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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should auld acquaintance be forgot...

I always have mixed feelings when I go home to Vashon Island. They came to me again yesterday, as I waited in my car on the hill above the Point Defiance dock. It's only across the water, but the island I always think of floats somewhere out there, ghost-like, on the surreal seas of memory.

I felt cold sitting in the car without the heater going, at the end of December. Thinking warm thoughts of my childhood could quite compete with the winter day. And I felt sad too, knowing yet another member of one of the old families, like mine, had died, a family I care about left grieving. Like salmon swimming back to the stream where they first knew life, those of us who left the island return, to gather in memory of one of our own. It would be a day to say goodbye, and also say hello.

From my vantage point the view was all gray, the water and sky exactly the same color behind a veil of fog, the island's distant shore merely a darker band dividing them. I could barely see the white shape of the ferry boat across the span, heading my way. I looked around at the other cars and wondered how many held people I knew, taking a ferry ride for the same reason.

As it turned out, there were several, including an old friend of mine and her husband. Having arrived early, we ended up at a large table in a restaurant in the middle of the town of Vashon, joined by her siblings. It's called The Hardware Store now. I remembered when it really was a hardware store. I still pictured my father as we looked through packages of garden seeds. I missed the fishing tackle, tools, ladders, nails and rope. Instead, I saw a huge crowd of people I didn't know, on a Tuesday.

"So who ARE all these people?" I asked. The place was jammed and the traffic and parking mess outside amazed me. So many people, all with their own ideas about what the island is or should be. They are good people doing good things, but they can't possibly feel what we feel.

"Newcomers," my friend answered. Her family arrived in the 1890s and mine a decade before that. "You have to be here four or five generations to think of it like we do."

After the memorial service we visited with others at a reception. I was related to a good number of them through marriage and tied to many more through long family friendships and associations. "You look so much like your Mom," I heard again and again, or "How's your Dad doing?" or "Remember that time when..." From among the many who now populate the island, those of us in the ever-shrinking pool of people from the old days, seemed to feel some kind of unspoken comfort in the sight of each others' faces, the shared memories and experiences, and our love of the place.

Then it all broke up. The cars left the parking lot of a church my grandfather had helped to build. I had nothing more to do, nowhere to go, except "home" which is now Tacoma. Before long I found myself back in the car parked out on the end of the exposed ferry deck as we left the dock and darkness overtook the scene. We glided through inky liquid toward the distant lights of Point Defiance. It began to rain. The cold and damp slipped into my car like unbidden thoughts enter the mind and I cuddled under a little fleece throw to shield myself from them. As we neared the shore I felt glad to live in Tacoma, where I'm as enthusiastic about the place as those "strangers" on the island are about theirs. That's when I realized that to some people in this town, my five years of living here do nothing to change my status. No matter how much I contribute, praise, or love Tacoma, I'm a newcomer too.

To old-time Tacoma folks let me say this: I will do my best to be worthy, just like those unfamiliar folks on Vashon are. Things change.Time goes by. The old year ends and a new begins. Peace to all, and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pompoms, toothpicks, glue and memories

For maybe five minutes, I considered having no Christmas tree this year. Then I remembered the googly-eyed mouse and the shiny green thing. How could I ever have thought of leaving them carefully packed away when they've held places of honor on the tree for over 30 years, since my sons made them in grade school? I'm ashamed of myself.

I know plenty of people who don't bother with a tree. My sister in her condo, my cousin with all her cats, and others in our situation, knowing it will be a Christmas with no adult children or grandchildren around, don't bother. What's the point anyway? We're adults and Christmas is for kids. Isn't it?

Yes, it's for kids, and how well I remember. I remember the small hands reaching up into the fir boughs to hang these ornaments for the first time all those years ago, the giggles and excitement, the packages under the tree, and the cookies for Santa. I remember the indescribable love and tenderness I felt, seeing the soft nape of child's neck, the sparkle in their eyes, and holding them in my arms. My babies have grown up but I will hold them close in my memories and heart forever.

Now things have changed. Even my sons' ornaments, in spite my careful handling and storage, show their age. The googly-eyed mouse, with a paper cone hat, yarn tail and walnut shell nest, wasn't always this way. In the beginning his little pompom face clearly showed two black bead eyes and a nose. But then one of the beads fell off and now nobody can be sure which of the three features is missing. Does he have two eyes and no nose or one of each?

The shiny green thing, an original creation by my younger son, is a testament to the lasting power of Elmer's glue. Made of two layers of foil paper on a kite-like framework of toothpicks, delicate as a dragonfly wing, it still survives even though the edges have worn a bit. I keep it in a small box with cotton padding, like the treasured jewel it is. In addition to these, the collection includes an ice cream cone of construction paper and pompoms, a big one for the scoop of ice cream and a small, now drooping one, for the cherry on top. There's also a teddy bear holding a candy cane.

We'll probably have a quiet Christmas here in Tacoma. But no matter what, the googly-eyed mouse and the shiny green thing hang on my tree, and I promise to never, ever again even think of not having them there. When I hung them up this December, with my secret guilt, a tear in my eye, and love in my heart, I knew the truth. I need to see them each year, and I always will, because these are Christmas to me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Great Gifts Ideas You Might Not Think Of.

Predictability can be a good thing, like when you're making Mom's traditional recipes for Christmas cookies. But when it comes to gifts under the tree, if it looks like a shirt box, feels like a shirt box, and sounds like a shirt box, it's probably a shirt. Ditto for new slippers, CDs, and toiletries. Part of the joy of giving is the joy of surprising. Let's shake things up this year.

Refresh your gift-giving habits and delight recipients with these suggestions:

Go "green" and support local farmers.
"What can be a greener gift than supporting local farmers at a local farmers market?" Good question, posed by Holly Foster of Tacoma's Zestful Gardens. This WSDA certified organic farm owned and operated by Holly and her mother Valerie Forster, participates in 3 local farmers markets: Broadway, Proctor, & Steilacoom. "You can purchase Zestful Dollars (gift certificates) in $50. $100, & $300 amounts for your friends, family, or co-workers to spend throughout the Farmers Market Growing season at the Zestful Gardens' booth," Holly says. Email her at to purchase a "zestful & green" gift certificate. For more information about Zestful Gardens visit" Winter won't last forever, and your gift will give someone something to look forward to next spring. Other farmers offer gift certificates too.

For our neighbors to the north, Seattle Tilth is offering a "2 for 1" membership through the end of the month of December. Take advantage of this opportunity while you can, and also check out some other exciting gift ideas on their website, like the "Maritime Northwest Garden Guide planning calendar. Click here to learn more.

For bird lovers
, the "Bird Watching Answer Book" by Laura Erickson, Science Editor at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, makes a perfect small gift or stocking-stuffer for only $14.95. It is published by Storey Publishing and available through Amazon. Get answers to questions like these: Why is a cardinal attacking my windows? (p.87) Will birds explode if they eat rice thrown after a wedding? (p.17) How can I keep squirrels out of my bird feeders? (p.37) Do birds play? (p.268) Why don’t birds fall off branches as they sleep? (p. 305) Listen to the author talk about the book on this You Tube video.

Membership in your local Audubon Society will delight an individual or entire family with many opportunities for outings, education, and fun. It also includes a subscription to their magazine full of amazing photography and articles that captivate.

Speaking of memberships, don't forget about local Museums such as Seattle's Museum of Flight. They offer so many exhibits, lectures, and fun activities year 'round, I can't even list them all. Incidentally, my connections at the museum tell me SANTA will be arriving there by helicopter this Saturday, Dec. 12, with live reindeer on the scene too.

Tacoma's Washington State History Museum is one of my favorite places, but we also have the Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass and Children's Museum.

Then there are those one-of-a-kind gifts that can be priceless even when they cost next to nothing. If you're an older member of the family, write down your life story or special memories, bind simply, and give as gifts. Include copies of old photos. It's easy to go to the Kodak machine at places like Bartell Drugs and make them inexpensively.

Frame a child's drawing for grandparents. Give a little girl a treasure chest of costume jewelry you don't wear anymore, for playing "dress up." My sister-in-law gives her 94-year-old mother, who lives in an adult group home, boxes of all-occasion greeting cards, plus postage stamps. What a great idea. Consider tickets to an event. Do you have a family heirloom and know just who you'd like to have it someday? Why not give it to them NOW? If you knit and know someone who'd like to learn, give a skein of yarn, some knitting needles, and a "gift certificate" for lessons from you. This could apply to any skill. Just be sure to follow through. And those predictable old family recipes would be a great gift on a set of recipe cards or in a small binder.

Take joy in your giving. Think about avoiding waste. And remember that often the best gift of all is simply our TIME, LOVE, and ATTENTION.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Directions our Lives Take

This morning the radiance of sun almost seemed like an affront, considering the week's news. The murders of four innocent and honorable police officers sitting in a Lakewood, Washington coffee shop, 30,000 more soldiers heading to Afghanistan, and other stories, dominate our minds. In contrast, the morning's cold clarity, the stark bare trees, seemed like a metaphor for the realities of our world.

I am a student of history, a constant reader, one who ponders the endless quests, quarrels, and mistakes of mankind. Some days I question what it's all about and where it will end. And yet we persist in both our suffering and our joy.

I think about the choices we make, the split second decisions that spin the weather vanes of our lives around and change everything. Then there are the choices other people make that affect us too. The lives of the families of those police officers, the families of fallen soldiers, the families of people who in this same week might have learned of a terminal illness or lost their jobs, just changed forever. The words we speak, the phone calls made or never made, the decisions to drive down a certain highway or not, all alter our fate.

What a mystery life is, and how crazy our continued turmoil. We humans ravage the land and each other, and yet within each of us, even the most deranged and destructive, there must be, I would hope, some small spark of goodness and love, or at least once was. Who cannot, upon waking to a day like this, see the beauty of the world? Who has never held a small, trusting child, or petted a dog, or heard music that moved them to tears? But to learn that the family of a killer heard and failed to report his threats to kill, makes me wonder.

Yesterday afternoon, about 4:30, my phone rang. "I know this sounds silly," my friend Liz said, "but I was driving down the road and I just had to pull over and call you. It's the rising moon. Did you see it? It looked so huge and so beautiful it was just amazing. I know most people aren't even going to notice it, but I thought of your rainbow story and I knew you would."

I had to laugh. "I love this about you, Liz," I told her. "To think you knew I'd care about how the rising moon looked, just makes my day. And it's true: there are people like us, and then there are 'the others'."

Maybe we're both a little crazy, but even in the face of sadness and worry, I can't believe it is wrong to still be aware of the beauty around us. Even those who are gone, would wish us that. Take heart and persevere, in memory of them. There is still good in the world.

Thanks Liz.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Broken Branches in the Family Tree

What a strange week I've had, one filled with family ghosts from a century ago. Their words, deeds, thoughts, and even a photo showing the face of a key player in a dramatic tragedy, someone I'd never seen, appeared with ease. It was as though they'd all been waiting for me to come along to release them and let them tell their stories. So fresh and real is the presence of my ancestors right now, that time means nothing.

It's a long story, one I plan to write a book about. It all began with some tattered and incomplete newspaper clippings discovered after both my grandparents were dead. I thought it had ended with me on my hands and knees looking for, and finding, my great-grandmother's unmarked grave. But no. The mysteries remained. Yet in less than a minute of looking at microfilm in the Tacoma Public Library's Northwest Room, I'd found another lengthy article and the complete versions of the rest. My family's tragedy made the news in Tacoma for weeks in that certain year. Those discoveries, along with others at the court house, and on the internet, especially in the Washington State Digital Archives, led to many more. All will become additional chapters in the family saga.

I sat in the library that day with a new friend and fellow researcher, Northwest author Lawrence D. "Andy" Anderson. I'd purchased his amazing book, "In the Shadow of the Mountain: A History of Early Graham, Kapowsin, Benston, Electron, and Vicinity," almost two years earlier. Now some strange coincidences, and a mutual acquaintance, had brought us together. Because of his interest in the area in which part of the story occurred, and having been caught up in the intrigue, he kindly offered to educate me on archival research. I showed him an old group photo I knew nothing about and he recognized three people in it. Now he's in deep, as excited as I am to uncover more information.

Today I called my mother's elderly first cousin on the East Coast. I've been keeping her abreast of these developments, since her father and my grandmother were both innocent children living out this drama, orphaned when their mother died. She told me a story I'll never forget. One day, when her parents were newlyweds, someone knocked on the door of their house on Vashon Island, here in Washington. Her mother opened it to find one of the people involved in this family story standing on the porch. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me," he said. She screamed. Her husband ran to her side but the man was gone. The next day they received a telegram saying this person had died, in New Jersey, just before he appeared to them.

I might have been more amazed had it not been a week full of these kinds of revelations. After Andy and I spent the day at the library, I came home obsessed with it all. I thought so much about my great-grandmother, whose high-collared dress and Gibson Girl hairdo frame a beautiful face with haunting eyes, in an old portrait I have. She seems to speak to me. I asked her to lead me in the right direction. Little did I dream I'd learn so much in one week, how many clues would fall into my lap. That night, just before bed, I realized something that stunned me; out of 365 possible days of the year on which I might have researched her life, that day, was the anniversary of her death. I hope she'll soon rest in peace.

Copyright 2009 Candace J. Brown

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day - words from a Civil War Veteran

In 1909 a Union Army officer named Philip Cheek published a history of the Sauk County Riflemen, another name for Company A of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, in which both he and my great-great-grandfather served. It was part of the famous "Iron Brigade." His words still deliver an impact.

My ancestor joined in 1861, at the age of 20, during the early and passionate recruitment campaigns that swept over even the rural areas of Wisconsin with their tidal wave of patriotism. Now a century has passed since he was wounded in the leg at Gainesville on the evening before the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. The account of that time, as his officer and fellow soldier Philip Cheek wrote it, haunt us yet, 100 years later.

"The regiment advanced in line of battle across a field. Soon we heard a rip-rip, but did not fully realize the situation until the boys began to fall. Philip Hoefer was the first one hit in our company. We finally reached the assignment. "Halt! Right dress! Ready! Aim! Fire!" and the old 6th gave a volley that awoke a cheer from the other three regiments and a corresponding yell from the other side. And that yell. There is nothing like it this side of the infernal region and the peculiar corkscrew sensation that it sends down your backbone under these circumstances can never be told. You have to feel it, and if you say you did not feel it and hear the yell you have never been there."

Most of us have never been there. We may hear of, but cannot truly know the particular horrors of war. The weapons and technology may have changed in the past century, but mankind has not. When we see the flag waving in Tacoma and elsewhere on this Veterans Day, remember all those brave Americans who have fought for our country and still are fighting today. A great many of them have experienced these sensations, and worse. May all those of us who "have never been there," remember to offer our heartfelt respect and gratitude to all the veterans being honored today, as well as the active-duty soldiers still risking their lives. We know they will not all come home.

Here is how Cheek ended his book:

"No man liveth to himself alone. Not for themselves, but for their children, for those who may never hear of them in their nameless graves, have they yielded life ...

Blessed be their memory forever."

Catching a Rainbow

This is no fish tale. It was the biggest rainbow I'd ever seen. I don't mean a trout. I mean a complete and perfect, faintly double semi-circle of radiant colors that, from my vantage point, arched in full glory from the Narrows Bridge to Vashon Island. Maybe you saw it too, if you live in Tacoma and happened to look west on Tuesday morning, Nov. 10. I opened the front curtains about 7:30, expecting just another rainy morning, and there it glowed before my eyes like a necklace of jewels.

"You HAVE to come see this," I yelled to my husband. He already had. I stood there mesmerized for probably a full minute before I thought to grab my camera. But this rainbow, wouldn't fit in the "net" of my lens. I could only catch parts of it. And even as I fumbled, running out onto the wet front porch in my bare feet, it began to fade, "the big one that got away." Like so many of life's most perfect moments, it came and went too quickly. Maybe I should have forgotten about the camera and just stood there and savored every second.

I found a rainbow when I expected only rain. It made me think about the importance of keeping our eyes open to beauty, and keeping our hearts open to the little unexpected gifts of joy that come our way. I hope some of you saw it too, and agree with me that it was worth all this rain. Maybe, instead of rain, we should choose to expect rainbows.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jazz, Scandinavians, Art, and Aliens - the Northwest Has it All

Anyone who dares to whine, "I'm b-o-r-e-d," doesn't belong around here, where we like to have FUN. So "get a life" and get out and about. This post on Good Life Northwest offers a few ideas of things to do this week and weekend.

First of all is the jazz. For those who read this on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009, get on down to Seattle's Pike Place Market area TONIGHT and take in a great jazz trio at the Pink Door restaurant. Wednesdays always mean a fine time there with the best Italian food and Casey MacGill's Blue 4 Trio. This week though, band members Mike and Matt aren't available so Casey has invited two other great local musicians: Ray Skjelbred on piano and Dave Brown on bass, performing with him from 8-11 p.m. If you read this too late, too bad. But you might still be able to catch the First Thursday Band (guess when) on this first Thursday, Nov. 5, at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle's Pioneer Square. Hear Ray Skjelbred and Dave Brown again, playing in this swinging quartet while you dine on flavorful New Orleans and Creole food in one of the city's oldest buildings. Check out all the portraits of jazz greats that cover the walls.

Even if you miss these two performances there's still the Lance Buller Trio at Maxwell's, 454 St. Helens Ave. in Tacoma on Sat. Nov. 7, 8-11 p.m. He plays a hot horn, sings, and makes you laugh. A proud citizen of Tacoma, Lance is known far and wide.

Treat yourself to an exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum called "A Concise History of Northwest Art," featuring works from the museum's collection covering the decades from about 1880 to the present. It just opened and runs through May 23, 2010. I plan to go, so watch for my review here soon.

Don't forget the exhibit called "In Search of Amelia Earhart," at Seattle's Museum of Flight. Whether or not you saw or enjoyed the movie "Amelia," you'll love the exhibit. I wrote about it here last week, and it is as exciting as promised. You don't want to miss this opportunity to see over 100 artifacts including an actual part of the missing plane. Click on the link, if you don't believe me. And there's more going on...

This Saturday at 2 p.m. the Museum of Flight offers a lecture that's "out of this world." Dr. Woody Sullivan, a University of Washington astronomer will speak in the William M. Allen Theater on several topics related to the possibility of life on other planets, including the search for Earth-like planets, the likelihood of life on other planets within our solar system, and SETI, an institute focused on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. He's been involved with SETI for three decades and is the man behind the SETI@home project. Although the interest in extraterrestrial life is nothing new, now scientists can carry out experiments and research. Check the Museum of Flight website for details. The lecture is free with admission and part of the museum's celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

Need some fresh Pacific Ocean air? Head out west to Ocean Shores for the "Jazz at the Beach" Dixieland Jazz Festival, with nine bands featuring the music of America's great "Jazz Age." While you're in Ocean Shores, enjoy the coast. No matter what the weather, it's always good for the body and soul to be there, hear waves and seagulls, and breathe all that oxygen.

Speaking of waves and seagulls, that makes me think of our proud local Scandinavians whose ancestors helped shape Pacific Northwest culture. My own Danish great-grandfather was a pioneer on Vashon Island. All the Scandinavian countries will be represented at fun events this weekend and next. Experience the Northwest's Nordic heritage at the Scandinavian Festival in Bellingham. Presented by the Nellie Gerdrum Lodge #41, of the Daughters of Norway, this festival draws an eager crowd every year for Scandinavian vendors, live music, a cafe with traditional foods, a bakery full of delicious pastries, and hourly door prizes. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Fox Hall at the Hampton Inn hotel, 3895 Bennett Drive. Admission in ONE DOLLAR.

Next week you can attend another fabulous festival, the Nordic Fest in Langley, on Whidbey Island. Find Scandinavian sweaters, jewelry, traditional foods, live entertainment and more. This event is presented by the Ester Moe Lodge # 39, D.O.N. Time: 9:30am – 3:30pm, at the South Whidbey High School Commons, 5675 Maxwelton Road.

See why I call it GOOD LIFE NORTHWEST? Now go enjoy yourself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Amelia Earhart "Visits" the Museum of Flight

If Amelia Earhart's airplane had landed safely on tiny Howland Island, in 1937, instead of disappearing over the Pacific Ocean, there might not have been a movie "Amelia" debuting at theaters here in Tacoma and all over the nation this weekend. America's most popular woman pilot would still be famous. No doubt she would have successfully completed that last leg of her flight around the world, and gone on to break more records. But on July 2, 1937, when Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, failed to show up on the island to refuel, she became the subject of a fascination that persists after 72 years.

Theater owners expect large crowds for this film, starring Hilary Swank as Amelia, and Richard Gere as her husband. But it won't be the only show in town. On October 24, the same weekend, a new exhibit called "In Search of Amelia Earhart" opens at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Chris Mailander, Director of Exhibits, says, "This is possibly the most comprehensive exhibit about Amelia ever." He and Annie Mejia, PhD., Content Developer, spent months putting it together, gathering a vast assortment of artifacts, including some of Earhart's clothing, over 100 photos, newsreel footage, audio recordings, reproductions of newspaper articles, and much more. But the most compelling artifact is a real piece of Earhart's Lockheed Electra twin-engine plane.

How is that possible? Earhart's fatal trip, flying east, was actually a second attempt. On the first try she began by flying west. In March of 1937 she taxied to take off from Luke Airfield in Hawaii with her plane heavy with fuel, and had an accident. A member of the military named Dan Stringer picked up a piece of the wreckage and saved it all these decades. Earhart's plane was repaired and her trip eventually started over. And Stringer's souvenir eventually landed in the hands of his grandson, Jon Ott, in San Jose, California.

Mejia happened to watch Episode 706 of the PBS Television show "History Detectives" and saw the story of Ott's artifact and how researchers declared it authentic. Her excitement over this discovery, and her efforts on behalf of the museum, resulted in the piece of the plane being part of this exhibit.

After months of immersion in all things "Amelia," Mejia feels like she's come to know the real Earhart and like Mailander, eagerly awaits this weekend's openings of both the film and the museum's big event. "In the movie, Hilary Swank even wears a bracelet just like one Amelia wore," she says. But unlike the movie, the exhibit "In Search of Amelia Earhart" is no Hollywood production. It's the real thing. You'll end up feeling like you know this fascinating female aviator too.

The Museum of Flight is a "must see" any time. Even without Amelia Earhart to draw a crowd, over 400,000 people visited in 2008, according to Public Relations and Promotions Manager, Ted Huetter. He hopes this year's numbers end up even higher. "It's a Seattle landmark, a top attraction," he says, and you'll agree when you see over 150 rare and historically important aircraft and space vehicles, the Boeing Company's original "Red Barn" work shop, movies, reference library, vast numbers of photos, tens of thousands of artifacts, and more. He invites you to discover the real story that inspired the movie "Amelia" by visiting "In Search of Amelia Earhart." The thrill of aviation permeates this museum and, like Earhart, you just might fall in love with flight.

Museum of Flight

(at Boeing Field)

Phone: 206.764.5720

9404 East Marginal Way S
Seattle, WA 98108-4097

Exit 158 off Interstate 5

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Toy Trouble in T-Town: Kids Left Empty-handed

If all those grateful stuffed animals and dolls saved by Tacoma's Toy Rescue Mission in the past 20 years could put on red capes and fly in to save the day, they would. The puzzles are puzzled, the trains feel derailed, and little dump trucks are down in the dumps. And if that isn't bad enough, think how the kids will feel. What happened?

Maybe we all took it for granted that Toy Rescue Mission would be there forever, making sure local kids had gifts on birthdays and holidays. What the folks at TRM do might seem like magic, but behind it all is money. Right now that's running out. Thanks to the economy, Toy Rescue Mission faces its final days at the end of this Christmas season unless something miraculous happens. That's right folks. It looks like the lid on the world's biggest toy box will slam shut forever.

"We are seeking volunteer help one last time to make this the BEST Christmas Distribution TRM has ever seen," says TRM's President, Karol Barkley. "I don't need to tell you that, due to the economy, parents have lost jobs, incomes have decreased, as family needs continue to rise. Let's not let the devastating effects of this economy affect the joy that our community's children look forward to...especially at Christmas time!"

Just as all those dolls with missing arms, cars without wheels, and kids without toys have needed Toy Rescue Mission, now TRM needs us. Here Karol suggests some specific ways you can help:

  1. Volunteer to be on our Christmas Committee (we will probably only have ONE meeting (Oct. 6th); the rest will be done by phone/email.
  2. Volunteer to help at any of our distributions (Dec. 1st-12th).
  3. Volunteer to host a Christmas toy drive (new toys only, please) at your church or workplace, etc.
  4. Volunteer to coordinate our Christmas Sleigh drawing fundraiser (simply requires sending out emails asking for each TRM supporter to donate ONE Christmas item to fill our sleigh, and request all items to be dropped off at TRM.
  5. Volunteer to collect cash donations from friends, family, coworkers, church members, clubs, etc. to help us purchase new items especially for our teens (10-15 years). (Donations of "gently-used" items are especially difficult to get for this age group, so this part of our inventory is low)!
  6. Volunteer to recruit a group of people to come to TRM the weekend of Nov. 20-22 to help decorate and prepare our Distribution Site for Christmas!

Surely, there is SOMETHING here each reader can help with.

"The last thing we will need before closing our doors is volunteers throughout the month of January to help us through the painful closing process," Karol say. "None of us have ever done this before (we've always been in the "building," not "tearing down" mode), nor had any extra time to spend exploring the ins and outs of closing an agency. If anyone has experience in this area, their assistance would be greatly appreciated."

Thank you for your past loyal support and any you can now give!

Karol Barkley, President
253-565-6201/ cell: 226-8359

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Day I Could Have Lost to "Busy" and "Soon"

I hung up the phone after talking to Dad and thought about how much I've overused, believed in, and lived by the word "busy." It's often preceded by the word "too." And I thought about him turning 96 this month and how I'd just said the words, "I'll try to get in to see you soon."

Don't assume the worst. I do see my Dad often, talk to him, on the phone, and help him out whenever he needs anything. I always make it clear that I love him. But in the hurry and scurry of my life I sometimes forget how little is going on in his. As I hung up the phone, I pictured him in his chair with the clock ticking on his apartment wall. As a daughter I do pretty well, but I could do better.

It seemed such a short time ago that I wrote a blog post about Dad called Raking in the Memories but it had actually been a whole year, another year gone by too quickly, one tick of the clock at a time. I remembered that last fall he hoped we could take a drive up to the mountains to see the vine maple turning red, and after saying "Sure!" and sincerely meaning it, things got "too busy," the leaves fell, and the long winter came. I looked outside at the perfect autumn day and picked up the phone to call him back.

"Hi Dad. It's me again. I just wondered if you have any plans for tomorrow," I said. "How about if we take a drive?"

I didn't need to ask him where he'd like to go, but I did anyway. Of course it was his favorite place, out Highway 410 and over Chinook Pass to have lunch at Whistlin' Jack Lodge on the banks of the Naches River. My husband and I left Tacoma at 8:45 am and headed north to Renton to pick him up. He was out the door with his walker before we stopped the car.

Some days go by in a blur. On others, if we're lucky, we live each hour with the awareness that it is being imprinted on our memories. Tuesday, October 6, 2009: saved forever. Like opening an album of photos, or one of those calendars of national parks, I will still see the images of that day even when I turn 96. Breathtaking vistas spread out for our pleasure around each bend of the road. Dark green forests, Mt. Rainier, sparkling water, alpine meadows, rocky road cuts, fir and cedar giving way to pine, all made me feel like I'd returned to an aboriginal home and a poignant reunion with nature. I remembered what silence is and pure air. The distant horizon of peaks layered itself in shaded purples and blues. Then we saw what we came for. In every open space exposed to sun the vine maple blazed orange, rust, and red.

The best sight of all was Dad gazing out the window, probably thinking of all the years of vacations and day trips, of trying to see as much of America as he could. I remembered being a kid and watching him from the backseat of his Buick Electra. As one of his seven children, the realization that I understood and shared his love of going to places we'd never been felt like a secret, special, and unspoken bond I hoped was just between us.

"I miss driving," he said. I knew he wanted to feel his hands on the steering wheel again, the engine's surge, and the thrill of the road stretching out before him with some new discovery around the next curve. He gazed out the window. Sometimes he talked. Sometimes he didn't. For a few moments now and then, he dozed. But most of all he just enjoyed, pointing to maples and saying "There's some color."

We ate lunch at a table next to the window, in Whistlin' Jack Lodge. Outside, the Naches River danced low over its rocky bed, still shallow before the autumn rains. Sunshine warmed the trunks of wind-tossed pines to a rich burnt umber color. Years ago Dad would have wanted to walk down beside the water. Those days are gone.

Never one to talk about the past, he surprised me with his answer to my question; did he remember his first trip to Mount Rainier? He did, in detail. As a young bachelor he had a Norwegian coworker and friend who wanted to see the mountain up close. So they packed up Dad's Star Touring car and spent a week camping at Longmire and Paradise. I'd never heard this story, and wondered how many more stories he had that I'd never hear.

When we took Dad home and said goodbye he repeated that we'd given him "a real treat." I hugged him and told him, with sincerity, that the pleasure was ours. We'd driven over Chinook Pass, then looped back to the west through White Pass, over 300 miles.We hadn't done this for him; we'd done it with him. As he walked away toward the elevator I though again about that four letter word "busy." Another one is "soon." I decided right then, I'm trading it in for "today."

Copyright 2009 Candace J. Brown

IMPORTANT NOTE: Just days after this blog post was written a landslide closed part of our route through the mountains. Here's a link to the Washington State Department of Transportation with information about this situation:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

News in Blues: moussaka and mice

"Blues" aren't always songs, or even sad. Consider, for instance, the blue in the flag of Greece. It's the blue of the sea and sunny skies. Think of sitting at an outdoor table above the Mediterranean, with the person you love, enjoying great food,wine, and music.

I've never been in such a place, so far, but pretending is easy this weekend. About three years ago I first went to the annual Greek Festival at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tacoma, and I've wanted to go back ever since. This year nothing can stop me. It won't have the ocean, but will have everything else. Who knows? You could even fall in love. I'm bringing my own love, from home.

Come for the tastes and aromas of amazing foods (more than just moussaka), traditional music, folk dancing, costumes, shopping, and blues everywhere. Leave with a new appreciation for life. Click on the link to get all the details, but don't be late. The baked goods sell out quickly.

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Some of my favorite "blues" in Tacoma can be seen frolicking in neon across the marquee of the Blue Mouse Theater on Proctor. Talk about the "Big Cheese..." This irreplaceable 1923 theater has operated continuously for over 85 years because of a group of investors who saved it. When so many historic buildings have already been lost, this is something to celebrate.

You can read my recently published article called "The Blue Mouse" on Neighborhood Life It's a great website that comes out of San Francisco, full of ideas, stories, solutions and inspiration for improving neighborhoods all over America. My article is at the top of the "Features" page, but is also shown when the site opens. Please check it out. And for those who love and value old theaters, be sure to also go to Cinema Treasures.

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As for the other "blues..."

If you happen to have a case of those I hope they're the kind of blues you can lose by going out and having some fun this weekend. Remember: Northwest life is good on Good Life Northwest. Please come back soon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Celebrate Fall with a Closer Look

It's true. Some things are just too good to last, like this week's warm weather here in Tacoma. But that reminds us to savor every day and every little thing in it, especially now when the landscape blazes with color.

Enjoy the magical transition of seasons. With most summer flowers still in bloom, and the maple leaves already turning, on stage come the stars of the autumn garden: glorious purple asters, chrysanthemums in deep red, burnished gold and lavender, and fall-blooming bulbs. The hardy cyclamens, rise up from the drab soil with an elegance of posture, petals swept back, like a troupe of petite ballerinas among the ferns. It's easy to miss them when they're only three inches high.

Get out of the house before the dark days of wind and rain and take a walk, even if it's just around your yard. Notice the subtle changes. Do the squirrels seem busier? The spider spins his web between the porch and perennials. Hydrangeas once so blue, age gracefully into surprising shades of plum, cream, and aqua green. The seeds of the sunflower ripen. Fuchsias still hang heavy with pendulous blooms.

Soon it will all change. Everything does. Then you'll look back and remember. The kids that I sent off to school on September mornings, that seem not so long ago, are grown men. I still get excited about blank paper, and sharpened pencils, but these days I sit at a laptop. Where I used to daydream, now I write as fast, as much, and as well as I can. My life, like the year, is already into its second half. I think of the time I've wasted on meaningless things, and say to myself, "Let all my days be full of meaning."

So I'm enjoying this fall and hope to enjoy many, many more. I hope you do too. Remember to slow down, breathe deep, and delight in details. If you don't you'll miss the tiny cyclamens dancing among the ferns, and that would be a shame.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I'm Back . . . Memories and a fresh start

Hello Dear Readers,

I did so well for so long. Remember how it used to be? You could count on me. Every Wednesday meant something new to read on Good Life Northwest, about my experience of living here in Tacoma, my childhood on Vashon Island, and appreciation of this region. Our mutual enthusiasm for Good Life Northwest kept it going.

Then one Wednesday came along and I let you down. There was nothing new. It happened the next week too, and the next, until you might have given up. You see, back in mid-July, the thing I'd focused on, visualized, put out into the universe, and prepared for, came true; I suddenly had much more work in freelance writing.

I didn't forget you though. At first I thought I'd only be a few days late. As it turned out, those deadlines, along with music gigs, family, and everyday life, kept me far busier than usual. But I MISSED YOU. Apparently some of you missed me too because many have asked why I haven't written in so long. Can we start over? As a peace offering I'm bringing flowers. I took these photos in my own yard and offer them with all my best wishes for a beautiful autumn.

I planned on Good Life Northwest being a blog about interesting people, places, and events. Then it became more. It connected us not only to life here in the Northwest, but to life itself, and to each other. It has been a year this month since I wrote about the tragic death of our young friend, Luke Rogers, and through this blog, people from all over the country connected bonded by our memories of him and our grief. Tonight, a year later, someone who still thinks of Luke all the time, just like my husband and I do, left a new comment on that original post. You can go to it by clicking here.

I'm sending you these flowers as a reminder of all the beauty in the world. And I'll think of all the people I love today or have ever loved, including those who are gone. I don't know whether or not they still sense the glory of September, the cool mist at dawn that yields to the sun, or the scent of fresh chrysanthemums, but I hope so.

Thank you for reading. Please come back for more. I'll be here.

All the best,

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Tale of Stout Hearts and Strong Hands: 1922 schooner MERRIE ELLEN visits Tacoma

If ships believe in reincarnation, the old schooner RFM must have had a lot of good karma to end up as the MERRIE ELLEN in its new life. My husband first spotted the two masts in the glow of Saturday's early evening. We were driving south on Schuster Parkway, past Tacoma's Working Waterfront Museum, so only got a quick glance at the unfamiliar schooner and wondered about it during dinner at a restaurant. On our way home we decided to stop by.

The museum's doors stood open as we pulled into the parking lot, but it seemed surprising that no one crowded around the elegant MERRIE ELLEN moored nearby. Out on the pier, a couple of families with numerous, lively children, took more interest in the crabs they hauled up and dropped into plastic buckets. No one seemed to pay much attention to this noteworthy visitor on Tacoma's waterfront. The word hadn't gotten out yet.

Our footsteps echoed down the metal ramp as we walked over to where the schooner floated on calm water. On deck, a black and white dog picked up a rope toy and ran over to see if we wanted to play, just as Captain John Holbert noticed us and came over to the ladder to say hello. After a few words with him, we knew we wanted to come aboard and tour the boat, for a mere $5.00 each. It was the best value I've ever had from a five spot. Don't miss this brief opportunity to visit, before the MERRIE ELLEN leaves Tacoma about noon on Thursday, July 16, for the Waterland Festival in the city of Des Moines, Washington. Or go on a three hour sail for $50.00. You won't be able to do either when the ship is on view in Des Moines.

John and Jill Holbert, dreamed of buying and restoring a vintage schooner. When they found what would become the MERRIE ELLEN in 2007, in Victoria, B.C. they recognized it as "the one," but probably never imagined how much work awaited them. Accustomed to their 62' fiberglass ketch, just climbing aboard the 107' ship, with a 20' beam and a weight of 320,000 lbs., gave a new and literal meaning to the term "big project." Originally called simply "RFM" the ship had been built in Vancouver B.C. in 1922. She showed her age, inside and out.

"I tapped the hull on that first day," says John in his ship's log, "and it sounded odd, so I pushed the point of my knife against the hull and it sank in with no effort."

As it turned out, a large percentage of the planking and 42 frames had rotted. He hired expert ship surveyor Lee Earhart to examine the hull. Earhart declared it worth restoring, but the estimate for those expenses alone came to six figures. The work seemed endless. It included searching the forest for a Douglas fir long and straight enough for a mast, redoing the mechanical systems, hand forging ships spikes, acquiring specialty woods like Western Larch, Alaskan yellow cedar, and Brazilian Purple Heart, caulking and finishing work, and so much more. It's been a long adventure marked by both discouragement and elation. The Holberts estimate that during five months in 2008, 10,000 man-hours went into the ship's restoration, often during cold, windy, and rainy weather. Friends donated half of those man-hours. The Holberts' gratitude to these folks and the marine trades experts in the Port Townsend area can hardly be expressed, but they themselves worked as hard as anyone, on all kinds of tasks. Among other things, John designed and fabricated new halyard winches to look like vintage ones that would have been made of cast iron, and did exquisitely beautiful woodwork in the interior. Jill shared her talents and efforts in as many ways.

The work continues. If you visit the MERRIE ELLEN in Tacoma this week, you can see enough exposed below decks to appreciate the amount of work represented. At the same time what is finished will take your breath away. A modern cooking surface in the gourmet galley lifts to become part of a tiled wall, revealing the ship's original Lunenburg wood cook stove beneath. Charming light fixtures lend a glow to the Alaskan yellow cedar cabin walls, doors close with a perfect fit, and one table surface is built with an inlaid wood game board. There's even an all-wood shower stall that will be epoxied to make it completely waterproof.

Life aboard this schooner, when it is ready to work as a charter, will offer many comforts and much beauty. Jill came up with the idea of free form sinks of laminated wood in the heads, of which there are several, including a private one for each of the three guest staterooms. Each stateroom will hold a queen-sized bed and receive part of its illumination from from deck prisms installed above. In fact, the schooner's abundance of natural daylight in most areas made it exceptional.

Please visit the ship's website to see many photos of the restoration, read about charter trip costs, amenities, and more. John Holbert can be reached at mobile number 541-740-0053, or email him at

I'm glad my husband spotted those two masts as we drove by. We feel lucky to have met the Holberts and their crew, and to have a chance to see an amazing restoration project. Maybe one of these days soon, when their charter business is underway, we'll even take a trip on the schooner. You can too. But we'd all better get in line.

A proud family models the MERRIE ELLEN merchandise.