The memory of a place.

We received a brief respite from the heat this week in Los Angeles – even a desperately needed bit of rain – before the mercury began to spike again, signaling the arrival of another sweltering September weekend. In all the years I’ve lived here, I always remember September being hot, but never quite as insufferable as the recent Sunday evening when I returned to L.A. after a two-week absence. Upon crossing the threshold of the little stucco box that is my one-bedroom apartment, I was greeted by a wall of heat so humid, so stale, and so oppressive, that it nearly immobilized me. As I began to unpack, giant beads of sweat dripping down my nose, I imagined I was back in my seat on the Amtrak Cascades, gazing dreamily out the rain-kissed window at Puget Sound, the train pressing steadily onward toward British Columbia.


Is it possible to feel homesick for a place that was never really home? While it’s true that sandwiched between my youth in Anchorage, Alaska and my adult life in Los Angeles, I did spend four years of high school in the Pacific Northwest town of Olympia, Washington, that was merely a blip, and the late 90’s were so long ago. Over the course of my life, I’ve been less of a resident of the Pacific Northwest, and more of a frequent visitor.

Still. Nearly all of my family – at least the family members that I know – live somewhere between Anchorage and Medford, Oregon, with most of them tracing their roots to Washington State and Oregon. And while Mom and I joined Dad in Alaska shortly after my birth at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital, Mom never fully settled into life in Anchorage. The Pacific Northwest was in her blood, and we returned there often. Many of my childhood memories are hazy mental photographs of my grandparents’ home on Beach Drive in West Seattle: playing catch in the long driveway, Grandpa’s rose garden, the living room with its seascapes and sea gull décor, the blond shag carpeting and terrier (Benji) to match.

And then of course there’s the Beach – the property on Case Inlet in Southwest Washington that I wrote about at length in my last post. That place is not only where several of my close family members reside, it is forever entrenched in my history.

As beautiful as the Pacific Northwest is, it has been difficult for me not to feel a bit haunted whenever I return there. Amid the inlets and elbows of Puget Sound, the tall evergreen trees, the gorgeous views of Mount Rainier, are memories of people that are no longer living, and a life that’s no longer mine.


But this time – and I’m not quite sure why – the ghosts of the past seemed to peacefully coexist with the experiences of the present. The familiar was no longer haunting; it was a source of comfort. The Pacific Northwest was markedly different, yet ever the same.

The tree-lined drive along Highway 3 into Shelton – where I took my driver’s test –this time made in Grandpa’s ice blue Honda CR-V with the handicapped sticker hanging from the mirror. The same, yet different.

Olympia. The loop around Capitol Lake – where I would walk so many times, rain or shine – and the Capitol Building, with its dome that I used to photograph for the school paper. This time, a walk downtown for lunch with one new friend, then coffee with another on the Capitol campus, where she works. The same, yet different.

Seattle. Echoes of my mother’s laughter all around Westlake Center. The flagship Nordstrom where we’d spend an afternoon lunching and shopping for shoes. The Paramount Theatre, the site of one of my first concerts – Garbage – now hosting the band Hall and Oates. The waterfront – and the arcade where we spent our high school grad night – now mired in new construction. This time, I stop to ask a handsome police officer if he can point the way to Ivar’s restaurant. He laughs and directs us through scaffolding and over a rickety wooden walkway. Ivar’s – the place I’d feed seagulls and watch departing ferryboats as a child– now a spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch with my sister Marion, sipping wine and planning our trip to Bainbridge Island. The same, yet different.


The border crossing into Vancouver. That same Amtrak train – number 510 – departing daily from King Street Station, with its iconic clock tower and cavernous marble lobby. This time, sitting on a wooden bench, ticket in hand, waiting to board and remembering the summer I drove across the border by myself, just seventeen, in my maroon Toyota Rav-4, receiving endless harassment from the border agents. The same, yet different.

Vancouver’s West End. The condo on Nelson Street where my sister and brother-in-law lived when my niece Nora was just a toddler, before my nephew Quinn was born. Now, Quinn is in high school, and Nora is away at University in Montreal.

It’s all the same, but it’s all so different. Yet for the first time that I can remember, the differences don’t seem to bother me. They don’t feel tinged with sadness like they usually do.

Perhaps it’s me that’s different, and not these places. Perhaps the change is simply the result of the passage of time and the slow healing that comes along with it. Or perhaps love of place has finally been able to transcend the pain of all that’s missing.

But whatever the reason, this time, the ghosts stayed at bay. And I was able to make new memories. Good ones. Memories that I will hold on to, dreaming of the gentle breeze off Puget Sound, until I’m able to return again.

Until next time, friends.



The Boeing 737 was late leaving Vancouver. Not very late – only about 15 minutes. De rigueur for many airlines, but not my beloved Alaska, who always seemed to shuttle me back and forth between L.A. and Seattle perfectly on schedule. After a glorious, eleven day vacation in the Pacific Northwest, including several days visiting family in British Columbia, I was headed back – somewhat reluctantly – to Los Angeles. I found my seat in Row 15, on the aisle, next to a pleasant, middle-aged couple that spoke with soft accents I couldn’t quite place. As I stowed my carry-on and got situated, a girl’s voice came on over the plane’s intercom. She sounded green; fumbling her words and nervously halting before announcing our destination or expected arrival time. She’s probably training, I thought, feeling bad for her.

And then came the words I seldom hear but always dread: ‘We are expecting turbulence.’ The young, inexperienced voice inspired little confidence as she informed us that the flight attendants would have to remain seated until somewhere south of Seattle, due to storms in the area. I sighed, opened up a book and tried to read, hoping I’d magically grow so immersed in it by the time we were in flight that I wouldn’t notice the bad weather. I glanced down at the ruby and diamond band on my right ring finger – my mother’s ring – and said a silent prayer.

I wasn’t always afraid to fly. As a little girl growing up in Alaska, I used to fly frequently: to Seattle to visit my grandparents, to Hawaii or Mexico on vacation with my mom and dad. Takeoff was my favorite part: the taxi down the runway and the roar of the jet engines as the plane accelerated into the sky. ‘Up, up, up and away,’ I’d say with delight, as the plane rose above the landscape and the town and roads and cars and buildings were reduced to ant-size. Even the fact that during the cold Alaska winters, planes were sometimes held on the runway in order to ‘de-ice’ the wings didn’t faze me – just par for the course being an Alaska girl. Now, I have no doubt that hearing that phrase would send terror shooting down my spine. Oh, how things change.

On this current Alaska flight from YVR to LAX, we easily soared to 10,000 feet – the approved elevation for electronic devices. False alarm, I thought, just the pilots being extra cautious. I began to relax. But somewhere on the way to 30,000 feet, the bumps began. Not too bad at first, but gradually worse. Eventually, the pilot’s voice – barely discernible over the engine noise – came over the loudspeaker: ‘Well, folks,’ he said, in a vaguely reassuring, grandfatherly tone, ‘we’ve got reports of thunderstorms from here to Portland, and the winds are moving from east to west, causing the rough air we’re experiencing. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to ask everyone to remain in their seats with seatbelts securely fastened for their safety.’

Dammit, I thought. Seeking comfort, I scanned my immediate surroundings for a friendly face. The couple next to me was sound asleep. The kind-faced, older gentleman across the aisle looked like a good prospect, but he was absorbed in his kindle and didn’t make eye contact. Envious of his calm demeanor, I reluctantly put in my ear buds and searched iTunes for the happiest, poppiest song in my library. As Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by the Beatles played, I stared out the window into the cloudy grey abyss, the plane shimmying, my heart rate rising. What I wouldn’t give for a shot of whiskey – or three – right about now, but the flight attendants had to remain seated too:  no beverage service.

Calm down, I told myself, it’s just bad weather. It’ll be over soon. But the plane wouldn’t stop shaking, the visibility wouldn’t get clear, and even Paul McCartney was not helping matters. I looked down at the ring on my finger, twisted it, and asked my mom for help. ‘It’s going to be OK,’ a voice told me. ‘I won’t let anything happen to you.’ And I thought about my mother, imagined her as my angel watching over me, imagined her keeping me safe, and I twisted the ring and twisted it and twisted it. But no calm came. Just the plane, pushing through choppy air, and me, gripping my armrest for dear life and praying for it to stop.

‘Mom?’ I thought desperately. And then, with full force, a realization hit me, as powerful as the storm we were flying through, and suddenly, I was weeping, unable to stop the deluge spilling forth from my eyes. My mom wasn’t going to save me. Not today. Not ever. She never had.

My mother was my best friend, my world, the most important person in my life. I had no doubt of the fierceness of her love for me or her desire for my happiness above all else. But keeping me safe was another thing entirely. My sweet, beautiful mother had always been too fragile for this world, and from a very early age, I grew up protecting her, watching over her, and making sure she was OK. It’s what therapists call ‘parentalizing,’ which is essentially a parent/child role reversal.

From the time I was around 8 or 9, I remember filling that role. Whether I was consoling her after a bout with dad’s drinking, after harsh words from my grandmother that cut too deeply, or one of the many times that she was depressed and so very sad, I was always the one taking care of my mom.

This continued well after I left home and moved to Los Angeles. During our frequent phone conversations, I’d edit the details of my life so as not to upset her. No matter how hopeless I felt during my lowest moments as a broke, struggling twenty-something trying to make it as an actress in Hollywood, I always painted the truth with an optimistic brush. I couldn’t tell her how I really felt – desperate and alone – because I knew that she’d drive herself crazy worrying about me. The few times I tried the unedited truth, the pain it caused her always cost me more than the temporary relief provided by unloading my burdens on to the one person I wanted to confide them in. So I avoided the unedited truth at all costs, and instead I found a way to always make things OK.

And now here I was, 30,000 feet in the air somewhere over the Washington/Oregon border, exposed, vulnerable, openly weeping, gripping the armrest, praying for safety. But no one was coming to rescue me. Like so many times before, I was on my own. I’d just have to steel myself, and wait for the storm to pass.

And eventually, it did. The air smoothed out, the sun broke through the clouds. And everything was OK again. Just like it always was. But as I twisted that ruby ring, breathed a deep sigh of relief and allowed myself to sink back into my seat, I knew something fundamental: my parents were dead and gone, yes. But life circumstance had only made what was always true more apparent. As much as my parents loved me, as much as they’d supported me, I had always been my own safety, I had always been my own security, and when push came to shove, I had always relied on myself.

Ever since childhood, I had been seeking out a safe place to rest my head. But I’d only found more of what I’d already known: people who were broken – just like my mother – and needed me to take care of them. And on that Alaska Airlines flight from Vancouver to LAX, I knew that I had to change. I had to stop trying to fix the broken ones, and I had to find someplace safe outside of myself. Until I did that, I would always be gripping the armrest, hanging on for dear life. I would always be afraid to fly.

Until next time, friends.


Alaska Collage

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” -Maya Angelou

I want to go home. The problem is, I’m not sure where that is. It’s not Olympia any more, not since my parents died and we sold their house and I packed up my high school bedroom with its lavender walls and blue plastic glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. It’s not Anchorage, where I spent my first fourteen years making happy childhood memories amid snowball fights and sledding and ice skating on Chester Creek. And despite taking up residence for nearly fifteen years in Los Angeles, it’s not really L.A. either.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of home lately, what it is, what it means, how I define it. Is it where we’re from, where we grew up? Is it where our family is? Is it where we feel the warmest and safest? Or is it simply where we live now?

I haven’t felt at home in a while. The last two years of my life have been an intense period during which everything familiar has been ripped away, some of it by circumstance, some of it by my own design.

I have a new home now. It’s still a handful of miles from the ocean but that doesn’t keep it from feeling like the sea. It’s bright and airy with lots of natural light, beautifully landscaped grounds and a patio large enough to do yoga on, a patio that’s begging to be populated by plants. I’ve decorated it in a way that’s very Sarah – furniture made from light-colored wood and textiles in every shade of blue imaginable: teal, turquoise, navy, cerulean, aquamarine. It’s serene and lovely here, and a sense of calm pervades. I feel grounded in this place, and yet I can’t settle in. I can’t shake the feeling that my charming little cottage is a stopgap on the way to somewhere else, some destination yet unknown or undecided.

My whole life, I’ve always gravitated toward the water. Whether it was Cook Inlet in Anchorage or Puget Sound in Olympia or the Pacific Ocean, being near a body of water – something expansive – has always made me feel secure, like I’m not stuck. As though, through a waterway, I’m connected to the rest of the world and if I need to, I can stage a quick getaway. I’m not sure where this feeling comes from, only that I’ve always had it.

PNW Collage

Given that, I suppose it’s not surprising that upon moving to L.A., I fell in love with Santa Monica. I’d go to the ocean as often as I could, taking long walks through Palisades Park, daydreaming with my headphones on. One building in particular captured my imagination immediately, a gorgeous Spanish style manse on Ocean Avenue called El Tovar by the Sea. I’d imagine that when I’d finally made it big, I would buy the penthouse suite and sweeping views of the Pacific would be the backdrop to the glamorous and exciting life that I’d lead there.

It’s funny how your dreams evolve as you get older. While I still love visiting Santa Monica – breathing in the sea air, taking long walks in the park – I don’t want to live there anymore. Not even if someone handed me that penthouse suite on a silver platter. It’s not that I no longer daydream, but the hard won wisdom that’s come with age and the certainty that nothing is guaranteed has caused my dreams to shift and become less pie in the sky, more grounded in the real and the familiar. There’s something about El Tovar by the Sea, about Santa Monica, about Los Angeles in general that has become too sterile, too perfect, too high atop a pedestal, too held at a distance.

These days when I meditate on the idea of home, I think about where I fit in, where I’m allowed to be myself, where people ‘get’ me. I think about what’s most important: the best place to pursue career success, or the place with the greatest opportunities to grab happiness? And is it possible that those two things can intersect, that they can coexist in one space?

I used to think that there was only one path, only one place, for me. I used to be pretty dogmatic about it. But now I wonder if that’s true. Maybe in the words of Joseph Campbell, it’s time to let go of the life I’ve planned in order to have the one that’s waiting for me. Maybe I can have everything I want, but maybe the road to get there is different than I thought. Maybe it’s simpler, easier, more connected to my past. Maybe, like Dorothy, happiness has always been in my own backyard.

If home is where the heart is, then tomorrow I’m heading home. I’m spending ten days in the Pacific Northwest, dividing time between a waterfront parcel of land on Grapeview Loop Road in Allyn, WA – known affectionately as ‘the beach’ – and Vancouver, B.C. The former is as idyllic as its name implies. It’s the place I came of age, spending every summer swimming in Case Inlet, beachcombing and building bonfires under the stars. The latter is where my big sister lives with her family, and it’s the place that has consistently been my favorite destination for fun and laughter, a picturesque urban center with an international flavor that never ceases to inspire me. The bridge between these two places is Seattle, the city where I was born, the city where my Mom spent many happy days and that she loved so much, the city that I spent many happy days in with her, the city that always makes me feel so connected to her. On my way from point A to point B, I’ll swing through the Emerald City for a quick stay over, just to say hello. It would be impossible not to.

There’s this song I recently discovered – ‘Coming Home,’ by Storyman, an indie band from Ireland. One of the lyrics is stuck in my brain, perpetually on repeat: ‘home is where your heart meets mine.’ It’s simple, and it rings true. But which home? And whose heart?

I haven’t quite figured that out yet. And so, I’ll keep looking.

Until next time, friends.

LA Collage

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