All posts by Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis. Her career started in web and software development, and after a seven year frolic and detour through law school and private legal practice, her passion for the outdoors lead her into the outdoor industry and into the profession of social media and content marketing. Sara is the Director of Social Media at Portent, Inc, an internet marketing company based in Seattle, WA. Sara is a beginner skier, newly-recreational climber, low-key backpacking convert after a brief stint as an alpine mountaineer, urban picnic connaisseur, backyard gardener, film photography student and aspiring locavore. Formerly @theclimbergirl on Twitter, she now goes by @saralingafelter and is Sara Lingafelter on Google+.

He calls me Grace.

pagoda“Hello, buttercup,” the slouchy young man with oversized glasses says into his phone.

Buttercup.  I like that.  I don’t think I’ve heard that one before.

I’m sitting in the airport doing what I do in the airport: peoplewatching.  The comings and goings, the sources and destinations written on people: their apparel, their hats, their faces.  The majority moving through the place as I am — solo — a few clicks faster than the couples navigating as a team.  We all wind up the same place, the solo ones just go in the right or wrong direction with slightly more conviction, it seems.

It’s been a really nice few days in San Francisco.  Too quick (always), and not enough time to see friends since I was here for work.  Every time I’m here I remember and then forget again why I love it so much:  I love moving around this city by myself.  It’s one of the happiest places I visit to set out by myself with my Clipper card and/or a comfortable pair of shoes and follow my nose and eyes.  This trip I was staying in Japantown.  I knew nothing about the area when I arrived, but — with conviction — walked out the front door of my hotel into the night to meet friends my first night there, not having researched the relative safety of the spot.  I made it about fifteen steps from my hotel when I saw the first of many single women out walking by themselves — my entire walk to dinner, that’s the demographic I saw — which set me loose the rest of the trip to just explore.

I shot two rolls of film of nothing in particular.  I’ve been enjoying shooting pairs… as I try to zero in on my theme for my final photo project Ryan suggested the idea of “Twins.”  I like it.  I might make it “Fraternal Twins,” since that’s what my niece and nephew are, and shoot images of pairs of things that are slightly different than each other.  Like the two pigeons I saw earlier today, looking like they were kissing each other beneath the Pagoda in Japantown.  I managed a couple of photos before they changed their angles; my attention, perhaps, triggered their modesty.

My first morning in town I wandered down the street for breakfast.  A couple walked in and sat a few seats away.  I sized them up quickly, before they’d even said a word:  newlyweds.  Her slightly scrunched eyelash extensions were a dead giveaway.  As if that wasn’t enough, her slept on updo was still intact; smudges of the day before’s makeup still visible around her eyes.  He called her “Sweetheart,” with every sentence.  They reminisced about the night before — stories about friends and family, mostly — and discussed where they’d like to plan their next trip.  I wanted to take their picture but found myself suddenly too shy to ask.

I wasn’t too shy to ask the couple I’d seen at Seatac on my way out.  I got a cup of coffee, and the older woman ahead of me in line headed with her cup to the bar where the milk and cream was.  I heard a wolf whistle from the other side of the cafe — her husband, trying to get her attention.  Big smiles on both of their faces.  Big smiles as she sat down and they unpacked their lunch.  Big smiles when I asked if I could take their picture, and he said “Yes,” tentatively, slightly confused.  They smiled a posed smile, apart from each other across the table, and he asked what I’d use the photo for.  I explained that I’m a student, and that I heard him whistle at her and it made me happy so I wanted to take their picture.  The light wasn’t great; my shutter was wide open; I had to decide quickly to shoot my very narrow depth of field focused on him, with her slightly in the background.  He was, after all, the one who’d wolf whistled.  Shooting strangers is a challenge… they’re less understanding of and patient with the pace of my student manual photography.  Shutter speed, light meter, aperture, focus, shoot.  He laughed when I said that I’d heard him wolf whistle and it made my day.  They both laughed.

I’ve been practicing my technical street photography skills… hyperfocal focusing, making quick decisions about estimated exposure, moving quickly and efficiently so I don’t miss the shot I’d intended to catch.  I’m still missing about 80% of the shots I see in my mind’s eye… I spot them coming, and either I don’t have my camera out, or I’m not quick enough with my composition or settings to actually deploy the shutter.  But I see the images in my head, and I’m excited to keep practicing and to increase that percentage.

The night I got in, I found my way to the Hotel Carlton, where I met friends for dinner.  There was an out-of-place DJ in a glittery shirt and sunglasses spinning tunes, while people mulled around with glasses of wine.  And there was one couple.  An older man, his white hair peeking out under his cap.  His lady, with short-cropped red hair and a big smile on her face as he spun her around the lobby like it was a dance floor.  I did get a picture of those two — happily dancing, not minding the snap of my shutter.

It was a nice few days here — sunnier than most of my San Francisco visits —  and even so, I’m quite happy to be headed home.  I miss my man (who calls me Grace) and my dog, and my bed.  And I’m looking forward to spending weekend time in the darkroom, watching the magic of street images from another city materialize in front of me.

Breaking and entering

The details of a door
The details of a door

When I was in Nepal, I felt as if the place could make anyone a photographer; perhaps, because I came back from that trip looking at the world in a very different way, and some of the photos I took while I was there became a kind of home.  Something to return to when lost, or confused, or in need of comfort.

Port Townsend, I think, can make anyone a writer.  I come here, and the stories come like the tides, regularly, with a rhythm.  Take pictures with the good early light.  Write in the morning.  Cobweb clearing.  Walk the dog at the lagoon, the ducks quacking their laughter behind my steps.  Find somewhere to be in the world.  Watching people.  Recognizing family features in the faces of people I either haven’t seen in nearly two decades, or, squinting my eyes perplexed, trying to figure out how the little boy I grew up with is still nine (he isn’t; he’s the child of the little boy I grew up with).  Revisiting old places; most of which aren’t even familiar.  Some are.  Listening to stories, having the kind of easy conversation with strangers that I became accustomed to while trekking.  The kind that I’d forgotten were familiar, until spending a month’s worth of weekends in my home town, and noticing them again.  Impulse to write in the afternoon.  That time, the kind of writing I feel like sharing.  Like right now.

This afternoon’s task was to clean out the remaining six or seven boxes in my parents’ basement that I’d squirreled away down there either fifteen or twenty years (depending on the box) ago.  By volume, the boxes contain mostly books; next, paper of other kinds — that paper is the reason I didn’t just tell my parents to chuck the boxes, contents and all.  I wondered if, by taking the time to go through those boxes, I could come to know myself better.  For various reasons, I don’t remember much at all from my childhood or teen years, and perhaps the scraps of paper in those boxes might give me  a few more stories from those times before.  The rest of the contents were treasures-then-junk-now: trophies, ribbons, dried flowers, old magazines and newspaper clippings… I didn’t take the time to figure out why I’d saved each piece.  The books: sorted into a box to donate, except for a few.  The papers: sorted roughly into another box to keep, the rest recycled.  The other stuff: unceremoniously sorted into boxes to donate, recycle, trash.  All things I might have gotten rid of years before, if I’d learned sooner how to let go of things.

I didn’t learn that skill at home, growing up.  As I started sorting through the first box, my dad looking over my shoulder, my mother sitting on the stairs to the basement, I remembered something.  When we cleaned our rooms growing up, we’d get a talking to from our normally unflappable, full-of-smiles-and-love dad if we threw away anything of use.  That’s fair, of course, except that dad’s definition of “anything of use” was quite generous.  A single dangly earring, found run over by our car tires in our driveway: of use.  For example.  So learning to let go of things is something I learned long after leaving their house.  I was thirty one or thirty two, I can’t quite do the math right now, and I packed my camping and climbing gear in my roof box, my law practice’s files into a laundry basket, and a bag or two of clothes and drove away from the home I’d tried and failed to make for myself.

Things, let go of.

My early programming is still there, though — and strong — while going through boxes in my parents’ basement.  I did my best.  In the course of the month, I got through all of the boxes but two.  And I found what I was looking for.  Stories and poems and letters and pictures I didn’t remember and my high school newspapers and some newspaper clippings that I’m glad I saved, and research I did that I don’t recall an ounce of, but I’m intrigued to rediscover.

Apparently, I crafted a survey about peoples’ use of the internet, in 1995.  I posted the survey on newsgroups (remember those?) and people emailed me their responses.  From all over the world.  And I’m not sure what I did with the results — I only found print-outs of some of their emails, and my tallies of data, and a three page write-up on some of the “personalities” that had responded.  At first, I’d tossed it all in the recycle bag.  One box saved, the rest let go of.  And the one box saved, likely still with some clearing out to do.

I carried the heavy box to save up the stairs to the kitchen.  I washed my hands of the dust and grime that comes with a few hours spent in the basement.  I went into the living room to check on Gibson, and the front door wasn’t how I left it.  The little door that covers the old window out to the world was open.  I got chills: that door doesn’t open easily.  I’d left the door unlocked.  Was someone in the house?  Impossible: Gibson would have alerted.  But the chills wouldn’t go away.  I locked the door and latched the chain, second-guessing the decision, since if this were a horror movie, I’d have just locked myself in the house with whatever specter had opened the little window’s door.

When Megan and I were little and shared an upstairs bedroom, the bedroom that I’ve been sleeping in every weekend this month, the house would creak and groan and we’d be scared.  The story I remember is that a little old lady lived in the attic, and she had a rocking chair.  And when we were babies, she’d rock us to sleep in the rocking chair, and that was the creaking we’d hear:  the sound of her rocking chair.  And I think it was my mother who told the story — again, I can’t really remember.  And it was intended to calm us, to help us feel safe, to let us know that there was a benevolent grandmotherly figure in the attic, who loved us and kept us safe.  But in my mind, the little old lady in the attic was creepy.  And there were other creepy things in that house… my sister had dreams or ghosts or a prolific imagination, I don’t know which, but the upstairs and the basement have always given me the creeps.  The only safe floor, the only one without those haunted places, is the main floor.  And today, with the inexplicable window opening — Ryan at school, my mom and dad gone for the weekend, me in the house alone with Gibson — even the main floor felt its age.  Like a house built in the early 1900s that had seen it all.

I decided to retrieve my “internet anthropology” research from the basement.  I just was too curious to see what stories might be found in there; what insights might be gleaned.  As I was digging through the box of recycling, I heard the basement door above me blow closed.  I thought nothing of it.  It happens, in this house — drafts close doors.  Perhaps they open windows.  The make noises.  I was glad Gibson was sleeping happily on the sofa upstairs.

Until I went back up to finish packing and tried the basement door and found it locked.  From the inside.  Ghost, draft, little old attic lady — whatever closed the door, decided to lock the deadbolt as well.

I didn’t even bother hurrying to the front door — I could remember the feeling of the chain on my fingers, that I’d latched, from the inside, that would prevent the key in my pocket from allowing me entry.

I called Terry.  The locksmith.  Port Townsend has one, I think.  As I dialed the number, I pondered the logistics: Sunday noon.  Ryan needs his lunch.  The dog is locked in the house.  We’re in Port Townsend.  I’d imagine Terry doesn’t work 24/7.  How much damage would I have to do to my parents’ post-Victorian, home, in order to regain entry?

Miraculously, Terry answered the phone.  He was just leaving town on his way to Bainbridge Island.  He turned around, and came to my rescue.  I was still shaking, and sweating, when he arrived; he quizzed me about whether I had permission to enter the house; about what proof I could show him that I had any business being there.  Being Port Townsend, he quizzed me only hard enough for him to believe me; not enough to actually prove anything.  As he worked, he asked how I’d wound up in this predicament, and I told him.  I mostly told the whole story, a little bit abbreviated; when I confided how creeped out I was, he just smiled.  “These old houses,” he said.  “It was probably the sunshine:  it warms them up, and makes them creak and move.  Or — it could be haunted.  You never know.  I’ve seen stranger things.”

And he was kind to me, and reached through the three-inch gap the front door would make with the chain I’d latched still latched and scratched Gibson’s nose.  And I watched him try three different methods of breaking and entering my parents old house; its defenses stronger than most he works on.  I thought about the business of breaking into peoples’ houses for money, at their request.  I’d imagine that you become quite the judge of character, in that job.  The stories he’d have to tell.

In the end, the house yielded, with no damage done.  Gibson was fine.  Ryan hitched a ride uptown with his teacher, and we met him and still had time for lunch, and I told him about the papers I’d gone back for and he agreed, although inconvenient and expensive to retrieve them, it was probably worth it.  And Gibson played on the pocket beach next to Waterfront Pizza while Ryan ate slices heavy with Linguisa and I watched the water and gazed across the blue at Indian Island, a still-operating Naval munitions base, where bombs, bullets and missiles get loaded into marine vessels headed out to sea.

So strange.

This place.

So strange.

And beautiful.

I left this place nearly as thoroughly and completely as I left my Poulsbo home; leaving behind boxes and people and stories and parts of myself.  And it’s been a gift to come back; to be here long enough to know my parents a little differently.  Acceptance.  Love.  To do the work of going through boxes and finding stories from a much younger me.  To find, as I move around town, old names popping into my head as I look at houses and faces.




Making pictures

As if by design, I'm starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that's full of still life opportunities.
As if by design, I’m starting a photography class and happen to be living in a home that’s full of still life opportunities.

It’s quiet in the house. It’s just me and a sleeping Gibson, who occasionally lets loose a deep sigh, or shifts a paw from its resting place in her repose on the sofa. She’s been sick — again — or injured, it’s hard to tell which, although we’re rooting for sick since then another round of antibiotics will do their work and she’ll be back to normal. Sleep, I believe, heals, and she’s certainly getting a dose of that medicine while I plunk away at the keyboard and click away at files as they move from one place to another, the faint whirr of my laptop hard drive and old-fashioned-sounding click-rattle of my external hard drive as they trade information the only other sounds coming from inside the house.

I’ve been shooting digital since 2007. After never really shooting a camera much, my ex-husband bought a Canon DSLR and I shot with it frequently until the day I packed my law office files into a laundry basket and loaded my camping gear into the roof box of my Jetta and pulled out of the driveway.  While my divorce entailed a great deal of loss, that camera may have been the inanimate object I most missed as I started putting the pieces of my life together again. I had a little pocket point and shoot that I pointed and shot until one of my rock climbing adventures scrambled the little camera’s brain. I have few photos from that in-between time — most of the ones I do have, are from my friends’ cameras, and were it not for those, I’d have no photographic proof of that free, hungry, wild phase in my life.

When I started preparing for my Nepal trip in early 2009, an indestructible little point and shoot (cold tolerant down to 14 degrees) was one of the first essential gear purchases I made. I wanted so badly to take a “real” camera to Nepal, and knew I didn’t have the budget for it (and it just didn’t seem wise to take anything that may be potentially less cold-tolerant and less shock-resistant than myself with me for that particular adventure). So my little scuba-diver-looking point and shoot started going everywhere with me. Up and down mountains. Up and down rock climbs. On road trips and eleven hour flights involving passport stamps. And I’m grateful to my past self for having the judgment to spend my grocery budget on that little point and shoot, since the photos from my travels during that time still give me plenty of sustenance.

And then, in 2011, the techtonic plates seemed to slow. I’d found myself a nice stable job, with a nice stable paycheck, and I knew exactly what I’d do with my first not-earmarked paycheck: I knew I’d buy myself a camera. Early on in that job, I’d worked a tradeshow and toted the office’s Panasonic Lumix and it was love at first click. I didn’t love the photos: they were of outdoor gear, under fluorescent lights, with either too much or too little flash, and I didn’t even peek at the manual so I shot the entire show in widescreen. But I loved the camera. The feel of it in my hands, and the click of the shutter, its pancake lens — there was just something about it. I looked at a few other options, but the Lumix was it for me, and thus began my relationship with this finicky, not at-its-finest-on-automatic little camera.

The first photos I have from it are of Ryan, and of a huge old tree dripping with moss, from a very early on car bivy of ours, on our way out to our first backpacking trip together on the Washington coast. The photos are terrible and I love them because he’s wearing his Rainier t-shirt and I had it bad for him before that trip, but good god I had it worse for him after that trip. And we shot trees and paths and starfish and rock cairns and the ocean and each other and I had an inkling of just how much I may have hit the jackpot and I can see that in those photos, even the ones of the world around us.  And that first summer and fall together I snuck photos of him that I love.  Back then, he just smiled shyly when I pointed the lens at him.

Now, two years later, he makes funny faces when I pick up the camera.  We know each other so much better now; we’re no longer on our best, most charming, most attractive behavior at all times.  And my heart still skips a beat when he walks through the back gate after the work day and once in awhile I can catch him off guard through the camera lens, and sneak a shot of his now-relaxed smile, before he raises an eyebrow or stands on his head or otherwise converts my portrait sitting to an action sports shoot.

And I’ve had friends who shot film — now that I’m learning a little something, I’m guessing my friend and climbing partner Shawn was shooting slide film of our climbing trips, and some of the most beautiful photos in my stash are his.  Tuolumne.  Red Rock Canyon.  Smith Rock.  And that film, and his eye, and that lens even makes Vantage look like a dream of a destination.  But I never really took the time to ask him about his photography process — I was too busy seeking other types of wisdom at the time.  So years later, Ryan’s stories about his friend Deann put film on my radar, but I was still trying to figure out how to shoot my Lumix with any degree of consistency and style.  The camera has taken some nice images; but it reminds me of my second horse, Danny.  He wasn’t a babysitter:  he was a teacher.  I had to work for my learning with him, and I’ve had to work for my learning with the Lumix, and I’m only still a novice at it despite coaching and good advice from photog friends.

I’d always lusted over a macro lens setup, and never had an opportunity to pick one up.  One quiet night like this one, I clicked around and found a cheap Holga lens adapter, that would allow me to convert my expensive digital camera into a sensor with a shutter behind a plastic lens — and by so doing, open up my world to Holga lens accessories, including the object of my affection: a macro kit.  Yes, it’s a plastic lens.  But I figured, around $80 or so for an adapter lens and a variety of accessory lenses?  Heck – why not toss in the Holga itself, and shoot a couple rolls of film for shits and giggles.  For just over $100, I could try out a little bit of macro shooting, play with a toy camera, and have the $600 additional I’d have spent on the real macro lens I’d been eyeing to — I don’t know — adopt a puppy and sign up for puppy kindergarden with.

And the Holga adapter has been on the Lumix approximately three or four times, but I’ve lost count of how many rolls of film have wound through the Holga, itself.  And that lead to a risky eBay purchase on which I trusted my gut, that yielded a lovely antique medium format camera that my hands knew how to operate automatically, as if the knowledge was inherited since it certainly wasn’t learned.  Perhaps from my Grampa Ed, or by osmosis from the many photographers in my life.  And while we were having that camera serviced, why not have Ryan’s step-dad’s old 35mm cleaned up for us to play with as well?  And then instead of a yoga retreat, like I’d planned for this birthday, I’m signed up for a Black and White film photography class and my gift to myself was a light meter and camera bag that can haul three of the four cameras we’re now routinely shooting, and I’m finally starting to learn how to shoot my Lumix in manual modes, since the mechanics of the film cameras somehow made everything make more sense to me than the pages of manuals that came with my digital camera ever could.

Brace yourself for photo studies from school.  I’m already on a cliche depth-of-field flower photo kick, and about half of my shooting is of Gibson, since she may try to evade the camera, but she doesn’t intentionally make funny faces at it.  I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been a writer.  And I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, been not-an-artist.  And I’m really enjoying the increasingly blurred boundary around the idea of being a storyteller, and the chance to allow myself a little bit of artistic experimentation, even if it seems silly or self-indulgent or hipsterific … which brings me to the short, sweet reason I sat down to write today (speaking of self-indulgent)…

I saw a few things this week that I wanted to share with you.  They are:

I Am an Object of Internet Ridicule. Ask Me Anything

I’d never identified with the label “hipster,” but my affection for Instagram, film photography, and record players is making me rethink my inattention to that subculture.  I loved this blog post by C.D. Hermelin: partly, because I just watched Before Sunrise for the first time, and thought, when the busker wrote the lovers a story, that being a story-writing busker would probably be a nice way to spend some time.  Partly also because of this strange place that I occupy, doing what I do for a living and seeing everyday how the good and bad of technology and connectivity and our instant interconnectedness operate in my life and the lives of those around me.  And I read this story on my iPhone on the bus, thinking about the old pink IBM Selectric in my dad’s old office, and how much I loved that typewriter.  So enjoy.

A Portrait of America, Today

Shot by 3,000+ high schools students, this is a breathtaking snapshot of life in each corner of America, today.  I’m blown away by the talent some of these kids possess, and the enthusiasm of others.

Bosom Buddies:  A Photo History of Male Affection

I loved this post the moment it loaded after clicking through from author Lissa Rankin’s Facebook page.  I thought, as I flipped through the photos, about how different my niece and nephew’s generation may see the world, growing up in an era where (at least in Washington) the wedding photos won’t all be of women in white dresses and men in conservative suits.  And I feel thankful to be surrounded by men who buck convention and share their affection for and with each other.

And if you’re not reading my friend Thom’s blog, and you enjoy words, you’ve really got to get on that.  Like, sit down with a nice glass of wine tonight, and start at the beginning and don’t stop until you’re caught up.

That’s it.  Gibson’s sighs are becoming more frequent, so it’s time for a brisk walk in the fresh cold air of now-Fall, with the leaves starting to crunch under my toes.  If you’ve got a favorite photo blog (or, blog that you love the photography on) I’d love to add it to my inspiration file, so speak up, will you please?


Eighty-six years old

“Some people are just warm-blooded,” the man in the cap sitting on the bench at the bus stop observed with a smile.  He was watching a teenaged boy with spiky blonde hair out for a run.  The boy jogged in place at the corner, waiting for his light to turn. He wore a white tank top and red basketball shorts; I second-guessed the light jacket I’d chosen, as the chill of the upcoming fall is already in the air in the mornings and evenings.  I smiled, and nodded.

“Not me!” I said, loudly, knowing that he’s hard of hearing, since we’ve chatted about the weather at the same bus stop on a number of other days.

“Me neither,” he commented with a smile and a shake of his head.  “When you get older, you get colder,” he continued, “and that’s the truth!”

He was chattier than usual.  Perhaps I appeared more engaging this morning with our old 35 mm camera slung around my neck — I have to finish this roll of film and get it developed before my class next week, and the camera wouldn’t fit in my backpack.  So yes — I’m THAT girl.  Analog camera slung around my neck, while I wait for my bus.  I’d been composing a photograph during my walk up the block — him, on the bus stop bench; the fence in the yard across the sidewalk, the trees framing the view — how could I frame it, which way would I have him look — I do this in my head, and then I don’t take the picture.  That’ll change — one of these days I’ll just ask someone if I can take their picture; tell them I’m a photography student if I have to, to feel less like a creep — but for now, I’m still stuck in my own shyness, when it comes to street photography.  I get to keep the images in my memory, so it’s not a total loss.  But it means there’s no photo to go along with this post, and it gets published today instead of in a week when I get my roll of film back.

Different people have different reactions to our old cameras.  They’re definitely eye-catching, in this day of digital and iPhones.  It’s impossible to pull out either of them — the 35 mm or my Yashica Mat — without someone making a comment.  “That’s a cool camera,” is the norm.  During one day out with my Yashica, a man asked, incredulously, “Is that an old black and white camera?” and I smiled and said yes, because, at the time, I had black and white film loaded in it, so technically, he was correct.  The camera IS old.  Or, rather, it’s older than me — likely hailing from sometime around 1963 — and the photos that would emerge from that roll of film (if it hadn’t been destroyed by the photo lab) would have been black and white.

“I’m eighty six years old, you know,” the man at the bus stop observed.

My “old” camera (and myself, despite another upcoming flip of the calendar pages) are mere puppies.

I shook my head, squinted my eyes to get a closer look.  “Did I hear you right?  Eighty-six years old?” I asked, incredulously.

“Eighty-six years old,” he reiterated, with a smile, and a twinkle in his eye.

“Well I’d like to know your secrets to longevity,” I remarked, patting myself on the back for taking the time to apply sunscreen this morning before leaving the house.

“That’s why I go downtown — to get out of the house, and keep myself moving.  You have to keep moving.  Move your legs, to move your heart, I say.  And that’s the truth.”

I nodded.  He gazed down the street, toward where our bus would come from.

I asked what he does when he goes downtown, gesturing north, toward the direction we were both about to head.  He has breakfast, and drinks coffee.  This is Seattle, after all.

“I’m Gracie.  What’s your name?” I asked, using the nickname I’m known by close to home and starting to extend my hand, to introduce myself.  He didn’t hear me; and didn’t see my body language, he just watched for the bus.

I can’t imagine the amount of change he’s seen, I thought to myself.  I wondered if he’d always lived in Seattle, and where else his path had taken him.  The communication challenge was a tough one:  I don’t think he hears much, at all.  I couldn’t think of a gesture to pantomime, for “How long have you lived here?”

“I’ve lived here since I was five years old,” he started, unprompted.  “I’ve seen so much change,” he continued.  “My father and I lived over on Rainier Beach, Columbia City.  We moved to High Point when I was five.  High Point was a forest, back then.”

I stop asking questions, because he can’t hear them anyway; given thirty seconds or so of a pause, he’ll launch into another topic, usually strangely responsive to the question that’s framed like a thought bubble in my head.  My phone stays in my pocket, this morning — I’d rather listen to his stories.  I studied his face, the light, the shadows.  I didn’t take a picture.

I think of my grandfather.  After he retired, he kept his office at the University, and would go to his office for office hours long after he no longer worked there.  The man at the bus stop reminds me a little bit of my grandpa.  He wears glasses, and the skin on his face and hands is weathered like my grandfather’s was.  He wears the same kind of hat — a flat cap made of soft wool.


A year ago last June, I packed up my boxes and disassembled my full-sized bed and pulled my ski and climbing gear out of Teresa’s gearage’s loft and moved it all to Ryan’s house, and took two carloads of unnecessaries to Goodwill and another carload to the dump.  Which all sounds like a lot of stuff, but aside from my outdoor gear, I’d been living in a ten by twelve space, so there really just wasn’t that much.  As part of my move-in, I revisited my storage unit — a strange mix of legal files I have to keep for the required number of years before returning them to their actual owners, my old clients; and some odds and ends and a handful of pieces of furniture.  A few boxes came out of storage; their contents re-examined, and then tucked back into their boxes awaiting a garage sale or Goodwill.

The oldest stuff is easiest to let go of.  That stuff is from a past life so distant it hardly feels like my own.  It’s the middle stuff that’s hard to let go of:  the sleeper chair and storage ottoman acquired for my first apartment after my divorce:  the only real furniture I had in there, save for my bed and a folding wood table my dad made out of 2x4s or old pallets, I can’t remember which, that was my parents’ Hibatchi holder and became my mini dining table.  And the BBQ table went back to its rightful owners (I think?) and the bed wound up in my parents’ guestroom when everything else went into storage and I hit the road for six weeks — the longest period of homeless I’ve had.  I was on the road for work for most of that time; sleeping on friends’ couches, the rest.  And during that six weeks, I worked an event down in Las Vegas and my friend Christian re-introduced me to his friend Teresa who I’d met briefly at a party before — and Teresa needed a roommate, and I needed a room, so after six weeks of being in-between, and the day after Teresa’s dog Maile gave me two paws up, I moved into Teresa’s guest-room.  I bought myself a bed — the first bed I’d picked out all by myself, ever.  It was a Full, because I was getting used to sleeping alone, and wanted a bed just for me, not for sharing.  And, I knew that once that stage was over, that small bed was like a litmus test:  I never wanted to share my life with someone with whom I wasn’t completely comfortable sleeping in a Full-size bed.

It’s those things in the middle that are hard to let go of.  The sleeper chair and storage ottoman that became a safe place for beloved girlfriends after hard break-ups and shitty divorces.  The bed I chose so intentionally for myself, after such a long period of in-between-ness.  The bed found its way into our little guest sleeping space, which happens to be painted yellow — the color I painted my room’s walls at Teresa’s.  It’s a little strange now, depending on the bedding I choose when I make the guest bed… that room can be a near reproduction of my room at Teresa’s.  There’s both comfort and dissonance in that, and that’s okay.  I usually choose other bedding, so that it looks different:  a mix of mine and his and ours, so it’s less like a re-creation of my time before him.

The sleeper chair came out of storage — hauled over to Seattle from Bremerton, filling up almost the entire back of Ryan’s Element.  It took us a whole day to go over there, get into my unit, dig out the chair and a few boxes, load up the car, spend some time with friends, then come back home.  It took us another day to move it into the house, only to look at it in the future office and realize, with an unexpected degree of emotion on my part, that it just didn’t fit in the new home that I was trying to make my space in.  I’m having a strange sense of deja vu writing this — so I apologize if I’ve already told this story.  So back into the Element it went, back into the storage unit, back into the place that is the bridge to my past.

But none of this is what I sat down to write about today.

So perhaps I ought to get to the point.  If there is one.

It’s taken me over a year of living here — and a year and a half of sleeping here — to really start unpacking.  A little bit, it’s because it’s such a small space; a little bit, it’s because Ryan’s already got most of the place decorated to an absolute T, so it’s not like there’s much other than personal belongings and the occasional unanimous-love-at-first-sight-moment with a piece of furniture for me to contribute.  When I was working from here full time, I picked out a different sleeper chair and a beautiful desk for the office, but we never really finished the room.  This weekend, while Ryan dug in the vegetable garden (the garden where we’re putting in our fall and winter crops, and thinking of next spring and summer’s harvest) I cleaned out the entire office room, and made it ours.  When we find the right credenza, and we get the mustard yellow stripe we have planned painted, and when I choose which of my photos from Nepal to enlarge and print for the walls, it’ll be our music / guest / sewing / writing / reading / photography / meditation room… which sounds chaotic, but it’s basically the room that we have to do the things we love.  And Gibson has a bed in there, and when our outside guestroom is full, it’s the overflow for indoor guests.  And it really is becoming ours, and that made me feel giddy all day today, even through all the Mondayishness of a Monday at the non-home office.

And two weeks ago, the neighbor’s tree split in half, and came down on top of our fence early in the morning on a Thursday.  And it was disorienting to walk Gibson out the back door that morning to an unfamiliar sight of a tree occupying the space formerly leading to our back gate.  The house next door has been a rental for some time, owned by someone we only met when the tree fell, a friendly man who came over to let us know he’d take care of whatever was damaged.  And fairly expeditiously, he did take care of most of what had been damaged; and what he hasn’t, the former renter — who’s since moved around the block to his new house — went out of his way to help with.  The whole thing was just so wonderfully neighborly.

And tonight, our neighbors on the other side sent a note because their contractor fell through at the last minute, and they needed a referral for someone who may be able to help them with a project on short notice.  They’re the neighbors who own the salon a block away, where Ryan and I both get our hair cut.  They also gave us an antler for Gibson when she was a baby, in part so that she could get familiar with the scent of their dog, Diesel, before the two met in person (my eyes are welling up thinking about that).  And since, we’ve had I don’t know how many haircuts and dog play dates and chit chats and goodness, I just love those guys.  And after adopting Gibson we’ve met and created relationships with other neighbors, and I really treasure each of them.

It’s a strange thing to realize that (un)intentionally (or intentionally, and more slowly than I expected, in fits and starts), I’ve built myself a home here.  This place “felt like home” right away… and it becomes home more and more with each project we do together, each storage problem we solve together, and each crop we plant and harvest together.  And we’re doing all of this at our pace, and “our” doesn’t mean mine, or his, or mine plus his divided by two.  It’s something other than that, and when it’s a Monday night and I’m typing a blog post sitting on his sofa, with our little dog curled up asleep against my arm, an outstanding record on the record player, Ryan sitting on the floor tapping on his phone smelling vaguely of wet soil after spending another evening digging until past dark to create more vegetable garden for us to work and plant and harvest together, I just feel so. Incredibly. Lucky.

To be here, now, with what’s around me, around me.


Becoming an aunt.

It’s a little overwhelming to even sit down to write, tonight.  It’s been so long since I put pen to paper — or rather, fingers to keyboard — for anyone to read, as opposed to the pages of my trusty journal, that it’s a bit daunting to even decide where to begin.  So I’ll just start right here.

There’s an eerie breeze through the leaves of the cherry tree in the backyard that sounds like a storm coming.  We’re having unseasonably warm temperatures in Seattle, and even though it’s past sunset and the chill of the impending fall is unmistakable when you step outside, the inside of the house is still sun-warmed from earlier.  Gibson’s nearly a dog now — I can barely call her a puppy, anymore, as her first birthday-ish (since we have no way to know the precise date) approaches.  Where a few months ago she’d be ceaselessly asking for my attention (or getting into mischief) if I had the audacity to sit down to write a blog post, tonight she’s happily laying by my feet, chewing on a bone, her ears alert like she’s listening for something but her eyes relaxed in the sort of trance that she finds when she chews.  She has a good life here, and she’s growing into a really wonderful dog.

And aside from that, I’m adjusting to my routine of nine to five-ish, in an old fashioned high-rise in downtown Seattle.  I like the days I ride the bus — it reminds me of back when I used to ride a motorcycle everywhere and I was intimately in touch with the changing seasons at all times.  I like peoplewatching, and having time to read, or taking time to just stare out the window at other people driving to work.  And I like the building I go to with its gilded features and elevator operators who dispense wisdom like fortunes, and the people I work with there.  It’s an oddly good fit for me — a mentor once told me that I might be unemployable, and I think he might be wrong.  I’ve got plenty to learn there, but I’ve found a place again where there are people I know I can learn from — I’d say, a “rare” place, but somehow it seems to be getting less rare.  Everywhere I go, I find myself observing what I can learn from the people I encounter.  Sometimes the teacher, now, sometimes the student.

Megan, on her first full day of motherhood.
Megan, on her first full day of motherhood.

The biggest shift in my world started happening on June 30th, when my sister’s twins decided to make their entry into the world.  My eyes are welling up just thinking about what to even say about it — I’d say something in me shifted when I met those babies for the first time, but really, the earthquake hasn’t stopped.  I’ve never been terribly attached to a particular identity… I’ve tried on a few, for size, and they haven’t stuck — or at least, haven’t stuck exclusively.  I’m still part-lawyer (although, presently unlicensed, and finding myself putting time, money and energy into learning how to shoot film photography instead of signing up for the continuing legal education I need to complete to reinstate my license … perhaps, I’ll get my priorities in order after this photography class).  I’m still part-climber, recreationally, relaxedly, without the kind of all-consuming drive that guided me, for a few years, there.  I’m no longer anyone’s wife — that one didn’t stick, the first time around.  And there are plenty of other identities I’ve just not yet had the opportunity to try on, or not been driven to seek out.

But “aunt…”

that one I was pretty stoked to try on for size.

The rhythm of auntiness didn’t come immediately — I felt nervous and awkward the first time I held those fragile-seeming little people; I soaked up everything I could from listening in on the nurses while they coached Megan and Aaron through the twins’ first days, and even so, required a Diapering 101 lesson before babysitting for the first time.  And then there are the things that you only learn by doing:  the right rhythm to bounce each baby (since they have different preferences); how to heat up a bottle while holding a crying baby (someday, someone, is going to make a bottle system that you can operate from start to finish with one hand).  There’s developing your spidey sense for knowing when to give space and when to show up with a skillet full of dinner to leave on the porch. There’s a newfound comfort in engaging with other people’s kids… to a certain degree, I think, you have to just shake off your self-consciousness and be silly — whether it’s singing silly songs to soothe a crying kiddo, or making funny faces to try to head off a meltdown, or turning the baby bounce into dance steps (my balboa experience is coming in quite handy — Meg’s baby girl seems to like that one a lot).

There’s the satisfaction of Megan and I simultaneously soothing fussy babes in a breakfast restaurant, with them both falling asleep just in time for us to eat most of our breakfast with both of our hands.  There’s the watching Megan and her husband in awe of their ability to do this — anyone will tell you that having twins is not easy.  And seeing it all up close:  whoa.  “They’ve got their hands full” has a whole new meaning.  And again, I find myself observing and learning and am just infinitely grateful that those two made ME an auntie.

And inevitably, after I gush about my latest adventure in auntie-ness, whoever’s listening asks, “So are you catching the baby bug,” as in, “are you going to hurry up and get on that program, Sara?” and I try hard to answer politely, even though I think that questions about peoples’ plans with regard to childbearing should be left to only the closest of friends and family who know all of the intimate details about just why and where a person is on the kids spectrum, and know the nature of the worms in the can before they open it.  And I remind myself that I’m only 36 (although, to be fair, 37 is approaching like a freight train) and have abundant time to make those decisions thoughtfully, in time.  And then I come back to the present, where I’m totally in love with this new role of aunt.

I have a whole new appreciation for the fierce, and dedicated love I’ve felt from my aunts for my whole life… I’ve always felt so incredibly lucky for the love and care of this amazing pack of women, and now… whoa.  WHOA.  Am I ever grateful to have learned auntiehood from the absolute best.

So that’s where I’ve been.  Becoming an auntie.  And loving it.

From Two Egg Breakfast, on Tumblr


My company, Portent, recently created one of the cooler pieces of content/tools I’ve seen in awhile. It’s a mood guessing device, but based on cats. It’s like, sickeningly cute, and fun too!

Give it a whirl, and please like and share it with your friends:

I am not feeling peaceful, since I’m on the launch team.  But I like the idea of feeling peaceful right now, so I’m going to channel Josh’s kitten mood.

Ten minutes: July 10, 2013

So, one of these days I’ll write more about my transition back to nine-to-five and putting on pants to go to an office every day, but the very short version is that it’s going far better than I could have imagined.  There are ups and downs, there are challenges, there will be hard days.  And in all of it, there’s lots to learn and teach, and change to adapt to.  And the biggest measure, in my world, is that when Sunday afternoon rolls around, I spend my time immersed in the present of whatever that Sunday afternoon holds:  I don’t dread going to work on Monday morning.  I’ve been keeping a pulse on what it is that’s helping me feel so happy and engaged:  compatible leadership; colleagues who respect my work and what I bring to the team; work that I’m uniquely qualified and suited to doing; but there’s more to it than all that.

And today, I realized what one of those “more to it” things is.

Portent, Inc. sits on the 17th floor of the Smith Tower. On clear days, I gaze out the window at Mount Rainier.

Every Wednesday afternoon the entire company gets together in a training room for a training session called #PortentU. The responsibility for teaching rotates, and volunteers present on a topic — any topic — each week.  The topic today was systems theory, an interest and area of study and learning of mine… in fact, I’m pretty sure that if you put systems theory and Buddhism in a blender and hit puree, you’d come up with the thing that is, to me, the way religion is for some other people.

At one point, Marianne, the speaker, drew attention to an area that we, as a company and team, don’t have as a strong suit.  Confidently.  Just matter-of-factly.  No softening language.  No couching the self-criticism.  No disclaimers or walking on eggshells in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.  I anticipated a response of defensiveness — that’s the response that I’d expect in many of the other work settings I’ve been a part of, if someone dared to actually speak up so boldly about one of our own “opportunities for improvement.”  But that’s not what happened.  The audience listened, thoughtfully, as Marianne concluded her presentation.  And then, afterward, during Q&A, our founder and CEO raised his hand, disclaimed that he didn’t want to put Marianne on the spot, and then asked what one thing we need to change.  Marianne gave her one-word answer, followed by a thoughtful explanation, clearly and without hesitation or fear.

Now, this might sound crazy to folks who’ve spend their careers in functional work environments — but, still new here, I marveled that it was perfectly natural for a member of the team to, in front of the entire company, say, “Hey, this is something we’re not awesome at.” And I marveled even harder at a leader not only asking that kind of question, but also, honestly wanting to know the answer.  And I realized, that’s one of those “more to it” things, for me:  the safety, and space, to speak up for what I think and believe.

Oh, and by the way, we’re hiring.

What was your last “more to it” moment?  I’d love to hear your story: post a comment, below.




I just started shooting medium format with a Holga. I love that shooting with my Holga requires me to let go of expectation; requires the patience for delayed gratification; and requires me to be more closely connected to the resources involved with picture making… I don’t always conserve resources, but I do shoot more mindfully than with digital.

I also just plain love advancing film.