Getting to Know Seattle: Firsts of the Season

I’m a warm weather person, so the joys of spring, summer, and even fall far outstrip any pleasures that winter might bring. I can look at pictures of snow and be just as happy as having it outside my door.

The first local strawberries came in this week here in Seattle, and I’m in heaven. There’s nothing like the taste of a freshly picked local strawberry — so different from the tepid flavor of Driscoll strawberries available year round in the plastic clamshell container. One of the vendors at our neighborhood farmer’s market has strawberries into August, and I enjoy them all summer long.

Spring also means WNBA games, which aren’t quite as thrilling as my beloved Tour de France, but which I follow religiously. The Tour runs July 6-28, and it’s the only time I have the TV on for four hours a day. WNBA season began May 24 and ends in late September or early October, depending on how many playoff games there are.

Spring in Seattle also means leaving jackets behind, entering the dry season where watering gardens and plants is essential, more easy sources of food for the raccoons so they aren’t ripping up my lawn to find grubs, summer music festivals, cookouts and time at the pool with my family, more outdoor entertaining at my house.

To that last point, one of the best things about renting Sara’s house is my back deck, which is just off the kitchen and my small family room. This pic is early morning, but think of the deck awash in afternoon sun. It stays light here in Seattle until almost 9:30 pm at this time of year, so think of me enjoying the deck in many forms, including on my own with a glass of wine or cup of tea and a book. 🙂 Appealing, no?

The Neat and the Wild

I like order around me, always have. Part of deciding to put in cedar fencing in my yard was to manage the fact that my  neighbors — who are great guys and good neighbors in all respects that matter — have wildly overgrown, unattended yards. They were most accommodating about my ripping out foliage rooted in their yards but over-growing into mine in order to install the fence. But it would have been quite another thing to ask permission to get their wild bushes in order. Maybe they like them the way they are.

A visitor asked how I feel about the crazy intertwined bushes that give something of a chaotic backdrop to my fence, wondering if the disarray bothers me. Actually it doesn’t. It’s not my disarray. More to the point, these thick bushes are home to many, many songbirds who come into my yard to drink at the birdbath. Hummingbirds emerge in order to eat seeds from the red hot pokers. Robins peck the ground looking for worms. Bluebirds do battle with the other birds, chasing them away.

When the guys were ripping out the foliage on my side they found evidence that the raccoons were living in the most overgrown part of the bush. I think we’ve torn enough away so that’s no longer true, although clearly the raccoons have stayed in the neighborhood. I wish they were gone entirely, but oh well. My grass seems to be rooted enough so that rolling it up is no longer so easy.

I think I have the best of all worlds.

Conscious Aging: Random Exposure to Measles

I probably had measles as a kid. I know I had mumps and chicken pox. But at my age and given that our immune systems are less effective in older years, I look dimly on being exposed to anything that can be avoided. One of my news feeds remarked that travelers who passed through an airport in northern Virginia last weekend might have been exposed to a child with measles. I wasn’t in Virginia, but I am in random airports now and again, and there are lots of children in airports.

Anti-vaxxers fall into a number of categories, ranging from the trendy to the easily duped to those with religious objections — no matter how misguided. Mainstream religions don’t teach that children shouldn’t be vaccinated. Under “trendy” I include a woman — also in my news feeds — who has a Vitamin C based remedy to cure autism and to obviate the need for vaccines. She has a number of followers, and 2000 children are undergoing  her regimen.

I don’t know what we do about this. We can prevent unvaccinated children from going to school, but we can’t prevent them from walking through airports, or going to a local restaurant or drugstore or library. We only have to look at countries where vaccines are not widely available to know the danger for unvaccinated children and by extension, adults. A few years ago Panama had a swine flu outbreak — most people there don’t get flu shots because the vaccine isn’t widely available. A global health group donated 1M doses of flu vaccine, but the infrastructure isn’t in place to administer vaccines quickly and across large numbers of people. Because of that, many people — the very old and the very young — died.

There have always been a small number of anti-vaxxers, but the number seems to be growing along with the growing distrust of science, facts, and truth. It’s a bad trend.

Conscious Aging: A Good Listener

I’ve always been a good listener, because I’m naturally curious about how people think about things, how each of us makes sense of our lives, why we do what we do. Sometimes being a good listener has gotten me in trouble, as people have equated “listening” with “agreeing” and assume that I think whatever they’re saying, especially a political opinion, is something I believe too. I’ve learned to give earlier signals that while I’m hearing and understanding a person’s heartfelt belief, I don’t agree.

Sometimes what people share is way TMI, and I steer those conversations toward a quicker end. Sometimes people have an endless need to talk and no capacity to listen back, and I don’t feel the need to oblige a bottomless pit of attention-seeking. But I’m struck, and often moved, by the small personal moments people share simply because as human beings, we need to be witnessed.

I had such a moment yesterday, listening briefly to someone who’s working really hard — and at some cost to herself — to do the right thing even though the family members she’s helping aren’t grateful and nobody else much cares either. We can tell ourselves that we’re doing the right thing, but sometimes it matters to have someone else affirm that “this is a choice you’re making, and only a good and decent person at heart would do it. ”

I really meant that, and although nothing changes the basic situation, I hope our shared moment mattered.

Conscious Aging: Diversifying My Travel

Making an extended winter stay in Panama my primary travel priority was not what I first thought of when I sold our financial planning business in 2004. With that business gone I started a consulting practice. I reconnected with Minga and her family in 2009, after a hiatus of forty years, as a result of a consulting job that sent me to Panama City. That reconnection was so rich and deep I did decide to return to Panama year after year, one time staying for three months.

What I originally thought I’d do is rent a flat for a few months in a city somewhere in the world, like Barcelona, and go live there — shopping, eating, doing what people there did in their daily lives. I’d go to a different place each year.

In addition to finding Minga, my life changed in other important ways: both of my adult kids moved to the same city — in 2010 I moved here too — and I became a grandmother. Being away for months at a time became less of a draw.

I had picked deep connection over variety of travel.

Minga’s death does change things, although I have now also formed strong bonds with her large extended family, and with Gloria’s family.

I’ve just booked a fall trip with Elderhostel to see several Civil Rights sites in the deep South: 16th Street Baptist Church, Edmund Pettis bridge, the new museum which honors lynching victims in Montgomery, Alabama. I’d loved to visit Money, Mississippi, where Emmett Till died — although that’s not on the tour. The general store where he supposedly disrespected a white woman is now derelict and abandoned, and Money is a small forgotten town. I’d like to bear witness anyway.

I want to go to VietNam this year or next. I plan a short trip back to Rochester to see friends, sometime before winter. And a dear friend, formerly from Rochester, is coming here.

I’m not sure yet what all of this means for Panama in winter of 2020. Lily’s visa to travel to the U.S. is still good until 2023, and she would love to come back. I’d like to bring her for an east coast tour this time, perhaps with Miley if we can get her a visa, or again with Gloria. They are all dying to see snow, and our winter is Miley’s long school vacation. Perhaps they might come here.

Lots of pieces to juggle, all good.



Conscious Aging: Lunch with Connie and Laurie

Connie and I live here in Seattle; our friend Laurie lives in New York. We grew up three Kearny girls in the 1950’s. Laurie and I have known each other since second grade. There’s something uniquely giggly about having someone in my life now who was part of the third grade class play at Roosevelt School where I was Queen Isabella. I was quietly smart as a kid but shy and not often the star. Can’t imagine how the role came about. Connie lived in a different part of town and went to another elementary school, but we all became friends at Lincoln Junior High School, 7th grade, and stayed together through high school. And here we are.

Laurie and Max have been married over 50 years, have one kid in New York and one here, one small grandchild. Connie was widowed after long marriage, has one kid here and one in London, three step-grandsons. I am widowed after long marriage, have both kids here and two grandkids. Connie and I are retired, Laurie still takes on professional projects as they interest her and she has the time. We three are in rather fine fettle for our age, having each had our share of life’s sweetness and its vicissitudes. And here we are, walking around Green Lake and having lunch.

These old friendships work best when you are interested in each other now, as “do you remember” is a small part of any thriving relationship. I love these women. When together, we pick up the conversation without a hitch even though it may have been months since all three have been together.

This is what friendship is now, as people live here and there, on opposite coasts instead of around the corner. The friendship is always present in your heart, and only sometimes in daily life.

Conscious Aging: My Six Year Anniversary

I just reached my six year anniversary of being ordained in the Universal Life Church, an online ministry where I got credentialed to perform two weddings. Getting ordained is free and easy, a few clicks in the right places and you’re done. The ULC makes money by charging you for ordination documents required by some states, and by selling various packages: framed ordination documents to hang on your wall, ministerial robes for those really wanting to look the part, cases of official wedding wine for those wanting to emulate Jesus.

The ULC reached out to congratulate me, Reverend Pamela, on my sixth anniversary and to roll out new products, the most expensive of which is a line of official ministerial stoles in vibrant colors. They also now have marriage training courses and marriage licensing written guides. They’ve always had laminated cards you can carry with you to identify you as a minister, clergy parking passes — you have to pay for all of that.

Brother Karl says he trusts my ministerial career is going great guns, and that he hopes some of the new products will be of interest to me. Isn’t capitalism great?

If you’re newly a friend and don’t know what to call me, Reverend Pamela will do just fine. 🙂 No stole or robes or clerical collar though. You’ll just have to use your imagination to see me as the real thing.

“Nuns and Nones”

My two sisters and I grew up going to public school but doing the traditional Catholic thing in addition: catechism classes, Sunday mass, monthly confession, holy days of obligation. My father was Protestant, a member of the midwestern Christian Church. Out of deference to him, our mother couldn’t drag us too far over the 1950’s pious Catholic edge. Rosary beads that glowed in the dark were about as uber-Catholic as I got.

Nuns didn’t become a big part of my life until the College of St. Elizabeth, which was the crown jewel of the Sisters of Charity and had a nun as president — Sister Hildegarde Marie Mahoney — nuns as Deans, a predominately nun faculty, and “dorm nuns” to keep us in line. Right after I graduated in 1967 the “great exodus” happened, and nuns began leaving the religious community in droves. The College still exists, but staffed almost entirely by lay people. There are about 240 nuns left in the Sisters of Charity, average age around 80. Within 15 years, probably less, the Sisters of Charity will cease to exist as a functioning entity. That’s true of most religious orders in the United States.

I’ve sometimes thought that religious life might have survived with a dramatic re-thinking of the role. Instead of lifetime vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,  I thought they might do better with a 3-5 year commitment. A think a lot of spiritually inclined people, both women and men, might have been drawn to that at various stages of life. A few might have stayed permanently. But changing the model would have required bold and out of the box thinking. Nuns are known for their social justice work and charity toward the poor, but not for being bold and adventuresome in challenging their place in the patriarchal Catholic hierarchy.

Friend Phyllis sent me this article, about young, not especially religious people finding community in convents with nuns. It’s an interesting article, and the “nuns and nones” are probably learning a lot from each other. But it’s too late, I think, for religious life as we know it to survive. These pairings of spiritually curious young people who want to know more about communal life with 80 year old nuns will likely be lovely, for awhile. But it’s too late to change the precipitous downward trend of religious life, and whatever deep knowledge nuns have about communal living will go with the remnants of once-robust religious orders to the grave.

The Changing Face of Libraries

As a kid I was a voracious reader — still am — and I loved the Kearny Public Library. We had a small branch within walking distance of our home on Stewart Avenue, and I could go there on  Saturday morning and squirrel myself away in the adult section and read for hours. I’ve written before about the kindly librarian who allowed me access to the adult section well before I reached the minimum age of twelve, and although I couldn’t take books out, I could leave the children’s section behind and satisfy my love of challenging reading. I think the librarian must have noticed that I sometimes hid the book behind some others so no one would take it out until I could come back and finish. I always carefully put the book back in the right place when I was done. What a gem she was. I can picture her face, although her name is long gone and I’m sure she passed away years ago. But she did a lot to foster my love of reading, and I’m grateful.

I used to frequent the library in Rochester as well, and Jerry and I often took the kids not only to get books, but to Sunday afternoon story hour with local story tellers. Books, physical books, have always been a big part of my life.

Books are not a big part of college students’ lives, at least not in the same way as they were for me. I recall going to the rather small library at the College of St. Elizabeth to take out 20 books or so to write a term paper. College kids no longer do that. Most of what they need is available for reading online. Books have become, in the words of this Atlantic writer, “wallpaper” — there to set the atmosphere, but largely untouched.

The thought is jarring to me.

And yet, here in Seattle, I mostly download books on my Kindle, even my beloved mysteries that aren’t great literature and nothing I’m apt to read again. Our Seattle Public Library is a stunning design by architect Rem Koolhaas, and I take people there for the experience — but I don’t go to take out books, or to our local branch either.

I had to cut down my huge collection of print books when I moved from Rochester, but I still own books of authors that I love, like Flannery O’Connor. I hate to think of books as “wallpaper”, but maybe we are moving beyond the print world — me too — and it remains a jarring thought.