Wednesday, April 14, 2010


We just got home from a week in Caracau, a desert island in the Caribbean, due north of Venezuela. In my grade school geography class, it was referred to as one of the Dutch Antilles. Aruba, Bon Aire, and Caracau are popular vacation spots with Bon Aire and Caracau being the favorites for scuba divers, in large part because the many magnificent coral reefs are easily accessible from the shore. The water temperature was around 80 degrees and the ambient temperature ranged from 80 to 95 most days, with a constant and welcome breeze. The food was fine, the beer was cold and abundant and the locals were friendly and spoke English along with Dutch and several other indigenous dialects. It is the sort of place that most people in the Pacific Northwest long for about this time of year – an azure fantasy realized. In a word, “paradise.”

Except, not for me. I am one of those odd ducks who believes I have left paradise behind whenever I leave home. Like a low grade infection, I experience a little “heart sickness” whenever I am away. I know - it’s pathetic! My very favorite day of vacation is the day I pack my bag for the return trip. When the cold damp air hits me at SeaTac as I head across the sky bridge to the parking garage, I feel like doing cartwheels.

Even the unseasonably cold temperatures which had recently dumped snow in the foothills did not dampen my enthusiasm for being home. In the spring, part of the joy of being home is returning to my garden with its daily surprises and discoveries. It’s like being around a new born – you need to check on things every half hour or so, because something new is bound to appear.

In the week that I had been gone, the lilies of the valley had poked up through last fall’s layer of top dressing. There they stood stolidly at attention among the airy leaves of the native bleeding hearts. By today, the leaves have begun to unfold and the blossom buds have loosened. Trilliums have appeared that I had forgotten about. That is the great gift of the spring garden – many of my favorites that take center stage this time of year retreat into obscurity as the summer approaches. The fawn or trout lilies which were just beginning to show off their dappled foliage are now in full bloom. Their delicate yellow and white petals turn up at the ends like a bonnet, fondly reminiscent of the cheerful milkmaids that cavorted through my childhood picture books.

Home is my dog, Barley, who flies out of the chair that he is not supposed to be in, rushing the door to greet me, hedge hog in his mouth, diving back and forth between my legs in a full body wag. Home is the place where flannel sheets can feel good from Labor Day until the 4th of July. It is a fire in the woodstove, a fresh pot of tea and a mystery in my favorite chair – the one recently vacated by the dog! And, it is the sublime quiet that comes with living at the end of the road. A garden, a dog, and a fire – lucky me to live in paradise all year round with the opportunity to leave just often enough that I don’t take it for granted.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Remembering Heloise

I’ve always enjoyed the articles that appear in magazines and newspapers giving directions on how to do things: remove stains, get rid of quack grass, or extend the life of a favorite garment. As a child the magazines on the coffee table that I could chose from included Harpers, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Saturday Review along with The Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens. If I had been more precocious, I am sure I would have found something edifying and entertaining in Harpers, or The Atlantic Monthly, but since I wasn’t even a little bit precocious, I bypassed them in favor of The Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens.

Both of them had glossy colored pictures and not a whole lot of words. My favorite articles were the “Heloise” types, though from time to time I did take a peek at such things as “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” My comprehension of these articles was thin, to say the least. Practically speaking, every adult I knew was married and had kids so of course, they were happy? Besides, everyone knew that ‘happy’ was the provenance of children not adults.

I did know two women who weren’t married – the “Liere girls” –Gertrude and Dorothea, spinster sisters who lived together. One of them directed the choir at church and the other played the organ and with extreme patience gave piano lessons to many of the “church children,” me included. Though no one ever talked about it in my presence, I was certain I knew why they weren’t married. They were both tall and Dorothea was really tall. They were also thin and none of the married woman I knew were either, which settled the matter in my mind.

No, the articles that captivated me were not the relationship “self help” but the “how to do things” articles that regularly appeared in both publications. Even though I wasn’t really a budding chemist, cleaning formulas that called for mixing baking soda and white vinegar together were always hard to resist. After all, anything that fizzes is worth a try. I generally gave the articles explaining how to get aspic out of the mold without breaking it a wide berth; in or out of the mold, aspic was pretty low on my interest list. But, in nearly every edition, you could count on some formula for removing stains from something or other – grease from white linen table cloths, furniture polish from clothing, or rings in the tub.

I remember one occasion in particular where I was desperate to find out how to get white shoe polish out of the carpet. The rocking chair that I had strategically placed over the spot was a temporary fix at best; sooner or later, someone was bound to move it back to its usual position at the end of the sofa, letting the proverbial cat out of the bag. Once mother ferreted out the source of the stain, it was only a matter of time before the blame would land squarely on me as no one else in the household wore white shoes.

The propensity of pets to jump and bump is often boon to children looking to “share the blame” for mishaps of this nature. I suspect that I contemplated bringing Blondie, my energetic cocker spaniel, into the mix as something of a co-conspirator. Still, that wouldn’t have addressed the underlying issue that mother was certain to zero in on. “What on earth were you doing polishing your shoes in the living room on the carpet in the first place?”

Sorry to say that only the angst of this incident is still with me. I no longer remember whether or not I was successful in removing the stain or what punishment, if any, was meted out. Clearly living as I did in one state of self induced emergency and crisis or another, did establish a lifelong affinity for Heloise and her ilk and the plethora of helpful hints they disburse.

It comes as no surprise then that my ears perked up recently when a friend suggested using Efferdent – the denture cleaner – for cleaning humming bird feeders. Anna's hummingbirds begin to show up around here as early as February so getting feeders filled and consequently keeping them clean is a regular task. In the past I have used bleach – name something I haven’t used bleach for often inappropriately– and then worried that I might not have rinsed it well enough and harm the birds as a consequence.

Efferdent seemed like a great idea; after all, if it can be used clean someone’s dentures which they put back into their mouth, then it certainly ought to be safe enough for the humming birds. I tried it and it works like a charm. Last week I attended a little birthday party for my 94 year old neighbor, who was given a beautiful colored glass humming bird feeder. My attempt to show off my Efferdent discovery fell flat when I learned that everyone else had been on to this trick for years and furthermore, one person said she also used denture cleaner on the toilet bowl! That did get my attention as I have been a regular user of bleach and Pine sol (not together) for years and was eager to try something a little less toxic.

From the toilet bowl, I moved on to my bone china tea cups. I am a self proclaimed tea snob – the preparation of the tea as well as the consumption. I have a nice collection of bone china mugs that I guard assiduously. They are kept in a cupboard separate from the morning coffee mugs and woe to the family member who inadvertently fills one with java! Nonetheless, my precious china mugs do get stained and look ugly and until I tried the denture cleanser, nothing cleaned them properly other than bleach.

So, that’s the Heloise report to date. I have a couple of other ideas I am working on for removing pitch from fingers and hard wood as well as stains in the carpet – not shoe polish this time, but sick pet. Once the techniques I am working with have been thoroughly tested, I will pass them on. In the meantime, I intend to stock up on Efferdent and hope that it doesn’t become a sought after ingredient for some illegal drug cooking operation so I have to ask for it like Sudafed. I wouldn’t want the word to get out that I no longer have my own teeth, tea stained though they may be!