Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Girl Blew West Diary: Seattle, and Lessons from the Garden

Stopping by a post office, gardens even seemed to be finding me on postage stamps.
There's so many lessons to learn from the garden, and visitors to our garden. A card I came across said, "If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies." - Author Unknown. Change is part of life, so much of it scary when it involves the unknown. So much of it welcome, like the four seasons: winter (for slowing down and rest), spring (for new life and rebirth), summer (for her bountiful fruits and vegetables), autumn (for harvest time).

Our last leg of our Seattle journey, we stayed at Jodi's "Urban Farmlette," our favorite of our Airbnb.com stays. We had such a richer experience here than we would have if we stayed at a hotel.
She does it all: beekeeping, raising animals, cultivating flowers, fruits and vegetables, composting.

Lining up for worms in the compost pile.


If I ever travel to Austin, Texas, I would love to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Lady Bird Johnson used the word "joy" most often touring the gardens there. Steve and I signed up for a family membership at the New York Botanical Garden and other words I feel going there and spending time in gardens in general in addition to joy: awe, peace, happiness, and contentment.

I love this image from a Michael Pollan book and the saying, "A desk is not a table." I have been a repeat offender of this in my cubicle in New York City.
 Reflecting on her time as an exchange student in Paris, Jennifer L. Scott writes in her charming book: Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris. "Attitude is extremely important if you are to enjoy your food and nourish your body. Famille Chic had a very healthy and positive attitude toward food. In the morning, Madame Chic would eagerly ask me which of her homemade jams I would prefer, "Fraise? Ou marmalade d'orange?" In the evening we would sit together a la table, we would often discuss the merits of the food we were eating. Did you know this wine came from this region? The key to this sauce is the heavy cream! Or, the apricots on this tart are very succulent; yes, we must have this tart again soon...
In America, people would groan when a decadent meal is served before them. "This must have a lot of cream in it! I'll have to hit the gym tomorrow!" or "How many calories do you think this has?" During the dinners I had in France with different people (not just Famille Chic), I never heard any references to calorie counting or thighs expanding."
My personal theory is that if people should feel guilty, we should feel guilty about issues like the appalling inhumane factory farm conditions animals are raised in or all the pesticides on much of our foods before we worry about our vanity concerns like our thighs. But marketers have worked hard to instill those values. I'm far from perfect, an unachievable standard. I don't eat organic everything, or get my teas and coffee fair trade, and while I don't eat meat I have animal byproducts in my diet. It's not about perfection, it's about awareness and doing the best you can as often as possible.
Back to the Urban Farmlette. Jodi leaves hot cereal in a crockpot overnight, and there's coffee and a French press, teas and fruit in the fridge and some pantry items available.

 Our DYI breakfast of banana pancakes.

A wise magnet on Jodi's refrigerator. I'm not sure I understand the obsession on home improvement shows with stainless steel appliances, especially after learning many can't hold magnets. Our refrigerator is white and was given to us for free by a colleague who didn't need it. Anthology Professor Anthony Graesch says, "The refrigerator space communicates a lot about what is important to the family." What's on your refrigerator? We have a lot of magnets and cards with uplifting sayings, like Omar Khayyam's "Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life" and a Sierra Club sticker of founder John Muir that simply says, "Hike."

A raspberry colored reusable tote.  A hallmark of a foodie is they see food everywhere, even when discussing colors! Jodi is striving to live a plastic free lifestyle as much as possible and reduce her waste. Kudos, Jodi! This topic is near and dear to my heart too, and I wrote this post: Disposable Nation: A Cautionary Essay on Waste.

My favorite character in Willa Cather's 1913 novel, O Pioneers!, set in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century, is Ivar, seen as eccentric by many, but who embraced so much of the old ways, and had so much wisdom. I think of this passage when I see what people put on the curbside instead of bringing to a charity thrift shop, or how some treat our roads like personal landfills. "Ivar found contentment in the solitude he had sought out for himself. He disliked the litter of human dwellings: the broken food, the bits of broken china, the old wash-boilers and tea-kettles thrown into the sunflower patch. He preferred the cleanness and tidiness of the wild sod. He always said that the badgers had cleaner houses than people, and that when he took a housekeeper her name would be Mrs. Badger."

A New York Times article on the role of the First Lady in France talked about projects supported over the years by U.S. First Ladies. For Jacqueline Kennedy it was culture in form of music, photography, and the arts, showcasing American works and exposing people to foreign culture. Lady Bird Johnson beautified public spaces, including highways. Nancy Reagan fought against drug abuse and Barbara Bush aimed to eliminate illiteracy.

From this PBS page on Lady Bird Johnson, sharing her sentiments:

"Ugliness is so grim.  A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions."

"Getting on the subject of beautification is like picking up a tangled skein of wool," she wrote in her diary on January 27, 1965. "All the threads are interwoven -- recreation and pollution and mental health, and the crime rate, and rapid transit, and highway beautification, and the war on poverty, and parks -- national, state and local. It is hard to hitch the conversation into one straight line, because everything leads to something else."

Before we went out to dinner, I wanted to seek out the Secret Garden book shop, since I love visiting indie book stores. Which cover of The Secret Garden do you prefer? I love the older one on the right. My favorite garden book for children (and children at heart) is Julie Andrews Edwards' Mandy. It's just one of my favorite books, period.

Barbara Bush founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, whose vision is 100 percent literacy in America and helps families understand: "the child's first school is the home; the parent is the child's first teacher; the child's first subject is reading." Pay a visit to their inspirational Facebook page. Mrs. Bush says,

"The American Dream is about equal opportunity for everyone who works hard. If we don't give everyone the ability to simply read and write, then we aren't giving everyone an equal chance to succeed."

Wisdom to be found in Jodi's collection of books on farming.

We loved Jodi's recommendation for dinner: Local 360, where food comes from farms within a 360 mile radius. Farro, an ancient grain, with cheese and hazelnut pesto and a glass of rose. I haven't eaten beef, chicken or pork in over two decades and haven't missed it since. The garden's bounty is plentiful and satisfying.

Berry rhubarb bread pudding with strawberry ice cream and candied thyme.

Seed packets in Jodi's living room. I may have to steal this idea. Notes below from grateful guests. We should all have gratitude in our daily lives.

Renee's Garden seeds which all have a saying by Renee Shepherd. This one, "Flowers are treasures for the eye and heart." We handed out seed packets as a wedding favor for our intimate garden themed party. My mom planted hers, but I'm not sure if any of our guests did. I hope at least a few did. There's something about witnessing the elements transform seeds and the miracle of life itself.
One of my favorite initiatives of First Lady Michelle Obama is the garden she planted at the White House. During this extremely frigid January, spring is in my heart as I thumb through her book I picked up from the library, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. Seeds from Monticello were planted here. Thomas Jefferson asked his ambassadors to bring seeds back from other nations. I love the quote from him shared in this video, "the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another; and instead of one harvest, a continued one throughout the year."

The world learned this week of folk singer Pete Seeger's passing. He was a great champion of many causes, including fighting for our waterways. One of his songs I hold near and dear is "If I Had a Hammer," covered here by one of my favorites: Peter, Paul and Mary.

I love Mary Travers (and Peter and Paul of course), better role models than much of the pop culture fare today. Like the cook Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey, I don't feel like a futurist in many ways when viewing certain things (for her it was the introduction of electric devices into her kitchen). Looking at today's celebrities who dominate the headlines, I wish they'd issue a memo that transitioning from youth to adulthood has nothing to do with embarrassing rites of passage involving substance abuse or shedding your clothes, and everyone would have more class. Can anyone rely on talent anymore and not shock value? Shocking to me is how we treat our planet, animals, and our precious time here on Earth.
I think we all need to be hammers for change in our pockets of the world where we live. My blog is part of my hammer, and how I try to live my life.
I think of the First Ladies (all classy in my book for their initiatives) and the legacies they sought to leave for current and future generations. What do you want your legacy to be? I end my Washington state travel diary here, having felt a better person for the trip than if I hadn't taken it, for travel is not just about leisure time but about broadening my perspective and better figuring out my path. Even if it's armchair traveling through books, blogs, films or other means, let the adventure of this life continue, embracing each season in our own gardens to come.


  1. Catherine thank you for your wonderful Washington State travel diary - it's been almost like being there myself. Although I've read all your posts I haven't commented as I've limited my time on the computer recently.
    Couldn't agree more with your comments on Pete Seeger and Mary Travers (and I'll add my personal favourites Don McLean and Donovan)compared to the majority of today's celebrities.
    Looking forward to all your future thoughts and travels and keep hammering.

  2. Greetings Megan! Thanks for reading and the comment. Great acts! I'll add Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel too to my list. I love the original Pete Seeger "If I Had a Hammer" he co-wrote but included the Peter, Paul and Mary version since Mary Travers could teach today's starlets a thing or two about what it means to be a woman, and about true art and poetry. I don't associate "art" or "poetry" which much of what I see in the popular music industry today.

    Limiting time on the computer is a great thing, personally and professionally. I have been online less for a few reasons and feel better for it. Signing off to read a book.

    Thanks again!

  3. Oh, we are such kindred spirits. (I received your letter on Friday and wrote back today, shame the post isn't running again until Tuesday!) I adore these seed packet stamps to the point where I adore them 2 or 3 booklets at a time, so great is my fear that they'll be discontinued! From my spot on the couch I can see our refrigerator (also white), and the things on it make me smile. Mostly family photos, and some paintings of my daughter's, and a handwritten menu, and a little "Is it in season?" produce chart. I just read My Antonia and it was so wonderful. I must read O Pioneers! next. Thank you for the Jennifer Scott recommendation as well, I love that excerpt.

  4. Greetings Cate! So great to hear from you, and I promise my reply won't take nearly as long! Hurray for white refrigerators and the lives they document on them. And for simple pleasures like pretty postage stamps. I should read My Antonia next. I bought a copy when my coworker who introduced me to Willa Cather loaned me O Pioneers! I got Jennifer Scott's book from the library and I loved much of what she talks about: the enjoyment of food, reducing clutter (something I need to work on!), bettering oneself through arts, not having so much excessive, cheaply made clothes, etc. Here is her blog: http://dailyconnoisseur.blogspot.com/