Adsense for search

Custom Search

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should auld acquaintance be forgot...

I always have mixed feelings when I go home to Vashon Island. They came to me again yesterday, as I waited in my car on the hill above the Point Defiance dock. It's only across the water, but the island I always think of floats somewhere out there, ghost-like, on the surreal seas of memory.

I felt cold sitting in the car without the heater going, at the end of December. Thinking warm thoughts of my childhood could quite compete with the winter day. And I felt sad too, knowing yet another member of one of the old families, like mine, had died, a family I care about left grieving. Like salmon swimming back to the stream where they first knew life, those of us who left the island return, to gather in memory of one of our own. It would be a day to say goodbye, and also say hello.

From my vantage point the view was all gray, the water and sky exactly the same color behind a veil of fog, the island's distant shore merely a darker band dividing them. I could barely see the white shape of the ferry boat across the span, heading my way. I looked around at the other cars and wondered how many held people I knew, taking a ferry ride for the same reason.

As it turned out, there were several, including an old friend of mine and her husband. Having arrived early, we ended up at a large table in a restaurant in the middle of the town of Vashon, joined by her siblings. It's called The Hardware Store now. I remembered when it really was a hardware store. I still pictured my father as we looked through packages of garden seeds. I missed the fishing tackle, tools, ladders, nails and rope. Instead, I saw a huge crowd of people I didn't know, on a Tuesday.

"So who ARE all these people?" I asked. The place was jammed and the traffic and parking mess outside amazed me. So many people, all with their own ideas about what the island is or should be. They are good people doing good things, but they can't possibly feel what we feel.

"Newcomers," my friend answered. Her family arrived in the 1890s and mine a decade before that. "You have to be here four or five generations to think of it like we do."

After the memorial service we visited with others at a reception. I was related to a good number of them through marriage and tied to many more through long family friendships and associations. "You look so much like your Mom," I heard again and again, or "How's your Dad doing?" or "Remember that time when..." From among the many who now populate the island, those of us in the ever-shrinking pool of people from the old days, seemed to feel some kind of unspoken comfort in the sight of each others' faces, the shared memories and experiences, and our love of the place.

Then it all broke up. The cars left the parking lot of a church my grandfather had helped to build. I had nothing more to do, nowhere to go, except "home" which is now Tacoma. Before long I found myself back in the car parked out on the end of the exposed ferry deck as we left the dock and darkness overtook the scene. We glided through inky liquid toward the distant lights of Point Defiance. It began to rain. The cold and damp slipped into my car like unbidden thoughts enter the mind and I cuddled under a little fleece throw to shield myself from them. As we neared the shore I felt glad to live in Tacoma, where I'm as enthusiastic about the place as those "strangers" on the island are about theirs. That's when I realized that to some people in this town, my five years of living here do nothing to change my status. No matter how much I contribute, praise, or love Tacoma, I'm a newcomer too.

To old-time Tacoma folks let me say this: I will do my best to be worthy, just like those unfamiliar folks on Vashon are. Things change.Time goes by. The old year ends and a new begins. Peace to all, and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pompoms, toothpicks, glue and memories

For maybe five minutes, I considered having no Christmas tree this year. Then I remembered the googly-eyed mouse and the shiny green thing. How could I ever have thought of leaving them carefully packed away when they've held places of honor on the tree for over 30 years, since my sons made them in grade school? I'm ashamed of myself.

I know plenty of people who don't bother with a tree. My sister in her condo, my cousin with all her cats, and others in our situation, knowing it will be a Christmas with no adult children or grandchildren around, don't bother. What's the point anyway? We're adults and Christmas is for kids. Isn't it?

Yes, it's for kids, and how well I remember. I remember the small hands reaching up into the fir boughs to hang these ornaments for the first time all those years ago, the giggles and excitement, the packages under the tree, and the cookies for Santa. I remember the indescribable love and tenderness I felt, seeing the soft nape of child's neck, the sparkle in their eyes, and holding them in my arms. My babies have grown up but I will hold them close in my memories and heart forever.

Now things have changed. Even my sons' ornaments, in spite my careful handling and storage, show their age. The googly-eyed mouse, with a paper cone hat, yarn tail and walnut shell nest, wasn't always this way. In the beginning his little pompom face clearly showed two black bead eyes and a nose. But then one of the beads fell off and now nobody can be sure which of the three features is missing. Does he have two eyes and no nose or one of each?

The shiny green thing, an original creation by my younger son, is a testament to the lasting power of Elmer's glue. Made of two layers of foil paper on a kite-like framework of toothpicks, delicate as a dragonfly wing, it still survives even though the edges have worn a bit. I keep it in a small box with cotton padding, like the treasured jewel it is. In addition to these, the collection includes an ice cream cone of construction paper and pompoms, a big one for the scoop of ice cream and a small, now drooping one, for the cherry on top. There's also a teddy bear holding a candy cane.

We'll probably have a quiet Christmas here in Tacoma. But no matter what, the googly-eyed mouse and the shiny green thing hang on my tree, and I promise to never, ever again even think of not having them there. When I hung them up this December, with my secret guilt, a tear in my eye, and love in my heart, I knew the truth. I need to see them each year, and I always will, because these are Christmas to me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Great Gifts Ideas You Might Not Think Of.

Predictability can be a good thing, like when you're making Mom's traditional recipes for Christmas cookies. But when it comes to gifts under the tree, if it looks like a shirt box, feels like a shirt box, and sounds like a shirt box, it's probably a shirt. Ditto for new slippers, CDs, and toiletries. Part of the joy of giving is the joy of surprising. Let's shake things up this year.

Refresh your gift-giving habits and delight recipients with these suggestions:

Go "green" and support local farmers.
"What can be a greener gift than supporting local farmers at a local farmers market?" Good question, posed by Holly Foster of Tacoma's Zestful Gardens. This WSDA certified organic farm owned and operated by Holly and her mother Valerie Forster, participates in 3 local farmers markets: Broadway, Proctor, & Steilacoom. "You can purchase Zestful Dollars (gift certificates) in $50. $100, & $300 amounts for your friends, family, or co-workers to spend throughout the Farmers Market Growing season at the Zestful Gardens' booth," Holly says. Email her at to purchase a "zestful & green" gift certificate. For more information about Zestful Gardens visit" Winter won't last forever, and your gift will give someone something to look forward to next spring. Other farmers offer gift certificates too.

For our neighbors to the north, Seattle Tilth is offering a "2 for 1" membership through the end of the month of December. Take advantage of this opportunity while you can, and also check out some other exciting gift ideas on their website, like the "Maritime Northwest Garden Guide planning calendar. Click here to learn more.

For bird lovers
, the "Bird Watching Answer Book" by Laura Erickson, Science Editor at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, makes a perfect small gift or stocking-stuffer for only $14.95. It is published by Storey Publishing and available through Amazon. Get answers to questions like these: Why is a cardinal attacking my windows? (p.87) Will birds explode if they eat rice thrown after a wedding? (p.17) How can I keep squirrels out of my bird feeders? (p.37) Do birds play? (p.268) Why don’t birds fall off branches as they sleep? (p. 305) Listen to the author talk about the book on this You Tube video.

Membership in your local Audubon Society will delight an individual or entire family with many opportunities for outings, education, and fun. It also includes a subscription to their magazine full of amazing photography and articles that captivate.

Speaking of memberships, don't forget about local Museums such as Seattle's Museum of Flight. They offer so many exhibits, lectures, and fun activities year 'round, I can't even list them all. Incidentally, my connections at the museum tell me SANTA will be arriving there by helicopter this Saturday, Dec. 12, with live reindeer on the scene too.

Tacoma's Washington State History Museum is one of my favorite places, but we also have the Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass and Children's Museum.

Then there are those one-of-a-kind gifts that can be priceless even when they cost next to nothing. If you're an older member of the family, write down your life story or special memories, bind simply, and give as gifts. Include copies of old photos. It's easy to go to the Kodak machine at places like Bartell Drugs and make them inexpensively.

Frame a child's drawing for grandparents. Give a little girl a treasure chest of costume jewelry you don't wear anymore, for playing "dress up." My sister-in-law gives her 94-year-old mother, who lives in an adult group home, boxes of all-occasion greeting cards, plus postage stamps. What a great idea. Consider tickets to an event. Do you have a family heirloom and know just who you'd like to have it someday? Why not give it to them NOW? If you knit and know someone who'd like to learn, give a skein of yarn, some knitting needles, and a "gift certificate" for lessons from you. This could apply to any skill. Just be sure to follow through. And those predictable old family recipes would be a great gift on a set of recipe cards or in a small binder.

Take joy in your giving. Think about avoiding waste. And remember that often the best gift of all is simply our TIME, LOVE, and ATTENTION.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Directions our Lives Take

This morning the radiance of sun almost seemed like an affront, considering the week's news. The murders of four innocent and honorable police officers sitting in a Lakewood, Washington coffee shop, 30,000 more soldiers heading to Afghanistan, and other stories, dominate our minds. In contrast, the morning's cold clarity, the stark bare trees, seemed like a metaphor for the realities of our world.

I am a student of history, a constant reader, one who ponders the endless quests, quarrels, and mistakes of mankind. Some days I question what it's all about and where it will end. And yet we persist in both our suffering and our joy.

I think about the choices we make, the split second decisions that spin the weather vanes of our lives around and change everything. Then there are the choices other people make that affect us too. The lives of the families of those police officers, the families of fallen soldiers, the families of people who in this same week might have learned of a terminal illness or lost their jobs, just changed forever. The words we speak, the phone calls made or never made, the decisions to drive down a certain highway or not, all alter our fate.

What a mystery life is, and how crazy our continued turmoil. We humans ravage the land and each other, and yet within each of us, even the most deranged and destructive, there must be, I would hope, some small spark of goodness and love, or at least once was. Who cannot, upon waking to a day like this, see the beauty of the world? Who has never held a small, trusting child, or petted a dog, or heard music that moved them to tears? But to learn that the family of a killer heard and failed to report his threats to kill, makes me wonder.

Yesterday afternoon, about 4:30, my phone rang. "I know this sounds silly," my friend Liz said, "but I was driving down the road and I just had to pull over and call you. It's the rising moon. Did you see it? It looked so huge and so beautiful it was just amazing. I know most people aren't even going to notice it, but I thought of your rainbow story and I knew you would."

I had to laugh. "I love this about you, Liz," I told her. "To think you knew I'd care about how the rising moon looked, just makes my day. And it's true: there are people like us, and then there are 'the others'."

Maybe we're both a little crazy, but even in the face of sadness and worry, I can't believe it is wrong to still be aware of the beauty around us. Even those who are gone, would wish us that. Take heart and persevere, in memory of them. There is still good in the world.

Thanks Liz.