Looking for a New Career?

If you’re looking for a new career, consider Celebration of End of Life Planning.

Yes, it’s a thing.

These days, with fewer people affiliated with a formal religious faith and less interest overall in ponderous, time tested rituals of death, people are responding to the death of a loved one in creative and highly personalized ways. Given the time crunch in which many of us live, we outsource the planning of such events just like we outsource everything else.

Death is a given, but not the time-honored rituals. An increasingly secular, nomadic and casual America is shredding the rules about how to commemorate death, and it’s not just among the wealthy and famous. Somber, embalmed-body funerals, with their $9,000 industry average price tag, are, for many families, a relic. Instead, end-of-life ceremonies are being personalized: golf-course cocktail send-offs, backyard potluck memorials, more Sinatra and Clapton, less “Ave Maria,” more Hawaiian shirts, fewer dark suits. Families want to put the “fun” in funerals.”


Jerry’s death in 2002 was sudden and shocking. He and I had never talked about a send-off, other than when we drafted our health care proxies and I asked him if he wanted a rabbi when he died. He said he did, even though he didn’t do another overtly Jewish thing in his adult life. With the help of a friend who was affiliated with a Rochester temple, I was able to fulfill that desire for Jerry; a dear and wonderful rabbi officiated at the graveside service. We also had the equivalent of an Irish wake in the days before, to satisfy my family traditions. While everyone was still in town we had a memorial service at the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester where the people who loved Jerry the most got up and spoke. That, for me, was the best part. One of our friends, a musician, played Jerry’s favorite jazz piece, “Take Five” which is often associated with the Dave Brubeck quartet. Jerry had a vinyl record of it.

My mother died in 2007, and she wanted the full-on Catholic ritual, not in our longtime parish St. Stephen’s, but at Queen of Peace, the church where she and my father had bee married. The officiant was a second-career priest who’d been an SEC examiner in his previous professional life, which was a little weird. He made an effort to learn a few things about her, but basically she got rolled in and had the same funeral mass that any departed Catholic might have received. I wasn’t allowed to give the eulogy because the Newark diocese didn’t permit women on the altar or allow women to speak during the Mass. The priest had the grace to apologize, and I told him it pretty much fit my expectations of the Catholic Church. I gave the eulogy at the funeral home, in the presence of our cousins. Most of my mother’s friends had already died.

This article prompts me to think about what I want, hopefully far in the future. I don’t want a Catholic mass, although that was my tradition growing up. Nor do I want or expect the big funeral Jerry had. We had a large circle of friends, clients, professional colleagues, neighbors and associates who were shocked by Jerry’s death, and needed a place to come to offer condolences. I have a much smaller circle here in Seattle, and I’ll be older. There isn’t the same need.

Not much idea yet what I do want, but I’m going to give it some thought. I don’t find the topic morbid. In my practical way, I find it … practical.

How about you? Something formal, in the religious tradition you grew up in and may still practice? Or something unique to you?

Watch Out for Your Cassowary

I’ve never understood why people want to keep dangerous wild animals as pets. Siegfried and Roy did a Las Vegas act with white Siberian tigers for years until one of the tigers attacked Roy on stage and nearly killed him. A Connecticut woman, Sandra Herold, kept Travis the chimp as “part of the family” until Travis attacked and came close to killing her friend, Charla Nash. Nash had to have a face transplant after Travis ate hers. Travis apparently slept in Herold’s bed, watched TV with her, and ate steak at her table. All good until Travis reverted to norm and tried to eat her friend.

Now, a Florida man has been killed by a cassowary that he kept on the grounds of his home. A cassowary is a dangerous bird. They have pointed nails, long enough to function like daggers, growing from three toes on each foot. They attack when frightened. They do not have the capacity to make friends with humans.

The 75 year old man’s fiance’ apparently said he died “doing what he loved”. Not sure what that might mean, other than the man had a fondness for tempting death.

These human/animal fatal encounters put others at risk, namely the emergency personnel called to get the attacker secured and rescue the victim. Police and other emergency responders are trained to deal with many different adversaries. I doubt that includes much preparation for subduing a raging chimp or a killer cassowary.

To be fair, the wild creatures are only doing what they do. It’s the humans who keep them who need a swift, sharp reality check.


When Did You Last Buy a Sewing Kit?

On San Gabriel Drive we had a monster sewing kit, with oodles of thread colors and various sizes of needles. Jerry was the button-hole-sewer-on-in-chief. I was never much good at it.

During my moves since 2010 the sewing kit has vanished. As I pack for Nassau, I want to take along a light linen shirt that serves well to keep the sun off without being too hot. I took the shirt to Panama, where I noticed that a couple of the buttons, machine-sewn no doubt, were loose and the thread unraveling. As I pulled the shirt out for Nassau, I saw that the buttons need to be reinforced, or they’ll imminently fall off.

Have you tried to buy a sewing kit recently?

This was all our Bartell’s pharmacy had — a little travel kit with a couple of needles and the basic thread color choices. I’m sure I could have gotten something more substantial on Amazon, but there was no time.

Apparently I haven’t needed a sewing kit since 2010, when I moved to Seattle.

The hardest part was getting the thread through the tiny needle opening. Once I had that, the buttons were stabilized just fine.

What Would You Do for 19K?

Nineteen thousand dollars isn’t a ton of money, but it isn’t chump change either. Germany’s space research program is studying weightlessness, and they will pay the right woman $19,000 to stay in bed for two months to be a subject of their study.

I can’t imagine being in bed for two months, and I imagine your body is trashed after you do — not only cardiovascular fitness, but a lot of other things too. I’d be stiff as a board after being in bed for that long.  We’re meant to be moving, not lying around. But of course that’s the point of the study: what are the effects on the human body of going without the pull of gravity?

I wouldn’t do this, probably not for any amount of money. At my age, getting myself back in shape after two months would be too effortful. But somebody will. I’m sure of it.

Here are the specifics, if you want to apply. 🙂

“Staying in bed for the study won’t be like a leisurely day watching Netflix—everything from showering to going to the bathroom will have to be done without getting up. All participants will get a private room and a bed inclined at 6 ° with the head end downwards, no options for changing. Food will be chosen by nutritionists to monitor health, although they promise that a few sweets, like pancakes, will be made available from time to time.

For anyone interested, the study pays 16,500 euros, or about $18,522. While the study will look at 12 men and 12 women, right now the DLR is only looking for women to hire. Requirements include being between 24 and 55 years old, being a non-smoker, being in Cologne from September to December 2019, and speaking German. If you get the gig, sweet dreams.”

Wondering how you eat pancakes lying flat in bed with your head down.


Getting to Know Seattle: Puget Sound View

For some reason I just like the composition of this pic. That evergreen with the top lopped over isn’t an unhealthy tree — it’s just the way it grows. There are lots of tall skinny evergreens here with the top lopped over. The structure you see is part of the system of grain elevators that loads grain into huge cargo ships for the trip to Asia. And the boat is the Argosy, a tour boat that runs up and down the coast of Puget Sound. You can get the same gorgeous view of downtown Seattle on the ferry to Bainbridge Island, which costs around $4 round trip, much less than the tour boat. But most visitors to Seattle don’t know about that alternative.


I’ve never known a lot about classical music, although I enjoyed the symphony in Rochester and do here in Seattle. But I know the name Michael Tilson Thomas, who was known as something of a wunderkind as a young conductor.

Thomas and the San Francisco symphony delivered a guest performance here at Benaroya Hall earlier this week.  Turns out Maestro Thomas is a year older than I am — still a virtuoso conductor, but no longer young. 🙂

Update on My Raccoons

Amy’s Aunt Joyce, a regular blog reader, asked if my raccoon problem has been solved. She noticed that my lawn looks lush and green.

The answer is no. Trapper Jon put a new kind of trap in the yard, and we now know there are two raccoons, not one. My neighbor saw them early one morning while letting out her dog. The trap hasn’t caught anything. But the raccoons haven’t been in the yard either, for more than a week.

I’d like to think they’ve moved on to better food opportunities, or that someone else trapped them, or that they’ve met their end in some other fashion. But Trapper Jon says this is baby season for raccoons. I suspect my pair are holed up with little ones, and that when they return they’ll come trailing a small army of voracious grub seekers.

Will let you know.

And You Thought You Had a Lot of Stuff

Museums are choking on donated art of variable quality that they can rarely if ever display, yet have to maintain in expensive climate controlled storage.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is ranking its stored artworks to see what can be donated, sold, or otherwise removed from the collection. Much of the art is by recognized artists — Vlaminck, O’Keefe, Chagall. The work isn’t necessarily bad, in poor condition, or an outright fake. A given piece might not be the best of that artist, or might be of lesser interest than other similar works also in the museum’s collection. What might be culled from the Indianapolis Museum might be a real winner for a smaller city museum that has no works at all by that artist.

Museums getting rid of stuff is called “deaccessioning”, and it’s a complicated process. No one wants to infuriate wealthy future donors who might actually have something really valuable to pass along in their estates. And some donated collections are governed by covenants legally put in place at the time of the gift. Arnold Lehman, who lead the Brooklyn Museum for many years, was successful in moving some things out of the museum’s collection, and unsuccessful with others.

Mr. Lehman was never able to unload some of the 926 items that were bequested by Col. Michael Friedsam, once president of the department store B. Altman, who died in 1932.

A quarter of the gifts, including old master paintings, turned out to be fake, misattributed or of poor quality. The museum still stores and cares for them because the courts have ruled that, under the colonel’s will, deaccessioning requires permission from his executors. The last of them died in 1962.”

We Americans have lots of stuff: valuable, collectible, or just clutter. It’s kind of funny to think of museums afflicted with the same problem we all have: what to do with our excess possessions.

One of the things many of us contend with in downsizing to smaller spaces as we age is the lack of storage space — just like the museums. I think of the houses in Rio Hato, that don’t have closets or storage spaces at all, because they don’t have extra stuff. Whatever they have is in current use. They hang things on hooks in their bedrooms.

But that’s not us. We have lots of things we’ve gathered over time and care about. The quest to find a permanent place for our treasured past meanders on.