My Amaryllis, continued from February 2014

Yesterday my walking group visited the botany greenhouses at the University of Washington. We saw a very stinky plant, big and ugly, and full of flying insects that were attracted to the smell that we found repellant. To each his own, I guess. We saw other carnivorous plants, watched one of them devoured a little green worm, and proceeded  through wonder after wonder. Then, in the hallway between greenhouses, I saw–a gorgeous, tall, healthy flowering amaryllis, and I thought OMG (because there were lots of students about, and that’s how they speak), I have forgotten my amaryllis. Usually I bring them up out of the dark in early February. This year, because our fall and winter were so mild, I left them outside over long, until November 16. Then we had a spectacular accident. I was removing the tired bulbs to their basement resting place. I carried them, one by one, from the front porch to the dumb waiter in the living room. We live in a tall house. What my granddaughter calls our “mini elevator” allows us to carry big loads, like three or four armfuls of laundry at one time, through the five levels of our home. Granddaughter doesn’t think much of it. She said, “You’re the only people I ever heard of who have to have a mini-elevator to carry their laundry up and down. Most people carry it in their arms.”

Back to the accident. I had all six amaryllis plants in the dumb waiter car. They were at the living room level; I was in the basement, four floors below, the lowest level of the house. I was pulling on the ropes to bring the car down when the car stopped. I tugged on the ropes, and I heard a terrible noise. Fortunately I didn’t look up into the shaft to see what was happening, because the whole car came tumbling down. The bottom of the shaft was full of broken wood and amaryllis plants. Amazingly, only one pot, the smallest one, was broken. We were able to rescue five pots with bulbs and green leaves intact, carry them off to a dark corner of the basement, and forget about them. Until that visit to the greenhouses…

One big fat blossom coming up, and a new baby bulb on the side

One big fat blossom coming up, and a new baby bulb on the side

Healthy bulbs starting to turn green

Healthy bulbs starting to turn green

When I got home, I went to the basement to check on my amaryllis, the first time since the accident. They looked awful.  No one had come by for several months to trim away the green leaves as they faded. Now they lay limply over the edges of the pots. I cleared away the dead leaves from the bulbs and brought the pots up to the laundry room. I could see the tips of new growth coming up from the bulbs, but it was white, not green. Still, it’s easy to tell by the tips whether we will have leaves or flowers. Two of the bulbs showed fat tips, that will become flowers. I watered the bulbs and left them to enjoy the indirect light coming from a high window. Now they are beginning to turn green, and they have big, fat blossoms forming. They look very healthy. Stay tuned.

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My New Book

All writers of non-fiction have a fantasy that some day they will write a novel. I am no different, so I am very pleased to announce that I have just published my novel, Show Me Your Face (CreateSpace 2015). You can read all about it by clicking here, or go up to Goldie’s Books in the menu at the top of this page.

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A Great Site to Visit on Kaua’i—Makauwahi Cave Reserve

Entrance to the cave

Entrance to the cave–Photo by Erik Cords

We have visited the island of Kaua’i many times, without ever hearing that there was a prehistoric cave that attracted visitors and researchers from all over the world. According to the visitor’s handout, this cave “is itself a huge fossil, formed in the heart of an ancient sand dune that turned to stone over the ensuing 400,000 years. Groundwater etched away the limestone and dripping water mantled the walls with flowstone formations. About 7000 years ago the ceiling in the cave’s central room collapsed, leaving behind a freshwater lake in the midst of Hawaii’s largest limestone cave.”

The lake is gone now, but the walls of the cave still stand. If you have ever seen a sinkhole like the cenote in the Yucatan, or the Gouffre du Padirac in the Dordogne region of France, you can imagine this scene: you stand at the bottom of a great round abyss, rock walls going straight up, the sky high above. You can walk a trail that circles the top of the walls and look down into the cave, or you can find a narrow entrance, drop down on your hands and knees (mind your head), and crawl into the cave.

Last March we were on Kaua’i (that’s how it should be spelled) when we heard about the cave and that it was open on Sundays. We decided to visit the amazing site. It wasn’t easy. We left the pavement at the east end of Poipu Road and drove a long way over a deeply rutted dirt track, even longer because we missed an important turn and approached the grounds from a beach. The directions we had were vague. We left our car near a lot of other cars(!), followed a path through some greenery to reach a beach where lots of people were swimming and sunning. We walked along the sand to a stream, turned in-land to follow the stream to a bridge, crossed the bridge, and MADE A WRONG TURN! We should have turned right, which would have taken us to the entrance to the cave. Instead we went left, circled the high rim of the cave and crawled through the tunnel entrance just as the guide was closing up. We had time for just a short visit, to peek into the depths of the cave, and to buy a copy of Back to the Future in the Caves of Kaua’i by David A. Burney.

If you go, you will be better prepared than we were, because you have read my post, and now you know that you can go to:, for more information, or you can email to to get on a mailing list for info about the cave.

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Lake 22, Again

Lake 22, on the north flank of Mt. Pilchuk. Photos by Jon Ostrow

Lake 22, on the north flank of Mt. Pilchuk
Photos by Jon Ostrow

Lake 22 had been a family favorite for many, many years. This is the hike that the whole family loved, where we took out of town company and which we recommended to newbies looking for a starter hike. In the old days there were big bare spots on the lake shore, where we spread a tarp and shared lunch. We took off our shoes and waded into the cold water. Once we crashed through the under brush and circled the lake. When we crossed the rockfall at the far end of the lake, one of the most frightening experiences of our hiking days occurred: we were all crossing the rocks at our own pace. Don was ahead and higher up than the children and I were. He dislodged a rock and it began rolling down the slope, directly toward seven year old John. Don and I both yelled, but John was intent on picking his way across the rocks and didn’t hear us. We were horrified, too far from John to stop the rock and even if we had been next to him we probably couldn’t stop it. Suddenly the rock veered, and rolled in a different direction. Since then I never hear the words “Lake 22″ without remembering those awful moments.

However, that didn’t prevent us from returning. We just didn’t circle the lake anymore. Over the years, the lake shore was restored with native plants and a fine boardwalk

Walkie-Talkies pose on the bridge at the outlet of Lake 22. Photos by Jon Ostrow

Walkie-Talkies pose on the bridge at the outlet of Lake 22
Photos by Jon Ostrow

extends partly around the lake.

This is what I wrote in my journal last year, September 25,2013, when my Walkie-Talkie hiking group went up:

“We have done this hike many times before, with kids, before I started this journal. The hike is off of the mountain loop highway beyond Granite Falls. Lake 22 is at an elevation of 2400 feet on the north side of Mt. Pilchuck. The hike is 5.4 miles RT with a 1350 foot elevation gain. The parking lot has been greatly enlarged since the old days, and the walk was lots harder than it used to be, but the old trees, protected as a research area, are stunning. The trail was fine in places, but otherwise very rocky with water running through it. ”

On July 2, 2014 I found it even more difficult than a year before—the trees are still stunning, but the trail is quite rocky and water still runs through much of it. Don and I were the last hikers of our group to return to the parking lot. We rested often, both going up and going down. All along the way, we were passed by younger hikers. Sadly, I admit that this is probably the last time I will ever visit Lake 22.

Don and Goldie resting on the trail to Lake 2. Photos by Jon Ostrow

Don and Goldie resting on the trail to Lake 22
Photos by Jon Ostrow


(Someone following my blog wrote that I should provide more pictures. You have no idea of how computer illiterate I am. It is a triumph of my elder self that I was able to insert photos into this post–whoever that anonymous person is, thank you for pushing me to a new level of skill, and I hope you enjoy the photos.)  

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The Sequel to the Sequel (Hat)

A long time ago, May 31, 2010, in fact, I wrote a post about the Sequel hat, a hat I had worn and loved for many years. I was sad because this hat was wearing out, the foil on the crown was peeling off, and the manufacturer had retired and wasn’t making hats anymore. Then my dear friend Jacky made a replacement hat for me, attaching a bandana kerchief onto a baseball cap with Velcro-type hooks and loops fastening. This hat worked, but the kerchief, like the cotton scarf on the original hat, trapped warm air. That was  nice on a cold day but uncomfortable in sun.

The beloved old hat, soft scarf, foil crown

The beloved old Sequel hat, soft scarf, foil crown


New Hat, Bandanna Attached with Velcro

New Hat, Bandanna Attached with Velcro

Alas, an accident happened to the bandana hat. We had been hiking in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, where I had been feeling miserable, achy,  shaky, and uninterested in food (sure sign of illness). I had the hat when we drove to Grand Junction,  Colorado, to spend the night in a motel near the airport. When we got home, no hat, and I had pneumonia. I tried other hats, but they just didn’t work as well. Then this winter I found a new hat! The SUN DAY AFTERNOONS hat is even better, if you can believe it, than the Sequel hat. It’s made of very light weight polyester which is softer and cooler than Sequel’s scarf, and it drapes more fluidly than the bandana kerchief. Instead of the foil on the crown there are vents on either side to keep the top on my head cool, and the three piece scarf amply covers my neck. My hat was made in Vietnam. I have no idea of its US home. I found it at REI in Seattle, but you can find your own on their website

Scarf in Three Parts

Ample Protection on the Back of My Neck

Replacing the Sequel Hat

Notice how the scarf covers my neck front and back.

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My Amaryllis

My first amaryllis bulb was a Christmas gift, many, many years ago. In early spring I watched the flower stem creep up and then blossom into four beautiful red trumpets; after that the sword-shaped leaves began to rise, the flowers faded, and I cut back the

Two gorgeous blossoms on a single stem

Two gorgeous blossoms on a single stem

stem. All that summer I watered the leaves. In September I stopped watering; as the leaves dried up I removed them. In November I put the bulb in its pot down in a dark corner of my basement, where it continued to dry. Occasionally I removed another dried leaf, until all were gone. On the first of February, I brought the bulb, still in its pot, into the light and began to water it again. I was rewarded: first a flower stem, then big red flowers, then more sword-shaped leaves.

I am trying to remember when I received that first amaryllis bulb. Were we still in our old house? Then it was 1975, because that’s when we moved into this house. But maybe it was only twenty years ago, or twenty-five. Over the years, I have tried to repeat the steps of care, but the care has not been consistent. One year I forgot to bring the bulbs up until mid-March; when I went down to get them, I found pale green leaves, almost white, coming up. Some years there were no flowers at all; some years the flowers came up long after the leaves, in July or August. In an inconsistent way, I have sometimes removed the bulbs from their pots and re-potted them in fresh soil. I have come to the conclusion that it’s best to re-pot in summer, when blooming is over. When I tried to repot in early spring, no blooms at all.

Did you notice that I have been writing “bulbs”? After a few years of caring for my first bulb, it produced a second, a little bulb growing right next to the big one. When this happened, I  removed the bulb from the pot, very carefully separated the baby bulb, and My amaryllis today. Can you see the flower bulbs?DSCN1205re-potted both of them. That first “baby” survived. More babies followed. Sometimes I acquired a new plant, sometimes it didn’t work. I think the baby bulbs that failed were separated too soon. I now have five pots of amaryllis, all descendants of that first bulb, with two babies growing among them. One will be ready to separate after blooming is over; the other one will have to wait another year.

When I bring the bulbs up from the basement the first week of February, I keep them away from bright light until they have all sent something green into the world; then I put them in a south-facing window. Four of the bulbs have flower stems; two have two! I’m looking forward to six gorgeous blossoms. Only the smallest bulb has no blooms coming this year. Still I have hope for it–maybe next year. In late May or early June, I’ll take them all outside to a covered porch where they will get a few hours of sunshine every day. I’ll water them when I think of it, and feed them even less often.

For now, in a few days, they will look something like this photo from last year:DSCN0913 One plant, on the right, had four blossoms. The bulb on the left produced only two. You can also see blossoms in stages of opening in the middle. (I took these pictures myself, transferred them to my computer, and then inserted them into my blog. I’m not a techie, but I did all that! I’m very proud of myself.)

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Teeny Tiny Houses

I have always been fascinated by little houses. I mean, little bitty houses, teeny tiny houses, like doll houses and bird houses. That’s why I acquired my first doll house when I was almost 60 years old, after waiting so many years hoping someone would give me one.

Nina discovers Goldie's doll house

Nina discovers Goldie’s doll house

Mine was a kit from a catalog, an impulsive sale, and I was so excited when it arrived that I immediately began to put it together without reading the instructions first. So I skipped some important details, like priming, painting and papering the walls before building rooms. I started by installing the windows and then put the walls together, and yes, the eventual painting and wallpapering were much more difficult tasks than they should have been. But finally I had my doll house, and Don paid way too much for a Victorian family

The dollhouse family at tea in their dining room

The dollhouse family at tea in their dining room

of four–mommy, daddy, girl child, boy child–to live in it. Then my granddaughter Nina came over to see it, and it has been chaos ever since. Nina is not of the hands-off-in-admiration school of doll housing; she hands on plays with it. So now I find the bathroom fixtures all over the house, dinosaurs ensconced snugly in the living room, and the dollhouse family all losing their hair.

Then I discovered another kind of little bitty house. On an urban hike, just through my own neighborhood,  I found a tiny house full of books with a sign on it: “Take a book, leave a book.” I learned that it was part of the Little Free Library Movement,

The Izzo family's Little Free Library at 4742 48th Avenue NE

A Little Free Library in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood.

whose mission is to promote literacy and love of reading. I found another little library a few blocks away and a third near my son’s house in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. In Parade Magazine of November 17, 2013, I read this about Little Free Libraries  “The movement started in Hudson, Wis., where Todd Bol mounted a wooden box filled with books outside his home. Today there are more than 10,000 ‘little free libraries’ worldwide. To buy or build your own, go to”

You might think now that I am going to establish a little library in my own yard, but I already have a little bitty house there. On an Elderhostel trip to Thailand in 1997, I first learned about “Spirit Houses.” These tiny, very elaborate structures sit outside a house or business establishment to provide a home for evil spirits who might otherwise move into the  main building. Residents leave food, drinks and flowers to keep the spirits happy. I didn’t realize that I wanted a spirit house until after we came home, and I began to notice them outside of Thai restaurants. When our first OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) trip in 2006, to Vietnam,  offered a “pre-trip” to Bangkok, I decided to look for a spirit house of my own. In my journal of January 16, 2006, I described taking “a tuk-tuk to Silom Village, a real tourist event! Rows and rows of tables, all the tourists fed the same menu, beautifully presented in individual plates. Then after the show, we bought a spirit house.” The next day we re-wrapped the package so it was less bulky, and I shlepped that spirit house all over Vietnam and Cambodia until we finally got it home on February 3rd.

The sales person assured me that my spirit house would stand up to all kinds of weather. DSCN1203She had never lived in Seattle. After one winter, the composition material was beginning to deteriorate. We knew it wouldn’t last long. Don took the little house down to his workshop, took it apart, carefully saved the glittery decor on the outside, and copied the pieces in marine plywood. Then he glued it back together, coated it with waterproof paint, and glued all the glitter back in place. Back on its stand, it has a Krishna figure and a Ganesh, the elephant god, to protect it. Surrounding the house are figures that have been given to me or those found in tea boxes. I see it every time I come home to or leave my big house, and no evil spirits are living there.


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A Lesson from Gandalf

220px-The_Hobbit-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_25On Hallowe’en, the merchants on Queen Anne Avenue provide treats during the afternoon. The sidewalks are thronged with big and little costumed kids, parents and grandparents, many also in costumes. The crowds are especially heavy around the doorways where the really good stuff is handed out. My granddaughter Nina, 6, in a gorgeous jeweled dress from India, and I, with ears, a tail, and a face painted with a black nose and whiskers, had somehow moved ahead of her grandfather, parents and little brother. Battling the crowds had been hard work, and we were both tired, so we headed for some chairs in front of Starbucks and sat down to wait for the others.

A big boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, dressed like a very old man in a flowing white gown and long, scraggly gray hair and beard, came up. He planted his staff  right in front of us and said in an almost menacing voice, “Thou shalt not pass!”

I assumed he was a mean character who meant that we could not continue. Nina must have thought the same thing because she burst into tears. The boy left. Dad rushed up to comfort Nina, and Mom told us that the boy was not a mean person at all, he was Gandalf, the well known (but not by us) good magician from “Lord of the Ring.” In a famous scene, which I don’t remember at all, he had stopped an attack by some bad guys by planting his staff in front of them and declaring, “Thou shalt not pass!” These words have become famous–everyone knows them (except Nina and me).

When we were home again, Nina and I talked about the boy, how he had seemed to be a mean person when actually he was playing a good character. We talked about how sometimes we think a person isn’t nice or doesn’t like us, when actually he may be trying to play with us, to be our friend. We decided that if that happens again, we will be less quick to judge that person–maybe he is another Gandalf.


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The Check Is In The Mail–Or Is It?

My Mailbox with Flag Up-- Outgoing Mail Inside!

My Mailbox with Flag Up–
Outgoing Mail Inside!

I saw this on a poster in the post office this week: “the check is in the mail–or is it?” Then the poster continued to list all the ways out-going mail could be purloined (I love that word, it means “stolen”) from your mail box. I was intrigued because our mail box sits in the driveway right in front of our house, where it can’t be seen at all from inside the house.

There’s a reason for putting our mailbox where it is, out in the weather, instead of a few steps further onto the porch and closer to the front door. When our house was under construction, down a short stairway and set far back from the street (behind a garage and front porch), the letter carrier came by almost every day to walk through the shell of the house, chat with the workers, and check out the fantastic view. No problem then walking all that way. But when it was time to place the mailbox, he said there is a limit to the number of steps he is required to walk from the sidewalk to the box, and every stairstep  counts as two steps! We had a choice: cut a mail slot in the wall of the garage, or set the mailbox at the side of the driveway. That’s why our mailbox is so far from the front door, and that’s why we deal with outgoing mail by putting it in the box and putting up the flag.

Back to that poster: the check is in the mail. When we put the flag up to tell the letter carrier there is outgoing mail inside, we tell the whole world there is outgoing mail, envelopes that might contain checks, or documents that show credit card or bank numbers. And since we are almost last on the route, our letter carrier doesn’t come around until late afternoon, 4:30 or 5. Our mailbox has been advertising to the whole world all day long: “Come by, grab the envelopes, who knows what you’ll find?”

Traveling around town, I have seen other mailboxes, the kind that don’t have flags, with outgoing mail clipped to the front, waiting to be picked up–but by whom? What’s on your mailbox?

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Inside A Washington State Prison

Last week, Don and I were privileged to be invited to a dramatic performance called “To Destinations Unknown: Takin’ a Left Turn at Reality,”at MSU, the Minimum Security Unit of the Mens Correctional Complex at Monroe. The program,  a collection of poems and stories, was given for a group that the Seattle Times called “a very select audience, mostly other prisoners,” but also including a few supporters of Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio of Seattle. Freehold is known for holding classes that are like continuing education for working and wannabe actors, but they also sponsor the Engaged Theatre Program that brings theatre and acting opportunities to “culturally underserved populations,” like incarcerated men and women, youth in detention facilities, and kids in   in workshops for at-risk teens.

This was the third performance inside the walls for Don and me, but our first time at Monroe. Two times before this, we had attended shows at the Women’s Correctional Center at Purdy, which is where the program started in 2003. In some ways the experiences were alike: the inmates had been working for many months with teachers from Freehold to look inside themselves to write, and write some more, and then with the help of a dramatist to create a drama, to find themes, and then build a set or sets, and perform it. At Monroe, where the eight men had come up with 200 pages of writing, the theme was a bus ride, with a row of chairs behind a cardboard half-bus complete with wheels that could be spun. “You never know what’s gonna happen when you get on a bus,” they wrote in the paper program. “Maybe the route has changed OR you get off at the wrong stop OR you miss your stop OR you realize after a few miles that you got on the wrong bus OR you’re stuck next to a passenger who doesn’t realize how loud they are singing along to the music in their headphones…” And that’s how the performance opened. Quite a metaphor for incarcerated men.

As the men spoke out, sometimes reciting their own writings and sometimes their fellow’s, other themes became apparent. One man talked about going back to his wife and child; another told us his son had committed suicide. They spoke of wrong turns, regrets, plans to change, to be other people. When the play was over, each man in turn told us how important this program had been to him, how much he had learned and had changed. One man had been part of the program for four years, and now he encourages others to join. Then we were allowed to stand up and speak to the cast, shake hands (no hugging allowed), and ask questions. An older man told me he was in for second degree murder; he had killed his brother. The younger men had problems of the street, assault and drug dealing. They told us how nervous they had been before the performance, but they went off to the back of the room and did some of the exercises that their teachers had used to get them started in the program.

I was surprised to see how close we were allowed to come to the cast. In contrast to the very intimidating instructions that we had received in advance–no clothing that showed skin, no excessive perfume, no tight-fitting clothing, no scarves, etc., come only at the time to which you were assigned, stay with your group– the atmosphere in the room was quite relaxed, with an audience of prisoners seated just behind us, set off by a yellow tape. They were dismissed shortly after the performance, no conversation or hand shaking with them.

As I remember our visits to Purdy, the experience was much different. The women there had also participated in several months of writing with instructors and their performances also incorporated their output, but there the casts were much larger, the sets more elaborate, and the women more emotional at the end. Lots of tears–maybe that’s to be expected. The much larger audience consisted of family members and guests like us, no other inmates, and no women told us why they were inside. Probably because Monroe was a minimum security unit, the men nearing the end of their sentences, we didn’t see as much razor wire fencing as we saw in Purdy, where, after two years, I still have an impression of fencing inside of fencing inside of fencing.

And then each time, we guests went outside the gates, into our cars, and home. And where are all those people now? I hope, like me, they had a home and a life to go to.

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