Happy Leap Day

February 29th comes about but once every 4 years. Something this rare should be celebrated. It should be a holiday. But what would you do on a Leap Day?

Leap, of course.

One thing I don’t recommend is that you visit a Lovers’ Leap, unless you simply want to take in the view. They are usually remote precipices that come with tragic stories. Often, they involve lovers who cannot be together for various reasons, and therefore hold hands and jump to their deaths. Just as often the story goes that some hapless female will jump off a cliff rather than be forced to wed someone she does not love.

For some reason, these tragic figures tend to be Native Americans. Perhaps that’s because they are far enough out in history to be unknown, and often their culture had no written historical records that one could consult for confirmation. I’ve never understood why people like to romanticize suicide, but it seems to be rather common.

Wikipedia has 45 such places listed throughout the world, which makes me believe, or at least hope, that most of these stories are fictitious. No doubt there are more locations out there. People do love their legends.

These places hardly seem practical. As much as I love my husband, I’m not going to jump off a precipice for him. (Sorry, dear.) But the fact that he wouldn’t want me to is part of his charm, in my opinion.

So, yeah, a lovers’ leap wouldn’t be my first choice for a leap day celebration. Perhaps, instead, you should take a leap of faith. Take a risk. Do something you wouldn’t normally do. Carpe diem! But be sensible about it. Don’t jump off a cliff thinking, “Yeah, maybe I’ll turn into a great story.” That would not be cause for celebration even if you did. Ouch.

Another option would be to jump to a conclusion. On the whole, we all seem to be getting better at that. We get sucked in to conspiracies or fake news, or we assume that someone who doesn’t vote the way we do is just naturally evil across the board. That’s irrational, and something we all need to work on.

Perhaps this should be a day when we reach out to someone we don’t normally agree with. Leap into a new friendship. That could be good, if it caught on.

Whatever you choose to do on this special occasion, Happy Leap Day, dear reader!

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A Perfect Mess

I could never live in one of those neighborhoods where all the houses are identical. I could never even live in an area with a homeowner’s association. I’m full of too many quirks and perfect imperfections. That, and I resent authority. Nobody is going to tell me what color to paint my mailbox.

But I must admit that I’ve been fascinated with New Urbanism as a concept ever since I saw the movie The Truman Show, which was filmed in Seaside, Florida. New Urbanism consists of meticulously planned communities that give off this 1950’s vibe of perfection that never actually existed. Spotless, flawless homes with spotless, flawless yards and spotless, flawless streets, restaurants, and shopping areas. Mixed-use buildings with cute little high-end shops and condominiums. A place where all the movies are rated G, and all the neighbors look exactly like you.

I love visiting these places because they are the embodiment of Trump’s idea of what a great America used to look like. It’s like peering into a misguided fantasy. It’s hard to look away.

These places are so immaculate and unblemished that they are disturbing, in the way that robots designed to look like humans are disturbing. You look into their smiling, robotic faces and you know that there’s no “there” there. Beneath the surface, something is extremely not human.

I visited the planned community of Celebration, Florida a few times. It was fun, in a voyeuristic kind of way. I blogged about it and places like it in a post called “Too Perfect.”

When I go to one of these communities, I’m impressed by their beauty, but at the same time I’m constantly on edge. I’m afraid I’ll scuff the sidewalk or something, and these men in white coats will burst from the bushes and carry me away. There’s an underlying tension required to maintain perfection, and that makes it unpleasant.

I can just imagine the neighborly infighting. “The third slat on Mr. Jones’ white picket fence is 1 degree off center. This is not to be borne. We need to report him.”

It’s unsettling to gaze upon perfection and yet be unable to shake the feeling that just below the thin veneer, there’s some kind of moral decay. Or maybe even a physical decay. And so it was that I wasn’t overly shocked to read an article entitled, “Celebration, Florida: How Disney’s ‘Community of Tomorrow’ Became a Total Nightmare”.

It seems that many of the residents of this community have filed a lawsuit, because the place is, in fact, falling apart. Disney sold much of Celebration to a private equity firm in 2004, and ever since then, Celebrationites claim that this firm has been pocketing homeowners dues and not making any repairs whatsoever. There’s so much water and termite damage that some people have had to leave, or put up with swathes of black mold, swaying floors, and unusable stairways. The firm is also threatening to slap the homeowners with fees that are higher than the original price of their residences, all while their property values decline.

It must be awful to think you’re investing in perfection, only to discover that, even in that magical place, human greed and incompetence still rises to the surface to muck everything up. That would be like gazing upon the forbidden fruit, and then realizing that, if not nurtured, it can rot before it’s even harvested, just like all the other produce in the world.

I wish these people good luck with their lawsuit, but I think their dream was inherently flawed in the first place. I’ll take my one of a kind, unregulated home any day.

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A Celebration of Light

One of the things I’ll never get used to here in the Pacific Northwest is that there is nearly 8 hours less sunlight per day in the winter than there is in the summer. In Florida, the difference is only 4 hours. But that means that people here really appreciate the daylight when they have it. It can’t be taken for granted. There is a definite morale change from summer to winter, and with it comes a lifestyle change. People seem to hibernate here in the wintertime.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that Vancouver, Canada, our neighbor to the north, has a three day celebration of light each summer. The funny thing is, this celebration takes place at night. That’s because it is a fireworks competition.

Each year, three countries are chosen to put on a fireworks display over English Bay on three separate evenings. These displays are set to music, and they’re judged. They’re always spectacular. The event comes with food trucks, too, and usually draws about 400,000 people per night.

This year, India, Canada, and Croatia competed. Canada, the home team so to speak, won. Croatia won the people’s choice award. (Click on the country names to see full Youtube videos of the events. They’re incredible.)

I was lucky enough to experience Canada’s effort, and I must say that it was, without a doubt, the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw at least 5 types of fireworks that I’d never seen bfore. They were wonderfully creative, surprising, and delightful.

If you’re ever in the Vancouver area in late July, early August, don’t miss the Celebration of Light. But please don’t bring your dog. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d probably take my dogs and leave town during this event. War veterans might want to give it a pass, too.

But everyone else… wow. Just wow. Three cheers for light!

Celebration of Light 2019

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The Fellowship’s the Thing

I had a very unique Thanksgiving this year. It wasn’t about turkey or relatives. No family tension.

Since Thanksgiving has forever been my favorite holiday, I always kind of feel a spike in anxiety just before the day. Will I be spending it alone? I can think of nothing worse. When I came to this city in August of 2014 I didn’t know a soul. It was kind of daunting, really. It’s not easy to start over again in your 50’s.

But my first Seattle Thanksgiving was a delightful one. The cousin of a dear friend kind of took me in, and I met a lot of really nice people in a beautiful house in Ballard. On year two I had to work, but a friend brought me a plate on the job, and hung out with me while I ate it. That was unbelievably kind.

This year I was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. I met her daughter and her daughter’s partner for the first time, and got to know another one of her friends a little better. Vegetarians all, but willing to occasionally eat fish, they had no turkey or gravy on their table. We had salmon, and the most amazing stuffed squash and salads and mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs, and pumpkin pie for dessert. And then I had to rush out the door and go to work. But I left encased in a warm glow.

Then at work I got a text from another friend. “Look for hippies in hats,” she said. Huh? And then there they were, walking up the bridge! I had a nice visit with them while I ate my second Thanksgiving of the day. (Calories don’t count on this one day a year, don’t ya know.) They made this pilgrimage in the rain just to spend some time with me. And that meant so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it.

Yes, the meaning of Thanksgiving is rather troublesome. I would be thrilled if it were replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day. (But I can see how that would be a difficult shift to make for some people, after the momentum of generations of tradition.) But for me, the Thanksgiving story, with all its falsehoods and inequities, is not the thing. The thing is the fellowship. It’s breaking bread with people. It’s gratitude for making it through another year. It’s the coming together, without the pressure of gift giving or elaborate decorations. Good food, good people. Good times.

This was a most excellent way to spend the holiday. Salmon may fly in the face of what we consider to be tradition, but it felt like the perfect Pacific Northwest way to celebrate a year of abundance. And sitting in the dark on a drawbridge and watching the rain fall may not be a horn of plenty, candles, and the good silver, but it was such a relief to be around people who weren’t at political loggerheads, and had no reason to rehash old wounds, as there were none. It was the best of that day—fellowship with people who accept you as you are.

With the right people, you could serve me a TV dinner fresh out of the microwave. It would still seem like a feast. When all is said and done, that is definitely something to be thankful for.

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Too Perfect

If you’ve seen the movie The Truman Show, you have experienced Seaside, Florida in all its creepy perfection. I have never been there myself, but I have been to Celebration, Florida, which is another perfectly planned little hamlet. These places are cool to visit, but they kind of give me the willies.

Seaside, Florida [Image credit: misfitsarchitecture.com]
Seaside, Florida [Image credit: misfitsarchitecture.com]

These communities are regulated in the extreme. Individuality is very discouraged. The houses can only be a certain style and a certain range of colors. Your white picket fence must be of a particular design. And forget about unique landscaping. Seaside and Celebration are the Stepford Wives of communities, even more so than your typical neighborhoods with homeowners associations.

I am thinking of these places because recently I drove through Port Gamble, Washington. Port Gamble was established in 1853, and looks as if it has been frozen in time. The Victorian houses, many of them identical, are in pristine condition, and there’s one continuous white picket fence along the length of the main street. There are also some touristy shops, but we didn’t stop.

The reason we didn’t stop is that I got the shivers just driving through the place. Yes, it’s charming, and each building, if by itself, would be a delight. But as you drive through there, you start to notice that there’s a distinct absence of humans. And all the blinds are drawn. I could easily imagine an FLDS polygamist cult occupying the town, or an extended family of zombies. It’s downright disturbing. I wouldn’t want to be caught there after dark. It felt like an extremely sanitized ghost town.

Port Gamble's perfect little church.
Port Gamble’s perfect little church.
Port Gamble's perfect little picket fence. Taken from the safety of my car. With the window rolled up.
Port Gamble’s perfect little picket fence. Taken from the safety of my car. With the window rolled up.

I genuinely think that there’s such a thing as too much perfection. Humanity lies in the flaws; in the peeling paint and the tacky lawn flamingoes. When people start marching in lockstep, they seem robotic. When they force their surroundings to do the same, it feels otherworldly. I would definitely not thrive in that environment. It’s too much about appearances and what the neighbors think.

The Bare Bones of a Tradition

Independence Day is one of my very favorite holidays because it doesn’t come with any pressure. In-laws don’t fly in. There’s no need to buy gifts. The dust bunnies can continue to reside languorously under the bed. You don’t even have to cook if you don’t want to. You can make it as elaborate or low-key as you want.

Since this was to be my very first 4th of July in Seattle, I wanted to make it special. For me, special is low-key with fireworks thrown in for good measure. I put a lot of thought into this. I didn’t want to fight traffic (which is horrific in Seattle even at the best of times) and because I would be alone, I didn’t particularly want to deal with crowds, because I’d feel lonely enough as it was.

I formulated the perfect plan. I found the one parking space in the entire city that no one else would think of, and a circuitous route to it that was far from the madding crowd. I found the one location that I’d almost be guaranteed to have all to myself, and it would have a sort of, kind of, semi-good view of the fireworks (which is why it was virtually deserted). And it would only require the tiniest bit of trespassing. (But hey, I’m a fat old woman alone with a lawn chair. It’s not like I constitute a terrorist sleeper cell.)

I got there two hours early, and sat in a nearby park. I didn’t want to do the trespassing part until the very last minute. It’s a lovely little park with a nice view of the water. I sat there reading my kindle and watching the boats go by. I also could observe Venus and Jupiter on the horizon as a balmy breeze kept me cool.

While waiting, it occurred to me that all traditions have to start somewhere, and perhaps this would be the start of a long-standing one for me. I could definitely get used to this. It was a delightful evening.

I looked into the future and imagined doing this someday with a friend by my side. Or even better, a lover. Or even better than that, a lover and a few friends. And some hamburgers. Yeah. That would be perfection. Maybe someday. Heck, if I’m dreaming, let’s throw in a boat and an even better view from the water!

But I had to stop that line of thought or I might get sad, focusing on everything I still didn’t have. Now was not the time for loneliness. Now was the time to trespass and see some fantastic fireworks!

So that’s what I did.

And before you even ask, no, I will not reveal my secret location. It’s priceless. You couldn’t even get it out of me if you tried torture. This is my tradition, not yours.

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The Birthday Chair

It’s funny sometimes how you entirely forget things that used to loom so large in your life. When I was very small, my mother used to have this delightful tradition on our birthdays. She would allow us to sit at the head of the table in a tall backed chair which she had decorated with balloons and streamers and bows and ribbons.

When it was your turn to sit in that chair, you’d feel really extraordinary. It was as if you were the queen of the world. And then in would come the birthday cake, alight with candles. She used to make it from scratch, just for you. Often it was a unique shape. I remember one year it was a colorfully frosted rocking horse. I was so excited!

Somewhere along the way we stopped having the birthday chair. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because we each got to that self-conscious age and began to chafe at the special treatment. Or maybe as grinding poverty bore down upon us, she lost the will to make the effort. It’s hard to say, but somewhere along the way the tradition died out, and eventually it was forgotten.

I have no idea why it popped into my head at this point in time, but I’m turning 50 this month, and it sure would be nice to have someone treat me as if I were special. I guess I will have to train my dogs to blow up balloons and preheat the oven. What could possibly go wrong?

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