Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When I'm 64

"Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four."
- The Beatles

When I first heard that song back in 1967, I had no idea how I would feel when I reached my 60s. In fact, I wasn't sure I would live that long. Don't ask me why. Mostly, I just couldn't imagine being that old.

Well, now I am in my 60s and I can tell you that is isn't all that bad. I have a driver's license and credit cards and I come and go as I please. I treasure my independence and if there's anything I can't imagine now, it is being anything other than that - happy, healthy and independent.

Perhaps my optimism about aging is fueled by the success of my hip resurfacing surgery 18 months ago. Prior to that, I was so crippled that I could not walk without a cane. The cane was my constant companion for over three years. It is just as well that I didn't realize how debilitated I really was before the surgery, because regaining my strength, balance and aerobic capacity has taken a long time. It is still, in fact, a work in progress.

But the key word here is "progress." I continue to get better. I laugh and tell people that I am aging in reverse, because that is how I feel. I am so much more mobile now than I was one, two, three, even six years ago. I have some occasional discomfort, but I no longer live in constant pain.

Another reason I have confidence about the future is because I was able to navigate those years of pain and uncertainty independently. Of course, I have a good network of friends and health care providers. But I lived alone throughout those years of severe disability. If I had to do it again, I know I could. I have no fear about the future.

This is a blessing, really. Some of my cohorts talk about being worried about what will happen to them when they get old. Some are convinced that they will develop any and all diseases that "run" in their families. Many are concerned about who will take care of them. This seems especially true of people who never had children. Even if they are married, they worry that without kids to look after them, they will have to suffer alone.

Which is a funny idea to me. What is this talk of having children to take care of us in our old age about? I realize that's what people not only expected, but needed, generations ago. Before nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and retirement communities, there weren't many options for older people.

But we live in a completely different era. We have many choices available to us. We don't have to live our parents' or grandparents' lives. We get to live our own, complete with innovative housing arrangements and health care options. We don't have to burden our children (I have three sons but neither asked for nor expected them to take care of me - the closest lives 2,000 miles away). Like every other phase of life we Baby Boomers have lived, we will transform what it is to be "old." And I, for one, am excited about the possibilities - at 64 and beyond.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Send in the Clowns

As many of you know, I live in a beach community in Seattle. It is an idyllic place to live, with a laid back pace, sweeping views of water and mountains, and miles of beach and park to stroll and explore. During the rainy season, we locals have the place to ourselves. But once the sun starts to shine, we get to share it with everybody else. Then the beach becomes a place for people to show up and show off. You can see almost anything, from skateboarding bulldogs to exotic cars. A few days ago, I saw this shrink-wrapped pickup and thought, "Aha - a preview of coming attractions."
When I got close to the truck, I saw that it was filled with styrofoam packing peanuts, with a sign on the back explaining the prank. Perhaps a commentary on the institution of marriage?
When I uploaded these photos to my computer, I thought about other amusing sights I've seen here in summers past. On this rainy afternoon, I thought I'd post a few of those images.
Alki Beach is home to volleyball tournaments in the summer. Apparently any clown can sign up.
The beach is a fine place to show off a new hairstyle.
And what better place could there be for a swimsuit shoot?
I can hardly wait to see the clowns that show up this year. (Cue Judy Collins, a Seattle native, by the way.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Few Favorite Plants

Spring in the Seattle area is a feast for the eyes. So many plants in bloom! And when one wave of blossoms fades, another begins. We've had over two months of color to enjoy so far this year and we still have the month of May to look forward to. Here are photos of a few of my many favorites at this time of year.
Akebia quinata is an exquisite vine that blooms in early spring. The flowers have a faint clove scent, which is easy to miss because the spring breezes tend to dilute the fragrance. This vine is light and doesn't need much structural support. I grow mine on a rose tower near my front door.
This shrub with its distinctive blue-purple flowers, a rare color in the landscape, is Ceanothus. Its common name is California wild lilac, because most species are native to that state. Only a few cultivars of this plant are hardy enough to survive winters in Seattle. I'm fairly sure this one is C. impressus, which is doing quite well in the park looking across Elliott Bay toward the Space Needle.
Hellebores add elegance to the garden from winter into spring. This one, the Corsican hellebore (C. argutifolius), blooms early spring. It holds its bloom a long time, unfazed by the pelting rains and strong winds we get with spring storms. I have one planted outside my living room window where I can enjoy it every time I look out.
Solomons Seal (Polygonatum odoratum) is an herbaceous perennial, meaning that it dies down in fall. After I've cut away the faded stems in fall, I forget there was ever a plant there. So when it rises up from the ground in early April, its arching stems going from zero to three feet in a matter of a few days, it always seems like a miracle to me.
And here are the flowers on one of our native trees, the vine maple (Acer circinatum). These flowers are  small and most people don't notice them, but they are lovely to observe opening up just as the leaves begin to emerge.

Now it's your turn. What are your favorites in spring?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

HONK! if you love music

Today is the last day of the 3rd annual HONK! Fest West, a three-day festival of street music featuring marching bands and lots of horns. Stage areas have been designated in the Junction business district in my neighborhood of West Seattle and one block of the main street has been closed off for the event.

It's a beautiful sunny day, perfect for getting outside, visiting the Farmer's Market and checking out the bands. There's over 20 of them here from all across the US and Canada.

Here's a "HONKer" now.

These folks call themselves the Bolting Brassicas (a name any vegetable gardener could love) and hail from British Columbia.

I wonder if this little guy, whose mom is in the Bolting Brassica band, is a Brussels sprout. Then again maybe not. They're from BC, not Belgium. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I nearly got run over by the Minor Mishap Marching Band as they charged out into the street to perform. Maybe that's how they got their name. This band is not the typical marching band I remember from high school!

They have a washboard player.

And a flag bearer with serious attitude.

I don't know the name of this band, but they put on a great show. 

I'm glad I had the opportunity to check this out  - HONK! Fest was a great way to spend some time outside today. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Keeping Daphne Happy

In Greek mythology, the maiden, Daphne, had herself transformed into a laurel tree to escape the amorous attentions of the god, Apollo. So if laurels were called daphnes, I could understand that. But they aren't. Laurels, members of the Lauraceae family, aren't even in the same family as the shrubs we call Daphnes, who are members of the Thymelaeaceae family.

About the only reasons I can think of that these shrubs were named for the lovely Daphne is because of their beauty and, above all, their fragrance. Winter Daphne, Daphne odora, fills the air in winter with it's intense perfume. Daphne x burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie,' shown above, blooms in my Seattle garden in April, filling the space with a subtler scent - one that I find a welcome companion while I am working outside. Daphnes tend to have an attractive form and require little pruning. Some cultivars have white or creamy margins on the leaves (see above) that give them visual interest even after the flowers have faded.

Although Daphnes are popular shrubs in the Northwest, they have a reputation for being fussy. They can be planted with all the loving care and attention you can muster, and yet fail to grow. They don't like soil that is too wet, but they don't like to dry out, either. They seem to be doing well, then suddenly, and without warning, die.

There is a trick, however, that you can use to increase the odds of your Daphne's survival. I've been using this trick with great success for almost 20 years. It is simply this, plant your Daphne near a concrete walkway or (better) throw a couple of pieces of concrete rubble into the planting hole. The reason this works is this. Our soils in the Northwest are acidic, perfect for acid lovers like rhododendrons, azaleas and blueberries. But plants, like Daphne, that prefer more alkaline soil, struggle. The lime contained in the concrete leaches into the soil a little bit each time it rains or when you water. That lime sweetens the soil around your Daphne slightly, making for a much happier plant. And when Daphne is happy, she brings beauty to your garden.