Reading Michelle Obama

For Christmas a friend gave me Michelle Obama’s new book Becoming. I didn’t take it to Panama, as it’s the hard cover print edition and weighs a lot more than my Kindle. I’m deep into in now, and relishing the read.

Atlantic reviewer Hannah Giorgis has a phrase about Michelle Obama that encapsulates our former First Lady’s entire life: conspicuous excellence.

Barack Obama chose politics and the minute scrutiny and public judgment that follows. Michelle Obama didn’t. But she took the conspicuous excellence of her life up to that point and created an iconic model of what a First Lady might be. Hard not to contrast the rich family life and warm public welcome to the White House that the First Lady created with what we have now: a pinched, angry president roaming the White House alone and Melanie barely to be seen. No cultural events. No welcoming school children, or speaking up for the education of girls around the globe. No anything, really.

I am continually amazed that the Republican family values crowd loves the morally vacuous Trumps, and was withering — and often overtly racist — in its criticism of the Obamas. Remember the West Virginia woman who called Michelle Obama an “ape in heels”? Or the Wisconsin Congressman who said Mrs. Obama had a “big butt”?

The Obamas were and are surrounded by a strong network of family and black professional friends. I always thought that part of what enraged the people who became Trump’s base was the Obamas’ ease with who they are. They don’t try to act white or pass or get along in white culture. One of my Iowa relatives included me on an email chain that derided Michelle Obama as “uppity” — until I asked firmly to be taken off my cousin’s distribution list. The Make America White Again crowd tolerates, barely, blacks who signal subservience and a desire to fit in. People like my cousin, a woman you’d find gracious and lovely if you met her, are infuriated by the slightest whiff of whatever constitutes “uppity” for them.

I hope we haven’t seen the end of Michelle Obama’s public life, although I’m sure it won’t include a run for public office. I hope she keeps on being uppity, out there, speaking up and speaking out. I’ll be fascinated to see how she and former President Obama, who are still quite young for a post-presidency, yet again create new lives.

And I hope she writes another book.

Conscious Aging: Mother of the Bride

I’m not in any sense of the word “planning” my daughter’s wedding — Sara and Ben have that well in hand. I get to do all the fun stuff, like go with Sara to find her dress, and work with her to order my MOB dress online. I’m not an easy fit. I have what I call my “Irish peasant” body — broad shoulders and back, hardly any waist, and slender hips and legs. Finding a dress that works is a trial — I do better with separates. Fortunately, Sara is pretty relaxed about the whole thing, as long as I look smart and classy and fit the occasion.

The actress Tyne Daly has the same body shape, and the same Irish heritage. She once thought she couldn’t play the role of Maria Callas onstage because no one would mistake Daly for having a wasp waist, as did Callas. Daly got the role and shone in it, and somehow conveyed the aura, if not a physical match, with the real Maria Callas.

The wedding is about seven weeks away, and things are moving quickly. They’re going to have food stations, not a plated dinner — great idea. They’re putting together a playlist; we attendees get to suggest songs on their wedding website. Since it’s a destination wedding, we’ll all be there together for at least the long weekend, and so more events than the wedding itself need to be planned. Attire needs to be spelled out. This is a beach wedding, with the reception outdoors on grass. What does that suggest for footwear? They have to sort out who is going to sit at what tables — always hard, especially in this era when people seem not to RSVP on time.

This will also be a chance for a great family gathering and catch-up, as people are coming from Germany, New Jersey, Boston, Maine, and other locations. Remember when you used to drive to a wedding at the nearby house of worship, and have the wedding dinner at a local place? Not any more. People have become used to traveling for such occasions, and it becomes an adventure as well as a huge celebration.

Will keep you posted as things continue to unfold. 🙂

Panama 2019 Day 22: What Color is My Hair?

I began coloring my hair when I was 50, and at 73 I have no idea what color — or lack thereof — might be truly mine. I get my short, straight hair colored and cut every five weeks, and wear it spiky with the help of something called “hair clay” — functions like gel, but a different consistency.

I was slightly out of sync between hair appointments and my trip to Panama. I would have had to go at 3 1/2 weeks to get an appointment in before I left, which seemed too soon. But my appointment next Wednesday, is 7 weeks out. That, alas, is way too long. Not only is my short hair too overgrown to respond well to the hair clay and hold its spiky style — of course being in and out of the pool and ocean multiple times a day doesn’t help either — but I now have a significant swathe of white roots. White!!! My hair, in its natural color, is white.

I return home Saturday late, weather in Seattle allowing, and I plan to wear a bag over my head between then and my Wednesday appointment. The chances that, having gazed upon the evidence of my now white hair, I will go au natural are zero, zero, and zero.

No pic of the evidence. Not a chance. 🙂

Panama 2019 Day 9: Pippa’s at Farallon

Pippa’s bar has been on the beach in Farallon, a fishing community a few miles from our villa, since the 1960’s when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. The place has waxed and waned, but right now it’s owned by a Venezuelan who’s putting a lot of money into it and the bar is popular and busy. You go for the experience and the rum and coke more than for the food, but an adventure it is. You can take a swim while your food is being prepared, and you sit at tables right in the sand.

Getting Gloria into the ocean is new. She doesn’t go in very far or stay very long, but she does get wet. 🙂 She doesn’t swim and her nephew drowned at the beach two years ago, so the ocean is a pretty scary place — even when it’s as calm as glass.

This local is renting his horse out for a beach ride.

Sally, Michael, and Gloria.

Gloria, Lynn, Sally Michael. We also invited out taxi driver, Leudo, to eat with us.

Death of Poet Mary Oliver

I met the poet Mary Oiiver several years ago, at the College of St. Elizabeth, my undergraduate institution. In honor of a revered English professor, Sister Alice Lubin, I gave a substantial gift to bring poets and writers to campus. Sister Alice was still alive then; she got to meet and interact with many, including Oliver. A priority was not just the public reading, which brought many local people to the College, but a master class for students. Oliver excelled in both.

Oliver had a longtime partner, Mary Malone Cook, and wrote a poem about their relationship and the capacity for surprise, even in someone we know well. I used that poem in a talk I gave about Jerry’s death, saying that one thread of loss of a beloved spouse or partner is the loss of the capacity to be newly surprised. My audience found it an interesting point.

Oliver died on January 17 at the age of 83. Her death is a loss.

Conscious Aging: M.O.B.

No, I’m not referring to the 20th anniversary of the great mob drama on HBO, The Sopranos. I’m referencing the fact that I’m about to become Mother of the Bride. Sara invited me to go with her to find a wedding dress, and we had great success. I have a pic, but no reveal until the wedding day. The whole experience was joyful. She is going to be a beautiful bride.

We went to an outstanding off-the-rack place here in Seattle that has a very organized experience: you make an appointment, are assigned a consultant, and that person leads you through a process of trying on gowns and winnowing down what you like and what looks best and what is available by the time of your wedding. Bridget, our consultant, has been in the business for 21 years. She approached Sara with an ebullient attitude which said, “Picking a bridal gown is a wonderful thing, and we are going to find just the right gown for you.” She nailed Sara’s body type and size without measuring, asked Sara a number of questions, and went off to find dresses. One after the other looked just beautiful. Sara finally narrowed down to two, and then one. Sara asked for my input, and I have to say I loved both of her final choices. I couldn’t decide.

I’m not a great shopper, and I imagine the bridal gown search could be daunting. This was not that at all. Bridget made it fun, because it’s an exciting thing to have choices and everything she brought could have worked.

What I think is a most beautiful bridal gown, worn by the most beautiful daughter, did work. What a precious experience, to be part of this. 🙂


I Do Bridal, on 85th and Greenwood, just in case you live in Seattle and are looking.

Conscious Aging: Early Morning Walk

I’m fitting in quite a number of things before my early Thursday departure for Panama, which meant getting out early for my 10,000 steps on Tuesday. I love to be up and out early in the summer, but don’t usually go out early when it’s cold — 32 degrees here, just chilly enough for frost.

Mount Rainier was lovely in the early morning light. And, low clouds hang over the icy waters of Puget Sound early in the morning, there until the sun is fully up and burns them off — quite an interesting phenomenon.

Conscious Aging: Tropics Toes

Friend Nicki gave me a pedicure for Christmas/pre-Panama, with a stop at our favorite coffee shop first.  I chose a tropical color, and feel quite ready for sandals. I don’t get a pedicure regularly, mostly because I don’t think of it. Our morning was quite a treat. 🙂

Raccoons: One Week + 2

I was committed to giving you a break from my obsession with the raccoon. Then, when I came down yesterday morning, the bloody thing had not only ripped up the lawn again but triggered the trap you see in the right side of the pic without getting caught inside.

This is, for sure, what my daughter-in-law Amy would call a first-world problem. I will survive the battle with the raccoon, although hopefully it will not survive the battle with me. But I’ve told Trapper Jon my deadline is the return from Panama. I expect the creature to be dealt with by then. Plan B, anyone?