ukuleles

This afternoon I went to a ‘ukulele jam party’ at the Poor House Bistro (a remarkably authentic cajun joint in down town San Jose near the Shark Tank). Friends (Kenny, Heather Courtney, DB Walker played, and then the gang from Ukulele Underground jammed for a couple hours.

It wasn’t that the music was good – it was in every sense a jam party. Sloppy, disorganized, happy, slightly drunken. It wasn’t even that they were playing hawaiian music, ’cause there wasn’t that much of it. I think it was just the sound of ‘ukes playing that made my eyes go hazy.

For a lot of reasons, it’s been a fucked up year. Much of it I’ve been buried under work, to the point where having a life seems like a faraway dream. And of course, there was the growing burden of Mom’s care. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that it wasn’t just an increasing level of nuttiness, but in fact was the beginning of a sharp physical decline. But it was one more thing I had to do in a year where I’ve felt like I was drowning in un-done work and responsibility.

There was a brief instant when I felt the pressure lift; when I realized that I could say a peaceful goodbye to my mother and let her go, not burden her and myself with a long, miserable struggle, it was like a weight off my shoulders. But the weird elation was short lived, soon replaced with the realization that work was about to bury me again, and that I’d had no time at all to process what had just happened.

If a crisis can ever have good timing, mom’s did. There was a short lull at work, a month or so where we were able to catch our breath. Mom, for once in her life, timed something perfectly. But the window snapped shut far too quickly for me. Plans to combine vacation with work shut-downs evaporated, and of course, my finances are in disarray, with mom’s death and the maintenance needed on her house far exceeding the liquid cash she had when she died. So even if I had time, going anywhere far, for long, is out of the question.

So today, as I sat drinking a beer and listening to ukuleles play, it all hit me, very very heavily. It felt like someone had dialed gravity up.

Hawaii calls me; not just as a physical place, not just as a vacation destination, but as a mental state. And more than anything else, Hawaiian music gets to me. I hear ukuleles and slide guitar, and I can almost feel hot tropical air on my skin.

It didn’t matter that these kids were playing bob marley songs; the sound of ‘ukes is so much a part of my mental Hawaii that I could almost smell the damp earth of Kauai.

It hasn’t been that long since I’ve been there. August of ’07 in Kauai, and before that, exactly this time of year I was in Kona in ’06. But the last year feels incredibly long, and I feet more tired than I been in five years. For the first time since the day I started work at Apple, I hate going to work every day. My weekends blink by and all I can think of is, when is my next day off.

I really, really need to get the hell out of here. I need to have a long time to do nothing.

I always hate entries like this and usually threaten to delete them. Just nobody tell me to fucking breathe, ok?

mom’s house

I keep thinking of things I need to write about, since the whole ‘mom’ episode has begun to settle into dust – pardon my pun. About the process of planning burials (fire!), about how odd it must be to work in that industry. About reading a certificate that describes the end of a loved one’s […]

I keep thinking of things I need to write about, since the whole ‘mom’ episode has begun to settle into dust – pardon my pun.

About the process of planning burials (fire!), about how odd it must be to work in that industry. About reading a certificate that describes the end of a loved one’s life in stark black ink on paper that looks like money.

About what it’s like to walk into someone’s home, when they’re gone, truly gone.

It’s been difficult to find time. With typically brutal timing, my employer has decided that upcoming holidays means it’s time to kick into high gear, so I’m suddenly swamped with work again. And of course the logistics of death consumes so much time that it’s hard to actually just think about what it all means.

Last weekend, we (me, barb, my cousins sam and amy, kenny and sabine) gathered at my mother’s house to begin the process of dealing with the physical remnants of a life.

I’ve been lucky; my friend Kenny and I made a deal. He’s back from his tour, and needed a place to live, and I needed help dealing with mom’s house. So he and his lady SabinĂ© have moved in. They’ve done a lot of the cleaning I wasn’t ready to do, and more importantly, they make the house still feel like home. People I love still live there, and when I walk into mom’s little living room, it’s not grim, dusty and depressing, but instead warm, clean, and melancholy.

My mother wasn’t a pack rat. She was fiercely, obsessively organized. This makes my task very much easier than it might have been. Yet, in eighty years of life, one accumulates things. I’ve found a packet of confederate money, a WWI german iron cross, the official seal of the school we we helped build in the early seventies (Daybreak Institute). I found my father’s wedding ring, a strange assortment of my father’s key rings and pocket knives, a beautiful silver money clip. I found notebooks of my mother’s poetry and notebooks of my father’s sketches. I found sheet music to ‘the pink pather’, which I asked Kenny to learn for me so he can play it on his sax.

I found an entire photo album of my gramma Cookie’s that reads like an eighteen year old’s facebook page; there’s a short story to be found in it, as soon as I have time to read all the notes and copy all the pictures. My grandfather was a handsome, dashing womanizer, and it’s clear gramma had set her sights on him but not yet made him hers.

I found pictures of myself, my brother; my mother in a vietnam era army field jacket that was mine in 1972, then hers in the eighties, and and now my daughter Ruby’s.

I found pictures of my aunt Penny, and pictures of myself and Sam; we looked at pictures of our weird shared childhoods and both remembered being there, so many years ago. It’s been a long, long time since she and I have talked about being kids. I think we’d both forgotten; no one else really remembers, now. Her younger sister amy, maybe a bit, but amy’s an elemental sort who lives entirely in the now, and of course her mom and mine, my father and brother, are all gone.

The process is far from done. Yet it helps to internalize what’s happened. Seeing my mother’s bedroom empty, working through things about which she always told me “take care of this when I go”. Looking at belongings of my mother’s and father’s, here now in my home, my things. It helps. Yet I still think it every day, say it out loud to myself; “she’s gone.”

It has helped a great deal to share this with Sam. We met a few nights ago at a bar in los gatos; ostensibly because I wanted to give her my mother’s wedding ring, but I think more because both of us needed to keep taking about it all. Sam told Olivia stories about her mother, and about my mother and father. She told stories about me as a child that made my face go red. She described my parents through her mom’s eyes, as ‘beatnik poets and artists’.

It wasn’t a childhood like our children have. She grew up like a gypsy, never the same place for more than a year or so. My family were the anchors for hers; the place they could always come back to, when blood family wasn’t as close. My parents were the hard drinking, pot smoking intellectuals to her Penny’s wild child hippy, part parents, part siblings.

Seeing my daughter’s reaction to it, telling stories about a childhood that was far more unique than I tend to realize, helped me put it all in context. My relationship with my mother, with Sam’s mother, our entire family history helped me get my head around the loss of our final parent.

This weekend, I bring in a dumpster to get rid of some very old, very dusty furniture, and cart away the one or two items I’m keeping. But knowing Kenny’s there in the house, and knowing Sam and Amy remember what it was like growing up as we did, helps me not feel alone in this process. There’s continuity, from family to friends, and the house is very much a living place, with music and laughter. Someone’s reading my mother’s books, looking at my father’s paintings, and feeding the birds and squirrels that were mom’s best company the final three years of her life.

Loved ones who are still here are the most valuable thing I can think of; and I need to be sure I tell them this.

how’m I doin’

One week ago about this time, I was in a hospital room, slowly dialing up the morphine drip and watching my mother suck irregular, shallow breaths. Thee hours later I drove home and collapsed in sheer exhaustion. Six am last sunday, I woke suddenly, worrying my phone was still in silent, that I might have […]

One week ago about this time, I was in a hospital room, slowly dialing up the morphine drip and watching my mother suck irregular, shallow breaths. Thee hours later I drove home and collapsed in sheer exhaustion.

Six am last sunday, I woke suddenly, worrying my phone was still in silent, that I might have missed a call. 45 minutes after that, my phone rang, with the news that my mother had slipped quietly away.

It feels like month away, already. And the prior monday, when I checked her into the hospital for what was supposed to be a few tests seems half a year gone.

How are you, is the question I keep getting asked. By co workers, relatives, by friends, by a drunk-dialing old friend who called me at one am last night.

And my answer is – I don’t know. Because most of the time, I feel fine. The sobs that hit me starting when I told the doctor ‘take the mask of’ came in waves the next two or three days, hitting me randomly and passing quickly. And then they stopped, suddenly.

It’s a hard thing to explain to those who hasn’t seen an elderly relative die. There’s no way to explain the absolute certainty that it’s time. My mother’s death was not a tragedy. It was a release, a natural ending to a life already artificially extended with medication and technology.

I’ve witnessed tragic death. Young people struck down by violence or cancer, or people still hale and hearty in old age likewise taken by disease, not the simple end of the body’s span. I was there after my brother’s suicide; a tradgendy not because of his death, but because of the tragic failure of his own mind, and the support system that should have prevented his end. But by the time he took action to end his life, that end was inevitable.

My mother’s death ended pain, fear and suffering. Her mind and body were failing, after a long life. Our bodies have a shelf-life; we can extend this with care, and with luck, or we can shorten it. My mother, like most of her generation, took up smoking when it was cool, and harmless, and she carried on that habit long after she knew what the surgeon general says. She threw the dice and said, if it kills me then, ok, but I’m enjoying it now.

But whatever we do sets the clock forward or back a decade, or two; damage done simply skews the numbers. When the expiration date comes – when the warranty expires – then the machine begins to fail.

My mother’s failure was gradual; she maintained the ability to care for herself until the last couple of months. When she hit the final cliff, it was steep, and short; and she knew she was there. She knew, and lacked only the physical strength and the mental resolve to take control of her own departure. But she made that clear, in writing and in earnest, gasping pleas for help – I can’t go on any more.

So when the doctor asked me what I wanted to do – carry on the fight, postpone the inevitable, or ease the departure, I was able to calmly issue the order. Mentally, I’d had the dialog with myself a dozen times, and know without question what both I and my mother wanted.

The tears I wept, later, after I’d left the hospital for a bit to eat and make necessary phone calls, were not over death. They were tears of release, knowing the terror I’d seen in my mother’s eyes the last six weeks was gone forever; that by the time I was back in the hospital, she would be flying on a morphine drip. Her pain, her fear, her anxiety, for the last time, would be completely gone. I wept because, finally, I know I could help her; I was no longer helpless.

After she was gone, I alternated between numb, sad, and feeling relief; the thought of her ongoing fear and misery had given me incredibly nightmares for weeks. Knowing what we’d saved her, and what we’d saved the living family ended those nightmares, and set me free in a way nothing has in years.

The following monday I went back to work; primarily because I needed something to do that didn’t have anything to do with life or death; tuesday I went to work because I found the backlog of tasks I had to be a crushing load on my co workers. So I worked the week, taking a bit of time as I needed, and sleeping any chance I got.

“I’m ok,” I kept saying; people think I’m pretending. They think I’m playing stoic tough-guy hero. But the truth is, when I say it, I feel it. I’m experiencing sadness, when I think about it, and at odd moments like today, thinking about needing to go buy mom groceries, or wanting to ask her a question about a locket of my grandmother’s with two old photos. Who are these people I wanted to ask; but no one who’d know is now left. I’ll never know who they are.

BUt the sadness, the last week, seems smaller each day.

But other things are bothering me.

I teared up today when I was listening to the school director speak at my daughter’s new school; I started thinking about my kids, and felt a wash of love and sadness and found tears in my eyes. And I’m finding I can’t seem to do anything; every single thing I did at work last week took twice as long as usual, and I know damn well I wasn’t doing it as well as I normally do.

And then there’s the fatigue. I can’t tell if it’s just left-overs; the incredible stress of the last six weeks, the flu I was still battling the day mom died. I can’t tell if it’s something new, some cold I picked up at the hospital, or teh lingering flu turning into a lingering infection.

The fatigue is absolutely crushing. And I can’t tell if it’s my body failing, or if it’s emotional. But it frustrates the hell out of me to fall asleep on the couch at three in the afternoon after doing nothing all day.

Certainly, I understand grief. It’s a bitch, grief, and I’ve counseled others through it, and gone through it myself. The universal truth about grief seems to be that the only cure is time, and that the time seems to have a normal, fairly predictable life span. INtellectually I know I’m nowhere near done with it; I’ve in fact just begun it.

But it frustrates me – things I can’t fix, things I can’t manage, things I can’t control. With the weight of my mother’s suffering lifted, with the physical responsibility for her care gone, I want to let myself feel free; I also feel an intense need to solve things left hanging. I can’t do either; I can’t quite let go on the one hand, and can’t summon the energy and mental clarity to take care of all the business and physical work that needs doing. INstead, I pass out of the couch and wake up two hours later with my face in a puddle of drool, wondering where the day went and why I still can’t get up off the couch.

When people ask me how I am, I say I’m ok; and I mean it. I just can’t tell, right now, exactly what ok means.

update on my mother

I tried to post this update from work a couple of days ago and wasn’t able to finish. And of course there it sits on my work computer, which for some reason I’m not able to get into. So again from scratch. I’ve posted fragments about my mother’s decline. In short, she’s 80, has severe […]

I tried to post this update from work a couple of days ago and wasn’t able to finish. And of course there it sits on my work computer, which for some reason I’m not able to get into.

So again from scratch.

I’ve posted fragments about my mother’s decline. In short, she’s 80, has severe emphysema from a lifetime of smoking (she stopped ten years ago but the harm was done), and is showing signs of dementia (memory loss, confusion, anxiety).

This was a slow steady decline until about the last month, when it suddenly changed. Over two weeks she went from grouchy and forgetful to completely unable to cope, so paralyzed by anxiety and so forgetful she can no longer even use her asthma inhalers.

It became clear her time living by herself was over; but we have no options there (my house is small, with no room for mom, let alone mom + nurse), and her house is in such a state of sorry disrepair that no nurse would be willing to come in. So a nursing home is the only reasonable option, at least for the short term

Of course there’s no coverage for that. She owns a home, has some investemnt income, and a pension. She has full health from Kaiser but care-taking isn’t covered.

Meanwhile, we were advised to get her in for testing so the nursing homes would know what they were getting.

Last week, they did a CAT scan (which was actually really cool, I got to see brain), took blood, and did some other testing. This week, when we went in for the results, her doctor finally decided to practice medicine, rather than business, and admit her. The excuse was blood chemistry (her long time habit of eating low sodium foods and drinking a lot of water turned against her when her over-all food intake went to near zero; her blood sodium level was dangerously low).

So monday, with Mom screaming and begging, I admitted her to the hospital.

We expect this to be just one night; but surprisingly, there is room for compassion in the Kaiser system after all, though it’s buried deep. The doctor who has her case knew he had a case that was MUCH worse than mom’s regular doctor recognized. The CAT scan shows what looks like a series of very small strokes, worsened by the terrible state of her veins from years of emphysema. Her legs are so poorly supplied with blood that it’s amazing she still has feet. And of course the sodium problem isn’t responding. It’s also, finally, clear to Kaiser that my mother is profoundly mentally ill, depressed, anxious to the point of incoherence, and completely confused. So instead of booting her after one token night, they’re keeping her for a bit, looking for anything they can do to help, and, for the first time in her life, putting her on the right meds to control her depression and anxiety.

My mother is a brilliant woman, with a genius level IQ. But one of her greatest gifts is in her ability to fool people. She’s done it for years, convincing doctors she’s fine. But she couldn’t do it any more, finally snapping, in a constant state of fear and anger with anyone she deals with at Kaiser.

I sat with her last night for several hours while she alternately dozed and then woke, convinced she was at home, or that she had to do something. I reminded her every fifteen minutes that she was in the hospital and that nurses were there, she wasn’t all alone.

This morning (Thursday), I’m waiting to hear if she’s being released, or if they’re keeping her another day; I pray for another day. The stress and lack of sleep caught up with me monday night, and I have a horrible cold, and am at low ebb with my coping skills. So if I have to get my mother out of kaiser today and move her to a nursing home, the word ‘ordeal’ doesn’t describe it. She does not yet know about the nursing home, though on some level she’s aware (in between thinking she’s home, she will say ‘i’m never going home, am i’). But I do not look forward to the conversation where I tell her she’s leaving one hospital and going to another.

I’ve been very clear with the doctors; all I want for her now is as little pain and as much comfort as possible. DNR, do not take any special efforts to prolong her life. She has nothing to look forward to other than decline. They understand, but sadly, there’s no solution for a woman whose brain is dying, but whose body fights on. So comfort is our singular goal.

No Kobayashi Maru

Today in a school conference for my older daughter, one of her teachers said ‘she seems a little stressed’. This stands out, because more typically, teachers say things like ‘I wish I had a a whole class like her’. I explained to the teacher a bit about the current events regarding my mother The fact […]

Today in a school conference for my older daughter, one of her teachers said ‘she seems a little stressed’. This stands out, because more typically, teachers say things like ‘I wish I had a a whole class like her’. I explained to the teacher a bit about the current events regarding my mother

The fact that my daughter is stressed is neither news, nor unexpected. But saying it out loud to a stranger made me think about exactly how much stress this really is.

Things have not gone well in the last few weeks. I’d hoped mom would improve, once she began to get regular care. Once she knew we’d be around daily; once she had a nurse to tend her wounds, medication for pain and anxiety, i figured, she’d begin to feel better.

Mother’s never been long on coping skills; memories of this flood back. Now, suddenly, I remember her complaints about clothing that didn’t fit like she liked, or shoes that were too hot, too tight, too lose. I remembered driving back 300 miles on a family vacation because she’d left the only pair of sunglasses she could tolerate in an egghouse in jackson hole, wyoming.

These scenes were so ubiquitous in my childhood that I hadn’t even considered them in decades.

Yet now, I see what I saw as a child; panic, fussiness, intolerance of any discomfort or frustration or insecurity. I remember now seeing my mother react in screaming agony or howling rane to things I wouldn’t even break stride for.

All of it comes back, now that her limited coping skills are eroded to nothing. With her short term memory almost completely gone, anxiety engulfs her, and every discomfort, every question, every task, leaves her shaking and gasping. She’s alternating between rage and terror, with no clear idea of what’s she afraid of.

And I watch in mute frustration.

I’m ill-equipped for the unsolvable problem. I always describe this – revealing the depth of my geekiness – with a star trek reference. Kobayashi Maru – the no-win scenario. In Wrath of Khan, Kirk refers to having hacked the test in order to provide a ‘win’ scenario for a test that was supposed to have no solution, stating that he ‘didn’t believe in the no-win scenario’. That’s me. Down deep inside, I’m absolutely certain there’s a fix to every problem, given enough cleverness, enough resource, enough refusal to accept defeat. Things that can’t be beaten or out-thought or hacked fall far outside my frame of reference.

Thus, old age and mental illness mock my inability to solve them. Rage does no good; negotiation is useless. Even brute, cave-man force does nothing but worsen a tragic situation.

I lost my temper with my mother last weekend. Even knowing she’s physically helpless, slipping into madness, and utterly miserable, she exceeded my tolerance when she decided a bandage was causing the wound under it. She’d taken off her bandage, and told me proudly that she was going to call the nurses and tell them they couldn’t come and hurt her any more.

I yelled at her. And she yelled back, screaming that I don’t understand, that I don’t know what’s wrong. I wound up in tears, and she looked at me in confusion, not sure why I was mad at her or why I was wiping tears out of my eyes.

I am utterly powerless to help her; and every call I make to her doctor, her social worker, her nurse, leads to another goose chase that eats the hours of my day.

The stress is getting to me. Because I can’t move anything along. The hope of her improvement seems to have been in vain; yet to her doctors feel she’s getting better because the wounds on her leg are closing.

Because they gave her prozac for her depression and codeine for her pain, they feel the fatigue and anxiety are solved. Never mind that she refuses to take her meds out of terror they’ll exacerbate her confusion. Never mind that she’s coming apart mentally and physically. Never mind all the other things that might be wrong with her, given that she hasn’t been to a doctor in years.

And so I’m left to manage nursing care for a patient who won’t follow orders, by an agency that only wants to shovel her into the grave as soon as they can so they can close out a file without any more cost.

Twelve or thirteen years ago, my brother died. And I didn’t morn his passing; he’d checked out, mentally and physically, years before. I’d said my goodbye to him already; his death brought closure and relief. I did not expect to experience that again in my life; and yet here I sit. My mother is in a state of crushing misery, a trap of fear and pain she can’t escape, and I have no tools to ease her pain, no comforting words for someone who can’t remember what anyone said to her five minutes before. And all I can wish for today is that she slips quietly away in her sleep, saving further pain.

Today, we spoke to a nurse – finally someone who seems to recognize the severity and tragedy of the situation. For the fist time, someone from Kaiser agreed that she needed real care, something more that ‘two aspirin and call me in the morning’. Perhaps her experience in hospice nursing will carry weight that my ‘inexpert’ opinions don’t, and they’ll take some action to provide the care she’s entitled to as part of my father’s pension. My fingers are crossed, yet my expectations are very low; Kaiser cares about it’s patients the way a slaughter house cares about it’s product.

And what I can do now, is simply try to manage my own stress, and that of my family. My children have seen too much death and pain in the last two years; this will make the third relative down this path in that time. My job as parent is to tend them, giving what I can’t give to my own mother. And that one thing helps my state more than anything else I can do.

Portland is like…

Typically, my trip is over too soon. Tomorrow evening I fly home from Portland, into the fire and brimstone that is northern California, and back into what we think of as real life though I think if one does it right, travel is real life and work is the other thing we do from time […]

Typically, my trip is over too soon. Tomorrow evening I fly home from Portland, into the fire and brimstone that is northern California, and back into what we think of as real life though I think if one does it right, travel is real life and work is the other thing we do from time to time.

I’ve spent the last couple of days exploring neighborhoods around Portland; though I think I haven’t really even scratched the surface. My friends Bonnie and James moved up here several years back, and love it here; I rather suspect the ‘tour’ they’ve given us has been more a sales job for ‘why move up to Portland’.

Portland is a funky town; I spent today trying to think of what it’s like. It has some similarity to Santa Cruz, CA; but it’s much more a place than Santa Cruz. It also has some similarity to Berkley, but Berkley has much more sense of self-importance. It finally occurred to me that it felt a bit like Austin; it’s a college town, it’s an oasis of culture and weirdness in a largely back-woods state, and it’s a place which seems to see itself as apart from it’s surrounds. It has a dynamic food scene (today’s oddest treat; blue-cheese chocolate truffle), a somewhat unique music scene, and people on the street all seem a half step ahead of things, style-wise. Yet it’s also very much a small town, not quite so cool as it thinks it is. You can see people trying to be cool.

I like this town. I don’t, though, love it yet. I could immediately visualize living in Victoria (as I could when I was in Vancouver ten years ago). I actually pondered living in Seattle. Portland, though, I haven’t yet come to terms with. I can’t quite decide if it’s self-aware funkiness more tips the scale toward appealing, or annoying.

Either way, it’s a town I need to see more of. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get up here to visit; the family I’m staying with are some of my favorite people in the world, and they’ve had an open offer extended to ages. It’s not that far, and I can even see coming up here on two wheels some day, if I pick a good time of year for motorcycle travel.

I still haven’t managed to get to Voodoo Donuts for a bacon maple bar, one of the key goals of my trip. I’m hoping to get that taken care of tomorrow. On the other hand, if I don’t get there, it’s one more reason to come back real soon now.

in seattle

I kind of meant to keep a running log of my stay in Seattle as did in Victoria; or at least carry on a flirt-by-flirt, firework by firework overview. I never quite got to my computer in seattle; maybe it was flaky WiFi, or maybe the lack of a decent writing surface in my room. […]

I kind of meant to keep a running log of my stay in Seattle as did in Victoria; or at least carry on a flirt-by-flirt, firework by firework overview.

I never quite got to my computer in seattle; maybe it was flaky WiFi, or maybe the lack of a decent writing surface in my room. Or maybe I was too busy by day and too beat at night.

I’ve been through Seattle a few times before, and sort of rated it as one of those ‘what’s the big fuss about’ cities. The last three days in Seattle changed my mind completely. I drove in thinking, i should have stayed in Victoria, or gone to Vancouver; I left today thinking, I want to live here.

My hotel was almost exactly halfway between Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market; it would be hard to pick a more perfect spot for a first trip. This is the corner where the Seattle Fire started in 1889.

It’s funny; my mental image of Seattle came from two sources. There was a teevee show around 1970; ‘Here Come the Brides’ or something like that. It presented 1860’s Seattle as a folksy, rustic place.

That image stuck – though I can’t recall ever actually watching the show at the time – until Seattle hit the public consciousness in a big way, thanks to Sub Pob Records and the Grunge scene. Somewhere around the same time, Starbucks started to its slow march toward world dominance.

My image of Seattle changed from from folksy to urban; like the rest of the country, I sort of noticed seattle for the first time in fifteen years or so. Trouble was, the new image was just as two dimensional as the old. What I saw wasn’t that different than the music scene in San Francisco; punk, folk and metal bands all sort of converging on a common point, fueled by drugs, alcohol and coffee.

Several years ago, I came through the area on the way from one place and to another. What I saw was horrible traffic, crowds on tourists, and not much else. I pretty much got out of town quick as I could and haven’t been interested in coming back since.

This week, I wiped out all that. Cheesy western teevee, grunge rock stereotypes, traffic and empty tourism; all gone.

What I realized the last few days is, I’d missed what made this city cool. The dynamic weather, the amazing views, the food, the culture. In one sweep of coast line, one can find two of the country’s best ballparks, storied old quarter, world-class farmer’s market, numerous museums, and thriving downtown.

Everywhere I looked there were shops, restaurants, bars, and yes, coffee houses, that were full of locals as well as tourists. People live here; the tourists spots are such because places like Pike Place Market are real, not hopped up for tourists.

I didn’t get to do half of what I wanted; I missed the Experience Music Project, I missed several restaurants, several museums. I didn’t get to shop for produce and cook (no kitchen in my hotel). I didn’t have time for any live music. On the other hand, I managed to get to Pike Place a couple of times, found a tattoo shop I’ve wanted to visit for years (Vyvyn Lazonga), toured Seattle’s underground, visited the Space Needle (something I’ve wanted to see since I was little. I saw forth-of-july fireworks and visited the Utilikilts store. I got out to see locks in Ballard, took my kids to Archie McPhee, and even managed to catch a musical with them (Aida, one of their favorite shows).

What I proved to myself is that I’d completely missed seattle last time I was here; and that I needed to spend a whole lot more time here than had this week. I liked Seattle enough that I started to visualize living here; the only things that stopped me from pricing houses were the thought that I’d just seen un-seasonably warm weather, and that the main high tech employer in town happens to be Micro$oft.

Plans for next time, though; condo, not hotel, so I can show Pike Place and then cook. And plan for much more time, so I can actually hang out.

oooooh, caaaanahdahhaaaa….

It wasn’t planned this way, but my family and I wound up in Victoria, BC for Canada Day (Or as my kids insist on calling it, ‘Canadia Day’). This wound up being a lucky coincidence; the dates were picked around my mother-in-law’s trip to Everett for a high-school reunion, my work schedule, and my kids […]

It wasn’t planned this way, but my family and I wound up in Victoria, BC for Canada Day (Or as my kids insist on calling it, ‘Canadia Day’).

This wound up being a lucky coincidence; the dates were picked around my mother-in-law’s trip to Everett for a high-school reunion, my work schedule, and my kids summer school. We had no idea, when booking, that Canada Day fell on july 1st, nor did we think about the significance of this.

July fourth means little to me, apart from being the day we used to have fireworks (before local communities decided to punish the responsible many in order to weed out the irresponsible few, by outlawing all fireworks). America may be my country of birth, but now, and even when I was a child, it all too often it represents what’s wrong in western culture. While I will root for American teams in the Olympics, and think the ideas upon which this country was founded are pretty damn good, I can’t in good conscience stand for the national anthem or salute the flag; these things carry too much aura for me of mindless, reactionary, love-it-or-leave-it patriotism.

Particularly in this bush-era, post 9/11 world, the stars and strips says to me, ‘we don’t care of we’re stupid and wrong’. Yes, I’m cynical, but I remember the sixties, when we fought another war far away for no reason anyone could justify; I remember when we wore american american flags on our jackets to say ‘it’s my country too.’ We fought a culture war then, and thought we were winning. I don’t always have the resolve to keep fighting it.

So it was particularly refreshing to come to a country in the midst of celebrating it’s symbolic birth, when it’s a country I have no emotional baggage with.

Canada is a northern neighbor, a country that’s produced some of my favorite bands and musicians, a place where they share my passion hockey. Ok, sure, they don’t know how to play football correctly and they kind of sound like Bob and Doug; but they have far saner policies on drug enforcement and gay rights, and they make much stronger beer. The sum is still pretty largely positive. So I could embrace the festival spirit easily, letting go my own opinions on nationalism and politics. Today, it was about red and white flags, fireworks, beer, and pretty girls (have I mentioned the girls in Victoria? Ok, let me put it this way – grrrrrowl.)

Victoria does a pretty good job of throwing a party. My hotel faces the Legislature building across Victoria’s Inner Harbor; this means I was greeted at 8am – yes, 8am – by loud, live music from a stage across the water. This pretty much went on all day; bands, DJ’s, speakers. It was going on when I went to breakfast, a couple hours later when I walked into town, and it was still going when we came out of the Empress Hotel after having afternoon tea.

I felt wildly out of place; I wasn’t wearing red. It looked like everyone walking up and down the street, locals and tourists alike, were decked from head to toe in red and white, including a number of girls who’d found clever ways to fashion Canada’s flag into tops and mini-dresses. Every car seemed to sport a flag, and everyone looked happy. No one was protesting anything; no anti-war demonstrations, no rallies, no nonsense; it felt like the entire city had set down it’s issues for a party.

The best part about all this was how my kids reacted to it.

We planned a brief foray into Canada just because Ruby, my youngest, has no memory of being anywhere but the USA; I wanted to give her the experience of spending money that isn’t all uniformly green. I wanted her to see road signs in metric; I wanted her to see what it’s like to cross a border. But today’s celebration gives her more than an experience of place, it gives her a sense of national identity. A week ago, she thought of Canada as a name on a map, and a place where sports teams or certain family friends used to live. Today, it’s a people. It’s a culture. She’ll never forget seeing people in red, celebrating a flag and a nation that meant nothing to her only days ago.

Businesses were giving out small Canadian flags; our hotel has pins in a dish on the concierge desk. My kids decorated themselves with flags and pins, and dug through their luggage for any red garments they had. Happy Canada Day, they said, to anyone they talked to.

The party went on into the evening, culminating with a terrific firework display which was launched directly in front of my hotel; we were able to see both the display in the sky, but also the pyrotechnicians on the ground and the apparatus they used to put on the show. People had been camping out for hours to get a good viewing spot; but we had best possible vantages, both from our room, and from the hotel’s rear patio, only a few yards from the launch point.

It was a terrific day; one of those experiences one can’t really have, other than traveling with kids. Watching some vague concept become real and tactile and human; watching how that lights them up. I’ve traveled a lot, and those moments don’t come every day, not even in every trip. But when they come, they make every penny spent pay off a hundred-fold.

Tomorrow, we leave Victoria for the states. The only good thing about this, for me, is that my iPhone will once again work over EDGE without paying insane international data rates. Apart from that, I can’t think of anything I look forward to. I want another week in BC, at least. But the three days I’ve had are some of the best travel days I’ve had in quite a long while.

I’ll admit, though, that I’ve been singing Blame Canada all day.

three hour tour

Yesterday I sailed the seven seas – or at least a couple of square miles on San Francisco Bay – on a reasonable facsimile of a realio-trulio Pirate Ship. Ok, so it was a school field trip with my fourth-grade daughter’s class. There was no rum, no pillage, precious little mayhem. But terms like avast […]

Yesterday I sailed the seven seas – or at least a couple of square miles on San Francisco Bay – on a reasonable facsimile of a realio-trulio Pirate Ship.


_web_images_graphics-banners_hawaiian-chieftain.jpg

Ok, so it was a school field trip with my fourth-grade daughter’s class. There was no rum, no pillage, precious little mayhem. But terms like avast and belay were heard without a trace of irony.

The boat in question (the hawaiian chieftain) is one of a pair of historically accurate reproduction of 18th century sailing ships run by Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport; they spend the year sailing the west coast and doing various educational and training cruises, wintering in southern CA, and spending summers someplace in washington.

I was, from the moment we boarded, green with envy. These people – mostly college students, with a few crusty old salts – work long hours, get payed little, and live full time on the ships, if in considerably more comfort than we’d have seen two hundred years ago (flush toilets, and food without so many maggots and weevils; the good things about modern technology). They do this ’cause they love the sailing, I guess, and because how else in this day can you call yourself a pirate and actually put in on your curriculum vitae?

I was all for joining up with then and there. I could hang with a year sailing; forget all this fucking high tech.

Alas, my three hour tour was just that, and I had at the end of the day to collect my truck-load of kids and return them to school. Yet I’ve spent the last 24 hours thinking about jibs and spars, about working aloft in the rigging, about what it’d be like to have land feel odd under my feet. Even if it’s play, I wanted to go do it. Call it my version of the old run off and join the circus fantasy.

So of course I looked at the crew openings page. Because the world needs more sailors and fewer engineers, sez I.