Seattle’s Volunteer Park

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Seattle’s Volunteer Park for the first time. I don’t know how I missed this gem after living in this county for nearly 6 years. This is definitely a place I’ll be bringing visitors from out of town to from now on.

Volunteer Park was designed by the Olmstead Brothers, the same guys who brought us Central Park in New York City. That had to be the coolest job ever. They got to travel around and design huge city parks that are still appreciated today.

In this era, it’s too late for that. Everything has already been built up. You’re as likely to see a new city park as you are to see a new major airport. I’m glad cities had the foresight to carve out natural spaces while they still could, or no city would be livable today. (But nothing in life is that simple. More about the eminent domain atrocities in Central Park in an upcoming post.)

The City of Seattle bought the land for Volunteer Park in 1876 for $2,000. That land is priceless today. Consider this: This mansion, right across the street from the park, is for sale. You can buy it for a cool 6.3 million dollars. (If you want it, here are the details. My realtor husband can hook you up.)

Mansion

To design the park, they had to move a cemetery, and I sure feel sorry for those bodies and the people who had to dig them up, because they had been relocated once before. They started in what is now Denny Park, moved to what is now Volunteer Park, and were then shunted right next door to Lake View Cemetery. May they finally rest in peace. (Bruce and Brandon Lee are also buried here.)

Volunteer Park was once called Lake View Park, but folks were confusing it with the cemetery. J. Willis Sayre, who fought in the Spanish-American War, convinced the city to rename it for the volunteers who fought in that war. And it has been so called ever since.

The park is 48.4 acres, and includes lawns and wooded areas, and has a wide variety of trees and flowers. It’s about 1/20th the size of Central Park, but still seemed massive to me. There is a gorgeous conservatory, currently closed due to the pandemic, which was built from a kit purchased from the Hitchings Company of New York. A lovely carriage drive winds through the park, and it is easy to imagine the horse drawn carriages that must have once used it.

The park also has a concert grove with a small stage, and a water tower which I’m told has spectacular views of the city… when it’s not closed due to the pandemic. There’s also an intriguing Seattle Asian Art Museum in a cool Art Deco building, which is, yeah, yeah, closed. There is also a very large and placid reservoir in front of the museum which greatly enhances the view.

Between the museum and the reservoir is a piece of art called Black Sun which I was told inspired the song Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. If you line your camera up just right (which I did not, exactly), you get a great view of the space needle through this sculpture. (A few years ago, I also visited Seattle’s Sound Garden, which inspired the band’s name. Alas, the wind wasn’t blowing at the time, so the sound garden remained mute.)

Apparently there are also some tennis courts on the grounds of Volunteer Park, but I didn’t see those. In season, there are also dahlia gardens, koi ponds, and a wading pool.

I look forward to visiting this lovely park again and again. Here are some photos that we took during our visit.

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The Very Model of a Modern Lemon

I just had to replace the catalytic converter on my 2002 Subaru Forester. This cost me more than the blue book value of the car. My brother-in-law would kill me if he knew, because he firmly believes one should never spend more than a car’s blue book value on a repair.

But I think there’s more to consider. First of all, this repair will add years to the life of the car. Now that it can breathe again, it’s really in pretty good shape. I trust that there will be many more years of driving in this car. It’s a reliable old work horse. Second, do I really want to spend money on a replacement, given the outrageous cost of cars these days? I might wind up with a 2003 something, but better the devil you know. And I like not having a car payment.

Yes, it would be nice to have heated seats and a rear view camera. It would be nice to be in a hybrid. It would be freakin’ amazing to be in something new. But it’s not really a high priority in my life. I’d rather spend the money on travel. And I mostly only use this car to get from home to work and back again. (And no, public transportation isn’t really an option given my schedule and my location.)

And even though this car is old enough to vote or drink in some states, it’s still just fine and dandy compared to the 2001 Dodge Caravan I used to drive. It got me from Florida to Washington state, so I’m grateful for it, but that vehicle was a lemon-flavored nightmare.

It had no heat and no functioning windshield wipers. In Seattle. I had to wrap myself in a horse blanket to drive in the winter, and any time the rain got bad, I would have to pull over.

After a good rain, if I drove up a hill, a torrent of water would come cascading out of the dashboard, and wash across the floor like a tsunami, only to pour out the back doors. This, of course, meant that I had a myriad of electrical problems and I was constantly replacing fuses. The radio didn’t work. There was also no air conditioning. The door windows would open and close at random intervals.

Since the car was constantly moist on the inside, and there was no heat, this meant that the humidity, when I’d drive the car in the morning, would build up on the inside of the windows. I was constantly toweling them off in transit so that I could see to drive. Even worse, on very cold winter mornings, I’d have to come out and scrape the frost from the outside and the inside of the windows.

To combat this inside window frost, I developed a strategy that now seems laughable, but at the time it was essential. I snaked a 100 foot extension cord out my bedroom window and into the car. On the car end, I attached a tiny portable heater that I would sit on the dashboard. On the bedroom end was a timer that would turn on the heater about 45 minutes before I woke up. Then, at least, there was a patch of window to see out of.

I finally had to get rid of that van when the entire thing started shuddering as I drove. I thought it was going to disintegrate. So I turned it in to the car dealer who sold me the Subaru. But I made them put it in writing that they would not sell it to someone else, and would not donate it to a charity, and wouldn’t even sell it for parts. They’d only have it crushed for scrap metal. Because that thing was a death trap, and I didn’t want to pass any part of it on to anyone else.

Now, I kind of laugh in horror at what I put up with in that van. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But now you know why I love my Subaru, and refuse to let a catalytic converter come between us.

lemon

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I Should Have Been in Italy Today

I have reached the nadir (I hope) of my quarantine depression today. Because today, after thirty long years of trying, my plane should have been touching down at the Venice Marco Polo Airport. We had made the airline reservations. We had booked all our hotels and Airbnb’s and train tickets for a two week, Italian extravaganza.

We had planned to spend three glorious days in Venice, then cross the top of the country by train to visit the Cinque Terra, then go on down to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis. From there, we’d have settled in to Sorrento, to use it as a hub to visit Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast, and then spend a few days in Rome before returning home.

And then, COVID-19. So close. So freakin’ close.

It’s not the first time that my Italy plans have been scuttled. Economic downturns, relationship breakups, and a relocation to the west coast that took all the Italy savings I had been putting away faithfully every month, for 10 ½ years, are some of the many disappointments I’ve experienced. But this time I had actually held the freakin’ tickets in my hands. I had written out the itinerary. I had read the guidebooks and watched everything Rick Steves had to say on the subject. We had even paid for a consultation with one of his staff. What could possibly go wrong?

Now I’m wondering if international travel of any kind will actually be viable ever again. I suspect this isn’t going to be the last pandemic. It certainly wasn’t the first.

I realize that I look like a privileged, bourgeois brat to be whining about this when people are dying and losing their jobs. I know that I have it so much better than so many people. I’m extremely lucky.

But it’s really hard not to be sad when I was supposed to be in Italy today. It feels like I’m in a state of mourning that no one will understand. It feels like I really have no legitimate right to be upset, and that makes it so much worse.

This trip would have generated a lot of blog posts, too. Maybe I’ll make some spaghetti for dinner and try not to cry into it. I suppose I could blog about that. Or maybe not.

Venice

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Picnics

I used to have a gorgeous picnic basket. Made of beautifully woven reeds, with a double hinged lid, it had a removable wooden stilted platform inside so that you could keep your pie (of course) from being crushed by all the other food. It was complete with special slots to hold one’s cutlery.

I imagined many a romantic outing in gorgeous parks, taking in the view and sitting upon a pretty red and white checked blanket that I didn’t actually own. And the culinary delights, which I wouldn’t be able to cook, that would come out of that basket would be finished off by a bottle of wine, even though I don’t drink alcohol. And what the hell, why not, I’d be wearing something Victorian, with a gorgeous hat, which of course is not part of my wardrobe.

As you can imagine, I never used that basket. Not even once. And it didn’t make my relocation from the East coast to the West. It just took up too much space. I had to leave a lot behind.

No, my picnics usually consist of a Subway sandwich consumed while sitting alone on some rock or other. And that’s a pity, because food always tastes so much better outdoors. It makes me wish I were the pie baking sort.

In light of this pandemic, I think picnics should come back into fashion. None of us can afford much these days, and a lot is closed. But the weather is warming up and flowers are blooming, and all of that is free. There’s nothing to prevent us from lovingly preparing a meal that we’d be eating anyway, and sitting in our back yard or on our patio or even on the living room floor, and taking in the view of our partners in lockdown.

Yeah, it’s not a Victorian picnic complete with footmen to pour the wine, but it’ll do.

picnic

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My Fraught Relationship with Harvest Moon

The first time I heard the song Harvest Moon by Neil Young was around 2016. That surprises me, because the song came out in 1992 and I love Neil Young. How did this one pass me by? Of all his songs, this one is now my favorite. But every time I hear it, it hits me in the gut.

The first time I heard it, I was in a bar with a couple friends. I hadn’t been in the Seattle area for very long, and I was feeling very much like I didn’t fit in out here and never would. I was still grieving the abrupt and unexpected death of my boyfriend, and I felt extremely fragile.

On top of all that, this was a crowded venue with a live band. I only knew my two friends, but they knew pretty much everyone. I always feel marginalized in crowds, but this situation seemed to magnify those feelings.

And then the band started playing Harvest Moon, and like magic, everyone paired off and started to dance. Everyone, that is, except me and three guys across the room who weren’t looking at me at all. It was such a romantic moment. You could just feel the love. And I was all alone.

I missed my late boyfriend so much that it was a physical ache in my very core. And I felt as though I would feel this bad for the rest of my life. I had no idea how I’d survive that.

“Because I’m still in love with you, I want to see you dance again…”

I burst into tears. I retreated to the bathroom. And then I had to leave. I cried all the way home.

Now, whenever I hear Harvest Moon, I remember that night. But fortunately things have changed for me. I did find love once more. I am no longer lonely. I can’t believe that I get to be happy again. I look forward to dancing with my husband to that song someday, should the situation present itself.

But I’ll probably still have a tiny tear in my eye, even as I smile and thank my lucky stars. Music can sure evoke deep and complex emotions, can’t it?

Harvest moon

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Breakthrough!

Whenever I work the day shift, once I’ve survived the commute and parked my car, I make my way over my drawbridge to the bridge tower. I’m usually not living my best life at that exact moment. I could never be mistaken for a morning person.

But during that foggy-brained walk, I almost always pass a guy who is walking in the opposite direction. I could set my watch by him. We both are creatures of habit, it seems.

I often wonder about this guy. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? He’s a bit scruffy, but he’s punctual as all get out.

So, about 9 months ago, I decided that I would say good morning as we passed each other. He did not even look up at me, and he said not a word. But this is Seattle, after all. People don’t just say good morning to strangers, as a general rule. It’s just not done. (I’ll never get used to that.)

The next day, I thought that maybe this time, my good morning wouldn’t take him by surprise. But I got the same reaction. No eye contact, no response.

Okay, this has become a challenge. I began to want, very badly, to get a good morning out of this guy. I was determined.

Months went by, and I continued to do my daily experiment. It became a bit of an effort to keep my pleasant tone when I could only assume I was going to get nothing back. But I did so because, when all is said and done, I really did hope he had a good morning.

After all that time with no eye contact whatsoever, I began to wonder if this gentleman had some sort of anxiety disorder. If so, were my good mornings construed as a type of bullying? Was I adding stress to his life? That certainly wasn’t my intention.

But I really didn’t know a thing about him. Maybe he was just less of a morning person than I was. Maybe he was a Seattleite from birth and his greeting muscle had atrophied. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he just wanted to be left alone, but on the other hand, maybe he’s desperately lonely and just socially awkward.

I decided to press on, because if he never responded, it wasn’t like I’d beat him up or something. He’s an adult and can make his own choices. I’d just be a little sad.

Somewhere around month three, he began to give me eye contact. He didn’t smile, but he didn’t give me a hostile glare, either. Progress.

By the end of month six, I began to detect a change in expression. Was that a very slight, hesitant smile peeking out of his scruffy beard? Yes, I think so.

Then in early February, I got really sick with the head cold from hell, and I missed a week of work and sidewalk greetings. I wondered if he noticed. But I didn’t dwell on it, because I was too busy coughing up my lungs.

When I came back to work, to be honest, I still felt like utter crap. I’m sure I didn’t exactly look like my old self, either. I was so busy trying to ambulate through my vertigo that I didn’t bother to say good morning, or even look up, to him or anyone else, for about two weeks.

The following week, though, I was back to our old routine. This time I got the biggest smile ever. That really made me happy.

After that, his smile was more subdued, but it was still there. I’d like to think that I was a bright spot in his morning. I hoped so, at least.

And then today, it finally happened. I said good morning, and he smiled brightly. “Good morning!” he said.

I almost jumped for joy. I wanted to dance the rest of the way down the bridge. I wanted to look over my shoulder at him, but I didn’t want to intimidate him in any way, so I just walked, casually, to the bridge tower, climbed the stairs, and then started jumping up and down. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Do I plan to escalate this contact? No. I look forward to exchanging good mornings, of course, but I’ll leave it at that. We are strangers, and I’m perfectly content to let it stay that way. But now we’re strangers with benefits of a rated G sort.

Can I get a high five for persistence?

Good morning!!!!!!

colbert_high_five

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“What’s Your Problem?”

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. I’ve learned a great deal about communication from my healthy relationship with my husband. It makes me realize how messed up all my past relationships have been.

Years ago, pre-husband, when I had something that (I thought) was interesting to share, I’d say, “Hey Bob!” (Name changed because, to be honest, I really don’t care.)

He’d respond, “What’s your problem?”

That would take the wind out of my sails. Here, I wanted to tell him this cool thing I’d heard on NPR. I wanted to share a moment. A laugh. A smile. Instead of responding with enthusiasm, he’d come at me with his typical negativity.

For Bob, everything was a problem. Being alive was a problem. You’ve never met a sadder sack in your entire life. It made people uncomfortable. They wanted to avoid him. I didn’t realize how much his horrible attitude weighed me down until I got out from under it.

Who wants to be in a relationship where everything you say is interpreted as some sort of problem? I certainly didn’t. And even more insidious is the fact that clearly there was a lot under the surface that he was failing to say. He’d much rather be a martyr than assertively communicate and work out issues. No positive growth to be had there. Instead, I got the passive aggressive, “What’s your problem?”

Oh, I tried to talk to him about it on multiple occasions. He didn’t seem to think that any changes were needed, so I was left to realize that the problem was, in fact, his. I hope he hasn’t carried that on to future relationships. I would wish rather more for him than that.

But his Facebook page indicates that he’s still unhappy with life. It’s an endless litany of complaints, negativity, bitter humor, deep cynicism, and depression. Every once in a while there will be something pleasant in there, but if you count each post as positive or negative, the negative stuff outweighs those things ten to one, and half the time the positive things were posted to his page by someone else. It makes me sad just to look at it. It also makes me relieved that I’m no longer breathing that toxic air.

Now I’m married to someone who is interested in what I have to say. He also happens to have a lot of interesting things to say himself. I look forward to talking to him. It isn’t a chore for either of us. I save up stuff to tell him at that happy moment when I finally get home, and we communicate positively throughout the day. And now I realize that’s how it should be. How lucky am I?

Yes, life will throw its fair share of problems at you. There’s no denying that. But that’s not the lens through which I choose to view the world. It’s not my automatic assumption. I also happen to think that negativity is learned, and can be unlearned, but some people would rather wallow. I have no idea why. Clearly wallowing hasn’t made them happy or they wouldn’t feel the need to wallow.

I have this theory that people like this think that their attitude is something that they are helpless victims of, rather than it being a conscious choice. I would hate to feel that helpless. Yes, I struggle with depression, and there are days when I feel like crying, but for the most part, I spin my world rather than letting it spin me.

Your existence should not be a problem to overcome. There is so much to see and do and learn and be inspired by! There’s so much beauty and wonder! Life is such a gift and such an opportunity. It shouldn’t be squandered.

It’s delightful to be in a relationship that isn’t covered with a wet wool blanket of despair. My husband can put a positive spin on just about anything. If he sees dog poop in the road, he’ll say, “Thank goodness the dog wasn’t run over!”

I love that about him. So, so much. Life is good.

communication-pattern

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Feeling Low and Looking Lower

I’m still struggling with the final, bitter dregs of this illness. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever feel human again. Am I recovering slower because I’m getting older, or because bugs are becoming more insidious and diabolical? I don’t plan on looking into that very deeply, because neither conclusion would be pleasant. Bleh.

In times like these, I tend to want to look back at even more awful periods in my life. No, I’m not a masochist. I just like to remind myself that I survived that, so I’ll survive this.

So while lying here in a stupor, encased in flannel, I suddenly remembered a time, not too long ago, when I was in such dire straits that I actually had to start a crowdfunding campaign to get me through. I learned a lot from that experience. It was humiliating. It was heartwarming. I’ve never been more vulnerable in my entire life. It showed me who my friends really were. And it taught me how important it is to pay it forward.

Check out my blog post entitled The Fine Art of Begging to get all the details. You can also find it in my first book. And as a follow up, I’ll say that I’m still not in contact with those relatives who thought I was an embarrassment to the family, and I don’t miss them at all. And I have paid it forward every chance I’ve gotten, and will continue to do so for as long as I live.

Sending you love and light, dear reader, and hoping that I’ll be back amongst the living very soon.

Light at the end of the tunnel
See? There IS a light at the end of the tunnel!

The Great Unsaid

Just out of pure dumb luck, I was born in a racial majority in a relatively free country. The vast majority of the privilege that I have enjoyed, and still enjoy, I did not earn. I’m very aware of it. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take advantage of it. (You’d be lying if you said you wouldn’t too, if you found yourself in this position.) Sorry. It’s an ugly, uncomfortable fact.

And then, too, out of pure dumb luck, I find myself living in one of the most financially vibrant places in the world. The cost of living in the Pacific Northwest is outrageous. It can be a struggle to keep your head above water here. But when you do… oh, when you do… it’s delicious. There, I said it.

I did nothing to deserve any of this. I know it. I admit it. I’m not proud of it. But there you have it. I haven’t actively stolen anything. I haven’t committed crimes or hurt anyone. I have worked hard all my life, yes, but things have been handed to me, and I’ve taken them. I’ve also had fewer hurdles to climb, which means I’ve had a lot more energy to carpe that diem.

The most uncomfortable thing about living in the Pacific Northwest is what I call the Great Unsaid. How did we come to be here, in this fruitful place, where the salmon run and the trees push ever skyward? How did no one else notice that it’s rainy, yes, but the summers and winters are mild, the food is abundant, and the land is beautiful? How did we manage to just move right on in and set up camp?

That’s the thing. People had noticed. For centuries, the indigenous people here had thrived, had cleared large swaths of land to live upon. They had hunted and fished and celebrated and established communities and waged war amongst themselves long before Europeans set foot on this land. I think it would have been a great deal harder for us to move right on in had our timing been a little different. We’d have sailed up to this place at its height.

But no. By the time George Vancouver cruised these shores in 1792, what he found was utter devastation. Whole villages wiped out. Bones stacked up in houses, bleached bodies scattered upon the beaches. Death. Misery. The few people left alive were poverty stricken, weak, refugees unable to defend their ancestral lands.

It seems that smallpox broke out during the American Revolutionary War, and it swept the country from east to west, and from Mexico to Canada, devastating entire communities as it ground on, finally arriving like a tsunami on this coast, only to be snuffed out by the Pacific Ocean.

This was the most significant event in North American history, and yet most of us know nothing about it. You can read more about it in this article in the National Post entitled “Everyone was dead: When Europeans first came to B.C., they stepped into the aftermath of a holocaust”. I’d venture to say that it’s more horrifying but less known about than the holocaust.

So there you have it. Luck again. Europeans cruised up to an area where as much as 95 percent of the population had been conveniently wiped out by a disease which, by the way, these same Europeans had visited upon their shores. They moved right in. They built upon the bones of those who had been here before.

We may not like to think about it, but everything here has been built upon bones. A very opportunistic phoenix rose from someone else’s ashes. And here we are.

George Vancouver
George Vancouver, just a lucky man.

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Scarred for Life

I am currently sporting a three inch gash on my right cheek. The worst part about it is that I have been so sick that I don’t have a clue where it came from. I just surfaced from my swirling pool of delirium at one point and there it was. And of course the minute I knew it was there it started to hurt.

I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. I guess it’s actually more like a scratch. A bright red, deep, angry scratch. Maybe it’s something my enthusiastic dog visited upon me, or else the result of a bad wrestling match with my CPAP mask. I have been known to sleep walk and wind up in strange places, and Nyquil does tend to keep its secrets. I only know it looks like I’ve been in a bar fight. As people stare at me, I’m tempted to say, “You should see the other guy.”

It’s embarrassing to go out in public looking like this, especially since I don’t have a funny story to go along with it. It’s a good thing that I’m feeling so weak and unmotivated that I’m naturally lying low anyway. But in retrospect I needn’t have worried, because I forgot that I am now living in the Pacific Northwest.

You see, in Florida, if I had gone out like this, strangers would be stopping me on the street. “Child, what happened to you?” If I had been walking with my husband they might even say, “Did HE do this to you?” All while giving him the hairy eyeball. In the South, people are all up in your business.

But here in the Pacific Northwest you could walk down a busy street with a sucking chest wound and no one would even bat an eyelash. Here, no one wants to intrude. Its as if everyone walks around wearing a cloak of invisibility. You could have a second head growing out of your chest and the most intrusive interaction you’d have with somebody would be their inquiry as to what floor you are going to when you get on the elevator and can’t reach the buttons because your second head is in the way.

This has its pros and its cons. Sometimes I genuinely don’t want to be bothered with people, and here people make that very easy. You do you, I’ll do me. But I do miss that sense of community, and that honesty. Because come on, if you see a gash on a woman’s face, you really do want to know what the hell happened. At least I do. I’d rather someone asked than that they make up a story. I’d rather think that someone gives a shit rather than feel like I’m all alone in the world. I like my privacy, but I’d also like to think that there’s help out there if I should ever need it. Yes, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I just always seem to live out in the lunatic fringe, where all the extremes of behavior come home to roost.

In the meantime, until this wound heals, I’m kind of liking the Pacific Northwest realm of things. Here, my gash doesn’t exist. No one but small children will even look at it directly. No one will ever inquire about its origins. Therefore no one will never know that in this instance, their guess is as good as mine.

scar_face_carved_pumpkin_by_ikisswolves

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