Saturday, August 6, 2016

Small Gardening: Just for Fun

When we  moved to a suburb in New York, we had a side yard we developed into a beautiful garden in which we  spent many long, happy hours working.  I wrote several blogs about the garden. Here is an example: Dressing Down to Dress Up

We have sold our big home with the garden and moved to a very enjoyable, easy to manage condominium.  In the process of moving, we no longer own land for outdoor gardening.

I am going to grow a garden anyway.

My inspiration to continue growing a garden without owning one, came from reading about people who took up gardening potholes!

I figure if somebody could successfully make a pothole into a garden, I ought to be able to find an plot of land for gardening in downtown Portland, Oregon.

I recently decided to adopt a four foot square area out in front of our condo that has a tree in the middle.  This small piece of land is right next to a main thoroughfare and cars often park next to it. Because nothing is on the land and it is shady, because people step on it, because dogs water the tree and wander freely across the dirt, plants haven't grown.

Here is my chosen plot of land.

You may ask, why would I choose such a spot for gardening?  Well, for starters, I figure I can't do much damage to this plot of land. And with a tiny bit of luck, perhaps I can do better.

It was already the end of the July when I decided I needed a garden which means that most of this year's growing season is over, not leaving a lot of planting time. Harvest is already upon us.

Therefore, I have dug up the area and have started planting perennials, hoping to establish a base of greenery that will root in this year, and expand and flower next year.

An amazing number of people have stopped to speak with me while I work on the garden.  Many offer words of encouragement, saying they enjoy seeing the little plot of land change its design as plants are added.

It is a perfect-sized project.  I have dug up the dirt, planted a variety of perennials and the biggest goal I have now is to keep the plants watered.  I might also drop some bulbs in for spring flowering. Toward winter  this little plot of land will be composted and I hope at least some of the newly planted perennials make it through the winter and show themselves next spring.

As of today, the outdoor square area looks like this.

Will it survive?  I hope so, but if not, then I can start all over again next spring.  If it does survive, I will add many flowers in the spring.

After all, the entire purpose of a garden is to have something to look forward to in the future, to care for something, and to see the cycle of life as it rotates through all its beauty.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Don't Drive, Ride a Bike!

We have no car on the mainland any more.
Life just got simpler
and we feel a whole lot better from the exercise.

Now that we live in a condo in a big city like Portland, the question keeps coming up.

Do we need to drive?  When we think about it, probably not.

We consider biking instead, or walking, depending on the distance we need to go.

We own bikes and are getting in the habit of using them for every day travel to nearby places.
Bikes are easy to use in a city like Portland, Oregon.

Portland and many other urban settings like New York City are planning to keep bikes as a major source of public transport. Entire lanes and off-road areas are dedicated for bikers, making it easier to avoid competition between bikes and cars and reducing potential, unnecessary, collisions.

We learn bike rules, however.  We are expected to know how to signal when changing lanes, where to position our bikes when we turn left or right at crossroads.  We stop at red lights and at stop signs.  We stop for pedestrians.

Roads here are designed and marked to clarify space between people who need to open their car doors and bikers who ride by on the road.  I still keep my eye on parked cars, just to be sure no one is about to open their door and get out.

Portland has entire bridges dedicated to pedestrians, bikers and rails.  Here is one we take almost every day, the Tililikum Bridge.  Walking, or riding the bike across this bridge is such a thrill and a bit of a challenge on the way up to the top.

Lines and signs clearly lay out where pedestrians and bikers are supposed to be, reducing the usual dance between them.

The views from the top of the bridge are spectacular as well and reward us for our work.  We often stop to admire the view and take a breather from the upward part of the bridge.  Although, going down on the other side gives us plenty of respite, as well.

The view

Top of the bridge

Not interested in owning a bike?  Then why not rent one?  Numerous cities are now experimenting with bike rentals and part of their public transport systems.

Here in Portland, they now have a program called Biketown that offers bike rentals on a daily, or annual basis.  I joined it recently and use it for getting around town and shopping, or going to appointments.  The bikes are ever so colorful and fun to ride.

But, remember, it is BYOH, or bring your own helmet.

Shopping at a nearby nursery.

Don't want to bike somewhere?  Are you thinking that it is too far to go on a bike?  Don't want to?  How about rent-a-car?

We figured out costs of renting or using short-term car rentals like Zipcar and there is no way we could make the costs of rentals for shopping and getting around town equal to the cost of owning one's own car in the city, paying for parking.

In our case, we have Zipcar right around the corner. Other companies also offer short-term rentals. I'll bet some people walk as far just to get to their garage as we do to get to a car rental.

In any case, life is but an adventure, and biking is certainly a lot of fun, and it is also a very practical way to get around town.

Try it!  You may get addicted to all that fresh air.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Art of Seeing

When first learning watercolor, I started by painting what I saw.  I now realize this process is teaching me to see things differently.

I paint landscapes in en plain air sessions where we stand for several hours painting a picture based on what we see around us.  The longer I look at the scenery, the more amazed I am at how much there is to comprehend. I  feel I need a simpler way to look at things.

The scenery changes before my eyes. Clouds, wind, light, texture, reflections shift continuously. Ocean waves appear and disappear, only lasting for a second, Lake waves lap quietly on the shore and then are no more. A dog runs in front of us, heading home. A bird flies by.

As I stand there taking in the scenery, my observations are also moving about, shifting and changing. What I see in the beginning is not what I see after spending an afternoon looking at it. My perception of what I see changes.

Colors and shading merge then disappear and reappear with new highlights Shapes erode into broad patterns of light and dark. I note new reflections bouncing off water and sky.

I move the horizon on my paper to consider how much of the universe I feel like including in my painting. Geometric patterns of buildings or objects are adjusted as I become increasingly aware of how angles, light and color affect my rendition of them.

The more I paint, the more I realize that I need more time to fully open up and visualize what I see. I need time to let the scenery seep into my mind and to learn to hold it as an impression. I need to recognize the myriad of patterns, colors and shapes shifting in front of me, offering various perspectives on how I might represent them, to reflect how I feel about seeing them.

While doing all this, I often come to some sense of how I want to paint my picture. Then, for several hours I am lost, completely lost in my painting. Time stops.

Seeking to better comprehend what happens in art, I attended some lectures given by Ruth Armitage at the Oregon Society of Artists. In her talks, she encourages us to look more deeply into ourselves for art inspiration and to also explore the work of other artists for ideas about techniques of expression.

At the same time, she encourages us to to express our own points of view more freely, without the preconceived notions and limitations of other's prescribed reality.

Under her tutelage, I am at first shy and can't figure out what to do with the canvas and my paint brush in order to express my supposed inner self artistically that I am still seeking to find. With time, I manage to begin to play with the lines and shapes, to magnify the colors, to soften the degree of detail that sometimes interrupt the painting's underlying thought. 

Ocean Holiday

We are learning the pleasure of experimenting with perspective.  This is just a beginning and I hope to continue exploring art this way.


Sargy Mann, a well known British artist who successfully painted even after becoming blind, spoke about the importance of perception in art.

He said, “I have come to the conclusion that drawing and painting could be almost like a sixth sense.” I believe the activity of art is a way of learning about this sixth sense.

Sargy Mann's last interview before he died in 2015 is  inspirational and provocative and is HERE for others to enjoy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

We'll All Become Stories

Picking up a Romance Writers Report dated May 2015, I scanned through and saw an announcement on page 15 listing romance writers who had died between March 2014 and March 2015 and it included on the list, Gwynne Forster.

She was Gwendolyn Johnson Acsadi, a demographer who was formerly a chief of section in the United Nations Population Division.

In the mid-1990's, we spoke when she retired from the United Nations.  At the time we were neighbors at Roosevelt Island, an island in the East River of New York City.

I asked, what were her plans?  

"This may surprise you, " she said, "I am learning to write romance novels, writing under the pen name of Gwynne Forster. I would appreciate it if you would keep this a secret because I am trying to keep my publications as a demographer and romance writer separate."  

Her decision to shift into such a different field intrigued me, and I could not help but follow her accomplishments over the years from successful demographer to accomplished writer of romance novels and  pioneer of African American romance fiction.  

She ended up merging these seemingly disparate experiences by using her research and demographic expertise to form stories. She took studies about birth and death, sex and reproduction, the consequences of unplanned pregnancies, issues of social class, economic poverty and brought them to life in the world of romance novels.  An illustrative example is shown here, in her book Fire Down Below.

At the bottom of the page of the Memoriam was a quote by Margaret Atwood saying,  "In the end, we'll all become stories."  

The question then becomes, who will write them?

In Gwen's case she delivered her stories to us in a well planned package.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Art of Knowing When to Hold and When to Fold

A friend of mine told me he asked his brother if he had prepared a will and his brother replied, "What do I need that for?  I'm not dead yet!"

Kenny Rogers, when he sang "The Gambler" sang "You've got to know when to hold'em,  know when to fold ''em and know when to walk away and know when to run," and this rings true not only for holding cards but also for furniture, clothing, old sports equipment and dishes, pots and pans and magazines.

A recent article by Elizabeth O'Brian called  The Power of Positive Purging Your Stuff says that "while a monetary gift is sure to please heirs, an overstuffed house presents a more complicated inheritance".   

Imagine inheriting a house with a sign placed over the door saying it is  The Museum of Things We Forgot to Throw Away Just In Case We Might Need Them In The Future.

We spend so much time and money on  expensive gift wrapping and bright ribbons to wrap gift items, but don't necessarily view our plans for inheritance in the same way and often leave it to be presented to the receiver unwrapped, or at least poorly wrapped in newspaper or heaped up in cardboard boxes and the like, complicated by weak instructions as to where all this stuff is supposed to go.

Giving someone a streamlined, well-prepared transfer of funds, furniture and funk, is not so hard.  It just takes a bit of energy and a slight change in perspective.

Not too long ago, I blogged an article on my own personal experience on becoming a minimalist and another on a strategy for getting rid of old things and another on simple steps toward  estate planning.
Yes, this did mean looking at the future and realizing I won't always be in it.  That is not the happiest thought, perhaps.

But it is also not very pleasant to look ahead and see piles and piles of items left in heaps for others to sort through, and to imagine already exhausted adult children,  holding down jobs and taking care of their own children, trying to straighten out the mess of unexplained transfers, while in bereavement.

Setting up a gift package is turning out to be a happy, enjoyable activity, freeing me up in the process to do some of the things I always wanted to do, since I am no longer holding down the fort on so many "no longer necessary" things.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Simplify Your Garden: Go Wild! Part 2

One of my readers asked to see how our cottage garden looks in the winter, so here it is.

The garden now looks like part of the woods.  It is tamped down and waiting for more snow and freezing cold.  We will do nothing more with it until we rake some of the leaves off in the spring for mixing in our composter.

I will photograph the garden again in the spring and add it to this site.

Just after I took this photo, Joseph shouted from the deck for me to turn around and look at the lake.  Much to my amazement, when I turned around I saw a pair of Bald Eagles flying by, looking so magnificent.  Sorry that I did not catch a photo of them, but I will remember this moment for a very long time.  In real life and at this close range, they look very regal.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Quiet Island Life

It is so pretty this time of year on South Abaco island. The greenery is lush, the weather is mild, the water is warm, the silence is enormous.  Our ears feel as though they might implode from the peace and quiet.

The front yard is green, lush and relaxed. Stillness prevails.

The beach has no one on it.