where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the tag “Seattle”

Stockholm Syndrome

Nine years ago, a freelance critic for The Seattle Weekly suggested, in print for all to see, that I might be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She was right: I was. I tend to fall hard when I fall in love.

The critic was reviewing a short film my husband and I made called Art without Walls: the Making of the Olympic Sculpture Park, which aired that week on KCTS, our local public television station. Her point was that I was clearly way too enthralled by Seattle’s new sculpture park to produce an unbiased documentary about the making of it. Guilty as charged: I loved the sculpture park.

The term “Stockholm Syndrome” was coined in 1973, after several hostages in a Swedish bank holdup-turned-siege became emotionally attached to the robbers who had imprisoned them in a vault for six days. (I am one-eighth Swedish-American: could there be a genetic tendency at work?) In 1973, I was 16, and I read about such events with great interest, perhaps because I was still not fully recovered from my first and most dramatic bout of Stockholm Syndrome, which struck when I was 13.

navbar_02Do you remember the brief fad for chocolate fountains? How beautiful the chocolate looked, pouring over and over, endlessly bountiful, into a surrounding pool. How agonizing those fountains must have been to anyone who was dieting, or diabetic.

When I was 13, I dove right into the chocolate fountain of evangelical Christianity. So sweet, so filling, so sublime. And at first, it felt so uncomplicated: just believe. Believe Jesus Christ is the one and only way to eternal life, and eternity is yours. Believe you can speak in tongues, and presto: you can! Believe men are superior to women. Believe premarital sex is wrong. Stop thinking. Simply believe.

But it turns out I couldn’t stop thinking. Thinking has always been my downfall. Thanks tophoto excessive thinking, I failed at flirting, tennis, knitting and my first fifty attempts at parallel parking. And I failed at being an evangelical Christian.

I swam in that silky, rich fountain through much of my teens, but the romance ended abruptly when I got to college. At the time, I remember feeling like I was both betrayer and betrayed; like I had turned away from Jesus with the secret hope that he would try to win me back, but instead he went off to court a new crop of acolytes. I felt like a rejected first wife: older, wiser (or so I thought), but not nearly as cute and fun as I once was.

Twenty years later, I returned, tentatively at first, to church: this time, to a welcoming, liberal kind of congregation where I sensed that a closet doubter like myself could safely blend in; that this could be a place where I could find spiritual sanctuary while I continued to ask the questions that never went away.

And now, unbelievably, another two whole decades have passed, and I’m still going to that same church. And the questions haven’t gone away. I never cured myself of too much thinking; if anything, I’ve gotten worse. But I have, finally, accepted my spiritual self for who I am: an observant doubter. A survivor of Stockholm Syndrome, who wants to live meaningfully.

I’m trying now to write more about all of this. I’m starting with the story of what came first: my fervent, young faith—how it happened, and why I think it happened, and how it fit into what was happening in the world at the time, and did we really speak in tongues and swallow the apocalyptic visions of The Late Great Planet Earth? I want to include stories of some of the people I’ve traveled with along the way. I want to connect with others for whom faith and doubt co-exist; I believe there are many of us who live along this spectrum, far from the noisy extremes of fundamentalist faith or unwavering atheism.

I don’t know yet where this is all leading, but giving myself the time to do it means posting less frequently on this blog. See you once a month or so. The nest is ever restless!DSC00865

I’ll be teaching Introduction to Memoir Writing again at Seattle Central College beginning April 11. Six Monday Nights. Here’s the link.





Mangers Everywhere

DSC01536Two days shy of the darkest day of the year, silhouetted against a rainy twilight sky, I watched a young woman emerge from a tent, tugging a stroller behind her. A young man followed. They turned the stroller around and bumped it down a muddy knoll, lifting it over a ditch and onto the sidewalk. Their tent, pitched next to Interstate 5 at the 50th Street exit in Seattle’s University District, flapped behind them, sagging under the relentless rain, leaning half-heartedly against the wind, ready to cave in to the next good gust. As we waited for the light to change, all I could see of the baby in the stroller, across the two lanes of traffic that stood between us, was that at least she or he was covered with a blanket.

My husband and I were on our way to see the latest movie version of Macbeth. The very first shot in the movie is of a dead baby. And the weather in medieval Scotland, as seen on screen, was only slightly worse than the weather outside the theater in mid-winter Seattle. I shivered at the thought of living in such brutal conditions: no heat, no light, mud everywhere. But that is exactly how the young couple I’d seen coming out of their tent were living. Right here in my own high-tech hometown. Right now, in 2015.

As we drove home, we took in the sparkling lights of all the construction cranes in South Lake Union and downtown. It’s as if they’re competing this year for the most festive displays: long strings of brightly colored lights, even trees and Santas perched high above the city. And why not celebrate the ongoing construction boom? Five years ago, Seattle was dotted with half-dug holes, half-built buildings, half-done projects halted by the recession.

But the young couple with the stroller haunts me. How do two young people come to be so desperate that they pitch a tent on the edge of the freeway? And they’re not alone. The tents are everywhere. It seems that for every new crane hanging over another new construction site, there are dozens more tents popping up a few blocks away, often in places we haven’t seen them before.

It’s not my imagination. The Seattle Times reports that as of late November, 527 unauthorized homeless encampments were shut down by the city this year. 527. Those are just the ones that were actually shut down. That’s up from 351 in 2014. 131 in 2013. Eighty in 2012. On November 2, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a homeless emergency and authorized five million dollars to be spent on shelter and services for people found sleeping outside.

Meanwhile, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, nearly 21,600 rental units are currently under construction. But the Journal is also reporting an “alarming deterioration” in the local apartment rental market. Deterioriation! What could this mean? Here’s what it means: rents have dropped an average of $59 a month in the last quarter, in all neighborhoods except South Lake Union. Twenty percent of landlords are even offering “incentives” such as a month’s free rent. The vacancy rate is up from 4 percent to, wait for it, 4.3 percent.

Is this really how we define “alarming?” The fact that rents have taken a baby step backwards, towards actual affordability, is “alarming?” And you can bet rents are still so far from the reach of the people in the tents that they may as well be millions, not thousands, of dollars per month.

I don’t know what to do about the young family I saw coming out of the tent. Should I have pulled over, that evening, and given them whatever crumpled bills were in my purse? How much longer can I rationalize that doing the same small things, over and over again—volunteering when my church hosts homeless women and children overnight, buying diapers and toys for the families we sponsor at Christmas, giving coats and sleeping bags to the neighborhood kids who are collecting for their school, handing energy bars to panhandlers—is enough? And yet we, I, can’t not do these things. How could we not?

Mayor Murray is promising that the city will find shelter for the tent people. But is it? Are we? What’s going on in Seattle? Where and how are we going to find room at the inn?

Back to Macbeth for a moment. In this latest interpretation of Shakespeare’s 400-year-old play, director Justin Kurzel and actor Michael Fassbender as Macbeth are unflinching in their portrayal of a warrior who could have been a true hero and leader, if only he had found the strength to resist the temptations of power and greed. And we know where those temptations got him: to one of the most cynical, sad moments in literature, when he pronounced life “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But life is not that. If it were, the couple in the tent would just give up. Instead, they went out in the rain, presumably in search of food and help for themselves and their infant. Because, as theologian Henri Nouwen wrote, “we are called to be people of hope.”

But Nouwen also said this: “we cannot go around despair to hope. We have to go right through despair.”

There are mangers everywhere, in this Advent season.

The Old Old House

IMG_1462“It’s not that far out of the way,” I thought, as I turned right towards Lake Washington instead of left towards the freeway. “And there won’t be any traffic, because everyone’s inside watching the Seahawks game.”

The Old-House Drive-By: surely I’m not the only one who does it.

I’m not talking about the house I moved out of three years ago, the house where I raised my children. I’m talking about the Old-old house: the house where I grew up.

As Seattle houses go, it’s a dime a dozen: just another Tudor cottage on a north-end street. But it is still standing, which you can’t count on any more in this town. In fact, it is so close to the ever-expanding campus of Children’s Hospital that its future is not in any way certain.

Why do I do it? The drive-by. It’s not like my childhood was a perfect idyll. It’s not like every memory I associate with that house was a happy one. But it is where I became who I am. Where I grew from the chubby five year old I was when we moved in, to the awkward pre-teen with the pointy glasses I was when my dad moved out, to the college girl I was when we all moved out. Home after my first-ever year out of the country, distracted by my first-ever real romance, I was not really taking in what my mom had just told me: we were leaving the Hansel and Gretel cottage and moving to her new husband’s house. We had two weeks to pack.

We packed. We left. We were all distracted that summer. And so we didn’t really give the house a proper good-bye. Maybe that’s why I keep circling back. Why I found myself, on this dark December night, driving the deserted North end arterials that are imprinted on my brain in a way the arterials of the South end, where I have lived for 24 years, are not.

As I approached the house, I kicked into a familiar version of high alert, butterflies beating inside, as if I was about to do something—forbidden. I slowed down. I kept my eye on the rear view mirror. No cars coming: I could dawdle.

The curtains were open. Through the glass of the old leaded windowpanes, I could see a Christmas tree in the corner next to the mantel. The white lights on the tree made the stucco walls glow. I could just glimpse the dining room through the archway where we had all crouched on the morning of the 1965 earthquake. I couldn’t see any people—they must’ve been in another room, perhaps watching the game. But the house looked alive, as in: full of the life of the family that lived there. As it should look. As I would wish it to look.

How lucky I am, to be able to see that. So many of the brick apartment buildings in Seattle, built in the same era as our Tudor cottage, are now giving way to glittering high-rises. My mother’s childhood homes in Butte, Montana were all sacrificed to open-pit mining. But I can still drive by, on a winter night, and see the old house: windows outlined in Christmas lights, tree in the corner, car in the driveway. Another family inside, loving and growing and going out into the world.

Registration is open for Introduction to Memoir Writing at Seattle Central College. Starts February 11, 2015. Six Wednesday nights. Non-credit = all inspiration, no stress!

Buy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here.HBBfinalcover Order the Kindle version here.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available too.

Welcome to Seattle

IMG_1312Here’s a sad, sad thought: your cherished friend is visiting Seattle from across the country and you find out she’s drinking bad hotel coffee at her downtown hotel. You know the stuff: those packets that you stick in the toddler-sized coffeemaker, because you can’t bear to spend ten dollars on a cup from room service OR throw a coat over your pajamas and venture out for a to-go cup from the nearest café.

When I heard the news, I felt personally embarrassed on behalf of my hometown.

Vicky and I met forty years ago this month, when Wellesley College assigned us to live in the same room. She was from Ohio. I was from Seattle. We were both 17, on financial aid and not from New York or New England, which must be why Wellesley College matched us up.

Vicky remembers that I drew little cartoon evergreen trees on the whiteboard outside our dorm room because I was so homesick. She remembers that I brewed my own coffee, purchased at the gourmet store in town.

I remember that no one knew anything about Seattle, except for what they’d seen on Here Come the Brides, the TV show responsible for the song, “The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen.” (“—are in Seattle?” Who wrote that?)

Over the many years since college, Vicky has been in Seattle briefly a few times. But on this visit, she finally had the leisure to look around a bit, while her husband attended a conference. I know Vicky to be an intrepid walker, so I thought we could start with a morning of urban hiking.

But first she needed a decent cup of coffee. And food. Now that everyone in the world can go to Starbuck’s, we locals have to get a little more creative. So we marched through downtown to the original Macrina Bakery in Belltown, where they serve perfect drip coffee in giant sloshing cups, along with the world’s best muffins and quiche and pastries.

Fueled up, we headed to the Olympic Sculpture Park: my favorite place to take out-of-town guests. To me, it’s where a lot of what makes Seattle Seattle converges: water, mountains, trees, art, kitschy history (The Space Needle), long-ago history (the bustle of tribal canoes and tall-masted ships), green history (the Sculpture Park was built on a former petroleum depot), and the ongoing conservation wars that define the West: the park crosses the same train tracks that carry coal bound for Asia. It is where I can show my college roommate what I missed when I showed up in that Wellesley dorm room.

Full disclosure: in 2007, my husband and I produced a documentary about the making of the Olympic Sculpture Park that was so positive a reviewer for the Seattle Weekly accused me of “documentarian Stockholm Syndrome,” as if I’d been kidnapped by and fallen in love with my subject: the Sculpture Park. Ouch! But that’s another Seattle quirk: our discomfort with boosterism. We fear it, because we’ve been taught all our lives that we’re provincial, we’re quaint, we’re not San Francisco or New Orleans, which are allowed to be both regionally flavorful and sophisticated. No, we prefer to joke about our shortcomings. To talk about how gray and rainy it is, instead of how gorgeous the weather can be in, say, September.

I confess to that reviewer that she was right: I was smitten with the park and therefore not very objective. I confess: then and now, I was and am un-hiply boosterish. I want people to love Seattle. I want them to see what a unique place it is. That’s why I don’t want them to drink awful hotel coffeemaker coffee.

And that’s why I’m glad the sky was blue when Vicky was here. Because when it is blue, it is about the bluest ever. Go ahead, accuse me of Stockholm syndrome. You know it’s true.

Her_Beautiful_BrainThanks to everyone who attended the launch of Her Beautiful Brain at Elliott Bay Book Company. The room was full to the brim with warmth and support. And first reviews are in! From Shelf Awareness: “unflinching, tragic and compassionate.” And from Booklist: “candid, sometimes funny and always poignant.”  984230_10152726131714684_7000466355561148229_n



Happy Mother’s Day

IMG_1085 Once upon a time in Seattle, a little girl went downtown with her mother and baby sister and had a grand adventure. They may have shopped at Frederick & Nelson. They could have sipped milkshakes in the Paul Bunyan Room. But the excitement meter started spinning like crazy when the car broke down.

I was that little girl. What I remember is this: the pale green Pontiac thudded to a halt. Mom twisted the keys and the steering wheel. The car wheezed weakly—and then went silent. Mom sighed, got out, opened the back door, scooped up baby Lisa from her car bed and motioned for me to slide across the vast back seat.

“What are we doing?” I asked, as I scrambled down to the sidewalk. “Are we going to visit this castle?” We were standing in front of a brick building with a grassy courtyard and white columns flanking the oversized front door.

Mom laughed. “That’s not a castle, honey. That’s an apartment building. And look—here’s a bus stop right in front of it! Are you ready for your very first bus ride?”

Was I ever. This was a trip downtown I would never forget!

And I didn’t. As I wrote in my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain, “In my three-year-old mind, it was the ideal moment: the complete safety of Mom; the thrilling adventure of the bus. Our mother was the opposite of fear, the opposite of worry, the handler of everything.”

It’s that castle-like apartment building that kept this scrap of memory alive for me. I see it often. Many Seattleites do. The Williamsburg Court stands at 1007 Stewart Street, just west of Boren. When it was under construction a century ago, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called it “one of the largest and most modern in that part of the city.” Not anymore. Earlier this year, the owners of the Williamsburg Court sold it to Texas real estate developer Trammell Crow, which plans to replace it with a 21-story office tower.

It’s progress, 21st-century Seattle-style. But 49 tenants will have to move. Most of them won’t be able to afford to stay downtown. And I’ll have to let go of one easy way to remember my cheerful mom, with her natural talent for making lemonade—exciting bus ride!—out of lemons: a dead car.

Before Alzheimer’s began chipping away at her brain, one of my mom’s greatest gifts was her plucky, practical approach to whatever life threw at her. Car stops running, two tiny kids in tow? Park it. Catch the bus. Divorce unavoidable? Head back to college and become a teacher.

What she never did was panic. Or complain. Or assume the worst. At least not in front of her children.

When I look back on my own early motherhood years, I see, at best, a mix: part plucky Mom, part insecure second-guesser. Part of me wonders how my grown-up children remember me then, but part of me is afraid to ask. And with all the writing I’ve done in recent years, I suspect they now know the cracks in my confidence much better than I knew my mother’s.

Raising kids is not as easy as my mom made it look. I think even she knew that. But she also knew children need to feel two things, as close to all of the time as is humanly possible: safe and loved.

And that’s how I have always felt as I passed by the Williamsburg Court apartments and remembered that long-ago day. I was safe. I was loved. Thank you, Mom, for that. Happy Mother’s Day. I miss you.


The Restless Nest is on the radio every Tuesday morning at 7:45 a.m. on; 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.



Local Heroes

DSC00865This is a local-hero story, about a pair of heroes you probably have never heard of. Their secret world headquarters is an unglamorous maze of cubicles in the sprawling Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care headquarters on Seattle’s Beacon Hill. They look like they could be Clark Kent’s father and Lois Lane’s mother. But for twenty years, they’ve been doggedly researching two illnesses most of us would rather not think about: post-traumatic stress disorder—PTSD—and Alzheimer’s disease. As one of them likes to quip, they specialize in “people who can’t remember and people who can’t forget.”

I first met Doctors Murray Raskind and Elaine Peskind ten years ago, when I began work on a documentary film about Alzheimer’s disease. After I interviewed them, I wound up becoming one of their control research subjects. Dr. Peskind is known for her expertly gentle touch in administering lumbar punctures—better known as spinal taps. She has tapped me five times to extract samples of cerebro-spinal fluid for use in Alzheimer’s research. All I have to do is lie curled up and still for several minutes: a pretty modest contribution to the cause of finding out what might cause, or cure, an illness that currently affects five and a half million Americans.

Raskind and Peskind’s PTSD research happened almost by accident. Because the University of Washington’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is physically located at the VA, Dr. Raskind, a psychiatrist, was asked, about twenty years ago, to advise a support group for African-American Vietnam veterans. Of the many issues members of the group were facing, one of the most troubling was that they couldn’t sleep. Every night, like clockwork, PTSD triggered such vivid, adrenaline-soaked nightmares they were bolted from bed into not merely wakefulness but a combat-ready, hyper-vigilant state, as if they were literally reliving their war experiences.

Dr. Raskind had a hunch about a drug he thought might help them, a generic medication called prazosin that was prescribed for high blood pressure. It worked by blocking brain receptors for norepinephrine, a sort of partner to adrenaline. Could this calm the nighttime adrenaline storms the vets described?

It did. But it took nearly two decades for Raskind and Peskind to prove it, with the help of many veterans and active-duty soldiers, all suffering from PTSD nightmares, who were willing to endure double-blind studies, even if it meant they might have to take a placebo for months. They were “doing this for their buddies,” a psychiatrist on base said. You can read more about it in an article I wrote for the March 2014 issue of Seattle Met magazine.

Writing that story and hearing about what it really means for a scientist to have a hunch, follow it, find funding, recruit volunteers, set up and carry out longitudinal studies—I realized what a simple, short-attention-span kind of existence I lead. Here, in a hometown chock-full of local heroes like Raskind and Peskind.

There is so much research going on in Seattle it’s hard to quantify. But here’s one statistic: the University of Washington School of Medicine is first in the nation among public medical schools in federal funding for research. Areas of study include: infections diseases, genotyping and global health, with projects in more than 90 countries.

We are also home to major research institutes such as Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center; the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Benaroya, whose emphasis is auto-immune disorders and Seattle Bio-med, focusing on infectious diseases. Our hospitals—Swedish, Virginia Mason, Seattle Children’s and many others—conduct research of their own. Then there are the funders—the Gates Foundation may be the largest, but there are many, many more.

The best thing about volunteering for medical research: the opportunity to meet a few of these local heroes. They’re very serious about changing the world. How exciting to be able to lend them a hand.

This Sunday, March 16 at 3pm, in celebration of the publication of  Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s (edited by Collin Tong), I’ll be reading, along with some of the other authors, at Elliott Bay Bookstore.

Registration is now open for my non-credit, no stress Memoir Writer’s Workshop at Seattle Central Community College. This is a new class for writers who feel ready to write 5-7 pages a week. Six Monday nights, starting April 7. 
The Restless Nest is on the radio every Tuesday morning at 7:45 a.m.; 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available. 


The Writers Are Coming

    DSC00865When I opened this week’s Sunday Seattle Times, the first thing I saw was a big color ad for commemorative Super Bowl 48 bookends. Fully sculpted, cold-cast bronze, showing “Seahawks players in action!” Not available in stores! And only $49.99, payable in two easy installments!

I looked up “cold-cast bronze” so you won’t have to. It means the sculpture is made from a resin mixed with powdered bronze, which gives it a surface, quote, “similar to traditionally cast bronze, at a fraction of the cost.” Just FYI.

But what struck me about the ad was this: why bookends? In what way do books relate to football? Why not just make a Seahawks Super Bowl cold-cast bronze statue to place on the coffee table in front of the flat-screen TV, so you can see it every time you fire up ESPN?

Maybe the Bradford Exchange Collectibles people heard about one of Seattle’s other claims to fame, which is that we are one of the most literate cities in the country. The second, after Washington DC, for the fourth year in a row. The Central Connecticut State University study tracks six factors: number of bookstores, educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and newspaper circulation.

Or maybe the cold-cast bronze makers got wind of Seattle author Ryan Boudinot’s campaign to get the United Nations to declare Seattle an official UNESCO City of Literature. A part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities program, such a designation would not only acknowledge what we all know—Seattleites love books—but help us share that news with the world. And doesn’t “UNESCO City of Literature” sound much cooler than second most literate city?

Which brings me to an event happening this week, in downtown Seattle. It’s what you might call the Super Bowl of literary conferences. Known as AWP for short, the 2014 conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs will bring some twelve thousand people and 650 exhibitors—literary magazines, small and mid-sized presses, MFA programs, writer’s retreats, organizations, booksellers—to the Washington State Convention Center. So if you’re walking downtown and you see people with big convention badges, they could be poets or novelists or professors or publishers. You might see some of our local authors—Tess Gallagher, Sherman Alexie, David Guterson. Or legendary writers from further afield: Ursula K. LeGuin, Annie Proulx, Gary Snyder, Sharon Olds. I could go on. At great length. But I’ve got to save a little mojo, because I plan on attending as much of AWP as I can. There are 550 events to choose from, and that doesn’t even count the off-site readings, at bookstores, bars, museums and theatres all over town.

So. Seattle. Order those Super Bowl bookends—or hey, build or sculpt your own—and then go out and buy some books to put between them. Or start writing a book. Or take a writing class, or go to a reading.

Many of the AWP off-site readings are open to the public. I’m taking part in one of them myself, Thursday night at the Frye Art Museum. I love that I live in a city where this is possible. Not too many of us get to actually play NFL football. But we can all be on Seattle’s UNESCO-worthy team of literature-lovers.

Calendar Notes: I’ll be reading from my memoir, Her Beautiful Brain (forthcoming this fall from She Writes Press) as part of Witnessing Dementiaan AWP off-site event at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum at 6:30 pm on Thursday, February 27. Also on the program: Tess Gallagher, Holly Hughes and Esther Helfgott. On March 16 at 3pm, in celebration of the publication of an anthology called Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s (edited by Collin Tong), I’ll be reading along with some of the other authors at Elliott Bay Bookstore.


Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.



DSC00865I swam and swam, longer and further than I thought I would, turning my face to the sun each time I flipped over for some backstroke. Then I sat in a hot tub and worked the jets over my tight calves, shoulders, back, feet. From there I repaired to the sauna, lay back and went from pleasantly warm to luxuriously hot. It was the tail end of January. Noon on a Friday. I wasn’t on vacation. I was at the sparkling new Rainier Beach pool in the middle of southeast Seattle.

For five dollars and 25 cents, I swam, soaked and sweated away my cares and woes, along with a rainbow coalition of fellow south Seattleites. When I arrived, the locker room was swarming with toddlers and moms who had just finishing swim lessons. When I left, the seniors were on their way in, slow and graceful, like tortoises who’ve lived for decades on a beach the rest of us just discovered.

“You just turned 68? You’re a baby. I’m 87!” one of them said to another.

“87?” said the 68-year-old. “That’s a blessing, to be 87. That’s a blessing!”

“It sure is,” said the 87-year-old, as she moved, one step at a time, behind her walker. “It sure is.”

I had not been to the Rainier Beach Pool for many years, not since long before it was torn down and rebuilt. I remember one summer, taking my children there for swimming lessons; walking in was like entering a steamy, mildewed concrete bunker. What a transformation! The sweeping wall of floor-to-ceiling windows; the skylights; the not one but two new pools—one for lap swimming and the other, featuring a tubular slide, for “leisure” swimming.

As I stroked away in the lap pool, I thought: this is one pretty great example of our tax dollars at work. This is an oasis and it’s open to all comers: a place to exercise, learn to swim, relax, socialize or be blissfully alone, in the middle of a neighborhood where many people lead busy, stressful lives but don’t have a lot of money for health clubs, let alone vacations. To spend an hour at the Rainier Beach pool felt like the best mini-staycation ever.

Remember “staycations?” Where you go on vacation but stay home? It was a turn of phrase that took hold in 2009, when we were all trying to keep our spirits up while the economy was in free-fall. Staycations were a terrible idea, from the travel industry’s point of view, and as a travel lover, I sympathized, especially with the owners of small hotels, cabin resorts and restaurants. But when you’re broke, you’re broke, and there was something wonderful about seeing people find ways to treat themselves well without leaving town or spending money they didn’t have. People including my own family. We started doing a lot more camping, hiking and backpacking, and that has brought us unexpected joy.

Meanwhile, the city broke ground on some of the public projects that had been planned long before the recession. One of them was the new Rainier Beach Community Center, including the new pool complex. Though it meant the neighborhood was without a pool for two years, I’m here to say it was worth the wait.

And it’s not just about the value of an hour-long staycation. Learning to swim is a public health issue. Studies have consistently shown that more Asian-Americans and African-Americans are nonswimmers, which puts them at much higher risk for drowning, especially in a city like Seattle. Swimming lesson scholarships and discounts are available at all Seattle public pools. So visit Rainier Beach pool—or your local pool—and celebrate: public money, well spent.

Can’t stop thinking about that Superbowl win? Here are a few great takes on it: Kim Mayer’s view from A Little Elbow Room, Lindy West’s on Jezebel, and Suzy Strutner’s on The Huffington Post. Gotta say: it’s a pretty sweet week in Seattle, even for those of us who are not nuts about football!

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.






Seattle Grown Up

DSC00865Call me provincial, but I still get excited when I see anything about my hometown in the New York Times. Last Saturday, there we were, on the cover page of the Arts section, under the headline: “A Place Comfortable With Boeing, Anarchists and ‘Frasier.’” What an oddball trio of references, I thought. Then I saw it was a story about Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, better known as MOHAI, which has just reopened in the grandly re-imagined Naval Armory at the south end of Lake Union.

The hometown booster in me was excited. Proud: the nation’s newspaper of record was covering the museum that, more than any other, I think of as our museum. I love the Seattle Art Museum too, but MOHAI? It’s about us.

When I walked in for the first time, there was the Lincoln Toe Truck and the giant, neon Rainier Beer “R.” Even so, I felt disoriented, though in a mostly good way: the way I feel when I see one of my children’s preschool friends, now all grown up. This was not the museum I visited when I chaperoned those preschool field trips. No. This new MOHAI is a grown-up museum about a grown-up city.

Fresh evidence that while I may still be provincial, Seattle is not.

And like any newly minted grown-up, MOHAI had all kinds of things to teach me.  For example, New York Times writer Edward Rothstein’s reference to Seattle’s pioneering Denny Party, arriving via the Oregon Trail, which I smugly thought he got wrong? I was wrong. The Dennys did travel overland to Portland before they boarded a schooner for the last leg and made their famous water-landing at Alki Beach.

But unlike other Oregon Trail pioneers, the Denny group did not want to stake a claim and start farming. They wanted to build a city. They really did think Seattle might be the next New York.  And their gee-whiz, provincial spirit has shaped the city ever since. To the point where we might finally be transcending it.

My children, in their early 20s, think this is an interesting—maybe even exciting—time to be living here. We have a music scene, a filmmaking scene, a bar and restaurant scene, a critical mass of artists and writers instead of a lonely few. We’re a center for technology, medicine, global health and philanthropy.  We finally have a light rail system. We just voted for gay marriage and legal marijuana. Meanwhile, we still build airplanes and run North America’s seventh biggest port.

When I moved back to Seattle in the early 1980s, we had none of the above, except for the planes and ships. “Interesting” and “exciting” were not words I would have used to explain why I came back. I returned because I missed mountains, Puget Sound, evergreen trees and my family. Because it was home.

Seattle was then in the very earliest stage of recovery from our last major recession, and it was, well, a mess. The heart of downtown–Pine Street and Westlake—was a ripped-up, stalled-out construction site, through which I walked every day to work, a Monorail Espresso cup in my hand, feeling grateful that I had a job and that my city had something as quaintly innovative as a “coffee cart.”

As I became my grown-up self, so did Seattle. But—sort of like with brothers and sisters—it’s so easy to keep viewing the city you’ve always known in the exact way you’ve always viewed it. Visiting the new MOHAI was my wake-up call: it’s time for me to get over my provincial-vision problem. Time to get to know this new grown-up city.

Local history geeks: make sure to check out History Link, the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history. The best!

And… I’m proud to have an essay in the winter issue of the wonderful new literary journal, Minerva Rising. Subscribe online or, if you’re in Seattle, pick up a copy at Elliott Bay Books.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Seattle Chill

Months ago, I sat down to write about the Seattle Chill, that social coolness that people new to our town find so perplexing. I found myself squirming as I wrote, because I realized I was describing myself.

Recently, I was asked to take a personality test, something I’ve long resisted. I learned, among other things, that I’m the type of introvert often mistaken for an extrovert.  This insight came as a great relief to me. It made me feel like I’m not a bad person for needing time alone, especially if I’ve been super-social—it’s just the way I’m wired. And I would venture this: Seattle is full of people like me. We can rally and behave like extroverts when we need or want to, but because we are true introverts, we just can’t keep it up all the time.

We’re good at cordial. Not so good at gregarious. Good at meeting for coffee, not so quick to extend that first invitation to dinner. As a Seattle native whose roots are mostly Scandinavian, I can play the old ethnic card. Taciturn Finns, somber Swedes—they are my people. And it is true the early Scandinavian settlers set the local social thermostat at a level that matched the climate: cool, with occasional slightly warm periods.

But there’s a twist to this story: I think a lot of the people who move here and complain about the Chill also take advantage of it to excuse behavior they wouldn’t get away with back home. They secretly like this license we give them to be socially lazy. Maybe they left their hometowns and moved to this far Northwest corner to get away from social and family obligations. So they embrace customs we natives might describe as cordial but on the cool side and take them right into the deep freeze. They out-chill the Seattle Chill, and then blame it all on us.

This could be wildly unfair. What I’m describing could be more of a generational change, related more to all the ways we now communicate online and how that shift has affected our in-person interactions.

But, ever the optimist, here’s my hope: that conversations about the Seattle Chill and what, if anything, we can do about it will turn us toward each other, not further away.

In my new neighborhood, people are starting to gather on Fridays in our small central park. It’s a little awkward, but it’s a start. A welcome change from last fall, when, shortly after we moved here, I went to the neighborhood trail-building work party and found myself taking it personally that no one introduced themselves to me, as we hoisted buckets of gravel up and down the muddy slopes.

I remember tried to have a private laugh about it as I walked home; trying to chalk it up to the Seattle Chill, even though my Seattle grandma would have called it plain old bad manners.

However: you never would have caught her at a neighborhood picnic in a public park, let alone a trail-building work party. So maybe we are making a little progress. Maybe we should cut ourselves some slack, newcomers and natives alike. Give ourselves time, accept that there will be awkwardness, as we learn how to warm up.

Here’s a link to my article, “Laughter and Forgetting,” in Seattle Met Magazine. 

Our film, Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story is now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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