energy, will be manifested in our lives. It helped that her philosophy is one of living in a state of gratitude, exploration, and discovery, of having a real appreciation of life. Carol’s ideas set the future in motion.

The space she envisioned as a shop had been used for a fish broker’s office for awhile, and had also been storage for the Pacific Northwest Shop. But Carol had a vision, and she went into Bill’s store and asked them to please let her know if the space EVER became available. The mysteries of the Universe being what they are, it wasn’t long before she got a call and her dream of a shop called “Flourish” began to take shape. Everything began to work in her favor. Friends have been generous and supportive and all kinds of good things have come her way. She’s attracted a lot of attention and started taking consignments, featuring local artists and offering something for everyone. For all of this, Carol feels gratitude everyday.

On the Saturday morning when I finally got to visit Flourish, the adjacent Proctor Farmers Market on 27th overflowed with shoppers and Carol’s tiny store felt like a natural extension of the scene. Like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat, she’d opened the door and her treasure trove of delights expanded out onto the sidewalk, so much so that I wondered how it had all fit inside. In the winter, the weather won’t permit this luxury, but for now you find yourself drawn from across the street, to her alluring displays.

As business picks up, and I know it will, Carol plans to be open much more than one day a week. But for now, her limited schedule feels to me like it makes the whole thing more rare and precious. It’s like every Saturday is the equivalent to the short season for Copper River Salmon, when you make sure you don’t miss the chance to enjoy a special treat.

Flourish is located at 3901 N. 27th, Tacoma, Washington. If you like to discover unique places and meet people with that are filled with charismatic enthusiasm for life and all the beauty it has to offer, don’t miss this little gem. The old saying, “Two’s company and three is a crowd.” might apply, but remember what this business represents: with the right attitude, and effort, in small but significant ways, we can all learn to flourish.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

CALENDULA NURSERY-a feast for more than the eye

As cheerful as the sunshine at Tacoma's Proctor Farmers' Market, Scott Gruber talks passionately, about plants. Scott and his wife Jill Bryant are partners and owners of Calendula Nursery and Landscaping, a means of livelihood that the word "business" just isn't adequate to describe. I listen, giving him my full attention, but I catch myself starting to grin. It isn't that he said anything funny, although a man with a business logo like his is not without humor. It's just that I can't suppress the delight I always feel when I see a person living a life built around what they love. Or maybe my smile is simply a reflection of his own. He can't suppress his either.

Busy with customers at the market, our friend Scott kept getting back to telling us, with great enthusiasm, about the aronia bush my husband and I were purchasing. This gorgeous ornamental shrub that bears delicious, nutritious fruit, is symbolic of the latest hot trend in home gardening: the edible landscape. But Scott's taste in plants is far more of the trend setting variety than trend following. Since the beginning he's believed in growing his own food.

"Food ALWAYS tastes better when you grow it yourself!" he states. "These days with all the concerns about where our food comes from and what conditions it's grown under, more and more people want to put their landscape to use to produce something edible." But rather than a few traditional fruit trees or rows of vegetables in a garden patch, Scott uses his background as an artist to combine form with function, creating an environment that nourishes both body and soul.

It's amazing how many garden plants can provide both beauty and food. Beyond the expected food producing plants, there are all kinds of vines, shrubs and flowers that can be eaten, even certain day lilies. On the Edibles page of Calendula's amazing web site I counted well over one hundred choices. Many of these plants can be grown in containers on a patio or deck. Scott adds, "I like to see people get away from the grocery store mentality and discover the physical and psychological benefits of landscaping with edible plants."

The word is out: Calendula Nursery is unique! Masterful gardening knowledge, inspiration, art appreciation, and maybe a whole new philosophy for your life, are all offered for free, alongside the most impressive selection of healthy, vigorous plants anywhere. This is no chain store garden department. It's more like the biggest family reunion Mother Nature ever held, with every individual plant loved, appreciated and understood.

Like their plants, Scott and Jill each have their best spot in the the garden. Jill spends most of her time out on the grounds of the nursery, helping customers while caring for the plants she loves, and the details of their enterprise. Scott thrives on design and interaction, sharing his enthusiasm, opening up an interesting world for people and watching how they react. Both do a lot of hard physical work, but love it. Together they are the definition of synergy.

Customers are inspired by Scott's philosophy of landscaping. Before becoming a nurseryman Scott was, and still is, an artist, a sculptor. At some point in time he came to realize that he wanted to create sculpture on a very large scale. He starts with earth and rock, adds color and texture, fragrance, sounds (through water features and bird habitat) and with the addition of the experience of taste, through edibles, he involves all five of our senses. Looking at a landscape as a living, dynamic work of art, he also considers the colors of the changing seasons and the growth of the plants, how it will look five or ten years later.

In addition to ornamentals and edibles Calendula features herbs too, thereby offering plants for complete wellness of mind, body, and soul. Here are a few of Scott's favorite plant picks (in his own words):

Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)
– Evergreen groundcover. 12"-18" high. Sun to part shade. This plant makes an exceptional ground cover spreading by underground runners. It will carpet an area in the same manner as Kinikinnick, which is also edible, but Lingongerries are far more tasty! Pinkish white flowers in summer and early spring turn to bright red 1/4 inch tasty but tart fruit. Berries persist into winter and are best after a frost or two. Makes excellent sweetened preserves or tossed fresh into muffins and pancakes. These features are especially delightful as the fruit is typically available in the middle of winter when you least expect it! Lingonberries are rich in vitamin C and other anti-oxidants and the plant and it’s berries have been used as food and medicine for millennia throughout Europe and northern Asia from Scandinavia to Siberia.

Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa)
– An under-utilized shrub in the Northwest, Aronia varieties can range in size from 2 feet to 6 feet, produce tasty and very nutritious bluish-black berries, and look stunning in white spring flowers or in blazing autumn red and orange foliage. The berries have a high concentration of vitamin C and are very high in a class of molecules called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are found in most red, blue or black fruit and plant material and are showing through continuing research to be the most powerful anti-oxidants and to have effects on diseases such as cancers and diabetes. On top of all that, Aronia berries have a high amount of pectin. So much, in fact, that you can add Aronia juice instead of packaged pectin to gel your preserves! Easy to grow in full sun to light shade in virtually any soil, Aronias are also drought tolerant once established.

Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora)
- A pretty, medium sized shrub, Goumi grows to about 6 ft. high and wide. Fragrant creamy white flowers bloom in April and are followed by beautiful, flavorful fruit that resemble small pie cherries. Leaves are silvery underneath and both fruit and foliage are covered in silver and gold flecks. 'Sweet Scarlet' was selected in Kiev, Ukraine for its superior fruit - great for pies, preserves or fresh eating.

Goumi fruit is very high in vitamins A,C, and E, and has the complete range of fatty acids used by the human body, which is very unusual in fruits. It has also been used to treat intestinal and stomach illnesses and to improve circulation.

Sarcococca – One of the true delights for deep shade to part sun, Sarcococca, or, Sweetbox, is a 2-4 foot evergreen shrub with smallish, dark green lustrous leaves, and profuse small white flowers that appear in late winter to early spring. But wait, that’s not all! The flowers are intensely scented with an intoxicatingly sweet perfume that will yank you out of a late winter mope and put a smile on your face in an instant! Great for those deep, dark, difficult corners in your garden. Virtually maintenance-free.

Ajuga – Also called Bugleweed, Ajuga is the best of the best for that irritatingly difficult spot under a conifer or any other tricky spot. It grows just as well in shade or sun, acid to alkali soil, and produces gorgeous purple 6-10 inch flower spikes in spring. It spreads by runners above ground and forms a 2 inch thick evergreen mat that inhibits weeds and helps keep the soil below it moist. It plays well with other plants as it gradually covers an area. Ajuga’s foliage comes in various shades of green, green mottled with cream and lavender, bronze, and deep purple. It needs water until it’s established, but is self-sufficient after that.

Echinacea – Also called ‘Coneflower’, Echinacea has been a staple for gardeners, natural healers, herbalists, and indigenous cultures for millennia. As a garden plant, the only thing it requires once established is sun. It grows in virtually any soil, will take wet or drought conditions and reliably starts blooming in early to mid summer and keeps going throughout autumn. Varieties are available with flowers ranging from pink and purple to coral, reds, oranges, yellow and white. Height can range from 18 inches to 42 inches. The flowers are bold and bright and rest facing the sky atop sturdy, erect stems. Therapeutically, Echinacea is a tonic for the whole body, has been used for myriad circulatory, lymphatic, and respiratory conditions and is an incredibly effective detoxifier. It strengthens the immune system helping the body ward off seasonal illnesses such as colds and flu. North American native cultures used it to treat stings, bites, sores, wounds and burns as it possesses anti-bacterial qualities. Much more information about therapeutic uses of Echinacea can easily be found in bookstores and on the internet.

Be sure to look at the web site for Calendula Nursery, where of course you'll find directions and all the latest news. Right now they're featuring BERRIES of every kind! For an education in plants that ought to earn you a degree, just click on Outdoor Plants. That will take you to many more categories to choose from, such as Edibles. Enjoy a whole new world of gardening with Scott and Jill and Calendula Nursery!

Copyright 2008 Candace J. Brown

Friday, August 1, 2008

Save a life and enrich your own- ADOPT A GREYHOUND!

Meet Bella!

Plenty of ideas for blog posts swirl around in my head, but this morning I knew what the subject would be: an urgent matter! It's urgent because TOMORROW, Saturday Aug. 2, here in Tacoma you will have a chance to be introduced to the world's most beautiful, elegant and imperiled dogs, the breed called greyhounds. These are retired racers and the blunt truth is shocking to those who don't know. Despite the relentless efforts of thousands of volunteers from various dog rescue organizations, only HALF will be saved. That means HALF of these amazing animals WILL be put to death simply because they are no longer making money for humans! Every time I look into the loving brown eyes of my own greyhound, who was retired at less than two years old because of a pulled muscle, I think of that, and shudder.

During the Victorian era dog breeding became a popular hobby and many of the types we see today were developed in that time. The long flowing figure of the greyhound, however, is one you will recognize from museum pieces, pottery, and artwork. They appeared on coins as early as 500 B.C., but even more amazing is knowing that ancient cave paintings in France, from as long as 15,000 years ago, show greyhounds! If you are lucky enough to own one you'll understand why they have been inspiring reverence since the beginning of history. My husband and I do, because we have Bella. Before she changed our lives forever another greyhound owner said to us that living with a greyhound was "an incredible experience". I now know she was trying to put into words what is almost beyond description. This experience can be yours too.

This weekend at the Proctor Arts Fest street fair, in the Proctor District of Tacoma, the non-profit Greyhound Pets Inc. will have a booth, #506 in front of the Wag Pet Market at 2703 N. Proctor st. Volunteers will be there with dogs for you to meet, informative literature, and answers to all your questions about greyhound adoption. It was through this event two years ago that my husband and I took the first steps toward what turned out to be a life-changing experience: owning a greyhound.

If you live in Tacoma you may have seen our dog Bella even if you don't know us. You could have seen my husband walking her around the Proctor District where we do a lot of business and know a lot of people, or anywhere in Point Defiance Park, or in our "West End" neighborhood, or even at Lowe's where she's been known to shop. She's a regular at the Proctor Farmers' Market too. Bella has a whole network of "friends" all over Tacoma, who have their dog treats ready, just in case she comes for a visit. If you happen to be one of the hundreds of people who said to us "Is that a greyhound?" or "Wow, what a beautiful dog!" you'd remember how she was eager to meet you but wouldn't think of jumping on you or even barking. Bella's good manners charm everyone and we never miss an opportunity to tell people the story of how she nearly lost her life over a minor injury that was healed in a few weeks.

This sweet dog makes me smile everyday. Perhaps it sounds crazy, but a lot of greyhound owners swear the dogs understand that their lives have been saved, and feel eternally grateful. All they want is to please you, love you, and be part of the family. There attributes are too numerous to list, so I encourage you to read the information on the website of Greyhound Pets Inc., or better yet, get out to Proctor on Saturday and fall in love in person!

The booth will be open from 10 AM to 6 PM. We can't be there all day, but we'll be around, so if you recognize Bella from this photo please come up to us and say hello!
Thanks for reading my blog and do consider coming to this event.