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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The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum and other hidden treasures in Tacoma

Great planning from the Tacoma-born member of our hiking group! She made three trips to Tacoma to iron out details of the trip, arrange for tours, etc.,  a fabulous effort and a good example to us all. We started at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums across from Wright Park. None of us had ever heard of this treasure and treasury, nor did we know very much about private collections of historic documents. Our guide told us that David and Marsha Karpeles, who made a fortune in real estate, could have bought a baseball team–instead he buys documents. There are eleven Karpeles Museums in this country, all in smaller cities and situated in a historic building. The Tacoma building formerly housed an American Legion chapter. Now it holds glass cases where important documents are on display, some replicas but many originals. On the day we were there the room held papers from the Adams family (the presidential line, not Morticia’s). The documents circulate among the museums–every three months the display changes.

We crossed the street to the conservatory at the park, but it was closed. Then we started walking; we made a big circuit of a fascinating neighbohood of old houses, the Annie Wright School, and finally down a hill passing the old Stadium High Scholl to downtown where our Tacoma native had arranged for tours of  the Pantages and Rialto historic theatres. Both theatres have been saved and restored, and now are much used. Lunch followed at the interesting Marano Hotel, good food and great art glass. Then  uphill back to our cars and home. And did I mention that it was raining the whole time?

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Walking the Aurora Bridge, a new city park, and a great urban walk

Some weeks, it gets harder and harder to find a good hike for my weekly walking group. That’s especially true in the winter, when we do urban (urbane) walks. We try to find novelty, challenge, interesting scenery, and a good place to have lunch, all within a four to five mile itinerary which has good parking at the beginning and restrooms mid-way. We  have walked in almost every neighborhood in Seattle, visited many city parks, and walked  across all the major bridges. I didn’t have a lot of hope for something special last week, but to my surprise we found a park we had never even heard of (novelty), we walked across the George Washington Bridge, also known as the Aurora Bridge (more novelty, challenge, and interesting scenery), and we had a good lunch at Eltana bagels (new to many of us).

It started with lunch. I noticed that Eltana Wood-fired Bagels had opened a bakery on Stone Way N near 39th. I called (206 420 1293) to be sure they offered more than just bagels for lunch. Then I studied a map of the city–where can we walk four or five miles that could include Eltana?

We had walked the Aurora Bridge once before, from Fremont, north to south on the west side of the bridge. The little group I was walking with then were all women, the fast walkers who never stop to look at anything. I should have been with the slower group, the men following after us, who took their time to look out and down over the ship canal. This week, I decided, we would walk south to north on the east side of the bridge, and I would take time to admire the scenery.

So I created a plan. We left our cars at Gas Works Park, walking west. We crossed the Fremont Bridge and made our way to Westlake, dropping down to walk close to the water, the boat businesses, the house boats. Along the way, we paused to read the historic comments and checked out the houseboat of someone we knew (she wasn’t home). At Galer Street, we took the overpass to a large terrace outside an office building. The doors to the building were unlocked, so we went inside to visit the rest rooms, diagonally across the lobby. (I planned this stop–I knew about those rest rooms from past experience.) Back outside, we climbed more stairs to Dexter Avenue and started walking north. We planned to walk up 6th Avenue N, a diagonal street that runs from Dexter to Aurora Avenue; however, when we reached the intersection where 6th N runs into Dexter, we had a nice surprise!

The gravel pit that used to occupy the slope below Aurora is now an attractive open space, the Thomas C. Wales Memorial Park. We walked around the park, admiring the sculptural structures of rocks wrapped in steel baskets, and then proceeded up to Aurora Avenue and the George Washington Bridge. It was a beautiful day, sunny with hardly any wind. From the bridge we could look down on the house boats we had just seen from the road, the ships in the canal just below us, and the buildings and boats on the north shore. A special treat–out in the middle of Lake Union, a fire boat was spraying fountains of water in every direction.

Once off the bridge, we called Eltana to ask them to reserve six seats together and we proceeded to the bagel shop. A very simple but good lunch, and then we were back to our cars at Gas Works Park. Novelty, challenge, interesting scenery, and a good lunch. Great urban hike!

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Coming Home from a warm vacation–to a cold house and carbon monoxide

Our three weeks in Colombia and Ecuador were fun, sunny, educational, interesting. The fifteen hour flight home on Friday morning was uneventful. Then the adventure began. We unlocked the door to our cold, cold house and Don immediately went to the thermostat to re-start the two furnaces. Our house is very tall; one furnace, the one that heats the lower level where our kids had their bedrooms and baths, the level we hardly use anymore, that furnace turned on immediately. But the other furnace, the one that heats our bedroom and bath, our living room, dining room, and kitchen, the parts of the house that we actually live in, that furnace wouldn’t stay on. In fact, we got a burned smell, especially frightening because we can see from our house the shell of a house under construction that burned to the ground about two months ago.

Don called the company that had installed the furnaces six years ago, and they made some suggestions–flick the red switch, remove the filters, little things like that–and finally by mid-afternoon they agreed to send someone by seven. At eight, and repeatedly after that, we called again and again, to the company that had promised 24/7 service, but we received nothing but an answering machine.  Next morning, after more messages to their machine, we called a different company, and Paul came to the house.

It was now Saturday morning. I had unpacked all of my things, and I was in my study  trying to sort out the 500 plus emails that had arrived while I was away. I wearing my heaviest long underwear, down booties, and a down sweater. There was a different smell now, not burned exactly, but not pleasant. Paul came upstairs and said, “Open your window and got out of the house. Your furnace is putting out carbon monoxide.” (I know carbon monoxide is odorless–what I smelled was scorching furnace parts.)

We went out to the front porch. Paul explained about the workings of a furnace, the heat exchanger, control panel, all shot. The smoke alarm was sounding but none of our neighbors came to rescue us. Finally Paul said we could go back into the house and close all the windows, he made some phone calls, and said he’d come back Monday with some specific recommendations–to repair or replace. Now it’s Monday night, and he’s coming Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Don and I have moved down to the children’s level. Their furnace is working; the beds are comfortable. The shower is nice and hot. The porch that we enclosed, next to the kitchen, has electric baseboard heating, so that has become our sitting room. We have jackets at each level: as I sit in my study now on the living room level, I’m wearing my down sweater; in the kitchen, next to the porch, I wear a light fleece; downstairs in the kids’ level I am comfortable in long sleeves. I try not to go up to my bedroom and dressing room, except to collect a bundle of clothes to take down to my temporary rooms.

So now you know why I haven’t called anyone, haven’t returned any calls. Will keep you posted.

UPDATE  On Tuesday, Paul showed up with two other men from his company, and they began measuring our space for a new furnace. New furnace! The old one was only six years old. Don thought back to his training as a doctor and remembered: “Second opinion!” He called the company who had installed the furnace but failed to show up last Friday. “I’ll give you another chance,” he said. A service man came out immediately and told us an entirely different story. There was no carbon monoxide. The unpleasant odor was coming from the blower motor, which had burned out. The furnace was not producing carbon monoxide. He recommended replacing the blower motor, which he did next morning. We slept in our own bed that night. The first company has never contacted us again. We now have carbon monoxide monitors in three different places in our house.

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2012–The Year in Review and the Northern Lights

This year, my eightieth, could be a downer–the loss of many friends, arthritis (a real pain in the neck for most of the year), a cough that wouldn’t go away–but I choose not to go that way. Instead there is much to cheer. I’m almost eighty and I’m still doing the things I love, hiking, traveling, spending time with family and friends, doing my bit to repair the world. And I have checked off another item on my list of things I have wanted to do all my life–not a bucket list, I refuse to call it that–it’s my dream list. Last summer I saw the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, something I have dreamed about ever since I first heard of them.

Aurora Borealis, 2 a.m., August 18, Dawson City, Yukon

Here’s how it happened. In August we went on a Road Scholar trip to Alaska and the Yukon. (That was on another list, states I had not ever visited.) I had been researching the Aurora Borealis for a trip in the winter, looking at Alaska, Norway, Greenland, etc. At the hotel in Fairbanks, Alaska, I was talking to the desk clerk. I had learned that there are severe fogs in some winter months in Fairbanks, and I asked the clerk what would be the best time to return to see the Northern Lights. He said, “You don’t have to come back in the winter. The lights are there all year long, when conditions in the atmosphere are right, only you can’t see them when there’s too much daylight.” He continued, “They were visible just last night. If you like, I can leave a note for the night clerk to call your room if the lights are visible tonight.”

At 2 a.m., the call came. Don and I grabbed our glasses and put on our jackets over our pajamas. I didn’t even tie my shoes. We went out on the street, and there they were. They covered the whole sky from one horizon to the other like moving water, or the look of rain falling fall away. But these lights moved. Circles and lines. We walked down the middle of the street to a park we had seen earlier, where there was more darkness. For a while we just wandered around, looking at the sky. There was a great sense of  camaraderie among the few of us out on the street. Some were taking timed exposures of the sky, but we hadn’t thought to grab cameras.

Next morning we reported our adventure to our group, and that night, in Dawson City, a number of them were out on the street at 2. Don and I went out at midnight, too early, it turned out, so we missed a second chance. The picture was taken by out tour guide, Murray Lundberg.

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Deadhorse Canyon–Tell Yourself You’re in the Mountains

Walkie Talkies at Deadhorse Canyon

When the snow began to fall in the mountains and I grudgingly evolved from mountain hiker to city walker, I  tried to find a transitional hike for the Walkie-Talkies, my weekly hiking group, to make the switch to urban hiking easier. Deadhorse Canyon, part of Seattle’s Lakeridge Park, gives the illusion of walking through a forest with a stream, Taylor Creek. Our group met at another city park, Beer Shevah Park at S. Seward Park Road and S. Henderson St., but we could just as easily have added mileage by meeting at Seward Park. We walked south on Seward Park Road to 57th and crossed the street to turn onto Waters Ave. (I  chose Waters rather than the parallel Rainier Ave because Rainier is very busy and doesn’t have sidewalks.) We walked on Waters to Holyoke Way, a street with no sidewalks that runs sharply downhill.


Fallen leaves in Deadhorse Canyon

The entrance to Deadhorse Canyon is at the bottom of the hill. We walked through the canyon and out again, admiring the big old trees, listening to the little creek, pretending we were in the mountains. Then we walked a long block to Rainier Ave S to have lunch at Pulcinella Pizza. Great pizza, and as a special treat, because someone was having a birthday, we had a pizza blank topped with whipped cream and chocolate and caramel syrups. After lunch, we returned as we came to Beer Sheva Park. It is approximately 1.4 miles from Beer Shevah Park to the  canyon entrance, where the trail is 1.2 miles long, making it 3.8 before lunch, and 1.4 miles back to the  cars, 5.2 miles, a good city walk!

Look at the pictures! Can’t you imagine we’re high in the mountains?

Thank you Mike C for the great photos!






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