rental backyard: winter hiatus (part 9)

rain gutter (December 12, 2015)

I figured I'd check in about our backyard project in case anyone is wondering, but I myself haven't been out in the backyard for a couple months. Who knows what could be happening back there? A family of raccoons could be serving dinners at the picnic table. Bigfoot might be lighting pine cones in the firepit. Squirrels could be having high-pitched dance parties under the string lights. I really don't know because it's too cold and wet to be outside for anything unnecessary like home improvement.

So we'll just have to wait for spring—though the weekend before Christmas, Jeff did drag this summer's $5 garage-sale potted pine tree into the house and turned it into a Christmas tree. Now it's my turn to de-Cinderella the tree, put all the ornaments away, and make like it never happened.

side yard puddles (December 12, 2015)

We did pick up some huge concrete rounds off Craigslist from a nice man named Gary out past Oregon City, who dug them up from under his old deck. Our plan is to dig them in as stepping stones in the side yard and between the fence and deck, surrounding them with ground cover plants to sop up the mud. We still have another load to pick up when it dries out some, though I won't be holding my breath for the rain to stop anytime soon.

And to top off this cheery winter wonderland, Jeff accidentally pulled the side fence halfway down last week, finding the posts rotted out, so he's just given himself another project. Meanwhile, access to the backyard is even more sketchy than pictured and would require low bending, if not crawling. I'll be sitting inside next to my cat, with candles, planning my tiny house while dreaming of summer. . . .

Missed the earlier posts in the Rental Backyard series documenting our backyard fix-up? Check out . . .

Part 1: The Tangled Mess
Part 2: Down to Dirt
Part 3: New Old Deck
Part 4: The Old Fence
Part 5: The New Fence
Part 6: Clean Slate
Part 7: Discount Plantings
Part 8: Temporary Fire Pit


Altamont, Oregon (hometown Christmas)

snowy Hogsback Mountain

My smartphone says I'm in Altamont, Oregon, which isn't, to me, a place at all but a street, as well as the name of my mother's junior high school. Per Google, Altamont is an unincorporated community and census-designated place; I had to double-check that fact with my step-father because nobody ever bothered to mention it when I was young: we all lived in Klamath Falls, city limits or not. In any case, I've been in my hometown for a few days.

The sky on Christmas was big and deep blue, something I miss, living now in the perpetual gray of Portland. Here, the sun shines—or at least used to shine, pre-global warming effects—300 days a year.

handmade fence

snowy Klamath Basin hills
The Christmas snow that once was standard when my grandmother, my mother, and we kids were growing up is temporarily back this year, so the dry, tree-spotted basin hills are blanketed in white. Six feet of snow sits at the top of the pass between Medford and Klamath. Crater Lake is closed, the lodge snowbound. It's in the teens outside.

icy downspout

When I suggested playing outside, my gun-toting youngest brother said snowshoeing is like running up the steepest hill you can find, cross-country skiing is hard on the knees, and sledding requires a sled. My family has never much liked exercise; mostly we just sit and eat and watch movies or play board games.

Jasper kitty

On Christmas Day, my other brother and his girlfriend brought their new kitten, which I had to beg to be let in the house since some were allergic. I handed my sneezing youngest brother a Benadryl. Families focus on the antics of children, but having none of those around, pets will do. We wore the kitten out with a laser pointer, tangling him up in wrapping string. My baby-loving sister was off in the Tetons, having rented a little cabin by herself; she texted that she was having a grand time solo. There has been too much TV and sugar, too little exercise and conversation, as usual.

I'm going to soak in a bath of Epsom salt while they're off at church today. A wide rectangle of skin on my back is peeling and stinging from radiation burn. Seven more treatments to go and I will have "beaten cancer," at least for now, for which I am so, so grateful, despite missing one breast and both ovaries. I am greeting the sun of my childhood in a new way this Christmas.


giving thanks

homemade cranberry sauce

This midday I am cooking in my new secondhand Japanese denim apron ($4, Goodwill), sharing the kitchen with my typically non-kitchen-sharing roommate, him making the meaty things and me focusing on the roasted vegetable dishes and a pot of orange-cranberry sauce. The cranberries are local and the butternut squash (not pictured) used in a gratin was grown in my step-father's greenhouse in my southern Oregon hometown.

I am thankful this year just to be alive, cancer-free,
that I've been healing quickly from my most recent surgery, 
for good friends,
for my stubborn family,
for my pretty kitty,
for this blue sunny day to gather with friends and share a special meal,
. . . and for the whole morning working on my tiny house design.

(More on the tiny house planning soon.) Happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for reading. xo


ditching my down comforter

Caroline Z. Hurley "Jules" linen throw

Ever had night sweats? Try waking up drenched and chilled at the same time, having to change shirts and lay out a dry towel to sleep on. I had been plagued with them recently, probably because the doctors had started messing around with my hormones. My nurse practitioner suggested (among other things) that I try switching to lighter-weight bedding. So I did. And no more night sweats. What a difference one little change can make.

My mom had gifted me the white down quilt my second year of college and first year in a real apartment with roommates. The poor comforter got a corner scorched in a too-small dryer several years ago, though it didn't affect function. The thing kept me (overly) warm for 20-plus years, for which I feel grateful to—and rather guilty over—all those dead geese. But now it's time to pass it along to someone who doesn't create her own furnace while sleeping.

Blankets are more flexible. Compared to down duvets, blankets can better modulate seasonal room temperatures, with only light blankets or even a single sheet needed in hot weather versus piles of wool or other layers in cold weather. Blankets also tend to take up less space than giant down comforters, a definite benefit in smaller spaces with minimal storage.

geometric rug detail

thrifted rug

secondhand thrifted geometric rug

While I wouldn't turn down a new woven blanket, something maybe from Pendleton like this geometric cotton one or this classic wool striped camp blanket, I can't spare the funds right now. But thrifting good condition, attractive blankets in the right size without holes or stains is a challenge that can take months if not years.

So I pulled out my big basket of sheets, drapes, and blankets. I had a thin, gray, machine-washable quilted silk bedspread I'd been saving for house guests. I put that on the bed over the top sheet. But alone, it wouldn't be warm enough. At the bottom of the basket I found a blanket I'd almost forgotten about, a dark gray machine-washable tweedy wool. That went right on the bed. What I had left were two now-defunct comforter covers, both thrifted from Goodwill within the last few years. Those I layered with the white one on top, tucking everything in under my simple pine platform bed frame, and draping it all with my favorite Caroline Z. Hurley "Jules" linen throw.

secondhand geometric wool rug

I even pulled out a new-to-me soft, small geometric wool rug from William Temple House Thrift that I had machine-washed (with shampoo, only on the gentle wool setting and never in the dryer!) and which I've been debating about selling. Right now it's laid out all cozy over the foot of the bed. Buying quality bedding in complementary colors and patterns in natural fabrics that will wear well and last turns "making do" into homemaking—creating the kind of room you can't wait to come home to.

The funny thing is, I like the look of my bed better now than before. Instead of a fluffy, messy cloud, I have a tidier, slightly rumpled, blanketed expanse. And if in the dark depths of winter I'm still too cold, there are yet two striped cotton picnic blankets lying snug in the basket, waiting for summer.


rental backyard: temporary fire pit (part 8)

hand-me-down fire pit

One of Jeff's must-haves for the backyard was a fire pit. I have mixed feelings about them myself because of ending up smelling like campfire smoke each night, but I do love the warmth and aesthetics of a glowing fire on a chilly evening.

What we want is a modernist fire pit made from a washing-machine drum as concocted by a very clever DIY-er. (First we'll need to source a free broken-down washing machine on Craigslist and buy some black high-temperature spray paint.)

What we have for now is a rusty moon-and-stars-themed fire pit handed down by one of Jeff's home-owning friends. Jeff built a fire in it one night last weekend for the first time, after five straight hours of working together on the backyard. I took my laptop out there to the picnic table, feeding wood scraps to the fire and keeping an eye out for stray sparks, my back toasty warm, while Jeff was in the house making pizzas. Then we ate hot mushroom pizza by candlelight and firelight on our new hand-built deck, table, and benches.

It was the inaugural night of using the backyard for anything social. After dinner and my bedtime, he invited a couple friends over, and they stayed up talking by the fire into the wee hours. Soon, whenever we find pavers and can figure out how to hide all the cords needed back there for electric illumination, we'll have a party.

secondhand fire pit at night

(And so it should come as no surprise that he also wants to build himself a wood-fired pizza oven.)

Missed the earlier posts in the Rental Backyard series documenting our backyard fix-up? Check out . . .

Part 1: The Tangled Mess
Part 2: Down to Dirt
Part 3: New Old Deck
Part 4: The Old Fence
Part 5: The New Fence
Part 6: Clean Slate
Part 7: Discount Plantings


rental backyard: discount plantings (part 7)

repotted gift mums

Last weekend, after we had cleared out all that extra wood from the backyard, we finally had room to plant several items of flora collected for free or on the cheap over the last few months. Jeff's dad, who as a pensioned retiree drives truck part-time for a nursery owned by a family cousin, had donated several large bags of compost a while back. We would dig a hole large enough for whatever plant we were installing. Then in a large plastic planter we'd mix compost with the loosened soil in a 1:1 ratio, adding full-strength compost to the bottom of the hole, placing the plant in, filling in the remainder of the hole with composted soil, and then tamping everything down firmly and finally watering.

First we planted the potted lilac bush our former duplex neighbor had left behind. The lilac is a bit scraggly from being stuck in a pot for who knows how long on the shaded east side of the house but should do better now planted in our backyard corner between the neighbor's garage and the back fence. I doubt it will bloom next spring, but maybe it will surprise us. I love the scent of lilacs, and it was free, so it was worth the gamble, even though the bush without leaves will look like a bag of sticks.

hand-me-down lilac bush, planted

Next we planted the three ferns we'd bought from Fred Meyer in the discount garden section sometime in mid-summer. I suspect they'd gotten sunburned during the June heat wave. Kept in a cardboard box for months, they seem to be doing fine, if a bit pale, and will likely thrive in the deep shade of the mystery tree growing in the east corner of the backyard.

discount fern, planted

discount ferns and hostas planted behind skeleton vintage dining set

discount hosta, planted

Sadly, the four hostas we'd bought along with the ferns hadn't fared as well over the summer in the cardboard box. Their leaves had kept yellowing and going sickly. We're thinking only two of the plants will survive, though it might be just as well, since hostas like to spread out. They should have plenty of dappled shade under the mystery tree in the northeast corner. And if they don't live, we'll simply buy more ferns.

tattered English ivy survivors

To our surprise, the English ivy that had climbed the old fence has survived both deconstruction and construction. This is one hardy plant! Leaves now tattered, it may yet climb the new fence. In any case, I'm keeping it; ivy gets a bad invasive-plant rap here in the Pacific Northwest, but we're not living in the forest, and we could use some vertical plant growth here in the backyard.

The hardest placement to decide on was the hydrangea gifted to me by Jeff's mom during my September surgery. We weren't certain of the best planting location because hydrangeas need lots of room and light, neither of which the backyard has much of. But the front yard has even less space right now for plants, so into the backyard it went, right next to the new deck. I'd read that foil-wrapped hydrangeas, rather than nursery hydrangeas, are a planting risk regardless, having been greenhouse-grown and forced to bloom. So we'll see how it does.

gift hydrangea, planted

For a little more color back there, I also repotted a couple of gifted fall mums, though I'm not sure how they'll fare through winter. At least one of them was a deep burgundy originally, now faded to pink. Having almost no budget for landscaping requires creativity and flexibility. This is still early landscaping stages, but it's a start—and a cheap one at that.

repotted mums

As we head into the rainy season, the need to mulch around these new plantings for insulation and to limit weed growth and then place some kind of pavers for pathways becomes more urgent—before the backyard turns into a muddy mess.

Missed the earlier posts in the Rental Backyard series documenting our backyard fix-up? Check out . . .

Part 1: The Tangled Mess
Part 2: Down to Dirt
Part 3: New Old Deck
Part 4: The Old Fence
Part 5: The New Fence
Part 6: Clean Slate


rental backyard: clean slate (part 6)

backyard deck with potted discount foliage 

Jeff took a month's hiatus from working on the backyard to remodel his brother's bathroom and whatnot. But that project is (mostly) done now, so the last few days he has refocused on our yard. First he needed to finish the fence. Our side was already almost done, not including the gap between us and the duplex neighbor which still existed only because he'd committed to rebuilding the back part of their own falling-down fence and didn't want to have to walk all the way around.

Then when that was done, he walled in the divider and adjusted the fence hangers on our side, which were placed too far back (see here) because he was originally going to do a good-neighbor fence (even though I'd told him I hate that style of fence because of reduced privacy). So now the new fence is all done. He even shored up the old side-yard fence (not pictured), which was only starting to fall down.

completed backyard fence adjoining the neighbor's garage

Next we argued about what to do with all the extra wood he'd collected, including some shipping pallets and old fence panels being used as pallets holding his wood, still lined up along the fence. The new young neighbor couple took a few pallets and half the scrap-wood burn pile. Jeff then cut up and stacked neatly the rest of the scrap wood along the back of the house, using pallets as raised platforms for the burn pile and his three (!) grills (one not pictured). His old pale-green dirt bike changed places with his hippo-heavy meat smoker over at his mom's place, the smoker now sitting at the side of our house in the backyard, where at least it's mostly out of sight (see photo above). (He's never used the motorcycle once in the five years we've been friends and so should sell it, anyway. Right, Jeffrey?)

burn pile and grills on shipping pallets

potted pine, new fence, back neighbor's house

backyard pathway, cleared of stored wood

The rest of the reclaimed wood, leftover from building the deck and its huge table and benches, we carried, back and forth, trip after trip, from the backyard out to his trailer in the front yard, where it was dumped. The wood will be stored over at his mom's for future projects—along with the dirt bike—under a protected overhang.

What a difference it made getting that extra wood out of the backyard! The dirt was visible again, under a thin layer of pine needles fallen from the neighbor's huge tree where the raccoons live. Since then, we keep trawling Craigslist, searching for free pavers for the paths, cedar bark dust for soil cover, and more plants for landscaping—basically the outside equivalent of tile and carpet.

Missed the earlier posts in the Rental Backyard series documenting our backyard fix-up? Check out . . .

Part 1: The Tangled Mess
Part 2: Down to Dirt
Part 3: New Old Deck
Part 4: The Old Fence
Part 5: The New Fence


on 3-D mammograms

pink cosmos in canning jar

Okay, so my big news is that I don't have to have chemo after all, only a course of radiation and a lifetime of extreme hormone therapy, which in case anyone is wondering isn't for breast cancer patients about adding hormones but subtracting them because some of us have the kind of breast tumors that feed on estrogen and progesterone. Thank goodness for the latest European cancer studies wending their way across the Atlantic. So even though I don't carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, I'll still be having another surgery soon, a prophylactic laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, which means they'll be cutting out my ovaries and fallopian tubes. I never wanted children, anyway. Early sudden menopause, here I come. This may put me at other health risks, them cancelling out my body's hormones well ahead of time, but cancer is pretty much the biggest trump-risk of them all. The oncologist has also put me on a hormone blocker for extra protection, since the ovaries are the main but not the only producers of girly hormones. But why should random strangers happening upon the blog care about my cancer treatment saga, you might ask? Because no one would ever want to go through any of this, if it could be prevented.

So in light of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, for which I am personally right on time as a fresh "survivor," here's my big pitch: Get a 3-D mammogram every year, no excuses! Women who die of breast cancer are typically the ones who did not get regularly screened. And don't bother with the old 2-D ones. Tell any behind-the-times doctor or insurance company to stuff it and find a clinic, preferably a women's clinic, that offers 3-D mammograms as the standard breast diagnostic.

My younger sister, who lives in a small town in Idaho and who is now considered at heightened risk because she suddenly has a first-degree relation with breast cancer (i.e., me), had to spend a whole morning this week calling around her region trying to find some clinic offering 3-D mammograms. (Her doctor had already wanted her to have a baseline mammogram at age 37 this year, even prior to my own breast cancer diagnosis this summer.)

She finally happened upon a hospital in the Sun Valley resort area promoting their new 3-D mammogram system; insurance companies would be billed at the 2-D mammogram rate and then the hospital foundation would pay the difference between the 2-D and 3-D rates for the first 3,000 patients. Sadly, my sister will have a three-hour drive each way to and from her 3-D mammogram appointment, but at least she'll have it done. (Having the latest technology locally available is a huge benefit of living in a city compared to rural areas.)

Legacy Health 3-D mammogram promotional poster

Here in Portland, I consulted a billing specialist at the mammography center at my own hospital, Legacy Health, who suggested that women shop around for clinics who will split the difference like that. At my hospital, for example, the difference currently is only $82, well worth the extra cost for better screening technology. Mammograms may need to be followed up immediately, as in my case, with additional testing procedures like ultrasounds, biopsies, and MRIs, but mammograms are where diagnosis starts.

Please help spread the word. Breast cancer is increasing in younger women (below age 40), and one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Unfortunately, scientists can only list risk factors, still unable to explain what causes cancer—other than the general statement that environmental factors affect gene expression. So could the factors be excess stress or unresolved emotions? Is it a population increasingly delaying and reducing years of childbirth and breastfeeding? Might it be widened exposure to bovine growth hormones, hormones in certain birth control methods, or parabens or other estrogen-mimicking chemicals? Science may better piece together the cancer puzzle someday. Till then, all we have to hold onto are healthy diet, regular exercise, stress reduction, and early diagnostics.


Sauvie beach day

upside-down tree, Collins Beach, Sauvie Island

Sometimes an afternoon at a nudie beach is just what's needed. My friend M and I giggled at all the hairless, mostly retiree-age maleness parading back and forth along the beach, especially at the bald guy wearing only his Keens and his Bluetooth and even more so at a tall, well endowed youngish hunk who stopped to check his phone further down the beach, one leg perched high on a log, his back to us while we joked about Sasquatch having gotten a full-body wax job. (Hey, objectification should swing both ways.)

cloud face

Of the handful of women we saw on the beach, most were walking hand-in-hand with male partners, as if for protection, though two solo women stood out, one who looked quite high while frolicking with a long stick, drawing what turned out to be large, precise curlicues in the sand, and another slim woman with large breasts who was walking ankle-deep in the river, picking up shells and stones. A tanned Latino man with a rounded belly and even longer hair than mine told us she was out on the beach almost every day collecting objects with which to build small memorials along the beach—for her cats.

sun hat

Collins Beach pier, Sauvie Island

The sun high, I pulled up my top and showed my friend my new scars. This act sparked a conversation with a naked older man who approached us some minutes later, saying he'd seen my mastectomy scar and mentioning his niece's breast cancer and asking a few respectful questions about the reconstruction process, wishing me luck with chemo. Strangely enough, being at a nude beach with a bunch of old men made me feel even more accepting of my poor scarred body. We're all flawed people, clothed or not.

sand toes

M and I lay on blankets for hours talking, our toes digging down into the cool damp sand. Growing hotter, even under hats, we waded into the Columbia up to our waists, the water clear, the river bottom smooth and dotted with frond-waving plants, little fish darting around our legs. Back on the beach, I snapped a few photos of the sand and sky because I didn't want to forget.


homegrown horror

homegrown sunflower

I surfaced from a busy week to read details of the latest school shooting in Oregon—how embarrassing (and tragic and infuriating and all that). You can read my thoughts on gun control here and here. I'm too distracted with battling cancer at the moment to be saying much more on the topic of mass shootings.

But I was in a local sportsman's shop a few weekends ago while my friend Jeff was buying a seasonal fishing license. We were planning to spend a few hours out on the Willamette River in a borrowed boat, and I was just going along for the ride, a potential accessory to fish murder. Fortunately, nobody caught anything other than an old anchor. But even more impressive to me that day than the sunny, tree-lined river were the store's glass cases of handguns, racks of rifles, and boxes of ammo stacked up on the shelves opposite, the heads of diverse forest animals lining the walls, their black glass eyes blank. The store was an ode to death, and watching customers—mostly men—trying out guns looked more than a little like women shopping for handbags.

P.S. Now go watch Australian comic Jim Jefferies' standup routine on gun control from his 2014 Netflix special Bare, about the best argument I've seen against the American impulse for more guns.


September sunset

pink sunset, Gladstone (September 18, 2015)

Most days since getting the Fitbit Flex three weeks ago, I've managed to meet my 10,000 steps goal, which is between four-to-five miles of walking.* And this is even post-surgery, even when the nerves in my left upper arm are tingling and burning, when drain tubes dangle from my side, and when it feels like there's a large piece of cardboard sewn into my chest. Some days, like yesterday with its multiple appointments, just get too busy, but most days I try. It's about all I can do for exercise for at least another month, when I'm not supposed to be lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk.

Yet walking alone all the time on the same woodsy paths, the same suburban streets, without a conversational partner can get frankly boring, especially when one's mind is continually running along the lines of How the hell do I have cancer? I suppose I could start listening to podcasts or audiobooks, except that they would take up so much space on my phone and require forethought. Whenever my mother calls, I've learned, I should immediately lace up my tennis shoes and head outside . . . to multitask.

But a few days ago, out walking at dusk up and down the streets of Gladstone, waiting for the Fitbit to vibrate and let me head home, the sky glowed with a most beautiful pink sunset. I happened to be carrying my camera, though it took a couple blocks to find a shot that didn't include multiple strands of power lines. (Note that in civilized places like Europe and Japan, all the power lines are underground, a safer and more aesthetic place for them to be.) That same night, my friend Carol, who lives in Portland up on Mt. Tabor, happened to reply to an e-mail of mine, saying in conclusion, "The walk home was nice tonight. The sunset was fantastic." It was like that meme of two people far apart looking up at the same moon.

*Shopping Tip: Big-box stores like Target sometimes have policies that allow them to match Amazon's online pricing. It doesn't hurt to ask. I got over $20 off my Fitbit Flex this way from City Target. 


creepy Craigslist caller

for sale: black suede Vince Camuto boots

Yesterday evening, I got a phone call from a guy asking if the boots I had up on Craigslist (CL) were still available. He asked normal buyer questions, which meant he asked completely redundant questions whose answers were already given in the CL listing, if anyone cared to read closely. I just figured he was maybe calling for a shy girlfriend or spouse. (And, for the record, my feet are too small for a man to wear my shoes, unless maybe he were a midget or dwarf.)

Me: "Yes, they're available. Do you mean the black pair or the brown?"
Him: "Both. I didn't see the black ones. What kind of condition are they in?"
Me: [blah, blah, blah]
Him: "And what size are they?"
Me: [blah]
Him: "What's the price?"
Me: "I think it's [blah], but I'm not looking at the listing right now."
Him: "Why are you selling them?"
Me: "They're a little too high for me since I walk a lot. But I'm sure they would be comfortable for most people. I just have slightly flat feet."
Him: "I'm interested in the black ones. But . . . I want you to wear them one more time."
Me: [pause] "Is this some kind of weird foot-fetish thing?"
Him: "Yeah, I guess it is."
Me: "No, thanks. Bye-bye."

I hung up and immediately blocked his phone number. Ewww! Doesn't the guy realize he can buy used, variably smelly women's shoes on the cheap at any thrift store? Double ick. And it's not even Halloween yet.

for sale: camel suede Vince Camuto boots

What's the creepiest thing that's ever happened to you on Craigslist?


rental backyard: the new fence (part 5)

new fence & lilac bush

My roommate, Jeff, got most of the new backyard fence up last week, with help from friends and family. On different days, they tore down the old fence, dug out the old posts, dug new post holes, and set the new posts in concrete. Then he placed the brackets and support beams, finally putting up the new slats, with help from my handy step-father (who was in town for my surgery) to speed things along.

However, only half of the yard divider is up so far because Jeff will be redoing the equally falling-down fence on the opposite side of the duplex to match, once our busy landlord brings over another set of materials. And for that, Jeff wants easy access to the neighboring yard without having to walk all the way around the house.

new fence boards

new backyard fence

I would not have chosen these beveled slats (or whatever their official name is), preferring simple flat-top fence slats like our old ones, but then again, I'm not the property owner paying for the boards, so these will have to do. 

new backyard fence, almost finished

The brackets also should have been set farther forward on the posts than they were, so the posts didn't have a facing board standing out in 3-D from the rest of the slats, but then I wasn't the one doing the construction, and certain decisions were made without my input.

But at least we now have (most of) a sturdy backyard fence. The next step will be using, storing, or passing along Jeff's remaining collection of secondhand wood, including the leftover shipping pallets. Once he decides what to do with his woodpile, then we can put in a walkway (from secondhand pavers, bricks, urbanite?), as well as a narrow patio area for his smoker and three grills (!). And when that's done, then we can finally start planting along the fence—landscaping as decoration. But will there be room? Stay tuned.

Missed the earlier posts in the Rental Backyard series documenting our backyard fix-up? Check out . . .


the little things

trellised jasmine

It's the little things that sustain me through more bad news, things like the free jasmine plant adopted from the former neighbor that will hopefully flourish against the west-facing garage wall beside our mailbox, scenting the walkway next spring with small white flowers; or quick-sent e-mails or texts from friends checking in; or the potted jalapeƱos produced by Portland's early-summer heat waves, actual red peppers being a rare garden event in this temperate-rainforest clime; or savoring a nourishing meal of broccoli quiche and smoked tomato bisque soup with salad and buttered baguette that my friend Sarah dropped off so kindly over the weekend; or how much the flowers in the garden grown mostly from inexpensive seed color the yard yellow, purple, pink, and red; or the gifted hydrangea and lilac bushes waiting to be transplanted in the backyard; or the animal bones and river stones collected from the Willamette riverbank and the moss clumps and dried leaves picked up from the sidewalk, fallen off a tree, all displayed on the shelving outside the front door.

The natural world is terrifying in its indifference and magnificent in its beauty and power of transformation, the continual cycling of matter and energy through the eons that a single human consciousness can witness just once for a fraction of an instant in geologic time.

gathered river rocks

potted marigolds, hot peppers, & squash


thank you

sunflowers and snapdragons

With all the floral bouquets, our living room looks like somebody died. Fortunately, I didn't, making it through surgery, if a bit lighter in tissue and blood. And I'm already mostly off the narcotic and back to walking 10,000 steps a day per the Fitbit, so there's that, too, to be grateful for. I'll continue to keep fingers crossed during recovery as the official reports come in. My surgeon says to nourish myself in the meantime—a word whose etymology literally derives from suckling, the infant on its mother. Adults, once weaned off the mother, must learn to feed themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually, none of which is easy and all of which take time—even a lifetime, learning this lesson again and again.

ice bucket bouquet

yellow bouquet

purple hydrangea

Thank you to everyone sending good thoughts and well wishes across the airwaves, as well as those who came to the hospital (to see me green-tinged with radioactive dye and wearing a glowing heart-rate sensor on my index finger that looked like ET) or sent cards, meals, chocolate, or flowers. I am humbled by the love and care of those around me.

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