A Pumpkin by any other name

this year’s porch booty, where the pumpkins, squash & gourds gather every fall!

Did you know pumpkins are squash? The word pumpkin does not actually describe a botanical distinction, it is a common name used for some squash. Generally, in the United States and a few other other countries, it is the name for round orange hybrids of the Cucurbita pepo squash species, the ones used for jack-o’lanterns. In Australia and New Zealand all winter squash varieties are called pumpkins. Commercially, most pumpkin pies and canned pumpkin pie fillings are made from other types of winter squash.

Mike’s jack-o’-lantern, face design by our friend Ke

Even more misleading, the tradition from Ireland of carving lanterns from vegetables, calling them jack-o’-lanterns, did not start with pumpkins, which were not grown in Ireland long ago, but were carved from turnips, or occasionally potatoes or beets. In America folks found the pumpkin, introduced to them by Native Americans, made bigger, brighter jack-o’-lanterns. And were a lot easier to carve than a turnip!

Since the word pumpkin comes from the Greek word pepon, meaning big melon, clearly the term pumpkin has a loose application and those round, orange winter squash have an identity crisis, which may be why so many jack-o’-lantrens look like they are in shock! 🎃

cheese pumpkin – which is a squash!

A very popular pie squash is called a cheese pumpkin, which is a type of moschata squash. We recently bought one, and though the folks at the farm where we bought it didn’t know the specific variety, it is definitely a type of cheese pumpkin, or squash. The name might come from the shape, similar to a cheese round, or from the “pumpkin cheese” early settlers in the US made with any pumpkin or squash that didn’t store well. If a squash showed signs of going bad they’d cook it down to what we would now call pumpkin butter as a way of preserving it.

Pumpkins/squash, have been around a long time, thought to have originate in ancient Central American. They’ve not only been around over 7,000 years, they’ve traveled around the globe. New varieties have come back to the Americas via the West Indies, England, France and other countries. There are hundreds of varieties, many developed in the United States. Varieties of the same species of squash easily cross-pollinate so when growing more than one type it is a good idea to grow varieties from different species.

We have pumpkin addiction issues in our house, and it’s not just me, I know when to stop, but Mike always thinks we should get more. He also campaigns for more gourds. I tell him we can at least eat the pumpkins, so I vote for more pumpkins. I adore gourds. The history of gourds, which are relatives to pumpkins and cucumbers, is older and more complex than that of the pumpkins/squash ancestry.  Some believe, from archival evidence, gourds may be the oldest cultivated plant, thought to have been introduced to the Americas from Asia 10,000 years ago.

Gourds have been used as food, vessels and utensils , musical instruments and in the creative arts for thousands of years. Early settlers found some Native American tribes used them to make bird houses to attract birds to control insect pests. There is something innately attractive about gourds, often very colorful and naturally decorated with designs and textures.  And the small ones are quite cute! The year we had three volunteer plants appear in our back yard, their long vines growing off into the woods, I felt rich with abundance as the harvest filled two baskets. Given their multiple uses and long association with people, it seems every household would do well to have a basket full!

Enjoy whatever you want to call your favorite colorful fall vegetable! But be warned, if you Google it you will find conflicting information on these ancient vegetables.

For example, Hubbard Squash, which for the obvious reason of it’s name, I’ve known about all my life, has a debatable lineage. What we called Hubbard squash growing up was a larger, darker green, squash than what most farmers grow, and markets sell, here in Washington, which is a small Hubbard variety called Blue Hubbard, a cross between Hubbard and another type. The origin of Hubbard squash is thought to be the James Gregory Seed Company. Mr Gregory brought it to the seed market from seeds given to him by his neighbor, Elizabeth Hubbard. But not all agree on where Gregory claims Mrs Hubbard got her seeds. Regardless of its origins, it is a flavorful, very popular squash served at many Thanksgiving feasts, and what a great name!

Happy Halloween!🎃

Past Halloween posts:

The Driver

Festivals and Fruit Crumble

What Scares You?


Some of the Pumpkin and Squash articles I read to compile this pumpkin biography.


Sleep, perchance to dream!

Over the years I’ve been asked by people what I do for sleeplessness, as I have lived with insomnia most of my life.  A recent request motivated me to write my thoughts and suggestions. Too long for a blog post, and knowing not everyone wants to read about insomnia, I made it a web page. If you are interested in my suggestions and some of what I’ve learned about sleep, you can read my article here:


Autumn is a time of transition, in Ayurveda it is the Vata season of the year, the elements of wind and ether are dominate. Insomnia is a Vata condition and often people find sleeplessness more common in Autumn, so perhaps it is a good time to write of this.

Happy Autumn Equinox!

Eclipse Ponderings

Like zillions of others fascinated by the current events of the cosmos, I’ve been reading about eclipses, not just the science of them, which is interesting but pretty straight forward, but also the many historic traditions, beliefs, fears, and attitudes regarding solar eclipses. Many articles make statements that go like this: “before astronomers were around to explain them……”, dismissing attitudes and traditions about eclipses that are not science based as invalid. My inner historian/anthropologist wannabe (I studied both in college) compels me to question this dismissal. I specifically became interested in India’s attitudes and history regarding eclipses when I heard that Dr Vasant Lad, the respected Ayurvedic doctor who introduced Ayurvedic healing traditions to the United States, recommended not looking at an eclipse, but using the duration of the eclipse as a meditative, reflective period of time.  Obviously everyone recommends not looking at an eclipse without eye protection or you can damage your eyes, but he meant more than that.

My curiosity was piqued.

Can stars be seen during an eclipse? Yes!  Larger stars and some planets, such as Venus, are visible, as well as the corona of the sun, which is only clearly seen during a solar eclipse.

There are references to 2600 BC as the time when astronomers in China and Babylon could predict eclipses. A research paper on eclipse records in India states there are references to eclipses in the Rig Veda, oldest known writings in India, dating between 1700 BC and 1400 BC. This makes me think some of the eclipse beliefs and traditions of India and other places are not based on fear of the unknown, but perhaps an understanding of the known, that is the impact an eclipse can have on life on the earth. Perhaps the recommendations found in several cultures to not look at an eclipse, to stay indoors, do not eat during an eclipse, to bath after an eclipse have to do with the best way to mitigate the impact of an eclipse.  A friend shared a research paper she found on a study done to see if microbes died during an eclipse. It’s a little weighty to read, but it seems the particular microbes studied actually proliferated during an eclipse. (Maybe a good reason to bath afterwards? Who knows!)

The ancient rishis of India were smart, much of what they wrote about health, etc. still holds true. (Consider that modern plastic surgery was ‘discovered’ after a German doctor read about a procedure in the Vedas for repairing a nose cut off in a battle.) I think some of their recommendations around eclipses being a time to be more interior, reflective, and to protect oneself from the ‘darkness’ may have been based on their observations. Those same recommendations can be found in other cultures, including many North American tribal traditions. (see article link below from Santa Fe, New Mexico.)

Another factor of eclipse ‘myths’ in any culture is that ancient stories of phenomena were (and still are) used metaphorically to teach certain moral or spiritual concepts. A phantasmagorical event, solar eclipses are a great focus for a good story and does not necessarily imply a lack of understanding.

Whether you will be able to see it, an eclipse is a period of time when the sun, the big light in our sky, will be darkened in the middle of the day. Both modern scientists and ancient wise men agree that birds, animals and plants (you’ll likely be busy looking at the eclipse, but you could also watch your light sensitive plants, the ones who move with the sun, or close at night) show signs of being affected by this day-into-night phenomena. Since we too are “animals” there is no doubt an impact on us. Mike and I will try to spend the eclipse period following the suggestions of the ancients – be quiet, meditative, reflective. But we have our eclipse glasses ready for our curious minds, should we have clear skies here in the Pacific Northwest! (Post script: We did!🌞)

Enjoy reading some of the articles  below about eclipse myths and ponder the meaning of those that aren’t too far fetched.  Maybe a wolf isn’t going to eat the sun, but they might be howling at the moon when it makes it’s appearance in tomorrow’s day time sky!

Interesting info on eclipses in different cultures and history:

How Ancient Cultures Explained Eclipses

The Surprising Ways Animals Respond to Eclipses
The Role Of Solar Eclipses In Religion (refers specifically to Judaism)

Short NPR Video on history of eclipse

Myths and superstitions around eclipses

Respect and reverence: Local tribes prepare members for eclipse

What can you see in the sky during an eclipse?

  • Banner photo from space.com, photo from 2016 eclipse

Carrying stories for others

I’ve never written or even talked much about my work life. Much of my work life involved the stories of other people’s lives. Recently somebody made a remark implying that since I never had children, I’d never had responsibilities for another person. I would never equate anything I’ve done to parenthood, and hold with great regard, awe and respect, my siblings and friends who are parents, a role like none other, with all that life can give in joys, stress, challenges, love, disappointments, and every other human emotion and experience. However, like many friends who never had children by choice, circumstances, or biology, I’ve had responsibilities in the lives of others in diverse ways, most recently in my mother’s life as she struggled with and declined from Alzheimer’s. Later reflection on the remark caused me to recall women I helped find safety from domestic abuse, children I reported concerns about because they showed clear signs of abuse or neglect. I thought of some of the people I worked with in my private practice, even students in classes I taught. Occasionally someone will come up to me and say how much a class they took helped them, telling me how. Most of all I thought of the people I worked with when working at Community Mental Health.  I was hired to set up community support for people who had psychiatric disabilities, people diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar. Though I was not responsible for their lives, I was an important relationship for them primarily because they often lived lonely lives and the time we spent together was the only time they talked to somebody who treated them with respect and appreciation, who knew they had an illness but also knew they were smart and had dreams and desires, like everyone.  Some of those relationships spanned nearly 10 years.

Some of the men were not much older or younger than myself, often I was the only woman in their age group who ever paid them any attention. Other clients, women younger, or older, or my same age, had no other women friends to chat about the things women chat about. It is out of respect I’ve never talked of these people, it is the code of ethics for a profession where people carry in their heads and hearts the stories of other people’s struggles, even after much time has passed. Some of the people I worked with have died and many years have passed, so with the same respect and compassion I’ve always had for people living with the struggles of mental illness, I tell the stories of a few. For me it is like opening a book I read once, yet never told anyone about.

Bi-weekly I visited a man living in a tiny single apartment behind a house his parents owned. No one lived in the house. He was overweight, rarely went out because he was uncomfortable doing so and very paranoid of people. He stayed at home with his cat in the cluttered, dark, shade drawn apartment. I’m allergic to cats. Walking into his home with the stench of body odor and a cat box rarely emptied, cat dander and thick dust everywhere, my nose ran and eyes itched immediately and for hours after I visited him. I had to wash all the clothes I wore that day. He was very smart. Astute about people, he talked about his large eccentric family. His parents owned several businesses but he lived only on the disability check he and most the people I saw received. Our visits consisted of me sitting in the only available chair opposite him in the lounge chair he pretty much lived in. He talked of his life and told stories and secrets from the past about family members. He would tell me the same stories, sometimes there would be new ones. He had an intuitive understanding of the nature of people and I often thought that perhaps, though he was the one with the mental illness, he might have been the only one in his eccentric family that truly was sane. He had diabetes and several years after I no longer worked in that job he died of complications from the diabetes. I drove by the apartment, closed up, and wondered what happened to his cat, and thought of all the stories that died with him.

Another man I saw also lived in a tiny apartment. He began to have a crush on me which I realized only after we stopped while on a drive (my job was often to get people out of their apartments for a change of scenery) and he asked if he could kiss me. It was a scary moment, we were standing on a bluff, he was taller and weighed much more than me. I said some form of no in the most diplomatic way I could to a person with severe paranoid schizophrenia. Most our visits were sitting in his apartment, me listening to many of his obsessive, paranoid thoughts. He eventually stalked and killed his father, who lived in another town. I realized later it was inappropriate for me to be asked to continue to work with him after the bluff incident, I was not following my intuition when I wanted to say I wouldn’t.

There were two older women I saw. Both were diagnosed with bipolar and each had been hospitalized many times throughout their lives for bizarre behavior. When I came into their lives age had mellowed them and the disease had loosened its grip, though its presence was still obvious. One once shined the copper bottoms of all her pots when the mania was coming on. I suggested she make a conscious effort to do so each time, then we’d both know that she might need help, the pots could be the conversation started. It became an endearing part of our relationship and her way of letting me know either she needed more help, or she’d had a bad spell but was ok. She had the best looking revere ware! I always wanted to bring her mine! She was bright, talked of many life stories and heart breaks and over time became fond of me and I of her. The other woman also talked of her past, her daughter, who she was beginning to have a better relationship with, and her paranoid thoughts about her neighbors in the apartment building. We went shopping together and ran errands, she loved going to thrift stores. Both these women have died, and though their lives were often hell, I believe they died in peace, a peace they came to during the time I knew them. They both talked of their deaths and enlisted my help making  prior arrangements, not morbidly, but matter-of-factly. Neither had a lot of control over many aspects of their lives, but they wanted to say how they would be treated when they died.

There was a young woman with schizophrenia I invited to attend an out-of-state conference for both professionals and people with psychiatric disabilities. My colleagues thought I was the crazy one traveling so far with her and staying in a motel for three nights. Her behavior was thought to be unpredictable. But what was the point of all I knew and believed if I attended this conference alone? It was an act of trust and bravery on both sides. I had confidence in her and our relationship and I believed my trusting her would help her to trust herself, in spite of thoughts she couldn’t control. We completely enjoyed each other’s company, driving north out of Salt Lake, where we flew to, doing a little sight-seeing before we went to the small town where the conference was held. I was so proud of her participation at the conference.  I helped this young women get an apartment and move from her parents house and over many years she asked me questions all young women want to know as they think of their future, of men, of how they look and the questions she had as she tried to navigate life with thoughts she didn’t understand and couldn’t trust. It was with heart ache we had to end the relationship when I left my job. She asked if we could be friends and I said yes, after a year and after she had another “case manager”. We did see each other several times a year later, but in spite of her illness, and because of her illness, she had the insight to say it was confusing for her to know what she could say to who, so we discontinued our visits. Many years later her father brought her to where I was working to see me, it was a sweet reunion, brief, but the affection we both felt was still evident. She thanked me again for all I did for her.

These are only a few the stories, a few of the people whose lives I hope I touched, at least for a moment, in a positive way, even the ones that had sad endings. There were the young people I arranged hospital or treatment stays for, or visited while in hospitals or treatment facilities to see if there was a place for them in the larger community. I could go on, but I will close the book in my heart where I continue to carry the stories of many people.

Rose Survivors

A little potted rose ‘rescued’ when my mom lived in a care facility. Gifted to her, these little roses would soon dry up and I’d take them home for life support!

Are there roses in your life?  There is scientific evidence that rose petals have healing properties and rose hips (fruit of the rose) are packed with vitamin C and other goodies. Rose flower essence is calming, uplifting and used especially for helping one through difficult times of trauma and depression. Perhaps this flower of love is needed in abundance in all our lives now more than ever!

June, National Rose month, celebrates this flower steeped in lore, legend, symbolism, healing properties and revered in every culture, past and present. Living in the woods with poor soil and lots of shade, growing roses like my mom did (see Mom’s Garden Love Affair) wasn’t something I aspired to do.  But roses came into my life, each with a story of survival and determination and each sweetens the June air with a different scent.  Some of them are subtle, others fill the air with a strong fragrance reminiscent of how I imagine the old rose gardens seen in paintings must have filled the air.

This little pink sweetie is the rose behind, or rather under, the Peace rose given to me 32 yrs. ago by a boy friend. Lovely gift, but tea roses aren’t happy in a woodland environment. It lasted 2-3 seasons (longer than the relationship lasted). After it died I waited. Shoots started to emerge. Eventually this root-stock rose, on which the Peace Rose was grafted, grew into a tall, gangly plant with clusters of little pink roses with floppy petals and a scent so strong – the scent of legends! After researching roses used as root stock, I determined it is rosa manettii. Developed in 1835, (100 years before the Peace) it is rare, used as an understock in 19th century, not so much now. It seems happy here in the woods and one of the few roses I’ve seen pollinators at .

Another surprise rose, this one came from an old farm I rented with a friend for a few years. Probably mowed along with the grass for years, maybe decades, the last mowing I did before moving from the farm I noticed what looked like a little rose sprout in the grass. Digging it up, it moved with me and for 40 years it has bloomed it’s heart out every June for 2 to 3 weeks, depending upon the weather. Though the bush gets big, the blooms are small with a classic rosy scent. It doesn’t tolerate high heat or heavy rains. I have three bushes and it seems like we’ve been together forever!

This soft pink rose grew next to my parent’s driveway in Seattle. At some point it was dug up and given to me. But that was not the end of the story. Though replaced by a winter blooming evergreen bush, the rose made it’s way back up through the bush. Years after Dad died, Mom, who loved roses and may not have been the one to instigate it’s demise, pointed it out to me with a bit of humor, like, “look at that it’s back!” The guy who cared for her yard as she got older again and again cut it down. The last time we took mom to her house, before it sold, on a cold rainy September day, as we got her in the car to leave I looked and there was one pink bloom, sticking out high above the evergreen bush. I could barely reach it. This June blooming rose showed up to say good-bye to the woman who loved roses and all flowers (she had many tea roses out in front of their house). It was magical. No words were spoken as I stood in the rain, picked it, and handed it to Mom.

This last of our old bush roses is another survivor, in fact a bit aggressive and we’ve had our own battles keeping it from growing into our raised beds, etc. I had been given two root starts of this old rose, and both were growing like ‘weeds’.  At one point we needed to remove one to take down an old fence it had consumed, making room for a Rhododendron to grow . We transplanted it but sadly, as vigorous as it was, it didn’t do well in a new location, only a few feet from where it thrived, and it died. Again, like the pink rose at my parents, it showed up after a few years in the same location it had been. We’ve surrender. When we are old (er) and the house is over run with blackberries, morning glory and other weeds, waving their flags of victory, at least every June there will be a rose in amongst the brambles!

Related Posts:

Learn how to make a rose hydrosol from wild roses: Loving the gone-wild ones

And how to make rose jam from rose hips come fall! Spring & Rosy Jam


A Plant Story – the plant in our family tree

Our family tree includes a plant.  Once lush with many shiny, leathery green leaves, my now straggly, not-so-attractive Hoya plant has a 3 generation history. It began as a cutting from a plant of my mom’s, her plant being a cutting from my paternal grandfather’s. Grandpa’s plant, of unknown origins and age, covered the entire ceiling of an enclosed back porch in the farm house where my dad and his siblings grew up. Mom’s plant moved east with us when I was 5, living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and eventually coming back to Washington with my parents.  At some point in my 20s I began my plant, now over 40 yrs. old. Not sure how long mom’s lived. Her’s began to have mealy bug problems in its/her later years, and though she still had a Hoya in her 90s, when she moved from her house, it may not have been her original.

My plant, though dropping lots of leaves, continues to bloom pale pink velvety stars, with centers of  red centered pale yellow stars.

The plant genus Hoya was named after Thomas Hoy, a respected plant biologist and propagator in England in the late 1700s, early 1800s. Hoyas grow in the wild throughout Asia, especially India, some species are also found in Australia. The soft velvety pale pink variety of our family plant is Hoya carnosa, and though it is sometimes called Wax Plant, I’ve never heard anyone in my family call it that. I would call it velvet plant, the pink stars so fuzzy you want to pet them, but if you do you will get sticky fingers from the sweet nectar, which is very tasty! Hoya carnosa is said to have been cultivated for 200 years. If I add up the age of my plant, my mom’s, and think of how long ago Grandpa started his, I estimate the Hubbard plant is from a very early cultivator!

Being a tropical vine, it is “natural” for the plant to get “viney”,  and perhaps drop lower leaves as it adds new growth. Over the years I’ve cut out old dead vines and it has responded by increased new leaves and blooms further up the vines. Not having a tropical forest to climb up through, its vines, trained back on themselves around a trellis, made a visual mass of evergreen leaves when it had more leaves. Hoyas are easy to grow, survivors of many conditions, not wanting too much water or attention, but often tricky to get to bloom. Someone once gave me a Hoya they had that never bloomed, I kept it for years but never could get it to bloom.  I was taught they must be root bound to bloom, perhaps blooming when stressed.  Mine has always bloomed, regardless of where it is located. I’m thinking of cutting my plant back, even re-potting it, which will mean no blooms for possibly years, but it has sent up a few new leaves from its base, a hopeful sign.

Aunt Jackie’s second generation Hoya growing in the same house Grandpa grew his. She has not let hers cover the ceiling however! (thank you Shaun Hubbard for the photo)

So what happened to Grandpa’s plant?  My cousin Shaun tells me when her parents, my Uncle Bruce and Aunt Jackie, who own the original farm house, moved the house in the 60s the plant went to a hair salon where my cousin Laurie was working at the time. Aunt Jackie took cuttings and when the old enclosed porch was remodeled into a room, Aunt Jackie’s second generation plant was reinstalled, where it continues to grow today.  Over 90 herself, Jackie continues to pass out cuttings from her second generation plant, as grandpa did with the original plant. There are no doubt extended family Hubbard Hoya plants in the homes of many family members and friends. (Any cousins reading this who have their own Hoya story, I’d love to hear it!)

When I do cut back my plant, I have someone in mind to pass a cutting on to, who I think will nurture the cutting into a fourth generation plant. And if my cutting doesn’t make it…..there’s always Aunt Jackie’s!

Walls, they hold the windows that let in light!

Humans have been either looking for walls, as in cave and cliff dwellings, or building them, for as long as we’ve had the need to define a space. Our primary reasons for walls are to feel safe, to secure people or property, and for protection from the elements, animals and other people. From small stone walls in gardens, to the walls of our dwellings, or the walls around towns and castles, walls define human life on the planet, and  most out-live the people who built them. There are famous and infamous walls.  The myriad reasons we build walls represent the complexities of human life.  We are not, however, the only ones who build them. Beavers, paper wasps, cathedral ants, and weaver birds are but a few of the other species who build walls, for many of the same reasons we do.

Though walls are an intricate part of our ability to live here on planet earth, should you look up the word wall on the Internet, many references imply walls are barriers to be overcome, they confine and imprison people and are negative barriers to our spiritual, emotional and social growth.  You will see quotes, from the likes of Socrates to Joseph Campbell referring to the “breaking down of walls”.  These metaphorical uses of the word give it a bad rap, as does the recent political rhetoric and reasons concerning the border wall.  Perhaps there needs to be more than one word for ‘wall’.

My musing about walls is due to recent consideration of the walls of our house. This week we’ve begun to paint the inside of our house. When you clear a space of all the clutter of living in it, what is left are the walls and ceilings.  Standing in our almost empty living room, though it is tiny, it’s slight echo gives me thought!

My parents emptied house, walls filled with 42 years of stories. I remember this moment, peaceful, serene (they had an extraordinary view of mountains and water) and eerie.

When you move from a dwelling you pretty much take everything except the walls – walls you adorned with pictures, maybe painted several times, walls that held you, your songs, your tears, your shouts, your music, your loved ones….your stories. Walls you stared at when life left you numb or overwhelmed. Walls that kept your secrets. They are both intimately connected to your life, yet they define, thus belong to the house, not you. I have not moved in four decades. My walls know me well!

The fresh paint was long overdue. Though I fantasized color palate possibilities, even wall murals, in our tiny cabin-house in the northwest woods white is always the choice. The walls that get painted are few because my passion for wood, and need to have few chemicals in my life, have inspired us to use wood instead of the ubiquitous sheet rock on new walls.

The cedar wall. Painting by Liz Reutlinger

1977, tearing out & redoing, windows & walls

It began with a cedar wall. I thought it was a wonderful, ‘natural’ way to cover the existing old boards on a wall.  My house, bought and moved to it’s current location, came full of stories.  Walls, when torn out, revealed studs that were pieces of salvaged 2x4s, some with cutouts in them, nailed and overlayed to get the length needed.  There was a juice glass in one wall, and bits of this and that in others.  After tearing out many walls, replacing studs, and putting up sheet rock, the idea of using cedar instead of drywall on one long wall seemed a quick solution to a need I had to finish the wall. The cedar boards came from an acquaintance who had a small milling operation, the cedar logs from a friend who salvaged downed cedar logs on near-by Forest Service land. A carpenter friend installed the wall, artfully making the herringbone sections I wanted to break the monotony of vertical boards. Over the years the wall darkened as the wood aged. The boards gather dust, cleanable, but not something that gets done often. A unique wall, it takes me back to another time in my life. Though lately there are times I wish I had not installed the cedar wall, there it is, a silent witness and connection to my past.

Pine board wall with stenciled border in meditation building

Since the cedar wall, there have been many pine board walls. Pine, yellowish-white initially, ages to a deep golden color, some boards the color of honey. The walls of our “out buildings” – an office, studio and meditation building, are all pine. We have built many pine “boxes”!

Maple and cherry wood cabinets fill the kitchen wall, designed by me, built by a friend. When late day summer sun shines into the kitchen the aged maple wood, now the color of “light” maple syrup, nearly glistens!

bead board

Our latest wood wall is fir wood bead board, installed last year around a bay window replacement. Much consideration went into the possibilities, the pros and cons of dry wall vs wood, and if wood, which wood. We gambled on introducing yet another wood and are happy with the results. It fits our ‘cottage’ living room.

Though wood, once cut and milled is considered “dead”, there is still a living energy to it. With a little help from microbes, moisture, or fire, wood can return to the earth, become part of the soil, and nurture new trees. We are only borrowing them.

The “paintable” walls, freshly painted, are a clean slate, a fresh new beginning. Old scars, holes, soot from the wood stove, the ‘dirt’ of living, all washed away and covered over. Are the stories and secrets washed away too? Only the walls know!

Walls are not just “barriers”, built to keep out ‘the other’.  They hold in warmth on a cold day, or coolness on a hot day.  They give us a space to create as we wish, to make cozy.  Yes, they shield and protect us when we need it……and they hold the windows that let in the light.

What stories do your walls hold?

Rhododendron rainbows – it’s a family thing!

This bright yellow rhody is in our back yard, actually it IS our backyard! So bright, it seems to glow even at night.

Here in maritime Northwest rhododendrons are ubiquitous this time of year. The tiniest little ramshackle house, hidden behind a huge plain green bush eleven months of the year, barely noticed, suddenly is eye-poppingly beautiful when covered with huge bright red or pink blooms.  I didn’t intend to be a “Rhody” person.  A fan of pollinators, I find rhododendrons are not that useful to most pollinators – hummingbirds and butterflies have no interest in them and bees seem picky, liking some varieties but not others.  Highly hybridized, most plants have one big showy spring bloom then sit quietly in their evergreen garb the rest of the year, blending into the landscape.  But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate their abundance of color and have loved individual plants as though they were pets.  It must be a family trait, both my parents loved rhododendrons, and one of my brothers has planted many here on family property, late-blooming varieties and ones known for their unique foliage.

A new & current favorite, this variegated peach colored rhody is in a pot where we lost to drought a 20+ year old, hot pink rhody.  I still miss it, a favorite, it consumed our front steps,  greeting us coming and going.

This year, a more typical northwest spring than we’ve had for several years, has made apparent one primary value of rhododendrons – in spite of cold, gray, wet weather, front yards and public parks everywhere are lit with the bright hues of rhodies. People make their annual pilgrimages to the many public rhododendron gardens to enjoy this rhododendron festival of color.

A small rhododendron, grows only about 18″ tall.

That’s how we (Mike is especially enamored by their colors) became rhody people. Living 15 minutes from Whitney Gardens, a second generation family rhododendron garden and nursery, we go to soak up the color of the giant, tree size blooming bushes. Caught up in the color bonanza, we buy one, or maybe two, with little thought as to where we will plant them. Alone I can resist, but Mike is powerless when surrounded by all those shades of purple, lavender, salmon, pinks, red, oranges, yellows – a rainbow of rhodies. And if they are a scented variety, he swoons. Ok, I swoon too. (note: we have not made that pilgrimage this year, and if we do, we’ll have more self control as we just planted 5 small Pacific Rhododendron starts, Washington’s state flower.)

Pacific Rhododendron, Washington State flower, less abundant but still found in many wild places.

Rhododendrons were first “discovered” by Europeans in the Himalayan Mountains and other mountainous regions of Southeast Asia , where hundreds of varieties are native. They are the national flower of Nepal, where they grow abundantly.  Archibald Menzies “discovered” the Pacific rhododendron in 1792, though they were certainly already known to native people. (An interesting paper on the history of the Pacific Rhododendron is found here.)  Rhododendron leaves are highly toxic (though I had a Jersey cow, Daisy, who ate some and seemed unaffected, but I wouldn’t recommend it). In traditional cultures wherever they grow wild, rhododendron leaves have been used as poultices for arthritis pain and headaches.

in spite of thick leathery leaves, occasionally some bug finds one that is tasty.

Rhododendrons have been hybridized to have many colors, scents, leaf color and shape variations, to grow to different heights, and bloom at different times, from the winter blooming Christmas Rhody to ones that bloom in June.  The ones we grow bloom early to mid-spring. Except for a rare bug nibble, the primary pest problem we’ve had are mountain beavers who chew off branches and carry them to their dens, where we find piles of branches. This has done serious damage some years, one young bush completely ‘harvested’ to the ground.  Larger bushes are “pruned”, not at all aesthetically, destroying many buds. We’ve also lost a few bushes to drought. But in our woodsy environment most thrive and have long lives. Shallow rooted, though we give them big planting holes with lots of “good” soil, as long as they get some leaf mulch, they seem to tolerate our clay soil.

This is our Christmas rhody, the first to bloom, though not at Christmas where we live.

Rhododendrons come in all sizes, some can be pot grown, some like more sun, others more shade, many different bloom “styles” appeal to people’s personal sense of what makes a pretty flower, and you can probably find one in your favorite color.  I highly recommend, if your climate is right, growing rhodies for the pure benefit of color therapy, especially wonderful on a gray spring day.

Mom and I, squinting in the sun in front of a huge rhododendron at her house in Seattle. Happy Mother’s Day Mom, you live on in spirit in the many flowers we both love!

The rest of the year rhododendron’s shiny forever-green leaves remind us of eternal life.   I’m quite sure whatever corner of heaven my parents are hanging out in, they have planted rhododendrons!


Were you there? Seattle World’s Fair

55 years ago today, April 21, 1962, The Seattle World’s Fair “Century 21 Exposition” opened. “Seattleites” living on the east coast at the time, our family flew west that summer to enjoy this futuristic fair of fairs. This collection of memorabilia were the treasures kept by my grandma, my mom, and me, minus my necklace and a pin, (which I can’t find but they are somewhere), and the cool pen with a moving monorail, which disappeared yrs. ago.

I have fond memories of the amazing exhibits of what scientist, engineers and dreamers thought the future would be like. There was cutting edge technology in transportation, the “home of the future” was fascinating, even future clothing fashions were on display! The message of the fair was the future is about science and it looked good! And of course there was the Space Needle, the iconic building of the future that has become the symbol of Seattle ever since.  The fair grounds were fun, clean, colorful and people came from all over the world – the famous and the royal, but mostly families like us!  It is the event that put Seattle “on the map”, so to speak.  Between visits to relatives and the Olympic Peninsula, our family attended many days.

I remember the bright turquoise hats my brothers wore with tall feathers and “Seattle World’s Fair” sewn across the front. They could be spotted in a crowd, a likely motivation for buying them!

No photos have emerged of our fair visit in the family photo archives, though I know pictures were taken. Maybe someday my brother will sort through all the slides my dad had and find our personal remembrances of this grand event.

Were you there? Share your story if so!

Below are fun links about the fair, lots of stories and the history of the fair. It was a grand event!

Seattle Expo 62

History Link

1962 World’s Fair

Spring & Rosy Jam

Cold air keeps the Pacific Northwest in a holding pattern between seasons, at least for us two-legged ones, but in the world of flora and fauna, where there is light there is action!  Birds are hassling each other and singing their breeding and territorial songs, the robins being the last to go to bed. The chipmunk population in our yard has exploded! (This usually means the weasel population is low, and does not bode well for garden vegetable sprouts and peas, which the chipmunks “harvest” before us!)  A cold winter left our evergreen woods less green, many dead fern fronds make for an unusual brown underbrush.  New growth from wild bleeding hearts, vanilla leaf, false lily-of-the-valley, red huckleberry and other plants are a welcome sight of new life.   Longer days means more activity not only for nature but for us,  we take after dinner walks and work outside later in the day….bundled up as though it were January!

(Click on a photo to see slideshow, or move your cursor over pictures to read captions)

Though I’ve been harvesting nettles for steaming and pesto, and munching on miner’s lettuce while walking in the woods, as these and other fresh new plants and herbs become available for a spring diet it’s also time to use up old “stock” that I’ve hoarded all winter.  I forget, a lot, I forget to add dried Calendula blossoms to soups, dried spearmint to tea blends, etc.  Out of sight out of mind in our small house where jars of this and that get stored and tucked away many places.  I was surprised, while making a tea blend for a friend with a cold, to discover a pint jar of dried rose hips I didn’t know I had. Forgetting I’d bought some last fall, I’d bought more in January!  So this year, an “Easter treat” to share is rose hips jam.  It is the easiest jam in the world to make, and not only is it tasty, but with our lingering cold weather, there are lingering colds going around.

Rose hips are packed with the disease fighting antioxidant vitamin C. I’ve collected hips, but separating the fuzzy hairs from the seeds inside the fruit, or “hip”, is a challenge.  They can be used in tea whole (thus no fuzz) if simmered a bit. When you buy rose hips you get nice little pieces of dried red hips, clean of fuzz.

Pouring water over dried hips reconstituted them. Soak overnight and you have instant jam! My pint of rose hips reconstituted when I filled the jar with water, but it was very “solid” so I mixed in: honey, (which smooths the astringent taste) and added more liquid in the form of a warm spicy infusion (tea) made from fresh ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon chips, a few cardamom pods, and two clove buds. After simmering on the stove 30 minutes, in a teapot, I added the infusion a little at a time until I got a smooth, spreadable paste.  Spread on crackers, it goes nice with a cup of ginger spice tea!

This is a great way to get vitamin C, especially for children or anyone who prefers tasty jam over pills!

Have a lovely Easter weekend, whether you celebrate Easter or just enjoy this season of hope and renewal! Mother Nature reminds us every spring there are always new beginnings and beauty to be found regardless of outer circumstances.


Past Easter posts:

A Season of Celebrations, A Season for Forgiveness

Egg Enchantment

Hare Hare Everywhere

Memories of the Season

Celebrating Cycles