still in southern oregon (days 4 and 5)

The view from here
The trip so far has been both busy and relaxing. Yesterday we visited a farm where some tiny piglets were a big attraction, as much for my mother as for our toddler grandnephew. There were various other farm animals, and my mom was in a state of joy and wonder. We also spent a lot of time just hanging at home, and had a big family dinner at M&M's place, where we're all staying.

Both my niece from western New York State and my niece from California took off. It was completely wonderful to see them both. They both are well and happy, and it's a joy to see that. They are also very different from each other, in some ways complete opposite, but both so accepting and respectful of everyone's life choices, and both relate to other people so well. 

It's been great to see my Mom, despite her diminished state. She still knows me and Allan, knows all her children and grandchildren. I don't know how long that will be true, and I imagine it will hurt when she doesn't know me, but for now, I'm happy to be with her where she is. We listen to her repeat the same stories over and over, and make ridiculous observations, and tell us about how great her new place and the facility is. She often seems vacant and out-of-it, but occasionally pipes up with some lucid memory. I guess that's how dementia goes.

Taking the things

During this trip, those of us who don't live in the area were invited and encouraged to claim and take anything of my mother's that we want. She has always wanted to give us her possessions while she is alive. She has everything she needs in her new place, but of course it is quite small, and most of her things remained in her old apartment. Splitting it up is super easy, because none of us want the same things. And we must empty the old apartment, so my brother and SIL can rent it out.

Niece from New York State took valuable crystal (that had been my grandmother's) and china, and shipped them home for herself and her mom, my sister. Niece from California took some furniture that she can use in her workspace, tying it down in her truck and driving off . 

There were only two things of my mother's that I valued. The first was the baby-grand piano that was originally my grandmother's. That was always meant to be mine, but when the time came, I gave it to one of my nephews, who I knew would play it and value it. My family was shocked -- everyone always assumed the piano would be mine -- but it felt right to me. And I ended up with a piano anyway.

The other things I wanted was my mom's horde of costume jewelry, and the jewelry armoire that held a portion of it. My mom loved to collect necklaces, bracelets, pins, and earrings, enough that she needed furniture just to store them all. There is a sizeable overlap in our tastes, so much of what's there, I would actually love and wear.

I started to feel strange about the whole thing, like we were scavenging, or somehow hastening her demise, or even that we were stealing from her.

On this trip, I've told her repeatedly that C and E took some things of hers. I told her who took what, and it made her very happy. I told her that I would like her jewelry armoire and the jewelry, and she was thrilled. I asked, are you sure, is it OK? And she said in her amused way, Don't make me tell you again! I did this a few times, until I felt satisfied it was all right.

One of my niece-in-laws is a very talented artist and jeweler, and we went through the jewelry collection together, to see if there was anything she wanted, even if only to cannibalize for projects. It was fun looking through things together. We kept finding more and more jewelry, tucked in various drawers and tiered boxes.

Allan and I spent the whole day at the old apartment, sorting things into categories: stuff my mom can still use, stuff brother and SIL can use, stuff to donate, and trash. Allan also sorted through the books, putting aside a pile that we are hoping Powell's will buy for store credit.

And keeping the things

We also found my mother's travel journals, a diary she kept while staying at our house in 2019, her college diploma, and her Master's thesis, along with a zillion birthday cards, some of my writing, and other family mementos. 

Among the papers, we found an essay she wrote for a course on memoir writing, which none of us remembered. 

The assignment was "pivotal points in my life". Her piece focused on going back to school to finish her education when her youngest child started school, then teaching at a local elementary school. That pivotal time led directly to another: leaving my father. She was very articulate about why she made that choice, and expressed gratitude and joy at how her life turned out. It was amazing to read this in her own voice. 

We're going to scan the piece and share it with all the children and grandchildren and partners. 

Tonight we had dinner at the Phoodery, a new attraction in Phoenix, Oregon -- a collection of food stalls by local vendors, with family-style seating in a pavillion and green space. It just opened, so it was quite crowded, and everyone is hoping the place will remain popular throughout the year. Phoenix was devastated by fire in 2020 (as if that year needed more devastation), and hopefully this is part of a comeback. 

After driving my mother home, we stayed up late talking about the dire political situation in the US, especially why the Democrats are so lame. 


greetings from talent, oregon (days 2 and 3)

After breakfast at Joshua's, we hit the road, taking 101 South, which winds through the Olympic peninsula, following waterways -- rivers, canals, sounds, bays -- through tiny remote hamlets. Quilcene, Brinnon, Hamma Hamma, Potlatch, Eldon, Hoodsport, Skokomish -- so many more. 

Each community is a few buildings on the roadside -- maybe a pub, a general store, a bait shop, and a funky art outpost. Beautiful, colourful buildings that look cared-for and inviting. Wildflower gardens with whirligigs. 

We stopped so I could get a picture of an "US stop funding genocide stand with Gaza" sign, and kept our eyes out for our favourite stop: Twin Totems Grocery & Deli, home to a huge selection of retro candy, where Allan can get his mythical Zero bar. We bought a lot of candy, prompting the elderly First Nations man at the counter to ask us where we are from and say a few words about Canada. 

It's a beautiful drive, until you connect with I-5 at Olympia, then it's strictly highway driving for many hours, past Portland, and down to southern Oregon. Everyone was already gathered at my brother and sister-in-law's home. After some texting, it was decided that we would meet them at a restaurant. This meant changing out of my Red Sox t-shirt and dirty, two-day's-drive pants into something more presentable, which we did at a rest stop. The last few hours of the drive are boring, but that is all forgotten the moment we arrive at Clyde's Corner.

Sitting outside on the patio were 13 or 14 family members, including babies and kiddos, and my mom. I was very pleased that my oldest grand-niece, age 9, remembered me and greeted me with a big hug. We only see her once a year, so you never know.

My mom looks great. Too thin, but she enjoys the food in her new assisted living home, and is eating three meals a day, so she is sure to put on weight. She was thrilled to see us, and still knows who we are. She knows who everyone is, although she is sometimes confused about how folks are related to her. She will ask, "Who is C's mother again?" I'll say, "My sister, J. Your oldest daughter," and she gets it. She says the same things over and over and over. We all listen and chat as if we didn't already know.

After dinner we were able to spend some time with our niece E, who lives in a remote community on California's north coast. Like me, E is the youngest of three siblings, and like me, she is happily childfree. We have always had a special relationship and it is wonderful to be around her.

We stayed up late talking and making plans. In the morning, we had breakfast with my niece C, her husband, and their 10-month-old baby, who is sweet and adorable and very happy and chill. We also went to see my mom's new home. She was surprised and thrilled to see us, as if we hadn't seen her the previous day. 

The place is lovely -- very clean, and with the institutional look minimized as much as possible. Her room is like a small studio apartment, and she is lucky enough to have a small patio. She told us, "I planted these flowers to make it look beautiful." Which is amusing, and which she appears to believe. We brought her back to my brother's house, and eventually we all had dinner at The Brickroom in Ashland. 

And then, of course, more staying up late talking, this time about the grim and scary political situation in the US. The presidential "debate" was tonight. What could be more depressing? It was interesting to hear everyone's observations on the Democrat's ineptitude, the rise of fascism, the appeal of Trump, the media's complicity, and a host of related topics, with great seriousness and much laughter. 

C and husband and baby leave early tomorrow morning. They live in western New York State, so we don't know when we'll see them next. And of course it's painful for C to say goodbye to my mom, her beloved grandmother. Our visit was timed to overlap with everyone as much as we could. But with people arriving and leaving at different times, there are some people we are seeing too little of.

There are a few people missing: my sister, and another nephew (C's brother) and niece-in-law. There are some issues there, and until there's a wedding or perhaps a Bat Mitzvah, it's unlikely we'll all be together in one place in the foreseeable future.  

So here we are. Super lucky to be surrounded by this bountiful love, family from age 93 to 10 months, all living good lives, all very different but with huge respect for and genuine interest in each other. As I've said many times in this blog over the years, I didn't grow up in this kind of environment. In my childhood, family gatherings were exercises in anxiety and fear, something to be dreaded and then suffered through. The absence of a few dominant figures, through both death and divorce, improved all our lives. Then good people made conscious decisions about what kind of lives they wanted to create. I'm not suggesting it's all rainbows and puppydogs. But we've all been able to exhale, and to heal, to create, and to love.


greetings from port angeles, washington (day one)

The Lefties Mascot: Timber
If you've been reading wmtc for a while, you know I can't travel without writing about it. That's how I process and preserve my travel experiences. I've also learned that a surprising number of people like to follow along. So if you're one of those, thank you! 

Today we drove the length of Vancouver Island, from our home in Port Hardy, the northernmost community on the Island, to the ferry terminal in Victoria, the southernmost. We left very early to queue up for the 3:00 ferry: even with a reservation, you're supposed to get there at least an hour in advance. Then it's a 90-minute trip to Port Angeles, a little town in Washington State that is a jumping-off point for Olympic National Park. 

Port Angeles is also home to a West Coast League baseball team -- the Lefties. Is that a great name or what? We were happy they were home and booked tickets in advance. 

Coincidentally, on our last trip here, Allan met up with a well-known sportswriter who serves as the commissioner of this league. And we learned there is a team in Nanaimo! The same Nanaimo where I sometimes travel for work and union. I don't know if those travels will ever align with local baseball, but I would love that.

In Port Angeles, our hotel turned out to be practically next door to the ballpark. We rested in the room for a bit, then walked over to the ballpark. It was a lovely, cool evening, with a view of mountains behind the outfield. (A ballpark with a view of mountains... that's why I fell in love with Dodger Stadium.) It was a fun game, with a friendly, lively crowd. After five scoreless innings, the Lefties beat the Redmond Dudes 5-4. I bought a shirt. A huge number of fans were wearing Lefties hoodies.

We are staying (our only night here) at the Angeles Motel, a little mom-and-pop joint. I was skeptical, but the reviews were outstanding, and these days finding a decent room under $200/night is rare. So I took a chance, and it is indeed a great little place. Our room is large, comfortable, and spotless. It has a fridge, microwave, kettle, and coffeemaker. There's a laundry room for guest use, which is great in an area where people are hiking. The host is super friendly and helpful. For a one-night stay on the road, it's a great deal. 

I am looking forward to breakfast at Joshua's, a great diner we enjoyed on this same trip last year. Then  we drive through the Olympic National Forest, a beautiful road through tiny towns and hidden waterways, then down to southern Oregon, where family is gathering. 

This is a very special trip, as we are meeting the newest member of our family, my grandniece, who was born last August. My niece and her husband and the baby are here from western New York State, so our trip was timed around their visit. All the west coast nieces and nephews and their kids will there, too. We're all staying at the beautiful home of my brother and sister-in-law.  

My Mom now has three great-grandchildren! She is now in assisted living, still in very good physical health, but with advancing dementia.


things i heard at the library: national indigenous people's day 2024: an occasional series # 41

Libraries across Canada celebrate National Indigenous People's Day, and at the Port Hardy Library, that celebration is especially meaningful. The local population is at least 40% Indigenous, and a huge portion of our regular customers identify as Indigenous. 

This year, the branch team collaborated to offer two very special events.

Partners in service

In the afternoon, we hosted a "healing circle," facilitated by someone from the Kwala'sta Healing Centre, part of Gwa'sala-Nakawaxda'xw Nations healthcare. We invited our "regulars" -- folks who are grieving, and struggling. They are coping with immense personal loss, the impacts of intergenerational trauma, and some with substance use and mental health issues.

This was part of my ongoing mission to bring service providers to the library, so people can access more community services in a space they are already comfortable in -- a literal take on the maxim "meeting people where they are". I also wanted a program that would welcome our regulars and focus on their needs, as opposed to special programming which -- almost without exception -- they do not feel comfortable attending.

The healing circle was the idea of a community member who, for National Indigenous People's Day 2023, taught a Kwak'wala language lesson. I was so pleased to make her suggestion a reality. 

The healing circle

A bowl of fresh bannock to boost attendance

We publicized this in advance, but many people in need can't plan too far ahead, or at all. So on the day, an outreach worker invited and encouraged people to attend, person to person, one at a time. Staff and I invited and encouraged people using our public computers to join. We also had a huge bowl of freshly baked bannock, which a member of our library family from G-N Nation made for this event. There is nothing like bannock to boost attendance!

Offering a sharing circle in the public library was risky. We really had no idea if anyone would participate, or how it would come off in a public setting. First one person sat, then another. Someone would watch from a distance, then tentatively sit. And gradually, the circle filled out. 

Some people spoke a lot, some said only a few words. Many people cried. Some got up and stood behind someone who was speaking or crying. The facilitators shared some of their own experiences. They share a common culture and history, and much lived experience, so their words were very meaningful. 

One of our neediest customers watched for a while, then took a seat. She didn't speak, but just sitting there was huge. Staff and I were thrilled. 

We are hoping to build on this success, and to offer this monthly, and then perhaps twice-monthly or weekly. There is food outreach daily, so we're arranging for that to happen outside the library, then folks can take their food to the circle and eat and share.

Button blankets

In the evening, we hosted an elder from Quatsino First Nation (the grandmother of one of our regulars) who led a group in making miniature button blankets. There were small squares of felt, and sequins (standing in for buttons), needles and thread. 

Button blankets are integral to Kwakwaka'wakw culture. (Kwakwaka'wakw -- pronounced kwa-wok-ya-wok -- means "Kwak'wala-speaking people".) We see the blankets at ceremonies and dance demonstrations; their creation is a pillar of cultural preservation.

A button blanket, no doubt
stolen from a Pacific Coastal nation,
on display in the Denver Art Museum
The elder talked about the significance of button blankets, how she learned to make them, the many blankets she has made. She talked about how the residential school experience impacted that knowledge, and how the children imprisoned there created forms of resistance. 

Typically, elders tell stories while they lead a creative session. This is very much an Indigenous way of knowledge-keeping and teaching.

A few years ago, I worked with a Kwakiutl (kwa-gi-ooth) elder to create a video and templates for making mini button blankets. Librarians from our system used this as a base for "take and make" kits, one for kids and one for adults. They were incredibly popular. What a privilege and joy it was to be part of that. 

That lovely elder has since passed away. And now, through the efforts of a staff member who has many ties to the community, I have a small connection with another elder. It's a special and wonderful thing.


happy birthday to me: retirement vs travel edition

Today I have been alive on this planet for 63 years. 

Last year I shared thoughts on aging and mortality. It was a popular post that resonated with many readers. Predictably -- and in keeping with that theme -- the next birthday came around in lightning speed.

When we're kids, it seems ages between birthdays, or summers, or first days of school. Now the years whip by. We find ourselves incredulous at how much time has passed -- how old kids and dogs are, how long we've known each other, how long we've lived in a house, or have worked in our jobs. Everyone I know experiences this. Time is just moving too quickly.

And apparently I am now a senior! Or an "older adult". In an email exchange, an activist called me an elder. I'm not ready for that!

I am spending a lot of time doing retirement planning. The big news, for us, is that there actually will be a retirement (inshallah). I never thought we'd be able to stop working: I always referred to our "retirement savings" with air quotes. But now it looks like we'll be able to make it work. A quiet, small retirement, for sure, and it's 10 or 12 years away, but still. It feels like a huge accomplishment for people who didn't go the traditional career route until later in life. 

Because retirement will be small and quiet -- and short of winning the lottery, will not include travel -- there are a few trips I still want to make while we're working. That's the central tension: I want to make sure retirement happens and I still want to travel. 

When we moved to Vancouver Island, I said we wouldn't travel except to see friends and family for five years, and we'd see how that went. That worked out beautifully, taking us to Southern Oregon, the Bay Area, California's Lost Coast, Portland, and Seattle. This was supplemented by occasionally visits to my remote library branches, trips "down island" or to the lower mainland for work or union (although, sadly, not happening as frequently post-covid), and a bit of island exploring. Now those five years are up, and I'm restless to plan again. 

My need to travel is like a hunger. If we go on a big, special trip, that will satisfy me for a long time. It's like a huge, filling meal, and I'm good for a year or more. When we go on short trips -- it doesn't even matter where, just that I go -- it satisfies that same need, but for a shorter amount of time. And although I'm grateful for the travel we've done, it has never been close to how much I've wanted.  

If we stay healthy and things pan out, I'll be able to deal with a retirement without travel. But until then, I can't give it up. Not sure how this will work, but I'm going to try.