Saturday, July 31, 2010

August !

Here it is August, the eighth month that was originally the sixth month til the Romans messed with the calendar. August, the month that's mostly about anticipation: when will the heat subside, when will the kids get back in the school, when will football reign, when will the yard quench its unsatiable thirst. August, the month that Chicago residents recently dubbed one of their least favorite, at the bottom of the list of faves, along with November. August, the month that one Slate columnist (David Plotz) proposed eliminating, citing its miserable heat, dismal history and inconsequence, saying it was like the Mississippi River, something we'd be better off without.

Not sure I agree with the August bashers. I like August. It's a trigger month for me. It always triggers in my mind the notion of corduroy, plush, mysterious corduroy. Look at it one way, it's deep-toned and a bit rough. Turn it around, it's sleek and lighter. I remember corduroy jumpers were part of our August world. These wonderfully versatile garments offered a way to expand a girl's wardrobe, with one swift switch. A white blouse under a black corduroy jumper, one with a rick-rack trimmed full-circle skirt, could launch the jumper to exquisite primness, while a tartan plaid top could rouse images of lockers, lunch bells, and eraser dust. These are August images. I gifted my daughter with this same seasonal fashion: her back-to-school wardrobe, stitched up in late summer, typically had at least one piece of lush, ribbed corduroy. Corduroy and August just go together in my mind, like root beer and vanilla ice cream.

Corduroy jumpers are not the only thing I like about August. The month also triggers the image of air shows, not performed by fighter jets, but by tiny, big-mouthed swallows. These diminutive aeronauts are amazing. My late husband and I used to plunk lawn chairs in the middle of our large back yard, then sit quite still as the air show launched. Rusty-breasted barn swallows would swoop, zip, dive, roll, and soar all around us, sweeping the evening sky for hapless insects, fanning their distinctive vees of tail. Our neighborhood, plush green from cheap irrigation water, lured mosquitos and they brought in the swallow squadrons. We were stunned, repeatedly shocked, that these jockeys didn't collide, with each other, with us, with the many trees and shrubs in our yard. We loved the exhilarating swallow air shows: a treat that came our way each August.

Another August treat drops off trees, pops out of freezers. I'm talking about the indescribable wonder of fresh, local peaches dressing up a dish of good vanilla ice cream. A dessert fiend I'm not, but in August, I'm on the prowl. Gimme the succulent fuzzy globe. I'll pit it, slice it, smother it with sweet vanilla chill. I'll make each serving a long, slow, meander along my taste buds. I'll sit, as I did last night, in the green chamber of backyard, bringing each spoonful deliberately to my mouth, letting the peach land first, crowned by the ice cream, then letting the blissful concoction melt, dissolve, find its way to my tummy. I'll wait a bit before taking on the next spoonful. Savor this blessing. Savor each bit of August.

August-bashers can attack the month, but I like it. I like the name, as it sounds dignified. My grandfather's first name was August; my father's middle name was August. It's a name I like. Detractors say that the month is flawed because there is no national holiday. But what about all the wonderful, if lesser known, celebrations in August? Here are some of my favorites, along with their celebration dates: National Ice Cream Sandwich Day (2nd); Wiggle Your Toes Day (6th); National Polka Festival!!!(9th); Middle Child Day (that's me) (12th); Bratwurst Festival (16th); National Spongecake Day (23rd); and World Sauntering Day (28th).

With all these things to celebrate, what's not to like about August?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Take It Outside

I went this week to an outdoor jazz concert with a stunning, sweet friend of mine. We lolled on rolling grass and sipped our way through the evening, encased in a summer eve's blue dome. Near the end of the concert, a plump moon lifted off from the hill behind us. Guess she wanted to see what was going on.

Outdoor concerts are my favorite. People just seem to be more attuned to relaxing and having fun. For most folks, weather conditions aren't a huge factor. Last year, my daughter and I danced to the Gypsy Kings in light rain...didn't matter. A few years earlier, she and I savored B B King playing at the same gorgeous location. It rained, soft brush of moisture, on us for most of the concert. B B King encouraged us to endure the wet, telling us that "pain is part of the blues."

This summer I get to go to at least three more outdoor shows: Pink Martini at the Portland zoo, Doobie Brothers at Edgefield, and Ozomatli near the Seattle Space Needle. This trio of outside shows is going wrap my musical summer up nicely.

I've been thinking about the pleasure of outdoor music and that led me elsewhere: to those activities that we typically do indoors, activities that take on special meaning when we do them outside. I recall the giddiness of sleeping out as a child, stuffing ourselves into our flannel sleeping bags in the back yard, trying to stay awake as long as possible, digging deeper into the cocoon as the temperatures dropped, then waking up cheerily with the sun. I recently posted about sleeping outside in my hammock: pure heaven. My wonderful grandnieces have been sleeping outside, with their folks, on a big trampoline. How fun is that!

Sleeping's not the only activity that's more fun outside than in. Dining, reading, knitting, chatting, playing games...they are all embellished on a stage of tree and sky. When my mom and I join my sis and her husband at a beautiful beach-side house in California, we set up jigsaw puzzles on the deck. Somehow the marine vista improves our puzzle-solving skills. Must say that knitting in my back yard, plunked in a gorgeous Adirondack chair my late husband made, feet perched on a stool, totally surrounded by green that's punctuated with white, magenta, deep violet, and baby pink blossoms, is one of my favorite things to do.

Yes, the outdoors is made for human activities. I'm wanting to expand my realm of fresh air things to include taking a shower. Several designs for an outdoor shower are floating through my imagination. My favorite so far is a wooden frame filled with river rock (for drainage)from which rises a tall pipe and shower head. Don't really want a "curtain," so will have to figure out how to provide needed privacy. Showering outside is a fabulous way to get clean. My late husband and I did that often, whether it was while backpacking, enjoying the incredible pleasure of warm water from our solar showers or while traveling in our truck and camper. He would turn the water heater on and, within an hour, find a perfect place for us to shower, using the external shower on the camper. My goodness, does showering outside at 9,000 feet, in the pines with no one within miles, feel fabulous! As does shampooing in high desert, with thousands of acres of stunningly stark vista as the backdrop!

Outside. I like the idea of taking it outside, no matter what the "it" is. I'll treasure these outdoor times and will reluctantly take my activities inside as the planet tilts toward the cold.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Things Left Behind

My cousins are cleaning house: the house their parents have lived in for decades. The task is daunting.

It makes me think of personal artifacts, of all the "essential" things we pull toward us and store attentively. Should archeologists profile us for feature stories in Intergalactic Geographic, what would they find? What "things" are we leaving for those who follow?

My cousin told me of finding sugar and creamer packets in her dad's travel bag. I found plastic toothpicks, scores of them, in my late husband's road case. I wondered "How many of these gadgets does a guy need?" and then sobbed. His office mates brought me seven boxes of his work possessions. One box was populated with ten years of biweekly pay stubs (that's 260 of them!) arranged, of course, chronologically. I was told that such an accummulation was common in the desks of that unit (left-brain scientist types).

My mom warns me of the impending chores we will have sorting through her belongings. I remind her that I may beat her to it, impudently causing her to go through my things! All the dolls, the pottery, the paper memorabilia, the other antiques, the fabric, and, oh yeah, the yarn! What, indeed, would archeologists make of the miles and miles and miles of spun fiber I have? Wool, alpaca, camel, linen, cotton, tencel, rayon, seaweed and even dog hair fibers are in my yarn stash. What does that all mean? And then there are the folds of fabric! Will future generations understand how darling that brown fake fur vest, lined with perfectly matched brown/black brocade would have been? To them, it may just look like some fuzzy and shiny brown stuff. And the beads! The tiny dogwood blossom necklace being made of freshwater pearls and delicate sable-colored seed beads, following directions in Japanese with (thank goodness) excellent diagrams; will it mean anything to anyone? Sea glass, shells, dried seed pods: these are all destined to be incredible artistic creations! Honestly!

The garage hosts even more artifacts, clutched close in a decade of prowling antique stores and shows, as well as flea markets and yard sales. Tools, dolls, books, pottery: will these priceless items land my estate administrator daughter on the Antiques Roadshow or the terrifying show about hoarders? And what about all the outdoor equipment that no longer gets outside the garage: the snowshoes, backpacks, skis, canoe paddles. What about those? And what about the books? Seinfeld said there's no reason to keep a book once you've read it. Wish I could be that way. I'd have thirteen fewer boxes in my garage. And what about the boxes labeled "Misc?" Scary, what could be in those. May be precious scrapbook spawn or incredibly insignificant brochures. A miasma. So hazy. I don't like thinking about this one bit.

The advice to simplify, to shed ourselves of possessions, is so sensible and so very difficult to follow. And yet, when I listen to my cousins, when I talk to my mom, when I look in my garage and my sewing room, I think that the counsel to rid ourselves of things is very wise. Not just so we can focus on what is truly important to us on this particular day, but so we can spare those who follow the gargantuan task of sorting through all the things left behind.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I'm a fabric fanatic. Give me yardage and I'll be happy. Love feeling high thread-count cotton, peering at intricate damask, feeling smooth ridges of twill, nuzzling the lambskin cuddle of wool, anticipating the regal primness of ironed linen. I really like turning strips of fabric into clothing, table ware, purses, curtains and toys. One of my favorite fabric constructs is the hammock I made last summer. It was an emergency. I was having an outdoor party and one of the planned lounging sites was a hammock, a wonderful green cotton hammock suspended from two thick wooden rods on a green metal frame. I had inherited it from my dad, who used it, on the rare occasions that he rested, on a deck in mountain pines.

Testing the hammock to make sure I had the tension set right, I ruined it. My frame split the canvas, worn by lots of summer sun, and rendered it useless. What was I to do?

Seeing a heroic moment in the making, I rushed to my favorite fabric store, Caledonia, and sought the assistance of one of its beautiful owners, Dorothy. She helped me find high quality, tightly woven cotton decorating fabric (Waverly, I think) in coordinating plaid and toile prints of forest green and ivory. Perfect! Dorothy gave me wizard's counsel: here's how to do this, and this, and this. And don't forget this. I rushed home, sewed it as she instructed, mounted it on the green metal frame and had a beautiful, handcrafted piece of furniture in my sweet summer yard. It was perfect!

I tested it out. It was ideal. I was set, not just for this party, but for lots of summer time. Since then, I've savored my shifts in the sling. I have grown to really appreciate those ingenious folks who first strung a swath of fabric from one outdoor point to another. Hammocks have been used in lots of settings, from lush jungle to varnished boat deck to palm-studded beach. They're very practical: protecting tropical snoozers from insects, reptiles, and disease; helping nautical dozers sleep in high seas; and enabling "light touch" campers to enjoy high mountain stays with minimal impact.

But the practicality of the hammock isn't why I like it so much. It's the view. When I'm in my hammock, I look up, up into the canopy. When I first got my dad's hammock, I tested it out under various trees in our big, riverside yard. Apple tree shade is different from walnut tree shade and those are both different from that spread by ponderosa pine, apricot tree, and aspen. My husband thought I was a bit crazy, dragging the hammock around from spot to spot, reclining for a bit, then moving it to new shade. I learned a lot about shade, discovering that my favorite shade was that of the apple tree.

Now I'm sheltered by a huge elm tree and that canopy is a universe in itself. A few days ago I watched a squirrel take a nap for nearly an hour, tucked in a crook of branch and trunk. I have traced the amazing stunt flights of house sparrows zipping through branches to land in the chickadee nesting box. I have chuckled at the gilded blitz of goldfinches, dining upside down on the thistle feeder. I have tracked delicate drifts of leaves as breezes meander through the yard.

One of my favorite hammock times is when the sun exits. Dusk is a lyrical hammock time, as birds finish their sonatas and the sky becomes a pale quilt appliqued with dark leaf shapes. Once the ink covers the sky, the hammock spot is even more enchanting. Through the canopy pop stars and planets and cloud drifts and planes. I slept in the hammock for part of the night this week, comforted by the golden retriever asleep right next to me. I was safe that night, protected from insects, reptiles, rough seas, and boredom. The sling in the yard suspended me above the mundane of everyday routine, a precious gift I'm going to enjoy often.